The government have recently cut a man’s state benefits after he was diagnosed with cancer.
Pete Woodcock of Scunthorpe has been unemployed for around eight years, but has spent his time job hunting and volunteering for up to 40 hours a week.
When diagnosed with cancer, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) cut his benefits by 40% (from £140 to £84 a week).
Mr Woodcock stated that this was because he was unable to attend job clubs due to his numerous hospital visits on both sides of the Humber Bridge, meaning he had to claim sickness benefits instead.
Mr Woodcock states: “When a person has cancer the last thing a person needs to worry about is finances but I now have to look after my family, pay bills and finance my trips to hospitals on less than £100 per week.
“The DWP even told me that if I went back on to jobseekers and gave up my treatment I could go back on to £140 per week to live on – meaning if I decided to die, I could be richer!”
This response from the DWP is appalling, and it is clear that the system is not working if cancer patients are expected to forego lifesaving treatment in order to receive their benefits.
Shockingly, some readers of the Scunthorpe Telegraph, in which the article was published, did not respond to this story sympathetically.
One reader stated: “Not much gratitude shown to taxpayers for the hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of free cancer treatment he will receive. I would say that is a pretty substantial benefit myself.”
Another reader commented: “I’d look at this man’s situation the other way and suggest that he’s been overpaid (by at least 40 per cent) over the last eight years, whilst he’s been sat at home reaping in the benefits – whilst the rest of us have been going to work. Eight years is a very long time. Why couldn’t he find a job? Not really looking perhaps.”
However, other readers point to the aims of the Coalition government and the flaws in the system, suggesting that Mr Woodcock’s voluntary work could mean his benefits are sanctioned:
“I have to say he should be careful; the Jobcentre could class that as ‘not actively seeking and being available for work’, mainly due to the amount of time his job-seeking should occupy compared to a full time job. We’re living in a crazy, upside-down country!”
Another commenter stated: “The aim of Govt was to demonise those on benefit by highlighting the worst cases of abuse and unless you are near to terminal there is the idea by the DWP you can do something.”
The demonisation of those on benefits by the government and media has clearly led the public to believe the depictions of those on benefits as ‘scroungers’ as a true representation.
Polls suggest that the public believe that 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently, while in reality, statistics suggest that this figure is only 0.7%.
These opinions may be due to government policy reform and propaganda, with language such as ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’ frequently used by the government to describe people on benefits.
A significant influence on public perception is also likely to be the number of television programmes which highlight the worst cases of long-term unemployed, passing this off as the norm. For example shows such as ‘Benefits Street’, ‘On Benefits and Proud’, and ‘Saints and Scroungers’.
It is evident that the number of these television programmes have increased over the last few years, as has the demonising language used by government. These constant attacks on the unemployed, sick and disabled have clearly been successful in changing public opinions, resulting in stories such as that of Mr Woodcock’s being dismissed with the assumption that he is ‘lazy’.
It is clear that public attitudes need to change, and the real stories of life on benefits for the unemployed, sick, and disabled, must be exposed in order to show the public the hard hitting reality of welfare reform, and the detrimental effects which benefit sanctions can have.
Written by Poppy Reece