Benefit sanctions and Jeremy Clarkson – the hell of Thatcher’s creation

Unite the Union have organised a national day of action against benefit sanctions on 19 March. They deserve great credit for doing so, though given the suffering and despair this particularly vile practice inflicts on some of the most vulnerable in society, it is disappointing that this is not considered important enough to warrant a TUC demonstration with the full participation of every trade union in the country.

I have written about this issue before and make no apologies for doing so again when it involves, on a daily basis in Jobcentres up and down the country, human beings having the paltry amount of money they receive to feed, clothe, and heat themselves taken away for often the flimsiest of reasons at the instigation of a man or woman sitting across the other side of a desk.

With foodbanks creaking at the seams, largely in response the spike in demand placed on them by the increased use of benefit sanctions – amounting to a brutal and callous attack on the poor by a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich – there is no conceivable reason or justification available to exculpate those sitting across the other side of that desk delivering people into a pit of despair for infractions that include being minutes late for an interview, or cancelling a scheduled meeting in order to attend a funeral. In life you have a choice between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. Either choice has consequences, both personal and social, and every Jobseekers Adviser who sanctions already desperate and poverty-stricken people, and can do so without being ripped apart with torment and anguish, is a person who has had their humanity surgically removed.

Making this choice even more inexplicable, in the context of the government’s brutal and punitive benefits regime, is the fact that many of those who are tasked with implementing it are members of a trade union, the PCS, which up to now has distinguished itself in wringing its hands, offering next to no resistance and thereby confounding the fundamental principle and ethos of solidarity that lies at the very heart of trade unionism.

An added layer of grotesque is added when we consider that this same union is currently campaigning for a wage rise for its members, including those who are engaged in delivering said benefit claimants into the arms of destitution on a regular basis. It is proof that Thatcher’s objective of turning working people against each other has been well and truly met. All that can be said, with this in mind, is that if the word ‘solidarity’ does appear on PCS campaign leaflets, it does so as parody rather than principle

One man who will never see the inside of a Jobcentre, despite his recent quip to the media to the contrary, is of course Jeremy Clarkson. The looks-to-be-former Top Gear presenter is on suspension by the BBC for allegedly assaulting a producer on the show over a peppercorn steak – or lack thereof.

Controversy follows Clarkson around like an old and faithful friend. When he isn’t bandying racist, homophobic, and sexist doggerel about the place, he’s being chased out of countries like Argentina for engaging in jingoistic acts of provocation. The four million people who’ve signed a petition calling for the presenter to be reinstated by the BBC, not to mention a Prime Minister who felt minded to voice his public support for his fellow Tory and friend, reveal a propensity for living vicariously through the exploits and schtick of an unreconstructed wanker in a Barbour jacket.

Clearly we are living in an age when being in possession of a reactionary worldview is enough to warrant fame and fortune. The image of Jeremy Clarkson spending his evenings working his way through the Life On Mars Box Set in a pair of Al Garnett underpants is hard to escape. He is the nation’s poster boy for Tory values, the hero of every white middle aged bloke with a paunch, a fake Rolex, and a year’s supply of moody viagra. What’s more, it is a position and status he quite obviously relishes.

Benefit sanctions and Jeremy Clarkson. What more evidence do we need that Britain in 2015 is the hell of Thatcher’s creation? As she lies a-mouldering in her grave, the Iron Lady can take satisfaction in the knowledge she did her job well.

Labour and rebuilding Social Security

This post, from A Very Public Sociologist, follows on from Ed Miliband’s speech and John Wight’s response to it.

Tory attack posterLook, I get it. No one needs to tell me that the antipathy towards the unemployed, the disabled, and anyone else forced to subsist on social security payments has been carefully but repeatedly orchestrated for over 30 years. Labour have historically not just gone along with the collective hounding of benefit recipients; during its time in government the party led from the front. We also know the demonisation that has poured uninterrupted from our establishment like a waterfall of filth from a stinking effluent pipe have consistently talked up recipients as scroungers who shamelessly ponce off the taxpayer. Hence we have a situation where 72 per cent believe “too many people were able to claim benefits who should not have been entitled to do so”, some 0.7 per cent of payments are estimated to be fraudulent. You’ll not hear many politicians suggest that, as a proportion of GDP, the social security budget has more or less remained constant.

The media and governments past and present don’t mislead over social security. 

They lie.

Their propaganda isn’t widely believed because people are stupid or that the media is all-powerful. It gets traction because it chimes with a lot of working people’s experiences. There is always one person in every family, every friendship group, every community that – without any evidence beyond perception and gossip – is strongly suspected of being a dolewaller or lead-swinger. For my mum, it was the bloke down the village on the social with a bad back who was on the take. For a disabled guy I recently helped out, it was the youths sat around Longton town centre of a weekday morning smoking and necking cans of Carling. And for younger folk I know, it’s the one who seemingly sits in their bedroom all day battling orcs on on WoW. The majority go to work to provide for themselves and their families, so the idea there are others who do nothing and live a “life of riley” off their backs exercises a negative pull on the popular imagination. Who, after all, wants to be taken for a mug? So you can understand why “truth-telling“, tales of hardship, and stat-mongering has barely shifted public attitudes. And, unfortunately, it is not likely to do so in and of themselves.
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Labour’s embrace of welfare reform is a victory for the right

Work to live, not live to workThe Labour Party leadership’s embrace of welfare reform – set out in Ed Miliband’s keynote speech on welfare to a select audience in Newham, East London – marks a victory for the right and describes another benchmark in the political degeneration of the party that originally created the welfare state.

From the moment the current global economic crisis hit these shores with the collapse of Northern Rock in September 2007, the singular objective of the right has been to turn what was and is a crisis of private greed into a crisis of public spending. It was a campaign given political credence with the election of the Tory-led coalition government in 2010, unleashing a political and economic assault on the poorest and most vulnerable section of society under the rubric of austerity.

In economic terms austerity is doomed to failure. The empirical and historical evidence leaves no doubt that in periods of economic downturn a government must spend more not less in order to re-inject the demand sucked out by the refusal of the private sector to invest as profits tumble

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Ed Miliband: a One Nation approach to Social Security

Transcript of Labour leader Ed Miliband’s speech on 6 June, 2013

Speaking at Newham Dockside, Ed Miliband said:

Ed MilibandIt is great to be here in Newham.

Where a Labour Mayor and council are doing so many great things to help get local people back into work.

On Monday, Ed Balls gave a speech about how the next Labour government would control public spending.

The biggest item of expenditure alongside the NHS, is the social security budget.

The next Labour government will have less money to spend.

If we are going to turn our economy round, protect our NHS, and build a stronger country we will have to be laser focused on how we spend every single pound. Click to continue reading