When the food runs out, eat the weak ones

17 Sep

I’m sure I am a million miles from being the only person who has become completely ashamed of my country’s government in the last six months or so. But I just can’t believe the way things have gone; the ugly, shameful press releases that they have sent to the papers, poisoning what we read, what we hear, and eventually, what we believe.

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I was all for giving the coalition government a chance at first and even thought that the Tories had a few good common sense policy ideas… but now I cannot believe what they are doing to the country. They’re encouraging society to turn on its weakest members and destroy them, like some pack of wild dogs without enough food to eat. It’s an easy instinct to fan into flame – picking on the weak ones – but it’s not one that we hold up as a virtue of humanity. Our leaders are encouraging it, though, simply to protect themselves.

This country is in economic trouble, and the government either don’t know how to make things better, or can’t be bothered to do the things that would really help, out of fear of losing voters. For instance, we desperately need to build more social housing – MUCH more – but they’re too scared to build anything for fear of upsetting NIMBYs who don’t want their towns to change. An expert in the sector says:

“With more than 1.7 million households currently waiting for social housing, the fourth Housing the Nation report revealed that the Government is again on track to miss its targets, by a worryingly large number. A shortfall of 51,000 new homes has to be the tip of the iceberg – this is like losing a town of a similar size to Eastleigh, Hampshire.”

How do they choose to divert the blame for this failure?

“You hardworking people are paying for scroungers to live in huge, five bed houses that they don’t need! They probably have huge tellies and a pony and never work at all! How dare they?”

So comes the “bedroom tax”, possibly the most shameful policy of recent times, that demands that poor, elderly people leave their lifelong homes, move away from all their friends and neighbours, into one-bedroom flats – that don’t exist. Even if people wanted to move, they cannot, because there simply aren’t any small properties, as explained here. They have to pay to stay put.

So – our government is actually punishing poor people for its own mistakes – for its own failure to address the problem. This is outrageous.

And I cannot fathom how, at the same time, it’s okay for comfortably well-off MPs to use taxpayers’ money to BUY an entire second home in London, so they can be comfy when they come to work. Anyone assess how many bedrooms they need? I’d argue zero, when they can well afford to stay in a hotel, a bed and breakfast, or maybe put a sleeping bag down in their office. Perhaps the country can afford to pay for these MPs’ second homes through the savings we’re now making in housing benefit from the poor people… but I sincerely doubt the amounts are in any way comparible.

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I thought I couldn’t get more annoyed until I heard a new story released to the news last week – benefit fraud can now be punishable by up to 10 years in jail! Yeah, great news, get those terrible benefit scroungers who are ruining our country! It’s their fault we’re going down the pan!

When did we stop calling them “the poor” or “the vulnerable” and start calling them “scroungers”?

When did they become the enemy? When did people start to believe this utter tripe that poor people are ruining our country? How could that even be possible? If they were cheating the system well enough to bankrupt the nation, wouldn’t they have stopped being poor by now?

The rhetoric is certainly working, though. A poll earlier this year showed the public thought that 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently. Do you know what the real figures are regarding benefit fraud?

The DWP’s own figures show that it amounts to just 0.7% of the welfare budget and that proportion is not increasing. This amounts to £1.2billion. On the other hand, 10% of housing benefit claimants are accidentally underpaid (reverse fraud, if you will, on the part of the government). Meanwhile, tax evading companies cost the taxpayer £25billion a year – and I don’t see any jail terms at all for them.

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Another of the most vulnerable groups in our society also make a nice scapegoat: immigrants! Yeah, they’re leeching off the taxpayer-funded benefit system (actually, foreign nationals are less than half as likely to claim benefits than UK citizens – 6% vs. 15%). They’re coming over here, taking your jobs (no, there just aren’t any new jobs, thanks to the economic situation which is the government’s responsibility to deal with).

After the Home Office whipped out the Racist Van, I don’t know what more I can say on this subject. Construct your own outraged rant. Thankfully, this campaign was SO unsubtle that it seemed to have the reverse effect of opening a lot of people’s eyes to what was going on, and they didn’t want in.

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I am always depressed when I hear the government boasting that the number of people claiming jobseekers’ allowance has gone down, too. Do you know why this is? It certainly not because lots of jobs have been generated by a growing economy. It’s another example of punishing the poor and needy for the failings of the government to tackle the actual problem. They are not getting JSA any more. But they are not (in many cases) in jobs. They are just living in poverty.

This is one of the worst things I’ve read in recent times. A number of jobcentre employees have come forward to say that they are expected by managers to achieve a certain number of benefit sanctions per week – ie immediately stopping a person’s JSA under the rationale that they’re not trying hard enough to look for work (even if this is baloney). I think I’d call this benefit fraud, wouldn’t you?

It’s all good for the welfare budget figures though, and that’s the main thing!!

And now they’re off the taxpayers’ books, without housing benefit or JSA, they can just go down the food bank…

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This whole campaign of hatred was summed up nicely by the lovely Mr Michael Gove the other day, who said that he’d been to visit a food bank and worked out that people were using it because they weren’t able to manage their money properly. It’s nice that somebody in the cabinet came out and said so clearly what they’ve all been insinuating: “IT’S THE POOR’S FAULT THEY’RE POOR.”

Um… isn’t that what a country’s leadership, its government, is for? If a growing proportion of a country’s population is falling into poverty, isn’t that its government’s responsibility, actually? And in case you weren’t convinced – check out these testimonies, summed up by foodbank staff thus:

“Benefit delay and benefit re-assessment cause people across the UK to go hungry. Almost 40% of foodbank clients last year had experienced benefit delay.”

What’s that Mr Gove? I think you’ll find that it’s the government which is unable to manage its money properly. Looks like IT’S YOUR FAULT THEY’RE POOR.

Now get off your arse and do something about it, instead of this poisonous scapegoating of the most vulnerable people in society, the ones that you should be protecting and looking after and fighting for, not sacrificing to save your own skin.

The thing is, the really terrible thing, is that you are letting people die, just to win votes. You are actually killing people to make yourselves look good. People are dying of poverty, starving and freezing and committing suicide, just so you can score some points in a stupid political game that is nothing to do with them.

For shame. Do your job. Lead.

Well this is an unusual situation.

4 Nov

You know how, just sometimes, you find yourself sitting somewhere, looking around, and thinking, “Well this is an unusual situation”?

Yesterday, Tom and I went to a quality wedding in London. I didn’t realise til we stepped off the train that it was in Tower Hamlets, a place I’ve heard interesting things about. We needed lunch, and there was not a deli or coffee bar in sight – what are two middle-class people dressed in black tie supposed to do?

We went to McDonalds. Dressed for a wedding. In Tower Hamlets. I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth the other people there thought of us.

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We had an engagement party the other weekend, in the self-styled People’s Republic of Stokes Croft.

Stokes Croft is an… unusual place at the best of times – a mixture of bohemian ideals, artists, brothels, independent cafes, bakeries, riots and graffiti artists working on commission from the police. On a Saturday night near Halloween, the streets were busy and one in three people was a zombie.

After a fun, reasonably normal time at The Social, we went to try and see some ska but were surprised and defeated by a long queue. So instead, the five of us who were left cast around for another cafe that might be open at that time of night for a nice cup of tea.

What was open was the Runcible Spoon, a tiny, inexplicable cafe that seems to serve amazing food, if you can find somewhere to sit. We tried in vain to peer through the steamy windows and then pushed our way in. The one table was occupied. There was a counter by the window with some stools, but the counter was covered in large pies, presumably cooling. It looked like we’d just walked into somebody’s kitchen. After a few moments of puzzled staring, Claire asked the chef if we could sit there, but what about the pies? He replied somewhat vaguely that he could move the pies. Truth be told, he seemed sort of surprised to see us. We felt sort of rude for making them tidy up.

So we hung out there for a while, perched on some stools, smelling the pies, drinking a big pot of peppermint tea, and listening to the hordes of zombies shuffling by outside. From the Bristol streets, somewhere beyond the steamed-up windows, the cry of “Braaaaaiinnss” punctuated the night.

“Bristol seems to have a large zombie community,” Mike remarked.

“It’s a diverse cultural area.”

All right my babber?

6 Sep Totterdown_houses,_from_Albert_Road_railway_bridge

Oh, yes, so, I live in Bristol now.

BRISTOL!

How I love thee, with your chatty cafe staff, your two or three ciders on tap in every pub, your spectacular hill views, your plethora of independent stores, your cider barge, your street art making beauty out of ashes, your floating bus service, and your people who say “churz”.

I’ve noticed some things I’d never noticed about Bristol, after 10 years away. It’s a little bit more okay to talk to a stranger here. And it seems to me that there’s a general air of optimism about. It’s as if everyone likes this city and wants to make it a cool place to live, to make it better, not bring it down. Maybe I’m basing this on the mural in the al fresco art gallery that used to be an underpass my mum forbid me from using – it now proclaims: “RELENTLESS OPTIMISM”. I likes that, I does.

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