The Harsh Reality of the Universal Credit Cut

Hundreds of thousands of families found themselves £20 a week worse off yesterday when our lovely government cut Universal Credit at the worst possible time. The people who already weren't managing were suddenly expected to manage with a hell of a lot less, because, you see, £20 might be nothing to an MP who would happily spend that on a cup of coffee, but to a poor person, well, they could feed themselves for an entire week with that money.

£20 a week really is the difference between being able to buy some fruit and vegetables or put the heating on when it gets freezing cold. Taking that money away means families facing malnutrition and going cold in winter, and before you call them lazy scroungers, please remember, a huge number of these people are already in work and many others are victims of circumstances you have no knowledge of.

Some questions for comfortable middle-class Tory voters:

How many among you have been too scared to put the heating on or take a bath because of your sky high energy bills? How many of you have wrapped yourself in a blanket mid-winter in a room so cold you can actually see your breath? I have, back when I was living alone in a small flat with extortionate rent.

You might think that sounds fine, that I managed to keep warm so what am I complaining about? But just imagine spending every evening wrapped in extra clothes and a blanket and still feeling cold. It's suffocating. It's no way to live. And yes, I was in full-time employment at the time, so your get-a-job rhetoric isn't going to wash.

Just imagine asking families with small children to go through that misery. I have a three month old baby. I genuinely have no idea if our energy bill will be affordable this winter, but I'm damn sure I will be putting the heating on. If our supplier wants to charge us rip-off prices, and expect a government bail out, they can bloody well take me, and millions of others, to court as far as I'm concerned, because no baby should go cold for the sake of neo-liberalism.

You would think this would be one fight the leader of the opposition could take to the Tories, an easy win, to simply point out how privatisation has failed our people. But alas, Starmer's performed another screeching U-turn on one of his key pledges and decided a national crisis is not the time to take decisive action to remove the cause of a major problem he promised to fix.

Sir Keir Starmer has been about as inspiring in his fight against the energy crisis as he has been in his fight against the tax avoidance revealed in the Pandora Papers. In other words, he has not bothered to lace up his gloves, not bothered to swing back against the rigged system which is pummeling us from every direction.

Instead, Starmer is leaving opposition to celebrities like Marcus Rashford, Gary Neville and Jack Monroe. We are in desperate need of representation, but only the non-politicians are willing to provide this. I despair.

If you still don't get why the Universal Credit cut is so morally wrong, let's try this:

Imagine you've just dropped the kids off at school and you're staring at the wall, about to start working from home, resisting the urge to eat the last of the food in the near-empty cupboards because you haven't had breakfast and you're saving the food for the kids and hoping you can get through the day without your boss calling to give you a hard time because you feel so damn sluggish and are about to massively under-perform.

I mean this sluggishness is obviously your fault. Your incompetence is the reason you can't get a "better job" in an area that has no better jobs, but luckily, you're seeing upper-middle class brats on TV explain the £20 a week cut is going to help you "pull yourself up by your bootstraps". I bet you're feeling inspired now.

So you're going to use energy you don't have because your employer isn't paying you enough to eat, and you're genuinely going to try to impress your manager, and they're going to tell you you're a useless dickhead regardless, because that's what they're there to do.

But remember, you're "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" and your efforts are going to miraculously overcome the increase to national insurance and council tax and food prices and fuel prices (if you're lucky enough to have a car and need to drive anywhere). Thank God you're allowed to work from home for the time being, but your boss is already talking about forcing you to return to the office, otherwise they might cut your pay which is only a fraction above minimum wage, because you're saving money on travel expenses so you don't deserve as much income. But they're not going to pay your electricity bill, are they?

It's just any and every excuse to screw over ordinary people. And we're at breaking point.

I, like millions of others, am no stranger to hunger. You probably already know this because I talk about it quite a lot on my blog, if for no other reason than to educate people. I had a rough start to adult life and in recent months, I've had another taste of what that period was like. We are currently on Universal Credit because my wife is on maternity leave, and the other day, I had some moron on Twitter saying we shouldn't have had a child, like poor people shouldn't reproduce!

I'm not sure who this guy thinks is going to fill all the low-paid job vacancies that have appeared post-Brexit. Does he not realise that if we went ahead with his eugenics experiment that middle-class people like him would have to step forward?

The most essential roles in society get filled by people who were raised by parents whose income was topped up by benefits, and who will also have their income topped up by benefits. If you tell those people to stop reproducing, guess what? Twenty years down the line, you literally have no essential workers! 

The working poor are vilified and blamed for our own poverty, even when we're doing the very things that are essential to the functioning of society.

Being a parent and working a low-paid job are actually two of the most important things a person can do. Just think about that. The two things that will get you blamed for your own poverty are the very things society needs you to do in order to be able to function. 

Society needs your labour in order to be able to function, but it doesn't want to give you what you need in order for your family to function. It's a relationship of abuse and exploitation, and we don't talk nearly enough about how the most marginalised group in society is actually the working class, because we are the one group that it's legally and socially acceptable to discriminate against. It is perfectly socially acceptable to tell a working class person they are deserving of hunger - our own government says as much!

They are truly taking the piss.

While the £20 a week Universal Credit cut was going through, Tory politicians and journalists were actually throwing a massive party. This party gave us the grotesque spectacle of Therese Coffey singing "I've Had the Time of My Life" and the totally impartial BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg having a dance-off with Michael Gove to Ice Ice Baby. I think I'm going to be sick.

The establishment isn't just being consciously cruel, it's openly mocking us, and we are seeing almost no opposition because Labour is part of the establishment too, and if they ever do criticise the government, it's only in the most timid of ways, just enough to maintain the pretence they're not on the same side.

And while all this is going on, we're putting up with simplistic arguments that totally fail to consider the chaos families are facing, right now. My family recently caught the "super-cold" that's going around. It was horrendous. My (at the time) two month old daughter couldn't stop coughing and crying for eight whole days. We barely slept. Then as luck would have it, literally days after we'd recovered from the super-cold, my 9 year old went and caught Covid-19 and is now self-isolating. On top of that, I've got a broken molar and have to wait two months for an NHS dentist appointment!

Imagine some idiot telling you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps while you're dealing with all this crap and living in a forgotten, northern working-class town.

To give an example of the idiocy we have to tolerate, some genius suggested Universal Credit claimants could wash their neighbours' cars to make up the £20 shortfall, but those extra earnings would simply lead to a reduction in the amount of Universal Credit they got paid, leaving them no further forward. When we talk about poverty traps, this is what we mean.

If you don't want to hear any more from me, here's a quote from someone who messaged me on Twitter and wants to remain anonymous:

"I’m 62, on ESA legacy benefit and also PIP so I didn’t receive the uplift. I’ve taken over my son’s direct debit for his gas and electricity as he’s self-employed and on UC. He’s worked really hard to move away from UC and set up a small business, but obviously work has been scarce over the lockdown period. Losing the uplift means potentially plunging him into debt and definitely into the choice between heating or eating. I never visit without taking a bag of shopping but knowing that he, and my grandchildren, who are with him three days per week, won’t be cold this winter has prompted me to take over the energy bills too."

Here is a reply one of my tweets received:

Feel free to click on the tweet and read some of the other replies...

Ordinary people are stuck. We don't want to be at the mercy of the government, but we are because that's how our system works. All of us would far rather have meaningful employment opportunities and a minimum wage that was an actual living wage, so we could do basic things like eating and heating and buying school uniforms and making necessary repairs, but we are forced into a situation where the essentials are luxuries. We are being squeezed too far while MPs complain about the struggle of life on an £81k salary.

The thing I need the middle-class to understand is that if you were living as we are living, you would not think the current system is workable. You would think capitalism needs to be dismantled. And if you don't already think that, it's because you are happy to impose poverty on a huge chunk of the population to maintain your privilege.

Sadly, as the economy goes into free-fall, more middle-class people are being pulled into the struggle, and more still are on the brink of being pulled in, and if you want to prevent that, if you want to protect your own living standards, you're going to need to stand in solidarity with us, because you are about to learn the establishment was never on your side, but you were quite possibly on theirs. 

All of you have far more in common with a poor person than you will ever have with a Tory politician. It's time to stand together and say enough is enough.

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