This is our truth, tell us yours
Sometimes, when blogging, the trick is to combine several themes in an article subtly, so that the cocktail of ideas sneaks up on the discerning reader and leaves them with a sense of fulfillment at having recognised the carefully blended flavours.
Sometimes though the topics are so distasteful that the only way to deal with them is to be upfront with the audience about why in the name of all that is sensible you’re blogging about them. If what you’re about to describe is a shit sandwich without the bread, you need to explain why there’s no bread.
So, dear reader, I give you, in no particular order (since nouvelle cuisine presentation will not save this recipe)
Channel 4’s How to Get A Council House
The Home Office’s ‘Look How Many People We’ve Rounded up’ campaigns against illegal migrants,
Welfare shaming and
Zero hours contracts.
I know, it sounds awful doesn’t it?
Anyway, here goes.
I will declare an interest.
I had a two bedroomed council flat once, in a part of a northern inner-city that was genuinely desolate as a result of the industrial devastation caused by Mrs Thatcher. I got it by the simple technique of walking into a council office and saying, I’ll take it.
It was on the first floor. There was no lift. The boiler didn’t work at first, and was never reliable. There were twelve steps from the kerbside to the front door of the block. It was on the side of a hill, and only accessible by climbing a steep road that was impassable at the first sight of snow or ice. The council wouldn’t let it to me until I reassured them that I was able bodied and my bairn, when visiting, wouldn’t need her buggy too much ‘because people leave them in the hall by the door rather than take them upstairs and its a fire hazard.’
Three of the six flats in the block were vacant.
The balcony was open to the elements – lovely in summer for the local sport of police helicopter watching, wet, cold and exposed to the north winds in winter. The same winds would howl in the baldy sealed up chimneys where once there’d been coal fires.
I survived eighteen months before I moved to somewhere less desolate. The killer was the morning when you couldn’t get off the estate because the police and DVLA were stopping every car, at a road block, looking for road tax dodgers. I was an hour late for work.
I know the housing officer for that estate – we have lefty friends in common. He’s moving families into those flats now, families who want out of three bedroomed houses now the bedroom tax is biting. He’s suggested installing the baby buggy equivalent of cycle racks in the halls, so that parents only have to lug the bairn upstairs, not the baby buggy as well.
There was a Titter frenzy about How to Get A Council House last night. Lots of people got very angry.
I didn’t, well not once I’d played Psycho Killer by Talking Heads at a volume that made my head throb (I used headphones – I may hate my neighbours, but the dog doesn’t deserve to have his ears pounded by killer bass lines and David Byrne’s singing).
One of the things I know with great certainty is that any system of rationing or appropriating scarce resources requires either a massive propaganda effort to explain it, or it will fall into disrepute and create great anger.
Council houses are scarce.
We don’t build enough of them, and we sold off the best of them in the thirty years after 1979.
In such a situation, where many people depend upon the cruel irrationality of the private housing market to accommodate them, a council house is going to look like privilege, and people are going to ask why they aren’t entitled to that privilege. The solution, to build or acquire more council houses, is so simple it should hit you between the eyes like a well hurled brickbat. It takes a huge propaganda effort to stop people drawing that conclusion.
It works in part, because the Tories in the 80s fetishized the idea of home ownership as a moral choice and and as a prudent investment decision. The former is mere politics, the latter highly questionable, not least because, if you can’t move house before you stop earning and realize your profits, a house is a wasting asset, demanding maintenance charges and reducing in value compared to its neighbours.
Anyway, over to those nice chaps at the Home Office and their magnificently ill judged campaign of publicizing their lock up a foreigner operations in the south east. Cynically, the Home Office will tell you their publicity drive is intended to discourage migrants from coming here, or to encourage them to leave.
I’ll leave the outrage to others.
Local authorities have tried the same tactics for years with welfare and benefit fraud. They send out press releases about each case they’ve prosecuted, listing every detail of the fraudulent claim and the claimant. (Oddly, you never see similar press releases from the Inland Revenue about tax fraud.) The press releases contribute to the constant process of welfare shaming, of asserting that there is some great moral defect in being dependent upon welfare.
That so many of the convicted are women intrigued me at first – but you don’t have to look far to work out why it’s so. They’re often on a second or subsequent relationship with a man, and have kids from a previous relationship. They’re convicted of not disclosing that the man is living with them, and not declaring his earnings. Probe a little deeper and you’ll discover that they’ve got multiple indebtedness, that they’ve bitter experience of how relationships go wrong when money worries start to dominate and they know that Till Death Us Do Part is just someone else’s fantasy. They’ll tell you that it’s easier if the man lives with them because otherwise he’ll be paying £70 a week for a bedsit he’ll visit once or twice a week – they’re in a relationship, after all, and sex is one of the things they like about each other. One woman sat down with me in a club and told me about her life, the struggle to get child support from a former partner, her new boyfriend’s CSA bills, the stress of keeping all the relevant agencies informed about how much money was coming in and not coming in, and how, in the end, lying was easier. She’s officially a criminal now, and has to repay the money she ‘stole’ out of her meagre income. A member of my union referred her to me because he thought I might have a way of helping her not have to declare her criminal record on job applications – a local call centre turned her down because she’d been convicted of a offence of dishonesty. She is now more dependent on welfare than ever before.
Zero hour contracts?
Phone your local council.
Ask them how long it takes to process a change of circumstances form for housing or council tax benefit.
Ask them how they would deal with someone who works for Wetherspoons or Sports Direct and doesn’t know what they’ll earn each week.
Ask them how quickly they could make a payment to someone who’s had no work for three weeks, and is being threatened with eviction by their private landlord.
We have created a series of dysfunctional systems, and all the propaganda, all the spin and the soundbites are aimed at blaming the victims of these systems for the failings of the systems.
I am a socialist for many reasons, but the inadequacies of the current system, and its unfairness, keeps me going.