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Welfare Fights Back

Amid the current public furore –encouraging in itself– over Channel 4’s Benefits Street, the latest in a prolific crop (including such impartial crowd-pleasers as Britain on the Fiddle, Benefits and Proud, Saints and Scroungers et al) of cheap-shot propaganda exercises flimsily disguised as ‘documentaries’ about Britain’s near-mythical ‘elective welfare culture’, this time, focusing on an impoverished Birmingham community made up of almost uniformly unemployed families (all working locals conveniently edited out from the final cut by programme makers Love Productions –also the producers of the mind-crumbling The Great British Bake Off– who clearly wish to assist the DWP in justifying further welfare cuts), The Recusant found Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row an unexpectedly record-replacing interpolation on the hotly ‘debated’ but often obfuscated topic of welfare.

This interpretation, in spite of criticism from The Independent for the show effectively turning into ‘The Katie Hopkins Show’ –said harridan might have tried to dominate the debate but she was constantly, and understandably, drowned out by howls of opprobrium from a far better informed audience, and really came across more as a figure of fascistic self-ridicule than anything else; because, in the main, the atmosphere and tone of this particular welfare debate was palpably more empathic towards tabloid-baited benefits claimants than in any clear way indulgent of the much more typical, pathologically disingenuous, hate-projecting rhetoric of the Tory and red-top anti-welfare hegemony of our day (see Diary of a Benefits Scrounger for a similar response to the programme, albeit with some very significant insights into the wrong-footing internal politics of Channel 5).

Much of the programme’s ‘going against the grain’ was down to the singularly insightful choreographing by the show’s host, Matthew Wright, who –ostensible impartiality of being chair of the debate aside– angled most of his questions much more interrogatively towards those guests present who wished to simply rhetorically oil the cogs of contemporary ‘Scroungerology’ in the presumption that this would be just another broadcast ‘60 Minute Hate’ purgation against “scroungers”: Wright kept pointedly challenging the risible ignorance of Hopkins, and later, the grotesque disingenuousness of the equally repellent ex-Tory minister Edwina ‘Salmonella’ Currie –or ‘Curried Eggs’, as one might abbreviate her– who once again reminded the general public just what an attitudinally contemptible caricature she (still) is, with her goading chant of “Get a job, get a job, get a job” to one unemployed audience member who had just explained how she’s doing everything she can to find one, but that there aren’t any jobs around, and so rose to Currie’s jabbing bait with the mantra-like retaliation, “Give me a job, give me a job, give me a job”.

Suddenly we were depressingly back in Alan Bleasdale’s interminably but authentically bleak reflection of the devastating atomism of the Thatcher era, Boys from the Black Stuff, pace Bernard Hill’s shadow-eyed, beaten-faced “Yosser” Hughes and his almost disembodied plea of “Gizza job, gizza job…”, as if on automatic pilot after so many employers’ brush offs; as chillingly depersonalised as Michael Redgrave’s ventriloquist-turned-puppet in Alberto Cavalcanti’s 1945 horror portmanteau, Dead of Night. But when Tories such as Currie approach the topic of poverty and unemployment, as they almost always do, in such a simplistic, infantile, playground-goading timbre, then it’s hardly surprising the targets hit back in an equal and opposite manner. At one point, when Currie shouted out that the claimant should “Walk a thousand miles to find a job” after the claimant had said she walked miles to look for work, one almost expected The Proclaimers to jump out from behind the set to do a live acoustic rendition of ‘I’m Gonna’ Be (500 Miles)’.

Currie also let one significant ‘cat out of the bag’ –albeit one which many of us have long assumed is hiding in there– with regards to the Tory benefits gambit: she blatantly admitted, without any note of compunction, that because the percentage of pensioners will be multiplying in future decades due to “people living longer” (or rather, ‘richer people living longer’), the lion’s share of welfare expenditure already going to said recipient-group will have to be protected, and even increased over the years, to keep up with this growing demographic, which meant that, for pure fiscal expediency, working-age benefits had to be stripped back instead, and pretty much permanently! (Though, granted, Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘baby cap’ will probably do some of the depopulating dirty work for the future too, ‘encouraging’ unemployed mothers not to have more than two children each by withdrawing state assistance for ‘any third child born’ –a kind of vicarious eugenics by fiscal policy; though one suspects self-proclaimed ‘practising Catholic’ Smith will stop short of distributing contraception to the unemployed in the shape of some state-subsidised IDS ‘Dutch cap’…?). Tellingly too, Currie didn’t even bother to argue against Wright’s prompt that, after all, “pensioners go out and vote” too, and the overwhelming majority of them, funnily enough, happen to vote Conservative –the old ‘blue-rinse’ brigade, or what’s more commonly termed today, “the grey vote”.

So here we had in this unusually trend-reversing debate a public recapitulation of what is effectively a Tory-and-red-top plot to fiscally engineer and rhetorically justify the mass ‘social cleansing’ of the working-age unemployed and incapacitated populations, cutting their already restricted benefit entitlements to a plethora of spurious and statistically disingenuous propaganda (only about 7% of the entire welfare budget actually goes to the working-age unemployed, but most of the rest, to pensioners), besieging the disabled with a bedroom tax on a “spare room subsidy” –a fictitious concept conjured-up purely so it could be capped!– while also attempting to stem human reproduction among unemployed parents through the ‘baby cap’ –and all towards the aim of keeping middle- and upper-class pensioners happy so they all vote Tory in 2015. This truly is the despicable methodology of the ‘gentrified fascists’ who currently call themselves ‘the Government’ (more like ‘De Management’): unadulterated Malthusianism in order to secure electoral victory.

But, fortunately, such typical pauperisation of the topic did not hold sway in this particular debate, in spite of Hopkins’ and Curries’ best feet-stamping, finger-pointing, hair-pulling efforts. This was because this heated –in much the right sense– debate was more of a case of Benefit Claimants Fight Back than the usual claimant-bashing circus we’ve come to expect from mainstream television. The show was particularly revelatory in terms of some surprising opinions among its highly eclectic choice of front-row audience guests, most noticeably, Peter Stringfellow, who, apart from dropping in the perennial premise that goes something like ‘Oh of course there are some who play the system’, then went onto emphasize that that was an almost negligible minority (backed up statistically by Wright), and that generally he felt most conscientious job-seekers “deserve every penny they get”.

Less revelatory, but no less inspiring, were the highly insightful opinions of Terry Christian, self-conscious ex-presenter of The Word (an early Nineties C4 live pop-culture programme very much energised on the kind of bullying ‘animal spirits’ rampant today in our ‘Scroungerological’ culture –but which were, in the context of said programme, almost brutally concentrated on the beleaguered host himself), who appositely turned the topic back onto the promulgators of contemporary ‘Scroungerphobia’ as a means of “distracting” the public from the real “scroungers” of society, the bankers and rich elites (who caused the economic crisis, not a reputedly “bloated” welfare state) helped by the press barons, media and programme makers.

There were also some extremely encouraging signs of a growing cultural backlash against remorseless ‘Scroungerology’, in the forms of…: Sam Delaney, editor of Heat magazine, who spoke disparagingly of journalistic copy-spicing in order to appeal to, and perpetuate, public misconceptions on the topic; the RP-clipped television presenter Annabel Giles, at one time unemployed herself, who passionately defended claimants against the continual barrage of stigmatisation they have to endure today, in combination with benefit cuts and the humiliation of having to rely on food banks, and who cut through one of Hopkins’ hate-filled rants with the show-stopping quip: “You would be really dangerous if you knew what you were talking about”; and, most revelatory of all, Tory London Mayor’s sister, and editor of The Lady, Rachael Johnson, who shamed the City-fellating politics of her blimpish blond-wonder of a brother by, unexpectedly, and vigorously, railing against Edwina Currie’s unapologetic Malthusianism, while also joining Giles in a robust duet of condemnation at the “scandal” at the necessity for the proliferation of food banks in order to cater for tens of thousands of citizens “going hungry” in one of the richest countries on the planet (The Recusant can only speculate at the temperature of after-dinner conversations between the Johnson siblings). As well as these heartening enlightened attitudes, there were also empirically empathic and informative contributions from the Reverend Steven Chalke, poverty campaigner and polemicist Jack Monroe, and political writer and Chavs-author Owen Jones.

But, and by way of hugely symbolic serendipity, the true show-stealer was Deirdre Kelly, Benefits Street’s “White Dee”, who contributed a show-stopping quip, after another guest spilt the first expletive of the debate: “I bet the bookmakers have lost a fortune, I bet they thought I’d be the first to swear”.

It was also extremely affecting to hear a chorus of women in the audience chanting at one point “All mothers are working mothers” –never a truer word said, it being one of the most demanding occupations of all, not to say absolutely integral to the continued supply of cheap labour for the capitalist classes to exploit into the future (one counter-productive aspect to Iain ‘Herod’ Smith’s ‘baby cap’ which must have escaped him at planning stage!). The notion of an ‘unemployed mother’ is the most preposterous fabrication of our time –there is, demonstrably, no such thing; except perhaps in the case of the mothers of the upper classes, aristocracy and Royalty, who are able to outsource their maternal duties to Nannies, getting all the nice bits of motherhood without having to handle the dirty nappies –and it’s these same types of more aptly prefixed ‘unemployed mothers’ who would deny the rest of the female population its disparagingly labelled “Nanny State”.

DOUBLE THE DOLE!

Precisely the kind of headline you wouldn’t have seen being shouted at you in elephantine letters from the front of our nation’s right-wing red-tops was the Council of Europe’s call on the British Government to double its dole payments –much to the collective apoplectic fit of mouth-frothing Tories. The ever-‘eloquent’ IDS alluded to such proposals as “lunacy” –because it hasn’t yet occurred to him that one of the most simple and compassionate ways to help to, at least temporarily, lift the unemployed out of poverty, would actually be to do precisely what the European Council have instructed, as opposed to what the Work and Pensions Minister is currently doing: tipping millions into abject destitution by stripping them of what paltry benefits they’ve been previously receiving in his bid to “Make (the relative idea of) Work Pay” by ‘Making Benefits Not Pay…At All!’ The more sane, objective and compassionate among us might well call Iain Duncan Smith’s policy of starving the unemployed into submission to sub-minimum-waged ‘work placements’ the only real ‘lunacy’ –not to say, ‘fascism’– of the issue. Apart from the fact that, practically speaking, a hungry unemployed do not make for particularly sprightly prospective employees.

The Tories openly admitted, yet again, that cutting benefits for the working-age unemployed is not really anything particularly to do with some kind of ‘moral crusade’ on behalf of the Protestant Work Ethic, nor any ‘Damascene’ path to spiritual purification through vicarious anchoritic self-punishment via mass fiscal flagellation of the out-of-work by the Secretary for the Department of Whiphands and Punishments –but actually simply to do with the cold expedients of deficit reduction. This ‘Lord Freudian slip’ came straight from the horse’s mouth, Paul Dacre’s Daily Mailthusian, in a typical hack-piece by the factually slack James Slack and Daniel Martin:

But ministers say obeying the diktat from the Council, which oversees the controversial European Court of Human Rights, would cost the UK billions of pounds and plunge efforts to reduce the deficit into chaos.

Yes, you read that phrase correctly: ‘the controversial Human Rights Act’, which just about says it all on the deeply twisted ‘ethics’ of this particular paper –it’s almost like glimpsing an internal memo on the latest demonically acceptable terminology to use in Tartarus. The tone and diction of the Mailthusian increasingly reads more like a satirical pastiche of itself rather than anything remotely intellectually or ethically credible (this editor highlights the tell-tell terms):

Eurocrats sparked fury last night by ordering the UK to double dole payments. The Council of Europe claims the handouts given to Britain’s jobless are ‘manifestly inadequate’.

Only Tories, fascists, psychopaths and/or tabloid-lobotomised benefit bashers could possibly dispute the Council of Europe’s perfectly rational and fair description of current British benefit levels as ‘manifestly inadequate’. Still, the Mailthusian did at least attempt some modicum of journalistic ‘impartiality’ by including some basic facts which show up the British Government’s blitzkrieg against the welfare state as not only brutal and immoral, but also illegal:

Ministers have been told they are in violation of the European Social Charter – potentially opening the door for claimants to take the Government to court to get more money. …

The Council said Britain had signed up to the Social Charter, which is ‘a legally binding economic and social counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights’.

No wonder the Tories are so impatient to hold a referendum on Europe and to also exit the Convention on Human Rights: so their social fascism can continue entirely unimpeded by ‘foreign interference’, or rather, natural justice. But, as the Mailthusian reluctantly details, these are the plain economic facts of the matter:

The charter sets out a level of income which certain key benefits – including the JSA, Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and State pension – must provide.

Britain’s JSA, ESA (both £67 a week) and pension (about £102) all fall well below the £138 a week, or £596 a month, that the Eurocrats have set as the benchmark.

To comply, Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) would have to be hiked by £71, from £67 to £138 a week.

The Council said Britain had signed up to the Social Charter, which is ‘a legally binding economic and social counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights’.

The charter sets out a level of income which certain key benefits – including the JSA, Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and State pension – must provide.

Britain’s JSA, ESA (both £67 a week) and pension (about £102) all fall well below the £138 a week, or £596 a month, that the Eurocrats have set as the benchmark.

Because all three are below a second threshold of £110 a week, they are rated ‘manifestly inadequate’.

There it is, in black and white, and in the unlikeliest of newspapers, that far from being a prime location for "benefits tourism" due to an "over-generous" welfare system, UK benefit levels are now officially classified as 'manifestly inadequate' and 'fall well below' the 'benchmark' figure recommended by the Council of Europe, and already implemented by much of the rest of Europe (most notably in Germany, Norway and Sweden). Call the British welfare system whatever you like -'frugal', 'thrifty', 'means-tested', 'targeted' etc.- but "over-generous" it demonstrably ain't!

Nevertheless, these inconvenient revelations touching this Tory-supporting paper's nerve, much of them were couched in the usual right-wing rhetoric befitting this misanthropic newspaper:

The Council cannot directly punish the UK for these ‘violations’, but its officials say national courts refer to these international standards when deciding on relevant cases.

This means benefit claimants could try to use the Council’s condemnation to bolster their case for more money.

Shock, horror! That the unemployed should have the legal right to petition the Government for enough money to help them be able to ‘heat and eat’ at the same time! Whatever next? Private rent controls?

Tory MPs last night reacted with anger…

Ah yes, of course they did: their usual synthetic anger which evaporates in comparison to the genuine and righteous anger of those millions in Britain today seeing their benefits cut to the bone and the daily tabloids demonising them when they exhaustedly divide their time between queuing up at food banks and applying for any jobs that are on offer (of which there are precious few, except for zero hours contracts and poverty-waged part time positions).

But no uncomfortable prompt for the Tories to face the fact that their inhumanely punishing social policies are simply beyond the pale of any recognised rudimentary common morality, cannot go by without at least one foot-stamping tantrum from a Little Hitler on their back benches:

Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, said: ‘The Government can no longer stand by. They have got to say, “We’re sick to the back teeth of this interference, we’re going to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights”.’

For Philip Davies’ information, there are growing numbers of people in this country who are well and truly “sick to the back teeth” –and in the case of the unemployed, ‘to the pits of their stomachs’– with the Tory-Malthusian “interference” and negative social-engineering of our supposedly ‘compassionate’ society, which is heaping hundreds of thousands of unemployed impoverished victims of a City-caused recession onto the scrapheap of perpetual penury and public vilification, while also piling countless wheelchairs and crutches onto a mounting pyre of obsolete prosthetics through the antipathetic pincer-movement of bedroom taxes and Atos assessments. Once upon a time, the British helped in the fight to free Europe from the encroaching barbarism of Fascism; but today, it feels more as if it is Europe which is trying to protect the most vulnerable British citizens from this island’s own encroaching climate of social fascism.

Cuts for Carers

On a related topic: a recent report has shown that those already unreasonably put-upon British citizens who do the most important unpaid occupation of all in society, that of caring for infirm and/or disabled relatives, are to be among the most direly affected by the Tory welfare cuts!

So not only does our ‘State’ expect tens of thousands of ordinary people to put their own lives on hold in order to be domestic carers –many forced to give up other ‘official’ jobs due to the full-time demands of such altruistic duties, and so no doubt speciously classified as ‘unemployed’ by the DWP– and, by so doing, helping the State save billions of pounds, but now, on top of this cultural mass advantage-taking of the unsung altruism of the nation’s unpaid carers –forming something of a ‘shadow social care sector’ to help alleviate the rupture in demand in the NHS Social Care sector– they are now to be expected to simply ‘Keep calm and trolley on’ in spite of punitive benefit cuts to their already threadbare budgets, which are insultingly disproportionate to the inestimable importance of the service they provide, and which once again emphasize the big lie of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, by antipathetically targeting the very volunteers whom it was supposed to be supporting (just as in the case of IDS accusing the Trussell Trust, the main charity provider of welfare-replacing food banks, as “scaremongering media whores”, simply for pointing out that their auspices are overstrained and should not be seen as a substitute to the welfare state).

So, it seems the Tories are intent on not only pauperising and effectively ‘cleansing’ hundreds of thousands of disabled people by whacking bedroom taxes on their ‘under-occupied’ social and council accommodations (the supposed ‘spare rooms’ in which are actually in the main fully occupied as spaces to store disability equipment or facilitate specific disability aids), but are also now aiming to pauperise their unpaid family carers as well! This is yet another distinctly Malthusian approach to “deficit reduction” by the Tories, which should more accurately be termed, ‘disability reduction’: the Tories always go for the ethically expedient (not to say, morally abominable) shortcuts: get rid of poverty by getting rid of the poor; get rid of disability by getting rid of the disabled.

Still, they’re happy to still patron ceremonies to pin little medals on child carers’ hire-purchased lapels in annual –strictly one day only!– venerations of the burgeoning, neo-Dickensian ‘juvenile voluntary sector’, while no doubt whispering under their breath as they crane over these contemporary ‘chimney sweepers’ of a howling social care sector, “Now fuck off and keep up the self-sacrifice”, while also reminding them to toe the line with Michael ‘Wackford Squeers’ Gove’s new disciplinarian regimen for state schools –“No excuse for shirking from a future ten hour school day just because your paralysed parent needs feeding, and make sure you remember to iron your Cadet uniform for inspection first thing on Monday morning for your school parade-ground drilling”…

In the meantime, it’s important to also remember how some Tory MPs let off steam after a hard day’s fantasy-dictatorship from the back benches: kitting themselves out in Gestapo uniforms and chanting “Himmler, Himmler, Himmler” while intoxicated on alcohol and animal ‘high’ spirits –a somewhat more ‘robust’ method of ‘letting off steam’ among today’s younger Tories to the Torch-worshipping, blue banner hanging, Thatcher-rallying young Blueshirts of the Eighties. One can only wonder what Carl Jung, for one, would have made of such strange behaviour: ‘shadow-projection’, ‘shadow role-playing’, or ‘shadow-boxing’?

The Recusant Kicks Off 2014 With A One Million Plus Visitor Count

Finally, on a lighter note, readers will observe that The Recusant's visitors figures have now reached well over 1 Million, which, for a fringe 'against the grain' left-wing literary webzine in its seventh year is quite an achievement, and much of that is down to you, the contributors, for helping do make The Recusant the unconventional and distinctive reading experience it has become. With a growing readership comes, too, an increase in the number and regularity of submissions, so this editor asks prospective contributors to please bear with him as he gradually sorts through a burgeoning inbox: average time now between submission and response is approximately six weeks, and between acceptance and publication, approximately the same. But if you haven't heard from the editor within such timeframes that by all means drop him an email to chase up. Lastly, could all those submitting poems or short prose please copy and paste their work in the body of the email, rather than attach as Word or other documents. Thank you.

A.M. 8 February 2014

Benefits Street/ ‘Rental Cleansing’/ Bird's Big Society Issue

The Wilsons’ ‘Rental Cleansing’ Announcement Sets New Precedent for Private Landlords

Just as The Recusant launched its petition on Change.org against the monstrous venality of the buy-to-let private landlords the Wilsons (owners of 1,000 properties in Kent!) by issuing notices of eviction to 200 of their tenants simply for being in receipt of Local Housing Allowance to help pay their –no doubt exorbitant– rents, we warned that this appalling act of greed-based ‘expediency’ could well set a new perilous precedent for other private landlords throughout the country to do, or at least threaten to do, the same. Only a day or so after launching our petition, it was reported in The Guardian that the Wilsons’ public announcement has indeed seemingly triggered a domino-effect throughout the nation whereby many other private landlords are now voicing similar inclinations due to increasing “uncertainty” about the reliability of future LHA payments once Universal Credit comes in to consolidate all benefits payments and have them paid in one monthly lump direct to claimants, in order to, theoretically, encourage them to “learn to budget” their money –and this will include LHA payments.

Thus, in future, apart from special circumstances or cases when Council’s accept applications from individual claimants to have their LHA paid directly to their landlords (since some private landlords stipulate this as a condition of accepting LHA tenants, although ironically it often creates further complications, as Councils pay LHA in 13 x four weekly instalments throughout the year, which thus means for most months of the year the landlord actually receives slightly less rent than the official required amount, which is however eventually topped up with two payments within the same month, further into the year), LHA will automatically paid direct to claimants, which means private landlords will feel they have less control and ‘certainty’ with regards to regularity and consistency of rental payments.

As if the perennial ‘No DSS’ embargo of many private landlords has not been obdurate enough for the nation’s struggling claimants in the fight to find somewhere to rent, this new ‘Wilson precedent’ could now make things even more difficult for those forced to rely in part or entirely on state assistance to pay their rents (including both those out of work and many of those in work but on such low wages that they need state help to cover rent shortfalls), since it would seem that it would give the green light to a new permissible culture of ‘rental cleansing’ on the whims of private landlords, whereby they decide it is no longer in their profiteering interests to keep on any tenants who rely on LHA to pay the rent to them (since, due to the current dearth of surplus housing supply, and the unaffordability of mortgages for most, the competition for rental tenancies among the general populace is now disproportionately higher than the available renting stock, which means landlords can simply pick and choose which tenants to take on).

This presumption of private landlords that they will somehow have more ‘certainty’ of regular and accurate rental income from tenants who are in work as opposed to those who are out of work is highly tenuous and even naïve, to say the least, since this Tory-led government has actively watered down employment rights across the board (in order to “make it easier to employ”), resulting in a new epidemic of job insecurity and lack of contractual ‘certainty’ for most employees, as highlighted by the new trend for “zero hour contracts”, in itself, one of the chief reasons that more and more people ‘in work’ are increasingly reliant on state assistance to eat, heat and pay their rents.

So in actual fact, nothing is ‘certain’ any more with regards anyone’s income, or the continuity of the sources of their income, as jobs today are as easy to lose as they are difficult to find, plus it is much more difficult to make fresh claims for benefits now than at any time in living memory due to the Tory-driven clampdown on welfare entitlements, and so a regular rental income for private landlords is arguably no more guaranteed with those tenants currently employed as it is with those currently unemployed (in fact, one could even argue the latter type of tenant are in a marginally more ‘certain’ position, in spite of a certain hysteria currently gripping the nation’s panicking private landlords).

Anyhow, here is the full coverage and this latest scandalous twist in the ever-mutating tyranny that is today’s Tory plutocracy: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/10/landlords-benefits-universal-credit-tenants

The Recusant notes that, in what The Guardian describes as a “bizarre” letter from Fergus Wilson in response to mass outrage at his pretty despicable announcement, the crag-faced property mogul (who bears an uncanny and wholly fitting facial resemblance to the “bare-faced cheek” Captain of Industry, Thruxton Appleby, who comes to Reggie Perrin’s therapeutic community in order to learn how to be “loveable”, in the third series of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) also moots that it is now common opinion –and, by implication, his own too– that if someone is unemployed they no longer have they right to have a roof over their head; Mr Wilson disingenuously barks out that such people should just “get a job” and then they can be entitled to some kind of home, ignoring the fact, of course, that if one is homeless then it is near-impossible for them to get a job since they don’t have an address, and no employers will take on anyone with no-fixed-abode. But what does this matter to the likes of Mr Wilson, to whom a loss of £800,000 through alleged arrears provokes a quip: “Has the £800,000 caused financial difficulty … to be honest not an awful lot, but it has some!”

This same Mr Wilson, incidentally, also supplements his gratuitous rental income by writing and publishing somewhat unorthodox children’s books, including Hilda’s War, set in an alternative Nazi-occupied Britain of 1941, the cover of which (replicated left) depicts an airbrushed photo of a distinctly Aryan-looking girl dressed in an SS uniform –would be presumptuous of us to ponder as to whether there is something more than standard itch of dystopian imagination in such bizarre conceptions as this title, but something approaching a kind of wish-fulfilment, ‘guilty pleasure’, or even unconscious echo of the kind of attitudinal culture currently being promulgated by an irresponsibly right-wing Government which is rhetorically and fiscally on the verge of a new slightly subtler form of fascistic hegemony…? No doubt the (crypto-fascist?) ‘children’s author’ Fergus Wilson feels fantasises about this past alternative Nazi-run Britain in which, no doubt, the unemployed were stamped with the ‘mark of Claim’ and vilified as ‘asocial’ and ‘workshy’ or, what the Nazis called, in German, Arbeitssheu…?

Talking of fascistic tendencies, 2014 is, as we know, set to be “a year of hard truths”, according to the heel-clicking Chancellor, Herr Osborne (who was publicly contradicted by another ‘Curate’s Clegg’ of a speech by the gumptionless Deputy Prime Minister –who still labours under the misassumption that he’s part of some Weimar Republic-style government when historical parallels have lurched significantly ahead of that in the past couple of years– reprimanding the Tories for unfairly proposing to settle the rest of the ‘fiscal consolidation’ almost entirely “on the backs of the poorest”, as if in some alternative universe he himself inhabits they haven’t been doing that already for the past three and a half years!)– terminology also, interestingly, echoed by Herr Wilson in the title of his openly Malthusian ‘right to reply’, the modestly titled, ‘The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. Lots of orators on the Right of the spectrum these days seem to believe they have some real monopoly on ‘the truth’, at least, ‘the truth’ in accordance with their own reprehensibly misanthropic, ruthless and warped perspectives.

Benefits Street: Adjusting the Truth to Fit Common Misconceptions

It’s now also the turn of the ever-“edgy” Channel 4 to serve up one of its traditional annual welfare-baiting documentaries, this time an actual whole series, imaginatively entitled Benefits Street, which has already drawn masses of complaints from both the public and those actually featured in its highly selectively edited/bastardised broadcast cut, for its lop-sided playing to popular contemporary anti-benefits prejudices (or ‘Scroungerology’ as The Recusant calls it), and its deeply cynical and opportunistic distortion of the full gamut of footage and case studies it includes.

Apparently told they were taking part in a documentary about the community cooperation in contemporary Britain, the programme’s protagonists –all unemployed and on welfare, even though the majority of benefits recipients in their town are actually pensioners, who make up by far the lion’s share of the welfare bill, whereas the unemployed make up only about 7% of it, much against the picture the Tories and red-tops wish us to have– later discovered, via viewing the first broadcast episode, that they had in fact been tricked into what is just yet another deeply disingenuous, elliptical and persecutory ‘faux-exposé’ of the UK’s much-asserted ‘culture of benefits-dependency’ and mythical ‘epidemic’ of “benefit fraud”.

On The ‘swings both ways’ Guardian today, Charlie ‘pundit-with-attitude’ Brooker contributes one of his usual curtly acerbic columns, on this occasion, on the subject of Benefits Street, which, at a contrarian tilt to many viewers and the programme’s own protagonists, expresses a sense of surprise at the amount of complaints about the show, even though initially he contradictorily, but neatly, satirises it as something akin in concept to an Orwellian spy-on-the-wall propaganda exercise in mass hate-projection for spleen-venting entertainment! But then Brooker goes onto say that the only real fault with the programme isn’t the programme itself but simply its provocative, populist title –i.e. ‘blame the sub’! But if Benefits Street isn’t intended as yet more fuel to ‘justify’ the pathological national ‘Welfare Hate’, then what is it intended to do?

Going by C4’s controversialist record of charlatan shock-tactic cod-‘sociological’ broadcasting in recent years, one suspects its motives with Benefits Streets are little better, and, as usual, aim at elliptical titillation to pander to common prejudices than at anything approaching a much-needed investigative exposé of the brutality of today’s benefits-bashing hate culture and the devastating effects such cultural attitudes have on the voiceless unemployed, poor, sick and disabled, not only in social terms, but also in terms of directly influencing policy of both Government and Opposition –culminating in a very real rubric being drawn that indicates how, sometimes, ill-informed ‘democracy’ can chillingly resemble more the ‘mob opinion’ of what Benjamin R. Barber termed in his 1971 book, Superman and Common Man, ‘majoritarianism’; this is to say, not true participatory democracy in the pure sense, but a token ‘democracy’ whereby citizens vote for –more often than not– unscrupulous and opportunistic politicians not simply to run the country on their behalf, but also to do their thinking for them on their behalf, or rather, to spin a system of parliamentary thought-imposition on the populace, through propaganda whose character depends on the ideology of the particular party in power. Further, it’s always vital to remember that just because an ‘opinion’ is commonly held by the ‘majority’ does not ipso facto make it the correct opinion (one only has to recall Nazi Germany to remember that).

The paradox and complexity comes in when politicians pretend that, for example, in their almost-cross party consensus that welfare needs to be continually cut, capped and restricted, they are responding to “public opinion”, when of course in truth that ‘public opinion’ is simply their own ‘opinion’ parroted interminably and ubiquitously through the red-tops and right-wing papers that overwhelmingly dominate our media, and thus, in turn, parroted by a majority of the populace.

Programmes such as Benefits Street, then, can be seen as basically the television equivalent to thumbing through an average copy of the Daily Mail, Sun or Express (one might even conjoin those two papers' names to make The Suppress), except without getting any ink on your thumbs –but more than that, television is indubitably a more potent propaganda medium than anything in print, having a deeply hypnotic effect on the viewer through the use of images, which brand themselves much more swiftly and permanently in the human mind than the written word, and embed themselves, along with associated ‘messages’ and connotations, in the subconscious –why else do advertisers trip over themselves spending masses of money to fund their television adverts; ditto politicians their party political broadcasts? (To read a full and highly illuminating polemic on the subject of television’s malign mesmerism, read Jerry Mander’s extraordinary Four Arguments for the Ellimination of Television (1977) (and yes, ‘Jerry Mander’ is, believe or not, a genuine name, not to say, an ironic one given the dark arts of those ‘hidden persuaders’ his dialectical work attempts to unmask).

But to return to Benefits Street: The timing of this risible and malicious programme by C4 couldn’t have been worse given the New Year re-declaration of ‘War on Welfare’ by bloated aristocratic Chancellor Osborne in the first week of January, followed swiftly by the Wilson Declaration of ‘rental cleansing’ –indeed, the conspiracy theorists among us might well speculate as to whether all of these vicissitudes signify yet another government-and-media pincer-movement against the unemployed and the poor, just to get 2014 off to the Right start…

Given that programmes such as Benefits Street will help to prejudice further against the already besieged claimant populace’s perceived rights not only to meagre benefits but also now even secure rented shelter, it may well in time see most of its own protagonists (or rather, guinea-pigs for Government anti-welfare propaganda purposes) slung out of their homes simply for being on LHA, and the entirety of Benefits Street evicted! Then no doubt those latte-sipping, couch-lounging, Hugo Boss-suited C4 executives will win an award for Services to Gentrification…?! Or they might still go one further, and launch a new reality TV programme, Big Scrounger, in which, each week, one tenant is found out by the landlord to be secretly in receipt of LHA –on tip offs from “hardworking taxpayer” spies– in order to pay or top up his rent, and then is promptly evicted for being a rental liability, and replaced by a suited City-type… But in this current culture, even having satirical larks like this can lead to unintended consequences in terms of television executives might up their viewing figures, and we certainly don’t want to give them any more ideas…

Just as The Recusant was about to launch into another tirade about how sick a society must be to constantly project its economic problems onto the easy and ‘visible’ scapegoats of the poorest and most vulnerable, who by dint of their poverties are already suffering the very worst effects of recession and cuts, rather than focusing on the real “benefit cheats” of our society, the rich serial tax-avoiders and evaders, and the bankers, speculators and hedge-fund betters who tipped our economy into Depression in the first place (but who, for the time being, have not only got off scot-free from any retributive opprobrium and punishment, but also continue to profit from the very economy they plundered and pauperised), the indefatigable left-wing commentator and columnist, Owen Jones, hit the nail on the head (in the title to his piece alone) in relation to the utter moral perversity of the current trend in dole-hounding documentaries such as Benefits Street at a time of City-inflicted recession, in a passionate and apposite piece in The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/benefits-street-a-healthy-media-would-stand-up-to-the-powerful-and-wealthy-ours-targets-the-poor-and-voiceless-9046773.html

Bird's Big Society Issue: A Bird in Hand Is Worth Two for Cameron

Hot on Jones’s coat-tails –and Polly Toynbee’s trouser-suit ends– comes a typically ideologically and ethically confused comment piece from the founder of the Big Issue, John Bird, whose constant allusions to his own nuts-and-bolts experiences of unemployment, prison and homelessness while a young man only seems to keep emphasizing the very different things people ‘learn’ from their life experiences, or that different people pick up from the same or similar experiences.

What Mr. Bird appears to have ‘picked up’ from his own formative tough life experiences is an almost pathologically unquestioning, un-analytical, distinctly contra-Marxist devout belief in the ever ill-defined and almost-mystical British ‘work ethic’ (the same which deems it fair and fit for most of the truly hardworking in society to earn pittances but for idling speculators after short-cut fortunes to get rich quick on the backs’ of others’ labour –i.e. anarcho-capitalism), only comparable to the anti-welfare fanaticism of Iain Duncan Smith, himself a ‘kept man’ through marrying into privilege (whom, unsurprisingly, Bird praises as ‘a man of integrity with a genuine desire to fight poverty and the moral iniquities bred by unrestricted welfare’ –even if we live in a society where welfare is being increasingly restricted to the point that many legitimately needy, sick and disabled people are being denied benefits they are entitled to, or are choosing not to claim in the first place to due widespread benefits-stigmatisation).

Bird’s attempt at a ‘polemic’ is muddled and contradictory throughout, as has become commonplace in his sporadic opinion pieces on the very subject one would have presumed he would know more about than most; but since Cameron came into his premiership (once even, risibly, guest-editing an issue of Bird’s street-vended magazine, whose necessary continuance, even intensification of mission, Cameron’s very policies are compounding through the benefit caps and bedroom tax!), the tone of the Big Issue has grown evermore judgemental towards the very impoverished people it is supposed to be representing –cue its still fairly young new strapline, “A hand-up, not a handout”! Perhaps Bird should rename the magazine the Big Society Issue…? Writing in –of all places!– the Daily Mailthusian, Bird also claims a monopoly on soothsaying, his foggy and misguided outpouring of Tory-style ‘Work, no matter how degrading or poorly waged, is the only Solution to Poverty’ rhetoric comes under the fashionably phrased title: ‘At last, a TV show that dares to tell the truth about benefits, says the founder of Big Issue magazine’ –is this another case of ‘blame the sub’, Mr Brooker?

Mr Bird’s deeply misguided diatribe requires careful dissection (see below) – even if he does make the odd partly reasonable point which might make some vague sense to those of us on the Left (such as, for example, that the welfare system does tend to ‘infantilise’ its claimants, and certainly curbs ‘ambition’ by its overly strict rules on the remit of ‘therapeutic earnings’ which can often help create a pathway out of unemployment and, crucially, into meaningful employment, if claimants were only permitted to have more flexibility –though one of the major points those such as Bird miss, is that most employment today, abysmally waged and insecure –re zero hour contracts– does even more to “trap people in poverty”, and, ironically, force many of them to claim fringe state benefits to help meet their living costs and/or rents, than being on welfare does), much of this is ‘polemic’ really good have been composed on his behalf by one of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ gurus, like Phillip ‘Red Tory’ Blond (also, equally contradictorily given his ideological views, a ‘an Anglican theologian’!), that is, those previously associated with his ‘vision’ who has since lapsed into apostasy in part precisely due to the Cameron Government’s increasing demonisation of the unemployed and poor… Anyway, over to Bird on Benefits Street, as interpolated by The Recusant:

According to one survey, no fewer than 90 per cent of the street’s residents in the programme are on benefits, receiving £500 to £900 a month…

[TR: but no mention of the very probable fact that most of these residents are probably pensioners rather than working age unemployed!]

It is the combination of grittiness, squalor and irresponsibility that has caused such shock — and voyeuristic delight — among viewers…

[TR: note the very judgemental term ‘irresponsibility’]

The show is being viewed by some as a vicious attack on the welfare system

[TR: because that’s what it is perhaps…?] — presenting claimants as nothing but spongers, losers and wastrels [TR: as per usual].

For its band of indignant critics, Benefits Street is vile propaganda that fosters hatred of the most vulnerable in society. Some have even called for the series to be ended immediately because of the social damage it is causing.

[TR: that’s because it is all those things and it is just the kind of programme that is causing social damage!]

But these demands for censorship are misguided. The protesters might not like it, but we cannot hide from reality.

[TR: ‘reality’ according to who exactly? According to Etonian/ Bullgdon/ Brasenose alumni David Cameron who’s only occupation prior to politics was in PR, a position in which he acquired after receiving a reference from Buckingham Palace penned by his fifth cousin, the Queen…? We think Cameron’s version of ‘reality’ is very probably a world away from that of the average common citizen’s]

Channel 4 has no duty to act as a cheerleader for the vast, ramshackle social security system which costs us more than £200 billion a year.

[TR: it certainly doesn’t have that duty does it, as it demonstrably emphasizes by dint of its tabloid-pandering anti-benefits propaganda]

The fact is that Benefits Street, for all its eagerness to shock, has actually shone a bright spotlight on the destructive welfare culture that has grown up in this country thanks to a system that imposes no demands on its users and requires no ambition from them.

[TR: Where to start? Firstly, this so-called ‘spotlight’ has been supposedly ‘shone’ countless times to an almost obsessional degree since the Tories came back into power in 2010, with constant rhetoric and disingenuous spin coming from the despatch box week in, week out highlighting the alleged ‘largesse’ received by claimants while those in work struggle to afford to live in properties in the same areas –the old ‘Somalians in mansions’ and perpetual parroting of such tropes as “something for nothing”, “culture of entitlement”, “strivers and skivers” et al. really, where has Mr. Bird been for the past three and a half years? Ditto, with regards to the past couple of decades, where has Mr. Bird been when he so nonchalantly says such arrant nonsense as ‘a system that imposes no demands on its users’? Evidently not on the dole himself it would seem: anyone who has had the misfortune to be unemployed and forced to claim benefits during the past couple of decades will know full well not only how punishing and dehumanising the experience is, but just how much obligation and conditions are placed on them and on what they can claim, no matter how paltry, in return for which they have always had to prove they are actively seeking work, sending off a certain amount of CVs and applications each week etc. Bird’s casual assertion here is completely misinformed and misleading and he should know better]

Admittedly, the portrayal of claimants is not an uplifting one, but that’s because life on benefits is soul-destroying.

[TR: yes, it certainly is –and even more so thanks to the Tory policies and rhetoric you are demonstrably backing at the moment Mr. Bird! But do you know what is just as soul-destroying? Being forced to work for your benefits for McCompanies which offer no career prospects, no employment rights or contracts, but just impoverished drudgery and exploitation]

In a civilised society, of course, we need a generous safety net for those who have, through no fault of their own, fallen on hard times or who are genuinely unable to work because of health problems or disability.

[TR: yes but we HAVEN’T got this any more Mr. Bird, thanks to the Tories’ full-scale assault on the basic rights of the sick and disabled by forcing them through medically illegitimate, bounty-driven Atos Work Capability Assessments which cynically conspire to strip as many incapacitated people off their benefits as possible, irrespective of the severity of their conditions –which has also led to around 10,000 fatalities in the past three years, including premature stress-accelerated deaths, and suicides. If that’s the Malthusian way the Tories choose to reduce unemployment then is that an approach you are also happy about Mr. Bird?]

This is where some ideological free-marketeers, who rail against all forms of social security, are so wrong. Cocooned by their own purist theories, devoid of compassion, they seem to want a return to the world of the workhouse or charity that existed in Victorian times.

[TR: here we hit the monumental contradictions in Mr. Bird’s deeply muddled thinking on this issue: so far he has parroted Tory and tabloid rhetoric about welfare, but then suddenly he swings in a completely different direction and openly attacks the worst excesses of the very kind of general rhetoric he himself is asserting! Is Mr. Bird simply naïve? He must be if he thinks the likes of Iain Duncan Smith or George Osborne differ in any real way to the very ‘ideological free-marketeers’ whom he criticises. This is chronically confused polemic. Does Mr. Bird not for a minute suspect that the likes of IDS might wish to return us to the Victorian workhouses, or something very similar, when it’s now been revealed that the DWP has recently been in discussions about creating new work camps for the long-term unemployed…? ‘Work camps’, ‘workhouses’, there’s a fag-paper between the two both semantically and literally. Hasn’t Mr. Bird yet noted the tens of thousands of impoverished families –both out of work and in work– having to rely on food banks so they can eat and heat at the same time? Has he not noted the 80,000 families trapped in ‘temporary’ B&B accommodation due to the welfare caps and bedroom tax? Has he not even batted an eyelid at his beloved IDS’s proposal to cap child benefit for every third child born to poor families, nor even winced slightly at the Chancellor’s New Year declaration that in future the long-term unemployed will be expected to work full time just to receive the same paltry rate of benefits each week…? Oh, wait a minute, Mr. Bird apparently thinks forcing the unemployed to ‘volunteer’ towards the very same ‘community’ that openly stigmatises them for being unemployed is actually a really good thing as it teaches the unemployed about work, personal responsibility and social contribution etc….]

For newspaper commentators such as Owen Jones of The Independent and Polly Toynbee of The Guardian, the claimants are seen as victims, lacking any self-reliance or autonomy, to be endlessly pitied rather than encouraged to work.

[TR: No, that’s what Mr. Bird wants to think, but it is no one’s interests, least of all those on the left of the spectrum who genuinely want to see an authentic transformation of the lot of the poorest in society rather than simply more punishments, workfare or poverty-waged jobs. There’s only one way to ‘Make Work Pay’ and that’s to pay a Living Wage!]

The fundamental problem that protectors of the status quo must face is that the welfare system is a vast engine of poverty.

[TR: Note Mr. Bird’s parroting of Cameron’s deeply disingenuous and hypocritical attempt to depict the despicable social policies his Government is forcing on the poorest in our society as somehow ‘going against the grain’ and some mystical ‘status quo’! If Cameron as prime minister isn’t himself implicitly at the helm of any ‘status quo’ in our society then who on earth is? He is the status quo! And ‘going against the grain’ of what precisely? Of cross-party and cross-populace anti-welfarism?!]

It actually provides perverse incentives towards idleness.

[TR: how original and incisive Mr. Bird! That old Beveridge-nudging chestnut of ‘Idleness’. Contrary to popular opinion, being unemployed is not only soul-destroying but also exhausting and actually in many ways every bit as busy and ‘active’ –as opposed to ‘idle– as being in employment: mainly because of the constant onus to apply for a certain number of jobs every week, attend weekly job centre interrogations –I mean, ‘appointments’– and having to interminably budget for food and bills out of a pittance –it’s a full time job being unemployed!]

That shows the warped values welfare promotes. Those who want to get on are actually punished.

[TR: First, note the Osbornian phrase, ‘get on’, which really says it all about Mr. Bird’s polemical sources. Secondly, it certainly shows the warped values that the current capitalist-Tory ‘work ethic’ promotes: get a job and be only marginally less impoverished than you are on benefits, with no more security thanks to slashed employment rights and new zero hour contracts! More like ‘Make Work Impoverish’!]

The vast majority of children from jobless households leave school with few qualifications to become so-called 'NEETs’ — 'not in education, employment or training’. So the downward spiral of welfare is reinforced. This is a socially and financially ruinous system crying out for radical reform.

[TR: what, like impoverishing their parents further by capping their benefits and then making them homeless and/or trapped in ‘temporary’ accommodation due to evictions triggered by the bedroom tax? Is that the solution to lifting the poor out of poverty Mr. Bird? More like the recipe for scarring these children for life, we’d say... Or does Mr. Bird just want have an even larger pool of street-homeless from which to recruit more vendors for his magazine?]

Apart from anything else, we cannot go on paying the colossal bills for a system that actually undermines social cohesion.

[TR: and dismantling the welfare state without putting anything in its place is somehow promoting social cohesion is it?]

Welfare can sometimes provide a more comfortable life than work. That is fiscally absurd and socially immoral. It is a recipe for national suicide to sustain a system that offers life on the dole as a realistic choice.

[TR: Since when has life on benefits EVER been ‘more comfortable’ than being in work?! Does Mr. Bird seriously believe that being in receipt of very meagre sums of benefits which barely cover the very basics of heating, eating and renting, plus the constant weekly stigmatisations heaped on the unemployed by the red-tops and politicians, all makes for a recipe of a ‘comfortable’ “lifestyle choice”? What’s truly disturbing, and pathetic, is the evident fact that Mr. Bird truly does believe this! And that’s not even taking into account the actual street homeless, something one would have thought Mr. Bird would know a fair bit about: Maybe he needs to get out from time to time and actually speak to some of his street vendors to see ‘comfortable’ their lives are pitched out in the freezing cold every day…? Yes, they are trying to do something to help them get out of their situation, but try as they might, where precisely is this mystical “hand-up” that they’re supposed to get in return for doing so Mr. Bird? Is this the same “hand-up” that is supposedly generated by Samuel Smiles’ “invisible hand” of capitalism by any chance? It is very invisible, is it not?]

We have to encourage a return to the work ethic. Any job, even on minimum wage, is preferable to subsistence on handouts.

[TR: Not it isn’t: no one should have to do ‘Any job’ indefinitely to which they are completely unsuited –that is not a solution to long-term unemployment, it is just a quick fix to massage unemployment figures and offers no sustainable future for the misplaced employee, nor proper security, since if someone’s heart is not in their work, or they are simply not suited to it, no matter how hard they might try, in the long run, the job will prove unsustainable and the employer will ultimately dismiss them simply for unsuitability]

Don’t sneer at employment in McDonald’s or Poundland. Jobs like those provide far more self-respect, opportunity and camaraderie than a soulless existence on welfare.

[TR: It’s not about sneering Mr. Bird, it’s about seeing such risible companies as McDonald’s and Poundland for what they are: cheapskate opportunistic profit-companies that serve or sell sub-standard comestibles and goods –mostly to the poorest in the case of the latter– which, apart from anything else, contributes nothing of any real value or quality to society, but in McDonald’s case, has simply created an epidemic of obesity among its regular customers (mostly the poorest). To work for either company is ultimately demoralising for the workers and would only appeal to a very small number of people in terms of long-term job satisfaction]

We should also link the receipt of benefits to productive work.

[TR: We thought you were criticising those who believed in bringing back workhouses Mr. Bird…? A workhouse can be figurative as well as literal in brick-and-mortar terms: forcing long-term unemployed people to work full time for their benefits without allowing them the right and dignity of receiving a proportionate wage for doing such work is in ‘ethical’ senses pretty much the same as putting them in workhouses]

Why not make payouts dependent on the fulfilment of social obligations, such as helping the disabled, or working in care homes or carrying out neighbourhood improvements?

[TR: Ah, you mean replacing the rapidly shrinking social care sector with the unemployed, forcing them to volunteer in some of the toughest types of jobs? And why should the unemployed be made to fulfil ‘social obligations’ and ‘neighbourhood improvements’ in return for their benefits when their neighbourhoods, and society in general, don’t extend any sense of social obligation, compassion or empathy towards them, but instead persecutes and stigmatises them?]

That is what happens in other countries. Even in Brazil, where funding is far less lavish than here, benefits are given only in return for an agreement to send children to school. In New York, access to social housing is tied to a pledge to look for work.

[TR: Ah, how interesting that Mr. Bird picks one of the most notoriously impoverished countries on the planet by which to attempt to favourably compare the British welfare state: no doubt Brazilian benefits are ‘far less lavish’, even in some cases apparently non-existent, if the scandalous epidemic of their ‘street children’ is considered –in some cities in Brazil, so it’s been revealed in the past, rather than attempt to ameliorate the poverty of these street children, the Government has simply picked them off with snipers… In the UK today, our Tory Government picks off the children of the unemployed by sanctioning and capping their parents benefits and rendering the whole families homeless. Funny how Mr. Bird doesn’t conveniently play his relativistic card in the direction of Europe, which is after all much closer to home than Brazil (!), and Northwards, to Scandinavia for instance, where welfare is far more ‘lavish’ than it is or ever has been in the UK, and provides a genuine safety net for the poorest, all contributed through taxation, and without the accompanying hectoring from the sidelines from tabloids and right-wing politicians!]

Through my work on The Big Issue, I know Iain and I believe he is a man of integrity with a genuine desire to fight poverty and the moral iniquities bred by unrestricted welfare.

[TR: Again, ‘unrestricted welfare’…!!! Where on earth has Mr. Bird been over the past thirty-odd years? Where, more specifically, is Mr. Bird now? In Cloud Cuckoo Land by the sounds of it, if he seriously thinks that the UK offers its unemployed citizens ‘unrestricted welfare’! It has never been the case, and certainly isn’t now under the Tory ransackers. Can being given below the levels of basic subsistence in benefits, or being periodically sanctioned or penalised for the most inconsequential of reasons and denied income for weeks or even months at a time be in any sane sense described as ‘unrestricted’? How ironic that the founder of The Big Issue has so spectacularly missed the BIGGER picture!]

The problem with social security is certainly not its failure to be sufficiently generous. Benefits Street proves what nonsense that is.

[TR: No Mr. Bird, the Hellish REALITY of what hundreds of thousands of impoverished unemployed, sick and disabled people are enduring today in this neo-fascist Tory dystopia proves what utter insulting nonsense your article is!]

The Gentrification of the Welfare State

Ultimately, what is starting to happen is one the most warped and perverse things imaginable, which this writer can only describe as the ‘gentrification of welfare’: by this he means the emergency of a welfare system which vilifies its most impoverished ‘beneficiaries’ to such an extent, and emphasises the ‘contributory’ link to benefits so ubiquitously, that in time we may well come to a point when those most in need of state assistance are eventually pushed out from the bottom of the system altogether and into abject penury –which we already see happening now many numbers– of street-homelessness, becoming a social residuum whose only hope of survival is to effectively become ‘voluntary’ slaves of “the taxpayer”, contributing unpaid labour in return for food vouchers and beds in homeless night shelters; while the lion’s share of the welfare state itself will end up being taken up –as it already is to a great extent– with pensions for the retired, and fringe benefits for the less needy “squeezed middle”, all ‘justified’ on the principle that both groups have previously “contributed” to the system through taxation and National Insurance.

That is the ultimate end to any fanatical path towards total conditionality in welfare: the denial of financial assistance to the long-term unemployed. And, incrementally, this gentrifying of welfare has been under way since the Tories returned to power, and looks set to only intensify in the coming years. This is why it is utterly essential that the principle of Need is put on an equal footing with the Contributory principle, not placed subordinate to it but position at the very heart of the ethical mission of our welfare state. Otherwise, it will fail its most fundamental original purpose: to provide a safety net for the very poorest in society through which none will be allowed to fall.

Another Spiked Debate

Finally, no surprise that fanatically anti-State, contrarian and (crypto-) right-wing polemical site Spiked -the Viz of polemical journalism- has come out with yet another of its world-beating trans-satirical ‘dialectics’ on the topic of Benefits Street –the opening lines of which really do preclude this editor from having the nervous stamina to read any further, certain as he is that this could well lead to a blood-boiling fainting fit, or even worse, a minor infarction –precisely the kind of responses the institutionalised trolls of Spiked probably wish to evoke in left-wing readers: ‘We need to talk about Benefits Street. The furore over the Channel 4 series shows just how poverty-stricken the debate about welfare has become’…

Spiked is a true contender here for The Recusant’s 2014 Hypocrisy Award, and will be shortlisted with immediate effects: for how much more ‘poverty-stricken’ can ‘the debate about welfare’ become than the continual and unrelenting barrage of unthinking, unreasoning, hate-filled bile thrown at all those in receipt of benefits on practically a daily basis by right-wing tabloids and politicians which completely dominates it in our society today, and which has, from the offset, precluding any flexibility for proper reasoned objective and empathic debate…?

The only agencies that have reduced the so-called ‘welfare debate’ to an Orwellian national ‘welfare hate’ used to shadow-project the faults and corruptions of our morally unaccountable capitalist society onto its most vulnerable and impoverished victims, are those of the Conservative Party and the predominantly right-wing media, tabloids such as the Daily Express, Mail and Sun in particular. It is they, precisely the kind of ideological, anti-State allies of the likes of Spiked that have muddied the pool of reasonable, compassionate and mature debate on the vexed issue of welfare –so by complaining about this, Spiked is simply flinching from its own self-inflicted pricks!

Spiked like writing this sort of thing just to wind up any readers who actually have a social conscience and a mind of their own outside of red-top and Tory-spun propaganda –because seemingly they have nothing better to do than fan the flames of already conflagrating stigmatisations and prejudices in society. Spiked should be pitied in this; though not left un-reprimanded. Not that they’ll notice The Recusant’s rapping of its knuckles; nor care if they did. And that’s the whole problem with outfits such as Spiked: they just don’t care –except for being controversial for the sake of it. The Recusant won’t insult its readers’ intelligence by providing a link to the Spiked piece, but would much rather recommend a glance at the more progressive and mature Huffington Post, which takes a refreshingly more leftfield tilt on Benefits Street.

But in the end, if our ‘welfare debate’ (such as it is or ever has been) is to be ever-reduced to name-calling and cheap pot-shot headlines, we might well argue that the true ‘Benefits Street’ in the UK is Threadneedle, where the true pin-striped “scroungers” of our society make their fortunes not from “hard work” but from idle speculating, capitalising/gambling on others’ earnings or assets, getting literally “something for nothing” –and a heck of a lot of “something” at that– while also continuing, without any hint of remorse for past mass-malfeasance, playing Russian Roulette with our entire economy… But of course, we really mustn’t keep “bashing the bankers” must we? I mean, it’s just not British, is it, to pass such sweeping opprobrium over an entire section of our “business” population, as if they were some kind of parasitic human sub-species…! We’ll even be vilifying the impoverished welfare recipients next and blaming them not only for their poverty, but even for the state of our economy…! And that really wouldn’t be British, would it…?

A.M. 14 Jan 2014

STOP PRESS: The Recusant has come across an exceptionally apposite and comprehensive feature by James Meek in this month's London Review of Books which details at length the regressive evolution of British housing policy over the past few decades; in particular, the devastating effects, felt abjectly today, of the scabrous 'Right to Buy' sell off of council housing stock in the Thatcher era, which has led to the current catastrophic rental crisis. We recommend TR readers taking time out to absorb this brilliantly informative exposé, which is reproduced in full at the LRB website here. This is a definitive piece on the subject and really is deserving of thorough ploughing for anyone passionate about the subject.

Darkness Visible in Osborne’s Ebon Eyes

Psychopathic Chancellor George Osborne has summoned in the New Year by announcing today (6 January 2014) yet more malicious cuts from the already massively depleted, near-vestigial welfare budget, predicting that 2014 will be “the year of hard truths”. And how apt a term that may well prove to be, though he would have been more accurate to have phrased it as “yet another year of hard truths”, this being the fourth in a row now under his fascistic fiscal dictatorship: for not only will 2014 no doubt prove yet another catastrophically pauperising one for those millions in poorly waged jobs and/or reliant on some form of state assistance or the auspices of our new alfresco welfare state (i.e. soup kitchens and food banks) in order to keep up with hiking rents, energy bills and food prices in the face of continuing caps and cuts to their insultingly proscriptive ‘benefits’, but 2014 may well –with any luck– also prove one of “hard truths” for the likes of the Chancellor himself, given certain toxic connections of his questionable past. I’m sure we’d all be very interested to know why precisely Mr Osborne petitioned so vigorously for puppet-prime minister Cameron to appoint one Mr Coulson as Government spin doctor, for instance…!?

Insanely, or rather, pathologically – and only the day after the news of buy-to-let empire builders the Wilsons (owners of an obscene portfolio of 1,000 properties in Kent) declared publicly that they are in the process of sending out notices of eviction to 200 of their tenants simply for being in receipt of LHA – Cameron contrapuntally supported his ethically sick Chancellor by banging on yet again about exorbitantly high housing benefit expenditure! Not satisfied with 80,000 families being trapped in temporary accommodation due to benefit caps and bedroom taxes, nor with the mushrooming of street homelessness and associated premature deaths due to exposure, or suicides due to despair, Cameron is calling on yet more cuts to housing benefits, and the Chancer of the Exchequer hasn’t hesitated to swoop in with a truly despicable proposal to start targeting housing benefits for the under-25s, forgetting that, unlike himself, not every young person in the UK today has a mansion, Irish estate and baronetcy for them to fall back on.

So not only are the under-25s already permanently disenfranchised educationally, thanks to the trebling of tuition fees, and humiliated by being forced to do unpaid labour in return for a pathetically low rate of JSA –but now, on top of all this, they are facing the prospect of being unable to even rent a room to keep them off the streets in the future, if the Tories’ Malthusian strategy ever actually sees the disinfecting light of day. Their highly disingenuous ‘argument’ that young people can remain at home with their parents, stay in their childhood bedrooms, and work and save money so they can afford to move out and rent later on, does rather ignore the huge number of young people who come from broken homes, homes too small to accommodate them beyond a certain age, or orphanages! Whither their “bank of mum and dad”? And, quite possibly in the future, whither even that old Tory folk-devil, the “nanny state”…? Not so much a case of “Generation Rent” as ‘Generation Tent’, it would seem!

The ever-incisive Rev. Giles Fraser wrote a brilliant little piece in The Guardian on the distinctly devilish political ‘personality’ of George Osborne, juxtaposing his venally self-serving, avaricious and ultra-acquisitive brand of Conservatism with the uncannily adumbrating anti-values of Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost –and the quote Fraser appositely excerpts from said epic poem really could be used verbatim by the Conservative Party as part of its mission statement (bar the very last clause, since Tories do love their patriotic and royalist knees ups):

'[…] Let us not then persue […] our state
Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek
Our own good from ourselves, and from our own
Live to ourselves, though in this vast recess,
Free, and to none accountable, preferring
Hard liberty before the easy yoke
Of servile pomp...'
Vote Conservative!

The only thing Fraser doesn’t pick up on in his piece is that, ironically, Milton, being a Puritan, was himself unfortunately party to the then-newly emerging mercantilism, particularly prominent among the propertied members of the Parliamentarian side in the English Civil War and its subsequent Commonwealth, which, as famously hypothesised by Max Weber in his The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, led to the development of free market capitalism. Scholars tend to claim that Milton was indeed satirising the Roundhead revolt, led by Oliver Cromwell, through his dialectical characterisation of Satan revolting against God –and so, therefore, in this sense, Milton was also, perhaps unconsciously, satirising the seeds of his own ideological convictions (thus William Blake’s famous aphorism that, to paraphrase, Milton was unknowingly on the side of the devils in Paradise Lost). However, there is a further meta-textual leap one might take with Milton’s most famous work: that the Satan figure actually represents not Cromwell but King Charles I, whose almost despotic conviction in the Divine Right of Kings could be perceived as in itself a form of high egoistic self-amplification on a par with Satan’s claim to rival the authority of God (taking this line, Cromwell, then, could be perceived more as the Christ figure in Paradise Regained, who comes to bring final resolution through a salvific counter-revolution).

Whatever one’s interpretation of Milton’s text, there is little doubt of the clear Conservative sentiments coming straight from the hoofed one’s mouth via Milton’s verse-ventriloquism. Certainly, if one is to grasp the Manichean branch of thought, our lives here on earth are in the hands of meddling and malevolent demiurges, and if any one figure in this nation today is quite obviously contender for the devil incarnate, it is undoubtedly the vampiric, blood-sucking, ebon-eyed Master of Ballentaylor, Count Osborne. For what else can one reasonably call his brand of Conservatism and fiscal brutality against the poorest and most vulnerable in our society (other than ‘fiscal fascism’) but economic Diabolism? There is, without a shadow of doubt, a truly and deeply disturbing ‘darkness visible’ in the cold and calculating eyes of this most Satanic of Chancellors.

A.M. 6 January 2014

Britain at the Start of 2014: New Year Honour for a Pensioner-Refrigerating Energy Mogul; the Big Suiciety: British Youth At The End of Their Tether; Desmond’s Daily Pseudologia Does It Again!

It might not entirely surprise readers that The Recusant’s New Year’s resolution: to continue in polemical and poetic opposition and resistance to the Tory atomisation of our society and democracy, and partly to meet the huge ‘demand’ for such oppositional writing in the chasmal absence of any true oppositional spirit or activism in the mainstream at this time, in spite of us now being into the fourth year of the most socially and fiscally draconian government since the Stanley Baldwin National Government of the equally Depressed, nerve-grinding, spirit-whittling Thirties (when there was at least a politically robust literary scene, particularly in poetry, which stands in polar contrast to today’s bloodlessly ‘bourgeois’ and ermine-skirting poetry ‘elites’).

The Recusant noted some traditionally risible choices in the Ruritanian nonsense that is the annual New Year Honours List. Of particular note was a Tory donor who also happened to once be high up at EDF Energy (but whom, allegedly, has been contributing much to charity work and thus is being ‘recognised’ for “philanthropy”) – a firm, let us not forget, among those “Big Six”, which hiked their already exorbitant energy charges just in time to ensure that tens of thousands of impoverished elderly citizens froze their way through the festive season, under piles of jumpers (courtesy of Tory advice); and that tens of thousands of impoverished, wage-frozen and/or benefit-capped families could play the now traditional festive game of “heating or eating” (‘traditional’, that is, since Xmas 2010). So, little surprise to see, as ever, a heady combination of the opportunistic, self-serving, greedy and mediocre all receive some little medals and ribbons from the perpetual grimace that we call “the Queen”.

The Big Suiciety: British Youth At The End of Their Tether

Meanwhile, we can welcome in 2014 with the latest results from one of David Cameron’s backfiring ‘happiness surveys’ (actually, in truth, a YouGov poll –but the motives are arguably indistinguishable), which has found the following (courtesy of today’s Guardian):

Hundreds of thousands of young people feel they have nothing to live for, with the long-term unemployed being particularly pessimistic about their prospects, a youth charity has warned.

The warning is based on the findings of a YouGov poll for the Prince's Trust Macquarie Youth Index, which also reports that 40% of jobless young people have experienced symptoms of mental illness, such as suicidal thoughts, or feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks, due to their unemployment.

Of those polled, 9% said they did not "have anything to live for". This statistic, if applied to the population as a whole, equates to 750,000 people aged between 16 and 25…

So, happy fourth birthday to your ‘Bingo Society’ Mr Cameron: it’s certainly achieved some “big” social changes, with tens of thousands of abjectly impoverished families having to rely on food banks; 80,000 children trapped in ‘temporary’ accommodation thanks to the welfare caps and bedroom taxes; street homelessness escalating to the highest levels since the days of Thatcher’s “Cardboard City”; a crisis in mental health services due to mass cutting of beds and resources plus escalating breakdowns and suicidal ideation among the austerity-bashed populace; and now 750,000 unemployed young people presently contemplating suicide…

One can suppose that, in a very different sense to that which Mr Cameron intended it, his former trope that his “Big Society” is “the kind of society that Christ would recognise” does hold some truth: a society, as our current one, in which the poor, weak and vulnerable are rhetorically and fiscally persecuted, where 'brother' is pitted 'against brother', where greed, property and mammon are worshipped and revered above human worth, and where every third child born to poor families will automatically lose any 'entitlement' to state assistance (or what might be termed 'the baby cap', or 'the Herod Clause') is certainly one which Christ would indeed recognise, much to his chagrin and general disgust, if he was around today in Cameron's 'Big Stick Society'. He would also no doubt -and this is not meant in any way disrespectfully- be rapidly utilised by the Trussell Trust to help the charity transubstantiate millions more food coupons into bread! But on speaking out, no matter how parabolically, against the moral scandal of so many hungry people in such a wealthy country as ours, He would then no doubt be accused by the pharisaical likes of Iain 'Pilate' Smith of betraying his "left-wing" partisan attitudes and media-whoring "scaremongering" -but not simply socialism, Mr Smith, but actual practical Christianity, a faith-system you, deludedly and duplicitously claim to follow yourself...!?

More Disingenuous Scaremongering from Desmond’s Daily Pseudologia

Finally, no surprise that in today’s attitudinally fascistic Britain (cue also our current cultural shadow-projection of anti-welfarism, or what this writer terms ‘Scroungerology’), the prime tabloid exponent of said attitudes, the Daily Express –a truly reprehensible, extreme right-wing ‘hate’ paper which The Recusant has continually opposed and attempted to hold to account over the past few years, including actual petitions and complaints to the toothless Press Complaints Commission), has just splashed with another of its habitually spurious and scaremongering front page headlines (something of a modern day British anti-institution) by claiming that ‘15% of Romanians’ currently living in the UK ‘don’t have a job’ (as if, in any case, being unemployed in somehow an automatic criminal offence!). The true statistics are actually that 95% of Romanians currently living in the UK are ‘in work’! Clearly numerically challenged, the Express can’t even do its statistical subversion properly, since logically, if it wanted to flip-over the statistics, its own claim should be that 5%, not 15%, of Romanians are, according to its chronically inaccurate ‘sources’, allegedly, unemployed –where, precisely, did it get the figure of 15%? Straight out of a magic top hat, one suspects! Perhaps billionaire owner of the Express, Mr Richard Desmond, should rename his paper the Daily Mythomaniac…? Or maybe go the full hog, for a more educationally ‘up market’ readership, with Desmond's Daily Pseudologia…?

The Express really needs to watch itself as it has deeply specious form for having disingenuously ‘massaged’ already invalid, Atos-doctored ‘figures’ relating to the alleged numbers of those on sickness benefits being “fit to work” in times past, and is steadily catching up with –if not overtaking– the serial statistical fraud of Iain Duncan Smith! It is truly a sign of our times that anti-fascist and anti-racist petition campaign group Hope Not Hate is now launching a petition against a mainstream British tabloid –other than the historically pro-fascist Daily Mail– for its inciting racial hatred and encouraging racial discrimination among the British populace against an ethnic minority. This is the truly sad and deplorable low to which this nation has sunk after only three and a half years of anti-immigration, anti-Europe, Hard Right Tory rhetoric and policy. But we know from history that when capitalism is failing, it employs aspects of fascist rhetoric and fiscal-social policy in order to rein in the economy by effectively just cutting lose and abandoning what it perceives as the ‘economically unproductive’ sections of society (i.e. the unemployed, poor, homeless, sick and disabled), using remorseless rhetoric of discrimination, scapegoating and persecution to ‘justify’ such inhumane policies to the general public. That, in short, is the true legacy of this moral abomination of a government.

For all those wishing to support Hope Not Hate’s timely petition, click here.

Finally, The Recusant wishes all readers a Happy New Year, as much as that is humanly possible under such a vicious and socially divisive government; or, more aptly perhaps, to another year of Happy Opposition and Campaigning against the enemies of fairness and democracy –they being, all fascist groups (and remember, according to a recent survey, Britain’s biggest contribution to the world at today is having the most amount of fascist political groups of any other country!), or more particularly, the BNP, the EDL, UKIP and the Conservative Party.

A.M. 2 January 2014

STOP PRESS: The Recusant wishes to pay tribute to the late, prolific and hugely influential writer and philosopher, Colin Wilson, who passed away on 5 December, aged 83. Wilson (b. 1931) was most famous for his first book, The Outsider (1956), a 'classic' of autodidactic philosophical discourse, which catapulted him into overnight literary fame and proclamations of "genius" at only 24 years old -unfortunately this instant acclaim proved in the long-run something of a pyrrhic victory given the rather swift and less enthusiastic re-evaluation of said work by those who had initially lauded it, in supplemental public. But Wilson, undaunted, ploughed on and produced over 100 books in his lifetime, including many novels (such as the Dostoevskian Ritual In The Dark, 1960), and a deluge of factual books on such varying subjects as existentialism, crime, music (Brandy of the Damned, 1964; later expanded and retitled Chords and Discords/Colin Wilson On Music), mysticism and the paranormal (including the doorstopper, The Occult, 1971). This editor once met Wilson, albeit briefly, through a mutual literary acquaintance, just after he had given a public speech in Brighton, and was surprised -given his famous tendency to a degree of authorial self-aggrandizement- to find him quite modest, reserved and warmly receptive, in person. Shortly after this meeting, I had the privilege to interview him for a Q&A feature, which was subsequently published in Philosophy Now (here is the link), originally under my own title of 'Inside The Outsider'. Though there was little either philosophically or politically with which this editor personally agreed with Wilson, he did enjoy a period of correspondence with him, and respected his wide erudition. An obituary in The Guardian noted that Wilson was a labour voter (in part due to his lifelong admiration of the writing of George Bernard Shaw); however, it did not pick up on the fact from the Seventies onwards -mostly due to disillusion with the Harold Wilson government), Wilson turned to Conservatism, as he mentions towards the end of my interview with him (also citing his approval of Tony Blair, 'because he is a good conservative'). The Recusant hopes that following his passing, Colin Wilson is finally having some of his lifelong philosophical quandaries, at least in part, illuminated.

A.M. 29/12/13

More Cameronian Duplicity: Prime Hypocrite's Christmas Message Revives 'Big Society' As Living Up To Teachings of Christ!

"Many of these people are Christians who live out to the letter that verse in Acts, that 'it is more blessed to give than to receive'..." -

Thus speaks David 'Cartesian' Cameron as his disingenuous and specious words directly contradict his actual actions, policies, attitudes and poisonous rhetoric of condemnation of the poor, unemployed and dispossessed for over the past three years of non-stop fiscal and attitudinal persecution of the most vulnerable people in our society. For all the 'sense' and 'ethical consistency' of his 'say one thing/ do the opposite' rhetoric, Cameron might as well be speaking in Tongues (distinctly brown Tongues at that).

So, according to Cameron, stripping the poorest in our society of their most basic means to live with any dignity, or even survive altogether, through the vindictive welfare caps and bedroom tax, and reducing tens of thousands of families to the indignity of of food bank charity and food vouchers, is in some twistedly convoluted sense demonstrative of 'giving' rather than 'receiving'. Oh, no doubt his emphasis on 'giving' is better than 'receiving' is aimed purely at the unemployed, whom he has shamefully stigmatised as wanting "something for nothing", to go out and volunteer in the big society, in spite of abject poverty and energy-sapping hunger...?!

Because, according to Cameron, the precepts of Christian charity only apply to those most in need of it themselves!? That's the 'Big Stick Society' all over: get the beggars to go out and give their time and what little energy they have left contributing to a society which has reduced them to beggary in the first place, and on top of that, hounded them out from pavement pitch and squat, persecuting them as "scroungers" and 'parasites'! Yes, very 'Christian' this 'Big Society' of Cameron's, isn't it?

Interesting, too, how no doubt most of those who do give their time and energies to volunteer and try and cushion the devastation wrought by Tory dismantlement of the welfare state (the truest Christian social construct) through charities and food banks, would be the first to stand up and blast this despicable anti-Christian Government of callous abandonment of the poor and vulnerable -as is, incontrovertibly, the case.

Oh, and the new Tory announcement of a benefit cap on every third child born to poor and/or unemployed parents (ring any biblical bells? 'Fiscal massacre of the innocents', anyone? -or at least, 'abortion of the innocents'?), effortlessly deconstructed for the neo-eugenics social Malthusianism that it is by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian recently, is indeed more than reminiscent, in rhetorical terms at least, of Herodism. Someone needs to point out to Cameron and Iain 'Dunk Them In It' Smith that Herod was actually one of the villains of the Bible, not one of its heroes.

Why, even one of Cameron's old 'Big Society' evangelists, Andrew Cooper -long since ostracised from No. 10 since the new poor-bashing propaganda regime of the 'Dark Lord from Down Under', Lynton Crosby, moved in- knows the distinction between Christianity and Herodism, or, less biblically, and more in terms of tones of Conservatism, the One Nation Toryism of Disraeli or Macmillan, and the 'Three Nation' Thatcherite atomism of Osbornomics. As does a close associate of his, Ryan Shorthouse, head of liberal-Conservative thinktank Bright Blue, whose markedly compassionate rhetoric marks him out instantly as someone who has a commendable but completely unrealistic ambition to transform Conservatism into, bluntly, something by its intrinsic nature it simply isn't (i.e. a socially conscious ideology) nor is capable of becoming, or at least, massage out from it a new pedigree of noblesse oblige, has spoken out at length (in The Guardian) against the "negative" campaigning of Cameron's polemics, and, arguments that the Tories "can't out-UKIP UKIP" in terms of demonising immigrants, most surprisingly of all (and every bit as vocal, if not even more so, in this regard than most of the Labour front bench at this time!) hits out at our current engrained culture of 'Scroungerology', as well as, interestingly, swiping at IDS's Herodic policy of 'baby caps':

"Every time I read the papers at the moment it's a clampdown – someone from the No. 10 policy board has been talking about reducing benefits for people with more than two children and then there is clamping down on new immigrants... It is a very unbalanced negative message and we didn't come into politics to clamp down on vulnerable people and benefit claimants, for instance, or to lay traps for Labour."

Would that were the case! But it is commendable -and hugely significant- that a Tory, albeit a 'soft Tory', has openly decried the benefit claimant-bashing climate so brutishly and spuriously hyped up by the likes of Cameron, Osborne, IDS and Crosby to the point of fever pitch today, all to 'justify' in the public mind the fiscal blitz on and near-dismantlement of the welfare state.

And just to show that references of 'eugenics'-thinking isn't exclusive to The Recusant's customary tone, do mark that cautionary gradualist Polly Toynbee has openly used the term "eugenics" to describe the direction of Tory thought -and even policy- at this time. Just look, too, on the Guardian Society page at this Christmas, littered with articles, columns and opinion pieces about the parlous state of our 'food bank' society, the escalating homelessness statistics and the national social crisis in coping with it, and this very pertinent piece by Jack Monroe whose Change.org petition against the shocking rise in the need for food banks received so many signatures that it had to be debated in Parliament last week -only to be pettifogged and jeered-at by the egregious goblins on the Government benches of course! Here's the link to Monroe's piece: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/18/food-banks-parliamentary-debate-scandal

But what really is the true nature of Cameron's 'Big Society' -in a biblical context? Well, just imagine, too, if you will, if Joseph and Mary returned today and were seeking shelter for the night in our 'Big Society', as they once tried to, to little avail, in ancient Judea. This 'Big Society' which Cameron claims is so actively 'Christian' would give precisely the same short shrift to Christ's shelterless parents as was the case at the original Nativity -in fact, it would be even more unforgiving: since the anti-"squatting" legislation came in, it would now not even be possible for the Holy parents to even shelter for the night in an empty abandoned 'stable'. If they did, they'd be prosecuted in the morning, Joseph and Mary flung into prison cellls, and the Christchild probably put into care.

So, yes, very 'Christian', this 'Big Society' of yours Mr Cameron!

It's not much of a 'giving' society really is it, when over 80,000 children are enduring impoverished and unsafe Christmases in temporary accommodation or B&Bs thanks to the welfare caps and bedroom tax.

But I suppose Cameron thinks at least through the Atos regimen for the sick and disabled of the past few years, his government has facilitated an industrial-scale 'miracle cure' farm to rival Lourdes on its best seasons, having managed to administratively 'heal' countless of the incapacitated -though, as yet, not quite up to resurrecting the countless casualties and suicides of its pernicious auspices as Christ once did Lazarus.

Interesting too how Cameron pays tribute to the new Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis -both of whom have publicly spoken out against the greed, venality and social judgementalism of the current poor-bashing capitalist culture of the West, both championing the poor and dispossessed and calling on governments to do much more to help them. In short, using precisely the opposite -and truly Christian- rhetoric to counteract the draconian neo-Calvinist 'deserving/undeserving' rhetoric of the political Right (our homegrown Tories among their loudest hailers). Does Cameron honestly think that either Welby or Pope Francis is in any way remotely impressed by his so-called 'Big Society' (or rather 'Hellfare State'), or see it as in any even vague sense living up to Christian principles? Disturbingly, in some deeply distorted sense, one suspects he actually does!

Caneron adds that his Anglican 'faith' "comes and goes" -well it certainly does doesn't it? It 'comes' for just one posturing day a year and then goes for the remaining 364 days during which he chucks the halo away for the crown of King Herod!

A.M. 24/12/13

‘Duplicity’ Cameron: Prime Hypocrite

No doubt many of you reading this were as cloyed and sickened as this writer by the sheer moral hypocrisy of our corporate puppet of a prime minister, David Cameron, eulogising in tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, a man truly deserving of encomiums, a man who stood up for the poor and oppressed of his nation, and of course to the evil of Apartheid, when Cameron himself has spent the past three years or more establishing the most divisive and brutalising form of Conservatism since Margaret Thatcher (who, let us not forget, refused to impose sanctions on Apartheid South Africa in the Eighties when most other European countries did, and who also once referred to Nelson Mandela and the ANC as “terrorists”!), which has in itself rooted perilously deep into our already woefully unequal society a new form of ‘social apartheid’ which, bluntly, in every rhetorical respect, not to say in some literal aspects, is a new insidious form of ‘fiscal/social fascism’. [Both phrases were used by this writer in his polemical foreword to Emergency Verse, way back in June 2010, and dismissed at the time in some quarters as the comments of unreasoning “rage” –though since proven, along with practically all his other predictions of the likely character of the then-incoming Tory-led government, disturbingly accurate]. 'Social' or 'fiscal fascism' is a new mutant strain of draconian politics which one might term, oxymoronically, ‘democratic authoritarianism’, which seems able to operate and amplify itself within an ostensibly ‘democratic’ parliamentary framework by its propagators ruthlessly and relentlessly manipulating language and subverting rudimentary moral dialectics in order to ‘justify’, in the eyes of an ever frankly credulous and mean-spirited majority of the British population, what are in actuality extremist social policies of a Malthusian character that verge, rhetorically and attitudinally, on Thirties’ social eugenics theories.

The benefit cap being placed on unemployed parents’ third child onwards is quite simply Malthusianism is action –and even some of the toughest critics of the Tories, prior to their return to power in 2010, didn’t even predict that even they would stoop to such inhumane and pernicious policies at the drop of a hat. It is also very telling to note that this egregious government’s most agenda-dominating policies –the part-privatisation of the NHS and the near-dismantlement of the welfare state– of the past three and a half years were only notable by the near-absolute absence from their pre-election manifesto and policy pronouncements.

This is a government which, arguably more than any other before it, premeditatedly wormed and lied its way into power on a false mandate and criminally deceitful manifestos (in both parties’ cases). Nevertheless, so proficient and ubiquitous is its spin-machine of divide-and-rule brinkmanship, anti-unionism and ‘scroungerological’ propaganda, that it finds it almost effortless, too, to frame its unacceptably atomistic social policies in the Humpty-Dumpty-speak of subverted ethics: so, once again, “greed is good” (courtesy of Boris the Bonce’s recent recapitulation of the old Thatcherite mantra), ‘being poor is all your own fault’ (and nothing to do with the deep social injustice and unfairness of a class-ridden culture with an astronomical wealth divide where all power and opportunities are monopolised by a small plutocratic elite), ‘all benefits claimants are workshy scroungers’, ‘all hard-working taxpayers are plaster saints’, ‘public is bad’, ‘private is good’, and anyone who is ‘economically unproductive’ is as good as vermin, ‘undeserving’ of our sympathy, empathy or compassion, and only ‘deserving’ of even further poverty, persecution, stigmatisation and punishment. And the hypocrisy and duplicity pours thick and fast from the two-faced mouths of ministers when posturing publicly on British ‘philanthropy’ towards the poor and oppressed of the world, while themselves actively creating deeper poverty and misery in their own country.

So, on the very same day that the great South African passed away, Cameron’s fellow inherited multimillionaire blue-blood, Chancellor Osborne, was reading out his latest attack on the poor and defenceless of this nation in yet another atomistic Autumn Statement designed to strike yet more fear and despair into the impoverished of this nation, all to the bloodthirsty howls of his fellow ravenous Tory wolves; in particular, the Satanic announcement that his way of dealing with the “cost of living crisis” will be to cap the already savagely depleted welfare budget still further, and permanently, thereby, insanely, hitting those MOST affected by the cost of living the hardest! Though, of course, as we know, this Chancellor is only for what he glibly and disingenuously calls “hardworking people”, whereas anyone unfortunate enough to be out of work at this time, and in almost all cases, through no fault of their own whatsoever, is once again attitudinally and fiscally ostracised from the rest of the human club and left to fend for themselves. How apt a way for this travesty of a government to demonstrate just how utterly out of touch they are, not only with basic social morality, but also with everything a man such as Nelson Mandela stood and fought for, on the very day of his passing.

In spite of all this, of course, no force on earth is sufficient to stop the ceaseless cooing of rhetorical hypocrisy that issues out from the mouth of our pigeon-faced prime minister. So on top of the tragic loss of one of the most compassionate leaders on the planet, we also have to contend with the prattling duplicity of Cameron’s encomium. This prime minister, spineless in the face of the rich and powerful, but bullish in the cowering face of the poor and powerless, who has created his own new and probably irreparable brand of social apartheid in the UK, pays homage to a “hero of our times” who spent his life fighting racial apartheid in South Africa. Cameron praises Mandela –again, rightly– as someone who “brought people together” and “united” them in the face of adversity, when our prime minister himself has spent the first three and a half years of his premiership pursuing the most socially divisive since Thatcher, by deliberately, cynically and ruthlessly pitting taxpayers against benefit claimants (or, in Toryese, “strivers” versus “skivers”), business against unions, private against public sectors, and just about every other possible type of societal internecine division he and his unconscionably unprincipled and opportunistic spin doctors –Coulson and Crosby– could think up.

So, yet again, for the third year running, David Cameron wins The Recusant’s Pathological Hypocrite Award. Moreover, he has managed a double whammy win by only this week having had the sheer temerity to openly speak of Britain leading the world in its generous donations of aid to the starving and freezing child refugees of Syria and posturing on how we shouldn’t buck our “responsibility to the poorest of the world”, when with the other hand he and his government is denying any of those refugees sanctuary on British shores, and is also simultaneously starving the poorest of its own society into abject penury on the domestic front and very brutally bucking its own responsibility the poorest of its own country. Or, in the words of Labour MEP Richard Howitt: “taking food out of the mouths of the hungry… in time for Christmas”. [To which, please do click on the image on front page of TR to read a recent Daily Mirror expose on the full facts and figures behind the rising demand in food banks, or on the icon to donate towards the Mirror Group/Trussell Trust/Unite Union’s allied appeal for donations towards food banks this Xmas].

Also just in time for Xmas is the Government’s latest parliamentarily expedited piece of xenophobic policy-making by imposing a new three-month probationary period to next year’s phantom-projected influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants –or, in delusional Tory-ese, “benefits tourists” (and who in their right mind would want to come and do a tour of our ‘all stick and no carrot’ Tory-brutalised welfare system?) of a “soft touch” Britain, renowned, as we know, throughout the globe for being so “soft” on “scroungers” as to the daily vilify and stigmatise all benefit claimants regardless of circumstances, strip them of entitlements on specious whims, coerce them into forced unpaid labour, and bully sick and disabled claimants through Atos assessments!!!– before any of them can claim state assistance, even if they can prove they are actively looking for work in the UK (which in itself contravenes the fundamental precepts of the European Union and the Treaty of Rome, as well as making a mockery of free movement of labour, and so is very probably illegal, not to say yet another infringement of human and labour rights on citizens who are supposed to be after all members of the same trans-national economic community); plus the announcement that, in spite of country currently still being in a serious economic crisis and there being “no money left”, hence the need, according to Cameron and Osborne, of “permanent austerity” (e.g. more cuts to welfare, basically), MPs will be getting a (in spite of numerous leading politicians’ lip-service as to wishing to prevent this, only 46 MPs have so far publicly opposed its implementation!).

Of course, one cannot reasonably expect such an intellectual lightweight as Cameron to ever join the dots of his own prolific ethical contradictions; and in any case, he’s already proven himself to be the most nauseating hypocrite of a prime minister this nation has arguably ever known –unprincipled, opportunistic, spineless, arrogant, and pathologically incapable of EVER actually ANSWERING a single question put to him by the Opposition at the now chronic misnomer of a weekly session which is still laughingly called ‘Prime Minister’s Question Time’. At almost every level conceivable, Cameron is a moral hypocrite and political charlatan of the first rank; a man who believes in compassion and leniency for his friends and electoral target groups, but in condemnation and punishment for just about anyone else; whose sense of empathy extends no further than his own direct circles, family, personal interests and experiences, but suddenly peters out entirely when it comes to addressing the problems and struggles of others.

This is a man who thinks that constantly hammering the poorest and most vulnerable in our society somehow equates to some sort of “fairness”; who has the sheer audacity and arrogance to express how he “profoundly disagrees” with any and every Church leader, from the Archbishop(s) of Canterbury (both Williams and Welby), to the head of the British Catholic Church, to Pope Francis himself, whenever they –frequently– speak up against his moral abomination of a government and its truly despicable social policies of benefits-stigmatisation, welfare caps and Atos attrition against the disabled; who urges us all to sympathise with the terrible plight of the starving children of Syria (which is completely right in itself), while simultaneously condemning tens of thousand of children of poor and/or unemployed parents to malnourishment at home, to food banks and fainting fits in the classroom, and a recently reported 80,000 plus British children to the purgatory of temporary accommodation in B&Bs (again, click on the front page image/link to read a new Daily Mirror expose on the full scandalous truth about the escalating need for food banks in the UK at this time, and on the icon link to donate to the Mirror Group’s Xmas food bank appeal) as a direct result of his government’s reprehensible bedroom tax, and benefit cuts, particularly those to LHA (and in spite of Tory-run Kent County Council frantically trying to suppress a recent report proving how DWP policies have directly created this new whirlpool of abject poverty and destitution in said area, which was, thankfully, leaked just in the nick of time to The Guardian before it was put into the shredder); who praises pro-democracy and human rights campaigns in the Middle East, but then actively restricts democracy and human rights in his own country, through such anti-democratic measures as the gagging law, and such fiscal atrocities as the bedroom tax and the criminalisation of “squatters” (i.e. those street homeless who dare to seek shelter from the winter cold in derelict empty properties); who, basically, says one thing one minute, then does the absolute opposite the next.

But The Recusant senses that time is running out for this hollow promise of a prime minister, and his –and Osborne’s– highly dubious prior-‘connections’ will sooner or later catch up with him and, if there is any justice left in this world, pull the rug of power from under his Bullingdon-buffed shoes.

Nelson Mandela

The Recusant wishes to pay its own respects to the late and great Nelson Mandela, a man who not only dedicated but ultimately part-sacrificed his adult life to the cause of racial emancipation in South Africa and who demonstrated a truly uncommon and enduring bravery against the fascist forces of white Apartheid; crucially, for this writer, Mandela led by example all his life, and his true moral authority rests essentially on his demonstrable adherence to the principle of forgiveness and reconciliation over revenge and retribution, once he had become President of South Africa, following his release from prison all those years ago.

Given his great sacrifices throughout his life for the emancipation of his people, it is only fitting that his death should be marked by significant coverage and tributes. However, today’s bluntly ‘obsessive’ media has, as ever, gone into overdrive in terms of coverage of Mandela’s passing, almost to such a degree as to become nauseous in terms of gushing, duplicitous sanctimony. So far no one who has paid public tribute to the great African human rights crusader appears to have demonstrably learnt anything whatsoever as yet from his legacy; moreover, the likes of David Cameron, as always, opportunistically prominent among the eulogists, is the very type of political leader who represents everything someone of Mandela’s moral calibre would have opposed and rebelled against –chiefly, of course, Cameron’s deliberately socially divisive politics, and, most blatantly, his and his recidivist party’s unnatural antipathy towards EU Human Rights.

The spectacle, then, of our sycophantic prime minister posing for what is termed a “selfie” alongside the Danish prime minister (who is also, disturbingly, Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law!) and the increasingly inscrutable President Obama, at Mandela’s funeral service, was sickening and wholly inappropriate, not to say arguably disrespectful, to say the least. Ultimately, Mandela himself, judging by his demonstrable character and conduct throughout his epic life, would have among the first public figures to have stood up and said that the coverage of his death was far too all-pervasive and taking up too much media time when there were far more pressing issues to be covered at that point –and that, indeed, is the whole point of Nelson Mandela, both as a person, and in what he stood for and fought for all his life: the welfare of others, not the aggrandizement of himself.

In these senses, Mandela not only spoke but also behaved as a true Christian, not to say one of the most important humanitarians of our age. Would that so many of those who currently rush to heap –wholly deserved– praise on this truly great man stopped to think for just one minute as to whether they themselves are pursuing the kind of compassionate politics of which Mandela would have approved; would that our political leaders, especially those in our country at this time, actually learn from the legacy of the man they swoop into so gushingly eulogise, rather than simply paying lip-service to someone whose incontrovertible goodness, compassion and altruism they, demonstrably, have absolutely no intention whatsoever of ever trying to emulate themselves –pursuing, as our current Tory leaders are, the very type of socially divisive and vicious policies that, in an admittedly more openly brutal form, the white Afrikaanas of Apartheid South Africa were pursuing before Mandela’s belated release from prison and ascendance to presidency.

For all Cameron’s encomiums as to the great and compassionate qualities of Nelson Mandela, his own judgements are about as far removed from the great man as Pontius Pilate’s were from Christ’s. Indeed, the absurd spectacle of perhaps the most morally hypocritical, duplicitous and opportunistic prime minister in British history praising one of the most morally upright and courageous people of our time is indeed very much like Pontius Pilate publicly praising Jesus. But such is the habitual hypocrisy of our Pharisaic prime minister, and I suppose by now we should have got used to it. But every time the mealy-mouthed Etonian upstart opens his mouth to spout another platitude, one’s blood just boils all over again. Of course, we can all be hypocrites, and this editor freely admits that he himself cannot, at least at this present time, given the hellish state of our society under Tory rule, find it in himself to follow Mandela’s example and show forgiveness for the likes of Cameron, Osborne and the idiotic but no less odious Iain Duncan Smith, for their rapacious persecution of the poor, unemployed, sick and disabled.

And in any case, even if he could, one suspects that the aforementioned Fiddlers Three are already beyond any moral redemption. Indeed, IDS, who seems to labour under the delusion that he is some sort of ‘Christian’, nay ‘Roman Catholic’ to boot, but whose entire anti-Damascene ‘philosophy’ on life and how to treat one fellow beings is completely at odds with the socialistic and distinctly anti-capitalist compassion of the current Pope Francis, who has spiritedly proclaimed himself, in a plutocratic age, to be “the Pope of the Poor”, and at a time when Western received wisdom is that the poor are to blame for their poverty, has been nominated by one angry Guardian commentator for Excommunication from the Catholic Church on the grounds of his ‘crimes against the poor, sick and disabled’. While eternal damnation might be going a bit far, even for Tories, nonetheless, all three of these tyrants of our time damn themselves whenever they speak at the despatch-box –IDS may never literally be “cast out” of either the Catholic community, or anything else of this earth, but he and his kind will always be, to all decent and compassionate human beings who believe in helping others less fortunate rather than condemning and punishing them, “anathema”. The trouble is, in the mean time, on in this world, it is the poor and the vulnerable that have been cast out and stigmatised as anathema by our Tory taskmasters.

Tories Put the Boot In To the Poor Again By Refusing an Offer for Further Financial Subsidy to Food Banks from the European Aid to the Most Deprived

To which, national shame of the increasing needs for food banks throughout the UK in order to try and feed the tens of thousands of families –both out of work and in work– reduced to abject poverty and malnutrition by the ongoing scourge of this Government’s egregious benefit caps and bedroom tax notwithstanding, only yesterday the DWP rejected the offer of £22 million annual financial assistance from the European Aid to the Most Deprived to go towards subsidising said food banks, instead of the burden for providing a ‘shadow welfare state’ being kept entirely on the shoulders of charities such as the Trussell Trust.

This rejection would appear to indicate one of two things: that either this Government is in complete denial as to the devastating effects on the poorest in the country of its fiscal blitzkrieg on the welfare budget, or, alternately, that this Government truly does wish to see the eventual material extinction of the poorest in the country, or rather, of what it no doubt perceives to be its ‘social residuum’. So seemingly conscienceless as to the mass misery and abject poverty its’ so-called “welfare reforms” are wreaking on the poorest in society, even, in spite of its’ fiscal crimes against the most vulnerable of its citizens, still unrepentantly contemptuous towards their plight, this pathological plague-promulgator of a government will not even accept foreign money to go towards feeding its hungry. Moreover, it is no doubt also embarrassed that the EU, which it holds in such xenophobic contempt, should highlight the UK, so publicly, as being in urgent need of a £22m-a-year top-up in order to its public expenditure in order to mop up the social overspill of abject poverty created and spread by its own Malthusian policies.

But this is no real surprise to those long-versed in the moral sickness that is Toryism; its’ apparently insatiable appetite for social persecution of the poor, unemployed, and all those deemed ‘economically unproductive’; and its’ almost limitless capacity for ideological ‘shadow-projection’ of its own misanthropic and sociopathic tendencies onto those whose sheer financial and material defencelessness makes them so easy to judge, persecute and punish. What’s more, sanctimonious charlatan ‘Christians’ such as Iain Danke Schmit only give Christianity a bad name by feebly attempting to attach some twisted interpretation of ‘Christian ethic’ to the, oppositely, more Herodic fiscal persecutions they maliciously inflict on the weakest members of our society.

Judging by the DWP’s allusion to being more committed to providing “immaterial” than “material” assistance to the poor, unemployed and homeless –meaning an emphasis on “counselling” and “budget maintenance” rather than on the most fundamental necessities of sleeping bags, shelter and food banks– one can only deduce that, yet again, Iain anti-Damascene Smith has wilfully misinterpreted another biblical aphorism: “Man cannot live by bread alone”. That’s as maybe; and The Recusant, socialist, but not secular, would also argue that every person, whether poor or otherwise, needs ‘immaterial’ (or spiritual) as well as material nourishment in order to approach any true form of fulfilment (something which it does not see as in any sense contradictory with essential socialist aspiration for full human flourishing), the fact remains that Man cannot live without ANY bread at all! It’s no good trying to get empty bellies “back into work”, because they’ll not have the energy, let alone the mental ‘drive’, to be able to perform any. Fill the belly first; then start expecting some form of work from people –otherwise such an approach really is expecting “something for nothing”, right from the outset.

The Recusant pays tribute to one Jack Monroe whose Food Bank petition started on Change.org raised 142,000 signatures (this editor’s and no doubt many TR contributors’ included) thus forcing a debate in Parliament. The debate took place earlier this week. 60 Labour MPs spoke about the appalling hunger pangs of legion of their constituents coming up to Xmas, and it was indeed an impassioned and tempestuous debate, underscored, of course, by bluntly psychopathic Tory howls of antipathy to what that venal breed no doubt shrug off as so many ‘sob stories’ aimed to spoil their enjoyment of their port and pudding at Xmas. Typically, the usually cantankerous and sanctimonious IDS, on an occasion when even his capacity at self-deception and figures-massaging disingenuousness could do little to hide the abject poverty inflicted by his brutalising benefits blitzkrieg, crept out of the Chamber not long after having crept in.

Meanwhile, stamping her mark on the pages of Hansard as indubitably yet another heartlessly reality-denying Work and Pensions Minister –in a long line of Malthusian ladder-crawlers, including Shapps and Grayling– Esther McVey contributed the following risibly glib non-sequitur: “it is right to say that more people are visiting foodbanks, as we would expect” –‘it is right’, apparently, is it? Right that in the seventh richest country on the planet over 330,000 people are going hungry and having to rely on tins from food banks just to survive? Right strictly in the ideological sense of the term: right-wing, yes. But no doubt this is all an indication that Cameron’s malodorous phantom menace of the “Big Society” is finally fully in action: ‘Big Stick Society’ more like. The Tories really have protracted this chillingly authentic Dickensian bicentenary beyond the bounds of recognised tribute –but such mass re-enactment of that age of slums and workhouses is not only rather missing the point, but also overdoing the ‘missed point’ a bit. Next we’ll be seeing pauperised child pickpockets being slapped with ASBOs.

But of course the Tories will argue that poverty all comes down to “bad life choices” (cue Gradgrind Gove’s despicable ‘one strike and you’re out’ put down of those going to food banks) and some sort of innate genetic behavioural predisposition (which the Tories are apparently attempting to recondition via its Orwellian “nudge units” –almost always ‘nudging’ the poor into deeper poverty). The Tories’ demonstrable fixation with the idea that it is behaviour and attitudes which need to be ‘assisted’, or rather, ‘reconditioned’, rather than providing basic state provision in order to alleviate the immediate effects of poverty and unemployment, does seem to indicate, unnervingly, that said party truly does believe that poverty is the product of some kind of ‘moral disease’ among certain sections of society, and that, like any other disease, or ‘contagion’, requires isolating and neutralising before it spreads any further. Clearly the Tories perceive poverty not as a ‘cold’ but as a ‘fever’, hence their conviction that its carriers must be literally ‘starved’ into a cure. We all know IDS claims to be a ‘practising Catholic’, but apart from the fact that his own mutant strain of Christian interpretation has far more in common with antinomian Calvinism in its harsh judgement of the underprivileged, there is detectably something of the anchoritic in his extra-projected philosophical flagellations against the poor and unemployed, through a continuing material and dietary besiegement of their bodies and minds, or rather, regimen of bodily denial and mental misery.

But the fact remains that at this time, drawing towards Christmas 2013, the UK’s two chief –and most heinous– national distinctions to be seen clearly by the rest of Europe (one EU official recently referring to Britain as turning into “a nasty country”) are, that is has the most fascist political organisations of any other country in the world (according to a recent world survey previously highlighted on The Recusant), and is also now becoming the first major European nation to openly transform itself from Welfare State to Food Bank Charity Case. The UK is today, at the end of 2013, and after only three years of Tory-led government, winner of the epithet of “Food Bank Britain” –truly the “Sick man of Europe”, but in a very new and very much darker sense of the phrase: it is “Sick” because its political leaders and media moguls deem it perfectly acceptable and “fair” for the poorest in society to be punished –remorselessly and indefinitely– for the financial crimes and malfeasance of the City speculators who singularly brought our economy to its knees.

[Update: This just in The Guardian of 29 December, a brilliant piece by Nick Cohen on the scandal of food banks and how, to add insult to mass-injury, the Government, or more particularly, Secretary to the Department of Whiphands and Punishments, Inane Duncan Smith, is now in a 'strop' about the fact that many Church charities facilitating the food banks throughout the land -and thus literally enacting the much-trumpeted 'principles' (if that's the right word!) of the 'Big Society- are becoming more outspoken about the moral abomination of the seventh richest country on Earth having tens of thousands of hungry citizens -IDS, as ever, has stamped his Little Hitlerish feet accusing these armies of volunteers of being politically partisan and anti-'welfare reform'! Well what does he expect? These altruistic people are seeing at first hand the terrible truth of desperately struggling families, both in and out of work, trying to put food on the table each day in the face of escalating food prices, rents and energy bills! It is then, demonstrably, not any tacit form of 'socialism' which IDS so objects to, but practical Christianity, a faith to which he, laughably, claims to adhere! Would he and his Tory cronies prefer it that the Trussell Trust shut up shop for good and just let the poor starve? Given this Government's transparently Malthusian approach to the problem of unemployment and poverty, no doubt they would. Anyhow, here is Mr Cohen's excellent exposé in full:

I went to the Trussell Trust food bank round the corner from The Observer's offices just before Christmas. If I hadn't been reading the papers, I would have assumed it represented everything Conservatives admire. As at every other food bank, volunteers who are overwhelmingly churchgoers ran it and organised charitable donations from the public.

What could be closer to Edmund Burke's vision of the best of England that David Cameron says inspired his "big society"? You will remember that in his philippic against the French revolution, Burke said his contemporaries should reject its dangerously grandiose ambitions , and learn that "to love the little platoons we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ, as it were) of public affections". Yet when confronted with displays of public affection – not in 1790 but in 2013 – the coalition turns its big guns on the little platoons.

It would have been easy for the government to say that it was concerned that so many had become so desperate. This was Britain, minsters might have argued, not some sun-beaten African kleptocracy. Regardless of politics, it was a matter of common decency and national pride that Britain should not be a land where hundreds of thousands cannot afford to eat. The coalition might not have meant every word or indeed any word. But it would have been in its self-interest to emit a few soothing expressions of concern, and offer a few tweaks to an inhumanely inefficient benefits system, if only to allay public concern about the rotten state of the nation.

But the coalition is not even prepared to play the hypocrite. Iain Duncan Smith showed why he never won the VC when he was in the Scots Guards when he refused to face the Labour benches as the Commons debated food banks on 18 December. He pushed forward his deputy, one Esther McVey, a former "TV personality". All she could say was that hunger was Labour's fault for wrecking the economy. She gave no hint that her government had been in power for three years during which the number attending food banks had risen from 41,000 in 2010 to more than 500,000. Her remedy was for the coalition to help more people into work.

If she had bothered talking to the Trussell Trust, it would have told her that low-paid work is no answer. Its 1,000 or so distribution points serve working families, who have no money left for food once they have paid exorbitant rent and fuel bills.

But then no one in power wants to talk to the trust. As The Observer revealed, Chris Mould, its director, wrote to Duncan Smith asking if they could discuss cheap ways of reducing hunger: speeding up appeals against benefit cuts; or stopping the endemic little Hitlerism in job centres, which results in unjust punishments for trivial transgressions. In other words, a Christian charity, which was turning the "big society" from waffle into a practical reality, was making a civil request. Duncan Smith responded with abuse. The charity's claims to be "non-partisan" were a sham, he said. The Trussell Trust was filled with "scaremongering" media whores, desperate to keep their names in the papers. But he had their measure.

Oh, yes. "I understand that a feature of your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I'm concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear."

Ministers will not confess to making a mistake for fear of damaging their careers. But it is not only their reputations but an entire world view that is at stake. Put bluntly, the Conservatives hope to scrape the 2015 election by convincing a large enough minority that welfare scroungers are stealing their money. They cannot admit that a real fear of hunger afflicts hundreds of thousands. Hence, Lord Freud, the government's adviser on welfare reform, had to explain away food banks by saying: "There is an almost infinite demand for a free good."

My visit to the food bank showed that our leaders' ignorance has become a deliberate refusal to face a social crisis. Of course, the volunteers help working families and students as well as the unemployed and pensioners. Everyone apart from ministers knows about in-work poverty. As preposterous is the Tory notion that the banks are filled with freeloaders.

You cannot just swan in. You get nothing unless a charity or public agency has assessed your need and given you a voucher. The trust is at pains to make sure that the beggars – for hundreds of thousands of beggars is what Britain now has – receive a balanced diet. To feed a couple for five days, it gives: one medium pack of cereal, 80 teabags, a carton of milk, two cans apiece of soup, beans, tomatoes and vegetables, two portions of meat and fish, fruit, rice pudding, sugar, pasta and juice. That this is hardly a feast is confirmed by the short list of "treats", which, "when available", consist of "one bar of chocolate and one jar of jam".

Sharon Cumberbatch, who runs the centre, tells me that she is so worried that shame will deter her potential clients that she packages food in supermarket bags so no one need know its source. The clients, when I met them, reinforced her point that they were not the brazen freeloaders of Tory nightmare. They trembled when they told me how they did not know how they would make it into the new year.

Most of all, it was the volunteers who were a living reproof to a coalition that can cannot correct its errors. They not only distribute food but collect it. They stand outside supermarkets all day asking strangers to buy the tinned food they need or hand out leaflets in the streets or plead with businesses to help. Sharon Cumberbatch is unemployed but she works to help others for nothing. Her colleagues said they manned the bank because hunger in modern Britain was a sign of a country that was falling apart. Or as one volunteer, Richard Moorhead, put it to me: "I am gobsmacked that people are going hungry. I'm ashamed."

The coalition can call such attitudes political if it wants – in the broadest sense they are. But they are also patriotic, neighbourly, charitable and kind. They come from people who represent a Britain the Conservative party once claimed a kinship with, and now cannot bring itself to talk to.

Hear, hear! Only the Tories could be capable of -to paraphrase the common expression- 'biting the hand that feeds those they starve'!].

'Help To Rent Scheme' Anyone?

Not only that, but Britain –“Open for Business” apparently, along with prejudice– is currently yet again a swarming ground for the parasitic property speculators thanks to Chancellor von Osborne’s inflation of the housing market via “Help to Buy (to-Let, in many cases)”, which in turn of course is artificially stimulating the economy to make it look as if, on paper, the UK is finally seeing some “green shoots” of recovery in the run up to the 2015 election (then when we hit another big financial crisis caused again by a false housing boom, Baron von Osborne will no doubt come out at the despatch box post-2015 to announce the ‘necessity’ of further billions being siphoned out of the already massively depleted welfare budget as the only ‘solution’ to plugging the resurgent deficit). Perhaps he might start thinking of another stimulus scheme to counteract the devastating effects of the current property boom which is counterproductively, not to say, despicably, resulting in pricing hundreds of thousands of would-be tenants out of the rental market, let alone the mortgage game –how about a new “Help to Rent” scheme?

Because according to latest statistics, private rents have continued to rise year on year since the Tories –sorry, and Lib Dems, apparently– started up their austerity drive in 2010 (now, so we’re told, pretty much a permanent economic strategy –for the 99% that is, not the 1% who maintain their gratuitous monopolies), and according to a recent Guardian article, have literally DOUBLED, while wages have flat lined, in the last year alone [http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/dec/20/rents-rise-twice-as-much-as-earnings?commentpage=1]. This is quite a different vicissitude to that so smugly predicted by ex-Housing Minister Grant Shapps back in 2010/11, when he was constantly arguing, insanely, that by capping housing benefits, somehow private landlords would suddenly and miraculously start to lower their rents accordingly, and not, as in fact they are now currently doing (and this writer predicted in Emergency Verse back in 2010), actually continuing to hike them up, in response to the rise in demand for rental properties due to millions being priced out of home ownership. Funnily enough, not one single Tory minister has yet come out and even acknowledged this polar opposite repercussion of their scabrous housing benefit caps and bedroom tax to that which they ‘predicted’ back in 2010. Whither the “invisible hand” of capitalism? Well, it is invisible for a reason: because it doesn’t exist.

So, as we head towards 2014, this nation can now announce that is ‘Open for Misery’ for the vast majority of citizens, particularly the younger generation, or "Generation Rent" as they are now known, and will no doubt mostly remain for the rest of their lives, unless the Tory pauperisation of British society is belatedly truncated at the next election (to which, having moved recently from Hove back to Brighton, this writer is pleased to now know that he is safely within Caroline Lucas’s constituency, so can vote Green in 2015 without any niggling quandary as to whether he should have voted tactically for Labour to try and kick Mike ‘Keep Them Out In All Weathers’ Weatherley of the Tories out; he is also gratified to learn that Brighton’s Green Council is among the first in the country to reject the ‘Gaggling Law’, even if one of its local MPs, the same Mr Weatherley, has yet to confirm whether he will be bothering to attend an upcoming public debate on the issue in Brighton. No surprise there then –and after all, who’d want to have go out in the biting coastal winter winds of Brighton if they can instead stay in the warm in their slippers, safe in the knowledge that all empty properties in the locality are now safe to stand in disrepair without being “squatted” in by any of the legion local street homeless…?).

But not only has the housing benefit cap encouraged private landlords to hike up their rents to capitalise on rising demand –and letting agents to hike up their unfathomable ‘fees’ for credit and guarantor checks, plus deposits and first month’s rents in advance, etc.– but has also had a chilling effect in the rental market in terms of how many private landlords are now prepared to take on Local Housing Allowance tenants (which incorporates not only the unemployed, sick and disabled, but also many people in work but on low wages) due to greater uncertainties as to whether the newly capped LHA rates will tally with average rents in the area –which on the whole they don’t know, thanks to the cap, but fall some way under rent averages– plus growing disgruntlement of private landlords towards how promptly and reliably local councils seem capable of paying housing benefits to them on behalf of their tenants.

So at every single level imaginable, the housing benefit caps have proven an unmitigated disaster, particularly for tenants who are now faced with ever increasing uncertainty as to how long they can stay in a rental property, or even whether they can secure one in the first place, or instead face very likely homelessness, ‘permanently’ temporary accommodation, or the streets. In Brighton and Hove, for example, many letting agents at this time are apparently complaining off-the-record as to the fact that they are being put off renting out flats –many of which are often disproportionately high-rent cramped and damp studios, bedsits, or bluntly hovels, in any case– to LHA claimants because their ‘clients’ (i.e. private landlords, invariably, buy-to-let ones) are constantly complaining about the fact that when it comes to rental arrears and other tenancy disputes, “the Council’s taking the side of the tenant” –Oh, how outrageous! Heaven forbid that there should be some natural justice in this sceptred isle, whereby an authority takes the side of the poor and vulnerable against the propertied and powerful! These agents and landlords also privately complain about the fact that the Green Council advises LHA tenants threatened with eviction for arrears or other reasons to hold out until the three month grace period before legal eviction can take place is up –again, Heaven forbid that an authority in this nation should have the temerity to actually uphold the Law in favour of the poor and vulnerable! Apparently these parasitic private property speculators and letting agents expect tenancy law to be flouted in their favour, simply because they represent propertied interests!?

The Recusant has only high praise for the Brighton & Hove Green Council –also in particular for its vigorous campaign to absorb the potential Diaspora of tenancies threatened by the unconscionable bedroom tax, by trying to stump up enough funds to help the most vulnerable tenants cover the shortfalls in their reduced LHA payments. But the trouble is, as is the way with the free market which ever adjusts itself to its own craven interests, since the tenancy laws were tilted more in tenants’ favour (though it’s hard to see how this has actually been the case for anyone who actually has rented or does currently, which is a hell of a lot of us of course), and now the housing benefit caps are sledge-hammered in, private landlords, with the full complicity of letting agents, are currently, at least in Brighton and Hove, conspiring in a tacit, passive-aggressive alliance against prospective LHA tenants, by simply increasing the already perennial ‘NO DSS’ embargo for their rental properties from what was a few years ago probably around 50% of available flats to what is now more like 90%.

On top of this, the letting agents are also hiking up their deposit charges and fees, in order to make it just that little bit more impossible for impoverished people to be able to take up what paltry few ‘Will Consider LHA’ tenancies are available. So not only are most people in the UK today priced out from the housing market; but an increasingly enormous number of the most impoverished and vulnerable citizens are now being either priced out of the rental market, or even just simply barred from it altogether simply because they claim some LHA to help pay the sky-high rents. And with no sign yet of any even vague nod towards a future Council or Social Housing building programme, this ‘perfect storm’ of a situation looks set to turn into a tsunami into 2014 unless something truly radical is done to alleviate it. Like, for instance, reintroducing private rent controls…!? (And there’s hardly much ‘radical’ about that, seeing as most of Europe has them, and even the regulation-lite, state-hating USA has them! So why not us?).

How pitiful and deplorable it is that in the UK today, so low have aspirations been driven by the Tories’ “race to the bottom” culture that many young people today forced into temporary shelters, B&Bs, sofa-surfing or street homelessness, are now wistfully hoping to one day be able to “rent their own place” –far be it from any such youngsters, who have no family home or “bank of mum and dad” to fall back on (plus also now being threatened by the Department for Workfare Psychopaths with a future withdrawal of either JSA or housing benefits eligibility up to 25!), to ever think themselves so “entitled” as to even dream of ever actually owning their own homes!

Whatever the UK has become, it is certainly not a nation for the young anymore –least of all for the children of the poor. How shameful it is that in Britain of the 21st century tens of thousands of children will not even be having a decent Xmas dinner, let alone any presents, and spending the festive season in cramped, damp and unsafe temporary accommodation throughout the country while their parents try to scrimp some kind of Xmas substitute comestibles at their local Trussell Trust food banks. If it snows this Xmas we might as well call it Narnia in the absence of Aslan.

Thirties Redux: How Today’s ‘Coalition’ Government Is Using the Template of the Ruthless Austerity Policies of the 1930s Stanley Baldwin ‘National’ Government to Make the Poorest Pay Again for the Crimes of the Rich

This editor has recently been reading Wal Hannington’s brilliant polemic, The Problem of the Distressed Areas (Left Book Club/ Victor Gollancz, 1937), as part of his research towards completing his latest epic polemical poem (exclusively available online), Odour of Devon Violet (click on the link on front page of TR –this is a work in progress and is not yet completed). Reading Hannington’s exceptional expose of the punishing ‘austerity’ policies of the 1930s Stanley Baldwin ‘National Government’ (essentially Tories and Liberals) in response to the first Great Depression has proven both illuminating and, in itself, deeply distressing, in terms of comparing and contrasting with the equally socially divisive and draconian policies of our current Tory-Lib Dem ‘Coalition’ Government of today’s second Great Depression. In short, what this reading has revealed to him is that quite clearly Cameron’s Government has used Stanley Baldwin’s prior fiscally draconic economic and social policies as a template for his own administration’s attempts to resuscitate a failing capitalist system during one of its cyclic breakdowns –indeed, the policy parallels are uncanny, since almost every extreme social policy Cameron’s government is pursuing was foreshadowed by Baldwin’s. Just as Cameron is doing today, Baldwin, in the mid to late Thirties, imposed the following:

Massive cuts to unemployment assistance in what was then a proto-welfare state (which is precisely what Cameron and Osborne are now returning us to, relieving government and ‘taxpayer’ of much subsidy towards benefits and instead dumping much of the social responsibility onto charities such as the Trussell Trust, which, along with soup kitchens, represent our new ‘alfresco welfare state’)

Imposition of tough sanctions, penalties and general humiliations of assessment via the Means Test (means-testing being a principle Cameron is currently re-instilling into the welfare state)

Massive cuts to welfare in spite of soaring inflation and cost of living

Imposition of forced unpaid labour on the long-term unemployed (including the use of ‘labour camps’ –and a recent leaked DWP document shows that Iain Duncan Smith is currently contemplating trying to introduce some form of ‘work camps’ if the Tories secure a second term majority government; hence those predictions of future returns to the workhouse among some of us may prove disturbingly accurate!)

Replacement of some cash assistance for the long-term unemployed with food vouchers

These parallels are of course far too marked be mere coincidence: someone, presumably, at the heart of the Cameron-Osborne-Duncan Smith regime must have at some point suggested this current Government use Stanley Baldwin’s as a blueprint for how it is to tackle the country’s current “deficit” and near-bankruptcy, since, after all, not only was Baldwin a Tory leader/prime minister (and a similarly hard line right-wing one at that), but he was also in charge of the country during the first Great Depression, precursor to our current second one. So it would make perfect sense to a Tory leadership to call in the spectres of past ideological-ancestral political strategies through which to tackle a very similar economic crisis (as well as too, demonstrably, also take some inspiration from a certain other extreme right-wing regime of the Thirties, that one over in Germany, in terms of its remorseless campaign of persecutory rhetoric against the poor, unemployed, sick, disabled, homeless and destitute, and associated punishing policies of welfare cuts and forced unpaid labour –for Make Work Pay read Work Makes You Free!?). What brutally bad luck it is that during two of the worst recessions in our history, on both occasions, we have had right-wing Tory-led administrations coming into power to “clean up the mess” and, as is their ideologically draconic character, not hesitating to wield the axe at the weakest and easiest victims: the poor and unemployed.

Poets at the Palace –Some, In Spite of ‘Republican’ Principles

Talking of unemployment, we come to the recent royal patronage of the contemporary poetry world. This writer will keep this part of the polemic as painlessly brief as possible. Suffice it to say he was less than surprised to learn that recently 300 of the biggest ‘movers and shakers’ in this nation’s increasingly solipsistic and austerity-blind ‘poetry scene’ were cordially invited to grovel and tug forelocks before Her Maj and Phil the Greek at Buckingham Palace. Oh, and Culture Minister Marie Miller was also in attendance -that's the same Marie Millier who was formerly Disability Minister and thus had a very significant role to play in the 'Atos axis', alongside fellow Malthusians Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith... But what do such odious associations matter when poets can have an opportunity to shake hands with the Queen and, with any luck, catch her eye for possible future honours, or even one of her Gold Medals...?

That most of those 300 ‘VIPs’ (‘Very Important Poets/Publishers’) ended up attending the ermine-fawning event, in spite of some of their apparent subsequent ‘republican/anarchist/anarcho-syndicalist’ self-recriminations, says quite a lot about today’s establishment-steeped and politically complacent poetry hierarchies, and is really nothing so unexpected. Depressing, yes, but not surprisingly so; after all, it was only a couple of years ago that so many self-proclaimed ‘socially conscious’ and/or ‘left-wing’ and/or ‘republican’ poets erupted into gushing poetic nuptials, under the Poet Laureate’s tutelage, for a Guardian verse-feature celebrating the Royal Wedding.

Nevertheless, there was apparently a Twitter-storm (or what one might term a ‘Twoot’!) among many disgruntled poets about this rather pathetic little PR pageant of poetic one-upmanship, incorporating both howls of outrage by those poets not invited but who, for some inexplicable reason, wanted to be, and those poets who felt disappointed by some fellow poet-invitees who had hitherto proclaimed either political and/or republican opposition to the “that moth-eaten brocade” (to apply Larkin’s aphorism on religion to the royalty) that is the hoary and wholly anti-democratic institution of the British Monarchy.

The ever recalcitrant Niall McDevitt, at International Times, wrote a simmering polemic to mark this drearily irrelevant occasion, rightly swiping at any self-proclaimed ‘republican’ poets who attended in spite of their principles, while otherwise admonishing anyone who might still try to convince themselves that the constitutionally obsolete and deeply undemocratic monarchy has either any true purpose or ethical justification to continue existing. As ever, this was vintage McDevitt dialectic, acerbic but apposite and entirely appropriate, and his suggestion that those poets who oppose the institution of monarchy, and, most of all, any hint of its patronage of poetry itself, should perhaps get together in future to hold an alternative poetry event emphasizing many poets’ opposition to monarchy. (As indicated in our previous coverage of the Queen's Jubilee, readers will not be surprised to learn that The Recusant is not only socialist but as republican in its convictions). This writer suggested to him the possibility of establishing an annual Republican Poetry event to said purpose. He will keep readers posted on any progression in this direction.

A.M. 19 December 2013