We’ve had a few sunny days up here in Bonnie Scotland over the last month or so. Not many. And it hasn’t exactly been anything
Mediterranean. But better than usual. Normally a stretch of summer weather reduces the number of food parcel
customers we serve to a mere trickle. Not so this year. This year they have
kept on coming, one after the other, for day after day. The expressions are the
same. Only the clothes are different. Most are resigned, despondent, beaten.
But with the warmth of the weather have come new and different expressions. Hard
etched anger. Pale skin stretched tight over the bones.
For like night following day, cometh the warmth of summertime, cometh the anger. And all of a sudden we are starting to hear the ‘R’ word.
It was a couple of weeks ago when the ‘R’ word made its 2013 debut at the counter in First Base. It passed through the lips of one of our regulars. He’s a nice enough guy who has taken a fearsome kicking over the last year or so. He’s certainly no young dafty. I guess he is just by fifty and he has worked for most of his years. There is no point in pretending that he is any kind of choirboy. Over years he has had his share of fights, most of which he has won. When you look at him, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to discover that he usually comes out on top in occasional dismal little late night street battles. As a result he has a record. Not the longest record, but long enough to make getting a job nigh on impossible in the new reality. So he’s on the dole and he looks like staying there for a while. Not that he actually gets paid all that often.
Some of those late night wars were fought out on the pavements outside the town’s clubs in the days when my man was a doorman. People don’t tend to forget such encounters. Grudges are borne and treasured and lovingly preserved. So what? So it means that any man and his dog can pick up the phone and report that an old foe is working on the black. So then what happens? The person who is the subject of the report is immediately suspended from all benefits until such a time as they can categorically prove that they were NOT working illegally. It’s kind of hard to prove this particular negative and my man has no ever managed to do so.
So he keeps getting sanctioned. Right now he is on his third. Three months this time. In the winter he would come in from the dismal grey rain and tell me how he had been walking the streets seeking out enough dockers to roll a few fags. He could never get his head around how such a thing could have ever happened. His sunken eyes spoke of nothing but resignation.
Not so a couple of weeks ago when the sun was the sole occupant of a wall to wall blue shy.
In place of resignation was a slow burning anger which promised to upgrade itself into white rage at the flick of a switch. And he issued a very simple statement of fact, almost rehearsed.
“Tell you what Mark, if there is a riot this summer, I’m joining in. Never thought I’d say that.”
The 'R' word.
And since then the ‘R’ word has been quietly spoken on a further three occasions. Was it drunken bravado or the big talk of a handful of blue Valium? No. Not even nearly. In each and every case it was delivered in a calm and measured tone. The ‘R’ word had been thought through carefully. Weighed and measured and tried on for size. And then used. Used in a matter of fact way.
Of the 300 food parcels we handed out in June, just over 120 went to people who have been sanctioned from all their benefits. As in rendered completely penniless. Many are on their second or third sanction and they are starting to get a little frayed at the edges. Most of the time the sanctions are for what we Lancastrians call summat and nowt. Like being five minutes late. Other times the sanctions are more proactive. A guy from last week told me that he had been given an appointment on 13th June which he duly attended only to be told that the date had been moved to the 10th of June. Had they written to him with this information? No. had they sent him a text? No. They had called him and left a voicemail message. Of course most folk getting by on £60 a week never tend to have credit in their phones and are therefore they are in no position to pick up voicemail messages. This guy was in such a position. Gotcha. Sanctioned for a month.
He was another who quietly spoke the ‘R’ word.
The fact that Job Centre staff are being driven to sanction at least three clients a week is now widely known. Most people are hyper aware that 5 minutes late will mean no money for at least a month. This of course means that it is getting harder and harder for the Job Centre people to meet their targets which means that they are having to get more creative: to come up with ever more clever ruses and tactics. Like changing an appointment and leaving a voicemail.
And of course this kind of thing gets people ever more angry. Will this anger send them out onto the streets?
? Like Cairo ? Like Istanbul Rio?
Cold logic suggests that it can only be a matter of time.
Maybe this particular logic lies behind all the stories we are now hearing about the monumental surveillance that is being mounted on millions of us little people. Of course they blame in on Terrorism. But they always blame everything on Terrorism.
It is hard not to get the sense of hatches being battened down ready for the coming storm.
We seem to have an awful lot of extremely well kept secrets at the moment. For five years now we have been subjected to a barrage of media explaining how hard the times are and how we need to stand together to get through it. And slowly but surely the blame for what has happened has been shifted more and more onto the poor. The fact that a few bankers sent the world economy off the edge of a cliff seems to be in the process of being air brushed from history. Instead it is the idle, scrounging poor who are to blame. The media tells us we are infested by a swarm of idle, feckless individuals who binge drink, eat themselves to obesity, breed kids for cash and, horror of horrors, watch Sky on 40 inch plus TV’s.
Slowly but surely all politicians are falling into a line and they now vie with each other in the great new game of poor bashing. If Nigel Farage were to suggest putting anyone unemployed for over a year into meat pies, then Ed Milliband will blag a spot on the ‘World at One’ to say that Cornish Pasties would do even better.
It is a hell of a smoke screen and the new reality seems to be that anyone who wants to get elected has to prove that they can hate the poor with the best of them. And does it ever work. Every hammer blow delivered by the Department of Work and Pensions is followed by a jump in the polls for Cameron and his merry men. No wonder they like it so much.
Will they manage to keep the big secret forever out of view? Maybe. Eighty million Germans kept on believing that all bad things were down to the wicked, scheming, money grubbing Jews for year after year until the Red Army finally arrived at the gates of Berlin. And all the while, a very few jumped up gangsters quietly filled their Swiss bank accounts until they were in danger of bursting.
Times are hard. Hard for everyone. It says so everywhere. It is an absolute truth.
However a mere thousand citizens of this beleaguered nation of ours saw their collective wealth go up by £35 billion last year.
As in £350 million each.
They managed to get a million quid richer every single day of 2012. So what happened to the recession?
To try and put that figure into some kind of context, it is worth noting that £35 billion is about the same as we spend on Education and Defence. It is a hundred times more that the promised savings to the public purse resulting from the hated Bedroom Tax.
It’s a bloody fortune.
Walmart is owned by the Walton family. Right now there are six members of the Walton family who own the whole thing. Between them these six people have more cash than 42% of Americans combined.
6 people have more than 120 million people.
Two years ago they had more cash than 90 million.
Where will things stand in two years time? Will it be 150 million? 200 million?
It is of course complete and utter madness when so very few people are able to drain off the wealth of so many. Since the Crash, we have all got 2% poorer every year. And my word we are all beginning to feel it. What we are still failing to realise is just where all of that lost standard of life has gone.
It has gone into the off shore accounts of those 1000 individuals who managed to get themselves £35 billion richer last year.
And who do we blame?
But history teaches us that you can only keep on kicking the poor for so long. There always comes time when they collectively decide to kick back. Like
in 1789. Like Paris
in 1917. Like St Petersburg
in 2011. Cairo
And when that day eventually comes, those 1000 gilded individuals will melt away to their islands in the sun.
So will they go the same way as Tsar Nicholas and Marie Antoinette and President Mubarak? Maybe. Or maybe by monitoring our Facebook and Twitter accounts, the powers that be will manager to kill any revolt before it has a chance to get started.
So roll up, roll up for the hottest ticket in town. It’s the showdown we’ve all been waiting for.
In the blue corner we have Technology.
In the red corner we have History.
And let us never forget that there are in fact two ‘R’ words.
‘R’ for Riot
And then there is that other ‘R’ made famous by the likes of Robespierre and Trotsky and Che.
But I think it prudent now to mention that particular ‘R’ word as you never know who is listening in.