When Funghi, the unemployed alcoholic featured in the recent Benefits Street television series, disclosed that he had been abused as a child, most of those condemning him on twitter did not even blink. Such is the state whipped up contempt amongst some towards people on benefits, that not even the revelation of a tragic childhood was enough to stop the bullying mob.
Yet one of the reasons child abuse is such an abhorrent crime is that the scars often last a lifetime. Everybody knows this. Addiction, depression, low self-esteem, isolation, these are just some of the ways that a life can be blighted by mistreatment as a child. Often people like this find it hard to just get a job, and often not through want of trying. The sad truth is that employers are not rushing out to hire people addicted to drink or drugs, or those with a serious mental health condition, or even people who might simply be judged to have a mild personality disorder. In an economy based on high unemployment, and no real political will to change that, some people will always be left behind. There are over two million people currently looking for a job.
Captitalism chews people up and spits them out. Everybody knows this as well. Whether the stress of a shit job or no job, poverty, lack of adequate housing and fractured communities, the pressures faced by those at the bottom are immense. Yet the poor are now expected to be super-heroes. Lone parents are not only expected to juggle looking after young children with endless work-related activity imposed by Jobcentres, but also to feed them healthy food, home-cooked on the fucking Aga using only natural ingredients. It doesn’t matter that the pittance those parents have to survive on barely pays for value chicken nuggets and oven chips. They should make do and mend, live on ten pounds a week, darn socks by the fire and be grateful that their children are just malnourished, not starving.
Disabled people and those with health conditions are now having those conditions and disabilities magically disappeared by endless health assessments which are designed to stop their benefits. Such is the triumph of neo-liberalism, the rhetoric goes, that there is a job for anyone now if they just try hard enough. If you can tweet you can work as one Tory MP claimed. The stark fact that employers are guilty of grotesque discrimination towards disabled workers is swept under the carpet at best, or at worst disabled people themselves are blamed for this prejudice.
Many tyrants claim to be helping the people whose live are demolished by their acts of barbarism. Whether European invaders ‘civilising’ Africa by forcing the people into chains, or Tony Blair carpet-bombing Baghdad to save it, death and destruction have often been inflicted by messianic monsters who believe they are killing people for their own good.
The latest government workfare scheme is called Help To Work. It is nothing of the sort of course, when this type of workfare was tried in a pilot scheme it had no impact on whether people found a job. But that hasn’t stopped gushing press releases from the DWP lying about all the wonderful new support the scheme offers. In truth this so-called support is either forced labour or starvation and this Government couldn’t particularly give a fuck which.
Under the guise of this ‘help’, Iain Duncan Smith has re-designed the already scant support of the social security system to be a torture machine. Slip up, just for a second, and you will be dragged down, to poverty, homelessness and destitution. It doesn’t even matter if it’s not your fault. People newly diagnosed with cancer now spend as much time fighting the DWP so they can have enough money to eat, as they do fighting their illness. Victims of domestic abuse face being socially cleansed from the area they may have grown up in, instead of being provided safe, and secure housing. Kids who’ve been in care are sanctioned, cut off benefits completely, and left to beg, rob, or sell their bodies to survive.
Today the Daily Mirror features the harrowing case of former soldier David Clapson on their front page. This man, a 59 year old diabetic, was left penniless and without even electricity to keep his insulin chilled in the fridge. A coroner found he had no food in his stomach. His crime was to miss a meeting at the Jobcentre. His punishment was death by benefit sanction. Sanctions which ‘help’ people and according to one senior DWP official are even welcomed by those they are inflicted on.
David is not the first person to die as a direct result of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, and he will not be the last. We will never hear of most of them. As this Government knows only too well, the people they are waging war on are largely voiceless. But there is an atrocity quietly taking place in the UK right now.
It is not worth one of these deaths to catch the tiny minority of benefit claimants who might be actively avoiding work. In a country that spends millions on aircraft carriers, sports competitions, royal weddings and second homes for MPs, there is clearly enough money to carry a tiny handful of people on a subsistence income. People who if the tabloids are to be believed do not live lives that many would envy anyway. No-one who queues up outside the off-licence in the morning is usually very happy. And daytime TV is shit, even on a flat-screen television set.
A society that drives some people to their deaths in the hope of catching a scrounger is no longer humane. It is barely even a society. Perhaps that is the point. The rich would far rather have us fighting each other for the scraps they throw down than have a compassionate, strong and united working class. We must change this, us from below. If we do not, then the future is not one you will want your children to grow up in.
UPDATE: David Clapson’s family have launched a petition calling for a public inquiry into the sanctions that killed him, please sign and share: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-cameron-hold-an-inquiry-into-benefit-sanctions-that-killed-my-brother
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