26/04/2021

Monday Mythbusting: The 5 most common myths about benefits

26/04/2021

Monday Mythbusting: The 5 most common myths about benefits

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For many people around the UK, benefits provide a lifeline, helping people maintain a reasonable quality of life in difficult circumstances. But there’s also a negative stigma around claiming benefits. 

In the latest installment of our mythbusting series, we’re exploring the myths around claiming benefits, and uncovering the truth behind them.

1. Benefits encourage unemployment

 

This myth is repeated so often in the UK media and political spheres that you would be forgiven for thinking it was a certified fact, with research and figures to back it up. 

It’s easy to see where it comes from. If people who are out of work receive enough financial support to allow them to live comfortably, then there’s no incentive to work. Who in their right mind would work if they didn’t have to?

The answer, it seems, is…most of us. Research comparing the welfare systems in the United States and Germany shows that people who receive more financial support while job seeking not only find jobs, but they actually find better jobs, as the financial buffer allows them the time they need to find jobs that match their skill set.

Trials of a Universal Basic Income in the United States turned up similar results. In a trial in Stockton, California, people given an unconditional income of $500 per month did not give up on the entire idea of working. Instead, they found full-time jobs, and achieved “statistically significant improvements” in their emotional health.

2. There is wide-scale benefit fraud in the UK

 

Similar to the myth that benefits encourage unemployment, the media in the UK appear to be obsessed by the idea that there is widespread benefit fraud in the UK, and that a large portion of benefit claimants are somehow cheating the system. 

While there is undoubtedly some level of benefit fraud in the UK, it can feel like there are more fraudulent claims than claims by people who follow the correct procedures. That’s because the people who follow the correct procedures don’t make the news.

According to a 2017 ‘Reality Check’ article by the BBC, an Ipsos Mori found that people believed around £24 out of every £100 spent on welfare in the UK was fraudulently claimed – in other words, a quarter of all benefits claimants were involved in some kind of scam. 

The reality? Only £1.10 of every £100 spent on welfare in the UK went to benefits cheats – or just over 1%. While any level of benefit fraud is too high, there are thought to be ten times as many people failing to claim benefits they’re entitled to than there are people who cheat the system.

 

3. Hardly anybody claims benefits

 

Another common misconception about benefits is that hardly anybody claims them, and claimants only represent a tiny minority of society. This contributes to the notion that by claiming benefits, you’re somehow doing something wrong. 

In fact, far more people claim benefits in the UK than you’re probably aware of. According to the Guardian, 20.3 million people claimed some form of benefits in the UK in 2013, from pension credit to child tax credit.

Of that 20.3 million, 8.7 million were pensioners, and the figure represents 64% of all the families in Britain – something worth bearing in mind if you ever feel that, by claiming benefits, you would somehow stand out from the crowd.

4. You can’t claim benefits if you’re working

 

When you mention benefits, many people automatically think about the unemployed – people who are out of work and receiving benefits as their primary source of income. 

The idea that benefits are targeted at the unemployed can cause a lot of people to mistakenly think that benefits are not for them, particularly if they have a job. In reality, the majority of people in the UK claiming benefits don’t fall into the category of unemployed.

A report by Turn2us, the charity dedicated to fighting unemployment in the UK, has found that out-of-work benefits account for less than a quarter of the total welfare spending in the United Kingdom. 

The other three quarters of people claiming benefits in the UK is made up of those from all walks of life, including pensioners, children, and working families who happen to be considered ‘low income’.

In other words, if you’re a working person who is struggling financially, it’s could be well worth your while to check if you qualify for some form of financial support – you’d be far from the only one. You can check which benefits you may be eligible for by using the Government’s welfare checker.

5. Being on benefits is something to be ashamed of

 

This final myth about benefits is not only the most common, but also the most damaging for those people who may qualify for benefits and could use some financial support in order to improve their circumstances and get themselves back on track. 

There’s no denying there remains a stigma around benefits. People aren’t comfortable talking about money at the best of times – they’re even less comfortable talking about a lack of money. But just because some sort of stigma exists, doesn’t mean it should. And attitudes are changing.

This last year has been unlike any we’ve experienced before. We’re still dealing with the ramifications of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic which forced us to stay home, stopped industries dead, and saw people lose jobs by the thousands.

Thankfully, those circumstances were taken into account and the Government stepped in to provide support by the way of furlough, SEISS, and other schemes designed to help people through a difficult time.

Just like furlough, benefits were created to help people who need extra support. The millions of people on furlough didn’t feel embarrassed when circumstances outwith their control meant they couldn’t work, so there’s no reason for anyone to be ashamed about claiming benefits they’re entitled to when they need a helping hand.

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