“Dechesa” addiction among Ethiopians in the UK – By Mulumebet Asfaw

March 24th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Last year I went to the United Kingdom to do a comparative research on welfare benefits, its advantages and its adverse effects. That had given me a chance to closely scrutinise how some Ethiopians in the UK survive on benefits. You may wonder why anyone would want to write about the positive and negative effects of benefits on an immigrant community. The simple answer is the pervasive addiction of welfare benefits, also known as Dechasa, among able bodied Ethiopians who have every opportunity to succeed without being indefinitely dependent on welfare benefits.

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Last year I went to the United Kingdom to do a comparative research on welfare benefits, its advantages and its adverse effects. That had given me a chance to closely scrutinise how some Ethiopians in the UK survive on benefits. You may wonder why anyone would want to write about the positive and negative effects of benefits on an immigrant community. The simple answer is the pervasive addiction of welfare benefits, also known as Dechasa, among able bodied Ethiopians who have every opportunity to succeed without being indefinitely dependent on welfare benefits.


The United Kingdom is a country where a generous welfare system helps those who cannot afford to cope with the cost of life. Those without jobs, anyone unable to earn a living due to other unfortunate circumstances like serious illnesses and disabilities get assistance from the tax payer’s coffers under various schemes. There are many kinds of benefits, like job seekers allowance, income support, disability allowance, housing benefit, child benefit, council tax benefit etc.

The benefit system in the UK has its own weaknesses and can easily be abused and manipulated by unscrupulous individuals with false claims. What I found striking is not the number of Ethiopians who are on benefits because they have legitimate grounds to get support to survive. Asylum seekers who are not allowed to work, which is another weakness of the system, senior citizens, children under 18, genuinely single mums, disabled and unemployed people have all legitimate grounds to claim welfare benefits for survival.

As the main objective of the benefit system is to help those who cannot afford to pay their bills because of joblessness, disabilities or any other legitimate grounds, one cannot criticise them for being dependent on welfare benefits because of their unfortunate circumstances as there are a number of Ethiopians in this category who have good reasons to seek assistance from public funds.

My critical views are directed towards Ethiopians in the UK who are deliberately trying to make every effort not to get stuck in the benefit system even if they have every chance to take advantage of the opportunities on offer to them. One of the undesirable effects of Dechesa is making some people to develop a culture of laziness and dependency syndrome abusing the benefit system at will, sometimes doing nothing except backbiting others. If anyone dares to advise these kinds of people why don’t they try to lead meaningful lives, they are likely to angrily retort “It is none of your business. That is envy!” In a civilised society though, there is however nothing off limit closer scrutiny especially when a malpractice is grossly wrong.

Let us put “Dechasa” addicts under different categories. However, caution must be taken that this is not an effort to expose the corrupt practise, as it is already an open secret, but to encourage Ethiopians to believe in hard work and to shun a system that can prevent them from leading productive and meaningful lives free from cheating, which is not a smart way of earning a living at the expense of hard working people who pay their taxes responsibly. Putting such a malfeasance under scrutiny can show Ethiopians, whether in the UK or other countries, that it is hard work, not welfare dependency and addiction, that should be construed as a source success, pride and confidence.

1. The job dodger: There are some who are able to work and earn their living. Some are well qualified but never want to get employed. Among the Ethiopian community in the UK, it is a taboo to ask why. But you hear constant moaning from the job dodgers that the Job Centre, a government agency that puts people into jobs, is harassing them to do training and offering work. Don’t get surprised if you hear the job dodgers saying: “These cruel people have found me a job. I will tell them I am too ill to work.” This may appear a joke but it is a reality of life for the job dodgers. They are too lazy to work or they have a preconceived idea that they can only be better off to be on benefits forever.

2. Married but separate: In order to take advantage of the loop holes in the system, these one get married with a lot of fanfare and big limos. The trouble with them is that even if they get married legally they declare divorce as soon as possible or they never declare their marriage. The extreme cases go as far as both claiming income support, job seekers allowance, housing and council tax benefits. It doesn’t end there. They rent out flats and houses that are registered under a housing benefit claimant. That means they live rent free and become landlords and landladies of properties that they spend not a single penny on. In some cases they even go out for extra income working in the black market.

3. Healthy but disabled: Under these categories fall those who are healthy but claim to be disabled. They claim the maximum amounts of welfare benefits but one may find them doing hard jobs in the underground. They never wish to have a decent job as they think they are too smart to squeeze the system.

4. Self-employed but no income: Cab drivers and business owners fall under this category. Some amongst this group declare their income so low that their income would appear not even enough to pay their rent. Assisted by dodgy accountants, they prefer to save their income and claim benefits for their basic expenses including housing rent.

5. The young pensioner: Cheating the benefit system has become so entrenched among Ethiopians in the UK that even young people prefer to live like old aged pensioners rather than getting qualifications and aspire to fulfil their dreams.

6. The landlord on welfare: As I have mentioned above, some become scrupulous landlords claiming all kinds of benefits. The majority of the dodgy dealers live with their partners, girl friends, boy friends, husbands and wives while claiming state benefits. This practically turns them into landlords on welfare which is an illegal way of making money that they have never toiled to earn. If anyone challenges these malfeasance affecting a significant number of individuals and families, they would be victims of smear campaigns as those who have a problem with the truth find it hard to handle it.

To my amazement, the majority benefit cheats I have come across think that this is a smart way of survival but what is at stake is honesty, integrity and morality. Some families who have children but live on benefits while earning enough teach their children a bad lesson. The community organisations that are supposed to show the right ways and means of survival to the Ethiopians community in the UK have their own weaknesses as they are too focused on fundraising and siphoning off funds to their own ends.

It is very healthy to aspire to prosper. But prosperity should come through hard work and real earning. Living in confidence is much better than playing hide and seek with welfare officers.

Those who have no choice but to survive on benefits are beyond reproach. They have little options. But those who are capable of supporting themselves and making positive contributions to their host country should accept the fact that hard work is the best way of survival with dignity. It should also be noted that there are so many Ethiopians who work and study hard to succeed in the United Kingdom in the right ways. Unnecessary dependency syndrome and addiction to Dechasa must be shunned and discouraged as it is not a smart way of survival for those who cheat. Whereever we go we must believe that we can make in in the right way of life.

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