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Rarely did I miss a day’s work during nearly fifty years on the hamster wheel. My work ethic was a source of personal pride but my neighbour was not alone in thinking me foolish.
I guessed my friend to be in his late thirties. As fit as a butcher’s dog, he loved holiday fishing with like-minded friends. An affable man, my neighbour had been blessed with a beautiful wife, three well-dressed children, and a lovely home to call his own. Yet, he had never done a day’s work in his entire life.
If the doors or windows needed replacing the local authority put things right. Being self-employed I replaced my own or in truth, I yearned to do so. There never seemed enough money left in the pot and so the window casements rotted as time went by.
Then, as retirement approached I fell in between jobs and like many others I faced hard times. For a while, I lived off the charity of my lady partner because my pride wouldn’t allow me to claim ‘from the state.’ To sit at a young clerk’s desk and concede that I was a failure was for me a burden too much.
So, I sold much of my precious library and I went without life’s small indulgences. Eventually, I buckled when for the umpteenth time my partner reminded me that I was not asking for charity.
“You are simply drawing on substantial investments you have placed with the state’s social security system over many years. You pay car insurance. Would you repair it yourself if you were involved in an accident?”
Agreeing that she was right but with little enthusiasm, I entered the gates of hell. There were endless forms to be completed, questions asked and answered. There was then the waiting game and only after I had sent a despairing letter was my lamenting appeal granted. I was to receive £108 each fortnight and I was told to expect a call from someone who would means test me.
The means tester came and went but the alms remained the same regardless that the basic pension, one of Europe’s lowest, is set much higher. Salvation, there were still some books yet to sell.
Why was I treated differently from others? There is no doubt in my mind that in Britain all are equal but some are more equal than others.
My neighbour, aided by friends and accomplices who use the system and the benefits agencies, knew how to screw the system. Many are mentored through the process by benefit-claiming agencies.
I was innocent and by necessity, wiser and poorer, I returned to work and looked forward to retirement. I did retire with honours and I am richer for it but I often wonder if my neighbour was smarter than was I.
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