Posts Tagged ‘Evening Post’

Is Boris Planning to Force Poor to Take Out Loans instead of Unemployment Benefit?

January 25, 2020

I realise that this may strike some people as a somewhat petty and ill-tempered overreaction to a passing comment someone made, but it’s been annoying me ever since I heard it. And I’m afraid, if it’s true, it could mean further devastating cuts to our already underfunded and dysfunctional welfare state. And it is also a revealing insight into the mean-spirited, jealous mindset of the working class Tory voter.

I was on the bus coming home yesterday when I happened to overhear the conversation from the couple on the seats immediately behind me. From the tone of their voices and their conversation, it seems they were an older couple. The man talked about how families no longer properly looked after their elderly relatives, except in places like Scotland. He said, quite rightly, that retired people also stimulated the economy by going out and having meals or a cup of coffee. That didn’t annoy me at all. What did – and it made so furious I was tempted to turn around and put the old fellow right – was his comment immediately before those. He announced that he agreed with Boris Johnson that workers like brickies – at least, that’s what I think he said – shouldn’t be given benefit when they were unemployed. They should have to take out a loan. He then went on to explain that he’d worked for a certain time without claiming his holidays. Then he was laid off. When he tried to sign on, however, he was told that by the clerk that they had received information about him which meant that he wouldn’t get any money for three weeks. Since then, he said, he always took his holidays.

I don’t know if this remark of Johnson’s is true, or where it was reported. It might be garbled rubbish, or it might be solid fact as reported by the Scum or some other Tory rag. But if it’s true, then it’s dangerous.

It should immediately be apparent how weak the man’s own argument is. Builders, like other workers, contribute to their unemployment benefit through National Insurance and their taxes. They therefore have every right to claim such benefit when they’re unemployed. The fact that the man complaining about it wasn’t is unfortunately, but irrelevant. From the sound of it, when he was laid off he was paid in lieu of the annual leave he didn’t take, and this amounted to three weeks’ worth of money. Or at least, that’s what the Jobcentre was informed or chose to assume.

This country is also suffering under a mountain of debt. The book The Violence of Austerity has an entire chapter devoted to the ‘violence of debtfare’. This debt, from student loans for education, payday loans, mortgages and so on, is not only keeping people poor, in some cases the repayments are actually making them unable to pay for necessities like food and heating. The very last thing this country needs is for more of it. But this is what this gentleman thought Johnson was advocating, and with which he agreed.

I remember the Social Fund and the way it operated in the Benefits Agency in the 1990s. Thatcher’s and Major’s governments decided to replace the system of grants that had been in place to allow claimants to buy certain necessities with a system of loans. It’s not a scheme that worked well. Some long term claimants, I’m sure, would have been better served with grants, not least because the loan system meant that money was deducted from benefit that was already supposed to be the minimum an individual could live on. The current system of loans in the welfare system has exacerbated this, so that with the repayments some people have notoriously been left with only a few pounds to last them the week. But Johnson and this idiot believe that this is acceptable.

I am also disgusted by the attitude behind these comments, though not surprised. When I was at school I remember reading letters in the local paper, The Evening Post as it then was, by people of a certain age supporting Thatcher’s cuts to unemployment and other benefits. The attitude there was that they had never had the benefit of state aid in their youth, and so the younger generation shouldn’t either. And the same attitude and argument crops up again and again whenever the Tories announce yet another round of cuts. I also think that part of the problem is that some of those with this attitude still believe that suitable work is available for everyone, somehow. They’ve benefited from the period between the Second World War and the Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister, when the government was committed to a policy of full employment. And even after that policy was abandoned, there was still the illusion of plenty of employment opportunities. I can remember trying to tell one of my co-workers how difficult I had found it to get a job after graduating university. There didn’t seem to be anything to fit my qualifications. This was also at a time when jobs were so scarce, that there were so many applicants for particular jobs that frequently prospective employers didn’t even inform you if you had been unsuccessful. But nevertheless, my coworkers were sceptical, saying ‘There are plenty of jobs in the paper’. This man clearly assumed that anyone who was laid off would find themselves new work in a relatively short space of time. But that’s no longer guaranteed.

But it’s through such selfishness and the resentment of a certain section of the working class to anyone they feel is getting more state benefits than they are, which the Tories are using to generate support for their welfare cuts.

There is no other justification. The benefit cuts and consequent tax cuts to the rich haven’t boosted the economy. Even right-wing economists now deny that trickledown – the process by which the wealth accrued to the high earners would pass down through society to those at the bottom – works or that it was even a major part of neoliberal economics in the first place. And so they try to justify their cuts with spurious morality.

And to do this, they play on the worst parts of human nature. They encourage a resentment of those they brand less deserving – Blacks and Asians, the disabled, the unemployed, and the poor in a vicious strategy of ‘divide and rule’. And the logic is used to cut benefits to their supporters. I’m sure this man would have been outraged if someone told him that his pension would now be stopped for short periods, during which he would have to take out loans. Much of the Tories’ voting constituency is over 50, and so they have been reluctant to cut their benefits and pensions. This has happened nonetheless. Austerity has already claimed the lives of thousands of senior citizens.

But this will get worse, so long as the Tories are able to utilise that selfishness, fear and resentment to turn the working class and other marginalised groups against themselves. In the end, under the Tories, they will all lose.

It’s just idiots won’t see it, so long as the Tories are able to distract them by a false claim that the benefits system is treating someone else better.


Fascism and the Murder of the Homeless

September 26, 2017

Last week or so Mike put up a story reporting how a gang of thugs had decided it was amusing to set alight a homeless man and his sleeping bag. The man’s injuries were so severe he had to be taken to hospital. Mike made it clear that while those responsible were just thugs acting independently, nevertheless their actions were result of Tory propaganda, spread through the right-wing press, demonizing the very poorest in our society as scroungers and a threat to the good, righteous and thrifty Thatcherite respectable classes. He felt that such crimes were on the rise.

I’ve read and seen enough on the plight of the homeless over the years to get the impression that such attacks are very common. A few years ago the Evening Post in Bristol interviewed a young homeless woman, who described her mistreatment by members of the public. She said that one man had even tried to get into her sleeping bag with her.

Way back in the 1990s during the war in the former Yugoslavia, the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbs and the other participants in that war, the Croats and the Muslims, was copied across the Atlantic by the Fascists in South America. There was a report on the news one evening about attacks on the poor and destitute by the supporters of the right-wing government in Colombia. These thugs had set upon and killed a homeless man, in what they boasted was ‘social cleansing’.

Now in Trump’s America we see real Fascists coming out the woodwork again, marching in support of forced repatriation, racial segregation and chanting anti-Semitic slogans, such as ‘The Jews shall not replace us.’ Meanwhile the neoliberal policies pursued by the Republicans and Clintonite Democrats are forcing working Americans into grinding poverty, including homelessness.

Violence against the homeless, along with other poor and marginalized groups has always existed. But it’s being encouraged by the rhetoric of the mainstream right-wing parties and the vilification spewed out by the right-wing press. And these parties are moving closer towards real Fascism, as shown by Trump’s vocal supporters in the Alt Right. I wonder how long it will be before we see real Fascists making similar boasts about ‘social cleansing’ over here.

The Tories’ Use of ‘Red Scares’ in Teaching

September 18, 2013

privatisaOne tactic that Conservatives have frequently used against the teaching profession is to create ‘Red Scares’ about ‘loony left’ political indoctrination in schools. This generally takes the form of one or more of the Right-wing newspapers publishing a supposed expose of how the teachers in a particular area are attempting to indoctrinate their vulnerable charges with radical Left, anti-racist or gay or feminist propaganda. Under Thatcher in the 1980s there was a controversy over the inclusion of Peace Studies in the curriculum in some schools. The Conservatives also passed the notorious Clause 28, which attempted to stop schools from promoting homosexuality. In one of her speeches, Mrs Thatcher also attacked ‘anti-racist mathematics’ introduced by ‘Fabians’ and ‘champagne socialists’. The Express ran a story about teachers in Yorkshire teaching explicitly Communist propaganda. The Evening Post in Bristol followed a similar line about a Communist pamphlet that had been circulated amongst the pupils by staff in one of the city’s schools. Most notoriously, teachers in Lambeth and Brent in London were supposed to have altered the nursery rhyme ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ to ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ to remove the rhyme’s racist content. It’s been revealed since as an urban legend, though I’ve met a number of people, who came from the boroughs, who remember being taught it. These stories then get expanded into an attack on teachers as a whole. From being separate incidents in particular areas, they are then presented as being representative of all of the profession.

It has also been used to attack the funding and control of education by local councils. In the 1970s schools were financed and controlled by the Local Education Authority, which were also responsible for maintaining standards. Under successive Conservative administrations, their role has been radically reduced. This has partly been done as part of the Conservatives’ ideological commitment to the free market. The idea has been that if schools become independent from local authority control, and are able to control their own budgets, competition between schools will result in higher standards. They also claimed it would give parents greater choice in education by allowing them a variety of different schools from which to choose. It has also been promoted as a way of freeing schools from the influence of ‘loony left’ local government officers intent on promoting their ideological agenda in education.

Now some of these fears aren’t unreasonable. Before the introduction of the National Curriculum the subjects taught and the materials used could differ greatly between schools. This could be difficult for children moving between schools, such as when they moved house. Educational standards in some schools could be low due to the extremely radical political views of the staff. The most notorious of these was a school in London where the staff subscribed to an extreme form of the view that children should be encouraged to learn only what they want to learn in their own time. In this school, children simply weren’t taught at all, but encouraged to go and play under the view that this would develop their creativity. When someone told one of the teaching staff that the pupils there couldn’t read, he remarked ‘Well, neither could they in the Middle Ages, but they built cathedrals.’ Eventually the scandal became so great that there was an official inquiry and the teachers dismissed, never to teach schoolchildren again. It was partly due to this and similar, less extreme cases that the Conservatives introduced the National Curriculum. The question of how much children should be taught about sex and at what age is also a very good, and extremely important question, especially as children are becoming increasingly exposed to explicitly sexual material at younger and younger ages. In some areas, the Thatcherite Conservatives have lost the debate. Many schools now run projects for Black History week in October, as a way of correcting what they see as the White bias in the history curriculum and tackling low educational performance amongst many Black pupils. More traditional Conservatives have complained that Clause 28 has for some time been a dead letter. As Cameron himself has now backed gay marriage, it is unlikely that it will be revived although the issue has caused sharp division with his party.

It is not true, however, that teachers as a whole are intent on using their position to indoctrinate, rather than educate, their students. Indeed, current legislation explicitly prevents them from doing so. The law states that they may not promote a particular political ideology or religion, except in faith schools. If the teacher’s own religious or political views are raised during teaching in class, they cannot present their views as objective fact. They may only say that they personally believe them.

In any case, from my experience most teachers aren’t members of the hard Left. They include people with a wide range of very different views across the political spectrum. Some are Left-wing, others Conservative, some Liberal, and many aren’t terribly interested in politics at all. Most teachers have entered the profession, not because they see it as a platform for advancing a particular ideology or cause, but simply because they want to stand in front of a blackboard and teach their subject or subjects. Privately they have their own beliefs, and may, and often are, concerned about government policies and the way this affects their job and the educational achievements of their pupils. In front of their class, however, the vast majority of them are rightly very careful about what they say.

The question of whether Thatcher’s reforms have really benefited the educational system, and provided parents with genuine choice is a separate issue, and one which I hope to tackle later. In this blog post I merely want to rebut the use of scare tactics over radical teachers by the Conservatives to attack the teaching profession as a whole, and promote their own policies of an increased workload, reduction of pay and conditions, and privatisation. With a very few, notable exception, teachers simply want to teach – Maths, English, science, whatever. They aren’t interested in turning the next generation of schoolchildren into wild-eyed Che Guevara-style revolutionaries, intent on destroying the bourgeois order. Unfortunately, it is all too often ignored. I’m aware that the examples I’ve used have come from thirty years ago back in Maggie Thatcher’s administration. These were the most extreme instances of the tactic, which I particularly remember. Nevertheless, it is still being used, both here and across the Atlantic. I’ve seen it used in Conservative blogs against teachers in America and Canada. I’ve no doubt that if the Conservatives meet with further opposition from the teachers and their unions, it will be used once more against them over here. That this image of teachers is largely untrue and unrepresentative of them as a profession really needs to be remembered and brought to public attention, the next time the Mail or the Express runs a story about ‘Loony Left’ teachers pushing Communism or trying to turn them all gay.