If you take a step back for a while then the view is grotesque. Next week a Government led by people born into vast wealth will introduce new laws that will plunge many of the UK’s poorest children into desperate poverty and imminent risk of homelessness. Other legislation will mean that those who are assessed as currently too sick to work, but might have the possibility of working in the future, will now be abandoned to survive on just a few pounds a day. Not only that, but they will be forced to cope with endless Jobcentre harassment intended to bully them into constantly looking for and applying for jobs that even the Jobcentre themselves admit they are not well enough to do. And this is being called help.
Sick and disabled people in this group can even be sent on workfare, usually for a so-called charity. If they fail to attend, or miss a meeting, then their benefits will be sanctioned – cut to a government loan of just over £40 a week – and then only if they meet the stringent means test for Hardship Payments. For those paying the full Bedroom Tax – around £25 a week -this will mean surviving on just £2 a day, and out of that they will probably have to pay some Council Tax. There is no way out for these people. It is not a choice. Even if jobs were abundant, and they are anything but, they are too ill to take them. The sickness benefits regime could not be better designed to demolish the health and lives of those who depend on it, it is unspeakable cruelty in one of the most prosperous countries in the world.
Next week Tory MPs will cheer and applaud even further attacks on those least able to fight back as the latest welfare reforms are laid out in Parliament. Larger families now face a third benefit cap being imposed in just five years. A tiny percentage of families, trivial in cost to the tax payer, have been singled out again and again. Just as they find somewhere new to live the government strikes with new laws and forces them to move again. Many are already likely to be living in B&Bs, sharing just one room with their children in Dickensian conditions. The number of families living this way rose by a third in just the last year, a fact that went barely reported. It is the children in these families who are suffering the most, their lives and futures vanishing with every new stroke of legislation.
Five years of welfare reforms have turned the social security system into a nightmarish experience inflicted on those often already struggling to stay healthy, sane and alive. These people strive everyday – just to feed themselves, raise their children and keep a roof above their heads. Sometimes they are working, sometimes even on workfare for no pay, yet they are still smeared as lazy and feckless by politicians and the press. Young people on poverty paid Apprenticeships, unpaid internships or work experience are told they need yet more ‘help’ to teach them how to get out of bed in the mornings. These lies have been told over and over agan yet they fall apart the second you walk into Tesco and see dozens of people, many of them in-work benefit claimants, doing some of the hardest work in society. It is these people, along with those desperately looking for work, or coping with illness, who have born the brunt of austerity – and they had nothing to begin with. This was never about saving money, but turning the most marginalised, the bottom 1%, into a scapegoat to be endlessly tormented to distract from the crimes of the rich.
And yet so unempathic has society become, so casually indifferent to suffering, that almost everybody involved in this horror story feels perfectly happy and justified in what they are doing. The true banality of evil is Harriet Harman saying it would not be right for the opposition to quibble with yet more atrocities heaped on the poor in case it upsets the tiny handful of swing voters who chose Tory over Labour. It is Iain Duncan Smith on a religious crusade to save the poor from themselves and barely even noticing the trail of dead bodies he leaves in his wake. It is the welfare-to-work company bosses who have justified this abuse by telling themselves if it wasn’t them getting rich out of poverty it would just be someone else – the same reasoning used by every gangster and war profiteer in history.
This casual approach to abuse trickles down the system. Happy-clappy Jobcentre managers so wrapped up in themselves they can barely understand why they have become a grim laughing stock delude themselves that benefit sanctions are helping people. Slithering tabloid hacks manufacture stories designed to inspire hatred of the poor and are so isolated from the impact of their behaviour that they seem to think it’s all a big laugh. As do the television production companies who hunt down ever more genuinely vulnerable people so they can edit and splice their lives to present them as scroungers or layabouts. And half the country – and it is only half – shouts ‘get a fucking job’ in unison despite living in a society where mass unemplyment is an economic fact of life and even Tory think tanks say reducing unemployment to zero is neither feasible or desirable.
It is not true, yet, that tens of thousands of people have died due to welfare reforms, although the number of deaths is growing. But the lives of hundreds of thousands have been reduced to a daily battle for survival and soon the number will turn into millions. This suffering is a deliberate attempt to create a society based on an ideology that serves only a handful of people at the very top. It is only in the interests of the rich that we spend our lives striving, suffering or both, rather than creating a world that works in the interests of everybody. If we have to strive for anything then it should be to topple these bastards once and for all.
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