This Is the Dawning of the Age of Malthus

Update: 23/12/14

Sheriff Stars for Jobcentreplus Sanction Targets

More revelations from trans-satirical Tory La La Land, a la The League of Gentlemen, with a 'real life Pauline Campbell-Jones' (sadistic jobs advisor from said black comedy programme) bragging on Twitter about a new novelty "Texas twist" to coercing beleaguered and harrassed unemployed claimants into work placements or sanction regimes, in a Birmingham and Solihull jobcentreplus -as revealed on the front page of the Morning Star today (23/12/24), replete with dystopian image of assorted "sheriff stars":

A benefits chief likened to notorious League of Gentlemen character Pauline has unleashed fury after praising managers who pinned up Wild West-style “sheriff stars” encouraging staff to leave the unemployed penniless.

Central England Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) boss Sandra Lambert’s cheerful Twitter post celebrated the “Texas twist” used in Birmingham and Solihull to browbeat employees into sanctioning claimants.

Among the categories depicted by a sheriff’s badge was the rate at which decisions were taken to pull the plug on benefits for those deemed to have “refused employment.”

Ms Lambert, who commentators have compared to jobcentre “restart” officer Pauline Campbell-Jones from hit BBC series The League of Gentlemen, posted an image of the cardboard cut-out stars alongside praise for the Midlands area for “moving performance onwards and upwards.”

The sanctions focus added to mounting evidence that the DWP is operating de-facto targets for the number of people it can strip of benefits for up to six months when they fail to jump through jobcentre hoops.

Some of those hit have been punished for turning up to interviews in the “wrong” clothes, while in one recent case a woman said she had payments suspended after telling a potential employer that she was pregnant.

Former national jobcentre head Neil Couling admitted to MPs earlier this year that offices which imposed sanctions at a lower level than the “norm” faced probes. Yet the department maintained yesterday that “there are no targets for sanctions.”

A spokesman claimed benefits were only pulled as a last resort “in a tiny percentage of cases where people don’t play by the rules.”

Civil servants’ union PCS, which estimates that over 80,000 claimants have had a collective £20 million in payments stopped over Christmas, said it had complained in the past about the use of “primary school-style motivational charts” to chivvy staff into enacting DWP policies, adding that they did not “have any place in our employment service.”

A PCS spokesman added: “There’s no evidence that sanctions are effective at helping people to find long-term jobs and we think the whole regime should be scrapped.”

Ms Lambert’s image sparked an online storm yesterday, but she has already cemented a reputation through her “zen” management Twitter posts.

Her helpful “motivational” advice includes: “You can’t climb the ladder with your hands in your pockets,” “Resilience is a friend of Freedom,” and “Be that lead goldfish and tell a story.”

Her preference for jargon has seen her dubbed the real-life version of comedy character Pauline.

Embittered Pauline routinely bullied her unfortunate charges, once telling them: “Everything I know about people I learned from pens. If they don’t work, you shake them.

“And if they still don’t work, you chuck them away. Bin ’em.”

So this is how 'hard working' the nation's jobcentreplus managers are that they have time to come up with more tasteless and sadistic 'novelty' ways of tormenting the long-term unemployed, instead of actually trying to find proper jobs! So the DWP's reigning Gradgrind, Iain Duncan Smith, does have a sense of humour -albeit a wholly sick and sadistic one -but then we knew this already after his 'smirking' display during the recent bedroom tax debate. IDS will be spitting another derisive "Bah humbug" at the nation's unemployed whom he so unstintingly persecutes 365 days a year.

How soon, one wonders, does the DWP move from "sheriff stars" to St David's stars in its continued persecution and mockery of the unemployed?

Uptown Toynbee

Meanwhile, we The Guardian featured a class-polemic from well-heeled Primrosian liberal Polly Toynbee which, however, made for decent reading, arguing interestingly that the bowdlerised Upstairs, Downstairs of our post-Thatcherite age, Downton Abbey, says much more about class attitudes, and attitudes towards class, in today's Tory Britain, than it does in way remotely authentic or verisimilitudinous of the period it attempts failingly to depict:

Downton Abbey is back. Christmas day brings a two-hour wallow in heritage visions of our feudal yesteryear, as glimpsed through rose-tinted decanters. There will be snow and grouse shooting, we’re told. Escapist fantasy, National Trust nostalgia, here is history scrubbed clean – absurd, silly, enjoyable and vastly popular, in my family too. But it’s not harmless. Far from it.

To control history by rewriting the past subtly influences present attitudes too: every dictator knows that. Downton rewrites class division, rendering it anodyne, civilised and quaintly cosy. Those upstairs do nothing unspeakably horrible to their servants, while those downstairs are remarkably content with their lot. The brutality of servants’ lives is bleached out, the brutishness of upper-class attitudes, manners and behaviour to their servants ironed away. There are token glimpses of resentments between the classes, but the main characters are nice, in a nice world. The truth would be impossible without turning the Earl of Grantham and his family, the Crawleys, into villains, with the below-stairs denizens their wretched victims – a very different story, and not one Julian Fellowes would ever write.

Much attention is paid to detail. Place settings are measured to perfection with a ruler, the footmen’s buttons absolutely correct, yet everything important is absolutely wrong. Start with the labour: what we see is pleasant work by well-manicured maids in fetching uniforms, healthy and wholesome, doing a little feather-dusting of the chandeliers, some silver polishing, some eavesdropping while serving at table and some pleasant cooking with Mrs Patmore. There is even time for scullery maid Daisy to sit at the kitchen table improving herself with home education. In Downton the hierarchical bullying of servants by one another is replaced by the housekeeper and butler’s benevolent paternalism: what a nice place to work.

What we never see is bedraggled drudges rising in freezing shared attics at 5.30am; slopping out chamber pots, heaving coal, black-leading grates, hauling cans of hot water with hands already made raw by chilblains and caustic soda. We never dwell on the hardship of scrubbing floors, or scrubbing clothes, or scouring grease; in pre-detergent days, they were up to their elbows all day long. And yet they had virtually no water or time for washing themselves. Servants were often sooty and dirty. They smelled strongly of sweat, with few clean clothes, says Dr Lucy Delap, author of Knowing Their Place: Domestic Service in Twentieth-Century Britain. She says they used patchouli oil to cover the sweat, the identifying aromas of hard service. In Mrs Woolf and the Servants, Alison Light records Virginia Woolf observing “Mabel sweats when she is making jam”. Even the somewhat more enlightened and sometimes embarrassed Bloomsbury set wrote of their “inferiors”, Woolf talking of “that poor gaping imbecile, my charwoman”.

By comparison, Downton’s conservative aristocrats would have been far more abusive – verbally and actually: mocking, sneering and complaining about their servants was standard Edwardian and inter-war conversation. Instead we see the Crawleys’ deep concern for their staff’s welfare, compassionate when one is charged with murder and another revealed as jailed for jewellery theft. In life, they would have been turfed out without references at any whisper of scandal. Dr Delap records workhouses filled with maids who got pregnant, forever vulnerable to other predatory servants and tradesmen, often reduced to prostitution without a character reference to get another job.

Anachronism stalks every corridor of Downton, polishing up history to make the class divide less savage. The Crawleys’ prejudices and snobberies exposed in the raw would be as unbearable to the modern ear as if they were speaking in authentic 1920s accents. Then, as now, upward mobility is a necessary part of the myth, to hide the reality of class rigidity. So the Crawleys see their daughter marry their chauffeur, only for him to ascend upstairs with barely a ripple in the social fabric. Another Crawley daughter bears an illegitimate child, but is befriended by her starchy grandmother, the child accepted by his lordship who divines the truth with hardly a blench. Rose marries into a rich Jewish family, but only one absurd relative expresses the antisemitism that was so rife – and still is, in upper-class circles. Nor is crude snobbery dead yet: remember that Prince William dressed up for a chav fancy dress party, with an outfit to mock the vulgar lower orders. None of Downton’s social liberalism is remotely credible, but its creators needed to invent a steam-cleaned past.

There is a natural emotional wish to believe that social mobility is improving. People like rags-to-riches stories, wanting to think everyone has a fair chance to rise by merit and effort – even when it’s patently not so. Even those with little chance in life tend to blame themselves – “I should have tried harder at school” – not a social caste system that stacked the odds against them.

Modern capitalism promotes the myth that we are all masters of our fate and birth is not destiny, as proof that swelling wealth at the top has been earned. Downton doesn’t suggest Lord Grantham earned his status, only that the Crawleys’ generous-spirited noblesse oblige makes their role acceptable. History is important: it was funny when a plastic water bottle was left on Downton’s mantelpiece, but Downton’s plastic social history is misleading whitewash.

Does it matter? Isn’t it just a bit of fun? Well, what would we think of a prettified series about British colonialism, whose heroes were cleansed of racism, violence, oppression or imperial snobbery? The implanting of falsely comforting memories of a better bygone era disguises fundamental things about the way we live now.

As it is, there is still a widespread misperception of the nature of class and destiny. Inequality is rising on an ever upward trajectory, yet people are easily deceived by a veneer of modern classlessness: the end of deference and forelock-tugging makes class less obvious and more insidious, though every statistic shows how deeply entrenched it remains.

The Recusant recommends the infinitely better written and acted Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75) over its pale chocolate-box imitator, Downton Abbey. Julian Fellowes might have learnt much from Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins' five-series-long polemical costume drama series (particularly the early episodes of Series Three, depicting the servants' inverted snobbery towards the son and heir of Eaton Place's marriage to his father's lower-middle-class secretary, Hazel), but instead all he did was take the basic template and gut it all of social comment and political insight. The result is a televisual Etone Mess as compared to its' predecessor's richly layered Baked Alasaka.

Toynbee seems to be on something of a polemical roll of late, and, inspite of our occasional criticisms of the somewhat hermetically-sealed Primrosian coteries she mingles in, The Recusant always appreciates her aphoristic insights.

On that last note, have a good Xmas one and all.

A.M. 23/12/14

Toynbee on Pember Reeves, Keith Joseph and Lady Jenkins’ “Gospel of Porridge”

A very robust and incisive column by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian of 16 December, ‘The Tories’ plan for poor people: stop them breeding’, even if it is nothing particularly new in its tilt on Tory Malthusianism, a polemical paradigm which our own Robin Hood Book tackled in great detail back in 2012 (and which Polly Toynbee herself, who was posted a personally inscribed complimentary copy at the time, oddly declined to acknowledge! Perhaps she mistook it for a doorstopper?).

It is good as well as that Primrosian apologist for the Lib Dems admits in this piece that an Opposition motion to see the abolishment of the notorious bedroom tax was only narrowly defeated by a bunch of reprehensible Orange Book Liberals.

In spite, however, of broadly drawing on polemic in part already mapped out some time past (not from ourselves but many other polemical auspices), Toynbee’s column is diagnostically spot on, though she chooses to use the more emotive –though equally accurate– term ‘eugenics’, as opposed to ‘Malthusianism’ (one might also employ the term ‘Mendelism’ to mean the same thing):

There can rarely have been a better fit for Ebenezer Scrooge than Iain Duncan Smith. He told Andrew Neil on the BBC’s Sunday Politics that he wants child benefit limited to a family’s first two children. It would save money and prompt “behavioural change”.

For a country already failing to replace its population, with just 1.9 babies per woman, dissuading child-bearing is a mistaken and nasty ambition. When Scrooge asks, “Are there no workhouses?” he is told that many would rather die than go into one. “If they would rather die,” Scrooge replies, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Duncan Smith himself has four children. So do Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid. George Osborne, David Cameron, Philip Hammond, Grant Shapps, Jeremy Hunt and Nick Clegg all have three, so this government is far more fecund than the general population. But people like them are not the target of this “behavioural change”. What the government wants is fewer oiks.

Back in 1974 Keith Joseph destroyed his Tory leadership hopes with this speech: “A high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world … Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment. They are unlikely to be able to give children the stable emotional background, the consistent combination of love and firmness … They are producing problem children … The balance of our human stock, is threatened.”

Sir Keith had four children but apparently they didn’t threaten “our human stock”. These days, what he said might be less controversial: it’s an everyday rightwing press platitude.

Some themes deep in the heart of Toryism just never go away. Up they pop, over and over. Control the lower orders, stop them breeding, check their spending, castigate their lifestyles. Poking, sneering, moralising and despising is hardwired within Tory DNA.

The desire to extirpate the poor goes back a long way. In 1913 the eye-opening report, Round About a Pound a Week by Maud Pember Reeves and her group of Fabian women (republished by Persephone Books) detailed the household accounts of mothers trying to keep their families on the average £1 manual wage. The report’s irrefutable evidence showed that wages were too low to live on, puncturing the perpetual myth among the comfortable (then as now) that the working classes were “bad managers”. In fact, these mothers scrimped every farthing, maximising calories in bread and dripping.

I was reminded of that book because Pember Reeves wrote angrily of middle-class assertions that no one should have children until they can afford them. She pointed out that working families would never have any if they waited for that day – but, of course, that is what Duncan Smith wants.

Pember Reeves was even more scathing about the well-off who preach what she calls contemptuously “the gospel of porridge”. Ah, porridge! Right on cue, up popped Lady Jenkin, wife of Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, last week: “Poor people don’t know how to cook. I had a large bowl of porridge today, which cost 4p.” She was presenting the Church of England report which found that 4 million people are going hungry.

The Mail hurried to her home and she told them how to cook a three-course meal for 57p – soup, rice and lentils, and banana and custard powder. The Mail’s verdict? “Simple, filling and very tasty.” So here we are, back with the argument that never changes: poverty is caused by fecklessness and dependency, not by sub-survivable rates of pay.

The baroness had no wise tips for how a family on the minimum wage should procure a Christmas present for a child: home-knitted socks? Easier for people such as her to ignore the steep fall in real wages, or that only one in 40 new jobs since the crash has been full time. Easier to overlook Monday’s report from the Office for National Statistics showing the bottom 10% have suffered much higher rates of inflation than the well-off, spending more on food and fuel.

Of the unthinkable £48bn cuts Osborne announced in his autumn statement, the only specific one that he, Duncan Smith and the others keep crowing about is another £12bn to be cut from benefits, confident that Tory polling finds welfare cuts still popular.

But the tide may be on the turn: Osborne may have called it wrong this time. On Wednesday the Commons votes on a Labour motion to repeal the bedroom tax. The last attempt was voted down by the Lib Dems, but those eyeing their seats would do well to relent this time. The bedroom tax feels like the tipping point, where the public understands what cuts mean – half a million families reduced to penury or evicted, a third of them disabled, uprooting parents from jobs and children from schools. That £7bn promised tax cut for higher earners looks less like a winner every day.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that on present cuts alone, a third of children will have fallen into poverty by 2020. Another scandal: those newly struck down by sickness or serious accidents are lost in a Department for Work and Pensions penniless limbo, waiting for Duncan Smith’s personal independence payments. Last month 323,000 were waiting, according to the works and pensions committee – families in utter destitution, average wait about 60 days, due to DWP chaos. As the Church of England report revealed, the most common reason for using food banks is benefit delay and “sanctions”. Local benefit offices have tough targets for throwing people off benefits, not for how many get jobs.

The Tablet voted Duncan Smith the most influential Roman Catholic. But an influence for what? He will no doubt be singing lusty carols in church this Christmas, most concerning the poor – Good King Wenceslas, perhaps? “Ye who now shall bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing”, though poorer children have taken the hardest hits.

Listening to children in the wonderful London Symphony Orchestra Discovery Choir at the Barbican, I could only wonder how anyone in this government – religious or not – can cope with the imagery of Christmas. Do they hear the songs about welcoming new babies into the world, the poor child in a lowly cattle shed and rich men bearing him gifts, with at least a twinge of shame?

Scrooge is the great redemption story, but it might take more than three ghosts to see Duncan Smith, Osborne and Cameron recant their vendetta against the poor. If anyone spots them singing carols, please tweet.

The deplorable Keith Joseph quote is extremely instructive as to the ethical and moral bankruptcy of Margaret Thatcher’s political mentor: it is an explicit expression of the orthodox opinion of the 1930s Eugenics Society, and Social Hygiene Movement, of the likes of Julian Huxley, almost verbatim: they seriously believed the “human stock” was under threat from an imbalance towards –what they would openly call– ‘inferior’ or ‘sub-human’ reproduction, of the poor, unemployed, disabled and mentally ill.

To see where Joseph drew his rhetorical inspiration, we just need to recall Julian Huxley’s diatribes of the 1930s as to society’s ‘defectives’ being undeserving of ‘public generosity’, those who “give nothing in return” (i.e. today’s “something for nothing” Tory mantra) for their public subsidy, who offer no incentive to invest in their invalidities (no, other than basic Christian compassion!), and who are “burdens” threatening to “drag us all down” –that might as well be the slogan of Atos: Getting to Grips with the Burdens that Drag Us All Down!

Such sub-Nietzschean ‘arguments’ infuse practically all Tory rhetoric on poverty today; while Tory-supporting right-wing red-tops such as the Mail and Express routinely employ eugenicist nomenclature in ‘stories’ (exactly that!) on the poor, unemployed and disabled: the terms ‘feckless’, ‘parasites’, ‘breeding’, ‘weaning’, ‘malingerers’ and of course ‘scroungers’ are all from the 1930s eugenicist lexicon, and by dint of such, were all of course taken up promptly by Adolf Hitler (to use against not only the Jews but also the sick and unemployed of 30s Germany) and taken to their nth behavioural degrees under Nazism. The Tories speak of the need for “behavioural changes” among the poor –but how about behavioural changes among their own type of pinstriped proto-fascists?

It’s probably less known, however, that some adherents to eugenics theory were not of the political Right but also of the progressive centre-left, such as William Beveridge, author of the eponymous report which served as a rudimentary template for the future welfare state, for instance (and, indeed, in his citing of those ‘Five Giant Evils’ of ‘Disease, Idleness, Ignorance, Want and Squalor’, Beveridge was legendarily prone to pathological terminology in his detectably ‘Social Hygienist’ depiction of poverty and associated social ills).

The Tablet’s frankly bizarre –even quite out-of-character given its more recent centre-left stance on poverty and welfare– voting of IDS as ‘most influential Roman Catholic’ (shouldn’t that just be ‘most influential Roman’? or better still, ‘most influential Roman throwback’?) is particularly opprobrious, though one might suppose that the term ‘influential’ is morally ambiguous and doesn’t by any means necessarily mean influential in a good way. Nevertheless, one might have thought that The Tablet readers would have voted Pope Francis, by far the most openly compassionate and politically oppositional Pope the Church has had in several generations (if not longer than that) as the ‘most influential Roman Catholic’ of 2014.

This is a Pope who has, after all, used his first Apostolic Exhortation to urge the greed-infested, tight-fisted capitalist Western world to prioritise the needs of the poorest over self-interest and greed, to counteract pan-European capitalist stigmatisation and rhetorical persecution of the poor and unemployed, to publicly castigate his own upper Church echelons for its hypocritical riches, to refuse to travel in the ostentatious ‘Popemobile’, and to walk among his faithful on the ground in public in Rome… and yet, in our topsy-turvy world of 2014, this, the most exemplarily compassionate and principled Pope for generations is beaten at the polls for ‘most influential Roman Catholic’ by the nastiest piece of work –and most religiously hypocritical– head of the British DWP of quite possibly all time!

The Recusant thinks that The Tablet’s New Year’s Resolution needs to be a complete change in editorial team, as well as readership! Since demonstrably too many of The Tablet’s subscribers also subscribe to our own titular online cousin, The Recusant (.com), reactionary organ of the conservative end of the Roman Catholic faith.

The Recusant sincerely hopes Toynbee is correct in her optimistic sense that the tide is finally turning on the national ‘welfare debate’ in the wake of the devastating repercussions of four and a half years of Tory-driven benefit cuts, caps and bedroom taxes. Such horrendous statistical/factual findings that tell us there will be 93,000 children homeless and 15,000 families trapped in B&Bs this Christmas (Shelter); or that, almost incomprehensibly for one of the six richest countries on the planet, ONE THIRD of British children will be living in poverty by 2020 (Institute for Fiscal Studies)!! Yes, you read that correctly. Toynbee is indeed spot on in her depiction of a Dickensian England –a phenomenon we might alternately term ‘Dickensian Redux’?! This is certainly now a de facto nation of haves and have-nots, of Scrooges and Tiny Tim Cratchits.

The trouble is most Social Attitudes Surveys even at this dreadful time don’t sadly indicate any significant shift in the nation’s wilfully credulous acceptance of Tory and red-top vilification of the poor and unemployed –and of the sick and disabled of course. Yes, this is the same nation in which, according to its reality-detached prime minister (whose own late son was severely disabled, and for whom multimillionaire Cameron claimed DLA, in the days before its dismantlement under his own future auspices), “sees the child and not the wheelchair”. But this is actually because the child has already been figuratively tipped out of the wheelchair, or can’t afford to have one due to cuts to child benefit, DLA and the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

“Fit To Drop”: Tories’ Malthusian Disability Agenda

To which, there is an emotive and truly shocking comment piece by one Mary Griffiths Clarke in the Morning Star today (‘First They Came For The Disabled’, 18 December), which lays bare the poorly camouflaged disability-intolerance of our Tory-ised society, rightly lambasting the High Court for upholding the morally atrocious scrapping of the ILF in spite of the inevitable human cost it will entail:

A weather bomb may be on the horizon but nothing quite prepared me for the s**t storm that washed over thousands of disabled people this week after the High Court upheld a government decision to close the independent living fund.

Does the government seriously think that by handing over the responsibility to councils to support the most severely disabled to live independently that they will gladly do so out of the goodness of their hearts when they are being given no extra funding and are facing 20 per cent cuts to their budgets?

All it will do is accelerate unprecedented levels of misery and suffering. It will propel people into crisis and ultimately cost a whole pile more to sort out the whole sorry mess. Add a UN investigation for crimes against humanity into the mix and you end up with chaos. Avoidable chaos, and this is the saddest thing — it doesn’t need to be this way.

The media shouldn’t be allowed to get away with their medieval mentality towards disability — see Rod Liddle’s article in the Sun on Emily Brothers. The Sun doesn’t even see fit to apologise because for the gutter press disabled people are fair game. It’s bullying plain and simple.

How it even got past the editor to the print room astounds me.
Like it or not, what appears in the papers shapes attitudes and articles such as this put others at risk.

The only upside to this sorry saga is the massive backlash against the paper.

Disabled people don’t need to be segregated from society. Disability hate crime doesn’t need to be through the roof. People don’t need to be suffering in the inhumane way that they are.

Disabled people are not bearing the brunt of cutbacks to balance the books as the sacrificial heroes of austerity. No — they are bearing the brunt of the cuts because of political ideology. Google it.

Where is the dignity in this elitist ideology? Where is the dignity in dividing people? What happened to the Big Society?

What happened to caring within communities, of valuing all sectors of society no matter how big or small their contribution to the economy?

Volunteers are doing work which would once have been paid for through state support of the third sector, but that’s been ravaged.

Key services are ticking over solely due to the goodwill of volunteers working round the clock to ensure their organisation clings on by its fingernails in the hope of short-term survival.

But that caring malarkey is out of fashion now. Caring for others is a sign of weakness in Con-Dem Britain. Dog eats dog is where it’s at.

Values that used to be held with esteem are now ridiculed by many. Perhaps I belong to a bygone era, and I most certainly wish I did, because the disintegration of civil liberties over the past five years is not a world I want to live in.

I’m trying to be optimistic, really I am, but whichever way I look, I see basic rights for disabled people diminishing.

I know it’s not the done thing for people like me to express emotion. I’m meant to be controlled and measured, calm and collected. Except I’m not, I’m human. I’m disabled. I’m apoplectic with fury. I’m exasperated, but most of all I’m frightened.

Like so many disabled people in this country, I wake up in the middle of the night, every night, dripping wet with fever, trembling with fear over the future.

If the human rights of disabled people are being violated, then surely it is just a matter of time before disabled British people start claiming asylum?

We can’t go on living like this — locked out of work, education, politics, independent living, society. Living in fear shouldn’t be our only option, saving up for Dignitas instead of a flat shouldn’t be our aspiration.

We should be able to walk down the street confidently and proudly for who we are as individuals, not cowering in fear and waiting for the inevitable hollering abuse and being spat on by people as we walk by for the crime of using a mobility scooter or stick. Yes, that’s happened to me.

I don’t want to feel ashamed of my disability, to feel like I’d be doing everyone a favour if I stopped inhaling oxygen — but when even relatives disown you for being disabled where else have you left to turn?

Where is there to go? What would happen then? Things have to change.

The ongoing bedroom tax saga is mainly hitting disabled people — clearly the importance of having a home does not apply if you are in social housing, it’s just a dispensable commodity right? Note my irony.

A home is everything. Without an anchor of somewhere to call home and the support networks of living near friends and family, many people are lost.

We need the basics to function and flourish and right now far too many of us don’t even have that. Thankfully Ed Miliband sees this and will abolish the abhorrent bedroom tax.

Millions of people in Britain are using foodbanks, 93,000 children will be homeless this Christmas, many more without basic heating.

We are the sixth richest nation in the world. This is a disgrace. This is why we need to get the cost of living under control, stop ludicrous benefit sanctions and have a bit more humanity.

Again Labour is the only party with a cat-in-hell’s chance of getting into government that really seems to have got to grips with this. Albeit they need to speak more loudly about it. I was comforted to hear Ed Miliband speak on the International Day of People with Disabilities last week with compassion, which is very different from the scary things that come from the Tories, such as “disabled people get better.”

Well, if that was the case, we wouldn’t be disabled would we? We’d just be ill. There is a massive difference. It’s just flabbergasting that the former minister for disabled people couldn’t distinguish this very basic attribute.

What about aspirations? Disabled students’ allowances are being passed to universities to manage, but their budgets are being slashed.

If they don’t have cash to pay for tutors they sure aren’t going to have cash to support disabled students.

This is so frustrating. Two thirds of disabilities are acquired during work and therefore retraining is probably one of the most valuable things that can be done to help get a disabled person back into work — if they can overcome thinly veiled employer discrimination at interview.

Yes, that’s on the rise too and is something that any future government really needs to get a grip on.

Access to Work, the programme designed to help disabled people in work meet disability-related costs, has a sky-high backlog of invoices and disabled people are losing jobs as a consequence.

Apparently it’s going to take until at least February to sort it out. That’s not going to wash as an excuse when you can’t afford to pay for a new interpreter out of your own salary after waiting three months for their invoice to be paid.

You’ve been muddling through for four months since but your boss has had enough and put you on a disciplinary for not meeting your basic job requirements.

Yes, this really has happened to people. Others are being issued with court summonses for equipment that was approved by Access to Work but for which it has failed to pay the invoices and refused to respond to enquiries.

Life shouldn’t be a postcode lottery. Disabled people should receive the same quality of support regardless of where they live, work or study.

Pushing services out to private or regional providers without legal obligation to meet certain standards just increases inequality. There needs to be a regulatory framework, budgets need to be ring-fenced and safeguarded and governance procedures need to support the 2010 Equality Act, not undermine it.

The courts seem to be insinuating that the quality of disabled peoples’ lives lies in common sense and goodwill but let’s face it — there is very little of that about and unless authorities are forced to make provisions, I can’t see them doing so out of goodwill when they are facing unprecedented cuts. Disabled people in rural areas are particularly affected.

So much for government intervention to level out the playing field — they’ve gone and built the mother of all mountains. This is some kind of sick joke right? Wrong. This is reality.

Wake up people. The election is just around the corner. Disabled people’s rights may be being eroded by the Con-Dems — and, if Ukip has its way, obliterated — but for the moment we still have the vote.

If you do one thing today, do this: register to vote and help disabled people you know register. The system has changed and now everyone has to register individually.

Make sure everyone you know is aware of this. En masse you can make a difference. Visit: www.votebooster.org/register/odv

Below this piece, in bold print, there is the following further information:

Surely there would be more common-sense policies if there were more disabled representatives in public office?

Well, that’s not looking likely. The Access to Elected Office fund is closing in May.

Notice has been given on the offices and staff, so there is no scope for extension.

This £2.6 million fund has had less than 10 per cent take-up.

Why? Because of all the other barriers disabled people face in running for office — financial barriers, inaccessible meeting rooms, discrimination in the selection process, lack of diverse campaigning opportunities to gain experience that would qualify someone to become selected.

If you can’t knock on doors, walk miles, enter the “who can put on their shoes quickest” competition, you are considered useless by many constituency Labour parties, no matter how much of a whizz you are at social media, fundraising or on the phone.

This needs to change and is something Disability Labour is looking very seriously at.

The scrapping of the ILF basically means the unceremonious scrapping of the chance for even vaguely dignified and independent lives for vast swathes of Britain’s disabled population; the ILF meant the difference between remaining at home or being forced to go into a care home, and the irony is, the former option, in ILF and DLA payments, costs less than the latter option.

This is how it’s possible of course for Clarke to diagnose an ideological agenda to this Tory ransacking of disability components in the welfare budget: demonstrably, the Tories aren’t really gambling on which disabled citizens can afford to still remain at home and which will be forced to go into state-run homes, because they’re anticipating that significant amounts of disabled people will most likely try and cling on to their strangled independence by subsisting in abject poverty (and most probably reliance on food banks), or, alternately, that many will simply give up altogether and take their own lives.

Given the Tories’ sanguinity at the growing charge that in government they have effectively wiped out around 40,000 sick and disabled claimants via the medically illegitimate and cuts-targeted Atos “fit for work” racket, it’s not much of a logical leap to suggest that they are canny and reconciled to the likely scale of human cost to be incurred by scrapping the ILF. This is indeed a Scroogian Government of the worst kind, and it is fitting at this time that ex-Disabilities Minister and current Employment Minister Esther McVey has just been voted ‘Scrooge of the Year’ in her Wirrel West constituency. But that epithet taken, the only ones fitting the supremely compassionless Osborne and Duncan Smith can be those of Mr Scratch and Mr Filch.

And only this week, on 17 December, there was a thoroughly reprehensible expression of Tory party inhumanity when a motion by Opposition MPs to scrap the iniquitous and universally slammed bedroom tax was narrowly defeated. Not only that, but during a very emotive debate, Duncan Smith was clearly seen –and caught on camera– smirking at various accounts of those disabled lives devastated by his despicable policies, emphatically demonstrating to the public at large in what contempt he holds the sick and disabled of this nation, and how he can no longer disguise his eugenicist glee at the victims of his DWP persecutions:

COWARDLY Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith laughed and grinned in the Commons yesterday as Labour MPs told tragic stories of the sick and disabled hit by his hated bedroom tax.

Opposition members stood up in turn to destroy the Tory case for the “spare room subsidy” forced on thousands of benefit claimants in social housing.

Sneering Mr Duncan Smith deployed junior Mark Harper to defend his policy rather than face the wrath of angry MPs, preferring instead to share jokes with his sidekick.

But his heartless antics met an angry response from disgusted Labour MP Jack Dromey, who accused him of “presiding over pain on a grand scale” then sitting through chilling evidence on its impact “with a Cheshire cat smirk on his face.”

Furious Mr Dromey had just spoken of the situation facing constituents forced to pay extra via the “cruel, callous tax.”

One woman with a paraplegic husband unable to share a bedroom had been forced to cough up for having two.

Another man desperate to move into a one-bedroom home had to pay the tax because there was nowhere suitable.

Again and again Labour MPs from across Britain told stories of some of the thousands unable to find a smaller home and forced to eat on less than £3 a day because of higher bills under the law.

Others with disabilities had specially adapted houses but if councils could not locate smaller homes they now faced “a stark choice — they either have to force themselves to move to a property that is not adapted or choose to live in that house via a series of cutbacks or go into debt,” said Blaydon MP Dave Anderson.

Swansea MP Geraint Davies accused Mr Duncan Smith of forcing “the most vulnerable, the most needy, and in the eyes of the Tories the least likely to vote” to pay for the government’s economic incompetence.

The bedroom tax was “literally ripping food out of the mouths of the poorest,” he said.

But opposition MPs failed to shift stone-hearted Conservatives who voted 298 to 266 against a bid to bin the tax.

(‘IDS Slammed For Bedroom Tax Smirking’ by Richard Bagley, the Morning Star, 18/12/14)

One more The Recusant asks just how much more crimes against the disabled IDS has to commit before he is a) hauled up before the European Court of Human Rights and b) excommunicated from the Catholic Church…? The Tablet would do well not to have highlighted such leading pernicious ‘influence’ of this most odious member of its community, since it is not the best advert for Roman Catholicism.

People Power –and Primrosian Patronage

Our only real hope at this time of ‘capped democracy’ and ‘political compassion paralysis’ is the growing rupture of extra-parliamentary campaigns and petitions facilitated largely by conscientious objectors to contemporary ‘scapegoat politics’ among the general public (most of whom are not affiliated to any specific political parties, but almost all of whom are to the left of politics). These campaign groups are attempting, with some momentum, to fight back against common social misconceptions and arthritic attitudes towards the most needy in society, and to countervail current capitalist austerity narratives.

One such is which has recently ascended in profile is the very timely Generation Rent, which is planning a Rent Freedom Day for Wednesday 4th February 2015, at which there will be a series of workshops and talks on all topics related to the punishing experience of the nation’s millions of private renters, including a direly needed and belated debate on the necessity for the reintroduction of rent controls (which is also the planned core theme of a third Caparison anti-cuts anthology in the near future). Rent Freedom Day will also entail a lobby of parliament on the urgent need to reform the private rental market. You can find more information by going here: http://www.generationrent.org/?utm_campaign=rentfreedomday&utm_medium=email&utm_source=npto

Another 'people power' campaign which has been particularly successful this week is that of Focus E15 Mothers and its allied change.org petition, which managed to secure a new tenancy settlement for the rental residents of the New Era Estate in London by forcing the hand of its US proprietors Westbrook Partners Consortium, who had threatened the tenants with massive rent hikes and likely eviction just before Xmas, to pass the leasehold to one Dolphin Square Foundation/Dolphin Living, which will ensure security of tenure for the New Era residents, while also maintaining their current rent levels. As depicted on Channel Four News this evening (19/12/14), this is an example of indirectly negotiated private rent controls "from the bottom up" -an exceptional example of efficacious democratic people power in the face of intransigent corporate capitalism. This is a hugely significant step forward in the fight for a return to the sanity of private rent controls, which the UK had for over sixty years -1920s to 1980s- until the Tories deplorably abolished them towards the end of Thatcher's tenure.

It is also good to see an increasing species of mainstream polemical treatises cropping up almost every other month with some of the more establishment presses (e.g. Inequality and the 1% by Danny Dorling, This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, Occupy by Noam Chomsky, and Thomas Picketty’s Capital, etc.). There is also the bold and articulate but a little-bit-too-ubiquitous Owen Jones’ The Establishment, perhaps rather ironically, hyperbolically couched in its own Primrosian/Guardianista establishment promotion of sorts, but nonetheless another significant book by the author of Chavs.

However, The Recusant feels there is something in itself a little bit too smooth and convenient about the mushrooming ‘myth of Owen’ promulgated not only by the progressive centre-left media through which he has mostly ‘cut his teeth’ as it were (e.g. The Guardian, New Statesman, the LRB et al), but also by some unlikelier corners of our mainstream media, such as the THES and Evening Standard (just look at the plethora of impossible plaudits –almost comprising a book in themselves– under The Establishment’s Amazon listing, for starters).

Cyril Connolly once cautioned that hyperbole, or what he termed ‘over-inflation’, ultimately castrated the talents of younger writers, and, in spite of his incontrovertible and thoroughly sound centre-left ‘Old’ Labour opinions (with which The Recusant’s completely tally), arguably no other young left-wing writer has been so athletically promoted to such saturation-point as Jones (apart from, to some extent, his fellow Oxbridge young-up-and-coming ‘radical’ Laurie Penny); and seriously, Allen Lane’s decision to put a flippant quote from Russell Brand –“our generation’s George Orwell”– smack bang on the front of Owen’s The Establishment, and even above its actual title (!), smacks of the very worst type of publishing hyperbole, indicative in itself of the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ approach of modern day marketing.

Even if such a tall claim had any verisimilitude is beside the point: the fact is it’s actually just rather absurd and patronising a claim (and on the basis of just one previous intelligent but by no means groundbreaking book), probably just an off-the-cuff remark of Brand’s who, with respect to his commendable activism of late, isn’t exactly the most convincing source for such hyperbolic comparisons. Once again, as is so symptomatic of the modern mainstream publishing media –the newspaper arms of which Jones, ironically, dissects and impeaches in the same book!– the reader/browser is being told what to think before they’ve even picked up the book and thumbed through it; they are having a highly subjective and hyperbolic ‘perception’/snappy catchphrase epithet imposed on them instantaneously, and thereby branded into their subconscious.

But with all due respect to Jones’s politically important output to date, any claim that it as yet represents anything by way of comparison to the highly nuanced and idiosyncratic polemic of George Orwell really is a classic case of 'hyper-inflation'. Though Jones is a more than capable political scholar, there is as yet no real evidence of a similarly original turn of thought to justify comparisons with the author of The Road to Wigan Pier, Down and Out in Paris and London et al. Comparable works might yet one day come from Jones’s pen –though no more likely than from those of many capable polemicists of our time, most of whom are inexplicably less well known– but the fact remains nothing of that particular calibre has as yet, no matter how much the established mainstream publishing media might wish it to be the case, and wish us to think it is.

Orwell apart, there is nothing yet, either, in Jones’s two published works that arguably rivals such Pelican classics as Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958), Ken Coates and Richard Silburn’s Poverty: The Forgotten Englishmen (1970), or Peter Golding and Sue Middleton’s Images of Welfare: Press and Public Attitudes to Poverty (1982). Nevertheless, The Recusant would certainly recommend Jones’ The Establishment as more than simply a festive stocking-filler this Christmas, but something which every British household would do well to have in their possessions as a compendious reminder of just how moth-eaten and pernicious our political elite really is. Though we recommend every bit as much, and in some cases a little more so, some of the other aforementioned contemporary polemical treatises.

All are ‘state of the nation’ works of our time, and no one author has the monopoly on such a medium (least of all, one might think, the youngest and least life-experienced among them); even if the epithets ‘young, bright and Oxbridge-educated’ seem to the mainstream media perfect complements to reasserting the misconception of the supremacy of minds drawn from the dreaming spires, including candidature for today’s establishment-rocking ‘radicals’, as well as conveniently fulfilling the deterministic ‘prophecies’ of publishers, promoters and ‘next big thing’ talent-spotters.

With humungous irony, all these cultural memes and prejudices are in themselves definitively establishment -simply of its more 'progressive' flipside. And one aches for the time when someone of similarly left-wing values to Jones, or Penny, comes up with a polemic on the much less-discussed cultural monopolies of the so-called ‘progressive’ or ‘centre-left’ Primrosian establishments, heirs to a hereditary polemical duplicity and short-circuiting between rhetorical aspirations for equality and highly selective, Oxbridge-centric protocols of candidatures. The same Primrosian establishments that provide us seemingly automatically with ready-made well-heeled and prestigiously educated polemicists on tap, who mostly ‘preach to the converted’ and tell many readers everything they already know, have already thought, or have even already written!

The implication, as always, is that one's access to the most public platforms of centre-left progressive commentary is determined not so much by authorial merit as simply whether one has already in some sense been chaparoned into a tacit 'charmed circle' of the Primrosian commentariat (which is normally facilitated via certain Oxbridge connections). In these senses, then, the Primrosian community is little different to the very 'old boy networks' and 'old school ties' that it so robustly (but possibly tokenistically?) targets through its own polemical factories.

Much as The Recusant respects and agrees with most of the opinions of the likes of Polly Toynbee, Owen Jones and Laurie Penny, we do often tire of the same tiny rota of names cropping up all over the shop as if only three people –and debatably three fairly privileged people with limited personal experience of the 'nitty-gritty' they feign expertise on– in the entire nation are capable of expressing the opinions of some several million, and then largely just repeating those opinions over and over again in slight variations and through alternating auspicious outlets and imprints.

What’s more, there are many progressive newspaper columnists, particularly in Guardian Society and the Morning Star, but also on many webzines and blogsites, who are every bit as –and in one or two cases, quite a bit more– incisive and important in terms of their perspectives and expression of those perspectives as Toynbee-Penny-Jones Ltd. The excellent Guardian Society’s Amelia Gentleman, Randeep Ramesh, Jack Monroe all spring to mind, as do Morning Star contributors Bernadette Horton, Tom Gill, Solomon Hughes and Linda Burnip. And there are many, many others.

If indeed the likes of Toynbee, Penny and Jones are such died-in-the-wool egalitarians, then maybe they might budge over a bit to give others of equal ability and probably greater experiential insight the room to speak up on the same issues too…? Of course, being ‘on the left’ in any public capacity does almost always put people up for inescapable accusations of hypocrisy. That’s because socialism is almost impossible to live up to in terms of personal practice. Nonetheless, there are certain methods which might be employed to minimise risks of duplicity, such as cooperative enterprises, and the humility to sometimes put oneself/ego more in the background/ a spot of back-seat driving, as it were. It remains an irony that some who spend their careers ‘speaking up for others’ often tend to do so by putting themselves first and foremost up in spotlights over and above those others. Primrosian Hypocrisy –now that would make for a ripping polemic!

Sisters Are Doing Anti-Austerity For Themselves

Finally, it is really heartening to read in the Morning Star today that the three main female political leaders in the UK, Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP, Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru and Natalie Bennett of the Green Party, are uniting in an anti-austerity alliance for the 2015 General Election. This now gives even more incentive for floating centre-left and left voters in England to put their crosses by the Greens, for their Welsh counterparts to vote for Plaid Cymru, and for the Scots to keep the SNP in power too. Luke James’ piece can be read here: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-19d0-Female-party-chiefs-unite-in-anti-austerity-election-pact#.VJBcBtKsVdc

In the meantime, The Recusant waits with bated breath to see whether or not the mainstream broadcasting media will be reconsidering its unacceptable and anti-democratic stance in allowing UKIP’s Nigel Farage to contribute to the leaders’ televised debate in the run up to next May’s General Election but not the –significantly all-female and all anti-austerity– leaders of the excluded other parties, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP.

This is the last Recusant editorial of 2014, and it simply remains to wish all readers and contributors an at least tolerable Christmas and –to quote Polly Toynbee– ‘survivable’ New Year. We also urge all readers to spare a thought for the tens of thousands of homeless this Christmas, and where and whenever possible, to spare a bit of change in street subsidies for the growing street homeless population comprehensively abandoned by our collective Scrooge of a Government.

A.M. 17-19.12.14