Tuesday, 23 November 2010


It seems typical of the instrumental thinking on both sides of the divide, this. That students are getting their future stolen; that increasing of tuition fees and the cutting of teaching budgets will consign a huge number of young people to impoverishment. The logic is that increased tuition fees and cuts in money for teaching of the humanities will prevent a whole generation (or more) of graduates from getting the well paid jobs that will enable their children to go to university to get qualified for the the well paid jobs, so that their children will not go to university and get the well paid jobs etc. 

It seems to me that the problem is "well paid jobs". It is not outrageous that not everyone goes to university - it is outrageous that not all jobs pay a living wage. For all the talk of the older generation, who benefited from a free higher education pulling the ladder up after them (which is true), we are missing the  point that there should not be a "ladder" in the first fucking place. It's like talk of the "housing ladder", or "starter homes", implying that it is just a beginning and that one will move onwards and upwards. A human right (shelter) is not a stepping stone. A system that treats it as such will need fodder for the increasingly finely shod foot to step on, to keep it clear of the mire; the grateful backs of those who are touchingly grateful even to be allowed to breathe.

If we accept that the best (the best paying) jobs are only accessible via a degree (and, who knows, an MA or PhD next), then we are accepting that university is simply a training ground for young professionals who, in addition to their qualification, build up an address book of contacts to help them on their way. That is the way that the bourgeoisie have always worked. Then, of course, the university is seen as a panacea for social ills, lack of mobility etc. If, on the other hand, we maintain that all jobs should be decently paid and that decent public housing is a universal right,  then it might be reasonable to frame the debate in terms of education as a good in itself, which I believe it is.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

On question time tonight- it was enlivening to see Caroline Flint slagging the Con-Dem benefit plans...This would be the same Flint that floated these proposals. So being the poster girl for middle England authoritarianism has suddenly worn off. She now says that forcing the unemployed into any sort of work is only acceptable if there is any sort of work available. Something that she didn't care about a couple of years ago.

"Ms Flint said that a family applying for a home could be offered "new opportunities linked to employment and training.

She suggested that a "voluntary contract" would set out the opportunities on offer, "underscoring the commitment of the tenants to self-improvement."

A spokesman from Ms Flint's Department of Communities and Local Government would not confirm whether this meant that tenants who then broke their contracts would face eviction."

This actually never happened but her attempt at "starting a debate" tells you about the nasty mindset of our ruling class. And, naturally, the New Labour obsession with property ownership.

As always, she was ready to demonise, in a thoroughly neo-lib manner the recipients of public housing, but in line with the current therapeutic politics, it would be for the tenant's own good. Like many MPs, I have no doubt that her expenses were entirely within the rules, but it is not too many people who can buy and sell different properties as and when necessary - think about those who are forced out of central London due to caps on benefit/social landlords being able to charge "market rent" who will pay most of their wages simply to get to work, and being thankful. Now that work is now rewarded-at the minimum wage rates, of course.


This site has graphs showing the UK national debt, both in £s and as a percentage of GDP. Note the extremely high levels as % of GDP in the '40's/'50's. Obviously, the result of the war. But what is worth noting that this was the period that the welfare state was being constructed. The governments of that period did not seem to feel that universal benefits, free education or building council housing was an expensive luxury. 

It casts an interesting light on this (watch the video), as well as other pronouncements coming from the government. Clegg claims that the state of the public finances has forced his hand on recanting his stance on tuition fees. We are constantly being told that things are so bad that vicious cuts in public services need to be made. What is not fully explained is why post-war UK governments did not feel that way.

From an interview with Danny Alexander in The Independent:

"...he is strident in defending the Tories from the claim that they see cuts as a route to a smaller state. "I genuinely have not had a sense from anybody that this is an ideological thing. We didn't come into politics to do this but we have an unavoidable problem that we are stepping up to the plate and dealing with.""

Amazing. It looks very much to me like Tories doing what Tories love to do; what they wanted to do in the '80's, but just got as far as laying the groundwork. New Labour continued it. Now they are ready to finsh the job.

I don't know how he, or any of them, can sleep at night. But especially the Lib-Dems.


Quite apart from how despicable Duncan-Smith's proposed "reforms" are, the thing that is sticking in my throat most, and has been for a while, is when did the dole start to be called "welfare"? That's what they call it in the U.S.

Over here it was always called Social Security, which is what it is meant to be. As a claimant over many years, i can remember the names for the actual benefit changing - being variously Supplementary Benefit, Unemployment Benefit (maybe these names containing the word "benefit" were considered to sound to positive) Income Support, then Jobseekers' Allowance...The shift from "Benefit" - a right- to "Support" - assistance- to "Allowance" - something grudgingly given; speaks volumes. 

This present government has gone out of its way to demonise claimants  (contrary to the writer of the linked piece, I would support the workshy and fraudsters myself). They make a conveniently soft target for the ideologically driven cuts. They were never going to get much sympathy from sanctimonious middle-Englanders who seem to see wage slavery as a badge of honor.

But anyway, my issue is also with the word: "Welfare". I do not know when the term became detached from the noun it qualified - "state", in order to denote benefits specifically. The welfare state is (or maybe, more accurately, was) a good thing. I owe my education, my still functioning teeth, my late mother's successful treatment for breast cancer, and other things too numerous to mention, to it. And so do most of those, Lib-Dems, Tories and Labour too, who are now attacking it with such ghoulish relish - but they seem to have forgotten that. An attack on the benefits system is an attack on the welfare state. An attack on universal benefits is an attack on the universalism that was part of the founding of the welfare state. To make benefits that were initially conceived as a right belonging to citizens conditional, is to make citizenship conditional. 

This is typical of the drivel we are subjected to. The approach adopted in Wisconsin that the article lauds sounds repulsive. One has to prove one's bona fides before receiving any assistance. One has to prove oneself worthy. This utterly inverts the idea behind benefits that we had in the UK; a right conferred by citizenship. Citizenship being a universal value and, most importantly, content-neutral. You did not have to prove that you were the right kind of person in order to enjoy your rights.

"One of Wisconsin's biggest successes was diverting people from claiming benefits in the first place. If you try to claim benefits, the first thing they do is offer you a job – rather than start filling in forms to process your application. In fact, you have to demonstrate that you are searching hard for a job for several weeks before you can even start to make a benefits claim. In contrast, our depressing "Job Centres" are really more like benefits offices." (that's because they are benefits offices, you prick.)

The most telling part of the article, which I quote because it illuminates the kind of thinking behind this proposed butchery - it's not just an isolated right wing rant, someone who fancies themselves as a Jeremiah or Ezekiel, howling the unpalatable truth at the desert- are these sentences:

"Perhaps we have come to think that it is normal to have a large part of our population without work, and cut adrift from the rest of society."

People who are in receipt of benefits are somehow not part of society. So membership of society, enjoyment of its benefits, is dependent upon work, and, apparently, work alone.

It is not "Welfare" - they might have that in America (or, rather, they don't), but here it is the benefits system, or the welfare state, and it does what it is meant to do. It seems to me that the use of that word, by politicians and journalists, has imported with it some really unpleasant ideological baggage. It is also sad and pathetic to base a political program and it's rhetoric on the sense of sanctimonious alertness to the idea that someone, somewhere, is having a better time than you, and that you're paying for them to have it!

If this image of the polity as a load of paranoid, grudging curtain-twitchers is the best that we can do, we may as well give up now.