This is our truth, tell us yours
I don’t often stray into politics, leaving that to my far better qualified fellow traveller but the news of Labour jumping on the welfare is too easy bandwagon is so soul destroying that I feel compelled to write. I joined the Labour party the day after the last election, concerned that the debate about issues like immigration, disability and support for the most vulnerable was dominated by the harshest and most punitive voices.
It was probably bigotgate that made up my mind. I agreed 100% with Gordon Brown, the woman was a horrible bigot repeating the prejudices fed to her as if it was OK, normal, praiseworthy even, to look on those determined to be other with disdain and distaste. Everyone I knew agreed with me, and Gordon, but in the reporting of the incident our point of view was not even assumed to exist. The narrative was that it is fine to mistrust foreigners and want fewer of them in the UK, to blame whatever the issue of the moment was on East European bogeymen. So I decided that the only way to get my voice, and the voices of people like me, heard was to join the official conversation.
The proposal to cut JSA for 18 to 21 year olds and replace it with a means tested benefit linked to training is apparently linked to an opinion poll that says 78% of people think the welfare system is unfair, allowing people to live lives of unimagined luxury with their flat screen TVs and iphones on £57 pounds a week. (That’s just over £8 a day, enough for a second home and regular meals out at top London restaurants apparently) With shows like Benefits Street and On benefits and Proud it is no surprise that so many people think living on £8 a day is mollycoddling those who get benefits. Just as the conversation about immigration never included those of us who do call bigots, bigots, so the conversation on welfare is dominated by those who have never had to choose between heat and light, who have never had to sit in the dark because nappies are so expensive. Nor does it include those who have never experienced this, but have empathy for those worse off than them.
This isn’t about me though, this is about people leaving school and being told that despite all the evidence to the contrary they are still children and treated accordingly. The fact the LabourParty propose to link the new benefit rate to parental income is another sign of how out of touch they are with the most vulnerable and marginalized. Not everyone lives a wonderful Islington life of 2.2 children and supportive parents, not everyone wants, or even can live with their parents. I met a girl recently who had been taken into care at 8 when it was discovered she was the main carer for her younger siblings, and shoplifting food to feed them. Would Ed like to explain to her, now 19 why her JSA is going to be linked to the income of the woman who was too busy shooting up to feed her? An extreme example you might claim, but the welfare system wasn’t, and shouldn’t be designed for those playing happy families, those least in need. It should be designed for those most likely to need it, most likely to fall through the holes in the safety net.
So a means tested benefit, adjusted according to the income of your parents, stretching childhood up to 21. (Cameron wants this to be 25, removing housing benefits too). The Labour Party claim this merely equalizes those in further education with higher education. The issues with this are so huge that I am not sure where to even start. The strange obsession in the UK with pieces of paper to show you have jumped through some academic hoop has been growing for far too long. I am old enough to remember when BTEC first started, a revolutionary idea that not everyone wants to be Captain Ryder. In its original form BTEC was meant to be an alternative route from the age of 14, specialising in vocational skills. It was a recognition that there is more than one way to be, that not everyone is suited to the university route. It was progressively ignored and underfunded as successive governments decided the solution was instead to push university as the only outcome that matters.
So yes there is a problem with some people leaving school and not having the skills to get a job, not because they cannot read or write, but because the education system is designed for people like me, because academic success is the only thing measured in the list of desired outcomes. When we abolished the technical schools and secondary moderns did anyone realise that the children who had gone to them would still be considered second class and failures, the only difference being that now they would be in the same school as their more bookish peers?
So schools are failing non academic children, and cutting the benefits of adults is the proposed solution. What training will be offered though? The experience of some of my friends does’nt fill me with hope. There is currently a huge industry around providing training for the long term unemployed. Most is as useful as Pauline and her pens. Sitting in a room, day after day, being given busy work that everyone knows is simply a time filler is how these schemes work. There are only so many times you can tweak a CV or do an online job search before it becomes apparent the only job creation going on is for the person supposedly leading the training.*
Labour used to be the party of the working class. Now it says that it opposes low skilled jobs, the jobs many of the the working classes do. Apparently we all need to aspire to be lawyers, and it looks down on those who don’t want one of those pieced of paper that mean you are a worthy citizen who will be treated with respect.
In the guardian article it says;
The removal of JSA for those with skills below level 3 would affect seven out of 10 of the 18-to-21-year-olds currently claiming JSA, and initially save £65m.
I cannot be a member of a party that accepts the dominant narrative of looking down on the poor, of looking down on certain jobs, of sanctioning the most vulnerable. This is why today I am leaving the labour party, the conversation it is having is one that does not include me.