Friday 22 May 2009

Addicted to Idleness

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?”

“Housing benefit.”

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?”

“About £200.”

“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.


Jon, Leeds said...

I admire you for working alongside the cause of the frustration every day! I also think it's a great shame that you're healthy disdain for the system you are working in, which is clearly coupled with a fundamnetally still caring attitude, can't be released in the more sensible solutions you suggest. As you say, the biggest tragedy is denying genuine opportunities to the service users themselves rather than the great annoyance caused to the public at large.

Recognising the complex cause of 21st century issues is essential, because personal responsibility can only stretch so far. However, simply perpetuating these airy, soft-handed and ineffectual solutions is something quite different and the personal responsibility and respect must be re-learnt at some point, however painfully, ideally with the aid of a genuine network of support.

Boy on a bike said...

How about you apply for a grant to equip one of these homes with a trap door and a pit full of crocodiles underneath?

I don't think this idea needs any further explanation.

Brilliant blog by the way.

Anonymous said...

Social Services apparently wish to abandon the concept of personal responsibility (both their clients and themselves !).

One can't really blame the Patrick's of the world, tempting though it is.

If the people who run the system are stupid enough and allowed to enable this sort of behaviour, there will always be Patricks there to help them.

Not only are there lots of Patricks over the country, there's a lot of similar scenarios.

sebastiandangerfield said...

Just back from a shift in a supported housing project for 9 clients with 4 staff. Did I do any work today? Don't be daft. It's Saturday. They know you can't help them get any money at the weekend. 7 out of 9 never stepped out of their room. Did manage to complete 2 support plans and risk assessments for clients that I haven't even met yet. They move in Tuesday. The boss is that scared of QAF that this is the new strategy...
Other than that. Put my feet up and read your blog innit. What did you think we did for a living?!

WinstonSmith33 said...

Sebastian, excellent post. Indeed, we do spend alot of time in supported housing doing bugger all. When Im not helping someone plan getting to the dole office to sign on or filling in their housing benefit forms or receiving verbal abuse then Im kicking back with a good book or writing a blog.

There is one project I work at where as an agency worker they never give me any work to do, that said teaching someone how to traverse the benefit system isnt very rewarding anyway so Id rather do nought. Im there just to ensure that the residents dont kill each other or themselves. I mostly sleep and watch TV whem Im there.

Although, last week I had two attention seeking suicide attempts to deal with and was threatened with violence to my person by another unsocialised degenerate. So, at the end of the day that side of things balances out the days when you are surfing the net and as you know we get paid a pittance and have very anti-social hours. Glad to see a few people working in the benefit dependency creation sector are reading this blog. Id sack almost all of us if I were in government we are a level of superfluous bureaucracy that isnt needed. Anyway, back to my book and then I'll have a snooze before I have to go and intervene in the chaotic lives of the underclass at some stage.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to sympathise with this Patrick parasite or go aginst the gist of what you are saying.
I just must point out that getting off Benziopines is very difficult for some people. I am addicted to Benzopines. When I gradually tried to get off them under medical help, I started getting horrible muscle tremours and heart papitations, insomnia and had to go back on them. At the moment I take one tablet of clonex per day prescribed by my doctor. (I was on valium before that.) My doctor originally prescribed them to me for sleep and anxiety. I have an illness called fibromyalgia and insomnia. Of course I don't get 300 benefits a week for my addiction. I have to go to the doctor and pay for a prescription. Even with my addiction I am against someone chosing to take these things for recreational use or taking them when they could stop without suffering. It's a sleep and anti anxiety thing for me that I feel forced to take it because of the symptoms when I stop. I don't really like being addicted to it.
Like I said, I still totally agree with you and find your blog facinating.

WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi Rachel, I sympathise with your predicament, Doctors often prescribe extremely addictive drugs to people. My own Mother was addicted to Benzos and I watched her withdraw, not a pleasnt experience for her, or her children.

I hope you manage to get to grip with this. Thanks for your comments

Anonymous said...

Hi Winston

Just stumbled across your blog.

Where are you leaving to? I was a housing support worker for a multi subsance abuse hostel for 6 months before I had to get out . I couldn't take being part of the problem rather then the solution.


WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi Lilliput,

The refuge day centre is just one of the palces I work. I had a part time postion here 2 days a week and the rest of the time I work in Supported Housing or Residential Children's homes with a social care agency. Im hoping and trying to get out of this line of work alltogether.

Ranting Teacher said...

Well the solution for me, a hard-working tax-payer who currently has about £50 a month left from my wages after bills and regular expenses, is now quite clear. I shall continue to spend my £50 on cheap spirits and dire wine, as liver damage can't be far off now, and as for the heads up on the cheap valium - much appreciated! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Winston,
I work in the field now, and have worked in allied fields for some time. I have suggested to some of our staff that they read your blog. All your columns have come very close to hitting the nail on the head. It is very near impossible to work in the field and not become jaded at the ironies and wastes.It could be a case of 'if you can't beat 'em, leave'. Advice I intend to follow myself. As a bit of an aside, if you are going to work exclusively in State-funded residential, well at least you'll be better resourced. I guess you may have already discovered, though, that the under 18 clientele are given much more free reign. G'luck, L.

Louise from Colchester said...

I continue to love reading your blog Winston, even though as another tax paying, law abiding member of our community I should not as it makes my blood boil! Funnily enough I am another teacher and maybe I should follow Ranting Teacher's lead....!
What do you think you will do instead of this job Winston?

North Northwester said...

Hi Winston. Just been sent your blog address by Julia M.

It seems we're in different parts of the same racket, and I'm pleased to have made your acquaintance.

Consider yourself blogrolled and followed


WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi Northe wester and Louise.

Ive left the Refuge day centre, I was only there part time, but continue to work in the state sector in children's care homes and in supported housing for 16-25 year olds.

In the long run i think I might train to be a counsellor and specialise working with teenagers/young adults, I would ideally like to be a journalist and Ive tried breaking in to this profession but its extremely difficult.

Anonymous said...

Hi Winston,

Brilliant blog. What have you done to try and break into the world of journalism?

Kimpatsu said...

why would they:...not want to learn to cook good quality food on a shoestring budget(?)
Because cooking is work, and as one such scroat boasted to me many years ago (about 20): "I NEVER cook! Cooking is women's job!" (Innit?)
You have to understand that these people are not reluctantly unemployed; they regard free food and disposable income as their due. The rest of us are mugs to provide it.
But then again, we're good at that, aren't we...?

Anonymous said...

Hi, i need some advice if possible my partner is currently addicted to Benzo's and i am struggling to find him help, i have tried to help him myself but im no proffessional and the withdrawl symptoms are too much for him,plus i am afraid that as i am not trained that i might do more damage than good, he is a hard working personal trainer and used these initially to relax his muscles and assist with sleep following advice from a fellow worker who is a body builder!

I am starting to become afraid for him and dont know where to turn, can anyone please point us in the right direction???