Saturday, October 29, 2011

Watch Out, There's a Humphrys About

Being a man of leisure, I am now able to further my career as a writer of letters, or "emails" as they are now known, to institutions. What follows is the email I have just sent to the BBC concerning their programme The Future State of Welfare with John Humphrys.

The Future State of Welfare with John Humphrys chose its interviewees, not as a representative sample of the UK's population, but in order to confirm commonly held prejudices about the kinds of people who are supposedly "being given something for nothing in this country", unrepresentative of the vast majority of claimants but always brought up in conversation by people who are well off themselves and not interested in finding out the whole story of who gets welfare and whether it is, in many cases, enough to live on.

There was the newly immigrant family who are receiving an incredibly high amount in housing benefit for a spacious, extremely habitable looking flat in Islington. This panders to the prejudice we hear time and time again of immigrants jumping to the front of the housing queue and living in expensive properties.

There was the single mother with seven children living on benefits which panders to the prejudice that thousands of young women keep giving birth just because they know they'll be looked after by the state no matter how many children they have.

There was the woman on incapacity benefit living with ME, or "yuppie flu"as the prejudiced might say when asked what sort of people are getting benefits when there is nothing seriously wrong with them.

The programme did not qualify as impartial, saying that there was a consensus amongst political parties in the UK about welfare, ignoring the millions of people who are not represented by the main political parties. The programme looked for welfare solutions from the USA, hardly a good example for the eradication of "squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease" which was the aim of the Beveridge Report.

Opinion was taken not from just America but also from young Poles working in this country who were of the opinion that welfare in the UK was too generous as compared to Poland where it is not possible to live on state benefits. Nothing was said about poverty in the UK and the difficulties millions of people have making ends meet not just on welfare but on the poor minimum wage and above. Although two of the interviewees said it was not worth their while working because they would end up with very little more in their pockets, the obvious solution of a higher minimum wage was not mentioned. It was all about making life more miserable for people, not about giving them a decent standard of living.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On Spitting

It looks like El Hadji Diouf could be on his way to West Ham. And West Ham fans are furious. Because years ago, when he was playing for Liverpool, he spat in the general direction of West Ham fans.

You see, spitting is the worst thing you can do to someone. It makes you less of a human being than, say, a hero like Paolo Di Canio who has described himself as a fascist.

A spit is beyond the pale. Much worse than a good old honest punch.

Well, I don't see people dying from being spat at. Unlike the local man who was punched outside a kebab house last week.

The most recent spitting I've seen is from footage of The World at War which we are currently watching. Russian women who had experienced the horrors of invasion were spitting at captured German soldiers.

Just maybe El Hadji Diouf had provocation. But spitting at someone, no matter what they've said to you, has no place in a civilised society. We are English. We only spit on the pavement or at the urinal. We punch people, we kick people, but we don't spit at them. We are civilised.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Standard of Living - Part 2

Though a couple both on jobseeker's allowance just about make 40% of the average British household income, a single person doesn't. £67.50 per week is a mere 34% of a single person household's average income. Maybe the single unemployed ought to give up their computers, their link to the outside world, so they can have a healthier diet. Yes, that's what they should do.

But once again the poverty experts make a minimum standard of living sound so luxurious that policy makers are not going to take them seriously.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned a survey of the great British public to ask them what they think people need to reach a minimum standard of living.

You can do the questionnaire here and it basically says that after rent, mortgage interest, council tax, buildings insurance and water charges, a single person needs £163 per week or 82% of average income to maintain a minimum standard of living. A couple would need £259 or 76% of a couple's average income.

The public doing the survey were asked what the minimum should be that nobody should fall below. I don't know whether they were then asked what the level of jobseeker's allowance should be. I doubt it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Standard of Living - Part 1

As I was saying, it's not the unemployment that gets you down, it's the poverty. And we're now officially living on poverty income. Though it doesn't feel like it. Why not? Let's take a look at the figures, shall we?

Relative poverty, or low income, in the UK is 60% or less of the average (median) British household income in that year, measured after income tax, national insurance, council tax, rents, mortgage interest, buildings insurance and water charges have been deducted. It's therefore based on what a household has to spend on everything else it needs, from food, clothing, light and heating to travel and entertainment.

In 2008/09, 13.5 million people, 22% of the population in the UK were living in households below the 60% threshold. That is a fuck of a lot of people and these are official figures used by the government for poverty in the UK, don't forget. So why hasn't there been a revolution?

Let's see what under 60% of the average couple's income of £343 per week looks like for a couple like us who are non-smokers, home drinkers at weekends and home broadband users at a minimum (because the government want us all online, of course).

60% means we get to run a car, have Sky (as we love Mr Murdoch's service), save up for repairs and renewals and have a holiday abroad.

55% means we get to run a car, have Sky (as we love Mr Murdoch's service), save up for repairs and renewals and have one holiday in the UK.

50% means we get to run a car, have Sky (as we love Mr Murdoch's service), save up for repairs and renewals and have no holidays.

45% means we get to run a car, have Sky (as we love Mr Murdoch's service), not save up for repairs and renewals and have no holidays.

40% means we have no car, no Sky (even though we love Mr Murdoch's service), not save up for repairs and renewals and have no holidays.

At the moment, in our circumstances, I'm budgeting for 45-50%. We'll see how it goes.

40% is about the level of jobseekers' allowance for a couple, assuming housing costs are paid for by the state.

The number of people in the 50-60% range, the reasonably well-off low-income people, has remained stable in the range of 4 to 4.8 million between 1979 and 2009. The 40-50%, not particularly well-off low-income people, have had more of a rocky ride and are up from 2 million in 1979 to 3.5 million in 2009. But the poor sods on 40% or less have rocketed from 1.3 million to 5.9 million (up from 2.4% of the population to 9.8%).

I know the Tories like to create poor people, but surely New Labour did a Hell of a lot for the less-well-off, I hear you say.

Well, New Labour took two million people out of the 40-60% range but added nearly a million to the under 40%s.

So when a government says they want to get people out of poverty, they mean relative poverty and they mean getting those who are pretty well off in the scheme of things to above 60% of average income. If they were serious about giving the poorest people a bit of a life they'd increase benefits by at least 15-20%, double the pathetic minimum wage and make sure everybody is living in reasonable housing conditions.

Next I'll be looking at single people on the dole and the incredible Minimum Income Standard funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

*all figures for the above from

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Aimless (6)

Since we’d moved to Crayford, my dad had been working at silk-screen printers David Evans, just down the road. He left early in the morning and came back early in the evening, then de-camped to the garage or his allotment. It was about this time his world started falling apart.

His sister, a kindly generous woman, had died at the age of 42 in the early 70s. She had a brain tumour which was operated on. She died from the operation. My dad wouldn’t accept her death, blaming the surgeon. A man who had said his prayers religiously before going to bed now lost his faith and became vociferously atheist. He now asked if there is a God, why did he allow his sister to die at such a young age? She’d never done anything to deserve that.

My own road to atheism was not so fraught. I’d never believed, never been brainwashed by my family or school. In fact at primary school I couldn’t believe that any of us believed. We used to take the piss something rotten out of the school’s vicar. The Grumbleweeds were a crap childishly-humorous pop band at the time and one of the band was introduced with the call ‘Watchya, Baldy!’ Our vicar was almost bald so he got the same treatment from our class when he came to spout his Christian bollocks.

Not long after my dad's sister's death, his mum went, too. My grandad was in hospital with lung cancer and my dad went to check up on his mum as usual and found her slumped in her chair, dead from a heart attack. Or the heartbreak of losing a daughter.

My grandad came out of hospital and came to stay with us, in my little box bedroom. My sister moved into my parents’ bedroom as I had hers. I kept myself to myself, carried on with my studies and my tennis and my music and my reading.

After a while my grandad was taken to hospital to die and my dad was left with no mum and dad and no sister. He withdrew into himself and would spend more and more time by himself over the next few years, making things in the garage and growing things in the allotment. Brewing his own beer, drinking his home-brewed beer. Christmas was the time we noticed him getting drunk but in reality he was getting drunk all the time. He was becoming a secret alcoholic.

But those Christmases were the worst. My dad was bitter that he’d lost his family and my mum’s were all intact. Especially as his family were so much friendlier and down to earth, salt of the earth. He didn’t get on with his mother-in-law who he thought sucked the life out of life with her expectations of her daughters to come running at a moment’s notice and her philosophy of life as ‘hell on earth’.

So because Christmases were seen as big family occasions, my dad resented having to spend every Christmas from now on in the company of my mum’s family. The three sisters took it in turns to cook and we’d all get together, pussyfooting around my grandmother as she sat in the corner of the room, a few feet from the television set, the television turned up loud when anything came on which she wanted to watch. My grandmother had fucked her hearing earlier in her life by cleaning the wax out of her ears using knitting needles which presumably, like the opening medicine, would never do her any harm.

Of course the Queen’s Christmas Message was the highlight of the day for my grandmother who couldn’t get enough of what the Queen was wearing, how she was looking so good for her age, how she was speaking directly to each and every one of us although if you’d asked my nan after the event what the Queen had actually said I’m sure she wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Some bollocks about the Commonwealth I’m sure with pictures of black children far away, far away enough not to worry about being swamped in this country by non-whites. My dad, being a staunch anti-Royalist from birth, seethed as the Queen blared out at maximum volume. Meanwhile I was sitting there in my uncomfortable Christmas clothes of itchy polo-neck jumper, itchy tight-crotched trousers and too-tight oxblood shoes.