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Posts Tagged ‘class’

People in this country are increasingly unable to adequately feed themselves and their families. Whether due to the inhumane system of benefits sanctions or some other reason, hundreds of thousands more people are relying on charitable services in order not to starve to death, in the UK, in 2014.

By any reasonable metric, more people are facing more appalling hardships due to broadening income inequality. But at least one elected representative thinks it’s all nonsense. He’s seen through the agenda being pushed by those other politicians who wear different coloured hats than him. He’s observed proof positive that, in his area of the country at least, the notion that anyone’s going hungry is merely an illusion:

People aren’t in poverty in terms of going without food. You try booking a restaurant in Crawley on a Friday or Saturday night. You can’t do it.

Well, there you have it. See, poor people? If you’ve been referred to a food bank due to some imaginary “crisis” with your so-called “cost of living”, been given a few tins of beans to help stave off malnourishment, then brought them back because you can’t afford to heat them, don’t despair – the restaurant industry in Crawley is booming. Why not just go out for a nice meal? Genius.

…Except on Friday or Saturday nights, I guess, because apparently you can’t do that on those days. Which somehow still proves his point about how everyone’s got enough food? Mind you, this is from the same brilliant mind responsible for this logical nail-bomb immediately before:

Some people are finding it hard but everyone’s finding it hard.

How do I conjunction?

Sentence construction aside, this kind of pathological obliviousness fascinates me. I stare at it and try to fathom the underlying worldview and assumptions which could prop up such an insane missing of the point, my brow furrowing in ever-deepening bafflement at how every notion of logic or sense could be so deftly avoided, until I inevitably make this face:

and need to go and sit down with an ice-pack pressed against my head for a bit.

Calling it a rationalisation or a way to resolve cognitive dissonance doesn’t satisfactorily get to the root of the faulty thought processes here. And it seems important to try getting to their root, because otherwise the whole thing’s too impossibly frustrating to even know how to engage with. But it really feels as if, in order to have quite this little of a clue, you’d have to be actively trying really hard to close your mind to reality.

A significant swathe of conservative thought is ideologically resistant to the idea that people in the same part of the world as you, in comparable circumstances to your own – not in some poverty-stricken, far-flung part of Africa, which might as well be somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse – can be suffering more than they deserve. Maybe if the government directly caused it, it can be believed – but anyone who the market’s decided shouldn’t be in possession of a life-sustaining supply of nourishment must have failed in some inherent, moral way. So when faced with hordes of people for whom this is palpably not the case, the only available response is to rationalise them out of existence.

Nobody’s really going hungry; the restaurants round here are packed.

Or, they’re all feckless scroungers who could be getting by just fine if they got off their lazy arses and worked.

But actual, genuine hardship and suffering and injustice, faced by hundreds of thousands of people, who don’t deserve it? Who’ve just been dealt a shitty hand by the same system which I’m a part of and which has always treated me pretty nicely thank you very much? Oh no, that can’t possibly be how the world works. If that were true, I might have to admit that luck played some sort of role in my own success, or that all those socialist do-gooders who go round saying we should be nice to each other and care for the less fortunate might have a point.

(h/t Political Scrapbook)

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Serious question.

This is about the whole 47% thing, obviously. And I genuinely want to know. His thoughts: what were they?

The picture he’s painting for his audience of $50,000-a-plate party-goers is, after all, a wildly inaccurate one. Nearly half of the entire country, he tells them, are “dependent on government”, don’t pay any income tax, think they’re “entitled” to things like food and healthcare, will never “take personal responsibility” for their lives, and will vote for Obama “no matter what”.

He doesn’t use the word “moochers”, or any term so overtly provocative, but it’s clear what he’s trying to communicate. The image is one of millions of slobs and layabouts, who can’t be bothered putting down their beer and getting off the couch to do an honest day’s work, and who expect you good, hard-working people to take care of them and pay for their pampered lifestyle, which the black guy’s going to make you do if we let him stay in office.

It’s clear simply from the tone of voice what we’re meant to think about people who feel “entitled” to anything (notwithstanding the incredibly narrow definition of “entitled” within which it’s assumed to be about the worst trait a human can possess). He doesn’t call them all feckless scum, because he doesn’t need to. (In fact, a Pennsylvania legislator – unconnected to the Romney campaign, as far as I know – did recently paraphrase his speech in rather more stark language.)

And yet, it’s bullshit.

For starters, even if the 47% statistic were meaningful, the judgment he leaps to from it is ideological and severely lacking in compassion. The idea that money is a useful measure of a person’s value, or of how much they deserve to be fed and clothed and treated when they’re sick, is comical enough already – but federal income tax? Jesus wept.

But I didn’t even need to do my usual bare minimum level of research, before the internet pointed out to me that most of the 47% do pay taxes in other forms, like payroll taxes, unless they’re retired or getting paid a pittance; that these payroll-tax-payers actually contribute a greater proportion of their income than Romney does; that people who don’t pay income tax actually tend to vote Republican; that the entities most “dependent on government” in history continue to be banks and corporations; and so on, and so on.

So… does Romney just not know any of this stuff?

I mean, I’m about as connected to American politics as he is to the administration of the pension schemes of London-based multinational law firms (whee, I have a job), but even I can get my head around the evidence suggesting that every second person in the United States isn’t a good-for-nothing scrounger being courted for their vote by a socialist President while the other half effectively wait on them hand and foot. Can Mitt Romney really not have picked up any of this information himself?

I know he’s a busy man, but the internet’s even drawn him a picture:

Does he really not know this stuff? It hardly seems plausible.

And yet, if he really has ever encountered these, y’know, facts, but still chooses to use this kind of manipulative language to dismiss any concern for the well-being of 150,000,000 people as “not his job”…

…then what is it that he’s thinking, when he talks like this?

Because it looks a lot like he’s thinking that he knows the crowd he’s playing to, and they don’t much care whatever happens to those poor people so long as their own interests are being looked after, and he’s okay with that.

He’s in a room full of other rich white guys, who all seem to think they made their fortunes entirely through their own personal merits, and it’s purely a coincidence that just about every one of them happens to be white and male and had rich, well connected parents. Assuming Romney’s not entirely ignorant of basic facts, it looks like he’s thinking that he wants to keep them happy and take their money more than he wants to engage in any kind of intellectual honesty about income inequality and the injustices of capitalism.

So either he’s deeply isolated in a bubble that’s non-permeable to significant portions of reality, or he thinks lying about half of the country that he wants to rule over is worth doing to meet his own goals.

When Mitt Romney says “47% of people aren’t contributing”… does he mean “47% of people are effectively contributing to a wealthy minority, by means of not being paid the full value of their labour in the first place”?

Does he mean “47% of people find my policies completely unappealing and wouldn’t be helped by them at all, suggesting that I might not be an ideal candidate to lead the entire country as I think I should be allowed to do”?

Does he mean “47% of people’s contributions – and, by extension, their lives – seem completely worthless to the people who want to run the country”?

This turned into more of a run-of-the-mill anti-Republican rant than I was hoping for. And Obama shills for cash just as shamelessly and has murdered a lot more foreigners than Romney, so maybe this isn’t even that big a deal. Just another familiar instance of a series of systemic problems that no mainstream politician even comes close to wanting to solve. I don’t know.

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Workfare doesn’t work, say the people organising it.

The Department for Work and Pensions have performed their own assessment of the MWA programme (that’s “Mandatory Work Activity” – bit of a giveaway in the name there), and concluded that there’s no reason to suspect it provides any worthwhile benefit to the people it’s being inflicted upon.

Employment minister Chris Grayling has defended the scheme, protesting that the data used in the study was out of date and so the conclusions are no longer applicable, and said:

We’ve found that a month’s full-time activity can be a real deterrent for some people who are either not trying or who are gaming the system. But we’re also fighting a battle to stop claimants slipping back into the benefits system by the back door.

First of all, I don’t know how he can say that “we’ve found” anything of the sort, unless there’s been some other study done into the same scheme which isn’t being reported on.

Secondly, let’s be clear that by “a month’s full-time activity”, what he actually means is “a month of working, full-time, without being paid, with the threat of having your benefits cut off looming over your head if you don’t comply”. Now, I daresay people who are gaming the system probably do find that something of a deterrent, but I’d also stick my neck out and hazard that it’s pretty fucking off-putting for people who are trying to support themselves and their families while they look for a fucking job, too.

This is exactly what I’m sick of hearing when politicians talk about this kind of thing. We’re always being warned about the threat of people cheating the system; there’s rarely a thought spared for people being exploited by the system, such as those forced into working full-time for no pay. Nor for the people being thrown haplessly into the system, when they lose their minimum wage jobs because their corporate employers realise they can save money by replacing them with someone from Workfare who doesn’t need a salary.

This focus by politicians and the elite on fomenting contempt for those among us worst off and least able to defend themselves is as blatant a case of actual class warfare as I can think of. Particularly when – as I keep banging on about – the expense to the country imposed by benefit fraud by the poor is dwarfed by that of tax avoidance by the rich.

Anyway, the case against the Workfare scheme is now supported by common sense, basic human decency, and the only systematic evidence available.

Is anyone listening yet?

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There’s a lot I don’t know or understand about politics, and learning more about it seems, if anything, only to make my ignorance more obvious. But one thing I do reckon, with some conviction, is that people ought to help each other.

I dunno, call me a radical socialist. (Flattery will get you everywhere.)

I have some vague, meandering thoughts on the nature of this help we offer each other, too. Let’s start things very simple.

Times are tough at the moment, and while many of us are doing okay, some of us are struggling. (We’re all “us”, remember. There are no others.) If we can help those of us who are currently worse off in any way, that would generally seem to be a good thing.

Of course, some of us will be tempted to take advantage of our generosity, and accept help which they don’t really need – but let’s not be among those cynical ones of us who see this as an argument against generosity. If, in trying to do good for those who need it, we accidentally spend our time doing some good for someone who didn’t really need it also, this doesn’t have to be a horrible outcome.

But it’s not unreasonable to take some measures, to ensure that our generosity isn’t abused. Our resources for helping those who need it is limited, after all, and those who take help they don’t need might be indirectly harming others, to whom such help is no longer as available.

For instance, one of the ways we try and keep the needy among us afloat (in the UK) is with Disability Living Allowance. If one of us has an illness or disability that makes it more difficult or impossible for them to do certain kinds of work, it’s a good thing when the rest of us offer to help.

But when our own resources are thin, we might want to be careful just who we help in this way. There might, after all, be some unscrupulous souls who try to take help they don’t really need. They might falsely claim to need assistance, when actually they’re simply looking for ways to avoid paying their own way.

Now, even though this sort of benefit fraud is far, far from being the country’s most serious financial problem, it’s not out of the question that we should take some sort of precautions when deciding who we help. Maybe there should be some sort of check that people are actually in need of help, so long as we don’t get too officious and stingy about it and lose track of the primary goal of helping each other.

Another example we have here is Jobseeker’s Allowance, a regular payment given to those who can’t find paid employment.

This is a valuable way of helping many people, but once again there are those who’ll try and game the system. Some people might be happy to take the help, without even looking for a chance to earn a decent living for themselves. So, maybe it’s not crazy to expect people to really be looking for work, if they want to get the help reserved for people in between jobs.

Maybe, then, if there’s a job available, within a reasonable distance of someone claiming help and in a field of expertise where they’re capable of contributing, we should expect them to take it, unless there’s a good reason not to. If they persistently turn down legitimate work offers, their claim to be a “jobseeker” might start looking a little flimsy, and we might suspect they’d rather not do any work but keep letting the rest of us support them, which isn’t really fair on the others we’re trying to help who really need it.

And perhaps, to make sure the system’s not being exploited, we should take some of the people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, put them on a bus across the country overnight, make them sleep under a bridge, give them no access to toilets, make them change clothes in public, and tell them that if they don’t work 14-hour shifts for no pay we’re cutting their benefits.

Wait… Sorry, I seemed to turn into a completely evil bastard in that last paragraph. I must have been channeling some of the people involved in Workfare.

Downing Street’s comment on what amounts to slave labour being used to make sure the Queen’s jubilee celebrations went off without a hitch were that it was an “isolated incident” and… that seems to be it. It’s of no further concern to them, apparently. It just happened the once, so it might as well have not happened at all.

The government and many tabloids are still trying to convince us that the workfare scheme isn’t an unjustifiably cruel and exploitative joke, and that immigrant benefit cheats are the ones who are really destroying our country. But I’m far more pissed off about those in authority treating the “little people” like this than I am about the idea that some families might be mooching off the government’s welfare system more than I’ve ever been able to. It takes a special kind of bigotry to still find the working class and job-seeking “scroungers” the most loathsome part of this interaction.

The almost comically dystopian details – the lack of toilet facilities, the four-hour coach ride from Bristol in the middle of the night, the apparent deception in implying that participants would be paid before later calling it “work experience”, and so on – have drawn some much-needed attention to the Workfare issue, but these aren’t what make its basic premise unacceptable. It’s not a system that’s essentially fine except for this one outlying instance where people were treated without a shred of humanity.

What makes it unacceptable is that the safety net we’re supposed to be offering is nothing of the sort. More and more people are losing their benefits, and those who keep them are having to jump through greater and greater hoops to be deemed worthy of our help – in this case, to the extent of being forced to work in intolerable conditions without being paid.

This latest situation with the jubilee stewards symbolises the way some people see a certain class of jobseekers, and where they see themselves by comparison. This classism and lack of compassion is, ultimately, what needs to change, but in the meantime it’s clear that the whole system of Workfare itself is beneath us as a sentient species.

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Public Interest Lawyers have put together a handy fact-sheet on the government’s “Back To Work” schemes, known popularly as “Workfare”.

They’ve looked at the policies that are being put in place, supposedly to give people out of work a chance to get back on the career ladder and develop worthwhile experience. They’ve found, like just about everyone who’s paid attention to the scheme in any detail, that the policies are achieving no such thing, and no intellectually honest assessment of the situation could conceivably have led the government to make the decisions it has.

2. The Government is not “paying them… through benefits” to work, as the Deputy Prime Minister has claimed today. Jobseekers allowance ranges from £53.45 to £67.50 per week. It is paid for one specific (and obvious) purpose – to support people whilst they seek employment. It is not remuneration for work, and even if it were it would mean that people on Back to Work schemes would be getting paid as little as £1.78 per hour, often whilst working for some of our biggest retailers. Many of those retailers are now realising that such a scenario is unacceptable and have either pulled out of the schemes or demanded that the Government thinks again.

3. People are not being given a choice. Ministers claim that work under these schemes is not forced but voluntary. This is not correct. The Community Action Programme, Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity Scheme (the clue is in the name) are mandatory, and jobseekers will lose their jobseeker’s allowance if they do not participate. The Government says the sector-based work academy and work experience schemes are voluntarily, but Cait Reilly was told in no uncertain terms that her participation was “mandatory”.

And so on. It’s beyond abundantly clear by now that the coalition government is being entirely disingenuous in its claims to want what’s actually best for young people and the unemployed. It’s ignored the evidence too many times, and done too much to polarise the issue in a prejudiced and classist fashion with terms like “job snobs” and “scroungers”. If you’re not already rich and powerful enough to be of use to them, the government are not your friend.

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Spending much time examining the attitudes of, say, Fox News, on the subject of the rich and the poor, can very quickly become very illuminating.

It’s not just Fox, by any means, but they’re among the most prominent apologists for the classism and wealth gap in America. They’re among those devoting serious airtime to bewailing the nightmare of hotel housekeepers earning as much as $60,000 a year, while simultaneously complaining about the unfairness of Obama’s tax policy on those poor souls earning over $250,000, who are really struggling to get by.

What I think it illuminates is just how narrow a band of ideas people like this are actually interested in.

They don’t care to extrapolate downwards and consider, if a couple earning a quarter-million annually is having such a tough time, how much of a struggle it must be for people on one tenth of that income (which is still well above minimum wage). They don’t consider the reasons why the free market might value these housekeepers’ work at $60,000 a year, although they’re happy to assume that investment bankers earning hundreds of times that deserve every penny. They ignore how difficult and specialised a job the staff in this particular hotel might actually have, how good they might be at it, how many specific skills they might have acquired and honed. They seem oblivious to how negligible an impact this supposedly flagrant expenditure actually has on the economy as a whole, and don’t explain why we ought to be concerned that this money is somehow being misspent.

There doesn’t, in fact, seem to be a single economic consideration being given to the matter. It doesn’t even occur to them to consider it on that level.

No, they’ve just got a very clear idea of the kind of people who do this sort of work, and what sort of rewards they do and don’t deserve, based on how they feel about them.

Housekeeping is something poor people do, and should be treated as such. It’s just housework. A lowly thing for lowly people. $60,000 a year just feels like too much. More than they deserve. More than I want to see them getting for that lowly work they do. They’re only housekeepers.

But businessmen earning comfortably into six figures? Well, now, they’re more our sort of people, and you just wouldn’t believe the hard time they’re having at the moment, what with taxes and housing costs and private schools and daycare and sundry other vital expenses, and it’s so unfair the way people think they’re part of some privileged majority.

It’s not like a couple of hundred grand a year means you’re not allowed to have problems. But the way those problems are framed compared to other people’s can reveal a lot about your real priorities.

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– How much can you tell about Fox News by the people who comment on their site? Probably not much, if we’re being fair. But holy shit their commenters are awful.

– Recession for the majority, boom time for those at the top.

– An open letter to Channel 4 about its Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, from someone who ought to know.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the tabloids…

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