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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.

prophets/profits

23 Oct

So yesterday I went to London, and while my friend was indisposed with a sudden bout of food poisoning caused by eating a dodgy sausage bap, I wandered around to the protest camp outside St Paul’s.

It was an extremely friendly, orderly, quiet place and it was nice to see a couple of police officers joking with some guys playing the saxophone.

I don’t really know how these guys think they are going to get rid of corporate greed or unsustatinable capitalism by camping out in central London. But I don’t think that’s the point. I am glad that somebody is at least speaking up and making the point they are making. And I am glad that the Church is (whether accidentally or by design) involved in this. St Paul’s has now closed for tedious legal and health and safety reasons that they had to comply with, but the Dean has been very supportive. What’s the Church? It’s not a cathedral.

These guys are making what Christians might call a prophetic statement. They’re being a visible presence and a voice saying, ‘This can’t go on.’ They have shown that there is an alternative opinion. Whether their occupation achieves anything is a different issue. At least they’ve spoken up. As Gandhi and this poster said:

On political protests and lip hair

25 Nov

So, a bunch of students occupied the Rad Cam for 24 hours or so over the past couple of days. I find myself feeling solidarity with them… in moderation. How British. Well, I think it is worrying and worth protesting about but I also think that most people have misunderstood or not read the actual method of fee-charging that’s been proposed… It will be basically the same as it is now, no upfront payments – it will just take you even longer to pay off your (even bigger) student loan. Which doesn’t really affect your life that much, although it is very unsettling to know that somewhere you have a £30k debt that you will never clear. I think what’s more worthy of objection is the very idea of completely cutting all state funding to higher education (except a few science subjects) – pretty much privitising it. This may have more disastrous consequences if some unis (cough cough Oxford) decide to go completely private and charge many more thousands of pounds of tuition fees… that really would be enough debt to put a lot of people off and I don’t know if the government would cover those sorts of loans for going to private institutions…

In other news, I also passed at least two people on the street today who were sporting impressively silly-looking moustaches. These were young men who could not really have been 1920s cricket players – but that is what they looked like. The end of the month is nearing; the effects of Movember are in evidence… Speaking of which, my friend Fergus has really made an effort, and not only provided a daily photo of his gaelic ‘tache, but also decided to provide the public with a daily fact about the etymology of the word for moustache in every language he can get his hands on. It is a truly educational experience, here.