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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


 ‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’
Dylan Thomas wrote the line. Years and years ago in a time when cities indeed got themselves felled on a regular basis. Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima…
Thomas gave the eye of a poet to the industrialised destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.
The poetry of course is in the disconnect. One the one hand, there is the image of a wavering, liver spotted hand wielding an expensive fountain pen. On the other hand, there is hell falling to the earth from a thousand Lancaster bombers.
Or one bomber called ‘Enola Gay’
The death by a thousand cuts that so many are now being forced to endure is thankfully considerably less dramatic than the destruction of Hamburg and Hiroshima. But there are similarities.
And there is is the same disconnect.
And as is so often the case, it is the little people who are being forced to carry the can.
We start our journey in the very same building by the River Thames where Churchill gave Bomber Harris the nod set the air itself on fire by raining millions of incendiary bombs down onto the great cities of Germany. You know. The crumbling Neo Gothic building with the famous clock.
In 2008 the banks collapsed and the money ran dry. Cuts were required and bright eyed types with starred first degrees were dispatched to find the nooks and crannies where cash could be saved.
It was deemed that every penny counted.
Every last one.
And soon a twisted, malign infant came screaming into the world and was duly christened ‘The Bedroom Tax’.
The principle was classically Neo Liberal. If you are so poor that you need the State to keep a roof over your head, then don’t expect the State to stump up for any more rooms than you strictly require. The State will only pay for the bare minimum. And so it was deemed sensible that anyone guilty of being too poor to pay their own rent was to be fined £15 a week for that poxy little box room with the view onto the settee strewn waste ground out back.
That’ll teach the wretched blighters to be poor!
And so the hand signed the paper and the bright eyed young things licked their lips in anticipation of a £100 million a year saving.
But things never tend to work out the way the bright eyed young things think they will. Oh if only they did work out that way, we might still be a shining city on the hill.
The bright young things never quite managed to spot a single fact which really should have been blindingly obvious.
The problem was that the Housing Benefit money wasn’t paid to the poor person who needed help with their rent. Instead the Housing Benefit was paid directly to their landlord. Usually their social landlord.
Well it didn’t take all that very long for the social landlords to start to view the future with fear and trepidation. Because if you have a thousand social houses and the Government goes and cuts its payments to you by £15 a week for these houses, well you suddenly find a gaping £15,000 a week hole in your business plan.
As in £750,000 a year.
‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’
Oh my God, what the hell are we going to do!!!!!!
And so it was that the social housing providers hired in their very own bright eyed young things to advise them on how to keep their business model in tact.
Two answers were found. 
One, shed staff and cut costs!!
Surprise, surprise. The answer is always to shed staff and cut costs and it looks like it will continue to be the case until all of the staff in the world has been shed barring the board of Goldman Sachs. Housing officers bit the bullet and hit the dole queue.
Communication between tenant and landlord became less and less about face to face communications between fellow human beings and more about computer generated letters.
The second answer was to stamp down ever more vigorously on any tenant who fell so much as a few seconds late with their rent. The very nanosecond any account slipped into arrears, a computer generated letter from a computer generated firm of virtual solicitors would be winging its way.
Once upon a time when times were different and kinder, rent arrears would provoke a visit from a housing officer to take a look at the problem over a cup of tea. One human being would converse with another human being. The problem would be examined and broken down into bite sized pieces. A compromise would be sought. A solution would be found.
After all, we all have short term cash flow hitches, right?
But with so many housing officers on the dole, these old fashioned conversations are becoming ever rarer. In their place are millions of computer generated letters from computer generated virtual solicitors.
The hand that signed the paper……
Last week one of our Veteran clients was the city that was felled. A couple of years ago he decided to escape the dole queue by going self employed. A loan from Poppy Scotland helped him to buy a van and ever since he has just about managed to keep his head above water.
His van is the key to his business. No van, no work. And so when the van developed a few hundred pounds worth of faults, he had no choice but to grit his teeth and get the thing fixed and back onto the road.
The only way he could finance this was to fall six weeks into arrears with his rent. At first he failed to open the computer generated letters that started to fall on his mat on a near daily basis. When he did finally open one, he discovered to his horror that he was a week away from having his day in court.
He asked for some help and I picked up the phone on his behalf. I called up his social landlord and had a few conversations. These were human being to human being conversations. I worked out how much he could pay and between us we agreed a re-payment plan.
It worked.
As of today he has not a single penny of arrears.
But the hand is still signing the paper and the cities are still being felled.
The bright young things are still doing their thing.
They have now deemed it necessary and vital for the social landlord to hunt down every last, single outstanding debt on its ledger with the same kind of remorseless, heartless ferocity that Bomber Harris once displayed when felling the cities described on the piece of paper that Winston Churchill had signed.
And it turns out that all of those computer generated letters from computer generated solicitors don’t come cheap. And when those same computer generated solicitors go to the trouble of arranging your day in court to account for six weeks of rent arrears which you have since caught up, well….
There are bills to be paid. 
Dues to be collected.
£350 of legal costs to be precise.
Which meant yet more computer generated letters from yet more computer generated solicitors. And yet another day in court. And of course as a self employed person who was earning just about enough to keep body and soul together, my man was not even close to being eligible for Legal Aid.
In the blue corner, a provider of 17,000 social houses across the hills and glens of Dumfries and Galloway along with a team of sharp elbowed lawyers.
In the red corner, one veteran of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the Turf Lodge Estate and the green, rolling  hills South Armargh.
Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!!!!!!!!!!
But of course there was no rumble.
Instead my man met a Citizens Advice guy who told him there was no point even trying to talk to the Sheriff. He had no leg to stand on. He was basically completely screwed. He was advised to grit teeth and ask for time to pay.
And so it was that the bright young things were able to extract a further £350 worth of blood from a near penniless stone. At a fiver a week for the next year and a half. A fiver a week less to be spent on groceries or the occasional pint. Another shoulder chained ever more firmly to the grinding, soul destroying wheel of life that is Britain 2015.
All because some bright young thing in Whitehall decided the Bedroom tax was the right way to mitigate the lunacy of the casino bankers in the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf.
So my man went home.
My man opened his front door.
My man cast his eyes down to the post waiting on the mat.
To yet another computer generated letter from yet another computer generated solicitor.
Four years ago my man was fined £60.
Four years ago my man paid off £35 of the £60.
Four years ago my man completely forgot to pay the other £25 of the £60.
‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’
In Whitehall the bright young things suggested a 10% cut to Council spending.
The hand duly signed the paper.
Which meant that 10% less was sent North to Edinburgh care of the Barnett Formula.
Which meant that 10% less was sent back South West to Dumfries and Galloway Council.
Which meant that the council duly engaged the services of some bright young things of their own to try and work out what on earth to do.
And the bright young things advised that forensic accountants should be brought in to dig out every single old debt they could find. And once these old debts had been excavated from their subterranean hiding places, they should be dusted down and passed along the line.
To computer generated solicitors.
To generate computer generated letters.
To arrange yet more days in court for yet more blood to be extracted from yet more stones.
And so on and on and on it goes.
Death by a thousand cuts.
I guess the legal bill my man will eventually have to cover for the bright young things chasing his old £25 debt will probably run to over £200.
Which he will pay off at a fiver a week.
For forty weeks
And will anyone either notice or care?
What do you think?
‘The hand that signed the paper felled a city’

If you have enjoyed this blog then you might well enjoy one of my books. There are twenty of them waiting for you in the Kindle store from £1 to £2 each. Here's the link.

1 comment:

  1. Ah those bright young things who live well padded lives, will never know poverty other than the couple of years slumming in student digs. Maybe it is not them we should be railing at, but those who listen to them. If only we had won, we would be way out of this hell hole and it is the bright (or not so bright) young things who woud be unemployed.