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Saturday, March 26, 2011

No Hesitation, No Deviation, No Repetition.


It Cuts Both Ways...The Alternatives from Oonagh Cousins on Vimeo.

I'm marching today with the March for the Alternative, despite the prospect of being kettled and the very real possibility that being dehydrated, hungry and stressed will bring on seizures for me. I thought it only sensible that I wrote a little bit about why.

There's a lot of misdirection going on with the cuts, which I find objectionable and deeply divisive. The financial crisis has emerged from a culture where the greed of the few outweighs the needs of the many or the one, and in the aftermath, this is once again being accepted as some immutable truth.

There are many painful truths about personal greed that we need to address, and it's not just the bankers who need to shoulder the blame for what happened to cause the situation we face.

First off, I think the roots of this problem are knotted in with the history of the sell-off of council housing in this country in the 1980s, which generated great personal wealth out of thin air for those families who had been fortunate enough to be able to profit from it, but it was largely a matter of fortune and it meant that the relationship between the price of property broke away from the ideal of three times an average household income in the area plus ten percent, which then led to the kind of wildly speculative borrowing and lending we were seeing a few years back where people were taking out loans for five times what they earned on the assumption that their home would rise in value and that their income would somehow catch up to make up the difference.

When that became an option, people then bought second homes, third, and, encouraged by the tv presenters with more foundation on their faces than under their property portfolios, the idea of a home disappeared as bricks and mortar became a speculative investment, an exciting spin on a roulette wheel, where with a bit of swift thinking, some MDF radiator covers and a lick of neutral paint, someone's family home could suddenly make you a hundred grand to invest in your next property to get you another rung up on the ladder.

Just never think about how steep a climb you're all making it as you're all clawing up; never think about what it's doing to the people you're renting to that the "rental value" jumps up by £200 a month because of that cheap carpet you laid, knowing it'll shaft your tenants for their deposit on their way out because they dared to have a life while they were living in your investment.

It's fine, though, because if the tenant loses their job, Housing Benefit will cover that rising rent, because it's tied to market value, and market value is just going to go up and up.

With the revenue you're all making, why not invest in stocks and shares? Keep your ear to the ground and pile money in when you smell that Apple are about to release a new bit of technology, but when an earthquake shunts Japan eight feet from its previous position, pull out of every Japanese technology firm faster than the rip-tide from the tsunami. You can't possibly have your money stuck in such toxic assets.

Speculative trading and the idea that money can come from nothing is something I think I've complained about before on this blog, and it's something that permeates our culture. Buying a tombola ticket in a local fayre is one thing, but when companies and livelihoods are destroyed on the back of gossip, or when personal banking is threatened by the wild vicissitudes of gamblers' bad luck or by the recklessness of lending out money where there's clearly no possibility of it being repaid because of an assumption that it will be recouped through bankruptcy payments, insurance claims, repossessions or whatever is a callous disconnect from a sense of what money is meant to represent, and that's worth.

So, when we've got that guy from Barclays saying that the time for banker-bashing is over and paying out millions of taxpayers' money into the bonus pot, I think it's time to examine our collective conscience if we're actually going to start wondering why it is that poor people who receive the support of state benefits "expect something for nothing."

When there's a target of cutting 20% of DLA claims, but a fraud rate of well below 1%, you know there's something quite fundamentally amiss about why we're being asked to accept these cuts as essential.

Yes, the housing benefit bill is ridiculous, but it'll grow if we continue to think of houses as investments rather than investing in somewhere homely for ourselves. Giving 20% loans to first time buyers out of the government purse is more money going from the taxpayer to pay already wealthy people, rather than addressing the structural problem that the majority of people are paid too little and that housing options in this country are fucking awful, by and large.

I'm in a very privileged position, I completely recognise that. I had a job that could pay me up to £35,000 a year and I lost it because my arm was wrecked by nerve damage. I relied on incapacity benefit for almost a year, a benefit that now no longer exists. Once I'd had intensive physiotherapy and quite grisly surgery on my arm, I was able to slowly return to work, but it became clear that ADHD means I can't work for anyone else and also that the stress of the last couple of years means I'm having more odd seizure type things than I'd been having previously.

I chose to return to college, which meant my fees were waived as a disabled person - a term I'm still not entirely comfortable with - and that while I started to work as much as my hand and my head would allow me, I get financial support while my business picks up.

The way things are looking, if the same thing happened to another Howard right now, he'd not get Incapacity Benefit, because that disappeared, he'd face far more intrusive and demoralising assessments to qualify for Disability Living Allowance (which is a pittance, before you say anything) and would probably have to go to a tribunal to get it, which he would struggle to do, entirely because of his disability.

With a nebulous challenge like the ongoing epilepsy investigation I'm having at the moment, it's phenomenally expensive and it's hard to pin down. I've spent in total about 18 days in different doctors' clinics just on making sure I'm well in the last year and that comes out of my local GP's budget. I wouldn't die without this help, but it improves my quality of life enormously. If my GP was solely in control of their finances, would I really want to be in a position where I had to persuade them of the merits of my case?

So, this Other Howard might well not be having medical support.

He wouldn't, therefore, be able to get support with studying, he wouldn't get financial support rebuilding his business, he wouldn't get the adapted equipment he needs for work and study. He wouldn't be working as an artist now. He'd be relying entirely on unemployment benefits, even though he wouldn't be able to hold down any of the jobs he'd be sent for. He'd cost the government more money, he'd get ill very quickly and he'd have very poor prospects.

And, more to the point, he'd be the kind of person who the people who own three houses would accuse of expecting something for nothing.

Even if I was expecting something for nothing, getting my rent paid to pay off someone else's buy-to-let mortgage isn't me being the one getting something for nothing.

Think through who the cuts are attacking, and think about how we all need to behave if we're really going to make things better.

Don't be distracted into thinking that the victims are to blame, and don't be so selfish as to fail to accept that we've all fucked up in making this happen. We all have a part in making things right.

I'll see you on the streets.

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