Robert Hampton

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23rd January 2012

Poverty stricken

If you think benefits claimants are worthless scroungers, perhaps you should take a look at this article, published in the Guardian last week. You will be introduced to Thomas Bebb, a Liverpool man who wants to work but has been unable to find a new job since being made redundant by the council in a round of spending cuts last November.

He gets Jobseeker’s Allowance, but thanks to a crisis loan repayment and card debt (his bank refused an overdraft but happily offered him a credit card), he is left with just £20 a week to live on after utility bills are paid. He has plunged into a world far away from the £2,000 plasma TVs and massive houses that the Daily Mail pretends all benefit claimants get:

He goes once a fortnight to one of two local shops that offer heavily discounted food – packets of buy-one-get-one-free frozen burgers for a pound, two-for-£1 ice-cream tubs for his younger children who stay with him at the weekend, a bag of frozen chips, which, if he rations it correctly, he can get four meals out of. When that runs out he eats rice and pasta which he gets for 25p a pack at Tesco. “Sometimes you have to eat crap.”

Bebb looks healthy, but admits he sometimes feels wobbly when he does the 45-minute walk to the job centre (a £3.80 day bus pass is usually unaffordable), because he hasn’t eaten enough. “Sometimes I’ve had to stop because I’ve had the shakes, dizzy.”

Should we expect the Old Etonian Prime Minister and his cabinet cronies to understand any of this? Mr Bebb knows the answer to that question:

“If the prime minister can go out and spend £100 a night for his dinner and I don’t get that a fortnight, where’s the justice in that?”