Sunday, 28 June 2015

Austerity for the Poor

Austerity has covered acres of newspaper space since 2010. There has been excellent coverage by journalists who have penned millions of words on austerity from every conceivable angle. Yet by virtue of their job, not many actually ‘live’ austerity; spend day in and day out experiencing austerity on the front line, sleep, eat and breathe austerity as a way of life. They can only record the details of ordinary people’s struggles; the struggles of the poor.

Since 2010 being ‘poor’ has taken on a whole new meaning. Us, the poor, now have our own subsections – the unemployed poor, the disabled poor, the carers poor, the student poor, and probably for one of the first periods in UK history, whole battalions of working poor, of which I am a member. An austerity driven Tory government, once in coalition and now masters of their own universe until 2020, have created more poor people than Thatcher could ever dream about. You could argue we have always had the unemployed poor, the vast majority of which move back into work within 6 months. No government has ever got to grips with being a compassionate government for disabled people and carers. They, including myself, have remained bottom of the focus group ‘to do’ list since we are the unseen, invisible, 11 million votes the political parties have refused to court. The young student poor are now having every dream of a good career, decent house, decent standard of living ripped away while they carry thousands of pounds of student loan debt into their adult lives. Students were encouraged to believe university was, and is, the only option of a good job, while no emphasis has been placed on technical apprenticeships to provide the next generation of skilled workers on our shop floors.

The working poor. A phrase that would have been thought comedic twenty, thirty years ago when going to work paid. Having a job, whether you were a factory production line worker, a hairdresser, a bricklayer or a teacher meant having a permanent job, renting a flat or house with friends when young, then your own home either in the social or private sector mostly by your twenty-fifth birthday. Work paid to get that car, to pay your bills, save for a new cooker or carpet, a summer holiday, and a few pints down the pub. And while you were toasting the fruits of your labour, parents knew their kids were well clothed and fed, birthdays enjoyed and pocket money given for a trip to the cinema on a Saturday. Sure, it wasn’t utopia, but work damned well paid back then. So what has gone wrong? Why is austerity being borne on the shoulders of the poor and working poor? And don’t forget the ‘in word’ at the moment among politicians cross party – Aspiration. What has happened to the hopes and aspirations of the poor?

First of all, us poor are our own worse enemies. The Tory/LibDem government peddled the lie austerity is needed and we are ‘all in it together’ and judging by the result of the recent General Election far too many believed the Tory lie. Those at the top, the Tory MPs, the bankers, the right wing media were and are definitely all in it together! They decided the poor must suffer and should the poor dare to aspire to a better way of life, like heaven forbid a permanent job on a decent wage, then that ladder of opportunity will be denied from the outset with the introduction of mass zero hours contract jobs. Employers who treat the minimum wage as the maximum wage proliferate, both partners in a couple are expected to work and once their kids are 5, then full time. The message is let the childminder bring your kids up. The right wing media find poor people with little or no education to exploit as scroungers in a never ending diet of poverty porn TV, which many now believe is the norm of society among the poor. Foodbank programmes rarely show struggling families, but always the chancer or the people we deem not to be pitied like alcoholics and drug addicts. And sadly as the programmes are screened endlessly the right wing media work their magic and we poor turn against each other.

Austerity for us is a daily struggle. The aspirations of the poor that our politicians talk about are a pipe dream for many. In short our aspiration is survival. Having a decent home free from threat of having to constantly move, a house with a garden for families has been replaced with having a roof over your head in the short term. Any roof that does not require moving every 6 months is aspiration. This form of housing is often poor quality owned by buy-let landlords not interested in providing decent accommodation, but just viewing you as an easy way to make a fast buck through housing benefit. The working poor, once able to pay rent on their council house now need housing benefit to subsidise sky high rents in the private sector for basic accommodation. This is often where both partners work too, and is not confined to lone parents the pariahs of this capitalist Tory government.

Austerity for the poor is a grinding daily struggle of being able to keep a roof over your head, feed yourself and your family and pay the bills, and in the winter months particularly taking the choice to eat or heat your home. These are the choices forced on people the government say are undeserving of support. While we used to tell our children a good education, studying hard and perhaps a chance at university is the way out of poverty, which is sadly no longer the case. Many university graduates are in zero hours minimum wage jobs too. A whole new young generation of 16+ are being told low pay is the norm and your aspiration, zero hours contracts or as Duncan-Smith calls them ‘flexible working contracts’ is the norm and your aspiration, and belonging to a union is a thing of the past and something you should not belong to. This generation were only 9 years old or more when the Tories came into power in 2010.. They know no different. They have been indoctrinated with TV and newspaper articles insisting they must look down and despise the poor and those less fortunate, not feel compassion for the unemployed and understand that ‘hard work’ is the correct and only thing to do now from nursery age to 70. If you are poor, your education will be poor too with schools full of teachers who teach to a set curriculum to get results and meet targets, not there to answer questions of enquiring young minds and nurture and educate young people’s ideas and hopes.

On Saturday June 20th thousands of people from across unions and communities will march in the People’s assembly national demonstration against austerity. Demonstrating and protesting is what we have left to tell this Tory government we are not allowing the poor to take this burden for another 5 years. Osborne is planning another £12 billion of welfare cuts to fall on our shoulders and we literally cannot tolerate any more cuts to tax credits, working tax credit, disability benefits or carers allowance. Our kids need to be able to go to university or take a technical apprenticeship without fear of lifelong debt.

Aspiration should not be the preserve of the middle classes. Working hard with noses to the grindstone on a zero hours contract with no stability on low pay should not be the aspiration of the poor. If you cannot make the demonstration in London take to social media and use twitter and facebook as your protest weapon. Take compassion on your neighbour, made redundant and seeking a new job, open your eyes to the carer down the road getting £63 a week to look after a disabled person, note how many of your community are suffering due to the bedroom tax and job centre sanctions and stop living in a selfish bubble of I’m alright Jack. Its only by standing together us poor will defeat the dark forces of Toryism that seek to destroy us.