There is a large and growing rift in the world that has fractured modern society right through to its core, one which has pervaded every level of politics, economy and social infrastructure, and has divided civilization itself. I am speaking of a widening crevasse between the likable and the unlikable, the preferred, and the distasteful, those things we enjoy thinking about, and those we prefer to put out of our minds.
So difficult do we find it to bring our thoughts from less pleasant things down to the level of pondering on those topics which droop the contented smiles on our faces. We tend to ignore that which bothers us to consider. When we dislike something, we set it aside, we bury it, we hide it. It is innate to us that we must separate things into their own categories, and while that may bring us a moment of comfort at the time, it leads to destructive consequences in the long run. What am I speaking of? The class system.
I haven’t said much about myself so far in this blog, and I thought maybe it’s time to tell you my story. At least part of it. This a topic that has affected me directly in multiple different ways, and which will hopefully serve as a cautionary tale as well as a poignant forewarning of what may be to come. It is a topic that may never have affected you, and I certainly hope that it never does. Why then would you want to hear about it? Because it might affect you, it might, and as such it is better to be prepared and have some clue what to expect should you ever fall folly to the same circumstances. This is my story, and that of many more people just like me, just like you, who happened to be in the wrong circumstances at a very bad time.
In the December of 2007 the industrial world suffered a devastating injury in the form of the recession. Too many people with too much money and not enough brains had stacked all of our money on the wrong horse and we all paid the price. Although the recession officially ended in 2009, don’t be fooled into thinking that we are in any way out of the woods. Truth be told, those in power knew this was coming long before it happened. That’s conjecture of course, but I have observed from my vantage point at the bottom rung of society just how carefully my government was beginning to tighten the belt in all the most subtle areas. Then, when it all hit the fan, they were ready.
Mountains of legislation designed to wring every last pound out of the lower classes came streaming at us in a single continuous landfall, nobody could complain because, hey, it was the recession! It served as a perfect excuse, a convenient vehicle for the government to put into action plans which they had been salivating over for several years. Our entire world had entered a state of emergency, and under those circumstances, anything goes. It was under that flag that they came for us, marching to the sound of falling pennies. That was when the lower classes became fodder for a war between the wealthy and the poor, and anyone in between found the whole ordeal simply too depressing to take a glance down into the gutters and wonder whether or not we deserved it.
When I was a child I was diagnosed with a cognitive disability which, while I won’t care to go into great detail, makes it extremely difficult for me to handle certain responsibilities. I’ve had to deal with the prejudice of people who think they know better my whole life. I’m not talking about the kind of prejudice that a disfigured person might spy in the glaring eyes of their peers, quite the opposite. The prejudice that those like myself endure is a well-meaning one, it is the prejudice of positive discrimination.
“Oh well you come across as very intelligent, so you’re obviously a lot more capable than you believe you are” - I have been told, on many, many occasions. It’s an ordeal to bite my tongue hard enough to prevent myself from explaining every single time that “disabled” doesn’t somehow equate to “stupid”, and that to make that assumption, however good your intentions may be, is both incredibly offensive, as well as infuriatingly dismissive of people like me, who do look and come across as perfectly normal, yet have problems that still exist and are still palpable in the way they affect us without it being necessary for us to wear them on our sleeves in the form of speech impediments or a limited vocabulary.
I digress, however. The point is, it’s always been an issue, having to deal with people who try to encourage you while unknowingly dismissing the problems you have like they aren’t real, or another special brand of prejudice that particularly gets my goat, people who have “friends” with similar problems or who “once knew a guy” – this gets especially tedious, as you need to stop and explain that not every single person with a disability (or even the same disability) will have the same limitations. Of course the real problem is, no one wants to write someone else off as worthless, so they try to find ways to shrug your problems away and act as though they aren’t there. This brings them comfort, but in the end it’s just another manifestation of that “not wanting to look at the bad things” attitude, and once all their shining encouragement is gone, you’re still left alone with a body or mind that won’t do what you want it to.
I was on “incapacity for work” benefit for a couple of years after leaving college. It’s not a pleasant or popular thing to admit to, but I am here to be honest, not to make excuses. I was on this benefit because I believed then as I still do now that I am unsuited for a working environment, the problems I have make all but the most niche of professions completely implausible for me. I won’t sit here writing pages of justifications for this, I know it to be true even if the readers decide otherwise – but to be fair I will address the elephant in the room. Yes, I would love to be a professional writer. Unfortunately this isn’t something you can do at the snap of a finger. I was working towards that goal while I was on my benefits, and I would have ceased accepting that money the moment I could establish myself as a writer with a dependable income.
Anyway, I was on this benefit because I have a verified, diagnosed disability that affects me in a very real, very tangible way. It’s not a fortune to live on, and I would frequently complain that I couldn’t make ends meet, as well as spend much of my free time brainstorming with friends and family about what type of work I might be able to do, simply because I was desperate to get out of the hole I was in (both literally and figuratively, as I lived then as I still do in a broken down hovel rented from the council). It is not a luxurious way to live, and I at no time felt as though I was getting a “free ride” from higher society. I considered life to be hell, I considered myself to be a prisoner of my own limitations. I was, for all intents and purposes, utterly trapped. Fortunately, however, a day would soon come that would free me from that trap.
It wasn’t long after the recession, my father had just been fired from his job of over 15 years due to his company dissolving, my mother was unemployed, my entire family were in a financial nightmare. I received a letter. Apparently it was a “routine check-up” to verify my eligibility for my benefit. I went along, at considerable expense to my family as I have no means of transport, and was made to wait in a room for 40 minutes to be seen. Eventually my name was called out, I got up, and what followed has been burned into my memory ever since:
A doctor with a very bored expression and slovenly slurred speech invited me to take a seat. He then asked me about 5 questions, ensuring that I am vocally and mentally capable of explaining my name and where I am and other such rudimentary things. He then asked me to stand up and take different positions such as touching my nose. I explained as I did my bizarre yogic poses that my disability is neurological in nature, not with my ability to move my body. Handing me his computer keyboard to ascertain whether or not I am capable of holding something, he explained that it’s routine, he has to check these things anyway.
I would love to inform you how the rest of my interview went – but there wasn’t any. That was it. I was sent on my way, and told to await the letter they would send me. The interview took less than 4 minutes by my reckoning. Confused and bemused, I returned home. A few days later I got a letter in the post... “we regret to inform you blah blah blah”, according to that letter, the “expert” with whom I had taken part in my “35 minute thorough assessment” had concluded that I was fit to work. Despite the fact that I am registered and diagnosed with a permanent disability, they had concluded that due to the fact that I can wave my arms around, that no longer applies. This was followed by an appeal I made which ultimately led to a tribunal in which a medical “expert” spend the entire interview arguing with me about the difference between psychology and neurology – wrongly, before ultimately denying my appeal on a whim.
Again, I would like to stress that there are many people who have disabilities which are not immediately apparent. It’s easy to say “well if you can pick something up then you can get a job where you pick things up”, but it’s not a question of the mechanics. Take depression for example, this is a very common disability, and yes that’s what it is, it’s not just “feeling a bit down”, people who use the word that way are doing so incorrectly. Depression has multiple degrees of severity, and the more extreme cases are incredibly hard to deal with as well as nearly impossible to understand from an outside point of view. A person suffering this affliction could, as easily as I did, hold out his hands and lift a keyboard. To think that this is the true measure of a person’s fitness for work is an extremely narrow and foolish attitude to take.
So, I went from receiving £250 a fortnight to make ends meet, a sum that I found completely impossible to survive on, to suddenly having to live on less than £100 from jobseekers allowance, a figure that not only isn’t enough to feed yourself on, but doesn’t even cover the most necessary bills that a person needs to pay (water, electricity, gas) to say nothing of phoneline and internet, necessities when it comes to looking for work. I had been penalised for being unable to work, by being told to go find work – in an economy where not only are there no jobs, but everyone who has one is in severe danger of losing it.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression here and imply I am some government-hating conspiracy nut. Truth be told, Jobseekers allowance, the UK benefit given to people in my situation as a directed inventive to find a job, is a very useful and necessary tool. However, it is horribly mismanaged, and just like with the belt-tightening that had trimmed me out of the disability benefits, no one who is in a fortunate position wants to hear about the hardships of those living under the heel of the government in this way. It was nothing more than greed that led to me losing a benefit that I was completely entitled to, I was short-changed by the system in order to save the government a few meagre pounds. But you know what? I accepted it. I dealt with it. I moved on.
The problem is, where do you move on to, in an economy that has all but sunk? I accepted the hand I was dealt because I had no choice in the matter. While I still felt I wasn’t suitable for work I had to deal with the fact that it was either that or end up homeless. Of course, the truly insidious part of all of this is how jobcentre employees and the like will twist that begrudging acceptance to imply that this means you are and always were fit to work after all, thus cementing your position. As if the only way to stick to my principles and truly protest what has been done to me is to voluntarily starve to death? I didn’t have a choice but to begin seeking work, regardless of whether or not I felt I should have to. The price I had to pay for doing that was making a public admission to my government that I can and am willing to work now, an admission I am not allowed to take back.
I have been on jobseekers for about 3 years now. Every few months they get stricter. Raising the number of jobs I am required to apply for per week higher and higher, to the point where I’ve run out of jobs that are actually there to apply for, and started chasing up companies directly asking them to MAKE a position for me, simply so I can meet my quota. They do absolutely nothing outside of a routine database search to find me a job, and that’s only during the ten minutes I spend with them, and it is a search I could just as easily do on Google.
They have these machines which supposedly help you find work and then print off the details when you find something. I live in Northern England, and when I do a “local“ search on these machines I get results in Glasgow, Ireland, London, and one time, FRANCE. Why is this the case? Because if the machines were to actually display all the local jobs they would have nothing to show me, because there are no jobs.
So to summarize, my job centre is essentially useless. The staff fling filthy attitudes at you, when they can be bothered dealing with you at all, they are unwilling to answer straight forward questions, and one time I even saw one of them deliberately start a fight with one of his clients. They expend no effort whatsoever towards helping you actually find work, yet they demand that you prove to them every appointment that you’re still looking. They hold the paltry amount of money I get over me in order to force me to go to mandatory training classes which are held like group therapy sessions for the mentally incompetent. Do you know what I see in these places I am forced to attend? I see dozens of seats filled by people with disabilities.
One lady I met there told me her story of how she has a cripplingly painful illness, yet she used to volunteer in her free time to work for a charity shop that helps other people like herself. The government found out about her one hour a week of sitting in a chair tolerating unbearable pain in order to operate a till on a voluntary basis, and decided that this means she is fit to work. Her disability benefits were cancelled, she was kicked out and told to fend for herself, and ever since then she is forced to hobble onto a bus twice a week and
attend these condescending classes that teach her how to spell her name properly on a CV.
Another person I met there was, sadly, simply not savvy enough to understand what was happening when the government hoodwinked her. She was frail, elderly, easily overwhelmed. They basically talked her into trying out a “new benefit”, which turned out to be jobseekers. She didn’t know what she was doing, she trusted the kind voice that told her she should do this, and let them handle all the paperwork. Before she knew what had happened her life was turned upside down. By signing on for jobseekers she had publicly admitted she was fit to work, and as such there was no going back. She was stuck in the same system, despite the fact that she needed crutches to walk.
Another fellow I met at my latest series of classes had an eerily familiar story to tell. “I suffered from serious depression”, he told me, “I was suicidal for years” he continued, before lamenting the day that left him stranded on jobseekers, dealing with the same impossible situation as myself: “They made me see a guy who just handed me a bloody keyboard, and he decided I’m fit to work, now here I am”. Now bear in mind, there aren’t a whole lot of people in these classes, it’s not like I interviewed thousands, I just happened to strike up a conversation with one or two people here and there, and shockingly, they were nearly all disabled, and at least one of them had an identical story to myself.
The more I looked into it the more it became clear, my government had quietly initiated a massive campaign against the lower classes to squeeze every single penny out of them. Any kind of entitled system had been systematically assassinated, and no one else realized it because they were too busy dealing with their own financial backlash from the recession, an event which also gave the government the perfect excuse to enact this obviously long-prepared plan. It felt like I was in the middle of an extermination, and everywhere I looked around me was another broken soul with a similar story. The government targeted us because we were easy targets, and now, we’re trapped, there is no way out. It wouldn’t be so bad if we were actually able to get out of the sand pit we were kicked into, but unfortunately we’re only given just enough rope to hang ourselves with, and never quite enough to pull ourselves out by.
Recently it became clear to me that their procedures for dealing with people like me had entered a new phase, I could tell right off the bat that things were going to get much worse. It took the form of a new “stage” of my jobseekers agreement referred to as “flexible new deal”. FND has gained a degree of notoriety since it was implemented – it’s first manifestation, simply called “new deal”, actually made the unemployment problem worse, and it was supposedly based on a right wing American system with similar goals. Like the American system, the unemployed in the UK are being increasingly treated as a problem, rather a symptom. Instead of actually helping us back into work, the government is starting to lean on us harder and harder in the hopes that we will simply go away. They report on figures of people who sign off from jobseekers, but not on whether or not they do so because they find work. Why? Because more often than not, they haven’t. The government chases us right onto the streets and we end up homeless.
When I signed up for FND, under the assurance that it was mandatory, I was sent by my job centre to go on a “work training course”, which is essentially another term for “we hired these guys to deal with you people because we can’t be bothered”. What have they taught me since going there? Nothing. I haven’t learned anything from any of these courses except the same patronizing “how to make a resume” lesson over and over again. Making a resume isn’t my problem, my problem is the fact that there aren’t any jobs to send them to, ANYWHERE, and that’s not even counting the fact that, rightly, I shouldn’t even be forced to get one. Unknown to me at the time however, by signing up to FND (something which some online sources seem to suggest was NOT actually mandatory after all) I submitted myself to the authority of people who believe themselves to be above the law.
So here’s the latest middle finger the government gave me. My “work training” course is now pressuring me to do what they call “job placements”. The idea is as follows: You work part time in a job, which they set up for you. If you do well, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked to keep it when the placement is over, so they say. This is a BRILLIANT idea, that’s not sarcasm, I mean it. I LOVE this idea, it’s a great way to get people with confidence issues to test the waters and get extra work experience under their belt. Here’s the problem though – execution.
This work placement is MANDATORY, it is UNPAID, and it is virtually FULL TIME. And if I don’t go? They cancel my jobseekers money.
So, why do I have a problem with this? Well, several reasons. Firstly, if I’m doing this work placement, what I’m NOT doing is seeking work. That’s the POINT of jobseekers, they give me an allowance so I stay alive while I continue to look for work. Looking for work has become my full time job now. I have to send out dozens if not hundreds of applications a week, chase people up via phone and email, I have to be ready to attend an interview at the drop of a hat, and I have to be constantly searching every database, every listing, even the news for signs of companies that may be looking to hire. If doing all this is a full time job for me and I’m STILL getting nowhere, imagine how much harder it’s going to be for me to actually get a job if I can only do this at weekends?
Secondly, there is absolutely no guarantee that I will be able to keep the job I work at during my placement. They say that this happens quite often, but let’s look at this logically. Thinking as a corporation whose primary goal is to save and make money, even factoring in a day or two of training, would you rather
A: employ people at full wage, or
B: employ a limitless number of one-offs who will work completely for free and will do their very best in the hopes of pleasing you enough to keep the job they need so badly?
When you look at it like that, it starts to seem much clearer why myself and those like me are finding it so hard to find a job. Yes, the economy is screwed, but at the same time any businesses that DO need a labour force are getting an unlimited supply of FREE workers from these “work training” companies employed by the government!
And that leads me to the third reason I have a major problem with this – and it’s a biggie. According to the terms and conditions of the jobseekers agreement that I signed when I began receiving my current allowance (although I can’t currently find any online documents to prove whether or not this still applies) – it is against the law for them to attempt to make me work in order to earn my jobseekers allowance. Now, you might be wondering why that is. And if so, that’s the point. This situation is carefully constructed to make ordinary people miss the obvious. It seems like this work placement program makes sense, when framed as a voluntary thing, then when it’s mandatory... well, ok, I guess it’s still fair enough, I mean you are getting free money right?
Wrong. I am getting what the state decides (wrongly) is the minimum I need in order to stay alive, because it is my government’s responsibility to ensure that I don’t starve to death as a result of not being able to find a job straight away. The way in which I “earn” the money I get is written in the title of my benefit, jobseekers allowance. It is an allowance I receive in return for me looking for work, and being able to prove that I am doing so. None of this is free, I get barely enough to survive, and I only get it on the grounds that I honestly am trying to find a job. This is the ONLY requirement for relieving that benefit, and it’s the only requirement there should be. Do you know why?
Because if the government makes me work at a full time job in exchange for only £100 a fortnight (though granted the amount has gone up a little since) that means I am working for a SLAVE WAGE. Now there is some debate as to whether or not this directly violates the HRA (Human Rights Act *1) which forbids slave labour, and some people like to dismissively point out that things like rent and council tax are covered for you when you are on these benefits, so it actually works out closer to minimum wage. But it’s not just the amount of money that makes this slavery, it’s the fact that it’s forced upon us.
We can’t choose where and how any of that money is allocated, and we are held over the barrel of our own looming starvation in order to make us work for no extra money than we have already EARNED by looking for work. It is, by every definition, a slave wage, and there’s a good reason why it’s forbidden in the terms of the jobseekers agreement.
This fact doesn’t occur to people because of the elaborate, roundabout way we get sandwiched into this situation. It starts out seeming reasonable, oh a work placement? Like a trial period? Good idea! But then it takes on a darker tone when you find out you’re being forced to do it. Then it occurs to you that it’s pointless, why give me a trial? If the job is available, why not just give me the job itself? It’s helpful if I’m nervous about work? Good point... but what if I don’t HAVE confidence problems, what if I’ll take anything I can get? How am I benefitting from being made to work full time for zero pay, time that could better be spend doing the very thing I am supposed to be doing? Worse yet, almost no one seems to actually walk away from a work placement keeping their job, despite what the people in charge insist.
The UK government has very discretely and very clever stepped over the line between government aid and slavery. Why? Because when you are out of work, it’s like you have no rights. You BECOME a willing slave. Suddenly you realise that you’re dying. If you don’t have money, you don’t eat. You don’t get heating in the winter. You realise that you have no choice but to do anything you are told to do simply because if you don’t, you’re literally screwed.
And let’s not forget what I said earlier – this work placement thing is AGAINST the rules stipulated in the jobseekers agreement. This is ILLEGAL. Yet does anyone care? No. Why? Because no one wants to look down into the slums, it depresses them. Personally, I worry about the kids, the disabled and the elderly who are forced into this slave labour without the wherewithal to survive such an ordeal. This system is indiscriminative when it comes to getting people to do whatever it needs done for free.
What does my job centre say about this? Well, because they’re not the ones asking us to do these work placements, but rather the “work training companies” they are forwarding us to, it’s not TECHNICALLY them breaking their own rules. You see, the jobcentre can tell us that we HAVE to go to a work training company, because that proves we are willing to do whatever it takes to get a job. We are contractually obligated to go. Then the work training company can FORCE us to go on a work placement because if we don’t, we’re not fulfilling our “training” as promised, so we’re still contractually obligated. As long as the job centre employs a third party to make us do the things they are not legally allowed to make us do because it is technically SLAVERY, they are free and clear.
However even with that aside, it is still technically against the law for any company to employ a “worker” without paying them, so how does flexible new deal get around this? They classify us as “volunteers”, and as a result, the law doesn’t apply. Is that what our rights are being reduced to? Legal jargon and wordplay? We’re being “forced” to “volunteer” ourselves for potentially back-breaking work (because it’s mainly the heavy jobs that companies are seeking free labour for) and this is seen as perfectly alright in the eyes of the law? Laws exist for a reason, and when the reason makes no sense, the law should be changed. I will not support something ONLY because it is “legal”, and neither should you. That leads to idolatry as we worship our own ignorance and follow the doctrine that is laid out for us those with the power to make anyone do whatever they want and call it “legal”.
Forced volunteer work? Does this really make sense to any reasonable people? I certainly hope that anyone reading this is of a high enough calibre to recognize the terrible injustice being done to the lower classes, and what a dangerous path this is potentially leading us down.
So why am I telling you all this? Because it is all part in parcel of the greater economic climate of the modern world. Like rats running from a fire, you can gain perspective on what’s wrong with the attitude of those with power and money by seeing the decisions they are making at the smallest level, how it effects those at the lower rungs of the social pecking order. I saw the recession coming long before it hit, as did many others like me, because I recognized the signs, how they were clamping down on us, burying all the little nuggets they could steal away from us like squirrels preparing for hibernation.
Truth be told, we will only be a minority for so long, if things keep going the way they are, soon everyone will end up in the same situation. Unemployment is growing, anyone who isn’t already well off is finding themselves on a very slippery, very steep slope, and they’re losing more ground each day. They already came for me, now I’m here to warn you that they’re coming for you too. I’ve seen first-hand how cold and amoral a thankless system can be when left to its own devices – don’t expect it to show you mercy just because you’re currently in a more fortunate position.
The most frustrating thing about this is that no one seems to know this is going on. And who can blame them? Who’s going to tell them? Who else, but someone who sleeps in the slums would be willing to wade through all this double speak and red tape in order to figure something this convoluted out? Who up there would be willing to listen to the plight of millions of disabled people kicked out onto the street without their crutches and told to go get a job in a climate where there simply are no jobs going? Who in the upper or middle classes would depress themselves by reading impotently about the impossible situation millions of people like me have found themselves in thanks to the incompetence and cold indifference of those in power?
I’ve seen the same attitude directed to Americans in my situation. I have followed the food stamp debates, I’ve seen the snobbish, callous attitudes of other people looking down on those unfortunate souls and calling them parasites and lazy stoners. These people are so disconnected from reality that they simply don’t grasp what it is like to live like this even at the most fundamental level. They think we’re getting a free ride? To where, hell? Sure, there are the occasional people who abuse these systems to get EXTRA money. But a person without a job cannot afford to be stoner, they are not living the life of luxury by living off of food stamps, that’s ludicrous. The only people who think this are the ones who never have the courage to look into the dirty face of our level of society, and the nightmare of living there. It is much easier to spare oneself the sense of obligation by refusing to admit that the travesties are taking place.
If anyone reading this is in a comfortable, even if imperfect situation, be grateful. Count your lucky blessings that you didn’t happen to be standing on one of the millions of pavement slabs that dropped straight into the rancid rivers of redundancy and debt when the economy hit the fan. Because that’s all it is that spared you from our fate. The luck of the draw. You could just as easily have been where we are now, and there would be people standing over you, watching you try to claw your way out of the filth, and calling you a parasite for it.
When you have no money, you can’t afford good clothes to look presentable in a job interview. When you have no money, employers can pick from millions more just like you to find the person with the best qualifications who will work for the absolute least, they can pick and choose as they please because they can, because there are so many to choose from. When you have no money, you don’t have an opportunity to get a foothold back into the civilized world. Just one chance is all you really need, but it’s not possible, you’re only given enough to stay alive, not to get your head above water.
We are the hidden people. You don’t see us, though you could have easily become one of us, and one day you might very well join us. We’re trapped in a limbo of never being able to get out of the hole we’re in, yet not quite getting buried either. We’re unseen, disrespected, and treated like fodder for cheap manual labour and examples of depravity by our government. Sometimes we reach out, hoping someone will give us a second chance, but the only hand we get is the steely grip of a slavering corporation seeking to find some way to convert our misery into dollar signs.
The facts of our situation are simple. There are more people out of work than there are available jobs, several orders of magnitude more. Therefore it is physically impossible for us all to find work. Yet still modern society, particularly the higher classes perceive us as lazy or incompetent, ignoring these inconvenient facts and the strife beneath them in lieu of a more comforting belief in their own fiscal security.
However, they are not secure, none of us are. We have been out of sight and mind for far too long, but now with the looming threat of a global depression we are becoming greater and greater in number and determination. In time we will be hidden no longer, but by then it will be too late. By the time anyone takes notice, things like democracy and civil liberties will have been swept aside under the spilling tsunami of international debt and mass unemployment. We are not a disease, we are a symptom. You can look at the struggles of the lower classes and see a perfectly framed snapshot of the economically incompetent mentality of those who tug away at society’s strings for their own amusement, and when you do, you will see a harbinger of things to come.
If someone reaches out to you, begging you for a help out of the gutters - what will you do? Take their hand? Or look away because it’s too depressing? Leaving them to get exploited by a government that simply doesn’t care. All I ask is that you remember one thing – it could have been you. And if it had been, do you know what your friends and neighbours would have said, if they were to see you begging for a job, any job, begging the government not to take away what little entitlements you have left, begging not to be forced into slave labour, do you know what they would call you?