Anti-Austerity and Living on the Edge

Anti-Austerity and Living on the Edge

By Hwaa Irfan

I pray governments facing anti-austerity measures are looking deep within and at the individuals who make up the lower classes of society. This section of society has been the tools used to build what has been wasted. These people have been the ones whose appetites have been whetted over a long period of time by governments who prior to the global economic crisis were almost on the verge of believing in their invincibility.  It could almost be considered a success story to have driven individuals within society to the believing that governments could do it all. It could almost be considered a success story to have ‘converted’ individuals into believing that values were ‘old fashioned’, the sky’s the limit, and all desires can be fed. The diminishing rate of diversity and independent thought was dwindling fast, and the only currency acted on behalf the state to create a society of automatons who could be led wherever the state wind blows.  It is with contempt that governments increasingly find themselves not in need of or affected by public opinion. Like U.S. food aid which seeks to ‘introduce’ into a starving community foreign foods to increase demand for U.S. foods, so have governments increased dependency on governments for all solutions – amazing given the state of the world!

In the U.S. as mid-terms elections are about jobs and nothing else, voters forget  how it was they who allowed Administration after Administration spend extravagantly their wealth waging economic, scientific, food, socio-cultural, and military war in and against other countries; as if changing governments will change the problem in their interest.  It was not as if British civil society was not riddled with the problems from poverty, child abuse, broken families, mental health, teenage pregnancies, and a growing problem with education and the health service, prior to the global economic crisis, so what more could possibly be in store.

With a growing sense of powerlessness amongst the people when it comes to the running of countries in the West, the illusion has been shattered that they are any better off than any developing country. It may even take a while, and a few more attempts at current systems to realize that what was had, and enjoyed by a few globally speaking, is quite literally costing the earth and therefore unsustainable. Until that realization dawns for many instead of a few, here we are faced with deteriorating societies who may very well be left to cope or not cope on their own.

It must be a frightening time for the youth who until now had hope to take their respective places in the world, but find that adults who have told them for most of their lives have left very little to hope for. Of course there is always hope where self esteem, and imagination is intact, but in the journey to this depot, many have not learnt how to do, but have only learnt how to have. Boredom and frustration can lead to doing crazy and sometimes dangerous things in order just to feel that one is alive. Like the massive underground rave parties which are illegal in the U.K. returning on the public scene. Obviously designed to not be in this place or time on the planet, raves offer a time out from the humdrum of life. They also offer a brain numbing experience, as the musical fix is about image rather than feelings, with music so loud on 30th October 2010. The police were called in to end what has been illegal for over 20 years.

Unlike its British African-Caribbean roots which were house parties which offered the opportunity for attendees to help someone pay their rent, and to connect with others of the same values in a hostile environment,  raves  offer the youth a cheap alternative on a massive proportion.  There reputation not only as noise pollutants, but as hot spots of illegalities led to being banned. The rave in the heart of the city in a disused building in London, U.K. in October 2010 was announced on Facebook to ensure full attendance. Said one raver aged 27 to the Guardian:

“There is a self-entitlement with the generation that has grown up on the internet. They’ve already destroyed the music and publishing industry, now they’re working on destroying the film industry. Next might be the event industry which is crying out to be destroyed.

“There is a genuine feeling that if they want to do it, then why can’t they do it? If we want free songs, then why can’t we get free songs? If we want these parties in the centre of London then why don’t we have these parties in the centre of London?” 

The logic may not be apparent, but the fact that this ravers finds nothing worth being accountable to is. 

The rave was to packed (400) for police to gatecrash, so all roads leading to the rave were closed. The ravers rushed on the police, and by 12.50am the rave officially qualified as a serious public disorder. The Territorial Support Group arrived on the scene, and by 1.00am bottles and bricks were flying, and shop windows were being broken, yet by 1.45am there was a new influx of ravers! It was not until 4.15am that the police were able to enter. 

There is less and less for youth to look up to in the public sphere where true mentors are severely lacking. Just take a look at the behavior of Italian President Berlusconi, who is being investigated by his own MPs over a sex scandal involving many women, including prostitutes. How can one respect such a head of state? 

The problem with raves though is the psychological impact. As much as the talk from ravers is one of liberty and freedom, the rave enforces a cloned identity, a mob identity. It is almost like being in a trance. The drugs on the scene probably have a lot to do with it, but the music played is a drug within itself. Instead of the collective experience being a liberating experience, it entraps the mind making one mindless, and like any addiction it is a form of escapism that hungers to be maintained. 

The Reality

In Britain today, the welfare state costs £190bn a year! Some of that is needed to help those who are after all a product of the state. In an effort to cut that welfare bill, the U.K. has been looking to the U.S. for a solution. That solution currently a White Paper, aims to cut the number of people out of work by forcing the unemployed to do voluntary work for at least 30 hours over a 4-week period. If this is not done, then they will get no social security allowance for three months!

Putting on a rave is one way of making money as the social security allowance currently is £50.95 weekly for the under 25’s and £64.30 for over 25’s. This is not a significant amount in a country where the cost of living is high, but there are many ways of making a living, which anti-austerity measures may cause to become more common than previously, which may counter the aim to get the unemployed back into the routine of working for a living. Depending on where and how they live, this may be a problem given the independent report by the charity Joseph Rowntree Foundation that the basic standard of living in the U.K. for a single person is £14,400 before tax! That is £175.34 per week, and for a family with two children £29,900. However, this is based on current spending needs, which allows one to be part of society, and not excluded from societal norms. For example the charity points out the rising cost of food on low income families, the need to buy presents for birthdays etc., home computers for school children, and then of course there is the rising cost of public transport, and childcare if one goes out to work.

Unemployment dropped by 8000 in September, which might be connected with the summer holidays after which many people tend to resign! Currently unemployment stands at 2.47 million. Does the U.K. have that number of jobs in offer? In some of the provincial cities, the rate of employment is as much as 32% (Liverpool), which presents a real culture of unemployment, when employment is linked to education.

By labeling all the unemployed as a culture of “worklessness” does not identify the problem, but exacerbates it because believe it or not, some people do want to improve their standard of living, and some people simply cannot! From the Guardian welfare worker Aubrey Lane outlined the following:

“I am a welfare rights officer working for a local authority. Most of my work comes from social workers either employed by the same authority or by the NHS. I help people with physical disabilities, sensory impairments, mental health problems or a mental illness, learning disabilities. I also help the elderly and those recovering from strokes or head injuries. I assist them to claim the benefits they are entitled to by getting their application forms right from the start. I help with all the state benefits but the vast majority of my work comes in the form of disability living allowance (DLA) and incapacity benefit (IB). Most importantly I accompany claimants to any appeal and speak on their behalf.

“All applications are processed by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff first, and in the case of incapacity and disability they can refer people for a medical opinion. When an application is not deemed suitable this is where the appeal process commences. It is quite intimidating for the individual concerned. They are being judged by a panel as to whether they are as disabled or incapable as they say.

“The system is very complicated, and application forms are both long and intimidating. Often, the questions require an opinion about how a person copes in different circumstances and at different times of the day. This causes confusion and concern, especially with the elderly and the mentally ill. People are genuinely frightened of saying the wrong thing.

“Atos, the company being awarded contracts to find many unfit people capable for work, has a long association in doing assessments of claimants both for IB and DLA. It does not have a very good reputation in my line of work. I have attended a number of medical assessments with clients and have had to explain the term “bipolar” to an Italian professional and “Asperger’s” to a Greek one – neither of whom seemed to have heard of the terms before, yet here they were passing judgment on my client’s fitness to work. I have seen claimants turned down on IB assessments with zero points, only to be awarded full entitlement at appeal, and have also seen DLA claimants found to be not entitled to any help, then have both high care and high mobility needs awarded at a tribunal. Clearly farcical!

“Many of our clients would simply not appeal without a reassuring presence of one of my excellent team. The resource of expert advice and support is essential to anyone wishing to appeal a decision. Sadly, that resource is becoming a scare commodity. This will leave many claimants alone and vulnerable, and they will simply not exercise their rights. This factor alone will fulfill the politicians ambition of reducing expenditure in the field of benefits.

“Contrary to what has been said, the vast majority of benefit claimants do not like to be thought of as getting something they don’t deserve. This is why under-claiming is so rife, especially among the senior citizens. But that doesn’t make headlines, does it?”

From welfare worker Matt Brown:

“I work as a freelance welfare rights officer and have worked for Citizens Advice bureaux, solicitors and Sure Start children’s centres over the past 17 years. I also find the government’s thinking on welfare both confused and confusing.

“I call to mind Jenny, a client of mine from an Exeter children’s centre. Her partner left her when their second child was three months old – her children are now eight and three respectively. Jenny is living in a two-bedroom private rented house in Wonford, which is the most deprived ward in Devon. She works 30 hours a week in a bid to balance work and bringing up children. She pays £79 per week for childcare for the youngest child while she is at work.

“Jenny gets £6.70 an hour and after tax and national insurance brings home £171 a week. The children share a room and the rent for her house is £650 a month. This is about average on the large estate, where once almost all the housing was council houses. Her tax credits amount to £219.76 a week, her child benefit is £33.70 and she gets £69.01 in housing benefit, which in her case is £641 per month. All told, the money she has left per week after rent , council tax and childcare is £316.99. Her total benefits – child benefit, tax credits, housing benefit – per week are £322.47.

“Jenny has made the best of a bad situation. With a child under seven years old, she could have chosen to remain on income support. If this was the case she would receive a total of £327.85, leaving her with a disposable income of £161.39. It costs the state directly £5.38 a week less to have Jenny working than having her do nothing. It benefits her by £152.60 a week to work (which is largely spent in the local economy and adds to tax revenues).

“The cuts will impact her. In April, her housing benefit will go down by around £27 per week overnight. Her tax credits will fall by £7.88 per week as allowable childcare costs reduce from 80% to 70%. Child benefit will be frozen, meaning a further reduction in real terms. Overnight she will be at least £35 a week worse off. How is this making work pay?

“So just what is being supported here? First, housing benefit is a symptom of the real problem of lack of affordable housing. If Jenny loses her job and goes on income support she will have to find at least £30 a week from her benefits to pay the rent. The rent will not go down, because there is a shortage of rental accommodation. She can’t easily move because she’s already in the cheapest part of Exeter. She will just be poorer.

“Second, tax credits are as much about supporting employers who are not paying a living wage as they are about “making work pay”. How sustainable this is from the public purse is a bigger problem than supporting the habitually work-shy. In Jenny’s case it is just £5.38 a week cheaper for the state to have Jenny working than not working”.

It has to be acknowledged that the problem is compounded in the city, whereby to get the basic necessities, one has to turn to a man-made resource, instead of the natural resources of the environment. In addition, the social support which was once widely available, is sparse to say the least. This is the living reality for many, of which the government underestimates their situations and what they are willing to do to redeem the situation. One can choose to ignore these examples and let it be their destiny to end up on the streets, the children failing at school, and/or getting into the kind of trouble that can last them a life time – an additional cost to the state in the long term. Or, one can do as some futuristic films suggests, when one is no longer of any use to the state, to be recycled/terminated!

It may be more honest to say that governmental ministers have not seriously thought about the kind of society they would like now and in the future. However, most of those ministers have come from the upper and middle classes and have no direct experience of what constitutes the majority in societal terms. For any concrete change, ministers need that experience for true understanding instead of from afar, but that is only possible by changing the electoral system so that corporate society remains that and does not have any influence whatsoever on the electoral system and governments, and so that worthy candidates from the bottom up have the opportunity to do what is needed, and not what is wanted both short term and long term. There are examples around the world, few, but some, so it is not as if it is not impossible to make a better world for all once ethics has a heavy hand, for without ethics, there is only self interest! Once governments can distinguish between what is their responsibility, and what is collective/individual responsibility, then peace becomes more possible both on the domestic front, and the global front.

Sources:

Brown, M. and Lane, A. “These Cuts Aren’t Building a ‘Big Society’; They’re Tearing It Down”. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/05/welfare-cuts-spending-review

Helm, T and Asthana, A. “Unemployed Told: Do Four Weeks Unpaid Work or Lose Your Benefits”. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/07/unemployed-unpaid-work-lose-benefits  

Thomas, J. “Cost of Living in the U.K. Now Over £14,000”.http://www.knowyourmoney.co.uk/uk-living-costs-now-over-14000

Townsend, M. Return of Underground Rave Culture is Fuelled by the Recession and Facebook http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/nov/07/underground-rave-culture-recession-facebook

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