Would I claim a social security cash benefit if I discovered that I qualified? You bet, like a shot. You won't hear a sanctimonious 'I'm too proud to claim' from this quarter. Nor a smug 'I don't need the money' either. If I were entitled, I'd claim it, and be very glad to have the money. An entitlement - enshrined in legislation, or in statutory instruments, or in official regulations - is not a charitable handout. It's a right. There's no shame in enforcing a right. While one can.
And it's not much income at that. Take the State Pension, for instance. That's a big, flagship benefit. I'm expecting £116 a week when my own kicks in later this year. Or £93 after tax. Very useful money to me. But it's pocket money to a salaried person. £93 is what a posh evening meal for one might cost - see my post Stamford - Lunch and dinner at the George Hotel on 3 November 2013 - towards the end - when I describe the menu and prices. One meal! The sort of meal that popular lifestyle programmes like Masterchef promote. You can easily spend £93 at a hairdresser too.
Nobody now pretends that the State Pension is enough to live on, but for an awful lot of old people it is the largest part of their total income. The part they count on. The part that covers the most fundamental costs of living. It's vital to keep its value up, and protect it from the ravages of inflation.
The State Pension is in fact the only cash benefit I can ever claim. I never qualified for anything in the past. This was because my in-work earnings (and latterly my occupational pension) were always too high.
I was entitled to claim Unemployment Benefit immediately after leaving school in 1970, in the weeks before I commenced my career, but I didn't know that I could. The school hadn't thought of telling me, nor how to set about it. I found out only when I applied for a National Insurance Number at the Southampton social security office. I got ticked off severely for not paying my National Insurance stamp during the previous few weeks, and also for not signing-on and drawing the Dole! This unhelpful slap in the face was probably designed to put me firmly in my young place. To convey to me that without a job I was just one of the faceless Little People, a person stigmatised, a person liable to be pushed around or kept waiting.
I did not forget the attitude shown to me, nor the lesson learned. Next time I would come armed with information on my rights, and refuse to be talked down to.
But the 'next time' never came, not until after my retirement in 2005, when I had to visit the Job Centre in Haywards Heath. And that was not to claim anything, but to get an officer there to inspect and copy my Decree Absolute, so that my National Insurance record would show that I'd been divorced in 1996. The atmosphere was very different - friendly, smiling, nothing too much trouble. But I do wonder how it would have been if I'd wanted to claim a benefit.
Benefit claimants are now enemies of the State. I can see a time coming when all benefit payments will stop. There will then be two types of people. On the one hand, the dependent poor, who would get only benefits in kind - approved accommodation with standard meals, strictly rationed travel vouchers, strictly rationed education, strictly rationed healthcare - coupled with compulsory activities such as community work to keep them usefully occupied, and obligatory confiscation of any savings or personal assets. On the other, the independent people with their own money.
People with no choices at all, and people with some choices.
People in bondage, with no dignity; and people whose illusion of freedom is scarred by the fear of falling into indignity.
I think I may see it, or something like it, in the next thirty years. That's why I would most certainly grab whatever cash I could, if it were being offered, as a sensible strategy.
But I think I'm already too late. I'm thinking that the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, the last one before the General Election in 2015, will reaffirm the principles of cutting-back. All the more so, now that the economy is picking up, and apparently 'proving' that the government's financial policy has been correct. I expect my Christmas Bonus, and my Winter Fuel Allowance, and possibly even my free Bus Pass to be snatched away just before I would have had them. And if the government gets away with doing that, then expect much more of the same.