(Why We’re Not) Benefit Scroungers: Extract 1

This is an extract from my book, “Why We’re Not Benefit Scroungers”, coming out in early December.


“General saving is really important to us,” he says. “We are a nation that doesn’t save … We drifted into a culture where consumption was all, and you borrowed to spend … So we change the culture so that you save, you invest and you prepare for the worst. Like we insure our cars, this is basically insuring our lives.”[1]

Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Wooding Green, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Which sounds great.  Insure your life, then if (when) bad times come, the insurance will pay out to keep you safe.  This is what National Insurance was introduced for.  It is what private health or life insurance contributes towards.  But life, unlike owning and insuring a vehicle, is not a luxury.  If you are poor, you can choose not to own a car (although this reduces job access, further contributing to your poverty).   But few people consider that the alternative to life insurance for the poor should be for them to choose not to live.

Most people don’t spend time reflecting on how they will manage if they fall ill.  Is the mortgage on the house affordable if you develop lupus and can no longer work?  Can you raise two children if you lose your sight?  Will you be able to care for your ageing parents if you have a stroke and become hemiplegic?  Should you avoid all holidays abroad, in order to save up money to ensure you can tide yourself and your family over when the tide goes out on your health?  Do you live in the smallest house you can fit your family into, live in the cheapest area you can, own the most economical car, deny yourself all luxuries – so that on the day when the stroke strikes, the heart attack attacks or your memory walks out and forgets to return, you have enough savings that you do not ever need to ask for support from a charity, friend or government? …

Living with disability or chronic illness is costly.  That is why support is needed.  Whether in work or not, disability brings additional costs to life that the disabled person may not be able to meet.  Disability and chronic illness can hinder education, employment and access, as well as bringing medical costs. …

Disabled people often want to work and aspire to work as much as any non-disabled person.  But their health, combined with lack of accessibility in society, effectively discriminates against them…

The Greater London Authority recognises disablism as a form of oppression.  “Medical and associated interventions should in no way be seen as substituting for ongoing work to challenge and deal with barriers faced by disabled people in mainstream society… ‘Equal opportunities’ does not mean that all people are treated the same, but rather that their diversity is recognised and accommodated to enable them to access services and opportunities.”[2]

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “Much could be achieved if society was properly attuned to the needs of disabled people and effectively enhanced services could do much to reduce the costs carried by individuals. At the same time, additional resources directly for individuals are also required in order to facilitate the ‘level playing field’ that disabled people seek.[3]

[1] Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Wooding Green, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  In The Telegraph, Iain Duncan Smith: I’m not afraid to light the fuse on disability reform, 13th May 2012, Robert Winnett;


[2] Barer, Davies and Fitzpatrick. Review of the London Health Strategy high-level indicators, Section 3, 2003, London Health Authority http://www.london.gov.uk/lhc/publications/healthinlondon/

[3] Disabled People’s Costs of Living, 2004, JRF


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