When I deactivated my Ask.fm account over a year ago, in the face of multiple unpleasant messages (messages! not even questions!), I had naively assumed that the anonymous abuse would stop. I guess I forgot I had a blog.
There was the usual stuff about being fat, ugly, faking my disability yada yada, but in the blog comments there is also something quite specific to people who rely on state support to get by: money policing.
People who claim benefits are frequently subjected to scrutiny from the general public about where “their” (the taxpayer’s) money is going. Just look at comments on certain newspaper websites (or don’t, please don’t): any article about a family on benefits will have reams of comments underneath policing all aspects of their life from the flatscreen television to what they got their kids for Christmas, or their new-looking trainers, and whether the parents smoke or not. No one seems to point out that it’s more than a little difficult to get a cathode ray TV these days (never mind the fact that there’s no analog network any more), or that these “luxury” items are often purchased on credit, or with the help of an unscrupulous doorstep loan company. It’s not proof that benefits are too generous, it’s proof that even families in poverty want their kids to be happy on Christmas morning despite the cost, or to have the same as their more well-off peers. And the smoking? This seems to propel the commenters into an authoritarian frenzy; pre-paid “benefits cards” are a popular suggestion, redeemable only at supermarkets for “worthy” goods. Can you even imagine the exploitation possible here? Will one lucky supermarket chain will be chosen for the DWP’s partnership? What happens if a claimant is vegan, or coeliac, or doesn’t live near a supermarket, or is disabled and relies on home delivery (because I bet they wouldn’t let you use them on Ocado)? Not to mention the other things that people need aside from food: clothes, replacing broken appliances, kids’ toys….are tampons too much of a luxury? What about medicine? The bus fare TO the supermarket?
This brings us back to the problem of the public deciding what is a “worthy” use of “their” money. A cheque sent by my gran when I went away to university specifically had “not for raves” written on the back, but benefits aren’t a benevolent gift, they’re a payment that doesn’t depend on kindness but on eligibility. Once that money is paid, it belongs to the person who holds it in their account. But that doesn’t seem to stop members of the public weighing in what should and should not be done with it.
My luxury purchase (bought entirely with “taxpayers’ money”) will be a powerchair. A brand new powerchair because it’s the only one that will fit into the flat without removing the door-frame (and I’m definitely not allowed to do that). I had most of the money from a benefits backpayment but I needed help to raise the last quarter, so I set up a GoFundMe page (now closed, I met my target within 2 weeks).
It’s then that I realised someone was either on my Twitter or Facebook scrutinising it for things to complain at me about.
Despite the accusation, I know I am not in poverty – not any more. Before January I was living well below the poverty line and had been for almost 2 years. Before I was approved for a travel concession I would exacerbate my condition by walking instead of taking the bus, so I could afford food. My own mother kicked me out because I couldn’t afford the tiny amount of rent she charged me (maybe I should have skipped the food?). I am well aware of how lucky I am to have a stable financial situation now, but the commenter seems to be shaming me for spending the money I now have.
It feels very strange to have to point out that seeing “The Manics” (twice) is costing me under 1/100th of the amount I put aside for the powerchair. That is an amount of money I can afford. I couldn’t (and still can’t) afford the target I set on the fundraiser within the time that I need the chair by. I don’t get how that’s hard to understand.
The more I catch myself justifying my spending the more I get angry with both myself for feeling like I NEED to justify it to the anonymous arseholes, and with the scrutiny that benefit claimants get over their spending in general.
Or even their future plans:
(no I’m not writing my own abusive comments – they just seem to lack imagination)
Heaven forbid I leave my flat and go out further than the nearest coffee shop, right? Oh, what? Coffee’s a luxury?
THIS is the problem with money policing. It starts with “no frivolities” and ends with “the bare essentials only”. Benefits don’t work that way. The DWP doesn’t calculate the bare minimum each individual needs to survive and award them not a penny more (though you could be forgiven for thinking that’s how it works). I realise I’m pretty lucky for someone in my situation. I’m not being charged for household bills, which means I have extra spending money (though I’ll happily forgo this in order to live somewhere actually accessible). I also have a part-time job under the permitted work scheme which the commenter doesn’t seem to have noticed me “regularly posting” about (which I do post about, because man I love grammar).They also haven’t noticed that before my benefits came in, after 18 months of waiting then the stress of an appeal, I didn’t do many of these things unless it was through my partners’ or friends’ generosity. Now I do have the benefits, I’m being policed over how I spend the money I am entitled to. I can’t win. This blog post might as well be called “The Pointlessness of Justifying Yourself to People”, and I might as well end by saying, loudly:
What I spend my money on is my business and no one else’s. People who aren’t on benefits don’t have to put up with this money policing crap and neither should we.
After reading your post I hope you don’t mind me asking some questions.
I am a wife & mother of two living on ESA (sg) so I do understand some of the points you make.
Do you think that some of the comments are coming more from confusion rather than attack?
I know for my family and many others in the same position that being able to go out and afford a coffee once a month on the small amount of income is often hard. I would love to go to a concert or a weekend away camping (going abroad is a pipe dream on ESA) but it’s just not possible for luxurys.
You mention going on holiday and going to a couple of concerts but on the other hand you have been asking for donations to fund a wheelchair and ramp.
In my opinion that’s confusing for people to understand.
Personally I would not be able to ask for help from others if I’m not prepared to give up luxurys of concerts and holidays and put the money I would have spent toward the fund.
The more I think about it the more I believe that the comments are not just because you are claiming but more how you can appear to be contradicting yourself when it come to need and want.
I completely agree that being on benefits is not a choice and people should not be able to tell you how to spend it. I do however think if you are opening yourself up to the public and openly asking for donations or items from a wish list though that people have a right to ask the question if you can do X then why do you need Z?
I do understand although we have the same ESA income we do have very different situations and different prioritys. I hope my comments do not come across as an attack that was not the intention unfortunately I’m not as articulate as others and struggle making things come across as intended on paper so to speak.
I wish you well.
I have problems with cognitive function, so I’m going to break down my answer into points to avoid confusion.
1. Undoubtedly some comments are coming from not knowing about either my circumstances or the benefits system, or how much things cost comparatively.
2. Your benefits have to support a family. I am a single person, which means, unfairly, that I can afford £20 a month for a concert or similar out of my combined benefits.
3. I would not have been able to get to the amount for my powerchair even if I had stopped ALL unnecessary purchases, within the time limit I had.
(a) I don’t know where you’re getting holidays from either. I haven’t been away in a year and the NYC comment someone made was about me POSSIBLY being able to go later this year.
4. I am perfectly willing to respond to demand for justification for the fundraiser – from people who were willing to donate or who wanted to know more about my situation. I think you know as well as I do that anyone criticising it using personal remarks or saying I should be ashamed would have found any excuse to do so and would have no intention of donating anyway.
I understand this.
People act they deserve an itemized list of your expenses if you’re receiving benefits.
I haven’t been out of my town in nine years and some people think my husband and I have too much money because we go out to eat once a month (twice if we’re lucky) and have Netflix (which comes in handy when you’re housebound for months).
All people need a few things for entertainment, enrichment, etc.
Most STUDENTS I know have Netflix and live on takeout. They’d foam at the mouth if they knew I went to the theatre a few times a year and had an Ocado account 😉
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