Tory Attacks on the Poor: A Working Class Perspective

As many of us are painfully aware, the Tories are hitting the working class with the double-whammy of a £20 a week Universal Credit cut and a 1.25% National Insurance increase. The poor are being asked to pay for the Tories' mismanagement of the pandemic, just as they were asked to pay for austerity. It's fairer that way, they say.

Of course, they could easily ask the super-rich, who've seen their wealth skyrocket in the last two years, to pay, but they'd rather plunge millions of ordinary people further into poverty. Those millions will include 200,000 innocent kids, according to Action for Children.

What a lie "We're all in it together" turned out to be...

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Therese Coffey said somewhat perversely, she is "proud" of the government's actions and if people are unhappy about losing £20 a week, they should "work an extra two hours". There was no mention of how a person on a zero hours contract is supposed to get an extra 2 hours work and no understanding that the Universal Credit taper means a minimum wage worker actually has to work about 8 or 9 extra hours to make up the shortfall. Even if you can get those 8 or 9 hours, it means a 6-day working week. It means you are living for your employer and never seeing friends or family. It also means you're too exhausted to find a better job, even if a better job was available in your area - and in areas like mine, that's unlikely. 
Suddenly, Jeremy Corbyn's proposed 4-day working week seems very appealing...
A debate was recently sparked online when a famous YouTuber asked who they should speak to about these Tory attacks on the poor, and the response from the working class was pretty much unanimous - please, not a think-tank academic! Please speak to someone who is actually living it! I am one such person and I find it frustrating that no one ever speaks to us about our struggle, but rather they speak about us. It's almost like we're an alien species on a different planet that some feel a degree of compassion for, they just don't want us getting too close.

Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against well-meaning academics who are mostly on our side, but what can they really tell you, other than a bunch of statistics and estimates about what might happen next? They can't relay lived experience of poverty, but people like me can.

Now before I go any further, I would like to point out we are a working family, so if you're a Tory, please spare me the "get a job" bollocks! Oh, and before you lecture us on "getting a better job", it's worth mentioning my wife actually works for the DWP. If our own government isn't paying enough for families to be self-sufficient, what chance do ordinary people stand?

My northern working class town doesn't have the highly paid jobs that are available down south, meaning almost everyone is trapped in the struggle. It's more or less endless. What you call poverty, we just call life. Imagine thinking the victims of regional inequality are guilty of personal shortcomings. It's an incredibly bad way of rationalising and shows a total ignorance of real life circumstances.

My wife is currently on reduced pay because she's on maternity leave which she will be forced to cut short to help cover the bills. Universal Credit is currently supplementing our earnings, and let me tell you, it's nowhere near enough to live off. Last week, we ran out of food in our cupboards and fridge, so for about 3 days we were depending on the food we had stored in the freezer. We weren't hungry because we did have food, but the situation was far from pleasant and completely unfair on our kids.

The smart-arse Twitter response these days is don't have kids, if you can't afford to feed them, to which I would say, what a sorry state of affairs when even government employees can't afford kids. Plus, fuck you, you eugenicist fuck!

If you think parenthood should be the sole preserve of those for who capitalism is working out, then you think 75% of the world's population shouldn't be having kids - only people like you should reproduce. And let's face it, no one wants a world populated only by the likes of you! Not even you want that. Surely, you realise all those people you're telling not to have kids are the essential front-line workers who've kept the country going during the pandemic, right? I know nurses who are on Universal Credit, for God's sake. Are you going to tell nurses they shouldn't have had kids? Or just that their kids deserve to go hungry?

The simple fact of the matter is the government's recent moves are not just hurting the people you label "jobless layabouts", they're also hurting the people you depend on to stack supermarket shelves, deliver your goods, treat your sick family and keep your country running. You could not live without the people you think deserve poverty. Indeed, your economy and therefore your wealth is built on their hard work. Please take some time to reflect on that. You could try showing empathy and ask yourself why we don't ask the wealthy to contribute before making the poor pay with more poverty. I thought the British were supposed to believe in fair play...

Unfortunately, our current system is not set up for fair play.

I've personally experienced long-term unemployment - it was great - the government gave me a 5-bedroom house, gold chains, a bunch of tattoos, a Sky subscription, and a daily supply of cigarettes and alcohol. It was brilliant, you should try it!

Okay, now that you've spat your coffee out and you're turning a curious shade of gammon, let me tell you the reality of life on state welfare.

If you're a single unemployed person claiming Universal Credit, you're looking at minimal food with little or no variety in your diet. Have you ever been starving, even though you have access to food? I certainly have. 

You see, if you've only got store brand Weetabix in your cupboard, and no milk, there's only so much watery Weetabix you can stomach before your body rejects it and you just lie there until you can no longer bear the hunger and force more watery Weetabix down you. Eating is not something you do for pleasure anymore, there is no enjoyment in food, eating is simply a bodily function that must be fulfilled to prevent death. And you can feel so depressed and helpless that that doesn't seem like such a bad way out. No wonder the suicide rate is rising...

But the real killer is not the hunger, it's the loneliness. I remember sitting in my aunty's spare bedroom, listening to the Eminem CD that was all I had on repeat play, thinking about how I couldn't afford to socialise with any of my friends who were lucky enough to be working and still living with their parents so they had a little disposable income. They would be going out for a few drinks and I had no idea when that would be me, if I was going to be able to enjoy my youth or find a girlfriend or do any of the things other people take for granted.

It felt like I was in a prison cell, not because that spare room was so awful but because there was no way out. It's incredibly depressing when you have hopes and dreams like anyone else, but not only can you not see the world, but you can't even see the nice places in your local area. 

Places like coffee shops and night clubs seemed like a different world and the loneliness I felt was one of the key reasons I began to write. I guess I had no one to show how I felt and the pen and paper provided my only outlet. The dual worlds theme was central to my Skye City novels - the idea there is a world for them and a world for us. And our world is so much bleaker than theirs.

A social life for me involved walking two miles to the Metro station, skipping the Metro and hoping I didn't get caught, then walking another two miles to my mate's mother's house. Just getting there was a stressful, exhausting ordeal. The thing is when you're broke, you do a lot of walking. You get very used to the elements - the wind, rain, hail, snow, and ice are not things you can simply hide away from. If you need to walk somewhere, it doesn't matter how unappealing that trip outside is, you're walking with trainers that are falling off your feet and a summer coat because you can't afford a winter one. The biting cold of a winter's breeze becomes all too familiar.

Far from being a safety net, Universal Credit robs young people of their future - it means a life of malnutrition, dizziness, tiredness and unbearable anxiety. Science shows us that poverty actually alters your body chemistry in a way that makes everything, even simple tasks much more difficult. Comfortable people who've had everything easy would do well to remember that, next time they insist their privilege is the product of their own hard work. Try being successful when you have enormous obstacles in your way, including lack of money, contacts, qualifications, and opportunities, and then you can lecture me about hard work.

The challenge of life in a working class town is a large chunk of your time is spent with absolutely no money - and often with negative money - when your bank account's overdrawn and you're getting charges. How do you even dig yourself out of such a hole? Do you have any idea what it's like when you're waiting for your first benefits payment and you don't have a penny to buy food? Have you ever gone days without eating? I did when I was a teenager. Why do you think a person like me deserves hunger? I did nothing wrong.

Have you ever walked around town when you're so faint you can barely stand, visiting every shop and factory to see if they have work and finding nothing? You probably think, ah, but there are always places with worker shortages, you're just lying and making excuses. The thing is, it's a bit of a problem if none of those companies are based in your area and you don't have the relevant qualifications or experience anyway.

I had to drop out of college when I was unemployed because our system doesn't let you take the steps you need to improve your situation. That's not the point of the system. If you're like me, your role in the system is to scare people who are slightly more privileged than you. They must believe that if they don't do exactly as they're told, they might end up just like you. But at the same time, they must believe your struggle is the result of your personal failings. It's called cognitive dissonance and the middle-class have turned that into an Olympic sport.

Working class lads are not supposed to be the "go-getters" who dig themselves out of a tough situation and turn their lives around. If the government wanted us to have a better situation, they wouldn't let so many live in poverty in the first place.

Sure, one or two individuals will find a way to escape the poverty trap, and the establishment will celebrate them, of course, but then they will weaponise their success against other poor people. They will hold them up as clear evidence of our laziness and incompetence. If they can do it, why can't you? They know this argument is bullshit though because they intentionally created the circumstances that trap people like us.

Have you ever been offered a job interview, only you had no money for bus fare, let alone the shirt and tie you need? Have you ever sat in the dark when your emergency credit ran out and you had no electricity? Have you ever found yourself caught up in a cycle of late payment charges and unauthorised overdraft fees? As you can imagine, it's no way to live. Now, imagine telling a person already living this way to be £20 a week worse off. What do you think it's going to do to them?

I've been that single, unemployed person. I've also been the comfortable middle-class person until the Tory economy fucked that up. What this means is that I understand both worlds. You don't, Mr Daily Mail reader, so please, bloody well listen to me!

It's fair to say life on Universal Credit is not quite as brutal to families as it is to single people, but it's really not much better. We've been lucky in the last couple of years in that the school was running a food bank for a while with the help of local companies like Greggs, but that's stopped now.

Getting free food-bank food brings a weird mixture of emotions. On the one hand, it's a huge relief, and you know it's not enough to address the injustice you and your neighbours face, but on the other hand, it feels uncomfortable being fed this way. It's no one's first choice. The idea the working poor are always on the take, looking for freebies is laughable. We don't even want Universal Credit, let alone food-bank food. But we have a problem when wages are not enough to cover the basics while billionaires are going to Mars.

You Tories need to stop fleecing us. We're sick of your crap! And not in a "we don't like your politics" kind of way, either. This is not even about politics, it's about you lot making life close to impossible for us. 

It's about being unable to buy food because you just bought your kids PE kits. (That's why we were skint last week). It's about staring at the hole in your kitchen ceiling from when your 9 year old flooded the bathroom and you've no idea when you can get it repaired. It's about having a broken down car that you've declared off-road because you doubt you'll ever get it fixed and might as well scrap it. It's about not paying the broadband bill because your direct debit bounced and you're getting charged by Barclays and BT. It's that feeling every time you're paying at the till and nervous your card will be rejected, even when the money should be in your account. It's going the last week of each month with not a penny to your name and hoping no emergency happens. It's panicking when your washing machine breaks down and you're waiting nearly a month until you can afford a bashed up second-hand one from Gum Tree. 

It's a near-impossible life that people like you keep imposing on us because you've decided that anyone who offers us a small amount of mercy is the extremist and that any alternative which involves the rich paying their fair share is "communism" and "couldn't possibly work". But ultimately it's about lack of empathy, because if you're one of those comfortable Tories, you're scoffing at what I've written as though it's  fabricated, while doing everything you can to ensure you don't end up like us, because deep down, you know it's all true.

So please spare me the political bullshit, stop patronising the poor, and open your eyes because poor people are not some extreme fringe of the population. Where I'm from, they're a clear majority, and the way the Tories are going, they could soon be a majority where you live too. Once the government is done fleecing us and they still can't balance the books, who do you think they are coming for next? 

Clue: It's not their wealthy Etonian mates.

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