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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mean Testing

I marvel at government means testing, I really do. Granted, vital statistics such as marital status, number of dependents and amount of debt are taken into account, as they should be. The means test also takes into account all the material gains accrued and emotional ties bonded in your lifetime. It is simultaneously a snapshot of your childhood, your education and your physical wellbeing. It is a governmental biography written in Big Brother code.

It is also, if this is humanly possible, a more demoralising version of a Cosmopolitan quiz, except instead of jaunty titles like 'What's your boudoir IQ?' or 'How dissatisfying is your career right now?' the quiz is 'Just how much are you worth anyway? Not much I bet - you are on the dole, after all, you big loser.'
My score on the multiple choice quiz that is means testing is woefully low. I have no dependents and my only housemate is a Polish man whose name I can barely pronounce. I own no art, nor did I make any savvy investments in the iPad or Chinese based expansion into Africa before the economic slump. Thankfully there is a cash bonus and it is directly proportionate to how badly you do on the test, and thus how depressing your life is on paper - see it as a monetary pat on the back and a reassuring "You'll do better next time, now go get 'em Champ! Maybe next time you'll think about buying some bonds, eh?"
Our lives can easily look insignificant when squeezed rigidly into boxes on a few sheets of paper. Before we get bogged down in the mire of how much we lost or never even had to lose, it is worth remembering that the means test is only an indicator of the present and not of the future. No-one knows what lurks around the corner, at any age. Nelson Mandela was arrested for treason and designated a terrorist in 1956, when he was thirty two. In 1994 he became the president of South Africa and an international symbol of peaceful racial unification. What a difference a few years (and a long stint on Robben Island) makes.
We won't all be lucky enough to become spiritual figureheads, but the message to my fellow social welfare recipients is clear. Don't despair, keep your chin up. There'll always be a tomorrow, and tomorrow is an equal opportunities employer.