Notes From the Margins…

National Hate the Poor Week

  • January 09, 2013
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So this week the UN Human Development Report officially declared Britain to be the most unequal society in the Western world,   and found that the poorest 40 per cent of Britons share 14.6 percent of   the national wealth – a lower proportion than any other industrialised   country except Russia.

And yesterday, the political class cheerfully voted through the Government’s Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill, whose main impact, according to the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group,   ‘ will be to make life much more difficult for millions of ordinary families, whether they are surviving on meagre benefits or relying on tax credits to make work pay.’

The Bill is the latest of a raft of punitive measures that have stigmatized the unemployed as parasites and scroungers.   Last August the Government announced that young people who leave education without a job will be obliged to work 30 hours ‘unpaid work experience’ for three months in order to qualify for their £56-a-week jobseeker’s allowance.

Given that quite a lot of 18-25 year olds are leaving education without a job nowadays,   there will be no shortage of unemployed youths forced to   work for ‘charities and social enterprises or have their benefits cut,’ as the Department for Work and Pensions bluntly put it.

The Independent reported at the time that

Ministers denied the plan amounted to “slave labour” and claimed it was designed to ensure that young people leaving education got into the routine of work immediately and didn”t become used to a “benefits lifestyle”.”We don”t want them waking up at lunchtime and playing computer games all day,” said a Department of Work and Pensions source.

This scheme is to be piloted in London, under the auspices of that cuddly cheeky chappie mayor Boris Johnson, and will subsequently be extended to the rest of the country.       As always, it’s all about fairness, said the then Employment Secretary Chris Grayling, one of the biggest bastards in this government of bastards, who sneered

‘The usual suspects will cry “slave labour”. They always do.   (But) if you haven”t yet had the chance to make a financial contribution, then it is not at all unreasonable to ask you to give something to the community before it gives something to you.’

One might ask what Grayling and Co. have given to ‘the community’, but there is really no point in asking this lot anything.     For this is a Government without a heart or a brain, a motley rabble of arrogant, vindictive, bug-eyed neo-liberal zealots who now seem to believe that they can get away with anything, that the welfare state is ready to be dismantled, and that their vicious ‘strivers versus skivers’ narrative has struck a chord with the electorate.

And tragically they may be right on all three counts.   Because this country has become so politically enfeebled in the last few decades, so devoid of alternative visions, so inundated with poisonous and dishonest propaganda and deficit-mania,   so essentially apathetic and unwilling to take on the powerful institutions that have done so much to bring about the current crisis, that too many people appear to prefer to blame those at the bottom of society instead, be they migrants, the disabled, the unemployed or simply the poor in general.

And until that changes, we will be stuck with leaders like Grayling for a long time to come, and even when they go, there is likely to be someone else very much like them waiting to take their place.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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