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Further Writing by Swan Morrison

The Deserving Poor

‘Good morning Mr Skiver. Please take a seat. Thank you for coming to the job centre for this interview.'

‘What’s this all about then? Are you gonna cut me benefits?’

‘I’m here to reassess your benefits, Mr Skiver. It’s part of the government’s policy to target welfare resources in the fairest manner.’

‘But I ‘ad an interview last week. They worked out then ‘ow much I was gonna get.’

‘That was your financial assessment, Mr Skiver. The sum calculated last week is the maximum that can be paid to someone in your circumstances if they have a DP of one hundred percent.’

‘What’s a DP?’

‘It stands for “Deservability Percentage”. It quantifies the extent to which claimants can be described as deserving poor, and benefits are reduced accordingly.’

‘Deserving poor?’

‘Some people fall on hard times, Mr Skiver, due to circumstances beyond their control. For example, an honest, hardworking man might be made redundant due to the closure of a factory in an area where there is little other employment. Common humanity demands that such a person should be helped by the state until he can find another way to make an income. Other people, however, have only themselves to blame for their poverty. It is surely unfair if the idle and shiftless receive the same benefits as unlucky, industrious members of society. Don’t you agree?’

‘I’ve tried to get work, but there ain’t no jobs.’

‘There are hundreds of vacancies on the books of this job centre.’

‘Yea, but I don’t ‘ave the right skills. It ain’t my fault that I weren’t no good at school.’

‘I’m glad you raised the subject of school, Mr Skiver, as it brings me to the contents of this folder that’s on the desk in front of me.’

‘What’s in that folder?’

‘Your school reports. They show that you were not as stupid as you now appear to be. You failed to get any useful qualifications as you wasted your time at school and were disinclined to make any effort.’

‘I tried really ‘ard, 'onest, but the teachers didn’t teach the lessons proper, and so I never learnt nuffin.’

‘You mucked about in class all the time and never paid any attention.’

‘Like when?’

‘Like when you set fire to Johnson’s exercise books in the chemistry lab. If you’d spent as much time studying as you’d spent bullying Johnson, you’d be the CEO of your own company by now.’

‘Stinky Johnson was a wanker. Anyway, how’d you know about ‘im? I told ‘im I’d frow ‘im out o’ the school library window again if he ever told anyone. … 'Ang on, don’t I know you from somewhere?’

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce myself properly at the start of this interview. My name is Montague Johnson. You can call me Sir.’

‘Stinky Johnson - well I’ll be damned.’

‘I certainly hope so. In the meantime, however, I need to review this benefits claim form of yours that I’m holding.’

‘Why are you putting it in that wastepaper bin, and what are you doing with that box of matches?’

‘Splendid, your claim form and all the rest of your records burn almost as well as my GCE coursework did.’

‘You bastard!’

‘Mind your language. Abuse of job centre staff is taken very seriously. If I report you for foul language, your benefits will be stopped, and no future claim forms of yours will be processed.’

‘What do I do now? If I don’t get them benefits, I’ll starve.’

‘You need to get a new claim form from our other office.’

‘Where’s that?’

‘It’s just down the street. Come over to the window and I’ll point it out.’

‘I can’t see where you mean.’

‘Lean out of the window a little more.’


‘Excellent. Can you hear me down there? I’ll just throw your documents down to you. Be careful, the wastepaper bin is still hot. I suggest you don’t tell anyone about this or the DP assessment on your next claim will be zero.’

‘Ow! I think me leg’s broken.’

‘There’s a bit of a draft in here, and I can hear someone coming. I think I’ll close the window.'

‘Ah, Mr Johnson, I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Enjoying the view from the window I see. My name is Hughes. Please sit down. This interview is to help you complete your benefits claim.’

‘Thank you Mr Hughes. I’ve just moved to this area looking for work, you see. I was made redundant from a factory up north that closed down, and there was no other work around there.’

‘Out of interest, what made you come to this area?’

‘There are a lot of jobs on your books that I’m qualified for, but also I went to school near here.’

‘Ah yes, when I showed you into this interview room ten minutes ago, you said you recognised one of the other people in the waiting room. Did you see where Mr Skiver went, by the way? My colleague was intending to interview him about a claim he made last week, but he seems to have disappeared. His benefits file that was on the reception desk seems to have vanished too.’

‘I believe he has an urgent hospital appointment. After that I think he might want to make a new claim, although I’m not sure he’s too keen about coming back here.’