Stop shaming your out-of-work friends and neighbours.

It only exposes your own ignorance when you do.

The UK is currently experiencing high levels of unemployment as a result of the damage to the economy caused by the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. The country slipped into a recession that resulted in countless businesses going under, and many jobs being lost. Due to the austerity measures enacted by the current government, the UK’s economy has barely lifted from this slump and the current level of unemployment is 7.8%, an over 50% increase from its pre-recession level of just over 5%.

austerity

The austerity measures of the current government have not resulted in an increase in work vacancies, and a shaky Eurozone has enabled the incumbent government to attempt write off the double dip recession that occurred under the watchful eye of Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. The stubborn fact remains however that there are simply far more unemployed people than jobs available in this country. Click this link to see how your area fares ratio-wise; and notice that the only area in the country with more job vacancies than unemployed people residing there is the City of London. Fortunately for the predominantly very well-heeled residents of the City of London and immediately surrounding boroughs, the housing benefit cap of £500 maximum a week ensures that those jobs remain available only for those who can either afford the inordinately expensive city rents even while out of work, or are able to afford the time and money to commute from the outer zones. Everyone else in the country, apart from those who can afford to work in the City of London, is having to face the grim reality of there not being anywhere nearly as many jobs available as there are people who are unemployed.

Why, then, are the ranks of those being expected to be out and looking for work rising day by day? Why the media narratives suggesting that the high unemployment figures are somehow in any way related to the attitude of people who are unemployed? If every single unemployed person decided next week to spend every waking hour applying for jobs, handing CVs out, writing to employers, joining agencies etc; jobs for them would not magically appear. More and more disabled people are being ruled “fit-to-work” by the much-maligned Atos-administered Work Capability Assessment. Lone parents with children aged between 5 and 13 are also for the first time being expected to find work. In an environment where there may be (as in my local area) 8 unemployed people for every 1 job vacancy posted, more people are being sent out to compete, even though the latest additions (disabled people and lone parents) have existing disadvantages that mean realistically that they have very low chances of securing employment compared to people who are able-bodied and/or don’t have care commitments.

There is a massive industry built around the existence of unemployed people. If enough people believe that unemployment exists because unemployed people don’t know how to get jobs, or don’t want to get jobs; then businesses can, instead of offering job vacancies at minimum wage or higher, simply get people on the dole to do it for their benefits. They are supplied these unfortunate unemployed people by Jobcentres and Work Programme providers. The Work Programme itself is founded on the idea that the people who are most struggling to find a job (i.e. those who have been unemployed for 9-12 months) would be able to find nonexistent work if they went to more frequent weekly sessions teaching them about how to look for the nonexistent work. It costs the taxpayer, and has no quantifiable results insofar as getting its clients back into work goes; the December 2012 report strongly suggests what everybody who is actually going through this recession as an unemployed person already knows – that you are just as likely (or even more likely) to find a paid job without any specialist taxpayer-funded Work Programme help as you are if you’re on their books and being dragged in for pointless make-work every other day.

So, we have a situation where the dominant ideology regarding unemployed people is that if they “try hard enough”, they’ll certainly find something. People who have not been able to find work in this current environment of there being far more unemployed people than there are work vacancies are being told by everyone – friends, family, media and the government, that they aren’t trying hard enough. Paid work has become the only sort of “work” that a person does that is to be considered of any real value to society in general. Reject this toxic notion.

Society is built not only by people going out to work for money, but also by the people who work by helping others out for free. When we devalue the latter form of work, when we tell people who are not in paid work that they are “useless” and a “drain” on society, they can start to focus and obsess about finding paid work and their care commitments can be viewed as being a useless waste of time, keeping them down and stopping them from ever becoming valuable in the eyes of society. Who the hell wants to live in a society where a person who is good at caring for a vulnerable person is being told they aren’t valuable enough yet, and have to go and look for nonexistent jobs that fit around their care commitment – when there are currently many people without care commitments who are applying for the same jobs? Who wants to live in a society where despite there being scores of able-bodied people having to compete for the scant amount of paid work available, disabled people are being labelled “workshy” and forced out to find jobs? Despite over 50% of the people in this country being net beneficiaries of the tax system, an alarmingly large amount of that same percentage of people believe that because they work and pay tax, they’re paying for other people’s households while they’re out of work, not realising that they haven’t even covered their own household’s cost to the state yet, nevermind the cost of anybody else’s. This group is responsible for a lot of the daily misery suffered by jobseekers, as they are often part of their peer network; and through ignorance of the facts make life very difficult for those around them unable to find paid work.

Society needs to return to a belief in the value of unpaid work and the work of those with caring responsibilities. If you are a person who currently cannot find paid work, but you do unpaid work and/or have caring responsibilities that you do well with, you are just as much of value as the citizen who is fortunate enough in the current economic climate to secure a salary that is taxed and redistributed. The only citizen without value is one who does not help to rally people together, or support them, in these tough times. The liar who knowingly blames innocent people for the failures of himself and his cronies. The person who has plenty to give, but hoards and keeps everything for herself and people she believes to be just like her instead.

This doesn’t sound like any decent person I know, in paid work or not. I want unemployed people who feel as though they are struggling to stay strong. Remember that as long as you contribute daily, it’s only a ballsed-up narrative telling ignorant people otherwise that is bringing you down. This won’t stop those ignorant people, but it will help you to stop believing in them and their value judgments, and to focus on improving your quality of life without the strain of feeling as though you can’t be useful if you’re not currently in paid work.

Respect and solidarity.

Manifesto

We walk alone
We die alone
We hate their dreams
We know enough
Enough to fall
Away from grace
And fuck their grace
It’s not for us
They medicate
They feel no pain
We feel no pain
Unless we choose
To love or hate
On our own terms
And in their games
We play to lose

Silence

Silence
Never thick and easy
But nervous
Waiting for them, with me
Whispers
Humming
Swarming softly
They weave, they fold
Engulf and drop me
Through labyrinthine dreams
Of others
A demon cast out
By my mother
A demon summoned
By my father
Spans timeless voids
And darker matter
They bargained over souls he’d brought
My father lost but never talked
One child died later
In the sun
One child died slowly
One child won

Silence
Never thick and easy
But screaming
Waiting for them, with me

About Me – Part Two

Part One can be found here.

I started puberty early, soon after my seventh birthday, and developed a much more “adult” shape than the girls around me, though I was quite oblivious at the time. My father started to pass comments about the way I dressed, and make peculiar statements that I didn’t understand properly about boys and not “showing” them my body. I didn’t understand any of it, it just made me feel vaguely dirty, weird and uncomfortable. He would have done better to explain his concern more clearly, I suppose. I had already by this point resigned him to the status of a paranoid in my mind (although I didn’t know the word, I couldn’t have told you what I thought he was, I just knew he wasn’t right) and these dark mutterings about boys and what they get up to just seemed like more twaddle. He’d use the same tones and get just as irate about Disney films like Aladdin because genies were “demons”. I could never trust my father’s risk assessment of situations, so grew up practically unadvised as there was no one I knew who earned their own money without being dependent on the money of others, who I could trust and turn to for help and support in carving out my own life path in that direction -which is what I always wanted and still do.

I didn’t trust him, and was afraid of him. I thought he thought I was dirty or a tart, that I wanted boys to look at me and feel “rude”. So when my uncle approached me and sexually abused me when I was eight years old, I believed him when he said that if I told my dad, my dad would punish me really severely and probably stop caring about what happened to me. My uncle has subsequently been found guilty of possession of child pornography and had two of his children adopted out of the family. More of my family members on my mother’s side socialise with him than they do with me. His mother, my grandmother, pays for his sports cars so that he doesn’t “kill himself”. He is more or less unemployable because of what he has done. He has since had two more children, and the last I heard is living in a “scouts honour” situation where his wife is deemed strong enough by social services to enforce the boundaries he is supposed to keep around the children. His wife is dependent on their marriage in order to be able to stay in the U.K. as she is originally of Filipino nationality. She was advised as to the full natures of his crimes by a social worker with a translator while she was giving birth to her first child by him, after they were married.

I felt sick at what had happened. I may have started acting differently in school, I don’t recall, but I started being bullied pretty soon afterwards. For about two years I spent my time in school mostly alone, miserable, reading or pacing around the playground perimeter, if I couldn’t focus on reading. My father paid for his correspondence degree in Theology upfront out of the family income top-up we were receiving on top of his salary. This meant that we lived in a kind of enforced poverty where he spent the majority of the household money on himself. We had to wear hand-me-downs, boys clothes, cheap stuff, and of course it all had to be “modest”; so we looked really dorky too. We were bullied mercilessly for being “scruffs” – often by kids from families even poorer than ours who just prioritised their children more when it came to spending. Mum had to cut our hair, my head never saw a professional hairdresser til I won £850 on a quiz machine in Wales when I was thirteen. He promised us all our young lives that the sacrifices we we making would be rewarded in time. He is currently a Media Studies instructor at a university, and a trade union activist, with his own home, fat pension, gym membership, brand new car etc and is well respected in the local Protestant community (who don’t know anything about his home life, because it’s alllll in the family). One of his daughters is potentially being moved to a personality disorder clinic in Wales after multiple lethal suicide attempts, the other couldn’t stand him and moved out to live with me when she was 17, and I got kicked out myself when I was 16 years old. My mother divorced him last year. Nobody ever got anything back.

I had my first breakdown when I was ten years old. My birthday hadn’t been too long ago, and I’d gone shopping with my mother for an outfit to wear for the Christmas disco, out of my birthday money off my grandmother. I just wanted the kids to see me in something nice, and cool, and treat me nicely for once. Because I was a kid, and that’s how kids feel about things. I got this skirt that I thought was boss, purple wrap around silky-stuff, knee length but not dorky. We used to have to show our father all our new clothes on us so he could make sure they passed inspection. I was so happy that day when I went shopping, ecstatic to have something to wear that I liked, and my mum said was nice, too. I was so happy. I thought he was bound to like it too, but he didn’t. He said I was starting to look like a slut, and it was making him so sad to see me “desiring” such things. He confiscated the glitter nail polishes this one girl who tried to be my friend bought me for Christmas as part of his “concern”. I told her, because she was asking why I never wore any, and she started being cruel and getting everyone else in on it. One of her mates pushed me on the floor and another dumped crisps over my head. I just sat and stared through them until everyone got sick of laughing and went away. I went home, and a tiny dispute with my sister, and my father’s reaction, sent me west. I started howling in front of my father, screaming at him not to hit me, just screaming and crying until I couldn’t breathe properly and the jagged breaths started and my head went dizzy.

I don’t remember much else of what happened, but a school transfer was arranged as a result of the incident. I had been asking for one repeatedly for over a year.

In Memory of Joshua Waters 1983-2013

My friend committed suicide yesterday morning. He was a brilliant, funny and clever man; sensitive and kind. He concerned himself with others as a top priority. I remember him stressing earlier this year because he had noticed a kid who got on the same bus route as himself every day getting more quiet, sad-looking and withdrawn over time, and he felt like he was the only person who noticed or cared and didn’t know what to do, because he didn’t know the kid well enough to “get involved”. In a world of cold, grabbing, cynical bastards; Joshua Waters was a shining gem of a human being who I quietly and enormously respected.

The world is less one brilliant mind and beautiful soul; and of course one of the lewdest, wittiest sons-of-guns there ever was. The last thing Josh told me was that I should smile more. Josh, man, I fucking will; I wish you hadn’t gone away though. We loved you, and love you, and it’s emptier without you.

You were one of the people who kept me going in my dark times, although you never knew I was struggling, and I never knew you were struggling; what a mess, what a stupid fucking mess.

HOWEVER

You were always about the lulz. They shall continue. I won’t forget you xxx

Class Warfare: The Guardian’s Robert de Vries weighs in

Robert de Vries has today written in The Guardian on the subject of welfare recipients and the perception that non-welfare recipients apparently have of them.

He is clear to mark himself as a non benefit-recipient by captioning his header: “Research suggests many of us regard people on benefits as part of an ‘outgroup’ who don’t feel the same emotions.” (emphasis added). He thinks that the fact that the people in his peer group think that way is “scary”.

He goes into the usual A-Level sociology waffle about “othering” – and a special, new, specific type of “othering” called ‘infrahumanisation’, which has been invented by a French man – describing it as a process whereby “certain groups are not felt to have the same range of emotional experiences as everybody else. Specifically, while people are fine imagining them feeling basic emotions like anger, pleasure or sadness, they have trouble picturing them experiencing more complex feelings like awe, hope, mournfulness or admiration. The subtle sentiments that make us uniquely human.”

He then describes disabled people and elderly people as being perceived to be “warm and friendly”, as opposed to welfare recipients who are viewed as being “threatening and incompetent”. The word “threatening” is not used in the study (the only study) cited to evidence Robert de Vries’ argument; De Vries has chosen to use that word to describe the fact that respondents to the study’s questionnaire ranked welfare recipients as having low levels of perceived “warmth”. Fig 2 on pg 886 actually shows that respondents ranked the “rich” as having almost the exact same perceived levels of “warmth” as welfare recipients, rendering any class-comparison on that specific issue null and void anyway. De Vries is making up his own definitions here, and in doing so is suggesting that a study somewhere found that a significant majority of people perceived welfare recipients to be “threatening”. Anyone who does not research this claim could possibly be left more prone to thinking: “well hey, other people find welfare recipients to be threating, maybe I do too”; and if you doubt me, then consider the average mindset of The Guardian reader.

gfan

If you further doubt me, then consider the Asche Effect where it is demonstrated that a person is very likely to alter their perception of what they at first believe and know to be true if the people in the group around them insist that the truth is something completely different.

If Robert de Vries is as concerned about the “dehumanising” “othering” that is going on towards welfare recipients as he says he is, he would do well not to infer that they are perceived as being “threatening”, when he links to no such study with the language to support it. The study merely shows that disabled people, the elderly and people on welfare are seen as being less competent than the rest of the public; with elderly people perceived to be the “warmest”, personality-wise, then disabled people, then just the average able-bodied worker. This isn’t particularly news; these perceptions have been there for centuries. They are certainly not evidence of a new and special kind of “dehumanisation” going on.

The most dehumanising instance in De Vries’ article is an actual quote from De Vries himself:

“You can try it for yourself. Imagine the most stereotypical “chav” you can. Imagine their clothes, their surroundings, their posture, their attitude. Now imagine them feeling surprise, anger, or fear. Easy right? Well now imagine them experiencing reverence, melancholy, or fascination. If you found that just as easy, congratulations. But I’d bet for a few of you it was just that bit harder. I’m ashamed to admit it was for me.”

I cannot for the life of me understand the point of this thought exercise. Here, try this one: imagine that you are a reporter who thinks that there is a culture of anti-Semitic “othering” in this country. In order to prove it, you invite everyone who isn’t Jewish to imagine a big, strawman “kike” (and you are sure to use the perjorative, because it’s somehow helpful!), and try to envisage this obviously exaggerated monstrosity behaving in a civillised way. You then admit that you found it very hard to do so, and then send it into a national newspaper as proof that everybody who isn’t a Jewish person probably thinks Jews are less than human.

It would never, ever be printed. Because, ’tis batshit!

As far as I can tell, Robert de Vries is basically saying: “Look, I know they’re rancid, the unemployeds, hell even I find it difficult to imagine a Melancholy Chav (Imagine guys, a Melancholy Chav! Not even Dickens, not even Dickens himself could imagine a…an, um… Fascinated Chav! *laughsnort* *slurp o’ wine* *ahem*”); but we ought to stop bullying them, guys! Or Hitler will happen, or something I dunno, I dunno… hey Editor – pay me.”

De Vries’ OP is really more of a reflection on the sorts of people The Guardian pays to write on working-class issues; than the actual attitudes of general society towards people who are unemployed. “Othering” is nothing new, in fact my friends do it all the time in regard to our collective “social betters”. We don’t think they’re less than human though. We just disagree ideologically with a fair few of ’em, and we take the piss a little bit. And the only proof so far that rich people think that we welfare recipients are actually less-than-human (think about that) is that one rich person wrote that it must be so, in The Guardian. Some of them most certainly do have very erroneous assumptions about what sort of people we are, but let’s face it, if a significant majority of the most influential people thought that poor people were actually animals, we’d have all been killed off. De Vries’ article is nothing but a lazy, speculative, attempt at “rabble-rousing” very poorly disguised as concern.

The Guardian is written by prosperous liberals, for prosperous and aspirational liberals; and the only purpose it serves is to line the Labour Party’s coffers. This current, downright weird attempt at “sympathy” for those receiving benefits by the jolly Tarquins and Jemimas on staff will fade into oblivion when Labour are re-elected, and continue with the existing austerity measures that have been put into place by this continuing joke of a Coalition government. Like a stopped clock, I expect, there will continue to be the occasional good article; this most certainly not being one of them.