Monday, 31 March 2014

Working Class: Working Proud!

The "article" - a desperate piece of writing in The Telegraph by Alex Proud, Time we stopped worshipping the working class. - On the  reasons why middle class people deny their working class backgrounds, and why the writer is proud to be middle class is yet another attack by the right wing media to demonise the working classes.

The article was emblazoned by a photo of  "Working Class Hero" Frank Gallagher of the TV programme "Shameless" as the writer proceeded to criticise those who were formally working class but have now made it big by becoming a celebrity or film director. What was ironic was that Mr Proud decided to defend his own working class roots by giving us a story of his fathers working class credentials before going on to lambast others who do this!

It is a common thread of the right wing press throughout this Coalitions tenure in Government since 2010 to seek to mock, shame and downright degrade anyone who is or was working class. We have seen the ridicule of people on "Benefit Street"being openly paraded on television as a kind of middle class sport, their lives and backgrounds raked over to provide ammunition for people who were lucky enough to have had a better start in life, a private education which led on to a good career. We have seen people like the talented and now successful Jack Monroe being hissed at by Edwina Currie on a Channel 5 debate on Benefits ,and mocked about her grandparents class and what Jack's own roots were - like it mattered! A woman who survived on benefits with her small son and blogged about getting by on £10 per week food, created exciting recipes and hauled herself off the breadline when a publishing company decided to turn her recipes into a book, should be lauded - not condemned by an out of touch, has been ex- Tory MP who incidentally thinks there are no need for Foodbanks either.

It is indeed difficult to get working class success stories into the media. Why? Because the right wing press don't want to know. To them working class people are  (to use their rhetoric) the "unemployed scroungers who don't want to work". Hence Mr Proud's Shameless photo on his article. But those of us who are working class, but don't have access to having their own column or feature in the national press, have everyday stories of the ordinary everyday work we do that may not have our names in lights outside a West End theatre but without whom our country would not survive a day and I am talking of : factory workers on zero hours contracts, carers on £59 per week caring for disabled relatives 24/7, nurses, train drivers, bus drivers, teachers, unemployed struggling to find work. Working class, working proud people who do their job which benefits these smug middle class writers like Alex Proud who deign to write about their life experiences.

And to those working class people who make it big? You often find when their salary raises them above ordinary people's wages they decide to also benefit those around them less fortunate. They may become MPs who strive to fight for the rights of their working class constituents and promote the cause of unions in the workplace like Ian Lavery, Grahame Morris and Ian Mearns. Or they be showbiz people who however rich, decide to speak out on the suffering of the poor during austerity like Fiona Phillips on ITV Breakfast or Paul O'Grady comedian and chat show host. There is nothing to poke fun at, nothing to ridicule when someone from a working class background becomes successful, yet people like Alex Proud seems to think there is.

Mr Proud says in his article " .. In general I'm sure it was harder for you" (making it big coming from a working class background) but he doesn't want to hear about it. Why not? Shouldn't the people who have become successful shout from the rooftops they have done so from a working class background? Couldn't they be the person who inspires a teenager in school to take a similar path? I know as a working class woman of middle age I am impressed , admire and look up to those who have succeeded in their path to a political career, striving to protect and care for the most vulnerable of their constituents ,and  sometimes having to ignore their own party line to stand up for what they believe is the right thing to do.

Alex Proud also asks "Is growing up poor really that bad?". I would say No, growing up poor and becoming working poor may not be "that bad" in some respects, but how relentless that poverty can be and how grinding .Growing up poor gives children a sense of shame, guilt even that they do not have the money to take part in activities like their peers, or afford the clothes and modern day gadgets middle class children take for granted. Growing up poor can have the advantage that nothing is taken for granted and possessions are treasured. But then most poor children become poor adults. The never ending cycle of poverty affects their life chances. After having my home repossessed  in 1991 when interests rates rocketed to 15%, no one values space as much as I do after spending just shy of 3 years in a 1 room B+B  with a husband and 2 small children before being allocated a council house. Poor? I was virtually destitute at the time and experiences like mine and those of other working class people, need to be aired in our newspapers and on television in a rebuttal of articles like Mr Proud's.

So I applaud and trumpet the achievements of all working class people. Those in ordinary everyday jobs, and those who have made it big. The only "Shameless" people are those like Mr Proud who seek to denigrate us. We're working class, we're working proud.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Women : 4 years a Slave under this Government

As Cameron and Clegg are gearing up for further huge budget cuts should the Tories either singularly,or in coalition, gain power again in 2015, one thing is certain ; slashing of both social security and local services budgets will impact women more than any other group. With Duncan-Smith already arguing with Cameron to cut winter fuel allowances, bus passes and TV licenses from the elderly in 2015, larger groups of women will be hit. More headlines, more stats are produced daily on a seemingly never ending production line, telling women just how unimportant this Government thinks they are. While the posh boys line their male frontbench up at PMQs weekly, women are facing on the frontline, the consequences of their policies.

While Clegg blindly blunders on with his free school meals for all 5-6 year olds, even where schools have no kitchens (no planning at all, just unthinking populist policy) or children are the offspring of millionaire parents, working poor households lose out even more than poor households on free school lunches. Many working poor households like mine have always had to pay either for full cost hot  school lunches or a packed lunch. Sometimes when my four sons were all in school the cost for hot lunches was £2.50 per day per child, £10 for our family and £50 per week. Needless to say they took a packed lunch. I vividly remember on a few occasions when I could not stretch lunches for all four boys, and sent the older two to high school empty handed, with an excuse to tell any concerned teacher. I then had beans on toast waiting as they came through the door after school. The guilt was overwhelming, but the cupboard was bare and the younger two sons had to be put first. There are more working poor families facing this huge dilemma as their wages can't stretch to school lunches as well as breakfast and tea. On the whole women are shouldering this guilt. Robbing Peter to feed Paul literally.

Not surprisingly 42 Tory MPs are members of  the Free Enterprise group which advocates VAT on kids clothes, baby food and prescriptions. Liz Truss, the aptly named "childcare minister" is one of them! All in it together!

Affordable childcare has hit all women regardless of class, but working class women the most. Childcare prices have rocketed under the Coalition as the population expands rapidly and the Tories only solution has been to increase the child to staff ratios in nurseries ,so ultimately our children have poorer quality care as staff face more children to care for. In smaller towns and rural areas finding childcare at all is a problem in itself. Labour are courting working mums votes by offering 25 hours per week for nursery aged children free of charge, but I feel they could be bolder as many mums and dads feel the strain of  childcare costs, not just on their pre-school children, but on those aged 5-11 too. After having met Miliband myself and argued the case for affordable childcare for parents of disabled children, I feel this sector of parents has once again been left to rot. Many parents of disabled children would like to work even part time, but are stuck on Carers Allowance of £59pw as there are no childcare providers either willing, specialised enough, or affordable to take on a disabled child. And why should they take that child on a 1:1 when they can take 6 able bodied children and so reap the extra income from those children?

Local social services departments have been cut to the bone. Many women over 45 may also be caring for elderly relatives and day care centres allow them to work. However, these services are being cut and women my age are shouldering a huge burden often caring for sick elderly relatives and bringing up their own children too. Women suffering domestic violence will soon have nowhere to turn to as the rate of closures of refuges escalates weekly. Combine this with the catastrophic closure of Sure Start Centres and women are losing vital lifelines and being cast adrift by this Government who mock the services women value.

Stats reveal more women work in the public sector who are being made redundant, and women are taking the brunt in jobs like  shop work on either low or zero hours contracts and on the minimum wage. Single women are struggling to even rent as landlords refuse tenancies to those on unsteady
contracts. Banks won't even discuss a mortgage unless women can provide evidence of full time permanent work.

Universal Credit is designed to hit women the hardest. Single parents will be particularly singled out as allowances for U 25s are slashed and the enhanced disability premium is cut altogether. Young carers where mum is severely disabled will be particularly hit by this cut. Even in 2 parent families, only 1 parent is allowed to make the claim. If a woman is caught up in a controlling relationship, the other partner may make the claim and thus deprive the woman of access to money for herself and any children. The payment is also made monthly not weekly, so women may go through the month with no funds or be forced to turn to Foodbanks in desperation. A vicious circle of deprivation will result.

Any woman on maternity leave may find herself out of work if unscrupulous employers decide to sack her at this vulnerable time. Legal aid to take an employer to a tribunal has been abolished and it costs £1200: something the woman has to find herself or lose her job. Employers know this and can exploit the system.

As a member of the working poor myself, I have felt the attack and been part of the 4 years as a slave under this government. Osborne and co will no doubt throw a few bones off the table to keep us sweet for 2015. Don't be fooled.  Use your vote wisely in 2015 and don't fall for Farage and his male " blokes" either all looking to join Cameron in a coalition, in order to keep women as second class citizens for another 5 years.

Women have throughout time changed the course of history. Isn't it time we changed the next 5 years by booting out the posh boys and pretenders like Ukip and using our voices, our actions, to getting policies that benefit, protect and promote women? These 4 years have been the dark ages for women and history books in time will document this. No more slave years. Now is the time for drastic change.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Cameron,Clegg, Farage. Have you ever....?

....watched the news and heard yourselves pompously waffling on about what you "think"the electorate actually want? All I have heard you talk about recently is out of touch policies that may appeal to a tiny minority of millionaires, retired male middle classes, and squeezed parents wondering if they can still afford private education for their offspring. Take a good long hard look all of you into the ordinary UK, that each of you are desperately trying to claim to represent and answer some of these questions.

Have you ever...

  • Worked solidly for a month, get to the day all of your bills and direct debits are due to go out of the bank and felt a wave of relief when you have made it with less than £5 left until you receive your next child benefit. This will pay for a weekly shop - ish.
  • Felt the dread when your child brings home a school trip letter, knowing that if you say Yes then you will be robbing Peter to pay Paul for a couple of months, sweating to make sure your child doesn't miss out. You know for sure that the class bully will take great delight in having a go at the kids who can't afford to make the trip.
  • Been called by school AGAIN and asked to come in straight away as your disabled child with special needs is having a meltdown and you have to drop everything  to get there NOW! No employer will put up with this for school age children and no childminder/nursery wants to look after your disabled child on a 1-1 basis as it requires specialist staff with specialist skills at vast expense. Therefore the world of work is not an option and you are left claiming £59 pw Carers Allowance as your "work choices" do not exist.
  • Wondered how you are going to feed the family when there are 3 days left in the month or week before you get any more money and the fridge is bare? Have you ever raided down the back of the sofa looking for any 50ps or £1 coins that may have escaped because you know that will pay for a few rounds of beans on toast.
  • Sent your child or children to school with no dinner money as being a member of the working poor you cannot gain access to free school meals but likewise can't afford packed lunches or dinner money and give your child(ren) the excuse to say "It's ok I never get hungry at lunch time" if challenged by a teacher as to why they are not having a school lunch.
  • Been so grateful to your immigrant neighbour who did all they could to help you out during the recent winter storms when your wall fell down and tiles came off your roof. That neighbour was there in the thick of it, moving all the debris and helping you out.
  • Wondered if you could perhaps put the heating on for half an hour extra today. Would it make a big difference to the meter, but would that mean for that extra half an hour today, you will not be able to have the heating on tomorrow at all?
  • Had no choice but to pack your pride away and seek out professional help who will refer your family to a Foodbank for help as there is no food in the cupboard. Your benefit payment has been inexplicably delayed or you have been made redundant and have signed on the dole for the first time and your benefit will take over a month to be processed? The humiliation of asking for a food parcel handout is almost unbearable, but you have no other choice.
  • Phoned in work and had to pretend to be sick. You see the car needs petrol and you have run out, yet it is a couple of days to payday and you live over 10 miles from work. You have already borrowed money from relatives from last month for the exact same reason and have come to the end of your tether with the worry of it all. The stress of coping really IS making you ill. You have previously taken out a payday loan and don't want to be caught in that situation again.
  • Wondered whether full time permanent work will ever exist again. Your job is zero hours contracted and you are unable to even think about approaching the bank for a home loan as you could be fired at will by your employer at anytime.
  • Anxiously wondered whether you would be one of the lucky ones as the factory owners have announced that you and your fellow agency workers at the factory have a chance of applying for 5 permanent full time positions. There are 300 workers in the factory and 95% are zero hours contract agency staff like you.
  • Had to attend an ATOS/Capita PIP assessment and even though you have a lifelong disability or a disability that see you have more bad days than good, they have found you fit to work. Yet your GP and consultant both agree you would never be able to hold down a job due to the profound effects of your disability. You dread the brown DWP letters coming through the door as your only lifeline is your disability benefit. The stress of the waiting and assessments makes you more ill than you were previously.
  • Cried in anguish as the house you have lived in and called home for so long is now deemed "too big" for you and under the despicable bedroom tax you cannot afford to find the extra money to live there any longer so have to move out. For disabled people often they are moving out of an adapted home with 2 bedrooms to a 1 bed non- adapted home and the local council then has to spend ££££££s on adapting the new flat/house. Or there are no 1 bed homes in your area and you are wondering how to stay put and pay the extra £15pw and the stress is overwhelming.
  • Rushed your child to A+E and  stood in awe of the immigrant doctor who diagnosed and treated your child, and the immigrant nurse who nursed your child back to health. Felt eternally grateful you live in a country where the NHS is free and accessible when you needed it most.
  • Felt annoyed and angry with yourself as you understand the "politics of envy" that you Cameron are seeping into the public psyche, but sometimes you feel envy towards the unemployed who don't work or you feel yourself blaming immigrants for " taking all our jobs" The right wing media is doing such a biased hatchet job, that on occasion you get sucked in without thinking.
  • Had your home reposessed by the banks or become homeless. Sat with your kids in a one room B+B knowing it could be months before you are rehoused and even then, if you live in the London area you could face being moved miles away from your support network and family. 
  • You will also  face constant annual moves due to the benefit cap and soaring rent rises made by greedy landlords and so your whole life is centred around how long you will be able to stay in 
  • one place, and can your children cope with constant home and school moves.
  • Faced your bright, gifted son or daughter and explained to them the cost of a University education and the student loan they may face paying back for a lifetime. Stress yourself over whether you can support them in anyway during their time at University.
Cameron and Clegg : It is no surprise that on your joint watch all of the problems faced by ordinary members of the working class electorate have came about in the past 4 years. Recent mutterings  of a joint coalition between the Tories and Ukip in 2015 or a coalition with anyone Nick Clegg can sell his party to will only send shudders down working class spines.

Until any of you have experienced many of the problems highlighted above by ordinary people, don't even begin to think you know what we want from your government. At  this time Tories and LibDems we just want you out; and as for Farage and his far right elderly male Ukip party where women are second class citizens, we don't want you getting close to government. For that would be like the disaster we are putting up with now.