Rot in hell, Tory bastards

Let me tell you what it’s like to wake up and find yourself a single mother of three children. To find you’re suddenly without an income or any realistic means of earning one because you’ve got two kids still not even at primary school yet and another one literally a babe in arms. Three children that you need to feed somehow, to house, that you know keep relentlessly growing out of their clothes and their shoes every few months, that you need to pay for heating for to keep them all alive in the Scottish winters, where the hell is all that money going to come from? Not from their dad in my case, who I didn’t get any money out of on a regular basis until five whole years later, after a lot of wrangling via the CSA. Do you know what it’s like? It’s terrifying. Proper staring-into-the-abyss terrifying. I barely slept for a month. I staggered blindly between phone calls and letters to the DWP and HMRC inbetween feeding the baby and changing two sets of nappies and consoling an upset 4 year old, trying to understand governmental red tape while my head was still firmly up my arse from the breakup, because if I didn’t somehow sort it out we weren’t going to eat. I’ve never felt so crushingly responsible in my whole life.

I wonder if George Osborne has any concept at all of that fear. I’m not sure which is more upsetting, the thought that he’s lived such an overprivileged life that he genuinely can’t conceive of the terror of being suddenly made vulnerable like that, or the thought that he’s actually just a heartless bastard and doesn’t give two fucks for the women who will suffer when he takes tax credits away for third and subsequent children for new claimants.

Because it is women who will suffer here, let’s get that straight: 92% of single parents are women and we’ve already borne the brunt of the cuts made since 2010. And despite what Channel 5 and the Daily Mail keep shoving down your throats, most of us will do whatever it takes to cushion our children from the worst of poverty. There were already times when I didn’t eat properly to make sure my children did when I was on Income Support, before I went back to work when the littlest one was 16 months.  How much worse is it going to be now, for women who find themselves in the position I did? People will trot out that well-worn line about how you shouldn’t have children if you can’t afford them. Well, I had them when I could afford them. Then he left us. That wasn’t in the plan. I know other women whose plans went tits-up like that too, some with awful and tragic consequences for their mental health. Why would you take away some of that absolutely vital safety net?

They keep saying it’s not right that we should leave our debts for ‘our children’ to sort out. But they don’t mean our children. They mean theirs. They mean our children and us mothers can starve so theirs can keep going to Swiss finishing schools.

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Britain’s Hardest Worker

I saw this tweeted a couple of times last night but didn’t click on it at first because I assumed it was just something from a Daily Mash or Onion type website. Satire, in the mould of Jonathan Swift. It’s biting because it could never really happen, right? Wrong. When I got around to reading it, I found the BBC really is going to run a knockout-style entertainment show where the competitors are the poorest in society fighting to prove who’s the worthiest among them.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/bbc-to-pit-lowpaid-against-each-other-in-hunger-gamesstyle-show-to-find-britains-hardest-grafter-10279386.html

‘Applications for Britain’s Hardest Grafter, which will be screened on BBC2, are limited to those currently earning less than £15,500 per year.

The BBC is seeking 25 British workers, a mix of the unemployed, the under-employed and those earning the minimum wage, who will be given the opportunity to “prove themselves” through a series of challenges. A cash prize is on offer for the winner.’

Dance, monkey boys, dance! Show us how much you want the money!

‘Twenty Twenty said participants would be paid a compensatory figure “not below the national minimum wage” for the length of their contribution to the programme.’

Not below the minimum wage, eh? So that’ll be minimum wage then. £6.50 an hour to go on telly and be laughed at by those slightly better off than you, and be torn to bits on twitter and have your name dragged through the tabloids by sneering journalists on 4 times what you earn in a year, because you know that comes along with appearing on a programme like this. £6.50 an hour which will lose you any money you’re currently getting to survive, because the Jobcentre will see this as making yourself unavailable for work and sanction you if you’re on JSA, the kind of employers that people thinking of going on this show work for will sack you like snapping their fingers if you try and take a couple of weeks off for filming, and any housing benefit you might be getting to help pay your rent will be suspended immediately as soon as the council gets a sniff of it (past personal experience tells me it’ll be 2-3 months before it’s sorted out too. That’s a long time to go without paying your landlord).

‘A representative of the production company Twenty Twenty told the website Graduate Fog: “In each episode, people will be put to the test in a series of challenges and tasks.

“At the end of each episode, those who have produced the least will be eliminated and by the end of the process, just one worker will remain. The winner will receive in the region of £15,000 which is a year’s living wage (outside of London).”’

Could this get any more Climbing For Dollars? ‘Those who have produced the least will be eliminated‘. Of course, we all know that how much you produce, how hardworking a family you are, is the only benchmark of societal worth these days. And for all this humiliation and standing on each others’ heads, what does the last man standing get? The equivalent of a year’s wages in a slightly less shitty job than they currently do. A year’s junior manager wages. One rung up the ladder. There’s your prize plebs, come on, fucking fight for it and make it entertaining while you’re at it, we’re bored and we’ve a career to be furthering out of you, chop chop.

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How to defeat Tories

My middle son cried at lunchtime on Friday, when they’d come home from school and I explained what the election result was, bleary-eyed from staying up til 4am rejoicing and wondering. How Scotland had voted SNP for 56 out of 59 possible MPs, and how crazy and unprecedented that was. ‘So Nicola Sturgeon won? We don’t have David Cameron anymore?’ he asked. And I had to try to explain that no, we still have David Cameron, and actually it was the Tories that had won, despite how Scotland voted. And he couldn’t get his head round that at all. He said ‘but what about the NHS?’ And then he burst into tears, saying ‘but I don’t understand. Why would anyone vote for that? They think it’s all about money, but money isn’t important. People’s lives are important’.

And I couldn’t explain why people voted for that, because I don’t really understand it myself. I didn’t want to tell him that some people in England had listened to what the media was shouting at them, had been afraid of what the Scots having a bigger say at Westminster might mean and had voted Tory instead of Labour to try and stop that happening, because I don’t want him to resent English people. His grandpa on one side and his late grandma on the other are English. Some of his schoolfriends are English. I didn’t want to tell him that some people are just selfish and are more concerned with the money in their own pocket than whether someone else more vulnerable might be struggling, because that’s a shite state of affairs, even though it’s true, and even though he’s basically formed that opinion by himself already at the age of nine. Some things are hard to tell your children.

So instead I told him not to despair, because we still have each other even if we have a Tory government, and we’ll look after each other and be kind and good, and there are other good people around who feel the same, and we will all find little ways to make life better for each other. That’s how you beat Tories. Do something every day to make a Tory frown. Share your snack if someone’s mum’s forgotten to give them one. Play with someone who’s looking a bit lonely in the playground. Bring your workmates communal biscuits. Let your little brother have the computer even though it’s technically your turn, once in a while. Be nice to people who have less than you. Be kind. Be a stand-up guy. If you see someone being shoved around who looks like they need help, step in, don’t walk past. Give a beggar a quid.

Screw money, it’s not important. People’s lives are important.

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Jim Murphy’s target audience

I’ve just watched the Scottish party leaders’ debate on ITV. The main thing that’s struck me is how little Jim Murphy’s Scottish Labour really wants my vote. They like to think they do. On the surface of it, I’m their ideal target audience. My grandpa was a joiner and always, always bought The Mirror. His dad was a miner. I work part-time in a low-paid job. I’m totally reliant on housing benefit and tax credits for the roof over my kids’ heads and the clothes on their backs. I should be a shoe-in for a Labour vote.

Well, I did vote Labour in the last General Election in 2010. I hummed and hawed about voting SNP but in the end went for Labour as a safer bet – more chance of winning as the seat was looking like a three-way marginal between Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a tactical vote because at that point I actually believed returning a Labour MP would be a good thing. But I’ve been disappointed with the results. Ian Murray, my MP, voted with the Tories to cap social security spending in March last year and with the Tories to continue austerity in January this year, which is pretty unforgiveable. Yet he’s still pretending to think otherwise.

Jim Murphy tried to use a woman in similar circumstances to me tonight to appeal to people to vote Labour. He told us about a woman who’d come to his constituency office in tears because despite working two jobs she couldn’t afford to buy one of her children new shoes. It was a direct appeal to look like Murphy and Labour empathise with people like her. I’ve been in almost identical circumstances when my children were younger; living on Income Support as a single mum with 3 kids under 5, there was a period of about a year before I got a job where my kids had to wear shoes from LIDL because that’s literally all I could afford when they grew out of their existing shoes. My eldest daughter’s 11 now and her toes are deformed because of that year wearing crappy shoes that didn’t fit properly, because we were fucking poor. She’s got a permanent reminder of poverty.

I have to say Jim going all misty-eyed over this wee woman in need in his office didn’t sit very well with the sexist, patronising, bullying way he interrupted both Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson when they were speaking tonight. You’re not going to win many female votes with that attitude pal. Sometimes women aren’t just convenient weeping anecdotes; we talk back.

Now, I don’t really know if this woman is real or a convenient figment of Jim’s imagination but it doesn’t really matter; if it’s a lie it’s very cynical of him and if it’s true it’s even more cynical because he’s trying to use her misery to guilt people into voting Labour because they think she and her children would be better protected with a Labour government. But Labour don’t intend to stop or slow the austerity cuts that have put that woman in that position, as evidenced by the way they’ve voted. And it’s telling that the poor greeting woman in Jim’s example was ‘working two jobs’. Deserving poor. Labour don’t want to be seen as the party of people on benefits. They’ve said they’ll be ‘tougher than the Tories’ on welfare. No help or empathy for people in a position like I was, when my kids were too young for me to be working, and my daughter’s feet grew crooked because of cheap shoes.

I should be Jim Murphy’s target audience, and what’s he got for me? Nothing.

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Workers delighted to meet David Cameron and George Osborne

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Check out the facial expressions here.

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‘I’m sorry, I have absolutely no idea what you just said. Could you try repeating it, only just being a teensy bit less working class?’

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‘Look! Over there, an immigrant about to take your crappy minimum wage zero hours job!’

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There’s a definite left-right scepticism divide going on here

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‘I’m jist gonnae keep my ear defenders on so I don’t have to listen to your pish pal’

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‘Did ye, aye?’

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‘So then I implemented a massive programme of cuts to tax credits and in work benefits and it was totes HILAIRE’

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This one doesn’t even need a caption.

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Old Firm, old prejudices

Countless column inches have already been filled about yesterday’s game by eager journalists who had been slavering over the prospect of an actual Rangers-Celtic match more than most of the fans, many of whom couldn’t really give much of a toss about it. Most of it just makes me roll my eyes as a Celtic fan. As usual, because this is the media, most of those journalists do not write from the same perspective as the fans, but from the outside looking in. You don’t easily get to be a published journalist if you’re one of us. I’m sure it’s merely a coincidence that 54% of the top 100 newspaper editors, columnists, broadcasters and executives went to private school, despite fee-paying schools accounting for only 7% of the total school population. And that a similar proportion of leading journalists went to Oxbridge (a third of them went to Oxford).

The class prejudice shines through every article. Take this column by Libby Brooks (who, although she may have been born in Glasgow, clearly doesn’t mix in the same circles as your average matchgoing football fan, as quel surprise, she studied law at Oxford). Tick off the gleefully-listed Scottish working class stereotypes as you read through it. Fighting! [check] Domestic abuse! [check] Alcoholism! [check] But most of all, sectarianism [great big check with a self-satisfied flourish]. They just can’t control themselves you know, it’s these ancient tribal hatreds. Brutish. Savages.

I am reminded of the upper classes taking their tours in the 18th and 19th centuries, coming to marvel at the spectacle of these heathen foreign Scots engaging in their curious habits. The scandalous prospect of witnessing a bit of rough, close up, and then back home to nice safe London.  Like Samuel Johnson (he of the dictionary episode of Blackadder, tv fans), who enjoyed his tour of Scotland in 1773 so much he said this about it:

“Scotland is a vile country, though God made it, but we must remember that he made it for Scotsmen, and comparisons are odious, but God also made Hell.”

“A Journey To The Western Isles of Scotland” was very well received by the chattering classes back in London, not surprising given that he basically slags us off throughout the whole thing. And he was writing for an audience that wanted to see us as primitives.

These articles by Oxbridge journos are in the same vein. Look at the ghastly Glaswegians, aren’t they beastly. And always falling over themselves not to take sides, with that phrase ‘both sides are just as bad as each other’ running through everything written about the fixture. Both as bad as each other, and both to be sneered at down your nose. All Scottish working class savages. Don’t get any ideas above your station.

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No such thing as a free lunch

As of today, Scottish children in primaries 1 to 3 will all automatically qualify for free school meals.

This is a Good Thing, because universal benefits are the way to go for all sorts of reasons – reducing stigma by removing means testing increases uptake because you catch all the people who didn’t know they qualified so haven’t applied, and all the people who don’t apply because they don’t want their kid to stick out and be picked on, and all the people whose income hovers just above the arbitrary cutoff point. It’s also sometimes cheaper to administrate than means testing. Hungry kids get a hot meal, stressed parents have one less thing to worry about, teachers have children who are ready and able to concentrate in the afternoons, everyone gets a warm socialist glow. Win all round, right? Not according to Scottish Labour. There’s a general election coming up and in a stroke of genius, Scottish Labour are chasing my vote by telling me I’m a wealthy family and I don’t need free school meals.

The policy has been supported by unions and poverty campaigners, but Scottish Labour said the change would only benefit the country’s wealthier families as children from poorer backgrounds already qualified for free school meals.

It’s an interesting tactic to get the working class vote, I grant you, but it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Children from poorer families already qualified for free school meals. By definition the extension will not benefit those families at all, while the wealthiest families in Scotland will be celebrating the news that the Scottish government’s proposals will save them £330 a year.

So my kids used to get free school meals when I was on Income Support. But when I got a part-time job again we no longer qualified and I had to start finding the 22 quid a week it costs to buy all three of them school dinners myself. I must be wealthy! That’ll be why I still qualify for housing benefit, working tax credits and council tax benefit, right? It’s cos I’m rolling in it. Iain Gray went to private school so I imagine his mum never had to dig down the back of the sofa for loose change to feed him with at the end of the month. For his benefit, here’s the qualifying criteria for free school meals in Scotland:

You can claim free school lunches for your children if you are receiving:

  • Income Support (IS)
  • Income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Any income related element of Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit (CTC), but not Working Tax Credit, and your income is less than £16,010
  • Both maximum Child Tax Credit and maximum Working Tax Credit and your income is under £6,420
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Universal Credit

So you could be earning well under the tax and NI threshold as a single parent, but still have to pay for school dinners. Or you could be a couple, one on full time min wage, and still have to pay for school dinners. How many kids you have makes no difference either. It’s not a sliding scale. You either get them or you don’t. My older two are too old now but my youngest will now get free school dinners for a year and a half and speaking as the head of a poorer family, I am rejoicing. Being told by Labour that I’m somehow a member of the chattering classes for that isn’t exactly encouraging me and others like me to vote for them.

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