The moment when I realised that the Tories were politicising hate came during George Osborne’s conference speech in 2012 in which he said, “Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits? When we say we’re all in this together, we speak for that worker.”
All in this together? Except those sleeping off a life on benefits, after an excess of drink and/or drugs and partying was the implication. Setting up resentment and hate against ones neighbour was a triumph out of which was to come Channel 4’s ‘Benefits Street’ and a whole raft of what became known as poverty porn in the media.
Osborne could have said, ‘Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their banker next door neighbour sleeping off a life on bonuses after crashing the global economy?’ But he didn’t say that, nor about tax evaders, or corporate profits made on the backs of workers on minimum wage, or money lenders and payday loan sharks ripping off people on poverty pay whose earnings do not even cover the week. Osborne was putting the writing on the wall, the target for austerity was the very people he sought to divide and sow resentment amongst.
Poor hating (and ‘othering’) was on its way to becoming legitimised and mainstream, wilfully and knowingly promoted by the government. It was an almost overnight success as the government launched its all out attack on the poorest and most vulnerable people in Britain. The war on the poor was on, left without any defence against hate speech and hate crimes, unprotected in law, excluded from all protections and legal redress. In other words, fair game.
The next set piece inciting and stoking the state sanctioned flames of hatred, came a year later with the launch of what are now known as Theresa May’s ‘racist vans’, these were accompanied by immigration officers randomly and illegally challenging non-white people on the London Underground demanding they prove their right to be in the UK. The outcry against this was robust, their assault brief, but the damage was done. Legitimising hatred with a short sharp shock worked wonders. All people need is a little nudge to get them going in the required direction.
And to keep them going, a year later poverty porn flooded the air waves. Benefits Street became the first of many programmes and series denigrating the poor and people on benefits in particular.
I am unsure when Social Security began to be faded out and replaced with the more pejorative ‘benefits’. ‘hand outs’, ‘welfare’ and ‘welfare dependency’. Social Security was inclusive, these new terms were divisive by intent as Cameron talked about slashing benefits and attacked what he called the ‘culture of entitlement’ (he probably even believed it) amongst poor people.
The Tories came up with the mantra of ‘making work pay’. Austerity was predicated on this as workers were stripped of employment rights, wages frozen or tanked, legal protections trashed. Making sure work always paid meant ensuring that the benefits system was as inhuman and punitive as possible, which had been a steady progression from the late 90’s but stratospherically escalated from 2010 by the DWP under Iain Duncan Smith.
Smith made it his holy mission in life to incentivise people into work by depriving them of the means of survival, through the sanctions regime, including the dismal amount the law stipulates that people need to live on. Smith insists to this day that sanctions are always applied fairly, as a last resort, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Sick and disabled people are not exempt from the sanctions regime and deterioration to health is expected. The DWP guidelines stipulate that, “It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health if they were without: 1. essential items such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation, or 2. sufficient money to buy essential items for a period of two weeks.” A vulnerable person is one who would suffer more than this, it suggests, adding: “The DM (decision maker) must decide if the health of the person with the medical condition would decline more than a normal healthy adult.”
Perhaps those exterminated in the witch trials during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries might have looked upon such guidelines as benign, although many have wondered whether the DWP will reintroduce the ducking stool.
People have died in their thousands, so many that the DWP blocked publication of any updated figures. A Freedom of Information Request by Mike Sivier was ignored until the courts forced the DWP to release the figures although well past the deadline set by the Information Commissioner, having dragged their heels for nearly three years, and even then produced fudged figures which were all but useless.
It is hard to credit that this is Britain in the 21st century. MP’s act as the aggrieved parties, protesting that we, including some MP’s, have it all wrong and are talking nonsense. Iain Duncan Smith maintains that there is no causal link between sanctions and benefit deaths and use of emergency food banks, dismissing the evidence as anecdotal or supposition. First hand accounts and witnesses are good enough for the court system, but not good enough for the DWP’s secret penal system which imposes penalties far in excess of the UK’s court system and far more of them.
Mental health problems are on the increase, and why would they not be? This is what it is like living in a dystopian reality, a society that is as dehumanising and as unpleasant as possible, like George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ but this is no fantasy novel, it is the living reality for millions of people in Britain today.
In less than six years Britain has been transformed into a modern dystopia, for millions of people it is a living hell and a hell that they themselves are blamed for creating. Poverty is a treated as a personal failing, sickness and disability are treated as malingering, work is spun as a health outcome, depriving people of the means of survival is called fair, homelessness is treated as antisocial behaviour and begging a criminal offense, subject to instant fines. Councils are looking at fines of up to £1000 for begging and rough sleeping. That’ll solve the problem, eh?
This is an orchestrated plan against those who by accident of birth are poor by those who by accident of birth are well off and privileged. Is it any wonder that the Tories want to scrap the human rights act when they have already legitimised prejudice and hatred against poor, sick and disabled people and Cameron’s ‘swarm’ of immigrants?
What can we do? Firstly we must recognise that this is a physical war but it is also psychological warfare. The government spends millions of pounds of our money to pay for its Nudge Unit, or Behavioural Insights Team, and a small army of advisers, PR wonks and spin doctors. Much, indeed most, of the mainstream media is fully complicit in this travesty, it is either too insipid in its response or actively fuels and promotes the desecration and subjugation of the lives of ordinary people.
Whilst it is understandable that people, perhaps isolated, alone and afraid, wonder why no one is doing anything, a complaint I have often seen and heard. Millions are doing something every day, donating to food banks, volunteering, protesting, providing food and shelter, organising to block bailiffs, offering advice and advocacy help, working and reporting in the alternative media, reporting and sharing on social media, Union activists and political movements like Momentum, creating videos and documentaries, writing letters and articles, staying in touch with people in distress and offering support and care, a kind word, a hug, a shoulder to cry on. Every day.
The sun never sets on caring, The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day to those struggling and in despair, they can be called free at any time on any phone on 116 123 or visit their website http://www.samaritans.org/ for local branches.
Why are not people uniting to a common cause? Because our actions and movements are organic, working at many discrete levels, without coercion, self motivated, democratic, doing what we are willing and able to do. Resorting to moral compulsion and maybe patriotism (which itself is a form of compulsion) or appealing to civic duty will not serve us in any way. We are already a vast army of the willing, no matter how seemingly disparate, players in a system that is rigged against us. Economic warfare is as deadly as any war and as brutal, whether people die from a bullet or by being deprived of the means of survival, the result is the same, thousands die. Is death by deceit and corruption any better or worse than death from a bomb or bullet?
Make no mistake, we may not wear the uniform of state, or be armed and trained to be blunt instruments to fight their wars of subjugation and terror, but are we not warriors?
Never think for one moment that compassion and kindness, care and consideration are weak or that words are not mighty. After all, the war they wage against us is promoted and legitimised by words, albeit weasel words on which they spend millions in forcing their hateful words and ideology upon us.
Just before my visit to Bath Police Station in 2014 to lay charges against Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud, I had a moment of clarity in the shower, just words, ‘The Shoestring Army’, right out of the blue. Time has shown me what they meant. We are all that army. There are no joining fees, no recruitment campaigns, no conscription, we are an army of ordinary people, by right of birth and life. Our enemy does not understand us, cares nothing for us and has values very different to ours. They prize wealth and privilege above all else, I prize life and that is what I stand for in all its complex wonder. Life, our oh so brief time here, is to be treasured. They have no idea what that means.
Lord Freud summed it up very nicely, “people who are poorer should be prepared to take the biggest risks” as they have “the least to lose.” In other words, we are expendable, he and his kind are not.
He is wrong, of course, but he’s not just wrong, he is an ignorant sociopath and on the wrong side of life and living.
We are better than that.
KOG 07 November 2016