'I'm on benefits but I'm no scrounger'
Not everyone on benefits is a scrounger. Of course, some abuse the system, and the system abuses others by failing to make work pay. So we've invited one claimant to have his say. Ross Goodall (pictured, right), from Southampton, has a good reason for claiming, as you'll see. This is his story, his words, hitting back at the headlines (also see 5-min benefits check-up).
I have had enough. I am not a scrounger, and this is why.
I am in the unenviable position of claiming disability living allowance and incapacity benefit because I have developed a giant cell tumour of bone in my right wrist.
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The tumour is very rare, but it's now the size of a cricket ball. This means my hand is no longer attached to my wrist.
The pain is intense and constant. I cannot pick up my children the way most fathers can. I cannot play catch with my son, or even hold a cup of coffee in my right hand. All of these things people take for granted, and there must be thousands of people worse off than me.
The tumour on Ross's wrist
I have worked all my life, as a mechanical engineer, IT specialist and even a bus driver. When I found myself in the position where, for the first time in my life I had to claim, I was and am disgusted at how 90% of people treat you as a benefit claimant.
Try going for a job interview with my arm
When I go for job interviews, and I have to explain why I cannot shake the interviewer's hand on entry, or I take my coat off and they see my arm, the interview is over.
I get one of two reactions without fail: "How much disruption is the treatment going to cause if you get the job?" Or: "That's an insurance liability."
No matter what you are claiming or why, you are deemed and treated as a scrounging fraud until you prove otherwise. One is treated guilty until proven innocent.
I am not just talking about the Department for Work and Pensions, but also the people I meet everywhere I go, every day.
The look of disgust and judgement as you hand over a state Healthy Start voucher for milk and veg at the supermarket. Or when you meet someone new and receive "and what do you do for a living?" and you watch the expression on their face when you say you are not working.
Oh sure, everyone is fine once they have seen the size of my wrist and how it has deformed my hand.
Since the debate on capping benefits at £26,000 a year, people seem to think all benefits recipients get that. I wish. I have two young children and a partner to support on a smidgen over £11,000 a year.
With the increase in utility costs over the past year, hand-in-hand with a drop in my entitlement, there is a simple choice to make. Treat the children without watching the purse strings, or keep the boiler running and the lights on.
On average, gas and electric costs £30-£40 a week depending on the season. We are on a prepayment meter to clear the debt we accrued when I was forced out of work by my tumour. Therefore, we cannot move supplier, it's that simple.
Is the taxpayer paying off my credit cards and loans? No. I don't have a bank account, credit card or loan.
Do we have any other luxuries? Yes, we have a flat panel TV, bought for us by my mum a few years ago. Do we have any games consoles? Yes, bought by a friend who has helped us so much, we have no idea what we would have done.
What little we have is bought and paid for - normally not by us, as once we have fed ourselves and paid the bills there is never anything left.
There are no pints down the pub either. In fact, I haven't been inside a pub in four years. I don't miss it, but it is something else most take for granted that we never get to do.
Our budget is so tight that if an emergency crops up, like me being rushed to hospital because the delirium from the pain has caused me to pass out and collapse down the stairs - which happened just before Christmas - there is no way to get me home from hospital.
When we go food shopping, it is worked out to the absolute penny. There can be no deviation as there is nothing to play with.
Yes, we have a 17-year-old car. With the numerous trips to hospitals across the country for my arm, my partner's systemic lupus erythematosus and plus my son's reflex anoxic seizures and my daughter's issue with only having one kidney, it is cheaper than using unsubsidised public transport by just over £100 a year. That's two weeks' food shopping to us.
'Degrading and depressing'
We have never been on holiday or even a weekend away as a family. My children get those sorts of treats from their grandad and nanny, who work incredibly hard with their own business to make sure they don't go totally without.
Living on benefits is degrading, depressing and there is no room for any luxury of any kind - ever. We wouldn't have had a Christmas dinner last year if it wasn't for help from a local charity.
I spend my spare time helping mistreated social housing tenants living in dilapidated homes, as well as people who need to complain to companies who get nowhere. I am very, very good with legislation and procedural inequality.
I'm not lazy. So I cannot keep quiet when I read the twaddle being published about benefit claimants. There are fraudsters out there, but the system and society in general are targeting the wrong people.
So to all those who think I'm a lazy, fraudulent scrounger, I'll say this. Put your money where your mouth is.
The next time you meet someone who is on disability allowance, or claiming in some other way, ask yourself if you really have the right to sit in judgement because they are a nice, easy target.
Someone on Twitter said they would happily give up work and stay in bed for £11,000. Go on, then. Try to maintain any kind of lifestyle.
This isn't living, it is surviving.
You can contact Ross on Twitter at @iamthedoctor77.
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of MoneySavingExpert.com.
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