There’s a bloke who lives near me. We’re going to call him Bob.
As I put the recycling bin out before driving to work the other day he spotted me and wandered over, morning paper under his arm.
“I saw you last night,” he said. “Burning the midnight oil again were you?”
I took a deep breath and smiled.
Bob was referring to the fact that I could be seen from the street in our box room working on my computer after 10pm.
Having rather a lot of time on his hands, Bob tends not to miss anything that goes on in our road.
It had been something of a long day, I told him.
I had been up at 5.30am, driven to work, done my shift, driven home, made tea, bathed the little ’uns, read bedtime stories to them, made lunchboxes for the next day, had a bath, then done a couple of hours work on the computer in my PJs.
Bob chuckled and told me to be careful not to burn myself out. Then he strolled off to read his paper.
Now, it should be said that I’ve got nothing against Bob personally.
However, as I got into my car that morning I realised I have a problem generally with the Bobs of this world – of whom there seem to be far too many.
Bob, like me, lives in a modest semi-detached house. His family, like mine, has two cars.
But it is there that the similarity ends.
Bob’s little sports car sits on the drive and rarely moves. He parks his clapped out run-around across his driveway – presumably in some deluded belief that it will prevent thieves from making off with his second-hand Toyota.
I work full-time and my wife works four days a week. We use both cars daily and rely very heavily on our parents to help us with childcare arrangements around school dropping off and picking up times.
It is fair to say that, without them, we’d be stuck.
In contrast, neither Bob nor his wife work. They have a little boy, aged three, and Bob’s wife is expecting their second child this autumn.
Despite the fact that neither Bob nor his wife go out to work they send their daughter to nursery every day.
This means that Bob, who is in his late forties, can divide his time between the local golf course (of which he is a member) and DIY on his house.
Now, as far as I know, Bob’s family haven’t won the Lottery, or come in to a huge amount of money recently courtesy of the death of a great aunt.
I know Bob, who is in his late forties, previously worked for a council, but was signed off with stress some years ago and hasn’t been back since. (His words, not mine).
So, here’s the thing. I get rather annoyed when I read letters in The Sentinel from people asking that we don’t tar all benefits claimants with the same brush.
Yes, I know there are genuine cases of people who – for a variety of reasons – cannot go to work despite the fact that they would dearly love to.
However, for every one of them I suspect there must be another four lazy, malingering Bobs and Bobettes who are quite happy to take State handouts and do bugger all seven days a week.
If you doubt me, then take a look at the most recent ‘worklessness’ statistics for Stoke-on-Trent supplied by the Department for Work and Pensions.
In September 2009, 24 per cent of the city’s working population was economically inactive. That’s 35,500 people.
Of these, 8,180 were claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and a further 17,920 were claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or incapacity benefits.
Thirty years ago not working was enough to bring shame on an individual or a family.
Now we have generations of children growing up not knowing what it is like to have a working role model and thinking that sponging off the State is the norm.
This is a situation that definitely worsened in the last 20 years and one which I sincerely hope the new Government will tackle in its attempt to engineer David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.
In my opinion, the vast, vast majority of people who aren’t working could work – if they really wanted to. Surely, we can all do something.
So, in this time of radical decisions and cost-cutting why don’t we, as a society, do ourselves a huge favour that just might get the Bobs of this world off their backsides?
We should tell them that if they want benefits (of any kind) they have to earn them by doing their local community a service every week because, frankly, I’m sick and tired of working to keep them at home.
So Bob is too stressed to go to work in an office. Fine.
Let’s have him picking up litter, scrubbing graffiti off walls or cleaning up some of the eyesore sites that blight our estates.
Anything to get him off the bloody golf course and back into the real world with me.