4 October LATEST: The Recusant wishes to express its deep sorrow and sympathy for the family of altruistic charitable tax driver Alan Henning who was brutally decapitated by Isis in Syria (3 October). Mr Henning was a truly courageous and good man who has ultimately died for doing his best to non-judgementally help in the appalling humanitarian catastrophe of the Syrian civil war, and in these senses has died a martyr's death in the truest sense of the phrase.
Other commentators have already pointed out how despicable it is that the polar opposite to Mr Henning in terms of courage and moral decency, the deplorable Chancellor George Osborne, should choose to make a speech -despicable in itself- criticising our nation's charities for being "anti-business" (as if that were in itself some sort of crime!), a euphemism for capitalist-sceptic and critical of Tory welfare 'reforms'. These are the charities which have come in to try and mop up the sprawling abject poverty directly created by said scabrous Troy welfare 'reforms'; such as the Trussell Trust, which provides most of the nation's mushrooming food banks. Such altruistic auspices, one would have thought, would be commensurate to David Cameron's long-mothballed notion of a 'Big Society' -but of course, Cameron has now once and for all ditched such ideas for an uber-Right lurch in order to keep the purple rinse brigades voting Tory instead of UKIP in 2015. In spite of this, the Tory seepage to UKIP continues unabated.
Aside from his Lord 'Freudian' slip at the Tory conference when he imparted that the struggling families trying to "make something of their lives" are the people "we resent" (in place of 'represent'), our puffed pigeon of a prime minister also had the mendacity and cynicism to once again use the case of his late disabled son's extensive treatment by the NHS as a debate-stalling trump card of emotional blackmail by which to claim that no one has any right to question his personal commitment to the NHS -in spite of the fact that he is of course overseeing its creeping privatisation as part of a carve up for his friends in big business. He also claimed no one should dare accuse him of preventing other families with disabled children from getting the care they need, when his government has been rapaciously stripping tens of thousands of families with children of their ESA and DLA entitlements over the past four years -DLA which he, an inherited multimillionaire semi-aristocrat, went to all the trouble of applying for (in the days when it was a horrendously long and interrogatory clump of pages to plough through) for his son's care. As always, the Tory way is to look after one's own and sod the rest. But then on top of that, to have the sheer gall to throw a tantrum when any one criticises him for doing so.
On the brighter side, there have been two extremely important and insightful articles appearing recently. The first is a call for a Citizen's Income, long a manifesto policy of the Green Party (and one of the numerous reasons why The Recusant supports the Greens):
A citizen's income of £71 a week per person would make Britain fairer
With the potential to appease both the left and the right of the political spectrum, the citizen’s income concept could well mark the road to a fairer, more equal welfare system in Britain.
By Lauren Razai 18 AUGUST, 2014 - 13:04
What would you do with an extra £71 per week? That’s the question posed by The Citizen’s Income Trust, an organisation that promotes debate on the concept of a universal income for Britain, with citizenship as the only basis of entitlement.
The Trust proposes a radical reform of the national welfare system, suggesting the annual spend on benefits should be distributed equally among all citizens, regardless of their income or employment status. Under their proposals, 0-24 year olds would receive £56.25 per week, 25-64 year olds would receive £71 per week and those 65 and over would receive £142.70 per week.
Analysing figures from the 2012-13 financial year, the cost of such a scheme is projected at around £276bn per year – just £1bn more than the annual welfare budget that year –making the implementation of a citizen’s income close to revenue and cost neutral.
Disability and housing benefits would remain intact, but the scheme would replace all other benefits including child benefits, income support and jobseeker’s allowance, national insurance and state pensions. Included in the current annual spend figures is £8bn in Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) administration and £2bn in HMRC tax credit administration and write-offs.
A common objection to universal income is its potential to deter a population from working by creating a “money-for-nothing” culture. But in a 1970s pilot study called Mincome in Canada, establishing a citizen’s income didn’t produce a workshy population. In fact, the only people who stopped working or worked less were young mothers, teenagers in education and those due to retire soon.
Taking the Trust’s figures, it also appears unlikely that £3,692 per year would dissuade people from working or replace income from employment. Rather, it would prevent the poorest sections of society falling into dependency on state welfare and being discouraged from entering paid employment for fear of losing benefit entitlements. This welfare trap would be eliminated; a citizen’s income would be paid, tax-free, regardless of an individual’s working status or income level.
In this way, a citizen’s income has the potential to lead to a more equal and meritocratic society. Debates around reducing weekly working hours have been circulating for some time, and citizen’s income could aid this. For a person who currently works 40 hours per week at minimum wage, a £71 per week citizen’s income would facilitate a reduction of around 10 working hours.
A citizen’s income also helps compensate for people’s non-financial contributions in a society and culture such as caring for children or elderly parents, undertaking voluntary work or pursuing hobbies and creative interests. Given the safety net of a small guaranteed income, there’s more room for career changes, education and enterprise projects too.
With no need to prove entitlement in order to claim a citizen’s income, benefit fraud would be abolished and government bureaucracy reduced as the need for DWP administrators became significantly lower. No more invasive checks on an individual’s circumstances and no more stigmatisation of claimants; no need to spend money on chasing and punishing “benefit fraudsters”.
The Swiss are due to vote in a referendum on citizen’s income this year, while here in the UK, Green party leader Natalie Bennett has announced the policy will feature prominently in her party’s 2015 election manifesto. With the potential to appease both the left and the right of the political spectrum, the citizen’s income concept could well mark the road to a fairer, more equal welfare system in Britain.
The second significant piece, which also quotes the above article, is an opinion piece by Pat Cash in the Morning Star of 3 October:
Towards the end of last year, Mayor of London Boris Johnson published an op-ed in the Telegraph entitled 'We Should Be Humbly Thanking The Super-rich, Not Bashing Them'.
He constructed an deceitful argument, which went: “I just wonder, a bit, what it is like to be so stonkingly rich, and I wonder — as the rest of us have wondered down the ages — whether you can really expect to be any happier for having so much dosh.
“I suspect that the answer, as Solon pointed out to Croesus, is not really, frankly; or no happier than the man with just enough to live on. If that is the case, and it really is true that having stupendous sums of money is very far from the same as being happy, then surely we should stop bashing the rich.”
Johnson confounds a seemingly hackneyed argument about wealth and happiness, which through insidious rhetoric reinforces the absoluteness of our current financial system.
By saying “as the rest of us have wondered down the ages” he suggests that money always has been our way of life, and within a continuum culture can only go on being our way of life.
The pseudo-intellectual and throwaway reference to Solon and Croeseus creates a semblance of elitist knowledge-based authority.
And of course the overall point, that if the rich are not happy we should stop bashing them, indicates that jealousy and not fairness is the only motivator of the non-rich — that all who are not rich want to be rich, and that this is the way things work.
This is not the way that things work. Money is not an absolute of either history or physics. It is a concept constructed by mankind’s thinking and only exists because of our worldwide continuing collective faith in it.
In an ideal world, we would simply remove this belief and move forward with a new system of global human interaction based on the accruement of communal emotional happiness rather than individual financial reward. However, we are sadly very far from an ideal world, and so we must address what we may achieve for greater equality in the short term under this financial system.
Britain needs a pay rise — everyone in Britain but Johnson’s coveted super-rich. According to a Guardian article published in May, “the combined fortune of Britain’s richest 1,000 people has hit a new high of £519 billion — equivalent to a third of the nation’s economic output, and double the figure of five years ago.”
Meanwhile in the same month Daisy-May Hudson published on Vice UK an article entitled 'I Am One of Britain’s Hidden Homeless', outlining how she and her single-parent family had been priced out of their rented accomodation and into a halfway-home for the statutory homeless. Hudson describes how the problem is of a far greater significance than its immediate visibility within mainstream media implies: “The UK is now more polarised by housing wealth than at any time since the Victorian era, but the headlines scream about ‘benefits scroungers’ ... Eighty thousand children were homeless at Christmas, living in shelters like the one I’m in with my family now… 1.7 million people are waiting for social housing but there simply isn’t enough.
“More and more families are being outpriced and it’s going unnoticed. Every 15 minutes another family find themselves homeless. Homelessness has increased for three consecutive years and housing shortages and cuts to benefits mean an estimated 185,000 people were affected in England last year.”
In addition to a housing and homes crisis, the BBC reported in June that we have 2.6 million unemployed, of whom 1.1 million are claiming jobseekers’ allowance. Wages have stagnated, with the average worker worse off by £1,600 a year compared to 2010, according to Labour.
As the wealth of the top 1 per cent in Britain has soared to the equivalent of the bottom 55 per cent put together, minority communities are among the hardest hit as much-needed services are cut.
A London Met University report published last month commissioned by the TUC describes the effects of statutory funding cuts on LGBT voluntary and community organisations, where funding from the public sector in London dropped by 34 per cent, with some groups suffering a 50 per cent loss. Elsewhere in the UK, 75 per cent of LGBT groups saw state income remain stagnant or fall.
Indeed, when I interviewed Matthew Hodson, the chief executive of gay men’s HIV prevention charity GMFA earlier this year, he spoke of how the organisation, like many other LGBT groups, is having to make up for its damaging loss of statutory funding through other routes.
“Currently we’re getting by on the support we have from the gay community, but we are running at a loss. We were lucky enough that we actually own the building we are in, so when we lost that huge chunk of our funding, we had to make a decision, well do we carry on?”
Hodson explained how GMFA was able to sell off some of its property assets to continue operating.
Not everyone is lucky enough to be in the same position. GMFA has a two-year self-funding window, but if the organisation does not obtain a reverse of its statutory funding status, we will lose a valuable asset in the continuing battle against HIV within the gay male community.
This battle has actually become more pronounced with the purveyance of “chemsex,” as gay men are using drugs in sexualised contexts, a trend linked by Public Health England to rapidly rising HIV rates in London.
To adequately tackle the widespread purveyance of chemsex amongst the gay male community will require not only new ways of thinking, but also adequate statutory funding to realise these approaches.
So how can we give Britain — ordinary, non-super rich Britain — a pay rise? The first and presumably most self-evident step is don’t vote Conservative.
The Tory Party has a long tradition of protecting the rich and private companies’ interests, and the underlying subtext behind Johnson’s spineless and sickeningly sycophantic paean to the super rich is the hope that they will donate generously to any of his future election campaigns.
While Labour receives the majority of its funding from the trade unions, the Conservatives are bankrolled by hundreds of millionaire backers.
But there are undoubtedly other, more radical and even more desperately needed avenues of overhauling our flawed financial heirarchy than simply changing the political party in power.
In January, Owen Jones outlined his nine-point manifesto, The Agenda for Hope, which included a statutory living wage with immediate effect for large businesses and the public sector, regulating private rents and lifting the caps on councils to let them build hundreds of thousands of houses, a 50 per cent tax on all earnings above £100,000 or on the top 2 per cent of earners, and an all-out campaign to recoup the £25 billion worth of tax avoided by the wealthiest each year.
Concurring with these ideals, Lauren Razavi published an article in the New Statesman last month entitled: 'A Citizen’s Income of £71 a Week Per Person Would Make Britain Fairer'.
In it she outlines the positive arguments for a universal income across the country for anyone with citizenship status. A total of £3,962 per year is unlikely to deter anyone in work from working, but instead, according to Razavi: “It would prevent the poorest sections of society falling into dependency on state welfare and being discouraged from entering paid employment for fear of losing benefit entitlements. This welfare trap would be eliminated — a citizen’s income would be paid, tax-free, regardless of an individual’s working status or income level.”
There are many ideas in circulation as to how to achieve a theoretically fairer society for Britain and give its most-in-need citizens the pay rise they deserve.
How to get these theories disseminated widely is the first hurdle — so that we can build a political consensus behind making them a reality.
Direct action and the sharing of factually accurate information over social media will undoubtedly be our tools in democratically overcoming this hurdle, as most of the mainstream media repeatedly demonstrates their inability or deliberate refusal to reflect the frustration over Britain’s ingrained inequality.
The BBC has been targeted on Twitter for not covering key austerity protests, meanwhile Channel 4 has commissioned its highly provocative series Benefits Street and is reportedly planning an Immigrants Street, while tabloids like the Daily Mail again and again shriek about immigrants and benefits claimants as the root cause of our economic woes.
This distracts from the real core of the problem — that unbridled capitalism has led us to a top-down, pyramid-shaped society where the few at the top hoard the majority of our wealth.
The surprise hit book of the past year has been French economist Thomas Pikkety’s Capitalism in the 21st Century.
His essential argument is that capitalism isn’t working. We should listen to this message, for while in the short-term Britain may need a pay rise, in the long-term the world itself urgently needs a peaceful but complete financial revolution.
If the Tories were to get into power with a majority in 2015, The Recusant suspects there may well be such massive social unrest that parts of the country could well become ungovernable.
The Recusant -through its anti-cuts anthologies Emergency Verse and The Robin Hood Book- has long argued for a Citizen's Income, as well as for private rent controls. Owen Jones' manifesto certainly sounds as if it's on the right tracks, though none of the policy ideas are anything new, it's good nonetheless that someone in the public eye is putting them together in one document. But does Jones include the Citizen's Income too?
LATEST: David Cameron has today delivered what will undoubtedly go down as the most heinous Tory speech in generations, in which, gloves off, he has brazenly reasserted that the Tory Party -which he once claimed to have 'reformed' from its former 'Nasty Party' image- is well and truly the Party of the Rich and for the Rich, and quite definitely the nastiest party in Parliament!
Almost beyond any moral or ethical comprehension, after the Chancellor yesterday announced that £3 billion a year will be stripped from the already massively depleted welfare budget in top up benefits paid to the struggling working poor, the Prime Minister today has announced with his customary sting-in-the-tail that that £3 billion will go towards funding a new tax cut for the richest families in the country -who have already seen their assets unaffected and their wealth rise enormously during the past four years of austerity for the 99% and untold riches for the top 1%.
The Tories will raise the tax threshold from 40p to 50p (£50,000) thus enabling higher earners to have a tax break -all that the expense of hammering of the poorest wage-earners to the tune of around £500 a year. This also of course completely negates the former raising of the minimum tax threshold to £10,000, which the Lib Dems have so often boasted about. But the Lib Dems giveth, and the Tories taketh away -that's the Con-Dem Coalition for you!
The Recusant predicts that these latest Tory manifesto announcements may well sign the party's death warrant come next May -in trying to countervail the threat of uber-Right UKIP, the Tories have truly lost the plot now, by offering the most blatantly extreme right-wing agenda since Stanley Baldwin's National Government of the 1930s.
The companion-piece announcement today that the Tories will also scrap the Human Rights Act should come as little surprise to us seeing as they have demonstrated effortlessly since 2010 how their party stands in CONTEMPT of basic employment, health and human rights. The Choice in May 2014 is now clear: either choose a democratic future, or choose a future Tory plutocracy (even timocracy) in which life will simply not be worth living for any who are already struggling.
Securing a Fettered Future
Securing a Better Future… for those who already have one secured, while Snatching Any Future from those who are already struggling, now also to include the Working Poor
Now that the Tories have spent the past four or so years hammering the unemployed poor and pauperising whole sections of them almost out of existence, it’s time to turn to the next rung up from them, the working poor, whom previously they claimed to champion, in their bid to cut a deficit without touching the richest, least of all ever so much as slapping the wrists of the City crime syndicate (aka the banks and hedge-fund speculators) who caused the economic crash, and in turn the deficit, in the first place. There’s not even the pretence of ‘top down’ or ‘trickle down’ anymore in Osborne’s uber-Thatcherite vocabulary: it’s only ‘trickle-up’ and ‘bottom up’ in terms of deficit-reduction and who gets hit the hardest. The Osborne-Tory logic: those who have the least must be punished the most, and those who have the most must be punished the least.
The Tories try to excuse such brazen social fascism by claiming, nursery-style, that all those who are wealthy have become so purely through “hard work” and “saving” and “doing the right thing” (more like ‘doing the right-wing’ and looking after number one), which might be at least a marginally more convincing argument if the likes of the Chancellor and prime minister could both claim so for themselves –but they can’t: both are the products of personally unearned, inherited wealth, property and capital –and in Cameron’s case, largely on the back of his stockbroker father’s serial tax-avoidance (“something for nothing” and all that). They are the true inheritors of the “culture of entitlement”: the privately educated rich and aristocracy.
So much for George Osborne’s implausible claim four years ago to be a kind of ‘Robin Hood’ Chancellor –most of us always knew Gideon was a ‘Guy de Gisborne’ in disguise. Now the specious tropes “we’re all in this together” and “putting the biggest burden on the broadest shoulders” are being completely scrapped as the Chancellor feels the wind behind him and more ‘secure’ in his pathological Conservativeness to come fully out of the closet and not just flash his horns, but polish them up in public in what has to go down as one of the most despicable and vindictive speeches of modern times.
If it’s notoriety that Osborne craves, he’s achieved it in abundance. This man –together with his equally deranged and sociopathic henchman, ‘Insane’ Duncan Smith– is responsible for arguably the most heinous fiscal holocaust in British political history: to date, we approximate from an aggregate of various sources that around 50,000+ impoverished, unemployed, homeless, sick and disabled British citizens have lost their lives in the last four years of Tory-driven austerity. “Securing a better future” for the heartless rich and greedy, by ‘Destroying any future’ for the poorest and most incapacitated. That’s the Tory way, but is it also to prove the British way, come next May?
The next general election will be the final reckoning for any vestigial social conscience in this country when the electorate are offered the choice between some more progressive and compassionate alternative, or finally hurtling over the tipping-point of extreme Toryism into the brimstone-bouqueted pits of out-and-out class fascism.
Yesterday, at the typically brutish Tory Party Rally, the psychopathic Chancellor finally ditched any façade of being anything other than a hope-leaching, poor-bashing, spoilt rich kid with narcissistic delusions as to his own ‘will to power’. The deranged vampire of the poor –who is only missing an 18th century wig and face powder to complete his decadent aristocratic countenance– even used a faintly Zarathustran turn of phrase to try and get his Tory faithless to sit up and take notice: ‘And I tell you in all candour…’. The rest of that sentence made for one of the biggest non sequiturs in political history: ‘…that the option of taxing your way out of the deficit no longer exists if it ever did (which The Guardian effortlessly debunked in just a few words in its editorial response to Osborne’s blitzkrieg speech). Thus Spake Osborne the Übermensch.
In a gruesome parody of Irvine Welsh’s supposedly pro-life speech at the end of Trainspotting, ‘Ghoulish George’ said:
‘Choose jobs, choose enterprise, choose security, choose prosperity, choose investment, choose fairness, choose freedom, choose David Cameron, choose the Conservatives, choose the future.’
Welsh promptly rebuked this ideologically unhinged plagiarism of his trope, but nothing will stop ‘Vlad the Chancellor’ from waxing eugenically on the need to reduce the deficit by fiscally reducing the amount of poor people among the population. In short, this was a speech proclaiming an intensification of the Tory Final Solution to wiping out unemployment and poverty: simply wiping out the unemployed and the poor (oh, and of course the sick and disabled –to the tune of around 40,000+ people since 2010, almost all of whom died within six weeks of being declared “fit to work” by Atos, or took the hint from government and took their own lives).
The Recusant would like to know when exactly the Tories will be addressing the moral deficit of this nation? That which they have singularly created and continue to inflate in their frankly satanic conviction that money is more important than human souls… Because that’s a metaphysical deficit which could take an infinity to pay off. Tories clearly don’t believe in karma. This is the party which effectively has spent the past four years snatching the pennies off the eyes of their own fiscal victims’ corpses. Not only are Tories –as their name actually means when traced to its Irish root: tóraí: outlaw, robber, brigand or thief– a party of either hereditary or ‘self-made’ thieves, bullies and land-grabbers, but today they are grave-robbers too!
The persecution of the poor and unemployed is bad enough when it’s spearheaded by a group of ‘self-made’ entrepreneurial Thatcherites, but when it is pursued so rapaciously by a bunch of pseudo-aristocratic Bullingdon posh boys, it is the kind of tinder almost destined to eventually –if allowed to continue unabated– combust into out-and-out social disorder, ungovernability, and even, yes, even quite possibly, something approaching revolution.
It’s more than telling of the state we’re in at this time that simultaneous to this fox-blood-smearing poor-bashing Tory conference, a new film based on the recreational pursuits of the Osborne and Cameron’s old Bullingdon Club days is screening in cinemas. Bluntly, one could attend either and the ‘message’ is pretty indistinguishable: this is the age of the rich thugs stamping on the face of the poor and unemployed forever. The “sound of broken glass” the Bullingdons’ “love” is that of the unemployed being defenestrated through the smashed windows of the gutted welfare state.
So the British electorate certainly does have a choice come next May: 1. Vote for more of the same except with knuckledusters on: fiscal persecution of the poorest, social cleansing, and continued cuts-impunity and hyper-inflating riches for the top 1% at the expense of not only the poorest, unemployed, sick and disabled, but also now the working poor too; or, 2. Vote for a more progressive and equable alternative approach.
One would think this was a no-brainer, but seemingly today in these heart-hardened times, not for the British, many of whom seem torn between an extreme Right Tory Party, or the uber-Right, proto-fascist UKIP. That’s like a choice between following Enoch Powell or Oswald Mosley. That’s just how far Right this country has shifted since 2010.
That in post-crash society, where the poorest citizens in the land have had to take four years’ worth of remorseless cuts and caps and rhetorical persecutions as if somehow they and not the banks and speculators caused the recession, the next election in May 2015 is to seemingly be fought on the matter of which party will bash the unemployed (oh, and immigrants, of course) the hardest, is testament to the political and cultural mean-spiritedness of our time.
But that mean-spiritedness has potential to become something much more horrendous should the Tories regain power next year, especially if in the apocalyptic scenario of a coalition with UKIP. The UK might have survived intact for the moment post-anticlimactic Scottish referendum –but May 2015 could well see the true making or breaking our ‘United’ Kingdom.
It is indeed both a psychological and theological challenge to work out just who between Osborne and IDS is the most sociopathic and/or morally insane. It is clear that these two sparring partners of the right-wing of the Tory Party are in competition as to who can be the most moustache-twirling, poor-flaying and dastardly of the Cabinet of Thieves (the equally repellent Chris Grayling, Sajid David, Esther McVey, Pretti Patel and Matthew ‘Hands in the Till’ Hancock being close contenders too). IDS has made especial efforts in this conference to scorch another huge hoof-shaped sulphur-mark on the map of British political psychopathology with his latest Malthusian announcement that he will be bringing in pre-payment cards for unemployed drink and/or drug addicts.
Social engineering and retributive regulation writ large and unashamedly from ‘the quiet fascist’ of the Tory Far Right who, like his Mordred-like protégé and aristo-Thatcherite, Osborne, is almost physically allergic to any form of regulation or state intervention when it comes to the so-called “free market”, entrepreneurialism, privatisation and the ‘welfare’ of the richest and propertied; but who is of course regulation-trigger-happy when it comes to the ‘sub-humans’ within his own purview: the unemployed.
Then, suddenly, old Tory values of state-light laissez faire goes straight out of the window. The Tories are the emancipators of the propertied elites, but the iron-fisted regulators of the poorest. It can only be a matter of time before –as one columnist in The Guardian similarly argued in response to this latest policy announcement– the unemployed are made to wear large ‘Ss’ on their clothes to more visibly mark them out as “Scroungers”, and “hard working, tax-paying” shoppers given extra nectar points for how many of them they spot in their local Sainsburys or Tesco.
This is the final humiliation for those tens of thousands of souls let down by this vicious anarcho-capitalist society and demoralised so severely that a life addicted to drink or drugs seems like the only viable alternative to suicide (no doubt the Tories’ preferred option for the lumpenproletariat).
Few seem to ever reflect on the fact that it was Tory demagogue Maggie Thatcher who introduced the particularly cynical ‘invalidity benefit’ during the Eighties onto which she shifted whole sections of the long-term unemployed –no doubt in many ways by that point sufficiently depressed by hopeless circumstances to qualify as in some sense ‘invalided’– in order to make it seem as if the despicably high unemployed figures (then around 3 million plus) were lower than they actually were; and that this, later relabelled as ‘incapacity benefit’ (now called, in nudging neoliberal doublespeak, ‘employment and support allowance’), has been one of the main rhetorical and fiscal ‘bloated targets’ of Tory deficit reduction. But of course, the Tories don’t do irony. No doubt for the time being, pre-election at least, IDS has been advised by Cameron not to mention the future plan to install gas chambers in jobcentres.
Cameron himself announced that as miraculously as Atos have managed to cure the incapacitated multitudes of their various afflictions –so much so than tens of thousands have already been spirited away in tan paper raptures to the other side– now the DWP will be waving a magic wand and wiping away the scourge of “youth unemployment”, which, apparently, will be “abolished” under a Tory majority after 2015. What Cameron actually means of course is he will be ‘abolishing’ the young unemployed themselves, forcing them into long-term labour slavery through “community work” in return for their paltry £50-odd quid a week.
Oh, and 18-25 year olds will also be permanently barred from claiming any housing benefit too. Meanwhile, richer pensioners remain protected, secure in their welfare gratuities which they don’t need but which they are of course free to donate to charities should they so choose. Because the Tories –like UKIP– rely on the purple-rinse brigades to get them back into power next year. Nothing politically calculating about it –it’s their principle: prop up the rich by punishing the poor.
But The Recusant believes that the Tories’ election bid to decimate the already precarious living standards of the working poor population of the country, who, due to frozen or falling bare-minimum wages and ever-escalating rents (and a chronic absence of either living wages or private rent controls), are forced to top up their incomes with tax credits, housing and child benefits, by freezing said fringe benefits until 2007, could well see them signing their own suicide note. Certainly we hope so.
Since surely this will wipe out a huge potential chunk of Tory votes from the red-top-hypnotised sections of the working poor once they work out that while the richest pensioners remained completely unscathed by any cuts, they will effectively be losing the paltry alms they currently receive in top-up benefits to their poorly waged working incomes, they will think twice about voting Tory again? This could well cause a tidal change away from the Tories and back to Labour.
Surely even The Sun will have something to say about this? Along the lines of: POSH TORIES BASH THEIR OWN ANGELS IN MARBLE IN BONKERS ELECTION BID WHICH WOULD SEE OLD DISRAELI CHANGING GEARS? Yes, we know, it’d be nothing quite so eloquently phrased as that, but maybe a similar sentiment.
One wonders whether yellow-bellied Clegg will show some vertebrae some time soon and speak out against the flagrant evisceration of the Lib Dems’ one and only ‘progressive brag’ after four years of Tory-propping in Coalition: the raising of the tax threshold to £10,000 plus…? Because in one fell swoop, Chancellor Darth Osborne has absolutely neutered any real term positive effect said policy could possibly have now by effectively snatching back the extra un-taxed income from the poorest workers in the land by simultaneously freezing their top-up state benefits so that such families will in future lose between £3-500 per year as a result…! This seems to be the best we can ever expect from the compromise of Coalition: the Lib Dems give a few scraps to the poor, then the Tories swoop in and snatch it back away. Was it worth it, Corporal Clegg?
The Recusant has reconstructed Chancellor Osborne’s Transpotting-stylised Tory mantra to translate its true meanings:
‘Choose Mcjobs, choose social cleansing, choose social insecurity, choose prosperity purely for the already prosperous, choose disinvestment, choose unfairness, choose freedom for the rich and prison for the poor, choose Dodgy Dave the puppet of Rupert Murdoch, choose Cameron to Put the Hammer On the Poor, choose the Top 1% Party, choose the future of selfishness and greed, choose no future for the poor, unemployed and incapacitated.’
If this bunch of jumped-up pinstriped fascists get back into power in 2015, The Recusant truly believes it is curtains for this nation, for any even vague sense of a ‘United’ Kingdom, for democracy, and for our future. We must all use our votes next year to say NO to the politics of hate and class division, of poverty-persecution and social cleansing, and YES to a truly fairer, more compassionate, redder and greener future.
Dilworth the Whistleblower on the Death Toll of the Department for War on the Poor (DWP)
At the same time as the Nasty Party indulges in its annual onanism rally by rising to a collective orgasm on announcements of further punishments to meted out to the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in the country, we are reminded, courtesy of an excellent piece by Mary O’Hara in The Guardian (30 September) the true extent of the Tory fiscal holocaust on the unemployed. We reproduce the piece in full below:
The welfare rights adviser on a mission to shame Iain Duncan Smith
From the frontline of benefits changes, Nick Dilworth wants to expose the fallout from this government’s ‘misconceived’ welfare reforms
Make no mistake, warns benefits specialist Nick Dilworth, it is a gruelling time to be a frontline welfare advice worker and no less arduous to be a campaigner. Recalling a recent client who was desperate for help with benefits, he says: “He didn’t turn up for his appointment. Then his father rang to say he’d been found dead. That is not the first time that’s happened to me. I had another case where I was expecting to see my first client of the day and instead it was a detective inspector from the local police telling me that he had been found dead. He was only in his 20s.”
According to Dilworth, 54, the collective stress and individual tragedies that have piled up since the government began rolling out welfare reforms in 2011, coupled with cuts to grassroots advice services that have eroded the assistance available, amount to a national scandal. “I don’t think the public knows how bad it is. In the past we’ve nearly always been able to find a solution [to people’s problems]. Now you come across situations where there is no answer and you can’t do anything.
“People are coming in with multiple problems,” he adds. “You get grown men crying. What you see are broken lives. It means we are seeing people for whom all you can do is give short-term answers like food-bank vouchers. Then your problem as a frontline worker is, ‘how am I supposed to solve this?’”
During the past few years, he and colleagues have wrestled with the deluge of enquiries and diminishing resources at citizens advice bureaux. Dilworth was made redundant at one point due to legal aid cuts ending a large contract with South Hams CAB. As a result, he has transformed himself into a campaigner and vocal critic of the government’s austerity policies. Spurred into action by a belief that handling individual cases “while very important and necessary” was no longer enough, he uses social media and other activism to skewer the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). His critiques stem, he says, from what he sees on the ground day in, day out, including the fallout from “misconceived” policies, such as the “toxic” fitness for work tests.
On top of his day job at Plymouth Advice – a partnership that includes Plymouth CAB and Age UK and is commissioned by the city council to deliver advice services for local residents - Dilworth spends a sizable chunk of his time analysing numerous aspects of welfare reform on the popular online forum ilegal.org.uk .He also exposes flaws in the government’s use of statistics.
He reserves particular ire for work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the ministerial architect of welfare reform. “I think there is a need to shame Duncan Smith. He is running amok,” Dilworth declares. He lambasts the secretary of state for using what he says are specious figures to peddle myths about claimants, including, for example, that 2.6 million people have been “parked” on incapacity benefits for decades “unseen and with nobody helping them”. Dilworth doesn’t buy the minister’s entrenched worklessness theory. The overall number may have stayed roughly the same for decades (“since the Tories under Thatcher first moved people off unemployment on to incapacity to keep jobless figures down”), but millions of people come on and off benefits as their condition changes over any significant period, he points out.
Dilworth is far from alone in his critique of how the DWP deploys statistics. It has been rapped by the UK Statistics Authority for misusing data.
Dilworth also accuses the government of conflating figures for benefit fraud and error to provide ammunition for cracking down on so-called “benefits cheats”. Fraud across the entire benefits system runs at under 1% but it ties neatly into advancing a narrative that vilifies people on benefits as scroungers, Dilworth argues.
“You have to ask yourself, why did the DWP call in a Murdoch man[former Sun managing editor, Richard Caseby] to run its press operation if it wasn’t to get out its strong rhetoric?”
On the upside, he thinks having a strong success rate in appeals cases for people wrongly declared fit for work is a crucial countervailing force to what he calls the “wickedness of tick-box testing” that now dominates benefits claims by disabled and sick people. Yet, a huge worry on the frontline for the future, Dilworth says, is that only a fraction of the welfare reforms are in place. The rollout of universal credit – the government’s delayed flagship welfare shakeup – which is intended to merge multiple benefits into a single payment, will put additional strain on an already overstretched advice sector, he says.
With so much upheaval, does he ever feel he’s facing a losing battle? “It’s something I say to people I’m training: ‘There is a commitment here not just to solving the problems you see … you must embrace the need to do something on social policy or you’re not actually going to address the situation or to reduce your own workload.’ Ultimately, that’s what it’s about.”
He says he would “love” to meet Duncan Smith and put some questions directly to him. “As it says on my social media biog: ‘I won’t be silenced’.”
The Recusant salutes whistleblowers such as Nick Dilworth, the veritable English Schindlers of their time (see also Calum’s List), who will not be silent amidst a deafening political and media conspiracy of silence as to the true human cost of Tory deficit reduction.
The Tories are very good at massaging the figures when it suits them –or in IDS’s case, fragrantly making them up to suit his warped ideological arguments– and at boasting of alleged growth statistics and banging on about the billions still needed to plug the deficit and the billions spent through welfare on “scroungers” (even though the working-age unemployed, to whom such a pejorative term vindictively refers, amount to around just 7% of the entire welfare budget!!!).
But isn’t it funny how when it comes to recording and making publicly available the statistics as to the high mortality rates among the unemployed and sick and disabled claimants keel-hauled through the Atos assessment factories since they came to power in 2010, the Tories, or rather, the DWP in particular, suddenly become number blind and conveniently ‘forget’ or rather deliberately neglect keeping up to date numerical records…?!
It’s therefore left to us to logically project that from the recorded figures of around 10,000 sick and disabled claimants dying ‘within six weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos’ between January and November 2011, by now, in 2014, the figure must surely have reached around 40,000 (a significant percentage of which are down to suicides –see Calum’s List).
The Recusant has long diagnosed that the Tories are in the process not only of gentrifying society but also the welfare state itself: by constantly attacking the already decimated benefits of the working-age unemployed but never so much as touching a penny of those fringe benefits received by the middle classes and wealthier households in the land (such as winter fuel payments, for instance), we are likely to eventually see a state of affairs where the welfare state only exists to top up the already sustainable incomes of those who need its assistance the least, while the only sections of society who really do need state assistance, will instead be sifted out of state support altogether and dumped into what will be effectively a new client underclass or slave population stripped of basic rights including that of a proper wage for labour performed. The intransigent and simplistic argument that only those who have “paid into the system” should get a penny out from it will be taken to its ultimate extreme.
The Emperors’ New Poets: Next Gen 2014
On the subject of cultural gentrification, it should come as little surprise that under the auspices of new Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, the card-carrying philistine, and ex-banker, Sajid David, the arts world should be further degenerating into an even deeper pit of one-upmanship and nepotism, in order to keep up with the ‘trickle-down effect’ of political willpower at the top.
No surprise then that the hedge-fund-funded Poetry Book Society should lapse back into bad old habits so classically reflective of the artistic decadence of hyper-competitive capitalist society (which would have Christopher Caudwell reeling in his grave) by announcing this week
the Next Generation Poets 2014, the prestigious accolade announced only once every ten years, recognising the 20 most exciting new poets from the UK and Ireland
Futility, hyperbole and irrelevance to anything outside the pass-the-parcel parlour games of a self-congratulatory and nepotistic metropolitan poetry elite apart, one only has to scan the names of the judges of this latest bout of nonsense to realise that it’s more just a case of the poetry establishment giving gold stars to their favourite and least threatening pet-parrots.
The poet laureate (Carol Ann Duffy) and poet laureate-in-waiting (Simon Armitage) aside, we find the ubiquitous Ian McMillan as Chair (whose credentials for acting as some kind of talent scout and arbiter of contemporary poetry standards have yet to be explained), and a clutch of younger ‘names’ from the ‘hipper’ part of the poetry scene (Clare Pollard, Caroline Bird) on the panel, as well as one ex-beneficiary of the last pointless Next Gen publicity campaign of 2004, Paul Farley. The seats might be revolved but it’s always –or as good as always– the same sitters.
In spite of all the hyperboles and superlatives one has come to expect from such inconsequential pieces of ‘poetry spin’, the list itself of those 20 poets the PBS and its friends in the media are basically telling us to ‘follow’ through some kind of self-fulfilling poetic prophecy, is not so much acrylic as pastel, more conservative, pedestrian and ‘safe’ than anything obviously game-changing or ‘radical’.
There are of course some predictable ‘names’ included in the list, but, perhaps slightly surprisingly, a fair few poets of whom The Recusant at least has never heard. This might have been a promising thing potentially, were it not for the glaring fact that almost every single poet listed is published by one of the ‘top six’ highest profile poetry imprints: the usual carve up between Faber, Cape, Carcanet, Bloodaxe, Picador and Chatto & Windus, with a token Salt and Penned in the Margins ‘penned in’ to give the façade of semi-‘inclusiveness’ –even though both latter presses are themselves only marginally less ‘prestigious’ than the aforementioned six.
No surprise that for the umpteenth time in such promotions some of the less well-hyped but genuinely interesting, challenging and radical smaller presses of our time are conspicuously absent: Smokestack, Flambard, Five Leaves, Red Squirrel, Lapwing, Waterloo, and numerous others.
Small wonder Smokestack’s editor, poet Andy Croft, was justifiably seething in response to this latest Emperors’ New Clothes Display of the Poetry Scene, in the Morning Star (30 September):
WH AUDEN once said that it was the responsibility of poets “to defend the language against corruption” because “when it is corrupted, people lose faith in what they hear.”
This has been true for a long time of the language of popular culture. Adverts that use words like “free,” “new” and “exciting” mean nothing at all.
When politicians talk about “freedom,” “democracy” and “choice” we know they almost certainly mean the opposite.
All the more reason therefore why we should expect the world of poetry to be a bit more careful in its use of language.
When the Poetry Book Society (PBS) recently announced the “Next Generation Poets 2014” it was with the usual fanfare of self-congratulation and wild applause. After all, the 20 poets involved in this promotion are the “most exciting new poets from the UK [sic] and Ireland.”
Of course, in the contemporary poetry world every “new thing” is a source of salivating wonder and empty superlatives — “doing something new,” “tackling fresh subject matter,” “emotional and literary risks,” “particularly fearless,” “reinvigorating the poetry scene” and so on, ad nauseam.
But there is something else going on here. According to the PBS, not only are these poets “expected to dominate the poetry landscape of the coming decade,” they will be “leading our national cultural conversation for many years to come.” Really? Who says?
This is the language of show business and big business, not poetry. Perhaps with this kind of PR machinery behind them, some of these young poets may dominate the review columns of the broadsheets for a while. But simply asserting that something is good does not make it so. Promise is not the same as achievement.
This is a spot-on polemic from the editor of what is quite possibly the most important poetry press in the UK today: Smokestack Books. Croft, a long-standing political poet and high craftsmen of the form knows what he’s talking about when he says ‘Promise is not the same as achievement’, and certainly knows his stuff when it comes to the ‘radical’ in poetry. Croft’s trope on ‘Promise’ is a direct riposte to the hyperbole of the Chair Ian McMillan, who gushed:
The Next Generation Poets are the visible and vocal evidence that poetry is on the crest of the wave at the moment. These poets will be leading our national cultural conversation for many years to come. In this group of writers we find an exhilarating mix of style and subject, reflecting a truly diverse range of voices: poetry is in excellent hands! The quality of these collections was hugely impressive but not surprising - most of these poets have been paying their dues for years now on the events circuit and cutting their teeth with short pamphlets. In this way the poetry scene differs from fiction where you often see debut novelists appearing seemingly out of the blue. Poets are made to prove themselves long before their first full collection is ever published.
As Croft and most experienced poets and editors know full well, it takes quite a bit more than a handful of poems in ‘top’ journals and a couple of chapbooks with ‘hip’ up-and-coming presses to justify the epithets of ‘paying dues’ and ‘cutting teeth’ in terms of establishing oneself firmly as a poet of long-standing and consistent quality of output. McMillan’s unfathomable eulogising is verging on the disingenuous by arguing as much, while rather disrespectfully ignoring those hundreds of experienced and equally –if not more– talented poets who have been ‘cutting their teeth’ to the point of requiring dentures and ‘paying their dues’ through commitment to the poetic art form by publishing volumes on volumes of poetry for years if not decades without ever getting so much as a passing mention by the likes of the podium-monopolising PBS.
But even if there is some grain of truth in McMillan’s tall claim here (and a handful of those listed have been publishing collections for some time), then this doesn’t explain the fact that a fair few of those listed are fairly little known poets up to this point. McMillan’s final trope is also open to contention: it is highly questionable as to whether any poet can truly ‘prove themselves long before their first collection is published’: a first collection is to the minds of many experienced poets and editors the first significant test of a poet’s potential durability and significance. Andy Croft certainly thinks so too. As does this writer.
And it’s simple to see why we do. Did, for instance, the likes of Blake, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Hardy, Eliot, Auden, Dylan Thomas, Larkin etc. ‘prove themselves’ and cement their reputations to the extent of being listed as among the 20 most ‘exciting’ poets of their time ‘long before their first collection(s)’ were published? In a word –no. That so many of the poets listed in the Next Gen are relatively ‘young’ (in the poetry world ‘young’ encompasses anything from teenage to early 40s) and are only on their first full collections, renders remarks such as ‘paying dues’ pretty risible.
Perhaps by McMillan might be thinking more of those poets who have ‘paid' their ‘dues’ in terms of toeing the line of contemporary poetical politesse, slavishly following PBS and Poetry Society-instructed protocols of courting the mainstream journals and high profile imprint mentoring programmes, tailoring their poetic voices to suit current fashions and formulas via establishment-sponsored creative writing courses, and buffing up the egos of any ‘high profile’ poets and editors they happen to come into contact with by dedicating poems to them or paying homage by explicitly writing poems ‘after’ some of their own, and/or knocking out hyperbolic reviews on their mentors’ latest collections…? Is that what McMillan means by ‘paying dues’ maybe?
And what a depressing sign of the ‘dynastic’ culture of our times that one of the Next Gen poets listed, Annie Freud, is daughter of the late painter Lucian Freud, and also, by default, cousin of arguably the most morally reprehensible hard-right Tory Peer and Minister of the day, ‘Lord’ Freud. Let’s hope the official poet of the Freud family can muster some less vexing metaphors than the Welfare Minister’s deplorable trope in response to being questioned on his ability to understand the lives of the unemployed: “You don’t have to be the corpse to go the funeral”. Of course, this is no reflection on Miss Freud herself, who may well be a fine poet. She can’t answer for who she happens to be related to. But by the same token, other poets can’t answer for who they are not related to, or for their dearth of influential contacts and connections. All should be judged purely on individual merit.
Maybe some families are just super-talented, generation to generation? Maybe nepotism is a figment of the cultural imagination? Or maybe, just maybe, social and family background, education and connections are tacit passports to accomplishments and successes which might not otherwise have been attained –or at least not so swiftly and effortlessly–without them…?
Artists’ Assembly Against Austerity
At least not all the arts world in the UK today is as complacent, quiescent, apolitical, nepotistic and self-aggrandizing as the ‘high profile’ poetry scene: in the same edition of the Morning Star, another piece in the Arts section announced the foundation of a new Artists’ Assembly Against Austerity, styled on the Peoples’ Assembly. This new movement has been formed to campaign against not only arts cuts but all other cuts and caps which affect the lives and wellbeing of the nation’s artists, including such vexed issues as privatisation of the NHS and the necessity to reintroduce private rent caps/ controls not only for homes but also for artists’ studios and other theatre and literary venues.
The Recusant will be pledging its wholehearted support to this latest arts initiative against Tory austerity by signing up to it, the nature and aims of this new campaign being of course so closely associated to our own Poets in Defence of the Welfare State campaign launched as far back as June 2010 (it’s our fourth anniversary this year!), and also our more recent promotion of the Poets’ Assembly Against Austerity, as initially launched in an article I wrote for the Morning Star last year.
The AAAA has correctly pointed out how diminishing access to the arts subjects for poorer pupils and students pressurised by the current atomistic Tory education regime to pursue more industrially productive subjects and/or skilled manual vocational courses is amounting to a newly emerging gentrification of the arts, whereby –as, for example, such promotions as the poetry Next Gen, or the increasingly risible pretentiousness of the Turner Prize– working-class engagement with the finer aspects of education and the more self-expressive creative industries is being made ever more inaccessible, and therefore growingly more monopolised by middle- and upper-class youngsters.
The Recusant feels sure such a parlous state of affairs will only get steadily worse year by year as long as the likes of arts-disinterested chancers such as arch-Thatcherite Sajid David are in charge of the Culture brief, and Tories in charge of the country. The Tories are notorious philistines and arts-haters, it’s part of their ideological DNA to dismiss any forms of human activity that don’t instantly translate into some sort of financial return. But if they must tolerate a Department in part dedicated to the arts, we can be sure they will continue to undermine them, and most particularly clampdown on its more radical fringes. This is why it is heartening to see the formation of the AAAA in response to the nascent gentrification of the arts. Here is a link to the AAAA website and its launching open letter: http://artistsassembly.wix.com/artistsassembly#!
A.M. 1 October 2014