Yesterday the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who claim to be an anti-poverty think tank, held their annual lecture. Coming at a time of soaring homelessness, brutal benefit sanctions and more cuts on the way you might have expected this event to discuss how to best resist, or at least mitigate the impact of what is to come.
You might have expected that. What happened instead was a speech by the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Ruth Davidson during which she set her stall out as a Tory who pretends to care about the poor in advance of the Scottish parliament elections in May. She was warmly received by the small gathering of poverty professionals who bothered to turn out for the lecture. She should have been fucking lynched.
Davidson began her speech with a frank description of how most in the Conservative Party view the poor – in essence that as long as markets are free and state support kept to a minimum then people only have themselves to blame if they fail to thrive and end up in poverty. But she is different she claimed. She understands that not everyone is born equal, that the free market is actually rigged in favour of the rich from the day they are born and that some people might struggle to prosper under cut-throat capitalism. The conclusion to be drawn from this is clear – poverty does not happen because poor people are somehow deficient human beings but because disadvantage and inequality are structural consequences of the current economic system.
Of course then she launched into a gushing rant about all the wonderful charities she has visited and what wonderful work they are doing fixing poor people. She wants to see lots more of this she declared as her concerns about structural poverty vanished into thin air. She wants more funding for do-gooders, not more money for the poor. No wonder the assembled voluntary sector managers gave her such a welcoming reception.
One of her big ideas is more mentoring schemes, echoing David Cameron’s pledge to create a new generation of mentors as part of an “all out assault on poverty”. Mentors have long been seen as the magical fix for the alienated youth ever since The Karate Kid was first released in 1984. It is an idea that chimes perfectly with the assumption amongst the wealthy that all poor people need is to meet someone rich who will teach them not to be poor anymore. They imagine sharp suited business people high-fiving inner city urchins over a Mcdonalds Happy Meal and dazzling them with tales of aspiration and entrepreunership. The reality is some golf club nonce sleazing round the local youth club for a while and then getting bored and giving up when they don’t get either a blow job or an MBE in the first fortnight. No mentoring scheme has ever worked and everyone in the anti-poverty industry knows it, but hey, it’s a funding stream, the gravy train must stay on track.
Davidson barely received a word of criticism for her views when questioned by the assembled delegates and JRF’s head toff Julia Unwin. But sadly this is of little surprise. These are the kind of modern, dynamic wankers who can drop long held principles at the drop of a hat. Fighting against the Bedroom Tax, workfare or benefit sanctions is so last year. Now it’s all about in-work progression and better targeted ‘support’ for the so-called hardest to help. Benefit sanctions in other words, for everybody. That’s why the JRF recently invited Tory stooge Matthew Oakley to write a report discussing the best way to introduce in-work sanctions to encourage people with jobs to strive harder. That’s the same Matthew Oakley who once worked at the Treasury helping to design Universal Credit, before moving to the right wing Policy Exchange think tank. Now he’s being paid by an anti-poverty organisation to come up with new ways to make people poorer. To help teach them not to be poor. It’s a fucking joke, and not a very funny one.
The benefit sanctioning regime which forms part of Universal Credit is horrifying. Those in and out of work alike will soon be condemned to survive on just a few pounds a week if they fail to meet endless Jobcentre demands to constantly look for more or better paid work. Those with jobs could see benefits intended to help with housing costs sanctioned for the first time. These sanctions can last a punishing three years and are not just aimed at the single unemployed but many on sickness benefits as well as those with young children. For some they will be a death sentence.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation are intensely relaxed about all of this though. They have a whole section on their website where grinning latte slurpers warn that Universal Credit must come with ’employment support’ – the latest euphemism for workfare, benefit sanctions and Jobcentre harassment. Not one of these clowns will ever face the nightmare they have now decided to enthusiastically embrace on our behalf. Quite the opposite in fact. They are currently advising for a position that pays £75,000 a year, and that’s not even to be the boss. There’s good money to be made out of poverty for everybody except the poor.
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