Right now, if there’s one person I really can’t stand it’s the Taxpayer. He or she annoys me more than the Motorist, the Hardworking Family and even the Wealth Creator. Always in the news, putting his or her name to the latest mean-spirited whinge, this person contributes virtually nothing to society. Sure, there are those taxes, but big sodding deal. That’s no excuse for the way the Taxpayer behaves.

The Taxpayer is not to be confused with all people who pay taxes. Most taxpayers are not the Taxpayer, and it’s a good job too. Can you imagine what life would be like if most people who paid taxes went around acting as though this very fact made them not only morally superior but uniquely exploited? If all workers became so self-aggrandising, so embittered and resentful? We’d hardly get any jobs done! Thankfully there are enough people who recognise that while taxes pay for many things — sometimes things we’d rather they didn’t pay for at all — they don’t buy us the right to appoint ourselves superior human beings. Seriously, for how long do some folk have to be in a job before they can just get over themselves? (more…)

Amidst all of this week’s Tory Party Conference nastiness, one thing I didn’t pick up on in George Osborne’s hardworking people / help to work ramblings was the specific impact his proposals would have on those with long-term mental illness. It’s easy not to notice these things. Personally I spend so much time trying to figure out how a Workfare job isn’t a job and why, by extension, all jobs don’t just become Workfare jobs that I’ve little time to focus on anything else. So until today (when @stfumisogynists alerted me) I wasn’t aware of proposed Mandatory Intensive Regimes “to address underlying problems including illiteracy, alcoholism or mental health troubles” — you know, those problems that are usually no big deal, but are really bloody annoying when they stop you from bringing in the profits for society’s self-appointed wealth creators.

Apparently you’d only end up on one such regime as a last resort, if you’d failed to find employment after completing the Work Programme and were deemed to have one of the problems listed. I can’t help feeling it’s a curious way of going about things – isn’t it possible to diagnose and treat mental illness before a person’s been put through the Work Programme wringer? Or does it just not matter until then? Do we honestly not give a shit unless the mentally ill are getting on our nerves with their scrounging ways? It would appear to be the case. I have to say, this both angers and frightens me. It seems, frankly, inhumane, not to mention utterly ignorant of the complexities and difficulties behind that two-faced phrase “helping people to work”.
(more…)

It was the lovely Mark Steele who pointed out that, when it comes to spending money, it’s the poor who have all the choices, “swanning around in charity shop cardigans and galavanting on shopping expeditions like the women in Sex and the City, squealing ‘Hey let’s go to Poundland and buy a dishcloth’, in ways the rich can barely dream of”. Meanwhile wealthy people like James “I’m not a rich person” Delingpole are scrimping and saving in order to give their offspring the same pricey schooling they received. No Poundland dishcloths, charity shop cardigans or, um, skiing holidays for him. Instead, it’s school fees all the way and what’s more, according to the chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, wonderful parents such as him are made to feel like “social lepers”.

It’s not fair, is it? As Delingpole points out,

I could have done the decent thing and used my earnings to help drive up property prices in a good state-school catchment area; or I could be splurging the same amount of dosh on an annual skiing holiday, a safari and a lease on that nice, chunky Range Rover I’ve always coveted. But instead, miserable, selfish bastard that I am, I’ve chosen to squander my money on my children’s education. What kind of monster must I be?

What kind indeed? In his view, “a loving, caring sort of monster”. In mine, just a rich one, no better nor worse than anyone else, were it not for his truly monstrous dishonestly regarding the broader inequalities in play. (more…)

Of many things that annoy me about Tory plans to introduce a Marriage Tax Allowance, one minor irritation is that my partner and I, who’ve been together for thirteen years, wouldn’t even benefit from it. To be fair, I’m not sure I even want to benefit from a policy with which I so wholeheartedly disagree, but if it’s going to happen anyhow … Well, that’s a moot point anyhow. Married or not, we’d gain nothing. We’re both in paid employment so our respective tax allowances are spoken for.

This morning, however, something crossed my mind. I might lose my job! In fact, for reasons I can’t go into, there’s a distinct possibility that I will lose my job! And if I do lose my job, providing we’ve tied the knot, then it’s Tax Allowance a-go-go! Way-hey! Thank you kindly, Mr Cameron!
(more…)

One of the perks of being a mother is being able to tell a woman expecting her first baby any old crap you like. After all, what’s she going to do about it? Facing the unknown,  she’s hardly going to contradict you. You’re a mum. You know stuff. As for her? Let’s face it, she hasn’t got a clue.

Of course, this is a mean thing to do and you should, ideally, refrain from it (unless said expectant mother is especially annoying). If you already know how much uncertainty and self-doubt motherhood can bring, it’s just vindictive to set about stoking it up in someone else before she’s even got started. That’s why I can’t see any excuse whatsoever for Virginia Ironside’s current “advice” column in the Independent.

First of all, allow me to present the dilemma:

I’m about to have my first baby, but I’ve just been head-hunted by a firm that wants me to start work as soon as possible. Friends say I should wait and see how I feel before I commit to a new job but my husband has said he’s keen to look after the baby and become a house-husband  – he works freelance and he’s going through a time when he doesn’t have very much work. Can you or any of your readers offer advice on what I should do? I’m at a loss and can’t make  a decision.

What should this woman do? Well, here’s my suggestion: don’t write to Virginia Ironside. She’s not interested in your life. She just wants to use it as a springboard for promoting her vision of Perfect Motherhood. (more…)

Quick magazine idea: the feminist version of Private Eye. Like the sexist one, only not sexist, and hence far more aware of the misogyny that runs through politics and the media (sexist Private Eye included). I’ve already planned the reversioning of several features: Rod Liddle would provide a model for the new Glenda Slagg, the OBN would be joined by the MBE (Mansplaining Badge of Excellence), as well as Lookalikes we’d have Sexist-a-likes, Pseuds’ Corner would be joined by Rape Apology Circle (£10 for the most topical submissions, £15 for any starting with the phrase “we all agree rape is an abhorrent crime…”), plus the school newsletter would be set at the Mike Buchanan Academy for Boys and Men (“and the women who love them”). I’ve been struggling to find my new Polly Filler but finally, today, I happened upon him: it’s novelist Tim Lott. More specifically, novelist Tim Lott in his Man about the house column for the Guardian.

I’m not quite sure why Lott has up till now escaped my notice. Perhaps I thought he and Tim Dowling were the same person.* Today, however, someone tweeted Lott’s latest report from the domestic front into my twitter timeline, a piece portentously titled There are no final truths in relationships.** A sort-of review of the film Before Midnight in which Lott a) slyly compares himself to Ethan Hawke’s character (ha!) and b) offers a passive-aggressive critique of his wife’s own habit of criticising him, it’s both hilarious and disturbing.

(more…)

Why do the non-rich throw away food? Because we’re stupid and we’re losers. That goes without saying, otherwise we’d be rich, wouldn’t we? As Tory minister Richard Benyon tactfully notes, we’re so stupid we wouldn’t even think to wrap up a piece of cheese after we’ve opened it (assuming we’re in the 13% of the population who don’t practise cheese-wrapping). Then again, even if we weren’t so ignorant of cling-film, we wouldn’t do it anyhow. That’s because we’re lazy and entitled. We’d be all shall we save that cheese? Nah, why bother? If we run out the welfare state will provide!

I am not rich and I waste food. Can’t stop myself, me. My waste-food bin floweth over. Even so I would like to point out that there are reasons other than the ones given above for throwing away food when you’re not rich. I feel it necessary to do so for no other reason than I strongly suspect that Richard Benyon, whose own fridge is to be found somewhere here, has very little experience of budgeting for food on a daily basis. So especially for you, Richard, some reasons why the food of the non-rich might head binwards:

(more…)

On the same day that the Guardian frets over whether feminism has been failing working class women, Joanna Moorhead produces a Comment is Free piece which, to my mind, epitomizes a lot of what feminists of all classes should seek to avoid. And yes, I realise how judgmental that sounds. But really, while feminism can touch upon many issues – from violence to body hair, from education to glossy magazines – if there’s one thing I don’t think it should be about, it’s enabling “big dreamers” to have “big lives”. This is a drive towards equality we’re dealing with, not an X-Factor trailer. Is that what, for some commentators, it boils down to? A “successful” life, one in which you’ve found the key to Sunday supplement-perfect living? One in which you’ve risen above all the little people with their piddly little dreams? The truth is, it all sounds a bit “strivers vs skivers” to me. Shouldn’t we be asking for more – and be demanding it for everyone?

Moorhead is worried about work-life balance. Well, aren’t we all. It’s a global issue. Most of us would rather be “living” than working, unless we’ve got an ace job – which most of us haven’t. Yet Moorhead still pushes that form of feminism which rests on the idea that without workplace gender discrimination, we’d all be choosing between a brilliant career or a brilliant “life” (understood in heteronormative terms  as  husband and kids). And what then? Well, then the only real “problem” would be that, ooh, it’d be so hard to choose which to focus on most! Ace career or ace husband? It’s worse than the classic Daddy or chips dilemma! So why not, says sage mother-of-four Moorhead, have a bit of both? Why not indeed! Here’s what she advises her daughters (“especially the university ones”):

Number one, plan your life (if the plans go wrong, you can always re-plan; but it’s the people without a plan who are most often unfulfilled). Number two, see your life in the round: happiness doesn’t come down to just one thing. It’s not just about a great job, or a great relationship, or a happy home, or a gaggle of kids; it’s about many of those things (and, incidentally, you’ll rarely have all your ducks lined up in a row, so don’t expect to be fulfilled on every front at every point in your life; you have to be adaptable, you have to keep striving). Number three, follow your dreams: don’t be afraid to dream big, in any part of your life. Big dreamers have big lives.

And yet, the trouble is, how much money, education and support will all this dreaming, striving, adapting, planning and re-planning cost? How easy is it to dream big when you’re nothing to fall back on? What if you don’t have any “ducks” to line up at all? It’s not that women are afraid to follow their dreams, it’s that they have low-paid jobs they can’t afford to leave, violent partners they can’t escape, children they can’t afford to send to nursery, pregnancies they don’t want and can’t choose to terminate …. Feminism does – or at least should – offer some route out of this, but it’s not by encouraging individuals to buck up and dream.

To my mind, feminism is about women having the same rights as men – over both mind and body – and enabling them to live with respect and without fear. Money plays a big part in this, of course. As long as the majority of low-paid and unpaid work is done by women our freedom to make decisions, change our environment and / or escape abuse will be limited. Nevertheless, this sits within a broader context of gross and growing financial inequality. The economic disadvantage experienced by women on a global scale overlaps and intersects with geographical, racial and class inequalities. If we’re asking why we’re locked out of the boardroom, shouldn’t we also be asking whether there should be a boardroom at all? If we’re asking why privileged women can’t have the options open to privileged men, shouldn’t it bother us that no one else has them, either?

I don’t think middle-class feminists are bad people – after all, I’m one and clearly I care about the issues which directly affect my life. When people offer a blanket apology for “middle-class feminism” I get suspicious. If you can’t be bothered to distinguish between valid and invalid criticism of the feminism for which women of your class have stood, how seriously are you taking the criticism in the first place? What matters most – saying sorry for everything because you want working-class feminists to like you or focussing on what it is you represent that really does cause them the greatest harm? It’s hard for me to tease all these things apart. After all, there are experiences I lack, privileges I don’t recognise and an ego I want to protect. But when I read Moorhead’s piece, I do think that’s the feminism I don’t want to stand for – and for which at times I most definitely, without even noticing it, still do.

Yesterday evening I suffered the misfortune of witnessing the latest Barclays Bank advertisement. It’s one of those wry, cynical ones which show the customer going through various life stages, from youthful optimism right through to middle-aged resignation as the realities of family life slowly asphyxiate all hopes and dreams. Everyone’s been there, haven’t they? And by “everyone”, I mean all middle-aged, middle-class men, for they are the ones who have Stages Of Life and Related Financial Concerns. As for the rest of us? Why, we’re mere plot devices. Middle-class women exist only to have intermittently swollen bellies which produce parasitical children. Working-class men? Only there to screw over long-suffering middle-class men when they need their car fixed or their drain unblocked. Working-class woman? Doesn’t exist, at least not in bank ad land (perhaps one day she’ll be permitted to pop in, Mrs Doyle-like, with a tea urn and a duster with which to metaphorically “clean up” your finances). (more…)

For reasons best known to no one, my children have got back into reading, watching and listening to Thomas the Tank Engine. As you can imagine I am devastated. I thought we were over this phase. We’d put it all behind us, weren’t going to speak of it ever again. The hateful phrase “really useful engine” was set to become a distant memory, but suddenly, out of nowhere, the old obsession has returned.

I really hate Thomas, and by that I don’t just mean the series, I mean the individual. “Thomas, he’s the cheeky one”. The cheeky one? He’s the most self-satisfied, obstructive, arrogant little prick on the whole of Sodor. Every single “adventure” involves him smugly deciding he’s going to outshine everyone else in being “really useful”. This invariably leads to some kind of major fuck up, usually involving a crash and some paint / bunting / milk churns, whereupon Thomas seizes on the opportunity to pile on the smarm in his efforts to “make amends”. God, I truly DETEST his supercilious little half-smile. Not that the other engines are that much better. The only one I like is James, except the TV series has got his accent wrong. Rather than chirpy Liverpudlian, it should be pure Leslie Phillips. He’s a rake, is James, welcome to chuff into my tunnel any time he likes *cough*. (more…)

February’s issue of Glamour features an interview with the fashion designer Jonathan Saunders. It is, shall we say, illuminating:

“It’s reactionary,” says Jonathan, of the process of designing a new collection.

Too bloody right it is.

“Last season was about a very prim, buttoned-up, put-together woman.”

Riiiiiight.

“That smart woman is still at the core of what we do, but she’s now showing more skin. And I think she’s a little younger.”

Hmm. So Jonathan Saunders designs for an imaginary woman who ages in reverse. Brilliant. And yes, I suppose it’s just a “look”, not a person. But isn’t that the whole problem? It’s not about people, and yet there’s this discomforting pretence that it is, that it could even be about you, if only you weren’t so crap. (more…)

I was born in 1975. I do not recall a time in my life, ever, during which sexism, racism or homophobia were not considered to be passé. Discrimination always happened yesterday. Then today becomes yesterday and suddenly we realise that today wasn’t too great, either. Apart from “today today”, 2012. Finally, at long last, we’re totally sorted. Prejudice doesn’t exist. It’s not as though thought there’s the remotest possibility that in twenty year’s time we’ll look back and say “actually, I don’t know why we all thought that was acceptable”. (more…)

I am a middle-class mother of two, educated to PhD level. I work in an education industry. You’d think that when it comes to my own kids, I’d be hothousing like mad. Nonetheless, when it comes to sending them to school, I can’t help feeling I have let them down. I mean, I send them (the eldest one, at least – the other’s still too little). And I help them with their reading and whatnot. But so far I have singularly failed to do any of the following things:

  • save enough money for an emergency private school fund
  • make a tactical home purchase in a sought-after catchment area
  • pretend to be a Christian in order to get my sons into the voluntary-aided “outstanding” school down the road (which is actually closer than the school Eldest ended up in)

The last of these things is partly down to laziness, partly down to a desire not to be a hypocrite (and okay, a teeny bit down to the fear that if God does exist, namedropping Him in order to get a school place might make him rather wrathful come Judgement Day). The first two are down to money. I don’t have enough cash to play the system. So I get to keep my principles, but only because I’m too skint to sell out.
(more…)

As one of the millions of “ordinary people who work hard and pay their taxes” ™, I have a question for Chris Grayling MP: when exactly will the work I do be reclassified as no longer “wage-worthy” and be funded by benefits alone?

It’s a serious question, and what’s more, I don’t often ask serious questions of this nature. That is because I have a job and don’t want to lose it. Like anyone who is not rich, I am scared. I have seen what is happening around me and I know it could happen to me, too. The use of outsourcing and unpaid internships creeps up and up each business, like a rising flood. Whatever my own skills, I know I could be replaced by someone without a job. At least if I am lucky that person might be me. (more…)

The actor Benedict Cumberbatch is considering leaving the UK on account of “all the posh-bashing that goes on“. Sick and tired of being “castigated as a moaning, rich, public-school bastard”, he might just up and leave. I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen. My partner and I have had him on “the list” for years, all thanks to a particularly saucy scene in To The Ends of The Earth. Visits to the SS Great Britain in Bristol haven’t been the same since and for that we have Benedict to thank.

Like Cumberbatch, I too have been a victim of posh-bashing. Unlike him, this was not because I attended a posh school. Au contraire, I attended a normal state school, but was bashed on account of being the type of person who needlessly throws around phrases such as “au contraire” (I also have a ridiculously long name, a barrister dad and degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. I might have a nothern accent, but I know where I stand on the poshometer, and it’s a million miles away from Coronation Street). So Benedict Cumberbatch, I know where you’re coming from (well, not literally, since I didn’t go to Harrow. But generally, I mean). Posh-bashing is mean, and it’s clearly wrong. But is it really that big a deal? (more…)

Most mornings I trudge resentfully to work. Today, however, I skipped merrily through the August sunshine, eager to reach my desk, get my head down and perform my duties as a useful economic unit labouring away for The Man.  Whence this joy? It’s not simply because my kids were being annoying, making the office seem a welcome break (let’s face it, that would be most days anyhow). It’s because I’d just read this, a piece that’s enough to make any sane woman think OFFICE! WOO-HOO! YEAH!

The piece I’ve uncovered (via @Scriptrix and @LynnCSchreiber) tells the story of a woman whose whole family turn up at her office to “liberate” her from the tyranny of work and celebrate the start of her new life as an “ever-present loving homemaker”. I don’t know if it is a spoof; I suspect it isn’t. Either way, it reminds me of the reasons why I became a feminist in the first place. (more…)

Hey everyone! I’m rich, rich beyond my wildest dreams!*

*Actually, when I say “rich”, I don’t mean Conservative Party donor rich. I mean I have £1,000 to spend on clothes at very.co.uk.**

** Actually, when I say “have”, I don’t mean I literally have £1,000. I have £1,000 worth of credit, for which I applied.***

*** Actually, when I say “applied”, I don’t mean I applied for it. I just got given it, subject to credit checks.****

**** Actually, when I say “subject to credit checks”, I don’t mean…

I think you get the idea. Today I bought a dress from Very and uncovered a whole world of exploitative credit hell which I didn’t realise existed.
(more…)

When were growing up, my brother used to have the following poem on his wall:

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Success, attrib. Emerson (possibly)

It is a nice poem (you can tell I’ve got a PhD in literature, can’t you?). Nevertheless, it makes me sad. My brother is disabled and hasn’t achieved all of these supposedly tiny, natural things. He has my respect, and my children love him. But it’s not quite the same. Perhaps we shouldn’t set any universal standards for success; it’s always a bloody minefield.

I say all this, but I have in my hand a copy of August’s Glamour. And right there on page 26, it’s none other than Tory MP Louise Mensch, taking me to task for my pathetic ambivalence towards success:

(more…)

Mobile phones are bloody brilliant, aren’t they? From inauspicious beginnings in the 1980s, it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come. Take mine, for instance. I can use it to send emails, access sat nav, download music, sell all my worldly goods on Ebay … in fact, I even used it to start writing this very post. It’s fantastic, isn’t it? You start to wonder if there’s anything a mobile phone can’t do. I mean, it can’t give you money or opportunities or choices, or even a roof over your head. But to be honest, that doesn’t matter. Because in lieu of that, it provides everyone with an excuse as to why you shouldn’t have that anyway. This is particularly true if you’re young.

You might think young people today are having something of a shit time. The qualifications they’ve worked for are mocked and discredited; further education saddles them with decades of debt; apprenticeships pay them a pittance, while an entry-level job is now an “internship” on no pay at all; most young people will never own a home, but can no longer claim support to live somewhere that isn’t theirs; they’re told not to reproduce when they’re young but not to leave it till they’re old; they will start their adult lives in debt and end them in poverty. But hey, sod all that. Just look at them: they’ve all got mobile phones! (more…)

Have you had a go on the Guardian Breadline Britain income comparison tool yet? Go on, it’s fun. I’m not sure exactly what the purpose of it is, though. The only thing that seems certain is that whatever label you get given – in poverty, on the edge of poverty, squeezed middle, right up to super-rich – you will feel bitter about it and sense that, somehow, you’re the one who’s really worst off.

I had a go at it and found myself to be in the very top category – super-rich. This surprised me – I know we’ve fallen on hard times, but it comes to something when my own life constitutes living the dream. Then I realised that I’d accidentally added in an extra nought (my propensity to do stupid things like this being one of the many, many reasons why I am not super-rich after all). So anyhow, I had another go. It’s amazing the difference a nought makes. Turns out I am in fact on the edge of poverty.

This allocation also surprised me. Financially, I’m not doing brilliantly, but I didn’t think things were that bad. To describe myself as “on the edge of poverty” feels, to me, a little like glory hunting. In the grand scheme of things, life’s just not that bad. I suppose “on the edge” means if the slightest thing goes wrong (or the “accidental” third baby makes an appearance), I could be in serious trouble, and that’s possibly true. But hey, let’s not get all dramatic about it just yet. What would be the point? After all, things could be about to change for the better. (more…)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,256 other followers