From Zoe Fairbairns: Benefits is fiction – the tale of a group of women and men living through momentous and sometimes sinister political changes – but it grew out of fact: in particular, an episode in UK national politics in 1976 which seemed to prove beyond doubt the truth of the feminist slogan “the personal is political”.
Benefits took two years to write, and was published in October 1979 by Virago. It featured in Time Out magazine’s alternative bestsellers, was translated into Swedish, Danish, Turkish and German, and published as a mass-market paperback in the USA. It was adapted into a stage play, and shortlisted for two literary awards (the Hawthornden and the Philip K Dick). The Virago edition remained in print for nearly 20 years, after which the rights were acquired by Five Leaves. A quotation from the book became the text of an alternative Christmas card: “The birth of a man who thinks he’s God isn‘t such a rare event.”
The UK economy is in meltdown. The dispossessed are rioting in the streets. A beleaguered government is casting around for ways to cut public spending and restore order.
Shall it persuade, or coerce, volunteers to take over social work and run schools?
Shall it force the unemployed to work for no pay?
Shall it abolish old age pensions, cut child benefits?
The welfare state seems doomed to be dismantled: the only questions are, how? And how soon? As traditional family values break down, radical activists with alternative lifestyles occupy public buildings.
Does this sound familiar? It does to me, as I re-read Benefits, a dystopian novel which I wrote in the mid-1970s and which now comes to you courtesy of electronic media which, had someone foreseen them at the time, would have caused me to say, “Don’t be silly, no-one will believe that.”Introduction to the 2012 Benefits ebook edition