Posts Tagged ‘Workhouse’

Vox Political on the Insulting Appointment of Jackie Doyle-Price as ‘Suicide Prevention Minister’

October 11, 2018

Yesterday, Wednesday 10th October 2018, was World Mental Health Awareness Day. Mental health has become a major issue, with this country in particular seeing increasing rates of depression, particularly amongst school and university students, not to mention the poor, the disabled and the unemployed. According to yesterday’s I newspaper, 4,500 people take their lives every year, and a total of 6,213 people killed themselves last year in the UK and Eire. It’s the leading cause of death in blokes under 45. Guys in the UK are three times more likely to end it all than women, and in Eire the rate is four times.

With this such an issue, Tweezer decided to make a world first by appointing Jackie Doyle-Price as the world’s first Minister for Mental Health, Inequalities and Suicide Prevention. The I yesterday published this pic of Doyle-Price grinning into a camera.

According to the paper, her responsibilities will include ensuring that every local area has a plan to prevent unnecessary deaths. She is also going to be investigating how technology can be used to identify those most at risk.

It also quoted her as saying

“I understand how tragic, devastating and long-lasting the effect of suicide can be on families and communities. In my time as health minister I have met many people who have been bereaved by suicide and their stories of pain and loss will stay with me for a long time.

“It’s these people who need to be at the heart of what we do and I welcome this opportunity to work closely with them as well as experts, to oversee a cross-Government suicide prevention plan, making their sure their views are always heard.” (p.3).

Which are fine words, but from her voting record and previous attitude to the poor and desperate, it’s a pack of lies.

Mike posted an article today pointing out the critical role Tory policies towards the poor, such as cutting benefits, had contributed immensely to rise the suicide. He notes that the inquest into the death of Stephanie Bottrill, who was worried about the bedroom tax, found that the stress caused by the Tory government of the day resulted in her taking her own life.

His article then goes on to quote a piece about it from Nursing Notes, who stated that

“Statistics show that those with long-term physical or mental health issues are significantly more likely to be dependent on the state for assistance with housing and living costs.

“Social isolation, financial and health struggles are thought to be some of the leading risk factors for preventable suicide in the UK.”

It also quoted Vicki Nash, the head of policy and campaigns at the mental health charity, MIND, who said

“MIND found that half of people with mental health problems have thought about or attempted suicide as a result of social issues such as housing issues, finances, benefit support, and employment. We need a benefits system that is supportive – not one that drives people into poverty.”

Which is precisely what the Tory attitude to the welfare state and their wretched reforms don’t do. Thatcher wanted to destroy the welfare state completely, including the NHS. She was prevented from doing so, but she was determined to make getting benefits as hard, cruel and degrading as possible to deter people from going on it. It was one of the wretched ‘Victorian values’ she took over, the principle of ‘less eligibility’ underlying the poverty and degradation of the workhouse. And the Tories have gone on with the same attitude ever since, followed by Blair’s equally revolting New Labour.

Mike has, in his articles, argued strongly that there is a deliberate policy of ‘chequebook euthansia’ behind the Tories’ welfare reforms. It seems as though they’re consciously and deliberately planned to drive the most vulnerable to suicide, so Cameron, Tweezer, IDS, Esther McDeath and the whole sordid lot can save more money, and give more tax cuts to the filthy, pointlessly rich. There’s a nasty strain of Social Darwinism in the Republican Party on the other side of the Atlantic, and it’s in the Tories over here as well. In the survival of the economic fittest, these parties see the rich and business leaders as the biologically superior. And the poor have only themselves to blame – it’s all due to their inferior constitutions. In the Social Darwinism of the 19th century, such people would always be with humanity. The only solution was to stop them breeding by denying them welfare support and sterilizing them. Or simply murdering them, as the Nazis did with their notorious Aktion T4.

And there can be little doubt that Tory policies are driving the poor and vulnerable to take their own lives. Despite repeated whines by the Conservatives that ‘correlation doesn’t indicate causation’, some of those, who have killed themselves left notes, which stated plainly that there were doing so because of the stress of benefit cuts and sanctions. Mike’s article states that 1/2 of all women claiming benefits have thought about killing themselves.

So how does Doyle-Price herself measure up in this? Well, abysmally, as it happens. She voted for raising the bedroom tax, voted against increasing benefits in line with inflation, voted against increasing benefits for the long-term sick and disabled, and voted 46 times in favour of cutting benefits. This was also in Mike’s article from Nursing Notes, who took it from They Work For You.

Worse. She added insult to grievous wounding by laughing about the subject. Yep, she’s also joked about suicide.

I’m not surprised about that either. The Tories have absolutely no sympathy for the suffering of the poor. They really do think it’s a jolly joke. Like when Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith were caught on TV laughing in parliament when one woman’s account of the troubles she’d had claiming benefit were read out. They had a good guffaw, like some Nazi version of the Chuckle Brothers.

Nor is the DWP sympathetic to those with suicidal thoughts. When one claimant said that they were depressed and thinking of suicide, one DWP clerk asked them why they hadn’t done it already.

Mike in his article quotes the reactions of a number of people to the news that Doyle-Price has been appointed to this post. Keith Ordinary Guy said it was like curing malaria with the plague. Matt Turner said it was a grotesque slap in the face to those struggling on. And Samuel Miller, a friend of Mike’s blog, who’s been campaigning for disabled students since attending McGill University in the 1970s, said that nothing angered him more than the government’s maltreatment of the sick and disabled.

He also posted this tweet:

“Was her appointment merely a sop to counter alarming headlines about the soaring rate of suicides and attempted suicides among sick and disabled claimants, mostly triggered by loss of benefits.”

Mike concludes his article with this:

Was it? I don’t think so.

I think it was a signal; they appointed the least appropriate person for the job because they think the deaths and attempted deaths of hundreds of thousands of people are nothing but a big joke. They really are that repulsive.

I don’t think there’s any contradiction between these two positions. Yes, it is a sop to counter the headlines about the soaring suicide rate. And yes, the Tories do find it all a joke, and so deliberately appointed the least appropriate person.

She’s there not because she has any real sympathy with the mentally ill, the depressed, the disabled and suicidal. She’s there purely to make sure the system carries on, while limiting any damage to the party that appointed her. She’s just a mouthpiece, who’s simply there to spout reassuring platitudes and assure the public that the Tories are taking this issue seriously. And all the while she’s going to laugh about it behind her back.

Get her out, get Tweezer out and the whole wretched lot of them OUT! Before they drive any more people to their deaths.

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RT Report: 90 People a Month Dying After Being Found Fit for Work

August 14, 2017

Mike over at Vox Political blogged about this issue last week. In this piece from RT, the presenter interviews journalist Steve Topple over the official figures that 90 people a month are dying after being found fit for work under the Work Capability Test. In one instance, a man, Lawrence Bond, collapsed and died of a heart attack right outside the jobcentre. He had been found fit for work, despite having an underlying heart problem. Topple also goes further, and cites other, highly disturbing figures that show the immense harm the tests are doing to disabled people. Oxford University found that 590 people had taken their own lives due to them. The tests are also linked to 270,000 cases of mental illness, and the prescription of 800,000 drugs for people suffering from the stress of these tests.

Topple and the present also discuss how the tests were introduced by New Labour back in 2008 as a way of redefining disability. Topple states that we do need to cut the welfare bill, but the tests are a blunt instrument that harms the disabled.

Topple also makes the point that the tests themselves are uneconomical. They’re more expensive to administer than whatever savings are produced from them. Mike and the other disability bloggers and activists have pointed out that this isn’t about saving money. It’s about penalizing and harassing the poor and disabled, simply for being poor and disabled. It is part of the principle of less eligibility, the ideology behind the workhouse, which Maggie Thatcher so enthusiastically embraced as one of her vile ‘Victorian values’.

They also make short work of another scandal – the DWP’s refusal to hand over the precise figures on the pretext that this would damage ‘commercial confidentiality’. The document being requested is Maximus’ – the company that has been administering the tests since 2015 – own internal report into the results of their tests across regions. Topple states that in refusing to publish the report, the DWP is acting directly against the orders of the Information Commissioner, who has demanded that the figures be published.

The claim of commercial confidentiality is a nonsense anyway. If a company is performing the work of a government department, then it should be open to public scrutiny in the same way a government department is. If you want to argue philology here, the Latin phrase for ‘state’ was ‘res publica’, the ‘public thing’, which became our word, ‘republic’. By implication, if a company is therefore working as part of the res publica, it should be open to inspection by the public, as free citizens.

Of course, this is all deeply abhorrent to the DWP and its heads, Iain Duncan Smith and now Damian Green. These two and their underlings and fellow ministers have been determined to cull as many of the disabled as possible in what Mike has called ‘chequebook euthanasia’, while hiding the figures from the general public. Mike has said many times on his book about the immense struggle he has had getting the true figures from the DWP, who refused, stonewalled, and challenged his requests for them. Just as they did to other disability bloggers and activists.

To see the names and biographies of some of the people, who have been killed by this vile policy, go to Mike’s blog, as well Stilloaks, Johnny Void and Another Angry Voice, and see DPAC’s website for their criticisms and campaigns against the DWP.

As for the Department itself, I fully concur with Mike: it should be broken up, and the worst offenders in it, those determined to make the lives of claimants as miserable as possible, should be sacked with no chance of a golden handshake. Frankly, if there was an real justice, Smith, Green and the Wicked Witch of the Wirral, Esther McVie, should be behind bars on a charge of corporate manslaughter.

Westminster Council Goes 16th Century on the Homeless

January 15, 2017

Mike also put up a post yesterday reporting that Westminster council has decided on another authoritarian way of dealing with homelessness. They’re going to round them up and send them to other councils outside the borough from January 30th. The council’s excuse for this disgraceful policy is that it’s to combat the high cost of temporary accommodation. Mike points out that the reality is that it’s simply more social cleansing from a Tory-run council, whose leaders want to take as much as possible for themselves while giving little to others. Mike also makes the point that the real way to tackle homelessness is to make sure people are able to keep their homes, and states that it’s a miracle that anyone is there to do the cooking, cleaning and other menial work for the borough’s rich electors.

He concludes

This is truly disgusting behaviour by some of the most vile dregs of humanity, all dressed up as respectable people in the same way their activities are decorated with a veneer of respectability.

Scratch it and see the corruption.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/14/homeless-people-are-to-be-hidden-not-helped-according-to-britains-most-tory-council/

Johnny Void has been covering policies like this for a very long time. He has a particular interest in homelessness, and has put up countless posts about how Tory policies, and those of New Labour, actually create homelessness and make life worse for homeless people. He has also covered the social cleansing policies of the various councils in London and elsewhere, whose solution to the problem of rough sleepers is to make sure they are not seen on the streets, and so drive them out of town centres or the area altogether. This is part of the same mindset that seems very happy with putting house prices well out of the ability of working people to afford them, forcing them to commute from the poorer boroughs where they live into the exorbitantly expensive areas where they work further into London.

And the council has plenty of previous in its exploitative and abysmal treatment of its poorer residents. In the 1980s or ’90s there was the ‘homes for votes’ scandal, in which the council leaders, Dame Shirley Porter, and her minions deliberately put working class, Labour voters in sub-standard property with dangerous levels of asbestos as part of a strategy to engineer a cosy victory for the Tories.

Thatcher famously used to bang on about ‘Victorian values’, by which she meant making welfare as uncomfortable and difficult for the poor as possible, in order to deter them from using. Like the architects of the workhouse. This policy, however, goes further back.

Right back to the 16th century.

It’s a return of the old Elizabethan legislation in which the homeless in search of work were, unless they had a permit, to be whipped and sent out of the borough. Except that they haven’t got round to flogging them yet. However, as Mike put up a couple of posts just before Christmas of incidents where people thought that beating and urinating on the homeless and their bedding was a great joke, this probably won’t be long.

This shows the disgusting medieval attitude of the rich lords and ladies of Westminster council, and how they view us serfs, even if we are fortunate enough not to have to live on the streets.

Peter Kropotkin on Writer’s Accusations of Workers’ Laziness

April 28, 2016

One of the perennial complaints by the Right is that anyone who goes on strike for more pay, better working conditions or shorter hours is, by definition, either lazy, greedy or both. It was the accusation that the Republicans in America flung at striking teachers a year or so ago, and it was pretty well parroted by the Daily Heil over here, when it decided to have a go at public sector workers and their pensions. Now I noticed from reading Mike’s blog that the Scum has decided to wade in against the junior doctors.

I found this passage in Kropotkin’s essay, Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles, where he attacks the notion that the workers are lazy. In particular, he takes great issue with this claim when it comes from writers, whom he states don’t work nearly as hard as the working people they criticise. Here it is:

As to the so-often repeated objection that nobody would labour if he were not compelled to do so by sheer necessity, we heard enough of it before the emancipation of slaves in America, as well as before the emancipation of serfs in Russia: and we have had the opportunity of appreciating it at its just value. So we shall not try to convince those who can be convinced only by accomplished facts. As to those who reason, they ought to know that, if it really was so with some parts of humanity at its lowest stages – and yet, what do we know about it? – or if it is so with some small communities, or separate individuals, brought to sheer despair by ill success in their struggle against unfavourable conditions, it is not so with the bulk of the civilised nations. With us, work is a habit, and idleness an artificial growth. Of course, when to be a manual worker means to be compelled to work all one’s life long for ten hours a day, and often more, at producing some part of something – a pin’s head, for instance; when it means to be paid wages on which a family can live only on the condition of the strictest limitation of all its needs; when it means to be always under the menace of being thrown tomorrow out of employment – and we know how frequent are the industrial crises, and what misery they imply; when it means, in a very great number of cases, premature death in a paupers’ infirmary, if not in the workhouse; when to be a manual worker signifies to wear a lifelong stamp of inferiority in the eyes of those very people who live on the work of their ‘hands’; when it always means the renunciation of all those higher enjoyments that science and art give to man – oh, then there is no wonder that everybody – the manual worker as well – has but one dream: that of rising to a condition where others would work for him. When I see writers who boast that they are the workers, and write that the manual workers are an inferior race of lazy and improvident fellows, I must ask them: Who, then, has made all you see about you: the houses you live in, the chairs, the carpets, the streets you enjoy, the clothes you wear? Who built the universities where you were taught, and who provided you with food during your school years? And what would become of your readiness to ‘work’, if you were compelled to work in the above conditions all your life at a pin’s head? No doubt you would be reported as a lazy fellow! And I affirm that no intelligent man can be closely acquainted with the life of the European working classes without wondering, on the contrary at their readiness to work, even under such abominable conditions.

(Peter Kropotkin, Anarchist Communism: It Basis and Principles, in Peter Kropotkin, ed. Nicolas Walter, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles (London: Freedom Press 1987) 53-4).

The editor of the Scum is an old Etonian. The proprietor of the Daily Heil, Lord Rothermere, is a multi-millionaire tax avoider. And I doubt very much that the Heil’s editor, Paul Dacre, comes from a working class background either. They have no right to despise the working classes as lazy. As for the junior doctors, Mike has posted up extensive pieces from them showing that this is most certainly not about extra pay. They are very much concerned about patient safety, and their ability to give potentially life-saving service after working long hours. And if some medical professionals are better than most of us, it’s because they should be rewarded for the immense skill required of them, and the heavy responsibility they bear. No-one will die tomorrow – at least, I hope not – if the sports writer in the Scum is in no fit state to write his column. Someone might very well die, however, or suffer terrible ill-health, if a responsible doctor makes a poor decision due to lack of sleep, or is forced to do one job too many because of the need to find ‘savings’ through staff cutbacks. And no-one would suffer tomorrow either if Jeremy Hunt and the rest of his wretched crew were booted out of office. Rather the opposite!

Photo of Charity Food Queue 1900

April 23, 2016

Late last night I put up a quote from Richard Oastler, condemning the Victorians’ treatment of the poor as criminals by confining them in the workhouse if they wanted poor relief. This came from Poverty and Public Health 1815-1948, by Rosemary Rees (Oxford: Heinemann 2001). The book is school text on attitudes to poverty, poor relief, health, housing and sanitation in the 19th and early 20th century before the foundation of the NHS and welfare state. It’s profusely illustrated, with contemporary photographs, cartoons, drawings, plans and diagrams. One of the photos is this picture of a group of mainly children waiting for a hand-out of charity food in 1900.

Charity Food Queue

About a year or so ago I put up on this blog a late Victorian – Edwardian poem about children waiting in a queue in the early morning to receive food given as part of poor relief. I commented that this could describe the situation now, in the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands are being forced to use the food bank thanks to Ian Duncan Smith’s, George Osborne’s and Dave Cameron’s destruction of the welfare state and imposition of the sanctions regime. 4.7 million people are living in ‘food poverty’.

The photo is a document of the face of poverty at the turn of the 20th century. With just a few changes in fashion, it could also be the face of poverty in the first years of the 21st.

And it’s a disgrace.

G.M. Trevelyan and the Promotion of Victorian ‘Workhouse’ Values in the 20th Century

February 24, 2016

I’ve put up a few pieces in the past few days tracing Thatcher’s ‘Victorian values’ and the modern Tories’ emphasis on conditionality in welfare support – or what’s left of it – to the doctrine of less eligibility that insisted that welfare relief should be made as hard and uncomfortable as possible in order to dissuade the able-bodied poor from going on it. The recommendation of the Tory think-tank, Reform, that the disabled should be paid the same amount of relief as those without disabilities very strongly echoes the classic statement of the principles of ‘less eligibility’ as articulated by a Victorian Poor Law Commissioner.

G.C. Peden in his book, British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher (Deddington: Philip Allan Publishers Ltd 1985) describes how laissez-faire individualism was central to Victorian economic attitudes. He notes that it became a philosophy that permeated politics and social studies, and discusses the rise of the doctrine of ‘less eligibility’ and the 1834 Poor Law establishing the workhouses. He also mentions the work of the historian, G.M. Trevelyan, in continuing to promote the workhouse and the ideology behind it into the Twentieth century, writing

One man acting as a bridge between the centuries was G.M. Trevelyan, who was born in 1876 and who was Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge from 1927 to 1940. His British History in the Nineteenth Century and After first appeared in 1922 and was still being printed as a paperback in the 1960s. In it, Trevelyan gave a classic defence of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Before that date magistrates in England and Wales had had the power to supplement inadequate wages out of local rates – a form of relief which Trevelyan describes as destructive of self-respect and self-help, virtues which could be restored to what he called the ‘cringing poor’ only by the ‘intellectually honest’ if ‘harsh’ reform of 1834. (Trevelyan 1965, pp. 248-9). (p. 4). (My emphasis).

Trevelyan was one of the leading historians of that period, and my guess is that many schoolchildren and students studying history in the early and middle twentieth century were brought up on at least some of his works. My mother, for example, has a copy of one of them, though she certainly doesn’t share his attitudes. My guess is that Trevelyan’s works form the intellectual background to Thatcher’s ‘Victorian values’ and their re-emergence in the Tory party. Of course, she was greatly taken with von Hayek, slapping to down in front of her cabinet colleagues to say ‘This is what we all believe now’, but I think Trevelyan’s influence was already strong, at least in preparing the intellectual ground for von Hayek, Friedman and the like. And it’s disgusting that what should have gone the way of the 19th century is still blighting life in the early 21st.

Arizona Senator Demands Sterilisation and Total Control of Welfare Claimants

February 26, 2015

This is another clip on the disgusting attitude towards the poor by the Republicans in America. In it’s of John Iadarola of The Young Turks criticising the proposals made by Howard Pearce, a republican senator in Arizona, for cutting the welfare budget. Pearce said that he would cut the benefits bill by forcing women on welfare to be sterilised or have a coil fitted. Food stamps would only be available for certain foods, so that they poor couldn’t buy steaks or sweets. And their houses would be subject to rigorous inspection similar to military barracks housing on army bases. Here’s the clip:

Now it’s tempting just to shrug this off as the ranting of the American. A lot of Americans would also consider comments like this to be something of a joke as well, just illustrating how nutty and malign some of the Repugs are in the south west. That would be a mistake. He’s only saying what large numbers of Conservatives actually think, both in American and Britain. As I’ve already said, the Conservatives over here have taken much of their ideology from the Repugs. The whole Thatcherite economic project was taken from von Hayek and Milton Friedman of the Chicago school. And they share the same attitudes towards controlling the lives of the poor absolutely. Remember the Lib Dem peer, who wanted welfare claimants’ personal expenses open for public inspection? Or the way the Jobcentre and their ‘work coaches’ increasingly demand details of your job searches, in order to make sure you are actually looking for a job? And the latest attack on personal freedom by Cameron – welfare claimants should be refused benefits if they’re too fat. They’re based on the same totalitarian, domineering attitude by the extremely rich, who seem to believe that if somehow someone is on benefits, that means that they should be public property and humiliated as much as possible, so that they get a job.

As for sterilising people on welfare, that’s actually the return of a very old idea that was held over here. Lord Beveridge, the Liberal peer, who published the report preparing for the establishment of the NHS, also believed in it. He considered that men admitted to the workhouse or supported by the parish dole system should only do so on the recognition that they were biologically unfit, and agreed to be sterilised because of their inability to support themselves or there children.

We’re back to those 19th century attitudes at the beginning of the 21st.

Get the Tories and their counterparts across the world out of power. Now.

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory

May 28, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Last week I posted the sheet music for ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’ from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. As with very many of the other tunes I’ve posted, I didn’t have the words, but assumed from the song’s title that it was about the hated ‘New Poor Law’, introduced by the Liberals in 1834 that set up the workhouses. That’s indeed exactly what the song’s about, and Jess has kindly sent me the words to the song. It was written by William Lamborn of Uffington. They go

I was forced as a stranger to wander from home
And all through the parishes to Faringdon to come
There to have my head shaved, which filled me with woe
And many a poor creature they have served also.
Home, home, sweet home,
There’s no place like home.

At six in the morning the bell it doth ring,
When every man’s allowance of ocum doth bring,
And if we do not pick it just as the keeper please,
He will be sure to stint you of your small bread and cheese,
Home, home, sweet home etc.

When the corn they do bring, to grinding we must go.
Both pease and both beans, and barley also;
And if we do but grumble, or even seem to gloom,
Full well we know the consequence, the blindhouse is our doom.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

At seven in the evening, the bell it doth ring
When every man up stairs is obliged to swing,
Upon the iron bedsteads there he’s forced to lie,
Some a grieving, some a groaning, until the break of day.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

And many more things, which I know to be true.
Such as parting man and wife, and children also,
O! what heathens and what brutes, are in our civil land,
For breaking the good laws which were made by God and man.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

Beware, you blow’d out farmers, you noblemen beside,
though you may laugh and sneer, and at the poor deride,
How will you bear your sentence, upon the day of doom,
When you will call for water, to cool your parching tongue.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

Perhaps you wont believe me, or care not what I say,
I will be bound that you will all upon a future day;
For I know that some judgment will soon you overtake,
Either in this world, or in the burning lake.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

For those who made the poor laws they are the spawn of hell,
And of those that do uphold them the truth to your I’ll tell,
For the devil is their master, who put it in their heads,
And this they will prove all on their dying beds,
Home, home, sweet home etc.

So now I will conclude, and finish my sad tell,
I’ve given you all warning, before you are in hell;
And if you wont believe me, you will find it is true,
For God has declar’d it to oppressors as is their due.
Home, home, sweet home, etc.

The reference to the farmers and noblemen in hell asking for water ‘to cool their parching tongue’ come’s from Christ’s parable of Dives and Lazarus. Lazarus, a poor beggar, lies at the gate of Dives, the rich man, but is given no help by him. They both die, but whereas Lazarus ascends to paradise to be with Abraham, Dives finds himself in hell. He calls to Lazarus for help, but Lazarus cannot. He is not able even to answer Dives request to give him some water to put on his tongue.

This is clearly a very bitter song, which accurately describes conditions in the workhouse. Inmates were forced to pick oakum to provide caulking for ships, but doing this for too long wrecked their hands. As for the chorus of ‘Home, home, sweet home’, it’s very much a bitter comment on the song, ‘Home, Sweet Home’, which was composed at the same time. I can remember listening to a BBC radio programme on British music through the ages broadcast on Christmas, 1999, which remarked that the song, ‘Home, Sweet Home’, must have been viewed extremely bitterly by some because of the immense hardship and deprivation inflicted on the poor through the New Poor Law.

It’s clearly of its time, but, like many of the others I’ve posted here, it’s still relevant because of the way the Tories and Tory Democrats are reintroducing aspects of the workhouse and the legislation that supported. Such as the principle of less eligibility, that conditions on benefit should be made so hard and humiliating as possible in order to deter people from claiming it. And people have died, and are losing their homes and dignity through the Coalition’s welfare reforms, just as they did in Victorian Britain.

I think it’s entirely possible that the song could be revived, if altered a bit to make it rather more relevant to today’s conditions, to make this timeless point about the Tories attitude to the poor. Especially as we are led by farmers – Iain Duncan Smith – and noblemen – Cameron, Clegg and George Osborne.

Tunes for Toilers: The Jolly Machine, edited by Michael Raven

May 25, 2014

Jolly Machine

I found this in the sheet music section of Hobgoblin Music, a music shop specialising in folk songs, music and instruments in Bristol’s Park Street. Subtitled Songs of Industrial Protest and Social Discontent From the West Midlands, the songs in this collection describe and protest about the hardships of nineteenth century industrial urban life, covering low and unpaid wages, hard, exploitative factory masters, prison and transportation, unemployment, and the threat of mechanisation, the soul destroying drudgery of the workhouse, emigration, and Chartism and the promise of political reform from the Liberals.

The songs include:

Bilston Town,
Charlie’s Song,
Chartist Anthem,
Colliers’ Rant,
Convict’s Complaint
Dudley Boys,
Dudley Canal Tunnel
Freedom and Reform,
John Whitehouse
Jolly Machine,
Landlord Don’t You Cry,
Monster Science,
Nailmaker’s Lament
Oh! Cruel,
Pioneers’ Song
Poor of Rowley,
Potters’ Chant,
Sarah Collins,
Thirteen Pence A Day,
Tommy Note,
Waiting for Wages.

There’s also an explanatory note about the songs at the back.

‘Waiting for Wages’ and ‘The Tommy Shop’ deal with ‘tommy notes’. Until the passage of the Truck Acts, many employers didn’t pay money wages to their workers, but only tokens or notes that were only valid at the company shops, thus exploiting their workers further and massively increasing their profits. ‘Waiting for Wages’ is written from the women’s point of view, and describes them waiting for their menfolk to hand over their wages, half of which they’ve already spent in the pub.

The ‘Convicts’ Complaint’ is about the harsh conditions in Ciderville Jail, while ‘Sarah Collins’ is about a woman transported to Van Diemen’s Land – Tasmania – for some unstated crime. ‘Dudley Boys’, ‘Nailmaker’s Strike’, ‘Nailmakers’ Lament’, and ‘Colliers’ Rant’ are about strikes, some of which exploded into violent confrontation between the strikers and the army. ‘Jolly Machine’, ‘Monster Science’ and Charlie’s Song – the last about a notorious factory master and the scab workers prepared to work for him – are about the poverty and unemployment caused by mass industrial production to the traditional artisan craftsmen, such as potters. The ‘Needlemakers’ Lamentation’, ‘Dudley Canal’ and ‘Oh, Cruel!’ were all written to raise money for those suffering from or threatened with unemployment. ‘Oh, Cruel’ was written for a benefit performance by a Mr Rayner on behalf of a serviceman, Tommy Strill, who had lost a leg and eye in combat. The ‘Dudley Canal Tunnel’ song was a fundraiser, which aimed at raising £5,000 to keep the tunnel open and the boatmen, who navigated through it, in work. The ‘Potters’ Chant’, ‘Bilston Town’, and ‘Poor of Rowley’ are about poverty. The last is specifically about the mindless, soulless labour in the town’s workhouse. ‘Landlord, Don’t You Cry’, and ‘Pioneers’ Song’ are about emigrants leaving Britain for a more prosperous, optimistic future abroad, including America. ‘Thirteen Pence A Day’ is a song bitterly criticising conditions in the army, and urging men not to join up to lose life and limb fighting people they don’t know and who have never done them any harm. It’s a fascinating demonstration that anti-War songs didn’t begin with Vietnam. John Whitehouse is about a man, who hangs himself after failing to find a buyer for his wife. It was the custom in many parts of England for a man to sell a wife, with whom he could no longer live at an auction in the market. It’s a shocking example of how low women’s status was. The ‘Chartist Anthem’ and ‘Freedom and Reform’ are ballads about the demands for the franchise. The ‘Chartist Anthem’ describes the immense hardship in the struggle to get the vote. Its last two verses run

We men of bone, of shrunken shank
Our only treasure dearth,
Women who carry at the breast
Heirs to the hungry earth,
Heirs to the hungry earth.

Speak with one voice, we march we rest
And march again upon the years,
Sons of our sons are listening,
To hear the Chartist cheers,
To hear the Chartist cheers.

At a time when many working and lower middle class people feel disenfranchised and ignored by the political class, this is a song that could well be revived for today’s struggle to get politicians to wake up and take notice of the poverty and alienation now at large in Britain.

‘The Great Battle for Freedom and Reform’ also demands the extension of the franchise for the workers, and urges them to support the Liberals. The first three verses read

You working men of England,
Who live by daily toil,
Speak for your rights, bold Englishmen,
Althro’ Britan’s Isle.
The titled Tories keep you down,
Which you cannot endure,
The pass the poor man with a frown,
And the Tories keep you poor.

cameron-toff

Cameron: A titled Tory keeping you down, if ever there was one!

With Beale & Gladstone, Mills & Bright,
We shall weather thro’ the storm,
To give the working man his rights,
And gain the bill – REFORM!

We want no Tory Government, The poor man to oppress,
They never try to do you good,
The truth you will confess.
The Liberals are the poor man’s friend,
To forward all they try,
They’ll beat their foes you may depend,
And never will say die.

The description of the Tories still remains exactly correct. Unfortunately, the present government has the song’s claim that the Liberals are the poor men’s friend to be a hollow joke, although it was certainly true at the time.

The songs are an interesting document about the hardship and social injustice working people experienced in the nineteenth century. It’s the other side of the coin to the image of ‘merrie England’ presented in some traditional songs and the Tory view of history promoted by Michael Gove. And with exploitative employers now eager to use the cheap labour supplied by unemployed ‘volunteers’, ‘interns’ and those on workfare, assisted by a Tory government of aristocrats enforcing a policy of low wages and harsh, anti-union legislation, these songs are all too relevant.

The Void on the DWP’s Suggestion for the Return of the Workhouse

July 31, 2013

Over at Pride’s Purge, there’s a piece of satire about Serco and G4s getting the contract to run a Victorian Britain Experience, so foreigners can see what it was like here in the 19th century, complete with cholera, typhus and rickets, and the workhouse. The article’s entitled ‘Serco Wins Bid to Run UK as Victorian Theme Park’, and is at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/serco-wins-bid-to-run-uk-as-victorian-theme-park/. People have been making the same joke since Margaret Thatcher. There’s exactly the same joke about Maggie setting up the Victorian Britain Experience in the Private Eye/ Spitting Image spoof of her autobiography, Thatcha! The Real Maggie Memoirs.

Mr Pride has said that his article is satire, but only just. I have to say it may not be satire for very much longer. The Void has a well-researched and very disturbing article about a report commissioned for the DWP about the expansion of residential training centres offering workfare training for the disabled. The report recommends that it should also include the long term unemployed. The article’s at http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/report-calls-for-expansion-of-residential-workfare-for-unemployed-and-disabled-people/

The article begins

An independent report, commissioned by the DWP, has called for greater use of Residential Training for disabled people and an extension of the scheme to include long term unemployed non-disabled people.

The report also accepts that this kind of training, which can involve periods of workfare away from home, should be opened up to the market. This process may begin with a open tender exercise next year.

Residential Training is a little known scheme available for disabled people who are long term unemployed and in the words of Jobcentre Disability Employment Advisors, are the ‘hardest to help’.

This is chilling. Mr Void states that at the moment there are only nine such centres and the accommodation they offer is actually quite comfortable. If the scheme expands and goes out to market tender, then conditions will deteriorate and the usual workfare parasites will demand their share of the scheme. He also links to the ‘less eligibility’ sensibility that informed the Victorian workhouse. Under less eligibility, conditions were made as hard as possible to dissuade people from entering except as a very last resort, and so becoming a drain on the state.

If this report is taken seriously, then it really would mean the reintroduction of something like the Victorian workhouse. Although the workhouses are mostly associated with the Victorian era, they were actually only closed with the arrival of the welfare state in 1948.

It thus appears that the government really is considering returning this country to the 19th and early 20th centuries by dismantling the NHS, and replacing it with ‘indoor relief’: in other words, the workhouse.

There’s a good chapter on the workhouse in E.C. Midwinter’s Victorian Social Reform, published by Longman. It’s a short book for ‘A’ level and undergraduate university students. It does have a collection of contemporary sources at the back, and these include the descriptions of the horrific level of starvation to which the residents of one workhouse were reduced. This should be essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in this policy, if only to correct the view that they were somehow picturesque institutions gained from seeing Oliver! once too many.