You don’t have to be productive right now, but you do need to be compassionate.

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!

So tonight, we’re gonna fuck shit up!
Tonight we’re gonna fuck shit up!
Tonight we’re gonna fuck shit up!
Tonight…we’re gonna fuck shit up!

Sing with me now,*

Wa-uh-ah-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-a-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-a-a-oh

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!

Oh yeah, oh yeah. ‡

Wa-uh-ah-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-a-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-oh
Wa-uh-ah-a-a-a-oh

Panic buying lies.

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.

Love Alice.

Our hijacked charities are failing workers and service users

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.

We gave honours to Mussolini. Why would we be surprised Iain Duncan Smith has been given one too?

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.

Your heart is the resistance

Well.

That was a bit of a clusterfuck, wasn’t it? Oh Britain, seriously. What did you just do? Are we so determined to be miserable that we would commit such a mass co-ordinated act of self harm by begging for at least five more years of active abuse by a government that hates us with Boris Joffrey Johnson at the helm?

I can’t make sense of it if I’m honest. Even if it had been a minority win I might have just been able to get my head around it, but not this. A landslide victory really is the most apt way to describe it, as we broke away entirely and crashed neatly into the abyss.

I mean after such a tremendous win, you would have expected the delighted hoards in the streets, celebrating the pulling down of the next Berlin Wall before it even got built, right? There should have been street parties. David Hasselhoff. Mass singalongs to the Winds Of Change as they stopped Corbyn in his tracks before he forced us all to work less and join the IRA.

But there was nothing, bar the delighted shrieks of a couple of well known Far Right shitposters. And that’s because deep down everyone knows that they were played and they voted purely from a place of fear.

The Tories used nothing but the dirtiest of tricks during this election, and the worst thing about it, is that it worked. It’s a cliche to call these things Orwellian, I know. I don’t even like Orwell if I’m perfectly honest. When I read Homage To Catalonia, I didn’t understand how the POUM didn’t shoot him on the spot when he swanned in and demanded to be able to drink wine from a glass instead of a porrón in the middle of a fucking war.

But he understood a few things. Who knew how eerily spot on he would be about the effectiveness of Doublespeak? That a man with a history of apalling racism would have the gall to stand up and call a man with a demonstrable history of committed anti racism, who has stood against the oppression of all minorities including Jewish people anti Semitic- and people lapped it up. Because it isn’t the Labour Party that the likes of Katie Hopkins, Tommy Robinson and now Britain First have flocked to now, is it?

So what now? We need to give ourselves time to reflect, for sure. Understand what happened. Address the part mainstream media played in some of the most horrifically bias reporting we have seen in our lifetime, and how we can counteract that in our work.

But we also need to think about where we went wrong as well and hold ourselves accountable to that. For me, I feel that while a lot of people stepped up when the election was called and were really out there trying to engage people and doing an amazing job, we must ask ourselves where we were before that? We cannot complain that people voted for a broken right wing party prepared to lie right to their face when the left are just as fractured and have not been a visible, positive presence in their communities for a long time. Only being available at elections makes us politicians and our communities deserve better than that.

We need to admit we have a problem with classism in our own movements. Stop being a smug lefty prick. Stop correcting spelling and calling people you don’t even know fascists, because you sound like Rick from The Young Ones and it isn’t a good look in real life. Being working class yourself still doesn’t make it okay to do these things. Make allies everywhere, particularly those they are going to come for first: Travellers, the disabled, prisoners. Those who usually find there is no one to defend them.

Be ready to defend the most marginalised, some of who will be the people who you took a lot of shit from during the election. You talk about being a champion of the most ostracised in our society, but do you ever talk to them? This isn’t finding your best ragged trousered philanthropist to save. A pet waif to validate your goodness. These are the people you secretly remark should be made to take an IQ test before they are allowed to vote. These are people who don’t trust you because they have good reason not to trust anyone. Who need true solidarity and recognition of how strong they are, rather than pity or condescension.

As our government will turn things up a notch, so should we. Learn to sabotage diggers on fracking sites and computer systems. Break the fucking law. Strike without permission and make our unions radge again. Down tools. March down the streets that the police said you couldn’t. Stop doing as you are told. Don’t cross picket lines. You were not put on this planet to pay bills and die.

Let people know who you are, wear your heart on your fucking sleeve. Don’t be frightened to talk about politics with each other, but for fucks sake change the way you do so.

Form close, small conspiratal circles of beautiful friendships where you cry laugh at the daring, ludicrous ideas you conjure up to resist the system while drinking well into the witching hours.

Make your anger talk in a French accent.

Do not let these bastards kill your ability to dream of a better life every single day. That would be subscribing to the politics of despair that got us into this mess.

Remember every shitty regime has been brought down eventually no matter how oppressive. Every single one. Remember that every time you see flowers growing through concrete and that with enough roots and just a small ray of light you can rip down a building. We always have.

In defence of the Conservative voters.

You’ve seen all the reasons why you shouldn’t, but some of you are still voting for the Conservatives on Thursday aren’t you?

I mean you’re not proudly displaying it on your Facebook profile banner like the Labour, Green or even the Brexit Party voters, partly because you’re a bit worried about the backlash, but even more worried about being asked to explain your reasons.

Because you don’t really know why you are voting for them. You know you really hate the certain Leader of another party for reasons that have already been long debunked, but you repeat them like catchphrases. You barely know the names of the leaders of the other parties.

You do know you “want Brexit done” as they’ve convinced you that’s the most important issue right now. More important than hungry kids and you struggling to pay your bills despite working 60 hours a week. They’ve told you that Brexit is the reason these haven’t been addressed even though they’ve been in power 9 years and the referendum wasn’t till 2016.

You’re voting for them because you believe them when they say the reason they haven’t delivered Brexit it is someone else’s fault even though they have had 3 Prime Ministers and 3 years to do it.

You refuse to believe the NHS will be sold under post Brexit Tories. Even though you were recently given documents and video evidence of them saying they would. Because you accepted Johnson’s “it’s a lie, we’re not” and never even bothered to ask for an explanation of what the documents and videos were about, if not a move towards an American based insurance system.

Because even though he was proved to have stood in front of the fucking Queen of England and lied to her face, you still don’t think he will lie to you.

You hate austerity and the stories about disabled people being forced to go to assessments. You think it’s awful people with mental health problems are waiting so long to get help, often dying before they ever do. You’re disgusted by child abuse going undetected because of fractured police and social services. It breaks your heart seeing homeless veterans on the streets. Not so much the homeless junkies though, because you haven’t figured out yet that they usually ARE the adult survivors of undetected child abuse and traumatised veterans. I mean they are literally the same people. But you’ll get there.

I’ve been speaking to some of you. You all have a few things in common. You’re not bad people, but you are drenched in the politics of despair. You’re not voting Conservative because you are passionate about their policies, or because they give you hope. I see this in people voting Labour, Green, Lib Dem and yes, even the Brexit Party.

You’re voting them because you think the absolute drudgery around you is “just the way things are” and that life is hard and we just have to accept it.

None of you make any connection between government policies and the hardships you are currently facing.

One of you works in social care and emphatically told me it was “Conservatives all the way” because “Corbyn is a terrorist sympathiser”. An hour later you were sobbing at your desk because of your ridiculous, crippling case load and lack of support and resources. You are becoming more unwell because of your anxiety over work and still can’t see you are about to vote for the people responsible for that. You are one of the women who have been fucked over for your pension, yet you are about to vote for your own children to be working until they are at least 75 and have some vague belief that the reason for this is the bankers crash and 9/11.

All of you read the Daily Mail and The Sun. All of you.

But don’t worry. If you get your way and Johnson remains in number 10, and all the things that you told us was just ‘scaremongering’ start to come true, we won’t gloat. What on earth would there be to gloat about? We won’t tell you this is your fault, because it isn’t, mostly. Politicians spend millions upon millions to manipulate us into thinking our voting decisions were made of our own free will and the Conservatives have had more money than all of them to do this, because a lot of people with more wealth than we could ever imagine are shitting themselves over receiving a fair tax bill right now.

But we will fight. We will defend you and the kids living in squalor, the disabled and vulnerable people dying because of austerity. We will fight for the minorities who will face more racist attacks, including the Jewish people who you pretend to care about right now because it gives you a ‘virtuous’ reason to oppose Labour until you will promptly forget about them and the very real threat of antisemitism once the election is over. We’ll still fight for the homeless growing in terrifying numbers and for our NHS as we start to see the slow introduction of charges, which you’ll be fine with by then, because they will have convinced you it’s for the best.

We will fight for your family’s future, quite simply because you won’t and we always have. It’s not that you don’t care and certainly not that you don’t love them enough, but you still- even after all that- won’t be capable of seeing that the people sat in Parliament have a direct effect on your life and will destroy your family’s future. That will be the fault of someone or something else, far away that we can’t name or see.

You’ll take the piss out of us and fling “do gooder” around like that it is supposed to be an insult when we fight these things. Because it doesn’t matter what you think of us. We know that every civil liberty we have was fought for by ordinary people and we will do it for ours and for yours.

Because we all deserve so much better than this and we will fiercely dream it into existence.

Child poverty isn’t a symptom of a failing Tory government- It’s a tactic.

The Dispatches documentary, Growing Up Poor: Britain’s Breadline Kids, was aired on Channel 4 last night. As a practitioner who encounters child poverty on a regular basis, the thing I found most shocking was that despite the heartbreaking situations, small, anxious pale faces and the unforgivable hunger of the children featured, the stories were by far not the most shocking we face on a daily basis. The truth is, this endemic is much worse than could be possibly be seen in a one hour programme.

In interviews, whenever politicians are being probed about how relatable they are to the ordinary citizen, the question that is always used as the litmus test is “ how much is a pint of milk”. Usually they can’t even get that right, but personally I would like to see them answer questions that relate to real struggles of people in Britain at the moment. Imagine Priti Patel’s smirk as she’s asked “which tinned food is less revolting eaten cold because you don’t have the money to heat it up”. Or Jacob Rees Mogg shrugging nonchalantly when posed how he would try to keep an asthmatic 2 year old out of hospital through the winter while living in a damp flat with a faulty boiler and no flooring, utterly astounded when his suggestion to just throw another fox cub on the fire wasn’t applauded as just “good, common sense”. The children in the documentary knew all of these things. They knew how much gas cost, how unfair the system was, they understood how poverty was affecting their life chances socially, economically and medically in the future.

When mainstream media run articles about child poverty, the comments sections are typically an absolute social cesspit of human nature, seemingly devoid of empathy, with blame always being put on parents, no matter what the circumstances. Before the Dispatches documentary was released, comments sections which showed adverts for it had some perplexed users asking why they didn’t just install a wood burner or an aga to keep their houses warm. But in a good practice guide distributed within children’s services and other statutory agencies entitled ‘Neglect In The Context Of Poverty and Austerity’, which was published by Research In Practice in 2019, the findings from recent studies show that practitioners need to unlearn this way of thinking and develop a new approach to supporting struggling families:

To address fully the impact of neglect in our society we cannot look at changing parenting alone. Children’s lives must be understood within the contexts of both the strengths and the difficulties within families….and the wider structural issues, such as poverty and unemployment, within our society. (Scott and Daniel, 2018).

The document identifies that social workers and other practitioners need to consider that “resources and opportunities are shaped by the way the economy and society are structured and by political decisions about the distribution of resources” and that the response to poverty needs to be co-designed by the very people who are experiencing it. Because for many professionals in this area, the occurrence of poverty in the families they are working with is so normalised that it becomes what is described as a ‘wallpaper of practice’- something so familiar that it is no longer even considered as a factor when assessing parents ability to care for their kids (Morris et al 2018b).

The Children’s Commission on Poverty found that those families most at risk of poverty were lone parent, families, children living in Bangladeshi and Pakistani households and families that included a disabled child or adult- the very families that are often scapegoated by political parties and right wing groups as pilfering our resources . Funny how we are continually told that the people who have the very least are the ones taking the most.

Most families living in poverty are in employment too, which destroys another myth about child poverty. It has been on the rise since 2011, with the number of children living in poverty rising by 15%- the majority of which has been within working families (Barnard et al, 2018).

This isn’t just about struggling to buy uniforms or not going on holiday. Poverty affects our mental and physical health, the quality of our sleep and our personal and professional relationships. It affects children’s ability to concentrate and their cognitive, emotional and social developments.

The Conservative government has been in power for 9 years. Their failure not just to address this issue, but to actively make it worse is not just gross incompetence. It is entirely deliberate. In July it was revealed that 3.5 million pounds allocated by the EU in 2014 to relieve child poverty and homelessness had not been used by the government and was to be handed back. Their excuse was that their plan to use it for breakfast clubs was deemed ineligible for the criteria, and alternative uses had not been proposed. Which isn’t surprising. The people in charge of using this money haven’t the slightest idea what it is like to be poor, and have zero interest in actually consulting the communities affected by poverty to see how they feel it would be best used to meet their children’s needs.

Last week, we also found out that a £3.6 billion fund which was set aside for spending on some of the poorest towns in the country- which also happened to be Labour strongholds- was instead used on wealthier areas where Conservative MP’s have a majority of less than 5000, such as Loughborough, a town which doesn’t even feature in the top 500 of the UK’s poorest towns. In fact, one third of the areas that will be receiving cash from the Towns Fund aren’t even in the top 300 of most deprived and this money is being used to hold onto Tory seats, not being put to where it is most needed.

Combine this with the fact that the National Audit Office reported in 2016 that sanctions on benefits claimants actually cost the taxpayer more than it did before the changes. Combine this with the thousands of deaths that have been directly attributed to Universal Credit, sanctions and the other countless and cruel changes to the welfare system. Then we begin to see the bigger picture of what they really think of us and what they are trying to do. By exhausting and gaslighting a vulnerable population, they make us dependant and complacent, make us fight each other over dwindling resources on a promise that things will get better if we just vote for them again, or better still, not at all, lest we start making connections between those in power and how desperate our lives have become.

It’s why some ordinary working class people will vote Tory time and time again. Despite the fact their lives have got worse under them, and will continue to. Despite the fact that they have failed to deliver Brexit when they have had three Prime Ministers and three years, and why people just simply choose not to believe that the Conservatives are privatising an NHS they rely on, despite the overwhelming and increasing evidence to the contrary.

When confronted, their only tactic is to blame everyone else and wash their hands of all responsibility. Priti Patel claimed £152,672.15 in expenses in 2017-18 and still had the arrogance to outright say poverty was not the government’s fault while stood in an actual food bank the other week. While we allow ourselves to be treated with such open contempt, the outcomes of our children worsen. If you have ever supported the Conservative Party, ask yourself what is the best thing they have done to make your life better? The answer is nothing, because if the Tories had benefitted you in anyway, you would not be reading this blog. You’d be busy on your private beach in the Cayman’s, probably deleting any messages you may have ever received from Prince Andrew. They have not delivered on a single thing they promised you and they are not about to start now.

They taught us to be hopeless, that this is just how things are, but we should never accept this as our normal.But if we allow the Tories back in come December it will be. An independent think tank called The Resolution Foundation has predicted that child poverty will rise for at least the next four years, which if correct means another million kids will grow up this way by 2023.

If we want these children to have hope and aspiration again, then we must have it ourselves. If you think voting Tory is a good idea, imagine meeting one of these kids and explaining to them why their suffering is all for the good of the country and we’re All In This Together.