I did my last couple of shifts this week at the Refuge Day Centre for Young Homeless People who are in fact not homeless. From now on, I will solely be subjected to abuse and ingratitude from the same ilk, but only in the state funded sector as opposed to the charity sector. Anyway, last Wednesday I penned the piece below to highlight how lucrative the welfare state can be for certain individuals.
Last year, a national newspaper highlighted the fact that there are over one hundred thousand drug addicts and alcoholics receiving lucrative state benefits. This group can be broken down in to two types, those who are still actively indulging in their addiction and those that have abstained but through having damaged their health are able to continue to claim benefits. Many of this latter category are well able to work. The degree to which they have damaged their health varies amongst individuals.
Several service users at the refuge are young alcoholics or addicts feeding their addiction with the help of the state. I will have an illuminating chat with one today.
It’s Wednesday evening and I have started the weekly budget cookery workshop. Only the same two people ever turn up for this. This further highlights the fact that none of our clients are that hard up, otherwise why would they:
(a) turn their nose up at a free freshly cooked meal
(b) not want to learn to cook good quality food on a shoestring budget
One of the two regulars is Patrick. He’s twenty-four and on the face of it is pleasant enough. Unlike many of the others, he has realised it’s much easier to keep sponging off people if you are nice to them. However, when he doesn’t get exactly what he thinks he is entitled to he can get a bit obstreperous, but overall he’s an affable enough chap.
I ask him a few things about himself.
“Where are you living Patrick?”
“One of the council’s supported housing projects in the city centre”
“Do you like it there?”
“I mean I would rather my own flat, but I’ve got a nice big room there. I’ve got my TV, stereo, dvd collection. It’s clean and warm. So it will do for now”
It actually sounds a lot better than a few of the flat shares I’ve been in down through the years.
In time he will get his own flat, courtesy of the state. He will have to wait a few years for it due to the long queues for social housing. However, his alcohol and drug induced health problems could well see him given priority over more deserving decent working class people who pay into the system. Many addicts and alcoholics are given social housing as a priority above other groups of people. The council may deem him as a priority status due to his self inflicted illnesses or he may get a flat or more long term secure accommodation with a government funded housing association.
“How do you pay for it?”
I refrain from pointing out to Patrick that that’s not how he pays his rent, but rather it’s how working people pay his rent in the form of taxes. I want to get as much information out of him about how he funds his drug and alcohol dependent lifestyle. If I was to start moralizing him now on the immorality of funding his idle, drug fuelled existence at the expense of the working population he might become reticent or what’s more likely is that he would tell me to f**k off.
I am aware that addicts and alcoholics can avail of benefits, but at this point in time I have no idea of just how much they can receive. I am about to learn that it depends on the individual’s circumstances.
“Are you on jobseekers allowance as well?”
“No I’m on income support and disability living allowance. I’m on the highest rate of the income support due to my disability. I basically damaged my pancreas and liver whilst I was drinking quite heavily and taking heroin a few years ago.”
“So how much do you get a week between the two payments?”
“That’s not bad for doing nothing is it?”
“No you’re right there. I don’t even have to pay any bills because the housing benefit paid to the hostel covers council tax, electricity, heating the lot. I mean if I worked in an average job I wouldn’t even come out with that a week. And then I eat here or the other centre so I don’t really have to spend any money on food.”
It doesn’t take a mathematician or accountant to work out that Patrick’s £200 a week is basically disposable income. How many hard working people have anything like that to spend on their leisure each week?
“So between housing benefit, income support and disability living allowance you are receiving just shy of £300 a week. God you are better of than me and I’m employed.”
“Do you drink a lot of that money?”
“ No I can’t really drink the way I used to due to the damage that I’ve done myself, but I have a few cans most days as well as the methadone I take, but I am on the lowest dose of methadone one can take so it doesn’t really affect me.”
The taxpayer also funds his methadone treatment.
Anyway, whilst I’m cooking him his dinner, we have a chat about drugs and addiction in general. He is convinced that he no longer has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Despite being on methadone and drinking every day. He only has a few cans most days. A few being at least three but as many as seven, indeed for Patrick it’s an improvement he used to put away bottles of spirits most days a few years ago.
Generally, three to seven cans a day would make someone a heavy drinker as opposed to an alcoholic, although they could well develop a serious problem if they continue with this level of consumption.
However, Patrick mixes his alcohol with methadone thus magnifying the effect of each drug. Plus, he’s a bit partial to the benzodiazepine family of drugs, particularly valium, so he tells me.
“I suffer badly from anxiety and where as I used to get really drunk or take heroin now I just order valium from the internet. It’s so cheap as well. I can get hundreds for next to nothing. If you need any I will show you where to get them.”
“I’m fine Patrick, thanks anyway.”
I think if I wasn’t leaving this job I’d be tempted to put in an order.
Now, Patrick is only one of hundreds of thousands of addicts being funded by the taxpayer. What’s more is that Patrick is far from immobile and is more than capable of doing a variety of jobs. The state needs to find ways to force Patrick in to some kind of productive activity instead of subsidising his addictive habits at the expense of the rest of society. Not only is the taxpayer being fleeced but also Patrick is being robbed of opportunities for self-improvement.
Are you one of the people in Britain that scrapes by, on or below the average salary? Are you one of the millions paying off a recently acquired mortgage at seven times your salary for an overpriced property or perhaps you can’t even afford to do this? Are you one of the working class families that find it hard to make ends meet each week? Are you a member of the middle class that worked so hard to get where you are today and who pay a significant portion of your salary to the state?
The next time you are stuck in horrific traffic as you commute to or from work, or are watching the clock as you trudge through your tedious working day, just think of Patrick and the hundred or so thousand like him sitting around drinking lager and popping pills at your expense.