The Brother phones me up.
His little sister Pixie is shrieking in the background but she’s just too vulnerable to come to the phone right now.
The Brother speaks as he no doubt ‘writes’ on the numerous forms and letters with which he fails to provide usable information to The Social for his own benefit claims; with that wind-tunnel-vowels-into-puddles-of-scummy-consonants vortex mixing non sequiturs into an all-you-can-blag buffet without gaps or pauses for breath or to trying to establish understanding or to identify himself or me or any inflection other than slowly rising angry tones which tell you from the start that under no circumstances is he going to listen to anything at all that you say until he’s said his piece and put you in your place because saying it is all: The Word shall set him free – or at least Pixie’s rent will soon be free, he hopes, and so growling and interrupting my polite greeting is just the ticket to ram home the fact that he’s been terribly inconvenienced by having to sacrifice precious time from his busy schedule working at the Wii-face to say just how disappointed he is that some other servant of the State is remiss by dint of not immediately reaching into the big old barrel of twenty pound notes that we all keep by the phone to send to Pixie so that she can go on living in the flat she recently rented at (it turns out) about forty quid per week less than The Housing are prepared to give her and which doesn’t leave her with ‘anything to live on': it’s about fifty pounds actually but who’s counting?)
This is how the steamroller of the Welfare State tries to roll forever and take over the universe.
Pixie has rented a home of her own. Moving out confidently to make her way in the world like the social entrepreneur that she is, she’s decided that it’s long overdue that she left her Mum and her latest boyfriend’s house, and no doubt a gaggle of diversely-surnamed little half brothers probably monickered Jo-Boy, Tyson and Jakub who have been getting on her ‘pecs since they discovered just how high a decibel level they could generate for her and the neighbours’ listening pleasure without Him thumping them or Our Mum cutting them briefly off from her thin, cool, struggling stream of highly conditional but nevertheless genuine love.
She’s found a nice place to rent privately in
Only she hasn’t read the small print.
To be fair she probably hasn’t read anything that didn’t have the word ‘celebrity’ in the first paragraph or that has ‘Fits sizes 16 to 18’ printed on it since she finally learned at about twelve how to read at all, but what she hasn’t done at any time during her daydreaming is to speculate about the consequences of signing a legally-binding contract but not being able to pay all the rent with someone who works out of the back of a taxi company’s office where his pit-bulls sleep except on overdue-collection days and who never gives receipts and who holds onto the rent book throughout the tenancy. He’s not been getting enough rent and has been Having A Word. Sharrylleanne and Nicole and Kimberley-May get every single penny of theirs paid okay and they were all mates at school together so why not Pixie?
This last is, approximately, what The Brother wants me to answer. You’ll have guessed by now that he wants me to answer it just so he can tell me I’m wrong. He intends to bully me into persuading The Housing to go to their Bumper Barrel O’ Twenties and do that whole All Creatures Great and Small thing with some Housing Benefit clerk playing James Herriot and the taxpayer representing the archetypal breach-birthing cow or the aardvark that’s swallowed (but which just can’t quite pass) an ocarina. It’s ironic that I have to explain the facts of life to a man who utters synonyms for the act of generation as every third word, but there you have it: there are a million stories in the naked city but only one verb.
I try to explain, but to save wear on my PC’s ‘f’ key, I’ll not quote our dialogue at length here; nor his many and essentially fertile interruptions, nor detail the Cloverfield soundtrack-bassy thumpings from Pixie’s room around him that are so loud that it seems her bed or sofa must be being repeatedly flung up into the air and then cast down onto the carpetless floor as if by some malign supernatural force.
Single people under 25 are not expected to live alone in four-roomed flats solely at the taxpayer’s expense. They are entitled to Housing Benefit at the shared accommodation rate, which is about half the rate allowed for a single unemployed adult living alone. Pixie should have got a shared house with a room of her own and a kitchen, living room, and bathroom in common with a couple or three others by this logic. Up to 25 you’re supposed to muck in like students. But Pixie is a rugged individualist who needs her ‘space’, according to The Brother.
Anyway, she has single friends at about her age who get all their rent paid. Do they have children? Some of them. There you are; ‘families’ have bigger needs and get more benefit. But, argues Brother Rumpole, some of the friends are alone, under 25 and ‘on the sick’ like Pixie and they get all their rent paid even though they aren’t parents. I explain that, yes, more of their daily spending-money benefits income will be excluded from means-testing help with their rent. If they get health or disability related benefits the system disregards certain food-and-bills benefits and adds disability premiums. There’s a core subsistence level that the government calculates for individuals or families according to their health, age, and mobility and to the numbers, ages and sexes of any children. The sicker you are, the more your spendable benefits are excluded from this matrix of subsistence 'needs'.
In the background, Pixie’s bed (or sofa) has ceased it bungee-thumping, and she is shouting the plaster off the walls with a deep, chthonic boom you wouldn’t think a (human) female chest and voice box could make. Perhaps she’s floating above the bed now.
The system allows proportionately more of the food-and-electric-and-mobile-phone benefits to be excluded from Housing and Council Tax Benefit calculations, with the mother of all exclusions on those who have the higher rate of Disability Living Allowance for both ‘Care’ and ‘Mobility', as they generate very high disability premiums. There’s nothing wrong with the logic of means-testing: the more knackered you are; the more fate has hammered you down in mind and body and the less you can reasonably be expected to do to provide for yourself. I suffer no pain at all at the thought of paraplegics or the blind getting extra help so that they can rent more expensive ground floor suburban flats that allow wheel-chair access or that permit guide dogs to be kenelled there.
Oddly enough I rarely get elderly paraplegics or the totally blind yelling at me, though occasionally they are sincerely grateful if I point out that they’re missing a trick and they find themselves better off after my advice. Poor old gimmers: they just don’t have the proper attitude some of them, unlike their juniors and betters.
The problem, of course, is that government ‘logic’ doesn’t take into account Ingenuity, Indolence and Greed or any other Hawkwind songs. Not everyone who wants to escape a life of getting out of bed early five days a week to work amongst unfriendly strangers is fortunate enough to be totally broken.
‘How do you fecund expect her to live on fecund nothing at all when she’s fecund sick?’ inquires The Brother sweetly. It’s tempting to reply that until a few magical moments ago I had been entirely unaware of her very existence and that therefore I had had no expectations at all as to her viability, but I know that that’d be a sacking offence - unlike say squandering trillions on a housing bubble - and so I hold my tongue.
He mutters something to the wailing voice behind him and the line crackles as she howls her disability qualifications at him to pass on to me. A positively First Century Galilean sound they have; what with her troubles and her attacks. And her ‘issues.’ How thoroughly the underclass has adopted the pusillanimous vocabulary of the victim-generating middle classes. But in the end it turns out that whatever it is she has wrong with her, the Department for Work and Pension’s top specialists have tragically only been able to award her the lowest level of ‘disability’ which means that The Housing have rightly taken most of her spending money benefits into account and haven’t been able to ignore the fact that she’s under 25 and single and renting a starter home at a cost and in a neighbourhood that’s more suitable for a hard-working, tax-paying family; the poor bastards.
There is a brief period of negotiation like that in August 1939 during which The Brother offer me an enticing banquet of illegal (and on one occasion physically impossible) alternatives to me doing my lawfully contracted job. Most of these choices are variations on the theme of me telling some fellow lickspittle from The Housing to ignore the various Housing Benefit Acts (note the date of that first one! Who knew that it was all Her fault?), and by forgetting all that Whereas and Notwithstanding stuff to make with the Barrel of Cash already and no messing about as he’s got Lego Star Wars to win.
You can wear this kind of person down. Pixie is doing half the job anyway as I can hear her ever shriller and ever more abusive howling begin to erode his shallow half-brotherly ability to give a shit. I’m imagining pea soup vomit spraying horizontally and maybe Pixie looking over her shoulder: right over her shoulder at 180% from straight ahead right now. I urge him to repeat to her that the law of the land won’t allow The Housing to give her more than her fifty quid or so, no matter how much she yells at him. He demurs and asks me once more why she can’t have more fecund cash (as if asking again and louder will change the world) because she’s on the sick. But not sick enough I explain. Again. She’s got something that the Welfare State considers to be dealable-with by a few extra pounds a week (or millions nationwide, let us not forget) and that’s it. She’ll have ‘panic attacks’ or be obese and unwieldy or be a moderate self-harmer or otherwise less than calm and gymnastic in enclosed spaces like factories or offices or supermarket warehouses, though I’m guessing that pubs and convenience stores and night clubs might therapeutically count as the open air.
But that’s the truth – she’s only got something trivial wrong with her, physically, but I'm expecting changes around these part. After all, if you pay folk if something happens then some people will assure that that particular something will indeed happen. That's market forces for you. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. This is what that saying means: not that low wages produce poor workmanship, but that people will answer demand in ways that complement the demand. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys; if you pay bananas you get gorillas; if you pay with the coins stolen in a mausoleum at midnight on Halloween from the skeletal eye sockets of unpunished and unshriven embezzlers you get accordionists. Once she learns today’s lesson, I confidently expect her condition to get worse if she can squeeze it past the doctors.
‘So you’re saying if I broke her leg, she’d get more benefit?’
And you’d get a medal, or deserve one, I think.
Eventually, worn down between the brick wall of my persistence and cunningly-hidden indifference to his grief on one side and the Gadarene squealings behind him on the other, he goes off the line in the sure and certain knowledge that, while she can’t have any more benefit per se without becoming a mother or growing sicker and more disabled (both obviously very attractive career options) she can apply to The Housing for temporary relief whilst she looks for somewhere that she really can afford. She won’t look, of course. Even if The Housing do agree to pay a temporary top-up for up to six months and it goes straight to the landlord’s bank account to appease his wrath she’ll still not search for anywhere else to rent despite her present panic. She’s going to be too busy with her personal and relationship problems and rowing with her whole family to go house-hunting any time soon. So in eight months or so after the top-up has ended forever, her underpaid and out-of-pocket landlord’s pocked face will lose its film-star charms and he'll become all insistent again. Pixie’ll do a runner to another part of Castle City or to one of its exotic neighbouring mill towns leaving debts to the landlord and The Housing alike, but then it’s amazing how nimble you can be even with her disability when you need to carry a bed and a fifty-inch plasma TV screen down three flights of lightless stairs.
She’s hoist on her own petard.
First petard: she’s never ever given any consideration as to whether The Social and The Housing really would provide her with what she wants as much as abundantly as she wants it and as soon as she needs it for the Lord will provide. Her Mum’s on the sick with kids and she gets by and her friends with babies have their own places and they get by and some of them just like her are on the sick and they get by, and so somehow she has slightly distorted the nature of Welfare State and the grimmer reality that underlies it into some warped version of the allegory of the lilies of the fields and the fowls in the skies, African or European.
Second petard: she’s not used the masses of information that have always been available to her. The Housing will have written to her once her too-small help with the rent was awarded and so she would have been able to see from the start that she wasn’t going to be able to manage. Therefore she didn’t need to wait for the landlord to come a-calling or for The Brother to get out so he could shout at me. If she had had any self-possession at all, she might have phoned The Housing in advance of signing the lease and asked what she’d get if she moved into her lovely new home alone – and not rented it when they told her. Every building in the Welfare State is plastered with posters and signs and almost all correspondence has letterheads and warnings and rights and duties and exhortations to call the authorities at all kinds of local call centres or drop in advice centres before everything goes horribly wrong: we’re waiting for your call. But she’s slightly distorted all this potential help and advice to mean ‘Please ignore this letter and just get back to feuding with your mother and schoolmates and don’t bother your pretty little head with thoughts of…well, anything at all really, until The Man Comes Around, and then who you gonna call?’
Two slightly distorted petards.
And the moral of the story is?
The myth of Right-wing myths about welfare mothers and doley scroungers.
The Left says that girls don’t deliberately get pregnant to qualify for benefits and accommodation of their own, and I’m sure that a sizeable minority of them do so (I’ve heard some admit as much). They also deny that others invent or exaggerate their ‘disabilities’ for the same purpose. But there's another much wider carriageway on the welfarist road to Hell. A majority of the young people whom I meet and who have the biggest beefs with the system do so because they assumed right from the start that they’d be getting it all straight away...and with no expiry date, world without end. They'll do their individualist thing regardless: petty crime, or truancy, or unprotected sex or making tenancy agreements with slumlords and they'll expect it to be alright because the system is all about always making it alright. They are so poorly educated and incurious and accepting of their ‘rights’ that it never occurs to them that it’s not going to be perfect from the start. Guess where that puts getting jobs and responsible parenthood in their hierarchy of priorities? Talk about The Imp of the Perverse: this is the Demon of the Irresponsible.
Multiply the costs of all this by fifty-two to get the annual spend per tousled head and then by several hundred thousand nationwide to figure out where all the policemen and body armour and hospital cleaning crews and physics equipment in schools have gone to this year.
When things go wrong, they intend to fall back onto their cosy beds and let it all get sorted out.
You, dear reader, are the bed that they expect to fall back on when Life happens to them.
Kind of puts that whole bed-bucking thing into context, doesn’t it?