The strivers/skivers language used by our present government is a shameful smokescreen over what is happening to whole sections of our society.
I make no apologies for this assertion- I have seen it with my eyes, and now there is this;
Senior welfare experts have urged the government to reconsider benefit cuts coming into force next week that will disproportionately hit the poorest families and push a further 200,000 children into poverty.
In an open letter to David Cameron, published in the Guardian, more than 50 social policy professors warn that the welfare reforms, coupled with previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts, will result in the poorest tenth of households losing the equivalent of around 38% of their income.
They say the changes will undermine public support for the welfare state – which they call “one of the hallmarks of a civilised society”.
“Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations.
“Misleading rhetoric concerning those who have to seek support from the welfare state, such as the contrast between ‘strivers’ and ‘shirkers’, risks undermining that trust and, with it, one of the key foundations of modern Britain.”
The letter argues that such rhetoric does not reflect the reality of a UK where families move fluidly in and out of work and in and out of poverty.
It adds: “In the interests of fairness and to protect the poorest, as well as to avoid the risk of undermining the consensus on the British welfare state, we urge you to increase taxation progressively on the better off, those who can afford to pay (including ourselves), rather than cutting benefits for the poorest.”
As I read this, I can hear ringing in my head the voices of people who regard poverty in this country as almost entirely the fault of the poor- their poor planning, fecklessness, gambling, smoking, drinkings, laziness, refusal to get out there and find a job. I hear them tell me how benefits are the problem- removing the imperative for change and industry in those who then become a sponge on the productivity of society. ‘Nobody needs to be poor in this country’ I hear them say. ‘Nobody can be regarded as poor if they wear designer trainers and sit on their arses playing X-box all day.’
People who say these things, even those who grew up in poor households, they have rarely had any contact with those living in poverty- whose confidence and hope have been undermined by the brutalising effect of living as a non-citizen in post modern classless Britain.
I too grew up in a poor family- the child of a single mother who often did not eat so we could go to piano lessons, or have a new pair of shoes. I remember still the shame of this life- the feeling that I was less than my peers, and that no matter what I did to try to hide this, it was as if I wore a big badge saying ‘poor’. This was nothing to do with choices that I, or even my mother had made. There was nothing romantic about this experience, nothing that might be regarded as character building. What I became has always been built on these very shaky foundations.
I was reminded again of this when reading this;
A separate report compiled by academics from six UK universities concludes that Britain’s poorest are worse off today than they were at the height of the cuts imposed by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1983.
The Poverty and Exclusion project reports that 33% of British households lacked at least three basic living necessities in 2012, compared with 14% in 1983. These include living in adequately heated homes, eating healthily, and owning basic clothing items such as properly fitting shoes.
“Despite the fact that the UK is a much wealthier country, levels of deprivation are going back to the levels found 30 years ago,” says the report, titled The Impoverishment of The UK.
Some of the findings are featured in an ITV Tonight programme titled Breadline Britain on Thursday evening.
The report found:
• Around 4 million adults and almost 1 million children lack at least one basic item of clothing, such as a warm winter coat, while 3 million adults of working age (including over a fifth of those looking for work) cannot afford appropriate clothes for a job interview.
• Roughly 4 million children and adults are not fed properly judged against what most people consider to be a minimally acceptable diet – meaning they do not eat three meals a day, including fresh fruit, meat, fish and vegetables. Over a quarter of all adults skimped on meals so others in their households could eat.
• One-third of all adults can’t afford to pay unexpected costs of £500 (such as if a cooker breaks down), 31% can’t afford to save at least £20 a month, and 1 million children can’t afford to join sports training or drama clubs.
• About 11 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions and nearly one in ten households are unable to afford to fully heat their home.
The project measures who and how many people fall below what the majority agree are “necessities for life” in the UK today. The list of necessities also includes consumer items such as a washing machine and a telephone, and social activities like visiting friends and family in hospital.
“The results present a remarkably bleak portrait of life in the UK today and the shrinking opportunities faced by the bottom third of UK society,” said the head of the project, Professor David Gordon of Bristol University. “Moreover this bleak situation will get worse as benefit levels fall in real terms, real wages continue to decline and living standards are further squeezed.”
What gets me most about our present government and the politics they espouse is the grubby defensive self serving flavour of it all. Our ambitions for society have become, at best, to carve for ourselves some individual security, and let those who lack our ambition go hang.
How do you find ambition if you feel nothing but defeat? If the zeitgeist all around you is redolent with hopelessness?
My mate Graham posted this quote the other day;
I stored this from a wonderous mailing called ‘Friday night theology’ back in October and is written by someone called Roger Sutton. Most of this could as easily be read by a person with faith or no faith. I love the way that it points us to the other and is not the usual motivational self, self guff. Great for Holy Week:
‘When you believe life is limited, with only so many resources to go round then you naturally hold on to what you have, you grasp and hoard and defend. It’s an ugly place to live, with fear and anxiety at its heart. But if you believe life is unlimited, abundant and providential then you can respond with a grateful heart for the bread we receive each day knowing there will be more bread just around the corner. We can give and bless others and take care of those who are the most vulnerable, knowing that true compassion knows no limit, it has no fatigue element. Stewardship then replaces control, where we take responsibility to make sure the resources are allocated in fair and just ways, but always knowing that we bring our small offering of loaves and fish. It’s simply what we have, and the force of abundance adds to those humble gifts and multiplies them.
We need to challenge our propensity towards anxiety, believing that life is out to get us. We need to trust again in the God of harvest time, the providing abundant force in the universe. The future, as Daniel O’Leary in Passion for the Possible tells us: “is a mother waiting for us with outstretched arms, and a father who is crazy about our freedom and our fulfillment and longs only for us to let him love us”
Where my friends is this kind of politics, this kind of economics, this kind of social policy?
This kind of religion?