Behind Closed Doors: Benefits?

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I’m a non-judgmental person, open minded, compassionate, and spend most of my time putting myself in others’ shoes. I worry about things I’ve seen in the news. Heck, I worry about people I’ve seen on telly who are having a hard time.

I’m close to my cousin L and I’ve empathised and sympathised with her time and time again – but now my compassion and patience is running out.

I feel she is living a life she – and we – can’t be proud of and going to great lengths to continue living life in that way.

It all started eighteen months ago. Cousin L was 19 years old. I was at a friend’s house when I received a phone call from my sister telling me L was pregnant. Apparently it was a mistake and she was keeping the baby. The friend I was with calmly dealt with my hyperventilating and my almost being sick. I was worried about L, I was worried about her lack of finances, and I was worried about the effect on our close-knit family. I supported her decision to have the baby but I was also very doubtful that it was an accident.

I’d seen this coming with L. A couple of months earlier she’d told me she wanted to become a “young mum”. My partner and I tried to talk her out of this with stories of uni and how much she’d love it if she could just make it a bit further and get there. We thought our talk had got through to her. So while the rest of the family believed it was a genuine “accident”, I knew otherwise.

L is an eloquent, funny, super intelligent girl, and prior to the pregnancy it was hard for me to see her not being able to have the motivation or willpower to see her post-GCSE education through. She’d had a tough upbringing (without going into detail there’s a family rift and one of her parents is neglectful and not a positive influence in her life). She moved out of the family home to live by herself and struggled with remaining committed to various courses/jobs. She lives three hours drive from us among her friends who are mostly unemployed and living on benefits and many had teenage pregnancies. Prior to her pregnancy, L had dropped in and out of education.  As I have a lifelong love for education, as well as a fulfilling career, I’d hoped I’d somehow be a positive role model for her. Sadly this wasn’t to be.

I was so upset about how our wider family – all on relatively low incomes – would not be able to offer her any financial support at all. How would she and the baby survive? I looked into benefits she could receive and was relieved when I realised the government help people who have babies, especially when they don’t have a job. I told L this. Her response? A nonchalant “Yeah, I know”. So, readers, this was all planned and well thought-out. Believe me when I say this – she knew from her friends the consequences of having a baby, getting free money, and being moved up the housing list.

Somehow there was a falling out between me and L a few months down the line during a family weekend. Nothing on the surface to do with baby, but other family issues. I was angry because she was judging someone in our family and I staunchly defended them – for goodness sake, we’d all been as non-judgmental and supportive as possible with her, why was it her right to criticise someone else?

Her baby shower date came, it was only the second one I’d ever been to, I didn’t enjoy it but put a brave face on it and mingled like no other. I was shocked at the amount of money being spent on it – more than many of my working friends would have done.

Baby arrived, we all made a fuss. Baby B is gorgeous and lovely. I love him.

Cousin L continues to live on benefits, lots of benefits. She was made priority housing as soon as she gave birth to B, she lives in a housing association flat paid for with housing benefit. She’s received numerous grants and payments, yet she only bought B a cot at 10 months, and B still doesn’t have a highchair. L delayed buying a cot because she was saving up for a specific flashy one which costs, as far as I can tell, four times the average. FOURHUNDREDPOUNDSFORACOT, no-one else I know has spent that, despite them working in jobs and being on good incomes. My friend’s baby’s cot cost £30 second-hand. This is the kind of thing you do if you don’t earn enough money. You just have to. But not if you’re L, it seems.

L has coped OK with B but wobbled at times, as everyone does. However, the baby is unsettled and L hasn’t had the inclination to start any kind of routine, as she is still living a life a bit like people do at uni eg. Watching telly til 4 in the morning, sleeping in til midday. L’s relationship with B’s Dad is rocky at best. He’s unemployed and in considerable debt. He tells the family that there’s no point in taking low paid jobs when he gets more money on benefits. The first thing he and L bought together when B arrived was an iPad.

AOW readers, this is a world you are hearing about now, which my good friend calls the ‘Katie Price culture’. For goodness sake, a child does not need a particular cot, they just NEED A COT. This is the vain world of materialism and choosing baby’s items because they suit you, and make you look good. Bear in mind, I wouldn’t be going on about this if she’d bought a cot, whether that £400 one or something else, when B needed it, ie. months ago. I am concerned that L wants it all, and wants it now, not realising that most people have to work years to get to a stage where they buy things they want. She recently talked about going on a foreign holiday. My partner did not go abroad until he was ten because his parents couldn’t afford it and they were both working. How on earth can I justify the things L is telling me?

Having come to terms with it by thinking about L and her boyfriend ‘maybe they’re coping OK, and never mind they’re on benefits, it sounds like they’ll both be working at some point’ (as L used to tell me she will), another call came through. L is pregnant again. Baby B will be little over a year old when the new baby brother or sister is born so we are going to go through all this again. I am being told the pregnancy was yet again not planned, but how can I believe this?

Please help me readers. Tell me whether my upset over this is justified. Is it acceptable to choose to have a baby at this young age because you know it will be government funded? I am getting more and more frustrated and my kindness and goodwill is lessening. How awful because L is a great cousin.  I love B, and will love the new addition, and they are surrounded by love. But I can’t come to terms with how their mummy is choosing to live her life.

Categories: Behind Closed Doors, Family, Friends and Relationships, Money and Career
71 interesting thoughts on this

70 Comments

  1. ADizzyGirl
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I could have written this entire post (apart from the second pregnancy) and this coul almost be about my cousin.

    I struggle with the belief that it is a good thing that our country takes care of its citizens. I want to believe this, but unfortunately I also know just how easy it is to manipulate the system.

    Five years ago, I was made redundant and had to move back home. I appliwd for job seekers allowance and cleaned a local garage for 10 hours per week while I waited for a suitable job to come
    up. When a job came up in a city, I didn’t have the money to get there for an interview so applied for travel expenses and a crisis loan. I didn’t get either, but in the same day my cousins friend was handed £200 to buy her son birthday presents. She spent it on a night out.

    The final straw for me came recently when my cousin announced how terrible it was that women went back to work after having children. She has no idea how hard it must be for mothers to leave their babies and return to work, or how necessary it is for most people. She spends 5 days a week with her child and the rest of the time she is being looked after by anyone whilst her mother is out drinking.

    There are many people on benefits who fully need and deserve all the help they get. And then there are a minority who are playing the system and getting away with it.

    • Anon
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      It’s good to read your thoughts as we have similar situations with our cousins. I can’t believe she spent £200 on a night out. It’s really hard to not judge her for that :(

  2. Lexie
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I don’t quite know what to say. It must be very difficult for you as your cousin’s behaviour is the kind that makes me a bit angry but then mostly sad. Sad because she has not discovered the fulfillment that education and work can bring that a new iPad never will. There are so many more things to be said, but the positive thing is that you are in her life and in her children’s life and whether or not your cousin changes her ways, you can still be a very important positive role model for her children.

    • Anon
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Lexie – Your words are really helping me put this into perspective and take some positives out of it. Thank you.

  3. Posted May 28, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    An interesting post, but always a bit of a controversial topic! When you do have strong feelings about this it can be hard not to come over a little bit ‘Daily Mail’, which I would love to avoid, but no doubt stereotypes are going to be flying around here left, right and centre. The main problem for me is that I don’t know how they can do this fairly – to make sure the people that are deserving get everything they should have without other people milking the system.

    Yesterday I did a race for life and they actually had to ask if people were going to hand in their donations this year. I mean WTF…? What is wrong with people?!

    Anyhow, I strongly believe that some people should be given benefits (when circumstances are out of their control), but we shouldn’t be allowed to CHOOSE to say on them for long periods because it is easier. I think the system of being able to claim a million and one different benefits is deterring anyone from going out and finding work. We aren’t able to claim extra income from having a job and working hard, so I don’t see why other should have luxuries we can’t afford – like Sky, designer clothes and as many children as they want.

    Jobseekers allowance should come in just under the minimum wage so that people have a reason to get off their bums and find a job, surely? After all there aren’t that many people who choose having a job they don’t want over staying at home and ‘earning’ more money.

    But I am also aware that there is a real lack of opportunity for people (particularly with little / no qualifications), there’s a lack of aspiration to work as you can get everything you need from benefits, some people can’t go to work – sky high child care prices, and that a whole culture has now developed around benefits so there really is no easy solution. There’s also a real affect that not having a job has on you – your self image, self esteem and self belief plummet (there’s a post in there I’m sure!) and actually sometimes relying on other people for money isn’t the easy option.

    So all in all – I’m torn!

  4. Posted May 28, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Tricky subject!
    I knew many people like this at school. For many people it’s the norm, and I think this needs addressing. I’m torn between being sad for those to whom this is seen as the only option (or the easy option) and angry on behalf of those who need and aren’t getting this level of support from the state (e.g. pensioners, carers etc).

  5. Sandra C
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Im sorry, but I don’t agree with you. It may not be your choice of lifestyle, or the lifestyle you would wish for her, but it, ultimately, is none of your business. She is an adult, and makes her own choices. So what if she got pregnant intentionally? Again, that is her bed, she will lie in it, not you. You also sound extremely judgemental, despite claiming you aren’t. Why not just offer her support and love instead of condemnation?

  6. Posted May 28, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    The whole system seems so frustrating to me. I know a couple of people who would be the ‘perfect’ example of eligibility, yet there’s nothing available from them. One girl I met has been through the care system, domestically abused and moved to a new city when she was still a teenager. She bugged a local college for a year to let her study for her A levels, and now at 21 is not eligible for any support because she isn’t in university but can’t seek a job whilst she gets qualifications. One JobCentrePlus employee told her to have a baby…

    Another friend was kicked off her uni course because she has a condition in her legs which constitutes a disability. She was dismissed from three jobs. She applied for disability allowance last september and it’s just started to come through. She’s in a hostel waiting to be housed.

    Someone else I know was made redundant a while ago and moved into a lovely flat on housing benefit. A year on, I can see no incentive for him to find work.

    It’s such a nasty dilemma when a system which should be designed to ensure the most vulnerable are always protected actually incentivises the number of people in that category.

    I think you can still be a role model to L. I can totally understand that your patience is running out, but you’re still in a great position to be an example of stability and love to her and her children.

    • Zan
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      I think all these examples here make an important point… from my perspective I think it’s important to live in society that makes provisions for it’s most vunerable and destitute citizens, but how can you build a system that’s completely immume to abuse? You always run the risk of either making a benefits system so restrictive that many people live in poverty and suffering or you make it too unrestrictive which incentivises people to stop working and live off handouts.

      Ultimately the system we have in this country (I hope) helps more than it hinders…but nothing is 100% perfect or foolproof and I think people forget that sometimes.

      Anyway – to the poster – others have said it, but in reality there’s little you can do change the way someone chooses to live despite how uncomfortable it makes you feel. As long as the children are happy and safe with L, the best I think you can do is try to be the best role model you can for them and for her.

      • Posted May 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        I’ve been struggling to think of something succinct to say on this all morning, I think Zan has nailed it for me. I get very upset about this, having slipped through the cracks numerous times in the last three years since my redundancy. Fact is, there are not the resources to judge everyone on a case by case basis, so it is bound to be a flawed system. It’s just sad that people are greedy, it’s frustrating when it’s a member of your family and I wholly sympathise. I suspect with the current government, the rich/poor divide will continue to grow and dishonest people will fibd it even easier to justify any manipulation of the system.

        Px

  7. Anon
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Hello all

    I am also torn on this subject – I am a great believer in offering benefits to those who have fallen on hard times to help them get back on their feet… but can see how the system is manipulated.

    However, I thought I would post a different perspective from my experience… My best friend had to leave her partner when her baby was 6 months old (abusive relationship). She lived with her parents on benefits and eventually got housing allowance to live in a little (tiny but nice) house. I have really seen her struggle with money. She has said to me countless times “I don’t know why anyone would choose to live like this.” She also always spends the money on the littlun first. She took the opportunity of discounted education and is doing an OU degree!

    She also struggled being a full time single mum! And decided to go back to work part time when he was three and loves it. She still gets housing allowance (which she didn’t get for three months as she had to resubmit her form due to her change of status).

    Anyway, this doesn’t really provide an answer to the post (I can completely empathise with you)! But I thought it would be interesting to see a different perspective of people who claim benefits. I am always very proud of her.

    • Anon
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing that about your friend. Sad for what has happened to her, and horrible that she struggles so much.

  8. Posted May 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    We all support a benefit system that helps those who have worked hard for it, but are against those that haven’t. However, those that haven’t out weigh those that have – this is happening in every town in the UK. The thing is we turn a blind eye to it until it happens in our family, or our friends. I don’t know the solution, there will always be people who take what they can, I think loving the children and trying to ensure that they don’t go this route in the future is the best option.

  9. Sharon
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I actually work for a housing association, so see the very postive side of our welfare system but also the very negative side, and how it can be abused. Welfare reforms are coming in April 2013 which will change things, but it still won’t prevent some from taking advantage (and the reforms will probabaly hurt those in genuine poverty too). I think your post raises many issues, not just about having a child whilst on benefits, but the having it all culture regardless of your income, and how do you best support someone when you find their life choices really difficult to understand.
    Partly the welfare system is partly what you’re cross at, so maybe use that frustration when you next vote, and be assured there’s lots of people like me working in housing assocations doing our best to make sure the system isn’t abused and that people who really neld help get it.
    In terms of your cousin, planned or unplanned pregnancy, the outcome is still the same, a new addition to the family, plus the lovely B you mentioned. Focus on them and being a loving Auntie to them, you could be a very important role model in their lives.

  10. Posted May 28, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    This post is judgmental. Terribly, terribly judgmental and because of that I’m not going to apologise for leaving a comment that some may consider harsh.

    I consider the worth of a society to be very much tied into how well it treats its least fortunate citizens and I would rather have a benefit system that erred on the side of too inclusive than too exclusive. That said, did I miss the part in this post where L commits benefit fraud? You can and should report people for that but it just sounds like L is making use of the benefits she and her family are entitled to and I’m not sure what exactly people find so repellent about that?

    There’s a lot of criticism in this post about how L is raising her child. I’m surprised to see that in an AOW post. It doesn’t sound like B is being mistreated; it sounds like he is happy, healthy and loved. L is young, and she has made difficult lifestyle choices. Benefits or not, I don’t think two children is taking the ‘easy option’. She needs guidance and support. When she needed a cot, where was her mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins etc taking her out and helping her buy one?Yes she waited until B was 10 months before she got him one, but no one else stepped up either.

    • Anon
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      Have read all replies with interest but just wanted to let you know a few things that I didn’t write in my post originally:

      1. I offered numerous times to help buy cot and high chair. L refused as she was waiting for aforementioned fancy cot. I offered to lend her money, to chip in, so many options. But I couldn’t afford to lend £400.
      2. I don’t have a lot of money but I have made damn sure I contribute to her upbringing. Including spending most of my £60 voucher (present from leaving my last job) on Baby B, useful and educational things.
      3. All the family offer support in numerous ways apart from the parent I mentioned.
      4. I would like to say to the person who said I am judgmental and that im condemning that this may be true now but that is what the 2nd pregnancy has brought on. You see, I didn’t write this post before because when there was one baby I was offering so much support (it drained me) and the thought that she is having another baby and she/we are doing it again has really upset me.
      5. L and B are on the whole doing ok but we have had some concerning moments and ongoing worries which I can’t go into.
      6. I didnt emphasise how uncomfortable i am with the small gap between babies.Not many people have mentioned it either but this would be a big deal for anyone and adds to my worry.

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      I actually haven’t commented on this all morning because I have been trying to work out how to phrase my response. Luckily my tardiness has led to someone else managing to say what I was thinking better than I could have done. Score one for my slow Monday brain.

      I think it comes down to this, you judge her because you think she *should* be working, rather than dedicating herself and her life to raising a family. Why should she be working though? Feminism, equality, those things are about us having the choice to work, or, crucially, not. I can see that L’s choice isn’t one that many women would want, but it is her choice and she has every right to make it.

      K x

      • Anon
        Posted May 28, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Hmmm, the fact she’s nineteen plays a role in this. I am a feminist and I wholeheartedly think women should have the choice. But both herself and her partner are fit and well, her partner could work, or she could work. Its a tough economic climate but loans and benefits as a long term thing should not be a life choice, I’m sorry.

        • Posted May 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          It’s interesting because I’ve actually had this debate a lot in the past few years, my future husband’s brother has twin boys and a girlfriend, and neither of them work. They live off the benefits they are entitled to. At first I was very judgemental about this, I thought that one of them could easily work, but after a while I have changed my opinion slightly. Personally, in their situation, I think I would work, but I am not in their situation. It’s hard to judge them because they love their kids so much, the welfare and future of their children is their priority always. And, the frank truth is that they are better off on the benefits system, because they live in an area where they would struggle to be paid minimum wage. To a degree, perhaps they are taking advantage of our system, but equally a system with such sky-high unemployment is letting them down. I don’t know L, or her situation, in detail, but I do think that for some people, benefits are the way they and their kids will be better off, and that isn’t their fault, that’s a deep-seated issue in our system.

          K x

          • Anon
            Posted May 28, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

            They sound like good parents. Their situation does make me sad though mainly because I can’t believe we live in a world where some how you can get more money from being in the benefits system rather than having a job.

      • Clare
        Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t she incredibly lucky to have that choice though? What if we were all to make that same choice? To choose to allow others to support us?

        • Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

          They are lucky, and if they lived somewhere else they may have been forced to take less-than-minimum wage jobs, and would be struggling more than they are now. There are just no easy answers. At first I thought at least one of them ought to work, but after a while I realised that a huge part of why they don’t is because they get more money not working, which they can use to help their children build their future. It’s still non-ideal, but the ideal is a country where unemployment isn’t so ubiquitous, especially in certain regions.

          K x

          • Posted May 28, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

            PS: If we all made that choice, clearly we’d be buggered. I honestly don’t think their choice is ideal, I’m just saying that it’s easy to blame the people making the choice, but actually the country itself is badly flawed when unemployment is so prevalent that benefits leave a large swathe of society better off than working would.

            K x

        • Sharon
          Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

          Really good point there

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Catherine, the post is up on AOW because whilst some (me included!) may not agree with all of the points raised, the issues provoke discussion. Posts like this are always a judgement call and on this one, we wanted readers to have a conversation about it – it’s an incredibly important issue.

    • Anon
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I just wanted to say to Catherine that I can see why in some ways I am coming across as judgmental. But you are also being judgmental towards me (and the family) and our role in this. It’s impossible for me to include all the details in this but please know there is a large amount of support for L.

      I’m a liberal person and on the whole agree with the benefits system. But why seeing a nineteen years old choose to do this, should we just go along with this and accept it? I don’t understand. I also want you and others to really put yourself in my shoes and please tell me how you would feel/act towards a close family member who made this choice. Wish I could give you more background – I’ll try through replies to everyone.

    • Clare
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry Catherine, I normally agree with everything you say, but on this point I have to disagree. Why should her parents, friends and family be expected spend their hard-earned (and very possibly much needed) money on a cot when she obviously had the money (she bought an iPad) but chose to spend it on something else. I would be utterly ashamed of myself if I behaved in that way. I absolutely agree that we should all help where we can, and if I had a family or friend in need I would be the first in line to do whatever needed, financially or other, but I would find it very tough if that person was able to afford luxuries that I couldn’t, yet still expected me to pay for her baby’s things.

      • Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        Got to agree with Clare on this. They weren’t putting the kids needs first and I think that was the Anon’s real concern.

      • Catherine
        Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        My point was really that at 19 (and a seemingly very naive 19 year old at that), I wasn’t sure why no one seemed to be guiding her, making sure that she knew what to get for her kid and when.

        • Anon
          Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          Sorry if you concluded no-one was guiding her. We were and are. Some, not all, of it falls on deaf ears though.

      • Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        Maybe they shouldn’t give her the money then. The benefits system has made getting the money too easy and her family are doing the same?

        If they didn’t help out she would have to use the grants and benefits properly, wouldn’t she?

        • Anon
          Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

          None of us can afford to contribute much. Everybody’s bought things here and there. L’s partner takes out loans he can’t repay. I know I may come across as harsh in these comments but I’m truly not. Im dedicated to my family. The truth is I spent hours speaking to debt management charities, helping L’s boyfriend get on top of his debt. Then he decided not to proceed. Said it was easier to go bankrupt. So I think they fund stuff that way on top of benefits.

  11. Sandra C
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Catherine. You made the point better than me, I think.

  12. Anon
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to all for replying so far, I’m reading with interest, even the negative comments. But to those posters I wonder how differently you would feel if it was happening to someone you are close to.

  13. Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    This is a really tricky one to comment on, and I’ve been trying to put down how I feel all day.

    In some respects I agree with Penny- it is always hard to see other people living a life we feel is unjustified, that doesn’t tie in with our values. And here I agree with Sandra C – it’s not your life, not your place to judge, and there are always other issues at play, other undercurrents. No living situation is ever as straightforward as we think.

    There are things in here that raise my hackles – the assumption that L had the baby purely for the benefits, the judgement that L should not live her life in the way she is doing so. But ultimately what the author has done here is raise the issue of welfare culture – and as Catherine says the measure of a society is how it looks after its least fortunate. Penny says it’s a flawed system – it is, yes, but think of the millions and millions of people who don’t have access to state welfare. We should be grateful we live in a country where this is a priority. Yes it’s possible to abuse it, yes too many people do, yes it is POSSIBLE that L is doing that (but that’s L’s say, not ours)

    Essentially our welfare system supports the founding principle of any civilised nation – compassion and support for those who cannot help themselves.

    • Anon
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Agree with welfare system comment and I am pleased we have it.
      On the flip side, OK I understand what you say that L didn’t necessarily do it for the benefits (although there is much evidence to the contrary especially re her desire to get on housing list, and we had open discussions about this prior to her first pregnancy.).
      BUT, to have a second baby in quick succession, knowing you can’t support it yourself? I need to know why I’m not allowed to be a bit cross and judgmental about this?

      It will be hard enough L to have Baby B and the new baby being babies at the same time (a year of both in nappies…), but as children grow and develop they need so much more than I think L realises. So much care, love, time, support and nurture. I do not think she knows what she is letting herself into. I just want to make the point- why should this be such a simple option? Having a second baby so soon means she will get a lot more money. This is true.

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

      Just to clarify, I wasn’t commenting in opposition to Catherine (or to anonymous, in fact). The system is flawed yes – as I said, it has to be, every system is flawed unless you can afford to judge each case individually. But no government can afford to do this. So, to a degree, we have to accept it. That was my point. I wasn’t criticising the system itself, or bemoaning that ours isn’t perfect at all. Far from it.

      My point was that (speaking as somebody who has actually had the system fail them, I don’t want to go into details as to the whys and wherefores) it is frustrating, as a human being, to witness such a system and its failings and consequences for ourselves, and for others. These systematic failings then become emotive things (which is why this post has sparked such debate). We could talk around this all day and night, because you simply cannot apply rational, black and white systems to the complexities of human nature. And it is frustrating, and upsetting, and I sympathise. That was my point. I would hate to think that anybody thought I was coming down hard on either side of a debate that is such an enormously grey area.

      Px

  14. Kate
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    This is a tough one, it’s hard to know what to comment.

    I choose to think the best of people – that if someone is claiming benefits then they need and deserve those benefits, the system really can’t work any other way. Other people’s decisions can seem hard to understand but that’s because you can never know the thousands of things taken into consideration with each decision, nothing is an isolated event.

    But I don’t think the poster was being judgemental, it can come out that way when you care and worry about someone and more so when you aren’t able to raise your concerns with the person as it then seems very one-sided.

    • Anon
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Kate and I agree – I don’t see how the system can work any other way. I certainly don’t consider myself a judgmental person and glad that you can see I care and am just extremely upset.

  15. Anon
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Something I should have written in my post:

    Why is it OK to make the decision to bring a child in to the world when you do not have a job, or money of your own?

    A lot of people seem to think this is an OK lifestyle choice – tell me, is it? Remember she is 19.

    • Catherine
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      I very much wish people didn’t have children that they couldn’t support, and your cousib’s choices are not necessarily ones I would want for my family either. But I don’t think the benefit system entices otherwise industrious people into a life of handouts.

      I am sorry that I have probably come across as quite harsh in my comments to you. I currently live in America, in an urban area with high levels of poverty. The US doesn’t offer much help to their moderately poor, to their new parents, their sick or the out of work and many children are born into poverty they have absolutely no chance of ever getting out of. In that regard, your cousins children seem lucky. They have a home, they have parents (who though misguided don’t seem to be negligent) and they have a wider family who cares about them a great deal. My practical advice is give it time. It’s no bad thing for her to be at home while her children are young. As they get older keep encouraging her to find something useful and valuable to her – education courses, part time work etc. I know a few women who had children very young (16/17) and they needed a while to figure out what was going on but they all ended up finding work and raising good kids. Desire what the Daily Mail says, I don’t believe many people are truly lifetime benefit seekers.

  16. Frances
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    It’s pretty difficult to say what constitutes an accidental pregnancy. Pretty much the only guaranteed way to not get pregnant is to abstain completely from sex. Choosing not to use contraception is going to make you far more likely to get pregnant but it’s not always true that people are able to see that connection – and I don’t just mean in the heat of the moment. Given the number of unexpected pregnancies that happen it isn’t impossible to believe that she genuinely did not expect to get pregnant.

    Of course it is also possible that L did want to have a baby to gain certain benefits. However you can’t be sure of that and it is very unlikely to turn out to have been the ‘easy option’ long term.

    People make mistakes. People are often unaware of the long term consequences of their actions. People do foolish things while realising they are foolish!!

    I think that it is both really difficult and really important not to apply your values and chosen lifestyle to other people – especially to those “in debt to society”. We shouldn’t have a benefits system that only supports those who deserve it – how would such a subjective system operate?

    For any given set of values there will be plenty of people – both above you on the socio-economic ladder and below – who will choose to live their lives completely contrary to what you believe is right. The ones above are rarely held accountable and that courtesy should be extended to those below.

    • Anon
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for this Frances. It’s really interesting hearing your thoughts.

      To everyone mentioning the “easy option” – I did not ever mention that it was, or that L thought it was. The thing I did say is that she is and was very clued up on her rights when it comes to benefits, housing etc.

      And would just like to mention to everyone that L was never in a crisis about it, never thought of herself as foolish, never seemed shocked about her pregnancy. OK, as I’ve said already, I do believe accidents can happen, but two accidents? She is an intelligent girl.

  17. Mrs Jones
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    This is so hard to comment on and, the fact is, although anon believes that the baby was planned (and I would assume the same) nothing has been confirmed by the mother. IF it was true then yes, it is a very sad state of affairs that our government is funding lifestyle choices for people who can’t be bothered to go to work and also that it is seen to be easier to do nothing.

    I was made redundant a few weeks ago and was in the horrifying position of needing to ‘sign on’ and get job seekers. Every time I walk in there I hope no one sees me, for me it is humiliating and I can’t imagine why people would subject themselves to it. However, the attitude of the staff in there is very blasé and I’ve been given the impression that they expect people to stay on JSA long term. At the ‘interview’ they do with you they were surprised to hear that I had a job offer.. “aren’t you lucky?” they said and were genuinely surprised. Then they show you a list of jobs on their website, I’d got an offer already do wasn’t interested but when I said no to everything I wasn’t questioned as to why.

    I never felt pushed or challenged, it has definitely been very easy for me to get the money but thankfully I’ve now got a new job and start in a couple of weeks so won’t have to sign on again! *touches wood*

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Mrs Jones, this is a really good point. I know people who have been made homeless, and others who have been made redundant and had to claim benefits, and they are mortified about it. There’s such a stigma. Equally I know people who don’t work and their partner supports them, and how are they any better or worse than those who claim benefits?

      • Clare
        Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        I’m just off to bed but I needed to say – I don’t work currently, my husband supports me, but I contribute fully to my partnership in other ways – we are a team.

        • Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          Ditto.

          I feel a lot of stigma because I don’t work and my husband supports me financially (needless to say I would love to have a job but right now that’s not happening). BUT I support him in many other ways – we’re a team. I’m not asking for anybody else to pay for me and us, we’re completely self sufficient and make all our financial decisions together based on what we can afford.

          • Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

            Same. We don’t get benefits and unless we absolutely HAD to we wouldn’t. We also save for things and budget to have things we want. If we don’t have the money, we don’t put it on credit.

        • Posted May 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

          While I’m fully in support of a man or woman not working and being financially supported by their partner, I will play devil’s advocate here… what would you say if someone said you were shirking your duty to society because you don’t work? That you should work so you can pay tax to the government to help fund the education system and the health service, to defend our borders and pay off the national debt [and yes... to pay for other people's benefits]?

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Great point to raise! I signed on, at my family’s insistence (especially my grandad who said I needed to get the ‘stamps’), when I graduated and was looking for a job – the attitude I encountered was appalling. When asked about my qualifications they weren’t even interested in my degree and were shocked I had so many GCSE’s – that isn’t an environment in which people can flourish and be encouraged to strive for success. After hearing what type of work I was looking for they were totally uninterested in helping me do anything beyond sign the book to get the money. Luckily I found a job in my chosen field pretty quickly and so was able to leave the system but for people who don’t have the drive or even the knowledge about the resources out there I can totally see how you’d get stuck in the system.

      Also, harking back to what Penny said, I have friends and family who have been utterly failed by a system they have paid into and supported when they have lost jobs and needed to take something back. That is simply not acceptable in my eyes.

      • Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        Agree. I’ve had friends in exactly the same situation.

  18. Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Confusing debate. But I feel quite strongly on what you’ve just asked, Anna. If your partner supports you, or if you win the lottery, or if you have enough money to retire, or go part time, or whatever whatever…. that’s all good because it doesn’t affect anyone except you.

    If however you decide you want to claim benefits, that IS using tax payers’ money. Okay it’s available but it’s taking from society without giving.

    My hubby is the main breadwinner at the mo. I do work but I don’t bring in as much money as I used to. I however support him as much as humanly possible, practically, emotionally, running the house, everything else…. therefore I like to think I am still giving to society…or at least not taking. We pay our taxes, donate to charity etc etc. But most of all I’m not making this life decision based on feeling like he – or society – owes me a living. It’s a team thing like Clare said.

    • Emily
      Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      I totally agree Frankie, it is a different thing entirely; that is about making choices about who works when within your unit.

  19. Posted May 28, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Can I raise a slightly controversial diversion?
    Would more people be supportive of the benefit system if benefits were paid in another format such as credit for gas/electricity, food vouchers etc? My feeling has always been that this could better support, particularly vulnerable children and older people. Thoughts?

  20. Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve written and deleted about ten comments to this post.

    I don’t really like the tone or anon’s comments of this post to be perfectly honest. It’s taken me all day to get my head round my comment…. Anon, take that as you will. I don’t really mean to cause offence I just think you’ve made this very much about you when it’s not really. Maybe the things you can’t say have set the tone more than what’s written. (assumed from comments)

    L is 19, she’s going to have two babies whilst she’s still under 21. That’s bloody hard work. From what you say, if she did plan this then that’s more, in terms of parenting and family planning, than someone going out and getting pregnant on a one night stand or by being a bit careless. She obviously knew the system and how it would pan out for her regarding a house and money etc based on her peers experience. She knew she’d be taken care of.

    Whilst I find it ridiculous that you can choose benefits as a lifestyle choice and find it very frustrating that even with a degree and lots of experience I struggle to get enough freelance work to cover childcare costs I can see why it would be attractive. I was made redundant at 25 weeks pregnant which meant losing my maternity pay and it was honestly a complete nightmare. The woman at the jobcentre made it practically impossble for me to get picked for interviews by encouraging me to say I wasn’t happy to drive or take the bus so was given a two mile radius, I think she thought she was helping me to get the benefit money!! Anyway, I went to two job interviews with an enormous bump and was reduced to tears at both… I wasn’t eligible to any kind of benefits and we moved in to my mums house to save money. It really wasn’t ideal at all.

    So I appreciate that if it’s there and you’re 19 and you don’t have qualifications or a plan for what you want to do/be then it would seem like a good option. There’s one comment where you’ve questioned having babies so close together but I don’t really see why that’s an issue? If anything it’s better particularly if she stops at two in terms of her money and time, she will have them both at home at the same time and they’ll start school close together making it easier for her to get work then.

    Personally, I hope if she’s as intelligent as you say then she’ll get bored/inspired eventually and might turn out to be very industrious either with a business idea or a job that fits round the kids when they are bigger and she’ll start paying the system back. Education isn’t for everyone, advising her to hang in there for a degree might have been even worse in terms of a financial position.

    Also, the cot thing riled me this morning but I’ve had a chance to think about it… . Our cot came out of my Granddads loft- it’s been around for years. There are a couple of things about this I’d like to say- £400 on a cot is a lot of money particularly when you think how far that money would have gone on nappies/wipes/formula/milk/food etc however, you do say she waited ten months to save for it which sounds again like she’s thought about it and not put it on a credit card or whatever and buying a nice cot is surely demonstrative of her care for the child, she could easily have spent that on clothes, make-up, nights out as I’m sure a lot of 19 year olds would have done.

    A £400 cot will hopefully be well made and become an heirlom cot and so she’s saved people down the line money. (Just so we’re clear, I am typing that with a bit of a smirk on my face but you get the sentiment)

    It’s her life and her choices. If they’re mistakes, they’re her mistakes. She’s young, there’s a lot of time for her to turn this around on the benefits front. The babies are here/nearly here now and they need looking after. If she can support them better on benefits and the system is there supporting her to do that then whilst it’s bloody frustrating there’s not a lot you can do about it.

    Your reaction of hyperventilating and nearly being sick at the news of her pregnancy seems like there is something deeper here upsetting you. If you find helping out exhausting then perhaps you should take a step back and let her get on with it for a bit? It’s obviously really stressing you out but ultimately, it’s not your responsibility.

    AT 18/19 it wouldn’t have even been on my radar that I could get a free house if I had a baby but then I didn’t have any peers doing that. If you are around people living that lifestyle, as L is, where’s the motivation to work for the same things? For the record I don’t agree with it, I can just see how it goes round in a cycle.

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      errrm. Longest comment ever. Sorry ’bout that.

  21. Anon
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I get what you’re saying and appreciate it. The issue is not about me of course but then the post was meant to be from my p.o.v. not hers. it’s something needed to get off my chest mainly because I am a responsible membe of society and quite a large part of me cant equate someone in my family (who I’m very close to, more like sisters.) behaving in a way that is irresponsible. Sorry but it is irresponsible to have a baby and expect to be supported financially.

    Few have asked about her partner. Their relationship is on and off constantly. He lives there illegally most of the time and we all try to help pick up the pieces every time they break up.

    Oh and the cot? You get grants for these things. but I don’t know where the money from that grant went…possibly on the iPad I mentioned. Sleeping in a Moses basket is not ideal for Baby B at that age, what about his spine? Heirloom cots are great but come on. Giving your baby what it needs now is more important.

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s fair to say that these aren’t the life choices that you hoped for her, but at least she does have you all there to support her. You can’t change what has happened now, and if you are finding it too trying perhaps you do need to take a step back from it all? You are obviously concerned for her children, but she is their mother not you.

      She is still so young and doesn’t really know who she is yet. Yes education is what you wanted for her, but at the moment it isn’t what she wants. You don’t know what’s around the corner, but you showing your disapproval for her choices won’t do you any favours in trying to win her round.

      The only last thing i will say is that while you obviously find it irresponsible to have two children from my point of view I would have said it was more irresponsible to do the same thing in a country where this kind of support isn’t available. In other circumstances she could have been relying on you and your family entirely financially which, in my eyes, is far worse. She has the chance to stand on her own two feet and carve a life out for herself (even if it isn’t one that you approve of or hoped for).

      Good luck in trying to resolve your feelings towards it all. I hope you and her can have a happier outcome than the current situation xx

      • Anon
        Posted May 28, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        Hollie – All good points. Thank you. My relationship with L is completely OK on the surface because she does not ask me what I think and i don’t offer it. But do I carry on putting a smiley face on things? I guess I need to.
        Oh confusing. Today has been great for making me think differently. Thanks everybody.

      • Posted May 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

        I absolutely agree with this comment. Articulates what I don’t think I quite got to in my ridiculously long comment. The choices have been made. You’ve said in the comments she’s not stressed by it.

        We can only control our own reactions to things. You obviously love her and the babies and I guess have to find a way of reconciling her decisions with your own beliefs and how much you want to be involved in their lives. Like Hollie said, I hope you find a way to do this without too much upset in the family.

  22. Frances
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I have been thinking about this all day and still can’t work out quite how I want to respond! I understand the OP’s frustration in that it is galling to spend long hours at work, hardly see your partner during the week, and then see people apparently not willing to help themselves in life and seemingly being handed things on a plate.

    However, I think the real issue is perhaps not your cousin’s laziness/ selfishness, it’s that in general people tend to echo what they grow up with unless they have other sources of education/ learning experiences (I mean that in terms of life experiences – going to a library, joining a youth activity group, having a weekend job, going to church etc). If your cousin didn’t engage with education at school and there was nothing else to help her decide how to live her life (i.e. she never went to brownies so there was no opportunity for her to realise that she enjoys being outside), I can understand why she might truly believe that what she is doing gives her the best option in life. It must have been pretty hard to leave the family home post-GCSE and I imagine most of us here don’t know what that’s like.

    It’s hard to know how a welfare system could otherwise be run – maybe in coupons for clothes and heating etc. But then, there is always going to be a black market for goods like that and if someone wants to sell them for an ipad, I don’t know if there’s much you can do about it.

    I think if you are that upset about it, the best thing you can do is be there for her children and give them a wide range of enriching experiences for them to grow up with.

  23. Carly
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    As someone who has spent the last three years working with school age parents, this article really spoke to me this morning but I couldn’t really think of how to put what I thought. I agree with many of the points made in the comments about L’s right to choice and that the child(ren) seem like they are being cared for, even if their parents’ priorities could be seen as not quite in the correct order. However, I also understand the head-banging frustration of watching a loved one choose a path that you wouldn’t choose for them. I think what is evident from this post is that Anon cares for L
    and her children a great deal and needed a sounding board for her frustrations.

    I have encountered teenage parents from many different situations – some where the baby was 100% an accident and others where they have told me that they had a baby because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives. This still makes me want to weep and I find it awful that they feel like this. There are often so many factors that contribute to the their situation it would be impossible to comment on L’s situation without knowing what they were. I can say though, that I can pretty much guarantee that all she requires from you is unconditional love and support, whatever her choices may be. I hope today has made you feel a bit better about this. Good luck X

  24. Posted May 28, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Just popping back to apologise for my ridiculously long comment. I didn’t realise how long it was until it was Up then it was Too late!

  25. anon
    Posted May 29, 2012 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    Honestly? It’s just not your judgement to make. If your cousin is abusing the welfare system, or selling herself short, then the situation is far from ideal. But she has a roof over her head, money to feed her children, access to education for them. If she’s making the most of a ‘benefits culture’ shared by many of her friends, it probably seems normal to her. As various people have commented, 19 is young. I don’t think anyone is suggesting she made wise choices. But they were her choices to make.

    As a ‘responsible member of society’ (and I have to wonder whether anyone can accurately describe themselves as such), I would suggest you stop judging her values, and offer as much help as you can to those kids. Maybe you can be the positive inspiration for them that you hoped to be for her.

  26. Lottie S
    Posted May 29, 2012 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    Fascinating. I have to agree with Clare about how being reliant on support for ur husband is nowhere near the same as being on benefits. My husband was offered a career opportunity abroad and we moved. I made nigh on thirty job applications before I got an interview and a job. I rely on my hubby totally for our income so he can have the career progression that sets him us up for a wonderful future. Yes I made sacrifices but it’s for our team, marriage should never be a ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ affair, but totally ‘us’.

    Secondly, I agree entirely with what another poster suggested about vouchers etc. how about benefits being pre paid onto a ‘credit card’ so whatever items are bought are checked through by the benefits office. Then ‘luxury’ items can be prohibited.

    I know this won’t be a popular option with some but whilst I feel strongly that a welfare state is excellent in many ways, those in need should not be popping out to buy iPads!! Many people who work live far more frugally than this and this type of living needs to filter back into society instead of being someone who lives beyond their means, buying on credit and living from month to month, rather than planning financially for the future. I’m not saying the girl in the main post is ‘playing the system’ but commenters seem unanimous in believing that some people do. Perhaps by using a system where every purchase on benefits is accounted for and vetted, this will make ‘playing the system’ far less attractive as luxury items on tax payers money.

  27. Different Anon
    Posted May 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I read this article this morning, but did not know how to comment.

    It doesn’t sit well with me, having a family on benefits. When I was unemployed, it didn’t occur to me, to have a child, and leave it for the state to pay for.

    Some of the people I know, on benefits, have cash jobs as well – cleaning, brick laying, scaffolding, carer for elderly, bookies runner, looking after someone’s horses, milking cows etc. Its only adhoc work, and I doubt they’d be able to pay the bills with this. Perhaps its the area I live in, but there are a lot of them, and none of them seem to rely on just benefits. This is probably why they all seem better off than me! Never had the heart to report them, as I do not want to cause someone suffering, even though I know its my taxes that are funding their lifestyle.

    I hope you are able to support your cousin as much as possible, as hopefully with the support of a loving family, she’ll be able to turn things around.

    I’m pretty certain, long term, prospects are considerably better for the working population.

  28. Mrs Jones
    Posted May 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Not sure if anyone has seen this but I think it makes my point even stronger, people will not make themselves worse off just to work and look better to the world…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2151202/Im-claiming-50k-benefits-I-dont-need-Shameless-mother-admits-fiddling–says-NEVER-stop.html

  29. Sam
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Whilst I can really identify with how infuriating it is to see people manipulating the system, I think the anger in this post, and comments with similar stories, is misdirected at the people when it should be at the system. When I read things like this, I remind myself to focus on the children. Regardless of their parents’ lifestyle decisions, every child has the right to grow up in a warm, safe and comfortable home, and ultimately the state MUST provide provisions to ensure that happens and no child suffers because of parents’ irresponsibility.

    I’ve known many people in genuine distress who have needed a short term foot-up and used the welfare system to get back on their feet, and I’ve known people who have abused the same system and used their ill-gotten gains to fund extravagant lifestyles. There will always be greedy, amoral people around, regardless of what happens to the benefit system.

    I do, however, feel that the credit industry has a lot to answer for with the “Katie Price” culture of instant gratification. We’re bombarded with images of beautiful homes furnished with high value, high spec items and told we can have them ALL NOW and worry about paying for it later. Even people with poor records for repaying debt are inundated with adverts for bad credit loan companies and other ways to Get More Stuff Now. I miss the days of saving up when we wanted to buy a new thing; it was a much healthier way to look at purchasing and owning things.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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