The Department of Work and Pensions has admitted that it invented fake benefits claimants in order to praise their own benefits sanctions in their publications. No wonder. Because for Conservatives, poor people just aren’t real people.
One fictional character from their leaflets, ‘Sarah’, beams as she gushes that she was “really pleased” that her benefits were cut because it inspired her to redraft her CV. Of course ‘Sarah’ is a model from a bank of stock photo images and her adoring words are the ghost work of Department of Work and Pensions employees. Because God forbid anyone associated with the Tories might know some actual poor people, right?
It’s a revelation which shows just how detached from reality Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms are and what a primitive understanding he has of the people they really affect. While Sarah does not exist as a person, she is real to the minds of Conservatives who are so detached from the reality of hardship and poverty that they have convinced themselves that such stock working class characters – silly, misguided, workshy - truly exist.
The Conservatives justify their benefits reforms under the fantasy that benefits claimants are gormless and lazy people who just need a ‘kick up the backside’ to motivate them to make some simple steps out into the abundant jobs market to be welcomed with open arms by ethical and well-paying employers. And when they make it there they’ll beam back at the Conservatives about how they’re “really pleased” that they gave them the motivation to do so. If they motivated them with the stick rather than the carrot, well, it was all for good paternalistic reasons.
The Department uses fake, imaginary people because that is exactly what the working class are to the Conservative party who have no idea about the real lives of the people who they are punishing and degrading every day. So while Iain Duncan Smith has struggled to come up with a genuine case study to illustrate his benefits sanctions, I’d like to suggest one for him.
Last week, a woman was sentenced in court for stealing a 75p Mars bar from a local shop in Kidderminster. Her benefits had been sanctioned suddenly and without warning. At the time of the theft she hadn’t eaten in days. Facing starvation, she took the chocolate bar from a shop shelf. The court heard that she was “famished” and she knew stealing was wrong but the only other option was starvation.
She took the chocolate bar because at 75p it was the cheapest thing in the shop. The court convicted her of stealing and ordered her to pay a £328 fine: £73 for the theft, 75p in compensation to the store, £150 in court charges, £85 in prosecution costs and a £20 victim surcharge. This works out as more than 438 times the original price of the chocolate bar.
The whole ordeal, from the woman’s benefits being sanctioned to the farcical trial and cruel punishment delivered at the end of it, should make the government feel deeply ashamed. She will never make it into a Department of Work and Pensions leaflet, of course, but she encapsulates the spiteful hatred that this country’s welfare reforms represent more accurately than the government will ever be willing to admit. Luckily enough, a crowdfunding campaign started by a sympathiser as a “small gesture of solidarity” ended up raising over £15,000 at the time of writing. Perhaps this shows that the British public’s mentality is not quite so in line with the one at the heart of a deceptive and disproportionately cruel government.
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