Farewell

No fireworks
Nothing to tell
One day you were more than ordinary
And I painted pictures
Painted over
Black blue purple green

Paint it flint and warmth and shale and sea
Cigarettes and company

Imagination, mostly.

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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.

If George Osborne’s aides are to be believed, he is a despicable excuse for a human being.

osborne disabled bay

George Osborne’s aides believe that he is a hyper-sensitive, elitist snob; that he despises disabled people and the law of the land, and that he is a filthy hypocrite – the sort of person who would assume the unbelievably self-righteous position of using the tragedy of six dead children to attempt to further the case for his austerity measures on one occasion, and be happy to return to his car – after nipping out for a burger – to find one of his staff members had moved it into a disability bay on another.

If George Osborne’s chauffer believed that George Osborne respected the laws of this land, and cared about the daily struggles of disabled people, he would never have dreamed of parking in that disabled bay. Reportedly, upon the embarrassing discovery that George Osborne was sat in first class with only a standard train ticket from Cheshire to London last year, George Osborne’s aide insisted that he be allowed to stay in first class, but without paying the excess £160 upgrade that anyone else would have had to pay to remain seated where they were. If Mr Osborne’s aide did not believe that his boss was a hyper-sensitive, elitist snob who would not be unhappy to enjoy for free what others would rightfully have to pay for; why on earth did he make such a bizarre request?

If George Osborne’s aides are to be believed, he is a despicable excuse for a human being.

I would put it to everyone that although the chauffeur himself bears the ultimate responsibility for the decisions that led to him breaking the law – and potentially making the day of a disabled person that bit more difficult – that it doesn’t mean we can’t ask questions about why these things happen. What happened in that disabled bay is the perfect example of what happens when MP’s expenses and perks of the job are allowed to get out of hand. If MPs were not allowed the extravagance of taxpayer funded aides, personal assistants and chauffeurs; they wouldn’t embarrass themselves, their party and the constituents who voted for them by having their entourage make ridiculous and very damaging gaffes at routine intervals.

These taxpayer-funded assistants are supposed to “help” MPs by removing their barriers to work; but in fact by making MPs first depend on aides them in order to function at work, then finding themselves being made to look ridiculous by these people they depend on at routine intervals, they essentially make themselves unemployable in any meaningful or productive trade, and are forced into a cycle of lying politician bullshittery in order to scrounge further money from the unwitting masses.

"Thanks, guys!"

“Thanks, guys!”

This commentator proposes that MPs’ personal staff be capped at a maximum of two, in order to break this vicious cycle of avarice-driven dependency on the hard-earned money of the masses. George Osborne may be an isolated case, but as he demonstrates himself when using the disgusting and reprehensible Michael Philpott as an example to draw sweeping statements about millions of people, isolated cases really do count when it’s taxpayer money at stake.

Bedroom Tax: Beating the “Living Together as Husband and Wife” Snoops from the Council

Bedroom_tax_infographic_social

When the Bedroom Tax comes into force next month, many people will be forced to take on lodgers in order to make up the shortfall in their rent. Local Councils administering housing and council tax benefit, always looking for any way to cut costs from their end, may very well try to investigate your household if they suspect that there is any way they can prove that you and your new lodger are actually “living together as husband and wife”.

Their screening processes almost always flag any household containing a new lodger in the spare room, if the new lodger is of the opposite sex to the person making the claim for Housing Benefit, and not a blood, step or adoptive relative. They investigate with the aim to prove that you “live together as husband and wife”, and thus they will be justified in demanding that you claim jointly or not at all. This saves them money, and means that you will still be liable for your extra “spare room”; because for as long as you are deemed to be “living together as husband and wife”, you are also expected to share a bedroom as well as benefit payments.

It is obviously very important then for the household looking to take on a lodger to be aware of this term, and what you should do to ensure that it is not wrongfully applied to your situation.

As far as I’m concerned, the only people who “live together as husband and wife” are those who are married and afforded the legal protections of marriage. However, that won’t get you very far with the powers-that-be at the DWP and the Council. Their definition – well there’s no official one but this is about as good as you’ll get:

There is no single factor on which the LTAHAW/CP decision can be based. It has to be made on
the relationship of the couple as a whole. When deciding whether two people are
LTAHAW/CP, use your knowledge and experience to apply legislation, including case law, to
make a fair and reasoned decision based on the evidence of the individual circumstances of a
case.

The following ‘admirable signposts’ as outlined in a Social Security Commissioner’s decision,
must also be taken into account
• existence of a shared household
• stability of the relationship
• financial arrangements
• responsibility for children
• sexual relationship
• public recognition of the relationship

This was taken from “Living together as husband and wife or as civil partners – decisions relating to unmarried couples”, a document published by the DWP for their decision makers, and well worth a glance if you have five minutes or so.

The Process

The first step is to make sure that you are not accidentally omitting any traceable information about who is living in your household. Inform the council as soon as it can be proved that your lodger has taken up residence in your home. So, for instance, if they are using your home as their main postal address; and if they are staying for over four nights a week at the residence, inform the council that your household has either a new lodger (if the arrangement is commercial) or a new non-dependent adult taking up residence in the premises.

My experience is with the more informal “non-dependent adult” type of casual lodger, the sort that is more likely to be jumped on as potentially a person who may be “living together as husband and wife” with the person claiming Housing Benefit. From what I can gather, sub-letting or profiting off Social Housing is not usually allowed, so the person claiming Housing Benefit likely as not have no choice but to go down the non-dependent adult route. It’s not too difficult though, so don’t panic!

-Make sure to refer to this person as “non-dependent adult” in any paperwork that is sent out asking to describe the relationship between yourself and your new lodger.

-The paperwork may ask how who has use of what rooms in the household. Make it clear that your lodger has access to only their own room, and permission to use communal rooms – kitchen, bathroom etc from yourself.

-Answer the questions on the form as fully as common sense allows. Never give any more information than is absolutely required on forms that will be flying around through the postal system.

If you fill out all the forms, send them back and hear nothing further, then goodtimes citizens, continue with your lives…

However, you may receive communication from a Customer Compliance Officer requesting that you, or your new lodger, or both of you submit to interview or even domestic inspection in order to remain eligible for benefit. I wouldn’t bother with being interviewed at their offices, as although the interview can be recorded, they provide the equipment and you have to write to get your recording released – they keep your copy you see. In line with the advice that I would normally give to people about allowing possibly hostile representatives of the state into your home (just don’t, unless it provides a clear tactical advantage), inviting the representative from the Council to your home can actually be a tactical advantage in this situation, if you can stomach the intrusion. You can record in your own home, and (in my opinion) it’s vital in cases like this that you do, because the written word of the Council employee is otherwise the only recorded version of events.

Record the telephone call you make to them inviting them to the home and informing them that the interview will be recorded. This is for your own personal use obviously and not for any redistribution, if one wishes to remain on the virtuous side of the law. It will also help you to remain calm and confident asserting your right to record in your own home. I have heard recordings where people have been flat-out lied to and told they can’t do that, but when the caller calmly perseveres, they get their home visit and the right to record it.

When the Customer Compliance Officer comes round, they will be looking for certain “red flags” around the home, and may either ask questions about your home and how you live in it during the interview, or request to view the house as well as simply asking the questions. According to this section of the Decision Maker’s Guide; they are to examine the following:

Common factors associated with the existence of a household

11055 The DM must consider all the circumstances of a case in deciding whether two people are members of the same household. In addition to DMG 11053, there are other factors commonly associated with a household which should be explored.

These factors have been identified in cases dealing with whether married couples, who claim to be estranged, are still living in the same household, but they may also indicate the existence of a shared household occupied by an unmarried couple or a same sex couple who are not civil partners of each other. The DM should consider evidence relating to the following when making a finding as to whether a household exists

1. the circumstances in which the claimant and their partner came to be living in
the same house;
2. the arrangements for payment for the accommodation;
3. the arrangements for the storage and cooking of food;
4. the eating arrangements (whether separate or not);
5. the domestic arrangements such as cooking, cleaning, gardening and minor
household maintenance;
6. the financial arrangements;
7. evidence of family life

Obviously the more it looks like you “live on top of one another”, the more this information can be construed as evidence that you’re in some sort of common law marriage that would save their department money. I have heard of some cases where even the shared purchase of a large container of milk, or shared laundry loads would be questioned. Point out that we are in a recession, there are austerity measures being meted out across the country, and it is only practical and reasonable to pool together in some areas when appropriate. If you wouldn’t let the other person wash your smalls though, no harm in pointing that out, too.

Basically if your lifestyle isn’t any different to how students sharing a house would live, there’s not much they can say about the day-to-day practicalities and appearances of the home.

The Interview

Here is a FOI request regarding Customer Compliance Officer. The sender of the request has usefully distilled the main points of the downloadable pdf into a helpful list of twenty points that help to cast light on your rights in regards to visits by CCOs.

Remember that you absolutely have the right to record. Make sure that all parties involved identify themselves on record, and do so every time they reconvene after a break. These appointments are supposed to take less than an hour, but can in reality be up to three once the spotlight’s on and they can’t just write what they like and skip out the front door.

The interview is run off a CP2(lt) form, which – according to the DWP – customers should not be allowed to see. If they did have prior access, perhaps people could just have the considered answers to the questions in front of them, and the element of surprise would be lost.

Expect to hear questions designed to figure out whether you knew each other prior to your lodger moving into your spare room, the nature of any pre-existing acquaintance and how long your lodger expects to be staying in your spare room. They may ask whether you do jobs around the home or outside the home for each other, how bills are paid, whether you spend any time together socialising. They will be interested to know the extent of the lodger’s involvement in day-to-day family life, and whether you make joint purchases on household items. They may be interested as to the extent the lodger is permitted to use household facilities such as the phone or internet, ironing board, washing machine, fridge space etc. If you have children in the household, the CCOs will be interested in hearing about the relationship (if any) the lodger has with them.

The CCO will write your answers down, and you will be expected to sign them. A request to fill in the CP2(lt) yourself as it is meant to be your signed account of circumstances will be denied. It is therefore in your best interest to go through the answers the CCO has written down and correct any errors they have made with your phrasing along the way. This is why it can take over an hour longer than expected to do the interview, but it’s important, as CCOs merely collect the information – they have no decision making power – and the Decision Maker is presented with simply the signed written account of the CCO in order to make her decision.

Upon signing your declaration, the CCO will typically leave as quickly as they can – be gracious as they exit, you did it your way, and they know it.

Hopefully the information contained within this article will help to prevent already tightly-squeezed families from feeling the further outrage of having the lodger they took in to avoid the Bedroom Tax be labelled, potentially, their pretend husband or wife; and leaving them back at square one but with a possible fraud allegation to contend with.

Solidarity.

Science

Remember when we chewed on glass
And spat it out in science class
The splintered shards
The shattered bone
The boy who needed love at home
The broken man
The metre stick
And Smokey Joe looks like a dick

Remember when we gargled glue
And I spat mine all over you
The poisoned mind
The sullen glare
The boy who found he didn’t care
The awful pause
The knowing grin…

We’re late for science class again