Martin Kirby Column; Making Ends Meet, A New Leader and A Buzz On The Bus
NOBODY SAID IT WOULD BE EASY
The kerfuffle over whether or not Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith could manage on 53 quid a week is of little interest to me because I know a cheap political stunt when I see one, and in any case, the bloke who was put up to challenging IDS to live on 'the same amount as he does' is actually able to claim at least £100 a week which he tops up with an income from his market stall.
But this silly row has overshadowed the real problem, which is; the way people see being on benefit has changed since I was made redundant in the early 1980s. In those days, it was called Unemployment Benefit, not the 'Jobseeker's Allowance' handle it goes by today. Before that, it was Social Security – and there's the important point.
The whole idea of Social Security was that it did what it said on the tin. Unemployed people received enough to ensure their families had enough to eat and a roof over their heads. It was never intended to be enough to pay for luxuries.
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Because of my lack of skill in milking the system, I could only get the basic Unemployment Benefit, which amounted to less than half of my previous weekly wage and my wife had already given up her job to look after our two children. If I took on any kind of work my meagre pay-out would have been reduced even further. So what did we do? Simple - we spent less than half of our previous outgoings on food, less than half on entertainment and didn't go on holiday. In short, we cut down and managed.
The big difference today is that people who are on benefit expect – no, demand – the same lifestyle as those who do a full week's work. We live in an age where poverty is defined as not having an iPhone 5.
Of course Iain Duncan Smith couldn't live on £53 a week, nor could anyone else – and they're not expected to. But in my view, if you are being supported by those who work and pay their taxes, you cannot expect to have a couple of weeks in Tenerife every year, as well as continuing to smoke, drink, gamble and own horses. The benefits system is out of control and it's about time we remembered what it was created to do – help people while they try to help themselves.
HELLO TO OUR NEW EDIT-HER
The first time I walked into The Citizen's office (then in St John's Lane) as an employee, the year was 1986. Now it's 2013 and I'm up to my fifth Editor.
At the time I arrived, Mike Lowe, these days head honcho at Cotswold Life magazine, was still being called 'the new Editor'. Mike always took the time to speak to me – on many occasions he stopped to say something along the lines of; 'get out of my ******* way'!
After Mike moved on we were introduced to one Hugh Berlin, who departed even more quickly. Next up was Spencer Feeney, a fiery Welshman who always had time to point out the shortcomings of English Rugby. He was replaced by Ian Mean, who became as famous for his sartorial elegance as for his friendly manner.
But now, for the first time since The Citizen first appeared on the streets of Gloucester in 1876, we have a female Editor – Jenny Eastwood.
Having known her for a while, I can tell you she will do extremely well in the job and as 'First Lady' of The Citizen, bring a fresh approach to the way we do things. The downside for my new boss is; I'm still here. But she can't have everything. I hope Jenny will have a successful and lengthy career.
It's 40 years since the mobile phone became an everyday item and in that time, technology has taken the handset beyond anyone's imagination. It's now a computer, camera, sat-nav and means of paying bills, all rolled into one. Yet the most common thing anyone does with a mobile is shout into it; 'I'm on the bus'!