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Our Crack Tongue & Groove

scrounger18.jpg What happened to the scroungers?

Should The Scrounger be placed on the endangered list along with polar bears and Kevin Spacey’s future Oscar chances, or, like Mike Ashley’s keep-fit DVDs, did they never really exist in the first place.

“Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next-door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits.” That’s George Osborne with one of his greatest hits from back in the day, castigating those who pass up the chance to earn an honest crust just so they can catch up on the latest Jeremy Kyle smackdown.

He was talking about the “scroungers” of course, the blight of the UK, whose forces once threatened to overrun the likes of you and me: the “strivers”. Because if this country was going to the dogs it was the scroungers who were to blame; the slugabeds who didn’t want to work whose ranks were bolstered by those other layabouts who thought that chemotherapy treatment was a legitimate reason for knocking a perfectly good warehouse job on the head.

These scroungers were absolutely rife a few years back, much like they were in the 1930s when those patron saints of idleness, the Jarrow Marchers, couldn’t even be arsed to pick up a shovel but still managed to find plenty of time for a London mini-break.

We don’t hear so much about the scroungers these days however, because, as the news keeps trumpeting each night, employment in the UK has reached a record high. It’s almost as if the legend of the scrounger is a myth, a fable dreamt up by politicians such as Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith and Nick Clegg (ie dyed in the wool Tories) to divide and rule when jobs are scarce.

Could the truth be that virtually every single person in this country wants to work, even if that work involves zero-hours contracts with little or no rights, taking endless short term contracts, or even having the chance to toil yourself into an early grave. (There was a recent case of a courier for a delivery firm who missed appointments with his medical specialists because he felt under pressure to cover his round - under fear of a £150 daily penalty if he couldn’t personally find someone to cover his shift – who collapsed and died from diabetes.)

Yes, the Tory press will leap all over anyone who is out of work, claiming to be paralysed from the neck down, and then photographed windsurfing, but fraud only accounts for around 0.8% of benefit payments and these high-profile cases should never trump the legitimate claims of others, most of whom, as we see today, are desperate to return to the job market.