Posts Tagged ‘Shepherds’

The Coalition’s Fear and the Bureaucratic Burdens of the Poor

March 1, 2014

Looking at the immense bureaucratic burdens the unemployed claiming Jobseeker’s allowance face, I wonder how much of this wasn’t just an attempt to shift the blame for unemployment onto the poor themselves, but also simply to take up their time. Under the terms of Jobseeker’s Allowance, the claimant is expected to spend their time pouring over Universal Jobmatch and applying for at least five jobs per fortnight. The DWP has also announced that this system is to be extended to those on part-time work claiming Housing Benefit. This naturally takes up a lot of time.

The rationale for this, is that nobody should get something for nothing, and that the unemployed should be expected to work for their benefit through searching thoroughly for available jobs, or else be placed on Workfare, the Coalition’s version of the Nazi and Soviet forced labour schemes. It’s a hypocritical attitude coming from a front bench that, aristos to a man, owe their privileged position to inherited wealth. But it also struck me that it was a sign of the Coalition’s fear of what the unemployed and disabled might do, if they didn’t have to spend every waking hour worried about their benefits.

As part of my undergraduate history degree, I studied the French Revolution. A contributing factor to the outbreak of the Revolution and the mass execution of the aristos was a famine. This preceded the Revolution, with the irony that things were actually getting better when the French working and middle classes finally decided they’d had enough and rose up. We told the explanation for this strange fact is that people generally revolt only after the worst of famines have past. When the famine is in full force, people spend nearly all the time trying to keep body and soul together, so that they don’t have the time or the energy to take up arms.

John Aubrey, the 17th century English antiquarian, made a similar observation regarding the different inhabitants of his native Wiltshire’s ‘chalk’ and ‘cheese’ country. It is from this observation of Aubrey’s that the English idiom ‘as similar as chalk and cheese’ is derived. The cheese country was the dairy farming area of the county, a fertile area, whose people were happy, prosperous and went to bed early. As a result, this part of England was politically very stable. The chalk parts of the county had poor, much less fertile soil, and so the dominant form of agriculture here was sheep farming. As shepherds, the farmers there had poorer digestions and went to bed late. Instead of turning in at the reasonable time, they spent their evenings reading the Bible and drawing their own, heretical and seditious conclusions. As a result, they were more likely to join religious sects and take part in anti-government revolts. Aubrey was writing here about two decades after the Civil War, and the religious groups like the Presbyterians, Puritans, and Quakers, who overthrew the monarchy and established the Commonwealth.

It therefore struck me that the immense time and effort the unemployed now have to spend looking for work is partly a way of the Coalition trying to take up their time. If they weren’t forced to spend hours on end on a despairing search for jobs, then the poor and the unemployed might start doing something seditious and dangerous. They might start organising, joining organisations, criticising and demanding an end to Neo-Liberal economics. There might be more of them on marches. The National Union of the Unemployed, set up in the 1930s, might come back with a vengeance. They might start following Marx, Engels and the other socialist, anarchist and radical writers in questioning the whole economic and social structure of society. There might be riots. Even worse, those left-wing MPs in parliament that haven’t accepted the Thatcherite Kool-Aid just might be in position to effect change.

And that really would keep Cameron, IDS and their multinational paymasters awake. Rupert Murdoch definitely would not like that.

And so the unemployed are given endless hoops to jump through, and forced to spend endless hours looking for work that isn’t there, because the ruling classes are afraid that if they ever look up from the treadmill, they’ll be in a mass position to challenge them.

Best to keep them firmly on the treadmill, blaming themselves for not being able to get work, instead of realising the economy’s been wrecked for decades and the jobs simply aren’t there.

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