The fabric of Britain as we know it is being ripped apart. So much is changing, almost behind our backs, we haven't got time to notice what is happening to us. And it is happening fast.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Are you sure you're all right (Jack)?

I used to give £50 notes to the homeless people on London pavements. I couldn't think why not: I was wearing £200 shoes and a £200 haircut, weaving my way from a £100 meal that my employers paid for to a £40 taxi home. It was a nice life. I could spare a few notes, and felt sure they weren't all spent on Carling and smack. What if they were, anyway? I spent mine on red wine and Chanel, hardly a morally superior choice.

Most of my friends were amazed - not just that I gave those people cash, but that there were destitute people in London. We all walked the same pavements each day, yet most seemed not to have noticed the bundles of humanity littering their path. "How can you not see them? They're in the way!" I asked. They looked puzzled; "I guess I just step over them. No, I've never seen them."
I wonder if David, Sam, Nick and Miriam ever see who they're stepping over? (Miriam might but, if so, she's not influencing her husband much.) It's becoming patently clear they don't "see" the poor, or notice that they are human and hurting. I recall how nice it feels to be warm enough, clean enough, safe enough, healthy enough and to feel sure of one's place in life; one's worth. How utterly natural it feels to know where you're going, literally and metaphorically, and how to get there. You don't really appreciate that until it all changes.
Bag lady, London

Some things happened to me that shook my sense of 'rightness'. It was shaken hard: I became ill for a very long time. My employers got fed up of fitting in with my erratic health and made me 'redundant'. I still took it for granted that I'd get well again, and made plans accordingly.

I didn't get well. My plans, therefore, turned out to be inappropriate. All my insurance policies (the ones that paid out, that is) proved to be time-limited, or to have tiny but pivotal clauses which meant they didn't have to keep paying.

Bag lady, London
I sold all my investments at a bad time, and ended up losing the flat anyway. Now I had no job, poor health, nothing in the bank and nowhere to live. Friends lent me money (I still owe them!) but no-one else would. Lines of support were suddenly cut off: the bank that couldn't stop giving me free gifts and benefits no longer wanted my custom. I'd completely lost sight of the price of petrol, bus fares; everyday expenses. They now seemed terrifyingly high.

People like me have little knowledge of the benefits system. I now know I was given dreadful advice and baldly lied to, by folks who are paid to 'help' taxpayers in trouble. Now renting and still very ill, I couldn't cope. I asked everywhere for help and they all said No. I didn't know they always say No first! How could I? I'd happily paid nearly half a million in tax and NI while working (I got a statement on redundancy), trusting that this money went to ensure a healthy, functioning society that supports its weaker members. I didn't know it actively works to avoid helping them.

Lifestyle benefits
I became homeless. The entire fall took three and a half years, protracted as it was by my cushions of investment and insurance. Had I known things wouldn't get better I'd have done things differently. But you don't, do you? Nobody sits on their Italian calfskin sofa, quaffing Moulin-a-Vent, thinking "I fancy becoming debilitated, selling everything that makes my life nice, and living on a hundred quid a week off the welfare." You believe you can make things better, because you always have. And you believe your country will lend you a hand if you really need it.

Neither is a given.

If you've got less than I had to start with, you fall even faster and harder.

Those poor people - the scroungers, the feckless, the invisible - they had lives, too, and we paid taxes to make sure they got help when they needed it. But they didn't get help.They just fell and fell.

It can happen to anyone.

Welfare benefits
And, when you've fallen, you might be reeling in shock and you will certainly be unwell. But you'll still have to get to grips with the fact that this welfare state WILL NOT HELP YOU unless you learn its rules; play its game. And when you succeed, this is what you get.

£70 a week, because they don't believe you or your doctors when you say you are ill. It goes up to about £95 after your successful appeal, which takes six months.

This is what the asses running our country think you will give everything up for; what you'll learn to play their convoluted games for; what you're robbing the country for.


I would like to remind you that people like you live on less than £100 a week because they must, no other reason. We cost the country quite a bit, that's true. It's taxpayers' money - we've paid taxes, too - just like the taxpayers' money we continue to give the banks that continue to give themselves huge bonuses, and just like the taxpayers' money that gives bounties to business to get workers for free, also paid by the taxpayer.

Who would you rather your tax went to? Tesco and Primark, for getting free staff? A bunch of bankers celebrating their bonus with a new yacht? Or the lady in the third picture, who once had a life much like yours?

What Can I Do?

Channel 4 is asking for signatures in support of their Empty Homes Campaign 2 Million families are homeless - 1 million empty homes... it would be an amazing start.

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  1. Thank you. This is us really- both with good jobs: 2 disabled children later still coping well on one salary; a redundancy and- pow!

    I believe people make an internal choice to write people off whoa re in need as 'not like me'; a defence mechanism. I have a suspicion I may have done that, although several years in the charity sector working with people- erm- just like me remedied that!

    And the taxes we paid? STILL pay because poor does not equal non working? Apparently meaningless: taxpayers, apparently, want to see us lose more; taxpayers are sick of the system- taxpayers choose not to realise that 80% of Housing benefit claims are not to unemployed people (Shelter statistics), or that nobody is but one bus crash away from dependency themselves.

    If we start seeing people as just like us then maybe we will have a better society. I am a graduate with a decent degree and an almost complete MA: just like me but... is true of both the person abused as a child whose MH means they will never work and the business person whose education meant they did not have to do their degree with a newborn sat on their lap as they revised for finals aged 35 (and still got an A in that exam!). 'Just like me' is a source for motivation, pride in what I have achieved and also compassion. It is my mantra.

  2. This is why I 'Occupy' a tent in London ...we strive to bring about conversations just like this and have them addressed. For too long, the silence of the people has facilitated the manipulation of the financial sector into our government. Now the government and finance are so entwined, the people are not the priority.

    I realise the 'Occupiers' (including Occupy Wall Street & the other 2000+ camps across the world) get some bad press but would encourage you to visit: to find out for yourself what we are doing to change - not the party - but the system of government. We also have a brillian free university:
    and a new Bank of Ideas:

    All the best,

  3. Stunning article. In all senses.

  4. Great post. You really hit the mark there - it can happen to any of us, and if we think that having a good job and/or savings can prevent homelessness or that only feckless idiots end up without a home, then we are fooling ourselves.

  5. Yes, great post.

  6. A quick reminder to people that you can use to easily find & email your MP :)


  7. Excellent post and I've join too.I didn't know what a frother was untill someone explained it to me today and you never guess what? Yes, I'm a frother too.Keep the stories comming in-Thanks

  8. Excellent post, we can all make an everyday difference to someone by buying a big issue. Find your big issue seller and say hi, buy from them, smile at them. They work bloody hard in the freezing cold!

  9. Fabulous post! Absolutely spot on - There but for the Grace of God...

  10. We are, many of us, one illness/accident/redundancy/cost cutting exercise etc away from not being able to pay the bills, the rent, the mortgage, for our childrens food, to heat our homes

    Pay freezes, job cuts, rising inflation, loss of overtime, erosion of employment T+C's, govt thefts from pension pots etc mean that my family's "cushion" against the lean times has been decimated from many angles

    My H has taken a 50% paycut since the recession bit. He still works just as hard. I work PT..I want to work FT but there is no money in the pot to pay me. My pension is being nicked...I have to pay more, work longer but 40% less in the end.

    We used to have savings to rely on in the lean times. Now we live off them, daily. What happens when they are gone ? Will the govt keep bleeding me dry when all is gone? No, they hope I will disappear before then.

  11. Yes! But where do they hope we will disappear to??

    I used to wonder exactly where Mrs Thatcher thought this "wall" might be, that the weak should go to.

    Looks like we're going to have to build it ourselves ... on workfare.

  12. Thanks for the post. I so agree, it could be any of us.

  13. This really hits home, sad that the likes of Cameron, Osbourne and Clegg are so far removed from real life that it would mean nothing to them.

    I remember when I first left uni and found myself with no where to live because I couldn't continue living in my student house as my housemates had left. Helpfully, I was told that I should have taken on the £600 pm rent myself (difficult on £350 pm wage) and was intentially homeless. One of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

  14. That's a good example of how someone falls through the gaps, Anonymous, and also of the system - which is supposed to help - failing you at the first opportunity. I've heard of abused wives being told they wouldn't get help because 'intentionally homeless', too.

    The motivation seems to be mostly about trapping the few who try to manipulate the welfare system, rather less about helping the many with nowhere to turn.

    If I hadn't been allocated a social worker, I might still be lost and desperate. Had the relevant services responded to my first requests, I might not have fallen so far that I needed a social worker.



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