Whenever I go anywhere in public, I have to wear a badge. It's a white 'B' on a blue background. I suppose it looks kind of similar to the blue 'Parking' symbol, except a slightly different shape. I have to wear at least one badge, clearly visible for all to see, or I'll receive a fine. Why do I have to wear it?
Because I'm one of the many people in this country to rely on benefits as a source of income.
When you first receive your badges through the post, they come in a nice presentation box. There are three sizes. They range from the smallest, similar in shape to a lapel pin, to the largest, which is the same size as a coffee-cup coaster. The box also contains a leaflet that includes some instructions on how to use your badges, several suggestions on where to put them, and a variety of pictures showing happy people in happy situations, happily wearing their blue 'B'.
I'm not sure if I'm meant to be as happy as the people in the pictures. All I know is that wearing them makes my life a misery.
Six months ago, things were different. I live in a small village with my wife and two children. We have a lovely house with a big garden, and the street has several other families with children. Everything was awesome. That was, until the accident.
I was driving home one Friday, looking forward to seeing the kids and enjoying the weekend. A few miles outside the village, I was driving through a crossroads with traffic lights. There was a queue to turn right in the right-hand lane, but the left side ran smoothly. As I drove through, an impatient driver had gambled from the opposite side and turned right, sweeping completely across my lane. I have no explanation for why he did this. There was maybe two car lengths between the van in front of me and myself, perhaps he thought he could make it in time.
I saw the car, instinctively swerved to avoid a collision and clipped the pavement. The sharp bank to the left combined with the vicious jolt upwards the kerb gave sent me rolling sideways several times before a bus halted my stunt. I have no recollection of these events.
I was lucky to survive, albeit with a multitude of injuries. The worst being the damage to my left knee and my right shoulder. I have limited power in both of these limbs, now. I'm not allowed to drive and probably won't for the foreseeable future. But that isn't the worst of it. I now can't work for a living.
I'm a goldsmith you see. Or at least I was. For near twenty years, I created little jewels of joy. But there ain't much use for a one-armed jeweller. Two appears to be essential. I do have options, though. I can retrain as a CAD designer or maybe go into teaching. All this requires qualifications or enrolling for further education. So, until I get back on my feet, quite literally, it's the wee blue badge for me.
The 'Blue Badge Scheme' was conjured up, probably in the pits of Hell, by a government desperate to gain votes and to appease public opinion. Despite benefit fraud sitting at a mere 0.7%, a trial run of the badge proved to be so popular with the electorate that it was rolled out nationwide. Yup, the good people of this country have been spoon-fed such lies and propaganda by their leaders and the media, that they assumed that the enemies of society were the most sick, vulnerable and needy.
The gargantuan corporations, with their offshore tax-havens and their slick loopholes, escaped without punishment. The bankers and traders, who flippantly gambled our money and dug this here trench that we're in, are still free to drink Martinis and puff on fine cigars. While the rich got richer, the poor got pissed on.
Public perception was sketchy at best, and catastrophically misguided at worst. Everybody thought that most people on benefits were up to no good, claiming illegally while swilling lager, munching away on takeaway each night while watching Sky TV.
"Oooh, we all know someone who's at it." came the call.
The problem was, we didn't. Everyone thought they did without any actual proof. The Daily Mail and the like had done such a wonderful job of whipping everyone up into a benefits frenzy, that people thought 'Shameless' was real. Britain had become a cartoon of itself, grazing away on lies and misconceptions, becoming bloated with hatred and disconnected with reality. This was now a country who thought that 24% of the people were unemployed and seeking work, when the reality was many, many times fewer.
So, all this means I have to wear my little blue badge. Or, as the media calls us, 'Cheating Badgestards'. Funny, eh? Not for me. I have been yelled at, pushed, spat on, constantly confronted and I've been aggressively questioned as to exactly what I'm spending my money on. Except I don't receive money. I get vouchers which I can only use to buy specific items in certain shops.
In your pack beside the badges is a credit card. Same blue, same 'B'. Each week it's topped up and each week I'm limited in what I can buy. Groceries only. Cigarettes are off limits, so is alcohol. If I want to try and save up for one of the kids' birthdays, you have to apply for a special card at least 6 weeks in advance. There is a form to fill out, with page after page of questions that have to be sanctioned by your Benefits Worker (or 'Blue Meanies' as we call them).
We're one of the lucky ones, as my wife still has a part-time job, so we still have a small amount of cash that we're free to spend as we please. However, I can't be the one at the till paying, as the assumption is that I must have robbed someone. Yeah, I whacked them over the head with my crutch and speedily hobbled away, right?
I only ever tried to pay cash for something once, and once was enough. It was in my first week on benefits. My elderly grandmother, riddled with cancer and slowly dying, was permitted a few cigarettes a day. The doctors saw no harm in this, as quitting was futile, and it gave her a couple of moments of relief each day. She had smoked for over seventy years, what was the point in stopping now? I was asked to nip in to the shops and pick up some fags. The abuse I received was fierce.
I had no right buying these with my badge on.
Where did I get the money?
That crutch and limp are just for show.
I was a cheat.
I was scum.
I was told to get out the shop (actually, fuck the fuck off out the shop).
That wasn't an isolated incident, I'm afraid. Due to lack of money, I could no longer keep up with the payments of several things. As much as we cut back to as little expenditure as possible, we relied, and still do, on our parents. We get help with the mortgage, Council Tax, school clothes for the kids. You name it, we couldn't get by without some assistance. We are forever grateful that we are in a position to receive financial help. There are others in dire and desperate trouble, and the only way out is unthinkable.
One of the things I get help with is my mobile phone bill. My parents pay that for me, as I use it for logging in to my benefits homepage, seeking out possible work and generally keeping in touch. Despite my injuries I like to get out and about. But sometimes I wander too far, my knee seizes and I need rescued. I'm a tad stubborn, you see.
I happened to be in a busy street when I received a text. Something as simple as pulling a phone from a pocket is now a full event for me, so as I was in full flow, I probably drew attention to myself. At which point, a man clocked my smartphone, then my badge, then glared at me. It's funny how people peer past disabilities and cut straight to what they want to see.
I was confronted, incredibly aggressively and challenged as to how I came about this phone. The man was furious, God knows what had set him off, and I was caught off-guard. As he screamed in my face, my already Bambi-like balance gave way, and I fell down hard on my backside, like a baby who's learning to walk. At this point the man roared with laughter, he had succeeded in making a fool of me, and he left, not before spitting in my general direction. A few kindly souls helped me onto my feet and towards a bench, where I called my wife in tears, asking to be given a lift home.
But none of that comes close to being as bad as the most humiliating day of my life. There were two popular policies pushed through at the same time. Two similarly hateful schemes to run side by side, from one cowardly and callous government. The Blue Badge and the Mandatory Alcohol and Drug Test, or MAD Test if you're a tabloid. And it was this that nearly broke me, mentally this time rather than physically.
It was my birthday. I suppose being actually alive is a good thing to celebrate. I myself can't buy alcohol, plus my medication means I can't enjoy a good bottle of Pinotage anymore, anyway. Again, I hadn't been long on the badge scheme, and I suppose we were all a little bit naive and a tad unaware of the consequences. We decided that one glass of red wouldn't harm anyone, so a small one was poured. Man, that was the best glass of wine I ever had. It also turned out to be the worst.
The next day was my weekly blood tests. I knew I had made such a mistake. But it was only one wee glass, what harm could it have done? A lot, as it turned out. The next day again, the doorbell rang at 8am. My wife opened the door and had a warrant thrust in her face. Five men pushed their way inside, we were all to sit down and listen, and do it NOW. My children cried, mmy wife was terrified and myself even more so. I had failed my MAD Test. They were within their rights to look for contraband in the house. Rooms were turned upside down, drawers were pulled out, bins were emptied. It was chaos.
Despite the fact that I had failed for alcohol, we were informed they were looking for drugs. I denied any such possession. It was suggested that someone in "your condition" may well like a smoke of cannabis to ease the pain. I was speechless. Any alcohol we had in the house was confiscated, despite our protestations that it was legitimately bought with my wife's wages or given as a gift, woosh, off it went.
I was unceremoniously bundled into a car and taken to a police station where I was questioned, accused, provoked and bullied, then coerced into admitting I had or took drugs. When I flatly refused, I was stripped and a had a full body cavity search performed on me. I wept and asked why, over and over. I didn't get an answer, instead I drew laughter aimed at my scarred and slightly twisted body. In the end, they obviously found nothing and I was permitted to go home. I collapsed into my families arms, sobbling and vowed never to go through such an experience again.
So now I would like to thank you. Yes, you, the person who doesn't class themselves as right-wing, the person easily wound-up, the idiot who thinks that everyone on benefits is scum and needs regulating. Thank you for doing this to me. Thank you for being so gullible that you believed these policies were required and you supported them through and through. Thank you for destroying my life. Thank you for making everyone who wears this badge a victim, a target, a broken version of who they used to be.
So, to all of you who support schemes like this, who think it would do more good than harm, who think that they are necessary to combat a near non-existent issue. It is you that is the problem. You and your narrow-minded judgement, you with your prejudices and your fascist views. You are the scum, not I.
And you are bastards, the lot of you.
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