This writer was in London on Tuesday, helping fellow blogger Kerry-Anne Mendoza (of Scriptonite fame) launch her debut book “Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy”, published by New Internationalist. It was an interesting exercise because Yours Truly is not against austerity.
If you’re reeling from the strangeness of that statement, please be assured that it is the truth.
I have endured austerity on a personal level many times – perhaps most notably when I was studying on a five-month Journalism course in Cornwall, where the county council refused to pay me housing benefit according to the terms of a deal I had done with the organisation then known as the Department of Social Security.
I lived on £7 a week for four months, meaning my diet consisted of Rich Tea biscuits and water. I was probably the poorest man in Cornwall.
Towards the end of that time, however, I was able to get some work experience at a local newspaper. I contacted the county council and gave fair warning that an extremely inclement report would appear in that paper if my case was not reviewed and an appropriate decision returned.
For the last month of my time there, I was probably the richest man in Cornwall.
This was austerity with a reason. I stuck out the hard times because I knew that I would be better for the experience – certainly better-qualified to pursue an intended career in journallism, and better-equipped to make Cornwall Council pay up, too.
So you can see that I am not against austerity if it is self-imposed; if there is a logical purpose to it.
What I can’t abide is austerity imposed from above, by a gang of spoiled rich kids who have overspent their pocket money and don’t want to pay their dues – so they force the less-fortunate to pay up for them. Perhaps I just don’t like bullies.
That’s the kind of austerity being imposed on far too many people in this country today.
It doesn’t make anybody a better person.
It doesn’t make anybody better-qualified.
It doesn’t make anything better at all.
But I didn’t start Vox Political to rail against austerity. I started it because I was seeing a lot of political comment that didn’t make sense to me – what I was reading was not what I was seeing in the real world. The effect of government austerity on the poorest in society – the most vulnerable – was just one aspect of that, but it quickly became one of the most popular.
Perhaps it is because this is the most emotive subject I discuss. Perhaps it’s because my own partner – ‘Mrs Mike’ – is a long-term claimant of disability and incapacity benefits and has been affected by government policies attacking her right to claim.
Perhaps I just happen to enjoy a good argument? Yes, that seems likely too.
I have covered the imposition of the Bedroom Tax and its disastrous effect on people’s security.
I have covered the pointless Work Programme – let’s face it, it’s just a way to make people toil for less than the minimum wage, isn’t it? – and its disastrous effect on people’s hopes.
And I have covered the Work Capability Assessment of people claiming disability and incapacity benefits, and its disastrous effect on people’s lives.
I’m currently waiting for a decision on my appeal against the refusal of my latest information request, calling on the government to reveal how many people have died since the start of December 2011, after taking the assessment. For more than three years, the government has refused to publish any information on these deaths – possibly in fear of a backlash against a punitive system that does more harm than good.
I took a telephone call last week in which I was asked what I would be prepared to accept instead of details that the government does not have. Don’t worry – they weren’t crucial changes, and the fact I had the call means I can be hopeful about the result.
If I get the information I want, I’ll use it to try to persuade the Labour Party into offering to scrap the Work Capability Assessment once and for all.
I’m hoping that the information will prove that the test – which only exists to find ways of pushing people off of a benefit that may be their only source of income – is a threat to the lives of the vulnerable, and no attempt at modification will rehabilitate it. By threatening to keep the test, even in modified form, Labour is asking people to lay down their lives – for nothing.
This is just one small, personal battle – one of many.
That is why I was glad to be celebrating the launch of Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy on Tuesday evening. It is important for everybody who is labouring against this ideology to understand the context in which their own struggles exist; that they are not alone, but part of a wider conflict.
I applaud Kerry-Anne for her work and look forward to the day when I can read the book and remember when the issues it raises became shadows of the past. Let us hope that its publication brings that time a little closer.
That’s what I would have said, had I been asked to deliver a straightforward speech. I wasn’t. What actually happened was more interesting and (dare I say) enjoyable for the many who attended the event. Perhaps I’ll write another article about that later. Would you like that?
In the meantime, the following retailers are stocking Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy in paperback and ebook versions:
Good Reads – you can obtain a free copy if you review.
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