A few days ago, I found myself involved in a twitter conversation about desperation. My impression of my fellow conversationalists is that they were mainly salariats (people receiving salaries) for whom, I imagine (because I don’t know), the austerity policies of the UK’s Coalition government have had some impact but have yet to undermine their foundations of existence. Participating as a precariat, my response was markedly different.
In less than three months time, I will be encountering the precariousness of my existence when the DWP requires me to, once again, attend a WCA (Work Capability Assessment) with Atos to see if I am ‘fit for work’ after the 6-month reprieve my GP won for me last March. These so-called fitness tests have already been found unfit for purpose, yet they continue regardless because, as far as I can see, the plutocrats who run my country have decided that only they know best and blatantly refuse to consider any evidence that doesn’t accord with their beliefs. If I remain within this system, there are two ways my future is likely to be mapped.
First – depending upon how my mental and physical health holds up – I will attend a WCA and fail it because that is how the system has been designed. In the past, I could appeal and spend several months with reduced income until my case was heard by a tribunal (I’ve attended two of these already and won) but the system will have changed by the time I arrive at this place again. Now, when I fail my WCA, my case has to go back to the DWP for reassessment before I can appeal. I have yet to see details about how this works but, as far as I can tell, there is no longer any provision for me to keep my ESA until my appeal is heard – so to maintain my already precarious ‘life-style’, I would have to claim Job Seekers Allowance, which implies I am ‘fit for work’. So I have a choice – no benefits until my appeal is won (assuming that it is), probably for months; or JSA.
If I apply for JSA, I am then subject to a different kind of system. What is certain is that, as a prospective employee, I have little or nothing to recommend me to an employer: ex-offender (therefore ‘criminal’), aged 58 (“too old”), long-term unemployed (therefore less likely to get employment) at a time when jobs simply don’t exist and to cap it all, a woman living in the most deprived region of England.
What is absolutely certain is that when I am subject to this kind of ‘treatment’, I become suicidal. I’m not alone in such feelings and I wouldn’t be the first to act on them either as any simple search will show.
This is no plea for sympathy – these are the facts about the future I face in less than 3 months time and one I am going to have to deal with. Nor am I unwilling to work. What I am is unwilling to comply with a system that marks me as ‘vermin’ and whom no ‘decent’ person can regard as socially acceptable. I’m unwilling to work for employers who refuse to value their employees because it would kill me as surely as the DWP would. As a member of the precariat class, the human right to life no longer seems to apply to me and if the changes to legal aid go through, our loss of ‘Right to Life’ will be enshrined in law.
It doesn’t matter that, in the three years since the end of my sentence, I have worked my arse off as a desister. I get on well with my neighbours; have an excellent relationship with both my landlady and her agent (to the extent that when my housing benefit was reduced, they accepted the new rate because I have value, not just as a good tenant but as “the best tenant they have on their books”); have worked hard with local Mental Health agencies to grow away from my suicidal ideations, and I continue to look for ways to contribute to my society via the social media. The system I am now caught up in dismisses all of this in favour of work-shy, skiving scrounger propaganda, which alleges precariats are personally responsible for all the country’s financial woes, and who needs to be taught a lesson. Never mind that, prior to my physical and mental health breakdown, I had worked for over thirty years, including 12 years of self-employment.
These are the facts that inform the ‘desperation‘ felt by us precariats but which seem largely misunderstood by anyone who hasn’t actually shared the experience. We make up ONE THIRD of the UK’s population yet are effectively excluded from participating in our society in favour of a minority opinion of some very selfish people.
Desperate times lead desperate people to do desperate things. Oh, I intend to explore what possibilities there might be, work and social-contribution-wise, that might enable me to hold my precarious existence together come September but, during this period of my reprieve, I also need to look at my ‘bottom-line‘. This is what it looks like from where I am standing now. Perhaps I’ll be one of the “lucky ones” who find a benefactor, and perhaps I won’t. What I do realise is that I’m unwilling to be subject to this death by a thousand cuts. Let death come quick and clean – in the meantime, I can start making arrangements for re-homing my beautiful cats; I can begin to make arrangements to recycle my present home to help those not so far down the despair scale as me; and I can continue to raise my precariat voice.
Desperation is not something we can ‘put aside’ because that’s how ‘they’ want us to feel (one of the comments made in the conversation which inspired this blog) – for precariats, desperation has become a way of life, courtesy of the rich, and it is literally killing us in our thousands now. None of this was ‘unknown’ – all the issues raised in this piece were known ahead of time. Our Eton-educated government decided it knew better. Despite overwhelming evidence that the ‘austerity algorithm‘ itself is flawed; despite all the evidence of the lethal hardships being placed on the poorest in our society; despite all the acknowledgements of ‘errors’ or ‘mistakes’; we see little or no change in attitudes towards the precariat. In fact, hatred levels are rising.
This is what I live with on a daily basis – like millions of others in my society – whilst those who have more cling to the wreckage and counsel against desperation. Tell that to the mother who cannot feed, clothe or house her children. Tell that to the sick and disabled, shunted through a rigged system designed to make them work or die. Tell that to the young people whose home life is something they daren’t return to who are now homeless and abandoned by a government with a vested interest in high unemployment.
“the coalition government is sticking to its Plan A because spending cuts are not about deficits but about rolling back the welfare state. So no amount of evidence is going to change its position on cuts.”
Ha-jung Chang – Cambridge economist
The thing about being a precariat is that every single welfare cut hits us in some way or another. We are required to abide by (unlawfully) harsh rules at every turn by a system that is actively seeking to find a reason to harm us, whilst our plutocratic ‘betters’ seem to have no standards or laws applied to them at all. People talk about the hypocrisy of government as though it is a debatable matter but when we can clearly measure it by the death-count, then it really is time to stop talking and start doing something about it instead! The evidence is quite plain. The consequences already roosting in our social statistics where each and every number is a human being in pain, suffering or dead.
Perhaps collective desperation will start being felt when other social groups start really feeling the impact of what the Coalition Government is doing to the people of the UK. By that time, however, the precariat will be the historical statistic that showed how UK Tories and their Corporate masters demonstrated how to do a ‘Final Solution’ properly.
As a member of the precariat, when all the chickens finally find no roost because there are wolves in the hen-house, I hope the ringleaders of this social obscenity experience the full weight of international law.