There’s no place like home

 

According to Channel 4s ‘Britain’s Benefit Tenants’ I’m more likely to pile my flat knee high in nappies than I am to pay my rent on time or even at all. Looking for a flat when you’re on benefits is the worst; I have never made a late payment on bills or rent, never used my overdraft and I’m basically a decent human being but what defines me when applying for properties is my benefits. With Landlords filled with notions of binge drinking in jogging bottoms, ceilings collapsing and festering food on the carpet I simply don’t stand a chance. Nothing illustrates the countries attitude to benefits better than looking for a home. Now don’t get me wrong one person did contact me offering a studio flat and it did have a bed and sofa but I guess I dream of a space which can physically hold more than those two items. O wait! I take that back, it had a fancy cupboard containing a kitchen, this was apparently ‘innovative and unique’- now I’m the creative type but a kitchen in a cupboard takes creativity a bit far in my opinion. But who am I to complain? I’m on benefits! As of this morning I have had 190 views on my Gumtree advert requesting a flat and I’ve had 1 offer.

I’m currently looking and applying for flats in Manchester where the cost of living is far lower. Cambridge is so expensive I couldn’t afford to do anything less than full time hours but in Manchester there’s the potential for me to do a 4 day week which dramatically increases my ability to stay well and therefore my willingness to come off benefits. On my benefits I can work up to 16 hours a week and earn £100 but after this my benefits get cut completely, there is no staggered system in which my earnings get detracted from my benefits. The benefits application process takes so long to go through with no guarantee of being accepted again that it’s a risky move to make the transition. Most part time jobs ask for 18 hours a week and above the maximum earnings I am permitted; if I want to stack shelves I’m fine but working with the aim of enhancing my CV I can think again. At the moment I work part time in a good job and have almost total flexibility, this is because I’m good at my job and I illustrated this when I volunteered. At the moment the best I can do for career progression is request fewer hours and reduced pay when I apply for the job, strangely this doesn’t go down well.

The likelihood of finding a flat would be greatly increased if I could simply get a job and come off benefits but getting a job becomes less simple when I complete a mental risk assessment. The conundrum of my benefits is this: Am I feeling well because I am on benefits which means I can keep myself well far more easily or am I basically well and I can return to full time work and be totally fine? At some point I will have to take a leap off the precipice of benefits and check out what’s below but frankly the uncertainty makes it slightly terrifying. What I might find is an increased sense of purpose, an ability to get into a career I’m really interested in and easy access to adequate housing however on the flip side I might also find myself overwhelmed, ill and destabalised. When I consider being unwell, really unwell, I am mildly terrified and I’ll do anything to keep myself in the nook of safety I’ve created for myself. I don’t know anyone in Manchester meaning it will take me a while to set up any kind of support system (right now I have all my family, my mental health team and my friends) and it’s important I at least have something in place before I begin work which will be a trigger for me. As a result I have decided it makes most sense to move and then look for work, allowing me to manage one trigger at a time but we then return to the issue of the housing repellent that is benefits. This is where a staggered back to work scheme would be helpful and probably far more cost effective but alas my maths skills and total lack of knowledge means it’s unlikely I’ll ever be writing up that policy.

What’s worse is that I’m in a far better position than most; I have a degree and access to resources that have allowed me to articulate myself well, whether that’s in a housing enquiry or a ranty blog post. I also don’t look like the fictitious benefit scoundrel that litters the papers in all its stereotyped glory. Both of these benefits (ha) I milk heavily as I litter my adverts with jovial photos of my friends and i and insert fancy words into every sentence. It hardly seems fair that a minority of douchebags conning the system get plucked from the group and held up by the media as symbols of those in receipt of benefits, ‘here, this is what they look like, this is how they act, this is the state of their morality’. What we’re creating by doing this is a collection of society who are defined and marginalised because of circumstance; restriction to low skilled jobs and inadequate housing sends a message ‘you are not entitled to the same things we are because you have failed and not tried hard enough’. It ignores how far I have come in my recovery journey and how hard I have worked to create a life that celebrates and utilises my skills, achievements and experiences and I’ll be honest that’s really frustrating. Studies have proven that those who have access to work reflecting their abilities not their benefits have come off benefits far more quickly so it makes sense to encourage rather than reject. For every benefit tenant that ruins a flat there is one like me who cherishes their home.

In regards to renting I know that the lovely flat I have been in for almost 3 years has been fundamental to my recovery and has provided me with the safe base I needed to gather my thoughts and regroup. My Landlord took a chance on me and has never made me feel anything other than an awesome tenant (which I am); her willingness to give me a shot has solidified the respect I have for her and the flat and I continue to show my gratitude through keeping my home in excellent condition. I hope eventually someone else will take a chance so I can continue to fight the stereotype one home at a time, bring it on Manchester!

*O and if you know of anyone renting out a 1 bedroom flat sans kitchen cupboard and mould then hook me up!

Some Facts:

Ok so this is from 2011/2012 but the point I want to make is that public perception rarely reflects what’s really happening:

‘For 2011-12 it is estimated that 0.8%, or £1.2bn, of total benefit expenditure was overpaid as a result of fraud. This is far lower than the figures widely believed by the public, as revealed repeatedly in opinion polls. A TUC poll recently revealed that people believe 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently.’

‘European studies show that the use of sanctions is likely to lead to worse employment outcomes (lower pay and more likely to be back on benefits) than if sanctions are not used. This is because the threat or use of sanctions makes people take lower-quality jobs than if they had been allowed to wait for a better opportunity.’

‘To quote the Economist: “Though most of them seem to end up in newspapers, in 2011 there were just 130 families in the country with 10 children claiming at least one out-of-work benefit. Only 8% of benefit claimants have three or more children. What evidence there is suggests that, on average, unemployed people have similar numbers of children to employed people … it is not clear at all that benefits are a significant incentive to have children’

(http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/apr/06/welfare-britain-facts-myths 11/08/2016)

I also thought this article was interesting:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/11/secret-life-housing-benefits-officer (11/09/2016)

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