Sunday 14 December 2008

The writing's on the wall.

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 seriously considering whether the best use of my time would be to torch myself on the steps of Parliament in protest - Withiel Black Esq., this morning.

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.


  1. I work in "welfare to work." You're so right to say work's only a way out of poverty when there's work and it pays a living wage. The best way out of poverty in the long term is training so you can get better work.
    And yeah while there are jobs available see above.
    I see people day in day out who are claiming incapacity benefit/ income support. Out of the 50 odd people on my caseload 2 are "playing the system," the rest are people who are either unquestionably far far too ill to work or people who have been disenfranchised by their illness and by the consequences of the UK's changing labour market.
    And the government expects me to get 6 of those people into work each month. In a recession. It's crazy.
    We don't need more blame for the working class. We need proper education for everyone and a society that actually values people's work with a living wage for everyone.
    It is tough out there at the moment. And it's only going to get worse :(
    I'm in my twenties too; I was lucky to get a fairly safe job this summer before the worse it. The situation I would be in now does not bear thinking about if I hadn't.
    Good luck

  2. I have one question. Where is the money going to come from for these welfare reforms?

    All the money has been spent. And taxing the rich more is a waste of time. As it is easy for them to move themselves and their assets out of the country. Unless of course we ban the movement of persons and capital.

    However I don't disagree with you that we have been f**ked by the political elite.

    Sadly the only way out of this is hard work and hardship. Our debt mountain is just too big.

  3. "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"

    I'd disagree - unemployment is blamed for causing poor mental health (though this could be a chicken and egg scenario i admit).

  4. The real problem here is that the governments insistence upon an expansion of further and higher education ( arts of course), has produced a generation of highly literate, self-important youngsters whose training is of no actual use to anyone.The fact that graduates can only work in call centres indicates only the fact that they have no professional qualifications and are having to start at the bottom.
    This is the real problem - not the job itself, but the expectations which make an honest days work seem like a crushing humiliation.
    If there is no demand for the work that people can perform, paying over the odds for undesired labour is the best that the government can do. If people can get money for doing nothing and there is no particular social pressure to work, then they obviously won't. Which pisses off the other tax payers.

    PS Have you actually made an effort to consider what you and your pals could do, in terms of providing a useful service to everyone else? You have 5 people, you have a business. Start a cooperative effort (if government regulations don't prevent it) and see how far you get.

  5. The penny's finally dropped. The only surprise is that it could have taken so long.

    At least when the Tories tried to punish the disabled for their fecklessness and dependence there was some opposition. New Labour's dose of neoliberal shock treatment is entirely unopposed and likely to be much harsher than anything the right could have got away with - a repeat of the pattern set under Clinton.

    These reforms have nothing to do with 'helping' people back into work - most disabled people do want to work rather than exist on a pittance and don't need the stick of withdrawal of benefits as an incentive.

  6. Your Damscene conversion since last month's posts supporting Purnell's reforms is welcome, if somewhat belated but I can't help thinking that your latest rant is somewhat counter-productive in reinforcing the prejudices of supporters of these reforms. It suggests that benefit claimants have 'chosen' not to work in call centres because it's boring!

    The problem with this legislation is that it is going to make life much harder for those who can't 'choose' to live on benefits - those too disabled to work in a call centre, or hold down any form of permanent employement, but who will be subject to bullying by private agencies charged with cutting the benefits bill and presumed guilty until they can prove their incapacity.

    Many who would love to be able to get some paid work in a call centre would find your comments quite unhelpful and a bit self-indulgent.

  7. "Fuck you in the fucking eyes, Purnell."

    If I ever meet the man this shall be my opening gambit.

    What a heinous twat he is.

  8. Now,now Penny.

    That time of the month is it?

    The welfare reforms are specifically designed to target and mercilessly shoehorn work-shy hippie-types, like you and the members of the moribund non-family with whom you live, into pecuniary employment.

    When the ship has been holed below the water-line by the iceberg it's "all hands to the pumps" I'm afraid young lady. As Lord Kitchener used to say "Your country needs you!" Too bad if you get a few calluses on your tiny, lily-white hands in the process.

    An intelligent and enterprising young girl like you should try to take up a profession... in your case I would recommend you consider taking your place as a member of the "oldest profession". Nature has already supplied you with all the equipment you need to work in this "service industry", which has massive growth potential, and with your twenty-something self-basting vagina, well, you could literally be sitting on a fortune even as I type these words.

    Why don't you and your friends start up a discreet little brothel servicing the older members of the middle classes in and around your area? You could all work from home on a self-employed basis (saving travelling expenses), be your own bosses – or should I say mistresses - and enjoy a share in your own company.

    I could be your first customer and do to you, for a fee, what I intend to do to all the disabled and unemployed over the next few years!

    Well, it’s an idea.

    Check your bum for love bites!

    All my love,


  9. Well, to be fair to JP, he's putting forward the same policies that he's always supported. New Labour approach to work and poverty is broadly consistent. It has good and bad elements. I don't think encouraging people who are fit to work to do low-skilled or semi-skilled work is the worst bit of it. It's down to effective workplace regulation (also the government's responsibility) and the trade union movement to make sure that people who do go into low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs don't get completely screwed by employers.

    For me, the biggest worry with the latest measures is the element that involves shoving millions of people who have been on Incapacity Benefit back into the labour market.

    I don't think it's morally wrong but it's unlikely that either the DWP or target-driven outsourced providers of back-to-work services have the skills or the right attitude to do it without making life very unpleasant for a lot of society's most vulnerable people.

    I hope I'm wrong about that.

    Generally, though, I suspect that the drive to force people off benefits will be kicked into the long grass as the recession deepens.

  10. Do you think it's possible or desirable to be a Labour voter without being a Labour apologist?

  11. Okay.

    We all pretty much agree now that Purnell is a dick (and a flaccid, floppy, wrinkly and limp one at that) but why is nobody implicating the remote, arrogant, aloof, dark-souled and stone-hearted Gordon Brown as the puppet master pulling Purnell's strings behind the scenes as he seeks to pillory the sick and the needy?

    Didn't any of you read Brown's forward to Frodo Purnell's green paper "No-one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility"?

    I think the title of that pernicious document is rather telling. Brown's tiresome mantra in respect to welfare always used to be "rights and responsibilities" whenever he increased the latter and diminished the former, so the fact the green paper wasn't titled something like "No-one written off: reforming welfare to afford rights and reward responsibility" is somewhat revealing in my view - if only in a Freudian way. I'm talking along the lines of Sigmund (father of psychoanalysis) here and not those of his great grandson David (who took his great grandfather's ideas as per the Oedipus complex so seriously he grew up to become a complete and utter motherfucker).

    We all know that all members of Brown's cabinet have to ask permission from Brown to break wind, so why has Brown escaped censure when Purnell advances such cruel and unusual policies in respect to welfare reform?

    Answers on a postcard please!

  12. Pardon Hardon!

    You don't know your Lord of the Rings, tosh. You said "Frodo Purnell" but all things considered don't you really mean "Sméagol Purnell"?


  13. Purnell: stinker or slinker?
    I love you guys.

  14. "We all know that all members of Brown's cabinet have to ask permission from Brown to break wind, so why has Brown escaped censure when Purnell advances such cruel and unusual policies in respect to welfare reform?

    Answers on a postcard please!"

    Maybe a better use of the postcard would be to suggest what you'd actually do to tackle welfare dependency and mass unemployment.

  15. If only that comment was likely to be from 'the James Purnell' - still, worth an IP look-up anyway? It would be enough to get the little fuckwit the sack.

  16. Considering the terrible way in which New Labour intend to treat single parents... well, probably no more large donations from J.K.Rowling then, eh?

  17. "Maybe a better use of the postcard would be to suggest what you'd actually do to tackle welfare dependency and mass unemployment."

    Why waste time treating the symptoms? The problem is in fact that millions of people are Extremely Poor.

  18. Well in that case there are two easy solutions.

    Firstly, shoot the rich.

    Secondly, remind the poor that they aren't actually (by any sensible measure) poor.

  19. Mark, how much exactly do you earn?

  20. Oh, come on Mark!

    That comment is just plain silly and unworthy of anyone with any self-determination whatsoever!

    Let's analyse some figures in a manner a pre-pubescent child could grasp...

    Jobseeker's Allowance at its highest, over twenty five year old, rate is, I believe, currently £60.10 per week so the unemployed have a meagre £3,125.20 per year to live on in toto FOR THE WHOLE YEAR.

    Now, try to add together your own personal costs in respect to food, clothing, travel, water, gas, electricity charges and tell me again that someone trying to survive on less than four thousand pounds a year isn't grindingly poor in an absolute sense.

    I you have any spark of humanity, compassion or decency left in you please stop polluting you mind with the ravings of reactionary tosspots like A.N.Wilson and that pasty maggot Simon Heffer and try to take the first faltering steps towards thinking for yourself.

    Failing that...

    Shut the fuck up and try to refrain from making yourself look like an complete and utter arsehole!

    And take a laxative because you're sound as if you're so full of shit you must be nigh to bursting!

  21. "Why waste time treating the symptoms? The problem is in fact that millions of people are Extremely Poor."

    Well, mass unemployment (definitely) and welfare dependency (arguably) are more causes of poverty than symptoms.

    One of the starting points of modern political debate is that there's no consensus about how we solve the problem of the fact that lots of people are poor.

    How do we find the balance between create wealth and distributing in fairly and - even if we could do that - how do find the right approaches to these things that actually work in practice?

  22. I've seen this all before when I was working for an IT company in the USA - Phoenix, Arizona to be precise.

    The policies Purnell is advancing, via David Freud's THREE WEEK report on welfare reform, convulsed North America and caused unbelievable suffering and misery to millions of the poorest and most vulnerable of American citizens. Just as Purnell is trying to put a positive spin on his punitive regime of sanctions and conditionality so Bush's "reforms" were touted as being the most economic and effective way to "empower" the poorest and most disenfranchised in society to "transform" their lives by securing gainful employment and achieving subsequent material advancement as a direct consequence.

    Bush announced his welfare plan at a church in Washington in front of a backdrop plastered with words like "opportunity", "hard-working families", "responsibility" and "working toward independence" etc.

    "We must never be content with islands of despair in the midst of a nation of promise," Bush intoned. "We want all Americans to believe in the potential of their own lives and the promise of their country."

    Does any of this sound kind of familiar to anyone reading these words? It was buffalo-shit in the USA and bullshit over here.

    I don't know about you but I worry whenever I hear politicians descend to the bathos of clichés persistently uttering sound-bites like "something for something society", "hand up not a hand out" and "tough love" etc.

    Nothing good came of America's welfare reforms; no money was actually saved although many private companies creamed off hundreds of millions of dollars in a brazen, unchallenged and completely shameless manner.

    Do NOT go down this road!

  23. "Well, mass unemployment (definitely) and welfare dependency (arguably) are more causes of poverty than symptoms."

    Unemployment is a metric, rather than a condition. There are a great many people in (often more than) full time employment who are still extremely poor, and it's no use pretending that shuffling people off benefit and into a call centre either makes them richer, makes their lives measurably better, or makes anyone else's lives measurably better. (Except those of the Government statisticians looking at the unemployment figures, of course.)

    On the other hand, there are many people who are not in formal employment who are doing well in their own way, and getting along with what they feel they need - and contributing to the general welfare too.

    Welfare dependency could probably be usefully alleviated by changing the welfare system so it didn't take up All Your Time and Energy claiming welfare, leaving almost none for anything else. Apart from that, a magic wand to a) change the working climate to be much more friendly to the disabled and b) create lots more jobs would help. It isn't as though there's some vast pool of people who actually want to be on welfare.

  24. I'm paid in Yen, so i'm currently earning more than average (in pounds) thanks to the exchange rate.

    God bless the credit crunch.

    Um... given that the measurement of poverty currently employed measures inequality more than anything else, the only way to get rid of it is to either get rid of the rich or to find a new definition...

    Young, able minded, able bodied people who find themselves in a condition of absolute poverty must take responsibility and find a way out through hard work. Those who haven't contributed, worked or saved should not expect to live a life free of hardship - what lesson would it teach if they could?
    The governments benefit system is wrong for many, many reasons. But the idea that people who are able should have to to take work where they can is a good one.*
    Isn't that the real problem here? That lots of jobs are socially (rather than financially) undervalued? While I understand the importance of emphasising that we can all become rich business leaders, prime ministers and top scientists for the sake of motivating children - the fact is, we can't. There are plenty of ordinary jobs which are equally essential and if people felt more pride in the contribution that they made to society alot of these problems would be alleviated...

    *In practice the benefit system actually discourages this (or did) - when I was claiming jobseekers allowance I was told that if I worked part time one day of the week the amount would be deducted from my jobseekers allowance - so I'd effectively been working for free. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    They also paid me £10 to go on a jobfinding training course where they taught you how to tell the time. Seriously.
    Anyone who needs to be taught how to tell the time and catch a bus should not be expected (forced) to find full time work.

  25. I think THIS says everything anyone needs to know about Brown and Purnell's proposed welfare reforms.

    Even the Conservatives, not exactly previously supportive of single parents, think that Purnell's plan is "shameful" and have decided to fight this measure in the associated white paper in the Commons and the Lords.

    Whatever has happened to the Labour Party? When did the people it was created to defend and support become its enemies - soon to become its victims?

    It really is so very, very sad.

  26. Mark.

    I am sure there must be one or two people abroad this world... mother, sibling, psychiatrist, hooker, therapist, warder, tinker, tailor, soldier or sailor... some sad deluded soul who fosters some semblance of "fondness" for you buried somewhere deep within them.

    For the sake of this small group of elect personages, if not for your own personal salvation and continued physical existence, itself I urge you to sally forth with fire in your belly, hope in your heart and light in your eyes, to peruse in fluorescent light your local pharmacy's wares. Upon arrival I beg you to invest some of your hard-earned Yen (exchanged favourably for Stirling if you are domiciled in the United Kingdom) in a proprietary opening medicine and imbibe a quadruple-strength dose of said laxative at your earliest possible (and not too far away from the nearest public) convenience.

    I say this in all seriousness.

    (Unless of course you are in reality a mischievous left-winger trying to tweak our noses!)

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. I was so relieved to read this - welcome back to the land of the living!

  29. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

    You guys are too much!

    I likes a good laugh me!

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