This is my blog. I’m new to this, so bear with me. My idea for a blog called punk food Bandita came several years ago but it’s only just now it’s come to fruition. Being an outspoken and excitable young (*cough*) bandita, I’ve exhausted my wonderful friends with my patter and felt now was the right time to unleash myself on the internet instead.
Things I will crap on to you about are mainly politics and people- I describe myself as an anarchist and I like to write about it. Food- I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly skilled cook but I am interested in trying new things, cooking on a budget, and I’m passionate about the politics of food and believe that feeding others can be a revolutionary act.
I love music too, and will include a song at the end of each blog that ties in with the theme in some way. As you’ve probably guessed, punk is my favourite genre to listen to- particularly when I’m cooking, but I listen to a whole mess of other types of music, so if you have something you think I’ll like, hook a sister up.
We live in challenging times, so let’s discuss and organise and do everything we can to make it that little bit better….
The best way I could describe him to someone who has never heard of him is to imagine that Britain elected the Wheelers from Return To Oz into government and made the stupidest one Health Secretary. I don’t know what it is. The disconcertingly insincere smile that doesn’t match the eyes, the childishly macabre voice or the fact that he inspires the same feelings of creepiness, revulsion and dread in people as my number one childhood nightmare did.
He’s always been the poster boy for confident incompetence, but ever since he was appointed health secretary he has turned blaming others for his Party’s deliberately irresponsible and bloodless handling of the pandemic into an art form.
So far he has blamed the Chinese, fat people, poor people, the Labour Party and Identity Politics among many others for their handling of the Coronavirus. So who is it this week? Not surprisingly it’s young people this time, since the UK’s recent 2988 increase in Covid-19 cases has been mainly within 20-29 year olds.
The way he has framed it implies that anyone under 30 has put our nation in danger with their hedonism and their illegal raves. Where some bloke who tells everyone he once punched a copper in the Poll Tax Riots takes your temperature on the door by licking your forehead, before sending you off to do lines of Chinese cocaine off the back of a coughing live bat.
“Don’t kill your gran”, Hancock told them. You will give her the Rona.
But what are we really looking at here. It is absolutely no surprise that this age group would be the demographic dominating the rise and it isn’t for the reason we are being told. Government advice surrounding the virus is so disconnected and bizarre it often reads like a series of statements written by the Duolingo owl.
Don’t Kill Your Gran
But they still encouraged you to use the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Go out, treat your friends, treat your family. You’ll be saving our country by doing so and likely be served by someone who is aged between 20-29, because they’ll get sacked if they don’t. But that’s fine. It’s safe. As long as you practice social distancing.
I doubt very much anyone in the cabinet has worked in a bar or restaurant or they might realise just how laughable it sounds telling pissed people to social distance . As someone who was employed in hospitality between the ages of 15 to 23, it’s hard enough trying to keep their hands off your arse most days, and unless they now have fully ascended Jedi’s as door staff at Yate’s now, I’m not sure how they’re supposed to split up a fight from 6 feet away.
Don’t Kill Your Gran
But people in their twenties in service jobs are more likely to be on zero hour contracts which affords them very little rights. They’re less likely to be unionised or otherwise organised in the work place. They aren’t easily going to be able to refuse to go to work and earn the wage that they need to give half of to their landlord because apparently landlords are the only ones who cant suffer a loss of income.
Don’t Kill Your Gran
Or maybe they don’t have a landlord. Since we have nearly half a million multi-generational families in the UK thanks to gentrification, lack of social housing and mortgage companies requiring a twenty grand deposit and a blood oath before they’ll lend you enough to buy a converted BT phone box to live in. Kind of hard not to kill gran when your back and forwards from work all the time and have to share a bathroom with her.
Don’t Kill Your Gran
Because you know if she dies it is your fault right? No matter that she’s 70 and still working in the local primary school because she got fucked over for her pension and cant afford to retire yet. No matter that the Tories have already killed a lot of grans already with their austerity measures, constant welfare cuts and their decimation of the NHS. That while they encouraged us all to put victory rolls in our hair for VE Day and form a conga line of nationalist propaganda as deadly pathogens hung in the air, they never adequately protected our care home residents- you know— those who were actually around in the war or its immediate aftermath.
What they tell us is that it is safe to travel to work, it is safe to be at work, it is safe and necessary to put your kids back in school so you can return to work and you are a terrible parent if you don’t. Hey shielded people, you must also come back to work to pay your mortgage and bills but you must also never leave the house because it’s selfish to expect healthcare if you get ill. It is safe to spend money in shops, pubs, bars and restaurants and you must do this as much as you can unless you hate the British way of life, but you must not seek out any meaningful human connections at one of the most upsetting and uncertain points of your life that do not involve your debit card, or we’ll hit you with a massive fine that you’ll have to take on extra shifts to pay off.
Don’t kill your Gran. But also, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.
Yes, you heard that right. I said what I said. Have you ever rewatched a childhood favourite, only to suddenly pick up on the subliminal messages you were being fed that inadvertently shaped you into the person you are today? As a child of the eighties, some were not exactly subtle: The absolutely traumatising Watership Down, complete with its themes of environmental destruction, anti capitalism and a rebellion against the bunny version of Pinochet and his oppressive regime. The Neverending Story, The Princess Bride and The Wizard Of Oz, which, if you’re a Wicked fan, will give you the nod that Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West was really an anarcha-feminist animal rights activist with a hatred of spycops who was racially persecuted then victimised by a vicious dictator’s propaganda machine.
But I digress. Last night while stumbling across a familiar old film due to being laid up with a foot injury and a couple of glasses of wine for company, I realised that something had turned me into a dangerous subversive long before I ever read Goldman or listened to Conflict.
Dirty Dancing. Hear me out…
Right from the beginning we meet our plucky protagonist, Baby. A smart and idealistic young woman from an all American middle class family, who’s dream is to join the Peace Corps, naïve in the belief that she can make the world a better place by doing so. The year is 1963, and she and her family are arriving at Kellerman’s Mountain House to spend the summer there. All teenagers dress like mini clones of their parents and they love going out and taking fox trot classes together while drinking soda. The All American Dream.
But quite quickly we see another side to Kellerman’s and it’s complex social structures. It isn’t quite as simple as rich holiday makers vs poor staff. All the waiting staff appear to be Ivy League College students working for the summer and employed quite deliberately by Kellerman to romance the daughters while their approving parents spend more money in the bar, happy that their coming of age teenager is dating a future doctor or lawyer. Kellerman even tries to palm off his detestable nephew Neil onto a horrified Baby- an utterly condescending horrorbag who looks like a boujie 80’s cartoon Willo The Wisp, and openly brags that the only reason girls like him is money.
And it is at this point we meet the other side of the class divide- The Entertainment Staff, including Johnny Castle. Clearly a bit rougher from blue collar backgrounds they are explicitly instructed by Kellerman that they have different rules and are to give the rich young women of Kellerman’s nothing but dance lessons or there will be consequences. For what wealthy businessman would bring his family back to Kellerman’s next year if he learned his little princess was getting felt up by a beautiful, virile penniless artist behind the bins the whole time they were there?
Kellerman’s is a model village of capitalism. It despises poor people but relies on them for exploitation and profit, so it keeps them hidden behind the scenes and tells them they should be grateful to be a part of it. Hidden that is until Baby is introduced to them when she unwittingly engages in manual labour. Clutching the Watermelon of Proletariat Revolution, the door is kicked open to a world she has never seen before. Dirty, passionate and unashamedly real. Here they can be themselves, here they can scream and dance, away from social niceties. Here they are equal. Remember the film is set in 1963, but segregation wasn’t fully ended in the United States until 1964, yet in this loud, hazy room we see black, white and hispanic workers dancing raucously together.
Baby’s face say’s it all. She stands there completely out of her depth, not really knowing how to act. Of course she falls instantly in love with the wildling Johnny Castle, who absolutely screams anarchist as he fucks off the insults of the smarmy waiters in his entirely all black wardrobe.
He understands how this world works, and so does Penny, his childhood friend. Both have been exploited sexually, laboriously and emotionally by their wealthier and better resourced counterparts on the resort.
Penny is understandably suspicious of Baby and her motives, particularly when she tried to help her after discovering Penny is pregnant and struggling to access money to pay for a termination. Baby quite condescendingly tries to tell Penny it must be a mistake that Robbie-the father of the baby- is not going to help her and she decides take it upon herself to reason with him. But Robbie is not going to be told by a woman, not even one of his class. He is confounded that he is being asked to take responsibility and support Penny. Or, as he says “some people count, some people don’t” before he hands her a copy of The Fountainhead by Ayn Fucking Rand. And that’s it. That’s the point when Baby looks at him like she wants him dead and realises she will have to destroy her own kind.
Make no mistake, if Dirty Dancing was made in 2020, Robbie would be wearing a fucking Pepe badge with a Gadsden Flag telling black people he couldn’t be racist because he signed a petition to free Bill Cosby.
The way Robbie treats women and the way that Johnny treats women is worlds apart. Right from the beginning we witness what appears to be the aftermath of an attempted sexual assault on Lisa by Robbie. On the other side of the divide, Johnny treats Baby as an equal, refusing to infantilise her by using that demeaning moniker and asks her what her actual name is instead- Frances.
As well as class consciousness, class privilege is also a theme. Baby’s reluctance to tell her dad about her relationship after he has told her he doesn’t want her having anything more with “those people”. When Johnny has more of his artistic licence taken away for a more corporate and uniform approach from Neil, Baby cannot understand why he agreed to it and doesn’t just “fight it and tell them your ideas”. She’s always seen that work for her and the people around her, but as Johnny points out “You don’t know them like I do-they’re rich and they’re mean”. Because at this point there is no organisation in the workforce and if he tries to stand up to them, he will pushed even further into the poverty cycle.
He wins some smaller battles though, namely absolutely chinning budding date rapist Robbie for a suggestive remark towards Baby. I’ll be honest, I thought she’d be unbearably liberal and all “don’t sink to his level, violence is not the answer”, but she clearly gets off on it and has a taste for the riot porn now.
When Johnny is fired after his relationship with Baby is discovered, it looks like they are all just about to pack up, go home and accept defeat from The Man. But oh no. Johnny turns around. Its time to organise and bring the Kellerman’s down in their own kingdom. As what has to be the dullest and whitest end of season show plays out on the stage in the main hall, we see the quietly seething staff starting to gather and surround the oblivious guests, the tension tantamount to Bastille Day before it all kicked off.
Their excitement as Johnny strides back in is only equal to that of Baby’s who is now no longer afraid to follow her head and heart to join him. She’s basically Kropotkin with a perm, renouncing her riches to follow the cause.
Together with the rest of the dancers they then gyrate their way to the revolution, seizing the means of production and making it their own under the gaze of the crestfallen Max Kellerman who realises now its time to step aside and adapt or crumble.
And they all live subversively ever after.
Obviously I’m desperately praying you’re not sat there taking any of this seriously. Apart from what I said about Watership Down, I meant every word of that. This movie is astoundingly white, with I think exactly one none white character having even a tiny speaking part. The only bit that is even remotely plausible is Baby’s look of mortification after she blurts out “I carried a watermelon”, because hey, we’ve all been there.
And I’m not joking about organising in the workplace or unions either. Join one. Up the Wobblies. Before the Neil’s of this world force us all to give up Cuban soul dancing for the Pachanga.
Here’s some Idles for ya. Namely because it’s a cracking cover of a song from the soundtrack and also because I’m ridiculously excited that I’ll be seeing them in May.
As part of my work, I run courses with women aimed at empowering them and increasing their personal safety, mainly around the issue of domestic abuse. While they are from a cross section of different backgrounds, coming from an area that has been hit hard by austerity it’s fair to say that most of my learners are living well below the poverty line. The functional illiteracy rate is higher than the national average here and many of them have been through the criminal justice system and/or prison on more than one occasion. There’s a bit of a myth that women like this “don’t do politics” and that theres a massive apathy and ignorance when it comes to social issues.
But sit in on one of my groups and you’ll notice something pretty quickly; These women are fiercely political and usually carry strong feminist views. Just not necessarily in the way modern feminist and leftist circles would want them to, which is precisely why the women in my groups wouldn’t engage with them, even if they were welcome.
Historically, this hasn’t always been the case. Poor and working class women have always been driving forces of social change and equality, and not in the way your history teachers and politicians would have you believe. From the Russian Revolution to rent strikes in Glasgow, working class women have always organised and they have done it well. Here in the UK it was their grassroots organising that formed the first women’s refuges for those fleeing domestic abuse.
My area was one of the first which trialled Universal Credit. It was a mess. Everything that community workers, mental health, drug and alcohol and domestic violence advisors warned them would happen, did. It demanded that vulnerable people living hand to mouth with a myriad of compounding issues should suddenly able to manage a monthly budget. It introduced joint claims, insisted that payments being made to couples are put into the bank account of just one, trapping mainly women into abusive relationships, and left thousands without money for months as claim forms seemingly vanished into thin air.
While Theresa May paraded around in her ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt, she also introduced the rape clause to child benefit, essentially forcing victims of sexual violence to prove they conceived a third child through rape in order to put food on the table.
The women on the receiving end of all of that were sat in my classes. Progress isn’t about putting more women in positions of power that actively strips resources from other women, and it isn’t about getting women with privilege to speak for the ones who don’t either because they will always prioritise their own needs and see the struggle of less advantaged women an afterthought once their own aims are achieved.
The Suffragettes are a good example of how both their tactics and the role and experience of working class women have been downplayed and ‘nicewashed’ into popular belief. The suffragettes smashed shit up. They blew up the chancellor of the exchequer’s holiday home. So far, so good direct action. My problem with this is that much of it was at the instigation of Emmeline Pankhurst, a wealthy white woman with social connections who encouraged the suffragettes not just to commit criminal acts but to wilfully get themselves sent to prison and overwhelm the system to achieve their aim- much like what we are seeing in the Extinction Rebellion movement now, which they are just beginning to realise they were wrong about.
Prison is horrible. But we know the experiences of white middle class, particularly high profile political prisoners is different than those from marginalised communities. That was true then and is true now. Because when we talk about the Suffragettes, may still believe that part of the reason it was so revolutionary and surprising was that it was well heeled, privileged young women who were having themselves thrown in jail. But this isn’t reflective of the reality. Many poor, working class and disabled women also received prison sentences and it is fair to say their experience was not the same as their wealthier, more famous counterparts.
Back then, prisoners were put in 1st, 2nd and 3rd divisions. Their uniforms were different, as were their roles within the prison, the poorer ‘criminal’ classes being slung in 3rd. You can guess where the more prominent WSPU members were placed and the treatment that they received was worlds apart. Sylvia Pankhurst wrote of her cell floor being scrubbed by 3rd division prisoners as she lay incapacitated after she was force fed. Another Suffragette, Mary Nesbitt, jailed in 1912, found her cell “unacceptable” when some graffiti on the wall informed her that it had previously been inhabited by a sex worker who had been jailed for one month for soliciting. She demanded to be transferred and astonishingly this request was granted immediately.
However other activists, like Minnie Baldock who came from a poorer background, struggled to pay for childcare when she was jailed and her husband was away at work. Of course the official line from the jails was that prisoners were treated the same. But when Lady Constance Lytton was released from Newcastle Prison following her hunger strike in 1909 after only serving two days of her sentence, she had her suspicions as to how true this was. Lytton was told the reason for her staggeringly early release was her weak heart. She had indeed suffered from this all of her life, but suspected her social status was the driving factor for the decision.
Determined to prove her theory, on her release she rejoined the WSPU under the assumed name of Jane Wharton. She altered her appearance, cutting her hair short and changing her fashion. She was arrested and jailed again for protesting the force feeding of the hunger strikers outside Walton Gaol, this time for two weeks. This time she was placed in 3rd Division. She was never given a proper medical whilst incarcerated and was subject to force feeding from which she never truly recovered. She suffered a stroke in 1912 and died in 1923 aged 54 years old.
While a range of women in the movement were subjected to force-feeding, we do know that it was first performed on the poorer factions of the WSPU, probably as a sort of test run.What we don’t know is the kind of force feeding they were exposed to. As you can imagine just by the name, there is no pleasant way to exact this on someone. Many of those who experienced it had lasting health problems as a result and talked of indescribable pain. But it wasn’t just performed via the nose and mouth as the illustrations in the papers of the time will show you. It was also performed vaginally and rectally for no justifiable or practical reason, but was likely inflicted on lower ranking and disabled members of the WSPU rather than their more privileged counterparts. Many of who were left to starve once they began hunger strike until they grew weak, when they were then released until they recovered, and then recalled in what was known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’. This method was only ever employed because of the authorities fear that a prominent and good standing Suffragette would be to die within their prison walls.
Not all of the more affluent Suffragettes had the empathy and insight of Constance Lytton. Figurehead Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel were happy keeping their privilege for themselves and fiercely opposed their socialist kin Sylvia’s attempts to bring class consciousness into the women’s movement. It is no surprise at all to learn that a number of the Suffragettes later joined Mosely’s British Union Of Fascists, for their intention was only ever to be equal to men of their own class.
We know lots about what happened to them, and far less of the experience of working class suffragettes. They certainly wouldn’t have had family members who were able to send baskets of food and fruit so they did not have to rely on prison sustenance as others talked of, and much of their story is missed as many also didn’t have the literacy and connections to publish what they had endured.
Prison for the people around me has not been baskets of fruit and kindly wardens. It has been violence, sexual abuse and a cycle of poverty and trauma that very few have been able to break free from. Isn’t just enough to eradicate these systems and prejudice from all of our movements- we must be conscious that our own actions aren’t supporting the divisions that have been engraved onto us since birth.
The revolutionaries of the Spanish Civil War did much to relieve some of the appalling conditions women were living in at the time and anarchist women organised themselves and fiercely resisted Franco’s Army who subjected them and their children to horrific abuse and torture when they captured them. However even within their own movements they had the same gendered expectations imprinted on to them. Even those women that were fighting on the frontline were still largely assumed to be responsible for child rearing and household chores. Imagine: “Evening Darling, long day?” “Oh yes, very productive. Shot lots of fascists in the face” “Marvellous! Me too. Good job little lady, now whats for tea?” Im being facetious of course, but you see the problem.
Because lets go back to the women in my classes. You’re unlikely to see them on women’s marches. Most modern feminist circles are not seen as relevant to them because they are deliberately excluded from them, even though they are the first to be affected by regressive policies. On the 9th November 2016 when it was announced that Donald Trump had won the election, I happened to be running a class that day about the early warning signs of domestic abuse and they talked a lot about Trump that was entirely relevant to the conversation; The abuse of power, the meaning of authentic consent and the best way to snap the finger bones off a man who puts his hands somewhere he shouldn’t.
If I’m honest I wasn’t expecting it. Not because they don’t take interest in the world events or lack critical thinking, but because when you are living in poverty, every bit of your energy is spent on meeting your and your children’s basic needs you aren’t likely to have detailed knowledge of current events, let alone get involved in an anti fracking campaign miles away from your home, even if that is an issue you find concerning . Myself and other activists I have worked with have all dipped out of movements before because of poverty or mental health issues associated with poverty, with apologetic mumblings about how we have to take time out from organising. That isn’t right. Those sorts of everyday struggles should be at the very heart of what we do. People say poor and working classes are apathetic when it comes to politics, when actually the left has all of its priorities wrong. Last year I started a campaign to get government to force utility companies to stop charging more on metres than billed customers. My mistake was sharing it mainly in my usual left circles. Electricity charges aren’t dramatic or newsworthy and not a great deal of people were interested as they have never been in fuel poverty and think shitting into a compost toilet at Boomtown for a few days a year when the class A’s kick in makes them the fucking Lorax.
It didn’t take off among them, but out of the few thousand that got involved, the vast majority were from poorer backgrounds who seemed slightly surprised at something that was relevant being brought to the table, particularly from those who had more conservative views. To them “we”- The Left, or what is perceived to be The Left- are normally concerned about having Jane Austen on paper notes that’s never in their hands for more than a few minutes as another debtor demands payment.
Not that representation isn’t important. Of course it is, but if we aren’t ripping down the structures that allowed the vile abuse of Caroline Criado-Perez who headed the Jane Austen campaign to thrive at the very same time then it often becomes tokenism, a few crumbs to placate us rather than a catalyst for radical change.
This isn’t about the attacking the middle class either, because whether they are aware of it or not, the gap between rich and poor is ever widening and some are not on the side of the crack that they think they are. I’ve seen people who were relatively comfortable left destitute within 8 weeks in this system. Even those of us that have been part of the most deprived communities rarely organise there unless it’s to counter the far right. It’s because we are often seen-even affectionately- as a sort of oddity in them and we subconsciously think we won’t engage our own family and neighbours. I know this to be true, after a hazy conversation in a bar last week after a family members funeral where me and a long time friend of the family tried and failed to have a slurred conversation about the BLM movement which, at the point it looked like we were making progress, was interrupted by another member of the wake who casually remarked about my brother’s “golliw*g hair”. It can honestly feel like firing a water pistol at the sun, but that is where change needs to come from- not the left or right, but from the bottom, smashing up.
It isn’t impossible to create truly feminist movements which have class consciousness at its core and recognises how our individual identities collectively shape and are affected by it, rather than allowing it to be hijacked by those who are using it as a shield to cry oppression when their positions of power are threatened or obstructed. Or ridiculed by those who are afraid it is a threat to them.
Gentrified feminism, gentrified rebellion, serves no one but the ruling classes ultimately and the time has come for those who most need it to break down the door and squat the building so that it provides shelter for all. The revolution will not have an Insta filter.
Wouldn’t be right not to sign this off with Poison Girls.
I remember registering at a new GP surgery shortly after I had moved home and being asked to go in for an initial appointment where they ask some basic questions and take a couple of tests as a new patient. The nurse asked me:
“Is there any history of illness in the family”.
Unable to recall any pattern of diabetes, heart disease or cancers, I replied: “Heroin?”
I was being facetious. Well, partly, anyway. Because addiction does run through my clan like a slow burning wildfire that has smouldered on our family tree since as long as I can remember. Whether it be opiates, Valium or alcohol, there’s not been one of us that hasn’t worn it’s crown. After losing my uncle when I was ten I suddenly found I was the only one in my class who knew what an overdose was and that I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. Some have been higher functioning than others, but even my own beloved grandfather- a lifelong Muslim- saw no contradiction with strolling out of mosque everyday to grab a couple of John Smiths in a pub called (of all things) the Adam and Eve.
And now this week, we have suddenly and unexpectedly been forced to say goodbye to another much loved member of our fold. It was the bottle that got him, and in our world there isn’t much of a stigma about alcoholism because it’s seen as normal. I remember once meeting them all in the local pub and ordering a soft drink as I was working later on.
“Eeeeeee, is she definitely your daughter!” someone shrieked with laughter at my mam. Of course it was immediately decided I must be pregnant, as that was the only possible explanation they could come up with as to why I had refused, and I spent the next hour with barely coherent acquaintances staggering up to me, patting my stomach, offering ginger biscuits and saying “you’re still allowed a couple you know”. Not that I’m about to become the poster girl of the Temperance League anytime soon. I’ve had my own struggles with addiction and unhealthy coping mechanisms on and off, and I certainly don’t class myself as any more functional.
But there’s a tendency in addicted families and communities to rewrite events when something happens that scares us. With our latest family member, the form that has taken is a rumour that he died of Covid-19. Which he didn’t. But it makes some of those who knew him feel better rather than admit he died of living a lifestyle that is identical to theirs. If they believe that, they can carry on as they are now. But hiding the truth is insulting, even if I understand why they do it. It hides how ill he got. It hides the events that led him to that path and it hides how eventually he did try so hard and determinedly to save himself. It was just sadly too late. There has been a huge surge in alcohol and drug intake during the pandemic, which was entirely predictable as we all found ourselves in a state of collective trauma and uncertainty which left some of us reaching for any vessel with a ‘DRINK ME’ label on it to escape to another world.
But it veils our passion. It kettles our love and anger that drives us to change the things keep us miserable. Because it forces us to nurture that other craving more, pretending to us that it is nourishment.
I’m certainly not here to give an intervention to anyone, but if you have found yourself in this position more recently, either because of the pandemic or for other reasons that have left you overwhelmed, it’s okay. You aren’t by yourself and there are hands reaching out to pull you up if you look up to grasp one.
Since the BLM protests began, there is a phrase being used that many activists have been familiar with for some time, but for most of the world seems a shocking and unfathomable statement.
Defund the police.
At first it was something scrawled in paint on walls as fires burned, or passionately shouted through megaphones by protestors. When I’ve used this phrase myself I have barely got to the end of the sentence before being interrupted by someone eager to tell me that I’m a dangerous radical and that we don’t live in a world of rainbows and unicorns.
But then this week, a headline I thought I would never see in my lifetime cast across my eyes: Minneapolis council voted to defund its police department. LA too is said to be considering it, and it has caused absolute hell on as you would expect.
I need to start off by saying this is not as revolutionary as you may think. There is a misconception that defunding the police will look like a morning where you wake up and can’t call the police if you are in danger, leading to a world that is suddenly plunged into something out of The Purge. This is not the case. No model I have seen believes that doing so would be the safe or responsible course of action.
We overuse our police force entirely. Go ask your cop friend or family member, they can tell you more about this than I ever could and they are more fed up with it than we are. When they signed up, chances were it wasn’t to spend time writing mountains of paperwork over a bit of lost property or being forced to listen to both sides of completely minor yet utterly ludicrous and prolonged neighbour disputes about one side’s tree dropping conkers into another one’s garden. White middle class people in particular often think of them as some sort of customer service, perhaps to complain about a rude shop assistant or because someone parked in ‘their’ spot, or because they saw a black person walking into their own house. Most of us here in the UK also remember that time a bunch of people called the cops because KFC ran out of chicken, to the point where the police had to make a public appeal to beg them not to do it because it wasn’t a policing matter.
Covid-19 brought out a horrible side to a frightened general public who were encouraged to assess the actions of their neighbours with little evidence whatsoever and pick up the phone to police, fresh with new powers in wake of the virus, or report anonymously online. Which caused particular chaos given the government civil guidelines appeared to have been written by The Riddler, leaving people to try and decipher them like shit Christmas cracker jokes.
Increasingly the police are also being used to deal with people in mental health crisis. This is often because crisis teams often refuse to see a patient unless they consent. They have also been affected massively by austerity cuts and if the patient is experiencing psychosis and does not believe they are ill, this can become a huge problem. Cells are not the place for mentally ill people and neither the police, the patients or their families want this. While triage schemes in some areas have helped some access more appropriate support more quickly, we are still seeing deaths in custody of people and children who should not have been there in the first place.
And quite frankly, this type of work was not why the police were created. They were created to keep minorities and a discontent working class in their place. Their existence is brand new in terms of human existence, though Kings and Rulers certainly had their own enforcers before that time.
We need to build communities that catch people in times of danger instead of letting them fall, as well as having a huge focus on prevention work. We have an element of personal accountability in this, as we have a habit of deciding what is ‘our’ problem. An example of this is a personal one. I once had a seizure in the street late at night. Upon waking I was still not fully functioning and entirely postictal. People who walked past pretended not to see me. Eventually I was found by police who thankfully took me to hospital, but by then I’d been there for about an hour and a half in near freezing weather. My point is they weren’t what I needed and someone stopping even just to call an ambulance wouldn’t have been too taxing.
One of the arguments I have come across criticising the Defund The Police movement is that it will leave poor, impoverished communities vulnerable, while the rich will hire their own private police forces which are already in existence in some areas. My reply to that would be that if you are from a non white community, or an impoverished one, if you have a disability or mental ill health, or an addiction, or been homeless, chances your experience of the police is not a protective, positive one already.
Besides, the movement is not calling for the abolition of cops altogether.
I support victims of domestic and sexual violence in my work, both adults and children. I am a police and prison abolitionist. Do I encourage my service users to contact the police if they are in danger? Yes. If they are reluctant to have them involved, do I look at ways they can overcome those barriers? Yes. Because right now there is little viable alternative for them. To discourage this on the grounds of my political views would be irresponsible at best, and manslaughter at worst, and I am saying to you, if you are in a similar situation, do not let anyone make you feel guilty if you have to contact the police and decide to take things through the criminal justice system.
I have personally met people who’s lives have been saved because they called the police, but I accept that many of the people I support do not want their involvement and have a range of valid reasons for that. As workers we have had to find other ways to try and keep people safe in other ways, such as therapy, home security or rehousing, rather than keep pushing a criminal justice agenda. I’m not just talking about the police here. The court system itself is horribly oppressive, unjust and discriminatory. Most rape and sexual assault cases never even make it that far, and the ones that do can be traumatising because of the revictimisation that occurs during the process. More and more often we are seeing victims of serious crimes have to wait over a year for their trial, keeping their anxiety and cortisol levels up at dangerous levels, then wonder why they drop charges rather than continue to lie awake every night in dread.
Prevention work would have a massive effect in harm reduction where domestic abuse is concerned, particularly if we invest more in therapeutic and emotional resilience work for children. We know so much more about trauma and adverse childhood experiences and how this effects development and behaviour, yet we are still lacking much of the trauma informed practice we know works into childrens social care and childrens mental health services. When they are employed, it is often at the point where a child or young person’s experiences are already having a visible, negative effect on their life. What I dream of seeing is a time when give therapeutic work to children who have witnessed or been subject to abuse at the point of disclosure, rather than waiting until they show any sign of distress or underdevelopment, which many may not until their experiences are severely impacting on their own relationships, growth and mental well being.
And as more appropriate, holistic services have been privatised and stripped of their resources or defunded, we find we are trying to shield people from storms with broken umbrellas. Understaffed or under-resourced services are not the only issue.
I don’t just want to go after the police, I want to go after the entire criminal justice system because I sit within it, and for the large part it is not fit for purpose.
We need to completely change all of our structures- not just the police- in order to keep people safe and dismantle discrimination, and I do mean all. Many political organisations I have encountered are still clinging to their archaic procedures and attitudes. They are as complicit in the revictimisation of survivors as any court room I have ever seen. There is a tendency when women come forward to disclose sexual or physical abuse and harassment from other members, for the organisation to state they will deal with it internally because they need to protect themselves from police scrutiny- only to then cover the abuse up and isolate the victims instead.
This is gaslighting, and it is allowing predators to roam within our own house. Right now, several large unions and traditionally left wing or progressive organisations have serious problems with predatory people being protected within them, and if you do not think we are fucking coming for you next to rip down those walls, you are in for a terrible surprise. New minds full of radical ideas and energy are coming into our groups and unions right now, and rather than let the usual gatekeepers manipulate and exploit it and turn that energy and passion into vulnerability and disillusionment, you are getting pushed out of the way this time because you are part of the problem.
While activist groups blocking victims from disclosing to the police only to offer no safety or support to protect them is abhorrent and discriminatory, it is not unreasonable for activists involved in social change to be wary of their involvement. There is the current spycops scandal, of course, which allowed citizens to be spied upon when undercover police pretending to be someone else helped themselves to activist women who they saw as a perk of the job. We also know they spied on the families of Stephen Lawrence and Ricky Reel fearing a ‘race war’, and rather than use resources to find their racist killers, they spied on their grieving families instead.
Their job will always be to prevent any change of social order, and quash the fires of revolution that threaten structures of power, and that is why it needs to be defunded. There will still be cops responding to any emergency where no other service is appropriate, but the millions that is wasted on many of their current essential duties- such as harassing homeless people for being homeless- can be better spent on housing, drug treatment, domestic and sexual violence programmes and youth work. Don’t believe it is a viable option? Look at all of the money that has been ploughed in to police to tackle knife crime? Add up every penny given to their internal prevention programmes, amnesties and extra boots on the street. It didn’t do anything. Yet when we look at the model Glasgow used- a city with extraordinarily high gang related knife fatalities-to tackle knife crime which saw fatalities decline by 69% in a decade. They treat knife crime not as a policing issue, but a public health one, working on the basis that violence is preventable, not inevitable. They funded youth work, NHS schemes. They developed role models, talked to offenders and ex offenders about the cycle of violence. Extend that work right across our society and it is not unreasonable to think we can have real change.
Reform has been tried, and it has only brought about the most minor of improvements. Even the authorities that have tried to implement reform have admitted that more policing and prisons is not keeping us safer. Crime targets that police are asked to meet mean their priorities are protecting property and capital, and the Crown Prosecution Service’s decisions on what is in the public interest to pursue are severely questionable. I have lost count just this year on how many rape cases I have seen be discontinued, but I have witnessed someone cry uncontrollably in the dock as they were handed a suspended sentence for not paying a 7 year old speeding fine because they had been made homeless shortly after the offence occurred, and had only just started getting back on their feet by the time police caught up with them.
When something isn’t working we should not be afraid to build something new. Quite often police and prison abolitionists are accused of treating everyone like a victim, when really the opposite is true. It’s about saying we can stop creating victims on the first place and we all have a part we can play in that. For me, it should be more terrifying to actively decide to keep trying things we know do not work, and shunning the ones that we do.
There has been various excellent articles written about domestic abuse during Covid-19 measures, highlighting the rise of incidents of violence and the unique situation the pandemic has services facing. Rather than just repeat most of the same, I’m going to attempt to give more detail as to the problems we are facing and why simply knowing the statistics and monitoring its rise is not enough.
I’m writing this utterly exhausted and dejected, so forgive me if I’m not as coherent as I would like to be. Myself, like many other domestic abuse workers who aren’t refuge based are working from home right now, watching all of this unfold and trying to deal with it in isolation. We have even less contact from our colleagues who we both give and receive support from and cannot talk about what we are seeing happening before or very eyes in any meaningful way, to keep in line with confidentiality of the people we support. But this isn’t about us, so I’ll stop with the whinging.
We did know this was coming. Domestic abuse tripled in Hubei, the province were the outbreak first started, and 90% of all violence was reported as being domestic related. Other countries which have also implemented quarantine rules such as Brazil, Spain, Greece, France, Germany and Cyprus have also seen steep rises of domestic abuse incidents. Here in the UK, a decades worth of austerity measures from the Conservative party have left domestic and sexual abuse services severely under-resourced as well as other statutory agencies that work with victims of domestic abuse, such as children’s services, drug and alcohol organisations and mental health services.
Here in the UK, 15 organisations and charities have signed a letter to the ministry of housing, communities and local government asking them to give specific funding for domestic abuse survivors to access specialist services, arguing that the general funding allocated to all those in need is simply not sufficient.
Some refuges have had to lockdown and stop taking referrals because of the virus and we are already starting to see the impact here in just two weeks of quarantine measures. Since then, domestic homicides have rocketed here with nine people now dead in four separate incidents (at the last count. It could easily be more now) which is nearly double the domestic murder number average of one a week previously.
It isn’t just homicide we are looking at though. During this last two weeks I have never seen so many call outs for mental health crisises, attempted suicides, both accidental and intentional overdoses from the people I support. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline has seen calls for help increase by 25%.
Frontline mental health services and charities have also seen a massive increase in people struggling to cope with with the pandemic. People are losing their jobs and despite what is being reported, evictions are still taking place, all of which could easily drive a vulnerable person back to their abuser if they have no other resources.
For the ones who are still living with a perpetrator, the chances to disclose are frighteningly scarce. There is never any privacy to tell anyone what is happening. Rooms are always occupied, phones are being checked. Even if you did, where would you go? Elderly or sick relatives are out of the question.
With the media all whipping us up into a frenzy about “covidiots”, victims of domestic abuse could easily find themselves even more isolated as we are all encouraged to turn into effective snitches on each other. That woman you keep calling the police on for keep allowing her boyfriend in and out of the house? Telling him to stay away could be far too dangerous as one referral I dealt with last week demonstrated. People seem eager to call 999 for incidents such as this , yet “don’t want to get involved” when they can hear screaming and smashing coming from the house next door for the third time that week.
The referrals we are getting through are horrifying. But some days, it is disturbingly quiet and that frankly worries me even more. Hardly any children remain in school, so the kids aren’t able to tell their teachers about what is going on at home. Most survivors do not want to call the police at the best of times, but now even less so for fear of stretching resources even further or fear of prosecution for having someone in their home who they shouldn’t have. They aren’t able to go to their GP and won’t attend Accident and Emergency for fear of catching the virus or of being a burden on already overworked staff.
For disabled people experiencing domestic abuse, their family and friend not seeing them for weeks on end, is expected rather than being seen as suspicious. Survivors working in hospitals and care homes face more accusations of infidelity as they work exhausting hours to keep people alive. Perpetrators will use their own ill health or vulnerabilities to persuade their victim to allow them back in their home and there have been incidents of abusers pretending to have Covid-19 in order to enforce the entire household to isolate with them.
What the pandemic has taught us- that many of us working on the frontline of domestic abuse already knew- is that survivors need a community behind them. This means fully resourced and trained professionals, but also their colleagues, their neighbours and the people they interact with on a daily basis. Isolation is the biggest tool that abusers will use. Look at what we can do as friends and neighbours. If you don’t know yours well and it is safe to do so, it won’t seem unusual to let them know you are there if they need to borrow a teabag or bit of milk (you absolutely don’t have to ask them directly about what you suspect). If you are an active part of mutual aid groups and haven’t already done so, now is a good time to discuss how you can support those experiencing domestic violence. If someone you know has openly talked to you about abuse in their relationship, try and set up a safe way they can let you know if they are in danger. This might be a trigger word or if you are using video technology, a gesture, such as holding three fingers to the camera to let someone know they are in danger with an agreed plan of what they wish you to do.
If you yourself are in fear of what is happening in your relationship with your partner, or ex, or a family member remember that although services may be running differently at the moment, we are still there. A lot of websites such as Refuge or Women’s aid have a 24 hour number and a ‘leave now’ function on their website. The Women’s Aid website has an online chat service that is available between. If you can, check ways you can contact your local domestic abuse service during this time. Many of my male or LGBT service users often assume their local service would not support them. Their literature should state clearly that you are welcome there, so do have a look if you can, but if you are in any doubt or have had bad experiences with local services, specialist projects such as the Mankind Initiative (for men) and Galop (for LGBT folk) are still operating.
We are physically keeping our distance to save lives, but we still need to connect by other means to save more.
So, here we are on day 4 of government measures restricting our movements. In reality I’m on about day 12 of it, as I started retreating a while back on realising the the rates of infection were rising rapidly and I don’t fancy my chances against this virus given that I have the lungs of an elderly pony that spent a lifetime down the pits. Plus, it’s always possible I could contract it and few symptoms, meaning I could pass it on to more vulnerable people if I’m not careful. I’m doing this because we need to look after each other and my friends in the medical profession have told me with traumatised faces what this thing is doing to their patients.
And you know what? Even though it’s the right thing, and even though I recognise I’m in a better position than some, I’m not alright. I’m not darning socks or leaning opera and making my own butter. I haven’t taught myself to play the fucking theremin made out of a coat hanger and a broken radio. Mainly I’ve been working from home full time trying not to go full Steve Buscemi in Armageddon with significantly poorer IT and tech resources. Mainly I’ve been wondering what time is acceptable to pour a whiskey and put 68 drops of CBD oil directly into my eyeballs.
What have I done? Well, I cut my own hair. That went well. Now I look like an 18 year old art student with mange. I started growing a leek in a vase, which has actually worked but now I’ve become attached through lack of social contact and I couldn’t possibly eat Lenny now, he has ambitions besides being soup. I’ve put on 3 pounds in one fucking week despite no dietary changes because I can’t walk to and from work and I thought Joe Wicks was a characters on Eastenders two decades ago who went radge and locked himself in a room wearing a tinfoil hat.
Which I reckon I’m about 3 days away from if I’m honest.
If you are doing any of the things I mentioned, learning new things and making whimsical little videos to show toy your loved ones, I honestly applaud you. Do whatever it takes and whatever soothes you to help you get through this time. You’ll get no criticism from me. But I’m struggling to treat all of this like an exciting new adventure and trying to constantly look on the bright side. It doesn’t help that every night I go to sleep and every dream I have is like Orwell’s 1984 with Orcs, and then I wake up and it’s still just as fucking weird.
Since Boris Johnson made his announcement on Monday evening I have never felt more lonely. Not just the actual physical isolation I am currently experiencing, but the realisation that people around me who I thought were on the same wavelength as me are now cheering the police being given powers to fine and arrest people disregarding the new rules.
This is despite there being a massive lack of clarity around what the rules actually are. This is despite them being aware that the police are not and never have been consistent or fair with everyone. They are going to deal with the nice middle class couple who have driven to the seaside with the kids a lot differently to the homeless guy with mental health and alcohol issues sitting in the street. I’ve seen people demanding arrests of people for fairly minor misdemeanours despite them having no context whatsoever as to why the ‘accused’ may have been acting in such a way. Someone close to me has had a form of psychosis for about a year which involves a belief that the world will end this summer. Can you imagine what the world must feel like to them right now? Now try to think about what would happen to him if the police tried to stop him. Think about how those powers can and will be abused. If that hasn’t occurred to you up to now, be thankful it’s never had to.
Why the fuck would you applaud the government passing unchallenged legislation that can put people in jail for up to two years for coughing at police. No matter what your feelings are on that sort of behaviour that seem reasonable to you? Because if it does then you aren’t the person you think you are. It’s the riots of summer 2011 all over again where kids were going to jail for looting bottles of water for longer than I’ve seen serial perpetrators of domestic abuse do for GBH. Pure fear has not just made us allow the government to put restrictions on our movement and impose harsh penalties for minor offences, we have actually begged and cheered for them to do it. I’m not entirely exempt from this. Living in a coastal area that is popular with day trippers, I’ve found myself feeling resentful and enraged by the hoards of people coming here which has effectively left me unable to leave the house on a nice day as I’ve known seagulls when I’m holding a bag of chips to have better understanding of personal spacial boundaries than them. That includes all of those dickheads who were going up Mount Snowdon like the human centipede last weekend. I felt that they were the reason we were going to end up with police or even soldiers on the streets, more infections and deaths. While there is now decidedly less people coming to the area, there are clearly some ignoring the ‘remain in walking distance’ clause and I felt so, so angry at them. But why? Because I felt more entitled to that area than them? That is bullshit and it’s not like me at all no matter how much I despair of the human race at times. What if one of those people had been working 13 hour shifts in the hospital like one of my friends has and just needed some sea air? Who am I to deny them that. I have no authority to for a start, and nor should I. My feelings about it are less to do with them am more with me being unwell, exhausted and terrified right now. What we going to do next? Show papers at checkpoints? Have a think about that first if you think that could even possibly be a good idea.
We need to make space for each other and despite me seeing so many people wanting ridiculous consequences for disobeying the restrictions and requirements, I’m yet to meet one person who has followed them to the letter, always finding a way to justify them bending the rules slightly- usually entirely valid, too. You see for most of us, it would be pretty much impossible to militantly obey each point of the instructions. Even our government aren’t doing that which is why Covid-19 is currently going after the cabinet like spirits at the end of ‘Indiana Jones and the Lost Arc’ went after Nazi’s faces.
This virus is like nothing we could have ever imagined or planned for and we are being forced to figure it out as we go along at different paces depending on what our resources and access to information is like. And how strong our fear is. One thing I can tell you after spending years working with traumatised people is that when we are in a state of terror and threat, our brain, among other things, urges us to seek out connection. That isn’t something we have control over. It’s in a deep and primal part of ourselves. That connection might be with a stranger, or it might mean moving heaven and hell- safety and reason be damned- to make a journey to the our lover, parents, children, friend or our dog. Remembering that has made sense of all kinds of behaviour I have seen recently.
I don’t know what the rest of this year holds. We do have a chance to force real, meaningful change from this that will make things better for all of. Or we can allow an even more terrifying one to emerge. The choice is up to us.
Give each other space.
I don’t believe in cops, bosses, or politicians. Some call that Anarchism, I call it, HAVIN’ A FUCKING HEART THAT BEATS!
I do believe in Freedom and never givin’ up, Call my methods madness or call them luck, But I do what I got to, TO FEEL ABLE TO BREATHE!
And if you quit your job Well, you can do a little breathin’ with me.
A punk rock song won’t ever change the world, But I can tell you about a couple that changed me!
A punk rock song won’t ever change the world, But I can tell you about a couple that changed me! So tonight, we’re gonna fuck shit up! Tonight we’re gonna fuck shit up! Tonight…we’re gonna fuck shit up!
Britain. Rich in history and storytelling, with its ancient tales of magic and mythology. George and the Dragon, fairies, King Arthur. The funniest however, in light of the unfolding coronavirus drama, is that of The Stiff Upper Lip.
I mean, fuck Keep Calm and Carry On. Ever since the first cases were reported here, we’ve had fully grown adults running through ASDA like they’re super mario, snatching toilet roll, hand sanitiser and Pot Noodles while bouncing off hunched over old ladies that get in the way like they’re Koopa Troopers.
There is a whole load of psychological behaviour concerned with panic buying. No doubt people participating in it will cite some grossly misinterpreted versions of Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory to justify their actions.
Herd behaviour explains some of it. Social scientists tell us that when we see mass amounts of people panic buying items fuelled by social media, it is in our instinct to do the same. There are also lots of unknowns about how the virus works which makes us feel helpless, and stocking up on items can help some people regain a false sense of control over the situation. On top of this, the coronavirus is a huge, dramatic world wide event. Something as simple as effective hand washing doesn’t seem nearly enough to fight it, requiring something equally dramatic in our response in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
The scenes played out in the media range from the hilarious to the dystopic. The amusement arcade down the road from me had hand sanitiser as one of the prizes in its penny machines, an act which surely had Orwell punching the lid of his coffin from the inside and screaming “I wish I’d thought of that”. But at least it shows we do still have a slight sense of humour about it all. More unsettling are the reports of sanitiser being taken from hospitals by visitors where vigilant hand hygiene is vital for infection control of all kinds.
Because as many have rightly pointed out, any illusions we had of that post Brexit Blitz Spirit “let’s all step up and make it work” has been thrown in the river like a sack of kittens.
Because from what I’ve seen so far, it’s those that would likely easily survive or evade the virus that have mostly been guilty of panic buying or scaremongering. Those who are actually most at risk aren’t who the general public seem more concerned about. On the contrary it seems just accepted that those of us with respiratory or auto immune conditions will just die. It’s not “oh there’s only a two percent chance of dying from it”. It’s whether you are one of the two percent. I’ve got asthma. The common cold has nearly put me in hospital two years in a row, but I’m not overly worried about myself, as the condition is reasonable mild in me. I have a pre-paid certificate for my inhalers and optimistically hoping that surviving The Great Punk Squat Flu of 2001 has helped me develop a certain immunity.
People like my mam, who has COPD and surviving on benefits who don’t have the physical or financial resources to stockpile are the ones who need the shelves to be full. People working as carers for vulnerable people need access to hand wash before they even get to work. The homeless can’t self isolate. You don’t need 25 bottles of hand sanitiser under your stairs and we need to be ensuring everyone is resourced, not just ourselves.
What we have proven is that we are a nation- a planet even- of selfish, hysterical bellends who can be activated by the media and the government at the click of a finger.
Boris Johnson said on This Morning that “there’s a theory we should take it on the chin and let it move through the population”. Easy for him to say when the high levels of inbreeding amongst him and most of his entire fucking party mean they don’t even have one. He and those like him will never be most at risk. They have access to the best health care and the financial security to stay at home if they need to. The coronavirus will never find its way into Jacob Rees Mogg’s country pile where no one has died since 1812, and that was only a scullery maid who expired to consumption.
There will always be outbreaks of disease. It’s one of the conditions of being human, and there have been worldwide epidemics throughout our history. It should have taught us by now that the best way to protect ourselves is to make sure everyone has what they need. That we need to change the way we work and that while we treat people like commodities we are all at risk.
But we probably won’t, and most people with a spare room full of Purell will scroll past these words while sat on a toilet on a phone that hasn’t been wiped down for two years muttering that we need to close our borders, convinced that hyper consumerism and racism will keep them and their children safe.
So here’s Germ Free Adolescents by X-Ray Spex. Because really there was no other choice for this one and Poly Styrene was an absolute prophet.
There has been something amiss with charities in the UK, that has crept up on us for years though no one will talk out loud about it. If you are a frontline worker for a charity you will have started feeling uncomfortable some time ago when your CEO’s started referring to your once grass roots organisation as a ‘business’ and began running it as such, throwing in words such as ‘brand’, ‘customer’ and ‘targets’.
Actually scratch that. If, like me, you have been in the game long enough, you would have started getting uncomfortable when your charity first appointed a CEO.
People light up when you tell them you work for a charity because they are universally seen as caring, empathic organisations and all love the idea of doing something that makes a difference. I mean charities do such good work in the community, they must be amazing to work for right? Wrong. On both counts. But it hasn’t always been this way, and having been in the voluntary sector for fifteen years I have to start being honest and say that it is truly fucking awful and will only get worse.
Most charity workers will have some experience of their service being “put out to tender”, which is when it is literally auctioned out for different bodies to put in bids, usually going to whichever large national organisation will run it for the least amount of money and ‘rebrand’ it in their image. For the purpose of this we will call them charity corporations, because really that is exactly what they are.
Their CEO’s are usually people who have worked in business or revenue rather than a boots on the ground role and are unlikely to have even had the most basic of training in whatever issue the charity addresses. Their presence gentrifies grassroots work in the same way that the likes of Walmart and Starbucks do to the independent corner shops on the end of our street or the bodegas of New York. The consequences of this is that they strip back and homogenise the support that is offered instead of it being tailored and responsive to the community it exists in. Charity corporations don’t just short change the service users. They are increasingly exhausting to work for as well, as they often bring in less experienced or trained staff and reduce employee entitlements such as annual leave and wages.
Staff being told they are being made redundant due to more cuts or lack of funding are brutally dismissed, often because they are forced onto yearly fixed term contracts which seriously affects any pay they may be offered or the notice they will be given. Trying to find any form of alternative work in a similar field is a nightmare, particularly for those needing full time hours. It is now at the point where myself and colleagues immediately go into anxiety mode from January 1st wondering what will be happening to us in the next financial year. The people responsible for the decisions rarely give consideration to this, often leaving it to the last minute meaning there are no provisions put in place for a worst case scenario and staff stress levels hit an all time high.
But don’t think about taking time off sick as charity corporation HR departments are every bit as brutal as that of a competitive business and despite staggeringly cruel treatment of staff, many would rather just leave rather than taking their employers to task. Because charities are so nice of course, and if you do or say anything that puts them in a negative light you’ll find you drop in popularity faster than Aung San Suu Kyi while your manager waves a whistleblowing policy in your face.
It is drastically changing the face of some of our most vital voluntary and statutory agencies. Let’s take domestic abuse services for example, because domestic abuse will affect every part of someone’s life and a multi agency response is often required to support their recovery. Where refuges were once almost exclusively run by domestic abuse charities such as Women’s Aid, they are increasingly being taken over by large social housing companies interested primarily in their revenue, which can cause major barriers for victims needing to access refuge who have experienced financial abuse in their relationship and carry rent arrears from previous tenancies.
People experiencing domestic abuse will often also have a whole host of other compounding issues such as mental health, addiction, debt or immigration difficulties. If they have children they may also have social services involved. But thanks to a decade of Tory governance, those services have also been decimated and those in crisis have to compete with each other for increasingly scarce refuge spaces, with priority being given to the least complex applicant.
Last month it was reported that the number of female homicide victims has risen by 10%. And that’s just murder. Rape convictions have hit an all time low of 1.4% for reported assaults, but these statistics don’t even include the countless suicide attempts and drug/alcohol deaths being reported to me almost weekly now- yet we are still seeing announcements that domestic abuse services are closing or now offering a “more basic service”.
What we are telling people is that we will try and help you survive, but only if it is cost effective.
Charity corporations aren’t the only spectre looming over us at the moment. The funding situation has been turned into a gladiator arena, often with a dispassionate Police & Crime Commissioner sat at the helm making charities fight for increasingly small pots of money instead of allowing us to work together and giving us the thumbs up or down depending on which one will pander to their ego or public image accordingly. Police and Crime Commissioners are elected officials from political parties. We’ve had PCC’s who had previously been exposed for fiddling expenses still allowed to manage large pots of public money. Former spycop Andy Coles who, aged 32 at the time, groomed and manipulated a vulnerable 19 year old and other women into sexual relationships while infiltrating groups posing as a 24 year old activist. He was still allowed to take the £86,700 a year position as a Conservative candidate until public outcry forced him to resign. The other problem with PCC’s is that if you have suspicions about the way they are allocating funding, your bosses and unions won’t support you in pursuing this if they are affiliated to the same party, or if they are worried they will be excluded from the pot if you question their integrity.
It’s the same for those organisations receiving government funding who are essentially being blackmailed into compliance in order to keep receiving money. The Citizens Advice Bureau were recently accused of signing a Universal Credit gagging clause, preventing them criticising the introduction and policies around the benefit in order to receive a grant. The charity bosses have denied this after it came to light via a Freedom of Information request, but other organisations have reported similar tactics.
The politicians and the CEO’s who justify these over subscribed and watered down care packages have never had to sit down in front of a human being in need of them, look them in the eye and tell them that the therapy, housing, or safety measures they thought they would be getting will now no longer be offered due to cuts. I have and it’s fucking horrible. Telling someone their case will be closing with nothing in its place long before they are ready to be discharged is cruel and dangerous. You see the panic in their eyes as you try to hide the fear in yours. You dread their name being the next one you see in the paper. And it is this that is the real shame. Us workers will be as resilient as we can, but we cannot forgive what is happening to those who come to us for help.
Like those working frontline for the NHS we simply cannot keep being asked to do more with less and less resources and unfairly taking the force of the blow when tragedy strikes. Staying silent in the hope of being tossed a few crumbs is killing the people we pledged to support and leaving even the most passionate workers utterly disillusioned.
When you think of the word Knight, most of our brains conjure up the image of a brave warrior from our childhood stories, clad in armour, ready to defend a vulnerable maiden from a hungry dragon.
We wouldn’t immediately think of Iain Duncan Smith, a man who looks like he accelerates while laughing through puddles when he sees elderly people walking on the pavement, exuding all the charm and desirability of wet pleurisy.
So the news this morning that he is to be knighted has been met with considerable anger from the public, and for good reason. When he was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Duncan Smith was culpable for the implementation of Universal Credit, bedroom tax and welfare reform that has been said to be responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of poor, sick and disabled citizens. His policies were the jewel in the crown of the systematic, institutional cruelty that the Conservative Party has forced onto the head of the British public over the last nine years.
But we shouldn’t been surprised. Knighthoods are not the symbols of nobility told to us in fairytales. When you think about it, they’ve always been given to those who were really good at killing people on behalf of the monarchy or state, so who would be a better candidate than he? Even if we are doing ourselves a disservice by not forcing him into a suit of armour and making him fight Brienne of Tarth for the title.
He’s just one in a long line of over privileged sociopaths we have rewarded for their complete absence of decency or empathy, including topsy turvy fascist overlord Benito Mussolini, who was given the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1923. It was revoked again in 1940 as declaring war on Britain was considered too big a misdemeanour to overlook.
Then there was the time Robert Mugabe was given honours in the hope it might chill him the fuck out a bit. Because bestowing more dubious privileged titles to a man with full blown dictator syndrome that already feels entitled to murder and torture his own people is known to have a very soothing effect.
The honours have always been a symbol of privilege, empire and colonialism, which is why they have been refused by a small number of well known figures such as Ken Loach and Benjamin Zephaniah. While some titles are given to extraordinarily decent members of our society for the work they do in our communities, it’s a token gesture only and does not give true recognition for the things they achieve.
Why don’t we just drop the façade and dish them out to every complete bastard we can think of? Sir Tekashi69 and Dame Woman who hoyed Lola the cat in the bin in 2010.
Hopefully we can do away with this aristocratic backslapping for good one day. For now I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that a 93 year old woman with a sword that close to Duncan-Smith’s head couldn’t possibly have that much of a steady hand.