Hardworking people, mental illness and “Mandatory Intensive Regimes”

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”.
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Extreme privilege makes children of our leaders

Remember being a child and finding it incredibly annoying that adults, who clearly had more money than you, chose to spend it on crap like bills and bus fares? What was that all about? Why didn’t they spend it on cool stuff like toys or, better still, just give it to you? You’d have put it to good use. None of that moping around over a brown envelope demanding payment for something entirely intangible and definitely not as good as Optimus Prime. Well, anyhow, remember that feeling, because I reckon that’s what it’s like to be IDS, George Osborne or David Cameron all the time. Yes, they might be the ones with the money these days, but man, they deserve it. The rest of us? We’d only fritter it on rubbish like the electricity bill and shoes for our kids. Continue reading

“Troubled” families: All you need is shortbread

Four years ago, when my eldest son was still a few months short of his first birthday, his father decided to take him to a new baby group. But not just any new baby group – rather than go to the local Sure Start centre, man and boy ventured across to the other side of town, to the place that we call Poshville. As far as baby groups went, it was not in fact different from any other, except that when it came to coffee time, there weren’t any biscuits. My partner commented on this, and mentioned that you got them at the Sure Start Centre in Scumsville. “Well, you would”, said one of the posh mummies, “you need to bribe those lot with biscuits or they’d never get away from the TV.” My partner responded by saying that in fact, we lived in Scumsville and had seven Oxbridge degrees between us. Whereupon everyone was very apologetic for misjudging the scummers and their relationship with custard creams. Continue reading

Aiming for the squeezed middle

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. Continue reading

My year of housing benefit shame

Right now, I am in the bath, messing about on the netbook, which is resting on a pile of books on the bathroom bin. The book at the bottom is The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I think that is symbolic. I haven’t actually read The Wealth of Nations – it’s my partner’s book – but hey, it’s symbolic anyhow. Because I’m thinking about money and the men who decide where it goes.*

I am so fucking annoyed about the Tory plan to cut housing benefit for the under 25s I don’t know where to begin. Indeed, my head might explode with sheer annoyance at it all. And that would be a bad thing, because mine is the head of a taxpayer. And I won’t be paying much tax if I don’t have a head. Continue reading

David Cameron: Politics of the playroom

This morning my eldest child’s school had the photographer in, so I took him and his younger brother in early for a picture. I’ve got the proofs and order form with me on my desk right now. They look gorgeous. Really, totally, absolutely gorgeous. I look at it and I feel incredibly proud. Or at least I would do, if I didn’t know that five minutes before those photos were taken, I’d been in stressed mum from hell mode, and telling them to “grow the fuck up”.

I don’t usually swear at my children. I’d been having a bad morning. The kind of morning so bad, even knowing that the feckless are having benefits cut can’t ease the pain. Even so, I feel totally ashamed. I’d feel ashamed even without the swearing. What am I, a grown woman, doing telling two tiny people, aged three and four, to grow up? God knows they’ve been doing their best.

The person who really needs to grow up, of course, is David Cameron. I mean, yes, my children can be annoying sods. They’re used to having everything done for them. They’ve never had to worry about money. They think the way they live is the way everyone lives. But that’s because they’re little. David Cameron, just what is your fucking excuse? And yes, that’s swearing. But I think that’s the very least you deserve.

Like your average four-year old, Cameron seems to think it is in some way realistic to order the world in response to resentment. Here’s him quoted in the Guardian:

We have, in some ways, created a welfare gap in this country – between those living long term in the welfare system and those outside it. […] This has sent out some incredibly damaging signals. That it pays not to work. That you are owed something for nothing. It gave us millions of working-age people sitting at home on benefits even before the recession hit. It created a culture of entitlement. And it has led to huge resentment amongst those who pay into the system, because they feel that what they’re having to work hard for, others are getting without having to put in the effort.

Yes, it’s just not fair, is it? Waaaaah! *stomps off to room. No Playstation time for me tonight* But seriously, David, if you think it’s realistic to have policies based on playing off entitlement against resentment, you must, surely, know this: huge numbers of people, working or not, resent your own privilege and sense of entitlement. So what are you going to do about that?

I am not exactly Miss Underprivileged. I went to Oxford University when I was 18 (this was back in the day when you even got small grants. Which is just as well. I’d have found it a right bugger to get to lectures every morning if I’d been sleeping back home in Cumbria every night). When I arrived at Oxford, though, I didn’t consider myself particularly privileged. I’d been the only person in my school who’d even applied. I’d worked really hard. I thought I deserved my place. I still, kind of, think I did, at least as much as anyone ever does. But this is where I went wrong: I thought that just because I worked hard and got what I wanted, anyone could get what they wanted by working hard. That anyone who didn’t was a bit of a loser who deserved to be where they were. This was, of course, complete bollocks. But sadly it took several terms of being around people far, far more privileged than me for me to work this out (what with me being, fundamentally, a selfish sod).

I have heard it suggested that as you get older and acquire more stuff, you become naturally more right wing. That you become a liberal “mugged by reality”. This hasn’t been my experience. But then, perhaps I haven’t acquired enough stuff yet. David Cameron, well, he’s always had lots of stuff. No wonder he hasn’t the slightest perspective on what it’s like to be without it. Even so, I don’t think having stuff is a sign of maturity. Certainly not in this day and age, when children can no longer expect to achieve the same standard of living and wealth as their parents did (as my dad kindly informed me on Saturday evening; in an odd way, I was actually quite touched). In some ways, I think the resentment politics proposed by Cameron is the politics of someone who has never, ever had to grow up.

People like Cameron find themselves with all the toys in the playroom. Then the minute someone else wants to play, they’ll be screaming it isn’t fair. Those are their toys. Of course, you might add that this in itself isn’t fair. But then you’ll get told that life just isn’t fair, and why did you expect it would be? (Toddler Cameron does have flashes of pseudo-maturity, at least.)

So anyhow, there I am, swearing at my lovely, beautiful kids. The kids I think I am allowed to have (although you never know; perhaps I’ve failed on account of not having a partner who can support me not working. It’s confusing). Anyhow, really I need to be swearing at David. He at least totally deserves it. But I’m not taking him for a school photo shoot afterwards.

So, who’s going to be operating the feckometer?

Cameron to axe housing benefits for feckless under 25s as he declares war on welfare culture.

Mail on Sunday headline, 24th June 2012

Have you ever wondered how much feck you possess? Don’t worry – you don’t need to know what feck actually is. Me, I haven’t got a fecking clue. However, I still have a pretty good idea that feck-wise, I’m doing better than most of my neighbours.

I live in a former council house on a poor estate. We could have bought a much smaller house in a different area – one with a far higher concentration of feck – but this was the house we wanted (it’s big and it’s near Bargain Booze. Who could argue with that?). Many of the people who live on my street don’t work. I’ll be setting off early in the morning to drop off the kids at school whereas they’ll be, um, setting off early in the morning to drop off the kids at school, too. But they’re probably hungover. And they might be having a fag on the way, before going back home to watch Jeremy Kyle.

Many of our neighbours have more children than we do. Here’s me, thinking we can’t afford to have another child, and there they are, breeding like rabbits. Only rabbits who smoke. And who don’t have any feck left in the burrow. Obviously I am very resentful about this. Every day I think ooh, you, you, you feckless people! How dare you even exist without possessing the requisite amount of feck! 

Fortunately David Cameron is feeling my pain:

Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, Mr Cameron said: ‘We are sending out strange signals on working, housing and families.’

He argued that some young people lived with their parents, worked hard, planned ahead and got nothing from the State, while others left home, made little effort to seek work and got a home paid for by the benefits system.[…]

‘A couple will say, “We are engaged, we are both living with our parents, we are trying to save before we get married and have children and be good parents. But how does it make us feel, Mr Cameron, when we see someone who goes ahead, has the child, gets the council home, gets the help that isn’t available to us?”

Yeah, Mr Cameron! These people, they don’t half piss me off! I mean, speaking personally, I didn’t actually get engaged and live with my parents and try to save before getting married and having children or any of that bollocks. I’ve always just bumbled along being middle class. It always seems to have worked out, just about, for me. I’d obviously like a better economic environment, in which things weren’t quite so difficult for working parents. But still, in the absence of any policies that are going to make working and having children more affordable, yeah, let’s just have a go at people on benefits. It’s the very least we can do.

If I’m really honest, I wouldn’t say I worked out of some great desire to be “good”. If anything, I read the pronouncements of politicians such as Cameron and get a huge desire to change my behaviour just to be “bad”. But I work so I have prospects and a future. I work so I don’t feel trapped. I work so I feel I’m using the skills I had the opportunity to gain. I don’t do it because of my feck, whatever that is. It has crossed my mind that, if everyone around me on our estate is having such a great time, I could try to join them. But it doesn’t look that much fun from where I see it. It’s hardly winning the lottery. They’re not working because they don’t know what else to do and how else to be, and no one, as far as I can see, is giving them the opportunities to change or making change affordable.

Cameron claims that “at the moment the system encourages people not to work and have children, but we should help people to work AND have children”. I agree. Working and having children is hard emotionally and financially. I can think of many possible solutions – increasing childcare vouchers, encouraging childcare providers to fit around shift patterns, working to decrease the pay gap, investing in depressed communities to ensure that there are jobs – but cutting benefits for “the feckless” seems an odd one to start with. It won’t make things any easier for most people. I don’t know, perhaps if my neighbours get evicted, I’ll be able to do the school run marginally more quickly, then I might get to work earlier, then I’ll get a pay rise, then I’ll actually be able to afford the nursery fees I’m paying for anyhow… Is that the thinking? Cause I’m not sure that’s going to work. Hell, I don’t even know if I’ve got enough feck to make this doable.

Well, thankfully it won’t be me who has to operate the feckometer. Because knowing feck all about the morality behind it, I just wouldn’t know where to start.

Postscript: Since writing this post, it still looks like everything’s going badly wrong, but I have at least worked out the answer to the original question: it’s obviously Father Jack.