In this guest blog, Danny Brice talks about life claiming benefits, how Benefits Street doesn’t give a true picture and why cuts to welfare worry him.
My name is Danny Brice. I receive benefits from the state every week into my bank account. So some people think of me as a scrounger, undeserving and sponging off the state. At least that’s what a lot of TV programmes and news articles would have you believe.
What I haven’t mentioned is that I have a learning disability and struggle with my reading and writing. I also have muscular dystrophy, which means my muscles get tired very easily and quickly. Leaving the house can be a struggle and going on public transport can wear me out.
Unfortunately, this means I can’t work a full week. Despite this I have a part-time job at Mencap. Only about 7% of people with a learning disability are currently in employment so I am really lucky. I wish I could work everyday because it makes me feel valued, and I enjoy working with my team. People may moan about work, but no one really enjoys staying at home.
Unfortunately, stories like mine rarely get told. Instead programmes like Benefits Street and Undercover Benefit Cheats are where people get their knowledge on benefits. I understand that the stories these shows tell may be more interesting as they can be so shocking and ridiculous to hear, but for me they are having a really negative effect.
I know some people I have met view me as a scrounger. I’m not. Without the support I get from benefits I wouldn’t be able to leave my house, get food shopping or pay my bills. I could miss a doctor’s appointment due to not being able to afford a taxi. My choices in life are very much limited, and support from benefits means I can have a small amount of control over it, rather than living a life of isolation within my community.
For people who desperately rely on benefits programmes like Benefits Street and other negative media on the topic can make people with a disability feel like scapegoats. It’s not fair for the media to show just one side of the story. It allows the public to think welfare isn’t needed and people can live their lives as they wish without it. It makes it easier for the government to cut back and take away benefits. This terrifies me. If I didn’t get the support I need, my life would be completely different: one where I would have no choice or freedom.
A life on benefits is not something I enjoy. I feel lucky and proud that I live in a country that can support the vulnerable. But I do think we need to be very careful about who can get benefits. However, blaming people who need them is not fair.
I’m lucky that I work for a charity that knows these issues and the people I work with give me a lot of support in understanding how benefits work. Yet for many people with a learning disability it can be incredibly confusing. There are so many forms and assessments and confusing words that you get lost and can feel like giving up. Worse still, I’ve heard stories of people who have had their benefits cut unexpectedly, and have their lives turned upside down.
I do fear for the next few years. I hear more and more news stories about benefits being cut and how we spend too much on them. The effects of cutting them too quickly and by too much would lead to a sad life for many. I think it’s scary that food banks exist. I worry that I would have to go to one if my benefits were cut. People shouldn’t have to live in fear of not being able to eat.
I hope that the media can become more responsible, and show the true side of living on benefits. They have a responsibility to show the truth as well as what’s shocking or interesting. Unfortunately I worry that much of what is being shown now is having an unfair and harmful effect.
About the author
Danny Brice has a learning disability and works part-time for the learning disability charity Mencap. He campaigns to give people with a learning disability a more positive image in the media.