In a little cafe in Scotland, an unemployed single mother on benefits had dreams of being an author. As poor as she could be without being homeless, and in the grip of depression, she battled against her circumstances and was able to complete her first novel. Although she managed to get an agent, nobody wanted to publish her book, and even when she eventually got the green light, she was told to get a day job, as the book was unlikely to make money. The book that was unlikely to make money was the first book in the Harry Potter series, and the unemployed single mother on benefits was none other than J.K. Rowling.
With the government's campaign to cut welfare and label any and all who rely on benefits as being 'work-shy' and 'scroungers', they seem to overlook the fact that J.K. Rowling once relied on benefits. J.K. Rowling, who is now a multi-millionaire, is in a minority of wealthy Britons who doesn't use tax havens or runs to a country with low taxes. Surely J.K. Rowling's attitude towards paying taxes would be plastered all over government campaigns and she would be shown in a golden light as being a wealthy Briton who pays all her taxes and is helping to keep the country afloat, if it weren't for the fact that she used to claim benefits?
So why does J.K. Rowling, someone who could hide millions in tax havens or emigrate to a country with low taxes, stay here in Britain and pay a high rate of tax? In her own words:
"I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles.
"A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr. Cameron would like to replace with charity hand-outs. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. On the available evidence, I suspect that it is Lord Ashcroft’s idea of being a mug."
'Indebted to the British welfare state.' She knows how much she needed welfare at the time of writing the first Harry Potter book, and now she is giving back to the country along with a massive amount more, as well as her generous donations to charity. She has most likely paid the money she received in benefits back in the form of tax multiple times over, but still, everyone who relies on benefits is a bad person apparently. According to the government anyway.
J.K. Rowling's rags to riches story is not only incredibly uplifting, it also shows the need for a welfare safety net for those whose circumstances require one. Yes, there are some people who are genuinely work-shy scroungers, who fake a bad back to get disability benefits, but the rate of disability benefit fraud in the UK is around 0.5%. What about the 1 in 3 adults who lie on their CVs to get a job they're not qualified for? But that's apparently fine to do because they're still working, even if they don't have the degree they claim they have, along with the thousands of pounds of student debt.
Even though the majority of people who receive benefits will never be able to repay the British welfare state nearly as much as J.K. Rowling did, the 99.5% of us who receive disability benefits because we need them would all dearly love to be free of our illnesses and disabilities so that we could get into work and off benefits. I am working towards getting myself back in employment one step at a time, but I also know the dangers of rushing. I tried getting back to work so quickly that I very nearly set myself back a huge step. Thankfully, I left the voluntary job I'd been doing at the time before I could do any lasting damage to myself. As frustrating as it is for me, I know I need to take it slowly to stop myself from going backwards or even ending up back in hospital for months.
So if you're somebody who can see the need for a safety net and are fed up with the way the government is tarnishing the lives of sick and disabled people everywhere, please visit www.wowpetition.com and sign their petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154
Harry Potter's creator may not have been disabled, but she needed her safety net to prevent homelessness. Sick and disabled people also need their safety net, to prevent homelessness or even hospitalisation. After all, which costs more, a few thousand pounds in disability benefits a year, or a few thousand pounds in an NHS hospital for a month? You do the maths.