You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them – George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
I am angry, today.
But Ms Red, I hear you cry, you are quite often angry. Well, yes, that’s so, but today I’m bloody angry, angry for a reason. I am sitting in a house from which my current family and I may soon be evicted, because we have failed to make our rent. We have failed to make our rent because we have failed to gain employment, we are paying off debts, and the pissingly tiny amount of benefits to which we are entitled have failed to arrive. We are spending our time watching ripped downloads off the interwebs and living on fried potatoes and tea and cigarettes re-rolled from the butt-ends of what we’d imagined our futures would be.
We’re in our early twenties; the whole world is ahead of us, but a recession-bitten employment market and an increasingly punitive welfare system are making the immediate world look grim. It’s going to be worse, still, for those friends of ours who are due to leave school or university this year and take their first faltering steps into a world that won’t let them work and can’t afford to keep them. This is not romantic. Poverty and hopelessness are not romantic. They’re a fucking pain, is what they are.
When I met James Purnell in September he was half-cut, coming out of a party and manifestly didn’t want to be talking to the small insistent girl reporter in black, but he took the time to explain to me why he thought his welfare reforms were going to help the poor and incapacitated. He genuinely impressed me. He knew his stuff. Three months on, with the recession steaming in and all my friends and loved ones poor and depressed and rejected by a nominally caring Labour welfare state, I’m beginning to think we’ve been had. I have a visceral fondness for energetic, hobbit-looking men, but not when they instruct the poor and needy to bend over and spread for a rogering, telling them in breathless pants that it’s for their own good. Let’s take a look at that party line:
Myth: ‘work is the best way out of poverty.’
Fact: work is the best way out of poverty provided that there is work available, and provided that that work does not pay a poverty wage. Most of the journalists and politicians smugly licking Purnell’s shiny arse on this one are lucky enough to have well-paid, fulfilling careers. But have you ever worked as a fast-food waitress? Have you ever worked in a call centre? You spend nine solid hours in a cramped, light-sputtering cage being bullied by your bosses and harassed by people who didn’t ask you to call and harangue them. The work is soul-eatingly dull and draining and when you come home, blinking, dried-out, feeling ancient and depressed, you have to do it all again tomorrow, and you are still poor. You are still poor because you are being paid way below what might constitute a living wage, and you have no career prospects to keep you motivated. You get to choose between this and staying on benefits, being ever so slightly more crushingly poor but more physically and mentally well. What will you choose? (NB: call centre work is the only work many school leavers and graduates in the cities are currently able to find).
Myth: There is work there for people, and we believe they should do it. We can’t afford to waste taxpayers’ money on people who are playing the system. [Purnell]
This recession is not the fault of the poor. It is the fault of well-off wankers who live in large houses and go on holidays to Majorca, and now that the proverbial has hit the proverbial, nobody wants to take responsibility. Treating people like criminals for failing to find jobs that aren’t there is kicking us while we’re down. And that is what ‘”a system where virtually everyone has to do something in return for their benefits” means. Yes, it’s right that people take responsibility for their own lives – but what creates poverty, worklessness and drug and alcohol abuse is not moral decline, it’s social and economic decline, and that’s the fault of governments and the fault of a financial and business sector which sees no reason to look after its workforce in any way whatsoever.
The alleged lack of virtue of the working classes is now being exploited in order to offload the blame for what this Labour government has done – over 2 million unemployed, a toppling economy, another million so mentally and emotionally incapacitated that they cannot work. The idea that people without jobs are lazy, exploitative, ungrateful and engage in piffling class-defined vices places the blame for ‘Broken Britain’ on a group of people who have less to do with it than anyone else. The political and financial classes refuse to take responsibility for where they have landed us, and are now telling us that it’s our fault, because we are just not trying hard enough.
Don’t for a moment imagine that the Tories are planning anything better. In fact, as David Cameron’s latest editorial in the Hate shows, Tory contempt for the poor is if anything more shameless and ingrained than frantic Labour scapegoating could ever be: Cameron and his gang believe that the poor are lazy, and should be punished lest they all turn out like ‘evil’ Karen Matthews. As Matthew Norman puts it in the Indy, it takes a rich man to pour such scorn on the poor.
But I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough with trying so very, very hard to be a Labour apologist out of fear of the Tories. The Labour DWP’s strategy is not just not good enough: it’s actively immoral, scapegoating the neediest and making it more difficult for us to work and live just at the time when we should be carrying our wounded.
Fuck you in the fucking eyes, Purnell. It just saddens me that by the time that you see the wrong end of a dole queue in 2010, it’ll be way too late for you to help even yourself.