Within half a mile of my house there are six residential homes and a school for people with disabilities. When Ms Black, in her maiden speech, tells of a man who has to starve himself to afford bus fare, we are horrified. The consensus is that his benefit should give him more than the bare minimum to survive. He should be able to take an occasional trip to Largs and have enough to buy a cone at Nardini’s.
The problem comes when we have to define what we mean by living with dignity. If Ms Black’s friend starts buying double nougats, will that still be Ok? Because my neighbours work they can spend anything left over in any way they like. One couple have a caravan parked close to a beauty spot while another couple own two horses. They have to economise elsewhere, of course, but it is their money so they can do as they like.
People on benefits live on our money and there is a very strong feeling that they should not be allowed to decide how to spend the surplus: if they don’t need it to survive, claw it back and reduce our taxes. If we see a two thousand pound TV being delivered to a household where everyone is on benefits, what should our reaction be?
My daughter’s partner subscribes to both Sky and BT Sports channels but he saves in other areas to pay for that indulgence. To be fair, I should assume that the benefits family are scrimping and saving to afford the new TV. I find it hard to do that and I can give anecdotal evidence in support of my case.
All the kids in this neighbourhood get jobs at fifteen. Competition is fierce for Saturday and holiday employment. When my daughter went for a job in a café at fifteen she fought off competition from, amongst others, three of her classmates; all eight parents were in jobs. No one from a benefits household applied for that or any other job. Working parents capped pocket money but parents on benefits handed out extra on demand.
All my neighbours believe in the Welfare system and the provision of health care free at the point of use but we are not convinced that the provision is fair or just. We see disadvantaged people, many in wheelchairs, every day as their carers take them out and we do not grudge them a penny of their benefits. Every week there are bags of clothes left out to be collected by charities. Many of the retired people help in charity shops. We care but we feel we are being ripped off and until we can be convinced otherwise labour will not vote Labour.
The final irony is that I strongly suspect that the people Labour speak for mostly vote for Ukip or the British National Party.