Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Like there’s no tomorrow

I work for the underclass.

I also work for a bunch of other people who are in the financial mire - temporarily or permanently – and from which I suspect no amount of health insurance and voluntary pension saving could ever have diverted them; pace my purist libertarian former comrades.

Basically, a major part of my job is to help the unemployed or over-parented to understand and sometimes to do the paperwork and walk them through the process of means testing so they can show The Social and The Housing just how broke they are and hence can they have some more money, please?
For some, injury and illness or the loss of a job is a temporary misfortune that they intend (and actively seek) to escape as soon as possible. My cynical colleagues and I find it hard to begrudge them the taxes we all pay to keep the roof over their heads and the electricity on and food on the table. Dear reader, you may disagree with that, but absent compulsory individual or family-based unemployment, sickness and retirement funding - something likely only in a vibrant, thriving, successful economy supported by well-educated workers and intelligent middle managers (yeah, right) - it just doesn’t seem decent not to pay minimum (or even briefly better than minimum) poor relief to the innocently, accidentally skint.  

(Pensioners are a much tougher and bigger problem in that since the Pensions Increase Act generations of workers and housewives (and increasingly cast-adrift fifty-something first wives) have been encouraged  and duped to face retirement age without a pension pot of their own above whatever the National Insurance scheme provides.
But let us set that Godzilla-class train wreck aside for now and concentrate on what the system has unselfconsciously dubbed Working Age benefits recipients.)

A sizeable minority of folk whose reports, letters and emails cross my desk and whose (expensive mobile) phone calls sound in my ears are victims of a generations-long experiment in wishful thinking, unfunded social liabilities, and all-round good intentions and so here we are in the Inferno that the Clever and Decent have unintentionally built: The Bolgia of the Intergenerationally Useless. The ‘Vulnerable.’ Peace be unto them.

Now, I sometimes joke at work with my colleagues about the wide variety of first names with which the latest cohort of the Vulnerable have been branded by their hopeless, clueless, husbandless mothers. All those Ka-s and Sha-s and De-s that unmarried Kylies and Julies choose to imagine raises their offspring to the glamourous level of America’s Great Society black underclass, the poor sods.

It really helps you to assess a boy’s life chances when you learn that his first name is Tyson; may his tribe increase. Because nothing quite says ‘aspirational parenting’ as well as naming one’s tiny baby son after a tattooed, bipolar, serially bankrupt, multiple-bastardizing, drug-addicted convicted rapist who publicly lamented the non-lynching of a brown-skinned man found not guilty of murder.

We chortle too at the narrower range of surnames. These are often double-barrelled in memory of Mum’s latest bedwarmer-but-three who stayed around for three entire Christmases and for almost one whole gestation before he flew the nest leaving another cuckoo for your children, dear reader, to support and endure lifelong. Support, that is, assuming that the little hellions will in fact shut up and stop screaming long enough for your kids to acquire what the political class nostalgically refers to as a publicly-funded ‘education’.

The Vulnerable won’t read (even if they can read, kind of,) and their commonest first resort when faced with officialdom’s requests for further information (intended to allow means-tested benefits to be commenced or to continue in payment) is to ignore such requests altogether…until some welfare bureaucrat somewhere is obliged to suspend and eventually to cancel their claim – whether of a principle (subsistence) benefit or a supplementary payments for help with housing, children, illness and injury, etc. Their next resort; rather than reading and responding to the authorities concerned is to go for help to some third party advisor or case officer such as the CAB or a social worker and who, in all  probability, will eventually ring us up and discover they don’t have written permission to discuss the ‘customer’s’ private business and who wait another fortnight while written or verbal permission to discuss is obtained and who then learns that, yes, answering the letters and providing pay slips, birth certificates, proof of rent, debts, etc, is exactly what is needed to get the money flowing again as requested three, four, five patient months ago.

Their childlike, untutored minds - infantilized by child-centred ‘progressive’ education and protected culturally from blame, shame or responsibility by the Guardian class of anti-demonizers - simply will not take responsibility for any of their acts at any time. They literally cannot understand why their serial idleness, fecundity and absence of thrift should in any way be mentioned at a time when the debt chickens have finally come home to roost; such as when the repossession of their homes is imminent or enormous Sky TV packages are about to be cancelled despite a months-long series of advice and warning letters.
“How do you expect me to pay my rent when I’m only on Maternity Allowance before my Income Support, Child benefit, Child Tax Credit, free school meals and prescriptions will kick in when I have the baby, and now you tell me I’ve got to pay my poll tax as well? If I kill myself, it’ll all be your fault.”
Tomorrow is finally right here, and nothing very much belongs to her.

These are the great grandchildren of the nation of shopkeepers that stood almost alone against the greatest war machine ever devised and that fought it to a standstill while awaiting the nascent superpowers to join the fray.
But they are human beings, and despite Julia’s unceasing evidence of their Hobbesian lives I feel stricken whenever I see their children, snotty-nosed and toyless writhing in primal frustration in our interview room (while an ageing teenaged mother wrestles with the intellectual challenge of understanding that ‘help with rent’ requires proof of rent and thus maybe binning a tenancy agreement provided by an expatriate, incommunicado landlord wasn’t her smartest move ever) when I know with little room for doubt that their ‘home’, though full of broken bikes and computer games, lacks both books and ornaments. What could those poor kids have become with even a little sense and sensitivity?
We’re looking at spiritual genocide here.
And yet. And yet.
Here’s a thing.

A few weeks ago I was walking home from Castle City’s Office Of Vulnerable Affairs and I heard in the middle distance screaming so high and broken that it could only be the voice of a creature in torment. On I walked through the gathering gloom until along the canal path towards me came a man, forty-something; not overly tattooed, pushing a child of three or four in a baby’s push-chair. Three or four and she was still being wheeled along; not skipping or waking alongside and holding the man’s hand. Many of today’s Morlocks probably start at school with muscle development inferior to their Eloi ‘protectors’ and advocates.
The little girl had a crown of blonde curls, wasn’t jam-smeared or grubby, and she was singing. Cheerfully. Out of tune, but loving it. Smiling. It was Tomorrow, from the musical Annie.

Annie is schmaltzy and celebrates America’s awful, proto-totalitarian New Deal (and here we are in its lousy British equivalent), but it’s also optimistic and upholds the western - and may I say Christian - ideals of hope and love and making the best of a bad job in truly hard times. And musicals are very middle- and aspirational working- class things and not always too gay. Just how the hell does a pre-school tot, wheeled around like shopping by a possibly related male get to see musicals, and thus absorb a little notion of hope and love and neighbourliness and friendship and crossing the class ‘divide’ and the possibility of happy endings arranged, in part, by non-malignant rich folk and despite the conniving dishonesty within a corruptible, fallible child-protection system? Who or what brings the love in?
Is it cheap DVDs or streaming? Is it a truly aspirational mother who is actually out working to support her kid while anonymous Dave or whoever wheels her to the park or back from his court-appointed contact hours?
Is there room in that tiny, curly-haired cargo’s future for books and something better than i-phones and broken bikes and absentee, revolving-door ‘fathers?’ Love and laughter and peace ever after?

As we near the boozy end of the season where some of us still recall the most successful (and the most aspirational) single mother of all time I’m allowing my cynical heart to admit that - rather than spiritual genocide - that little girl and others like her might find amidst all the empty debt-fuelled material plenty and her pictureless Council housing walls a lovable tomorrow that’s a day away rather than a tomorrow that belongs to semi-intellectual thugs and their brutal, ignorant cannon-fodder.  

Happy New Year.

Picture from here.

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