Nowhere in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest stupid report do they ackowledge the real cause of poverty – which is the relentless theft of our labour and land by a capitalist class whose wealth and power grows ever greater.
In fact this atrocity, which condemns us to a lifetime of drudgery, servitude, poverty and need, is presented as a perfectly natural, and even desirable state. Which of course it is if you’re some chinless wonder paid a fat salary to toss yourself off at some liberal think-tank all day whilst the people you write reports about do the work that makes your lifestyle possible.
If JRF were serious about ending poverty they would not asking employers to try not to use zero hour contracts quite so much, or pay the living wage – just if they can afford it of course. They would be throwing every resource they have into supporting those working class people fighting back, whether that was the recent Deliveroo strikes, or the bold, and successful actions taken by grassroots union United Voices of the World.
They would not be asking faith groups, and social entrepreuners, and housing associations to all have a big think about how to help the poor. They would be calling for rent strikes, and occupations, and mass direct action to force concessions from the parasitic rich. Because it is only through determined, collective and bold acts that the poor have ever won any significant changes in their lives.
Of course you’re not going to get that from the bunch of Ned Flanders wannabes at the JRF. But you might have hoped, at the very fucking least, that they would not support solutions which will make people even poorer.
The support for ‘in-work conditionality’ is perhaps their biggest treachery. This means the lowest paid workers facing brutal benefit sanctions if they do not constantly search for more or better paid work in the hours they are not working. JRF may say that non-financial sanctions should be used first, whatever that means, and that they should be less severe. But they are fully behind using poverty as punishment to incentivise low paid workers to try harder to stop being so poor.
It is no longer acceptable to be a part-time cleaner, care worker or labourer and to expect decent pay for that work, even if that is the only work available. You must now work “as much as society expects” according to the JRF. How much that is they don’t tell us. The working class weren’t invited to that meeting. But you must do it, and more importantly you must constantly compete and be punished if you don’t. And if the jobs you are competing for don’t even really exist it doesn’t matter. Benefit sanctions and enforced competition are the method, the object is to change the soul.
It is these toxic assumptions that have created the conditions where ever more poverty – where hungry children and suicidal disabled people – are normalised and accepted. The belief endures that it is the poor, really, who are to blame. That if everyone just passed their GCSE’s and tidied up their CV then low pay, exploitation, slum landlords and criminal bosses would all disappear. The poor would have enough to eat, the rich would keep getting richer, everyone would know their place and the people running the JRF could stop feeling so guilty next time they shell out the price of a normal family’s annual food budget on some voluntary sector vol-au-vent munching piss up. Or a conference as they are known in the industry.
Astonishingly the JRF do not even call for the scrapping of many of the recent social security cuts that have created such a crisis amongst those with the lowest incomes. Instead they demand some minor changes, such as an exemption from the Bedroom Tax for those with special housing needs who want to move but cannot due to a lack of suitable properties. And whilst there are calls to reverse cuts to Universal Credit, slightly raise Jobseeker’s Allowance rates and delay the upcoming slashing of sickness benefits, there is no substantial objection to many of even Iain Duncan Smith’s most vicious welfare reforms. What a difference five years makes. The Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap are the new normal, even the UK’s leading anti-poverty think-tank is too craven to call for them to be scrapped.
Instead what we are left with in this report is the usual tinkering round the edges backed by a delusion that these recommendations will fix poverty at a time of cut-throat capitalism. That a prosperous neo-liberal paradise is just around the corner, we just need to upskill, work hard, and do the right thing And if we all do our bit then surely bosses, bankers and landlords will agree to do the same. Because that is how capitalism works in the minds of those at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. All of us working together to help the rich stay rich, in the hope of a pat on the head one day from the powerful. It’s just like a big cuddle really, now stop complaining and fill out those job applications. You fucking mug.
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