Every day is Orwell day – Workfare

March 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Debate and discussion about ‘Workfare’ have always tended towards the Orwellian. The DWP and the government defended it, of course.  Workfare was a gift, they would explain to one camera, offering skills and experience to those in most need of them. Turning to the next camera, they would confirm that it was a most appropriate punishment for the unwilling. For those scrounging little wastrels who won’t go out and get a job in the middle of a recession, damn their hides.

To camera one, the DWP and the Tories would explain that ‘mandatory’ and ‘benefits sanctions’ were the lies of the left. To camera two, they would just wink.

It created difficulties when it came to conducting a rational or rigorous discussion about the workfare program.  The left was not especially helpful in its arguments when it put forward spokespeople who explained that, well, it’s evil because everyone has a right to be happy in their jobs.

Everyone doing work in this country has a right to a minimum wage. That might have been a better place to start.

In February, the Court of Appeal ruled that the legality of the scheme was flawed. This ruling centred around what information the DWP had supplied or failed to supply to claimants about the scheme and the sanctions they would suffer if they did not comply with the scheme. This was deeply unsurprising given the truck-ton of bollocks and doublespeak uttered publicly on the subject by those supposed to be running it.

Iain Duncan Smith was deeply concerned by the Court of Appeal’s judgement, not at the extent of his department’s monumental cock up, nor at the inaccuracy of information given to people, nor at the utterly unnecessary difficulties his department had put people through by attempting to impose an illegal expectation upon them and removing their benefits when they did not comply with the illegal measures.  He was worried about the cost of compensating these people for the benefits his department had docked.

Compensation is a nice, Orwellian choice of word. Compensation is supposed to atone for something bad that happened to you. In this case, what the DWP should be liable for is the benefits they stopped. They should ‘pay back’ this money because it appears that they were not acting legally when they ‘withheld it’. ‘I forgot to pay rent last month. Don’ t worry, I will compensate you, by, er, paying it now.’ Oh, the grateful thanks we would expect for such a generous act of compensation.

The DWP go one better. They call it ‘a windfall‘. Paying back the benefits that they illegally withheld would constitute, in their minds, a windfall.

In any case, although many spokespeople had  claimed that no one was being denied benefits due to Workfare, it turns out that it will cost the beleaguered tax-payer £130 million to pay back the money that was denied to those affected by the scheme. This is because over 150,000 people have had sanctions applied to their benefits, as laid out in the DWP’s Impact Assessment.

There’s only one solution of this. Change the law and apply it retrospectively. Here we have the emergency Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill:

“The impact upon individuals is that JSA claimants who have not complied with requirements under the ESE Regulations will not be repaid sanctioned benefits as they might expect following the judgment or may have a sanction imposed. The Bill effectively restores the status quo to a situation before the High Court and Court of Appeal judgments. Once the Bill is enacted, claimants who might have appealed against previous sanction decisions on the grounds upheld by the Judicial Review will be unable to do so. Sanctions imposed under the impugned legislation can continue and sanctions decisions currently stayed can be made in accordance with the original intent of the legislation. This is to ensure that the Government is not faced with the situation whereby jobseekers who failed to comply with their requirements and were sanctioned under the quashed ESE Regulations can receive an advantage over claimants who have complied with their requirements and is necessary to safeguard the economic interests of the state.”

Well when you put it like that, it seems such an obvious solution. And it’s only a tiny bit terrifying.

If my place of employment were to reduce my wages by one shiny pound an hour, can they apply this retrospectively? Could I spend the next year working for nothing as I repay the £35 a week I now owe for every week I have worked?

If at the same time my landlord raises my rent and applies this retrospectively? Then I’m really screwed.

But there could be an upside. If we could just have retrospective democracy, it might balance out this retrospective law-making.

Because, you see, the UK did something a few years ago and it didn’t turn out the way we intended. We ‘elected the Tories and the Lib Dems’ acting on the assumption that this would save  money and prove less annoying and incompetent than Labour. But recently, it has come to our attention that there is quite a serious flaw in this. Because they’re fucking awful. So, as in any difficult situation of our own making, we are seeking to impose a magical-thinking solution which will be retroactively binding. We have decided that we did NOT elect the bastards. Therefore they are not in power. And nothing they did during their time in power counts.

I’m not saying this makes sense, but then sense is such an old fashioned concept. Like the idea that ‘a job’ carries  ‘a wage’. Or the belief that we are not in fact living in 1984. So repeat after me:

Workfare was always legal.

The Tories were never in power.

We were always at war with Eurasia.

Huzzah!

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All the news that’s fit to endure

March 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The US has begun the sensible precautionary measure of arming teachers. What could possibly go wrong? It’s like the Simpsons episode where they raise much needed funds by renting out jail cells at the back of classrooms. I probably shouldn’t give Michael Gove ideas.

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New pope elected, declared to be very humble, when not comparing gay marriage to ‘a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God’. World stands amazed and spellbound at notion of a powerful person reputedly using public transport and cooking his own food. Well, I suppose it makes a change from some beloved leaders.

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Holding up a sign saying something along the lines of ‘Piss off, you little toerag’ should not be illegal, says the European Court of Human Rights. But only because the esteemed leader at whom it was directed said it first. I think this means we can have signs that call Gordon Brown a bigot, or tell David Cameron to ‘calm down, dear.’ The limitations of satire shall indeed be set by our masters.

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Riding a bike in the UK? Currently possibly illegal, although I suppose we’re waiting for the ECRH ruling on that one too. Or for footage of Boris Johnson riding his bike in an annoying manner during the Olympics.

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The Great Imaginary Socialist Coup

March 13, 2013 Leave a comment

In truly breaking news, the Tories have this week come out with an honest statement. Well, an inaccurate statement. Well, a series of inaccurate statements. But they did say what they actually thought for once.

I must admit, I prefer them when they’re whooping boisterously over budget cuts to when they are pretending to wring their hands over the same cuts. It takes up less mental space to despise something for just what it is, rather than have to mentally calculate the hypocrisy and then add the appropriate amount of dislike for the hypocrisy to the substantive dislike for the thing itself. So much mental arithmetic.

In any case – honesty! A new and exciting development!

“The great socialist coup of the last decade was making wealth an embarrassment. It is not. It is the prize for aspiration and hard work, and its side effects are higher tax revenues, more jobs and more investment.”

A great socialist coup, and I missed it! Where wealth was a matter of deep personal shame! I can’t think how I missed this. Maybe I was distracted by the ten years of rampant, childlike enthusiasm for Buying More Shiny Shit, with money offered on a daily basis by the institutions that then turned out to be too big to fail when this all went wrong. I think maybe I missed the great socialist coup while I trawled through spam offering near-unlimited credit. If you lacked a modicum of sense during those ten years, wealth didn’t seem like a prize for aspiration and hard work, it seemed like something banks were trying to sell you at a rate you’d be mad to refuse.

But no! Wealth is a prize, says Liam Fox. It is a prize for hard work.

A prize is something you win, not something you earn. A prize is not guaranteed. A prize is shot-in-the-dark luck.

I know the rent’s due at the end of the month, and I’ll definitely pay it, just as long as I get a prize for working hard this month. That’s what landlords and bank managers and shopkeepers and debt collectors like to hear.

I’m not sure how great a socialist coup is required to at this point to equate ‘hard work’ with ‘a wage’.

But these are petty asides. Wrong-headed, inaccurate, hyperbolic and revealing, it is however an unusually honest insight into this Tory government. They will deny it next week, and pretend that all cuts are an unfortunate and regrettable necessity caused by Labour, who spent all the money, gave everyone a unicorn and ushered in a secret socialist empire. The press will not remind them that they said something honest this week: current policies are not purest mathematics, they are an earnest attempt to repeal a decade of imaginary socialism.

Well, it’s either honesty or political posturing designed to shift the rhetoric to the right and gear up for a leadership challenge. So I guess everyone’s a winner.

Categories: Tories Tags: ,

Why we do not speak

March 11, 2013 Leave a comment

An interesting piece about a woman’s response to being sexually assaulted on a crowded London tube gave rise to, well the bottom half of the internet. The bottom half of the internet raised a number of very logical and sensible questions.  The bottom half of the internet wanted to know how on earth a woman could stand in the middle of a crowded tube and be assaulted. How could she not say anything? What person in their right mind would just stand there and endure something like a man masturbating against them in public?  What is wrong with society? And also, won’t somebody please think of the children?

Here’s the thing- you learn it slowly. It starts when you’re thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Ask ten women you know. Ask them if they remember their first time. Maybe it was a compliment about what she was wearing and she felt comfortable with it and it improved her day. Maybe it was a leer from a moron who bent over to look down her top. Maybe it was a few people in a car who hit the horn as they drove past, leaving her confused, and then embarrassed. Did I know those people? It must have been someone I know because why else would they hit the horn as they drove past me.

Maybe it was hey, darling. Maybe it was cheer up, love. Maybe it was niiiice.

Who could possible feel aggrieved about hey, darling? That’s the hallmark of the insane feminazi. And anyone who could summon outrage over cheer up, love is heading right down the path of irredeemable misanthropy and should just be ignored. These are compliments, or at least some of them are. Why make a big deal? Why are you criminalising and stigmatising basic human interaction? Is it a crime to speak to a woman? What is wrong with feminism?  Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Maybe it wasn’t disguised as a compliment though. Maybe it was I want to fuck you; maybe it was fat cunt.

These are regrettable. These are the price we pay for living in a society made up of all sorts of people. But they are completely different to an objectively bad thing. That’s when someone physically assaults you. That’s when some stands pressed against you on a crowded tube and presses their dick against you and masturbates on you. Come on, people, if something objectively bad was happening to you then you’d say something. Right? Assault is not the same as subjectively experienced ‘harassment’.

While you’re asking ten women you know for their personal history of street harassment, or unsolicited interaction with strangers, or the little foibles of gendered interaction in public spaces, ask whether they have ever experienced the angry escalation of such an event.

It goes something like this:

Hey, darling, like the [insert approved item of clothing or body part]

The subject of approval ignores and continues to walk.

Hey! You! I know you can fucking hear me. Bitch!

The subject of approval walks faster, pursued by a hail of abuse. She is trying to decide whether the embarrassment or the fear is worse. That will be decided by how many people are around, how well she knows the neighbourhood, whether anyone is likely to come to her help should things escalate further. It will depend on what her former admirer (after all, it did start off with a compliment) is now saying, how unpleasant or personal the abuse becomes, whether it happens to find a sore spot, something she’d always hoped would not be roared at her across a street.

There is no easy way to distinguish the tedious from the bad, or either from the really fucking ugly. You only ever know afterwards.

A man is standing beside you on the tube platform, and as the tube arrives he says something. It is a somewhat stark expression of sexual intent. You, buoyed on the confidence that comes with being in a crowd, make a facial gesture of unabashed revulsion. You would not normally do this. You are supposed to pretend you did not hear, keep your head down, walk quickly. He enters one carriage and you another. You think no more about it. It is after all, just the way of things. You get out to change at the next stop. So does he. He doubles back around, leans over to you. Says, I will fucking kill you. He spits these words in your face, then turns and storms away. You stand still, absorbing his fury. When you start to move again, you wonder if he means it. You wonder if he is waiting for you at a corner, outside the station. You wonder how angry he became while he brooded upon your rejection of a proposition only ever intended to demonstrate his need to assert power. You challenged that, just for a moment. How far might he go to re-assert that? This is what you wonder until you get home, and feel safe again.

Over time, you learn that these things are mostly designed to make you flinch, so you learn not to flinch.

You learn to ignore, to block out, to endure a baseline level of nonsense on the street and public transport. Ignore it all. That’s the only way. You smile briefly and walk quickly. You keep your head down and walk quickly. You wear headphones and walk quickly.

You have absorbed on a cellular level the safe and sensible way to get by within the established parameters of the world, and then one day, something bad happens. Something that the world agrees is objectively bad. And that’s when everyone asks, why didn’t you say anything?

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This is the law

November 20, 2012 Leave a comment

  The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

 

That is the law in my land. That is the law in the land where I was born.

These are the words of the constitution, designed to ensure abortion was never permitted in Ireland.

This is the law that stopped a fourteen year old rape victim from seeking an abortion in the UK in 1992.

This is the law the Supreme Court was forced to interpret.

This is the law that does, generously, allow women an equal right to life as that accorded to a foetus.

This is what the Supreme Court said: that this law allows an abortion if the life of the woman is at risk; that this law allows an abortion if the life of the woman is at risk from suicide.

This is the constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion that accidentally allowed abortion in limited circumstances.

These are twenty years of politicians too cowardly to write legislation that would enshrine in law the Supreme Court’s interpretation. These are the elected representatives afraid to write the words that a woman is legally entitled to an abortion in Ireland if her life is at risk. This is the vast swathe of public opinion that resents the suicide clause they never foresaw in the law they wanted.  These are the politicians that have never confronted this black hole of hypocrisy.

This is the country that’s okay with this unspeakable and vicious stupidity.

These are the women who leave every year. These are the women who book flights and ferries, who require a passport to avail of their medical rights in Britain. These are the women who can get an abortion if they have money. This is class-based abortion. This is the terrible deal Ireland accepts.

This is the country that doesn’t want to open up old wounds.

This is the country that doesn’t want a divisive debate.

This is the country that believes abortion is something that happens in Britain.

This is the law Mississippi voters rejected last year when it was put to them in a referendum.

But this is the law in Ireland.

This is the woman who died because there was still a foetal heartbeat.

This is my old country, making international headlines.

These are the politicians who say, now, after everything that has happened, we mustn’t rush into anything.

And this is not, contrary to all evidence before you,  the fucking dark ages.

The times, they continue to be shit

June 5, 2012 Leave a comment

You can no longer satirise this bullshit, my friends.

 

Private companies provide the unemployed as unpaid stewards at the UK’s Jubilee celebrations.

 

The Turkish PM says that abortion is murder and that both caesarean births and abortions are secret plots designed to stall Turkey’s economic growth.

 

A building is firebombed in Jerusalem, in an attack targeted at immigrants.

And, while touring the fence that Israel is building along its border with Egypt to deter migrants, MP Aryeh Eldad said: “Anyone that penetrates Israel’s border should be shot – a Swedish tourist, Sudanese from Eritrea, Eritreans from Sudan, Asians from Sinai. Whoever touches Israel’s border – shot.” He later conceded that such a policy may not be feasible “because bleeding hearts groups will immediately begin to shriek and turn to the courts”.

 

There also seems to be an unusual amount of cannibalism in the news, which is frankly just confusing me. You will have to find those links for yourselves.

 

And Mrs Landingham has died, which makesme unreasonably sad, given all the other crap going on in the world. But it seems appropriate to go back to Bartlett’s response.

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The past is another country

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a very important retrospective currently going on in my old country, for a very important anniversary. This is because twenty years ago my old country granted an injunction against a pregnant fourteen year old victim of rape, preventing her from travelling to Britain for an abortion.

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You see, Ireland has a written constitution. This can have its advantages. You can point at a page and say, ‘Ha, see, those are my rights!’ Not very often though. Most of the time we point at it and say, ‘Ha, this is what theocratic twats thought would make the bishops happy. Wait, hang on, where are my rights?’ Sometimes it gives us more rights than any reasonable person would ask for. For example, Article 41.2 says, ‘The State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home,’ in its charmingly medieval way.

But in 1981, which in Irish terms is pretty much the dark ages, some bright sparks looked at our constitution and spotted that it lacked an outright ban on abortion. So they had a referendum and this oversight was  rectified. To the consternation of many legally-minded individuals including the Attorney General, the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child was now acknowledged in the constitution.

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

And we all lived happily ever after.

We all lived happily ever after because Irish women continued to take the ferry to Britain when they needed an abortion. This wasn’t straightforward, back in the eighties and early nineties. Besides the practical difficulties, the expense, and the shamed silence that surrounded such an action, there was the fact that information about abortion was
also illegal.

When I was growing up, British magazines had little pieces missing at the back. They were blank or blacked out or otherwise appropriately removed. Those were the spaces in which British women could find information about Marie Stopes clinics, advice about where they could turn if they faced a crisis pregnancy. We couldn’t see them. That information was illegal. Some magazines and occasionally newspapers were stopped by customs because they still had information out in full view where anybody might see it. Copies of Everywoman were removed from some public libraries because they likewise contained information. Information was a very bad word. You couldn’t let people have information, because people might use it.

Our blithe state of holy innocence continued until 1992. In 1992 it was interrupted by the X case.

In 1992 a fourteen year old girl who had been raped by a family friend was about to be taken by her parents to the UK for an abortion. They spoke to the police beforehand because her parents wanted to know if DNA from the foetus would be of use in prosecuting her rapist. The police, thus notified of this risk to unborn life, escalated their moral crisis right up the judicial chain of command, and the Attorney General of the day was called in to protect the life of the unborn child. He sought an injunction against the girl, which prevented her from leaving the jurisdiction. It was granted by the High Court.

The girl was known publically as ‘X’ to preserve her privacy while the state squabbled over her right to travel and her family challenged the ruling. It took a month before the Supreme Court overturned the injunction, and when they did it was on the grounds that the suicidal fourteen year old’s life was in danger. The Supreme Court decreed that she might indeed leave the country, because the fourteen year old victim of rape and of an injunction was suicidal.

We had another referendum after the X case. It was a three-part referendum, seeking our thoughts on the ‘substantive issue of abortion’, the legalisation of information about abortion, and the right to travel. The first was defeated, the second and third were
passed. The right to travel passed by 62%, the right to information passed by 60%.

As a fourteen year old at the time, I wasn’t sure I would ever entirely get over the fact that people voted against the right to travel. Thirty eight per cent of people who voted in that referendum voted against the right to travel to Britain for an abortion. Forty per cent of those who voted believe that copies of Everywoman should be appropriately redacted to preserve our holy ignorance. For years I looked at strangers’ faces and wondered if they were the people who believed it was morally right to force a teenager to carry her rapist’s baby to term. I wondered if they were the people who valued a foetus above my basic rights. If they had voted against the right for a woman to leave Ireland on a day when her country failed her completely, when her choice was between a boat to England or self-mutilation at home. Twenty years later, I’m not sure. But then, I live in Britain and I think that helps.

Irish women no longer get the ferry to Britain for an abortion. We’re much too civilised for that. These days, Irish women get a flight instead. The internet helps, as does the fact that information was decriminalised. But not all women in Ireland are Irish women, and there have been poorly reported rumours that backstreet abortion is now the option availed of by others now. Women who don’t have easy access to the internet, women who don’t have the money to take a trip to the UK, and, mainly, women whose immigration status is precarious and who fear they might not be able to get back through customs if they leave. Some days I wonder if this new descent into the gruesome reality of banning legal abortion will alter Ireland’s stance. I think they could lie the dead bodies of women from one end of O’ Connell Street to the other before moral consensus on the primacy of the unborn would be challenged.

From time to time Ireland talks vaguely about tinkering with the constitutional amendment, but is no hurry to run into those waters again. It is uncomfortable with abortion, more comfortable with seven thousand citizens each year relying on its former colonial power for medical services. So that’s what Irish women do. It’s what they’ll continue to do.

It would be nice if the past was another country, but twenty years later not a lot has changed. That said, we no longer take out injunctions against pregnant fourteen year old rape victims. Sometimes you take what you can get.

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