Benefit Britain 1949: Episode 2

This episode left me in tears. I had been very naive to think that immigrants in the 1940’s would have been treated as they are today. The episode certainly revealed some home truths to how well we treat all races in today’s society.

Migrant, Patson, from Zimbabwe, came to England to save himself from a life of torture back home. He told how he had been abused and lost friends due to abuse in his country. However, his life in 1949 would have been very difficult. He was left homeless after the Welfare Office told him that only people born in Britain were allowed a home. He was told he should be grateful that he had been given £7.40 for a week, and a job.

The welfare office sent him to a hostel, which in 1949 only allowed 10% of its rooms to house migrants. All the beds had been taken and he was forced to sleep on the streets. At this point, tears were streaming down my face, of course I knew racism existed both then and now, but I never thought there could be such strong, institutionalised racism.

Other victims of 1949’s benefits system, were single-parents. 25-year-old Nichola had two young children, and in 2013 she was top of the governments priority. In 1949 single-parent mothers were shunted because sex before marriage was considered sinful. Therefore, she was evicted from her council flat and was put into emergency accommodation. Later, it was suggested that her children went into care, and she got herself a job. She said: “Then being proposed for them to go into care, that broke me.” She was considered a ‘charity’ case and forced to live with a vicar and his family in the local vicarage. Nichola said that women were treated badly in 1949, for having children and trying to provide for them. She said: “It shocked me to be told that I don’t deserve a council place because I’m not with the father of my children.”

It was not all doom and gloom though, Matt and Heidi, lived in an untidy and dirty three-bed council house. In 1949 they were on the”unsatisfactory” list for council house tenants. Heidi was disgusted that people could judge her and her home and said there was nowhere to put the mess away. In 1949 rehabilitation officers came in and helped them sort out their home. Friends and neighbours came together to support the couple and their children. Matt and Heidi were shocked at how much 1949 welfare officers supported families. the sense of togetherness helped them get their home back on track. Speaking about the process, Heidi said: “Benefits have just kept going up, and while that’s nice to have money in the back of your pocket, for me its not encouraged me to go out and work. its made me feel like a scrounger.” Heidi said that suitability was more important and that Nichola and Patson were more worthy than her.

Perhaps, this programme taught us that single parents and immigrants need support more than two parent families, where one member of the family could be earning. It is debatable that the 1949 system would have worked in today’s society, but it is necessary to change the benefits system to help those in greater need, rather than helping and providing for everyone.

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