I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Say it ain't so, Joe

‘They tell us that our leader has played his trump card,
He doesn’t know how to go on.
We’re clinging to his charm and determined smile
But the good old days have done…’
Murray Head, ‘Say it ain’t so.’

These lyrics pretty well sum up how things have felt at First base over the last couple of weeks. We open the front door and tales of misery walk in and time after time I get that ‘Say it ain’t so’ feeling. Anyone who has read my blogs will be more than aware that I am hardly the greatest of patriots. However I still do retain a core belief that there is a line we British have never really crossed. Of course we have our share of corruption and dark deeds. The way the City of London will launder money for the very worst of humankind is a national disgrace. The way we offer up multi million pound mansions in Belgravia to any tin pot gangster or torturer lucky enough to have stashed a few million away in the gilded towers of Canary Wharf shows how very far we have fallen. The expenses scandal, Murdoch, BAE Systems, Iraq, Leveson, the BBC. Corruption and cover up and feathered nests.

Despite all this I hang on to a hope that all of this is down to immoral, greedy individuals on the take. Every society has them and we seem to have always had more from our fair share all the way from Sir Walter Raleigh to Sir Philip Green. Some call them buccaneers. Some call them chancers. Some call them out and out crooks. So long as you make a big enough pile, you get knighted and deemed a national treasure. Let’s face it, a small Island like ours doesn’t just happen to get the biggest empire the world has ever seen without playing fast and loose.

And yet through all the rape, pillage and plunder we managed to avoid ever going down the Robespierre, Hitler, Stalin route. Each century saw new checks and balances and slowly but surely we managed to learn how to behave better. We could easily have a done a deal back in 1940. Hitler always had a soft spot for us. He was more than happy for us to keep and expand our Empire so long as we let him have Europe to himself. If we had followed the money, the choice would have been a no brainer. Thankfully we didn’t. Thankfully we had a stubborn old bugger at the helm who saw Hitler for the arsehole he was and told him to stick his offer where the sun doesn’t shine.

Would we do the same now? I really would like to think so, but it is hard to be confident. The sense of basic honour and decency that once make us take a deep, collective breath and take on the Nazis seems to have evaporated. The way we are behaving now exhibits barely a trace of honesty, honour or decency.

The ‘Say it ain’t so, Joe’ line goes way back before Murray Head claimed the words for his song. In 1919 ‘Shoeless Joe Jackson’ was a big baseball star. He was the classic poor boy made good. A Stevie Gerrard figure. His dad was a dirt poor sharecropper from North Carolina who upped sticks and moved the family to a mill town. Joe started work at six and put in 12 hour shifts collecting fluff off the factory floor to do his bit to put food on the table. At ten he caught measles and all but died. Before pulling through, he was paralysed for two months. He never had a day at school and never learned to read and write. But could he ever hit the ball out of the park. By 1919 he was big time and kids the length and breadth of America had his picture on their wall. Then scandal erupted. Several members of the Chicago White Sox were implicated in match fixing. Joe was one of them. He was arrested, charged, taken to court and found guilty. As he emerged from his trial a young fan ran forward, utterly distraught that his hero had been revealed as a common cheat. ‘Say it ain’t so, Joe!’. Joe had nothing to say. He just walked away into the rest of his life.

The way so many are being treated at the moment makes me feel like the kid outside the court. You know it is true but you don’t want it to be true. Surely this kind of thing cannot become the norm in Britain? Or can it?

A case study. Let’s call the guy in question Dave in honour of our leader. Dave is unemployed. He has been unemployed for a while. For years he worked the club doors, but things slipped on the back of a bad divorce. Working the doors is a pretty good way to collect up a few enemies. Grudges are held for a ridiculous amount of time. And in August one such grudge bearer picked up the phone to the Job Centre and told them that Dave had been working on the ‘Black’. He was duly summoned to attend and told that he was suspended from all benefits until further notice. He explained that the allegation was ridiculous. One the day in question he was just out of hospital with a broken arm in plaster. He got letters from his GP and A&E to back his story up. Not good enough he was told. The onus was on him to prove that he was categorically NOT working and proof of an arm in plaster didn’t cut it. He asked if they would tell him who had reported him. No they wouldn’t. He asked if they would tell him where he was supposed to have been working. No they wouldn’t. It was down to him. Absolute proof or nothing.

He had no proof. His days are split between wandering around town and watching daytime TV. The money stopped on 24 August. His power ran out a week later. No Agency in the town could do a thing about it. He lived off the Voluntary Sector including us. He walked the streets collecting fag ends out of ashtrays in outdoor smoking areas in a polythene bag. He called in to the Job Centre time and again and when he exhibited any anger at his situation they threw him out. Suspended Job Seekers triggered a similar suspension of Housing Benefit. Which meant that no rent was paid. Which meant arrears. Which meant his Social Housing Provider went to court and asked for an eviction notice. They changed the locks whilst he was out and about collecting up dockers. When he returned to his locked home he smashed a window to get back in. There will be a price to pay at some stage.

Finally the Job Centre have decided he has been punished enough. They say he will be re-instated next week. Does that mean they have decided there was actually no case to answer? No comment. Will his Housing benefit be back dated? No chance. Which means he now has a debt of £700 and a broken window. He will no doubt be evicted before Christmas and stuck into a Homeless Hostel. And do doubt he will be taken to court for criminal damage for the broken window. And he’ll get fined and if he cannot make the payments he’ll probably be sent to jail

All because someone with a grudge made a single anonymous phone call and told a single anonymous lie. It helped someone at the Job Centre to meet their weekly target of getting three clients off benefits.

Is it true? Christ, I hope not. But every day we hear similar stories and it is hard to believe that everyone is lying. This morning I will pass this on to Russell Brown our local MP. I will ask him if he might be willing to contact the Job Centre and ask for a clear list of reasons why people get suspended. Legal reasons. And once we have that list we will be able to advise people if they have a leg to stand on. Or not. And I really, really hope that this new rule of ‘Guilty until proven innocent’ is not in fact carved in stone. I really, really hope that it is the work of a few cavalier individuals looking to hit their targets and protect their jobs rather than actual written down policy. Because if it is indeed actual written down policy, then it is hard to accept. Britain isn’t supposed to be like this.

‘Say it ain’t so, Joe.’     



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