Wake up and smell the roses

David Cameron stands by his welfare reforms and refuses to accept any criticism of them despite a Financial Times analysis clearly showing that cuts are hitting poor people in the north far more than those in southern Conservative heartlands.

The research undertaken by the Financial Times shows that a raft of benefit changes, many of which came into effect on April 1st, and will have an annual impact of £607 per working age adult in Birmingham where 54.8% of neighbourhoods are among the poorest 20% in Britain. The average for local authorities in Great Britain is 15.1%.

Cameron refuses to ‘wake up and smell the roses’ and continues to insist that the coalition was right to tackle welfare dependency and denied the reforms would deepen regional economic divisions. He continues to peddle the scrounger v striver rhetoric, knowing that he is tapping into the insecurities that many are now facing and turning communities on each other.

Indeed, this is exactly what the facists did in the 1930’s, scapegoating particular groups for all of society’s problems. The video clip “Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts” (Oswald Mosley and British Union of Fascists footage / BUF tribute) is a frightening portrayal of just how seductive the promises of fascism can be. Thousands of people turned up to the Olympia event, and thousands took to the street, organised in a military style, donned in uniform, marching for fascism. It was Mosley’s copycat scapegoating of Jews for societies problems that became the building blocks for his movement across London and the East End in 1936. Another video clip demonstrates the clear determination of the anti fascist demonstrators to ensure that Mosley and his supporters did not march down Cable Street. Scenes of violence between the demonstrators, the police and members of the BUF, albeit quite horrific, again show the united determination, by so many, to oppose fascism.

In Britain today, there are nearly as many workers unemployed as in the 1930s and many people, experiencing poverty and living difficult lives. There are over one million young people unemployed. The media remind us on a daily basis of the fear of a triple dip recession. Many ordinary working people are losing faith in politicians.

We have a coalition government, led by the Tories overseeing an economic recovery plan of austerity measures, involving cuts to public spending and welfare which is failing.

Behind the rhetoric being spun by the government, the one thing that is clear is that although Cameron is playing a dangerous game, but he needs to turn neighbour against neighbour, quite simply because he needs the votes. The newly-introduced £26,000 benefits cap for households is supported by more than three-quarters of voters of all three main parties, according to a poll when the policy was announced by the government last year.

We know that the Tories will not relent and will continue to peddle their right wing ideology, pushing more people into poverty in their quest to look tough on welfare and we must use the ensuing debate about how that policy is now being implemented to further highlight the unfairness of these policies. But we must remain mindful that amidst all of this political point scoring, how easy it might be for fascism to take a foothold once again in our society, particularly at a time of such great economic crisis, with so many living such wretched lives and many who might easily be seduced by the promise of something ‘different’.

Guest Blog: Zoe Williams – OurWelfareWorks

First published on www.ourwelfareworks.com this blog written by author and Guardian columnist Zoe Williams takes on the ‘Strivers V Scrounger’ myth, arguing that it has been rolled out time and time again, as a way of trying set people against each another to suit a vengeful political narrative about the financial crisis.

Political con artistry – the dark art of division

I know women who no longer work, even though their kids are at school, and they have the whole day. They’re supported by their banker husbands, so you can’t accuse them of being a burden on the state.

Nevertheless, when I think of all that money wasted on their education  – taxpayers’ money, ploughed into universities, into secondary and primary schools – I can’t help thinking that, as a nation, in this period of national near-emergency, we just can’t afford to carry these workshy leeches.

Actually, I don’t know anyone like that. I don’t know any bankers. I see some affluent people around the traps, in the day, without any kids, that could meet this stereotype. She plays into my prejudice against the moneyed, idle Mrs X.  But for precisely that reason, the prejudice emanates from the picture more strongly than the reversal-of-expectation, rich-people-are-also-lazy, perhaps-even-lazier-than-poor trope that I’m aiming for.

We’ve lived for so long in a period of growth that I’d forgotten how brazen, how unsophisticated, how jaw-dropping the attempts are, that aim to set people against one another when times are hard and it suits a vengeful political narrative.

Politicians, people in public life, upon whose integrity rests not simply their own reputation, but the reputation of Westminster, will tell you that we have a “benefit culture”, that the low-paid are subsiding the idle unemployed to live in houses better than they themselves can afford.

They’ll tell you that to keep benefits in line with inflation is “unsustainable” even while doing so has steadily driven down unemployment benefit, as a proportion of average income, since the Seventies (wages, most of the time, grow faster than inflation).

They’ll tell you that the unwaged are costing the money, when in fact only three per cent of the bill goes on unemployment, and most housing benefit claims come from people in work, caused not by renters themselves but by the impossible disparity between average rent and average income.

Osborne attempts not just to create a meaningless distinction, between strivers and shirkers (most strivers, obviously, are on benefits as well; most shirkers would love to be strivers, if only some idiot hadn’t broken the economy); the divide wouldn’t help him unless he could pit them against one another, blame the travails of the strivers on the low cunning of the shirkers.

Politicians take such delight when the polls bear out their fabricated prejudices, but they should no more publicly rejoice when people agree with them than a con artist should boast when they’ve parted someone else from their money. What remnants of credibility the political class has left, they are shredding with this dishonesty. People won’t swallow it forever.

You can keep up to date with Zoe via Twitter on @zoesqwilliams