So, I’ve just completed my JSA application.
Not sure whether online was any better than the old days of endless paper forms – and I did wonder about the number of people who really need benefits who don’t have access to a computer to apply for them. Here’s a little ‘did you know’: benefit fraud £1 billion (and most of that is overpayment caused by clerical error), unclaimed benefit £12.3 billion. Seems like the uninformed/unconnected far outnumber the so called ‘scroungers’. But I digress.
It’s always dispiriting filling out that form – whether its paper based or on a screen. It also seems even more hugely invasive than ever – the list of documents to take to interview is like a snooper’s charter: bank statements, mortgage statements, pay slips and on and on. I’m considering taking the results of my last smear test and a dental x-ray. Seriously, I feel probed, kinda dirty. Think I need a shower. OK, I’m digressing again.
It was when I got to the section asking me for my partner’s NI number that I got pissed off. I’ve known my husband for 13 years and never once has it crossed my mind to ask him what his NI number is, or vice versa. Guess we just don’t have the kind of marriage the DWP would approve of, where every nook and cranny of each other’s financial dealings are an open book. Perhaps this should be a mandatory question for a first date?
HIM/HER: I’ve had a really great time (moves in for a kiss)
ME/YOU: (deftly sidestepping) Yes, me too – by the way, what’s your National Insurance number? Just on the off chance that we should end up cohabiting and I might find myself in the position of claiming benefits…
I remember claiming benefits in the long summer holidays when I was a student (ah, heady days) and having to undergo a household inspection because I was living with 3 other students, all male (like I say, heady days…). Yes, I was ‘cohabiting’ with one of them and so was seen as his ‘dependent’ and he claimed for both of us. I was livid. Apart from the fact I was far more dependent on my parents for cash handouts and food parcels it was the principle of the thing. What kind of outmoded system sees a woman as a man’s ‘dependent’?
Fast forward to 2013 and I’m filling out a form asking me endless questions about my husband’s income because, guess, what? I’m seen as his dependent now, even though for the last 4 years I’ve been the major breadwinner (by about £2.50) in our house.
I’m that rare beast – someone who doesn’t object to paying taxes, to paying into the National Insurance system. I believe in there being a safety net. I believe that cooperation is far better than competition to provide services that we can all benefit from and be proud of. I believe in supporting and protecting the most vulnerable in our society (like all the people who don’t claim what they might be entitled to). But I have a huge, massive, major objection to being told that I’m my husband’s ‘dependent’ when it comes time to take something out of the pot I paid into. We aren’t taxed together, we don’t pay NI together, so why do I suddenly become a chattel when it comes to giving back time?
The worst bit of it all is that I really, really, really, really, REALLY don’t want to have to be claiming it at all.