Workshy Scrounger

Tag: Precariat

The real-life hunger games

The Tories’ divide and conquer strategy is certainly paying off. We had strivers vs skivers. We had unemployment benefits vs working tax credits. Now it’s time for private vs social tenants. To quote Suzanne Collins:

“Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favour!”

They are not but some people buy into the rhetoric anyway and believe the government. The recent upheaval is about private tenants not being subjected to the bedroom tax. This is not so.

Housing benefit for tenants is called local housing allowance. As a previously single and working person, I could have had a four bedroom house because I could afford it. Once I lost my job in 2010, my housing benefit would only pay for one bedroom. This is absolutely fair – either I pay more for the big house or move to smaller accommodation.

Since April 2012, however, they decided that a single person aged 25-35 is only entitled to a shared rate. This means that, living as I am in a one-bed flat, I would either have to pay the difference (£25 a week in my case) to stay here or rent a room.

So far, so good. Here are the problems with moving house when you are on benefits:

  • No DSS, no smokers, no pets restrictions in most ads – I cannot even arrange a viewing because the first question asked is: do you work? Why? I assume it is because landlords are fed up with people being late with their rent whenever the council screws up.
  • No money for the move – I don’t know anyone with a van. I don’t even have a car. Moving costs are extortionate. Impossible if you are struggling to pay for basic sustenance.
  • In my area, renting a one-bedroom flat costs exactly the same as renting a room (and it does not include bills).
  • The small problem of my disability. I do not want to go into details to preserve my anonymity but it does have impact on the household. You would not want to share with me if only so that you do not have to watch me suffer.

Our rents line private individuals’ pockets – the same people who contributed to the housing boom by artificially increasing demand by means of zero percent interest-only mortgages with tracker rates that actually meant that at some stages they were paying no mortgage at all as the interest rates were so low.

Private lets are usually in poor state of repair. LHA is paid at the 30th percentile of all rents in area. You could easily infer that they are in the bottom 30% of all houses available for rent. What follows are old boilers, draughty windows and threadbare carpets that soaked up tears of people affected by Thatcher’s government (mining was big in my area back in the day). Private let also means that you cannot change  anything in the house – you need the landlords permission for everything. Then, with a two-month notice period, it’s too risky to invest into something you might lose before the summer.

If you are poor, you are in the same boat as other poor people. It does not matter if you work, cannot work or cannot find a job. It does not matter if you are a social tenant, home owner or private tenant. You struggle with bills and shopping. You have no security and no hope. Don’t let the rich manipulate you. You and I are in this together – they are cushioned by their tax-free, offshore wealth.

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Chilling death statistics

It seems that only Metro picked up the fact that:

Death rates are believed to have been driven up by more than 5,000 by the bitterly cold March.

Most people are shocked by it. The usual questions of developed world, 21st century society and this day and age follow. For months, if not years, people who rely on benefits to survive (and that includes low paid workers) have been saying that we have to choose between heating and food. No matter what we choose, we will suffer. Nobody believes us because it is just so removed from the majority’s experience. It is much easier to imagine having the wealth of Iain Duncan Smith or David Cameron.

The problems with keeping our houses sufficiently heated is also down to the country’s obsession with listed buildings. Most of them should have been torn down about 100 years ago. They do not offer proper ventilation or insulation. Their poor state of repair does not help either. Insisting that people live with draughty single-glazed wooden sash and case windows is inhumane. All that in the name of preserving history – so that you can look up and see my gorgeous windows in all their 1900s glory. I hope the bubble wrap and tin foil don’t put you off. I would not like to offend your aesthetic sensitivities with my poverty.

You can do the cavity wall and loft insulation and draught-proof to your heart’s content but your single glazed windows will let you down. We have bubble wrap and tinfoil on our windows. There are heavy curtains and blinds. We even had secondary glazing installed (a charity paid for it) but it hardly helped. We have an efficient boiler. All the savings were wiped out by the rising energy prices in the last two years. We are on the cheapest tariff available to us. There is only so many layers you can put on where our room temperature is about 14 degrees.

A comment on Metro’s Facebook page shocked me to the core. Heather Hickman said:

Its called mother nature and evolution. Survival of the fittest.

It makes me wonder what kind of person she is. Would she really tell her father crippled by arthritis made worse by the cold to shuffle it because that is the natural order of things? Would she tell her shivering five-year-old that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

The state helps the poorest with heating costs, some will say. It’s unfair – we have to pay for it ourselves, the strivers will chip in egged on by IDS and Osbourne. I miss the times when I was working for a lot of reasons. One of them is that the twelve hours outside the house meant that heating was paid for by someone else. Now I would have to put it on for at least 10 hours every day as I don’t leave the house and there simply isn’t enough money.

Some benefit claimants are entitled to cold weather payments – a one-off boost of £25. However, to receive one, the temperature in your postcode area must be zero or below for seven consecutive days. Apparently, this year we did not qualify – the temperatures hovered around one degree. Last year we would have received two payments if it wasn’t for the fact that we were on contribution-based benefits.

People born before July 5 1951 might qualify for winter fuel payments where £100-300 is automatically transferred to their accounts every winter. These do not depend on temperature.

So, as ever, we are not in it together. If we were, it would be much warmer.

New social classes

BBC is talking about social classes today. I took the test and I am really disappointed. For a survey presented to 160 thousand people, it is poorly constructed, for example:

Survey: How often do you eat out?

Me: Never

Survey: How much do you usually spend?

Me: Nothing. No n/a option so will just leave it blank.

Survey: Please choose one answer.

Me: Less than a fiver then.

Another example: what do you do. No option for people like me – used to work but cannot now and it might be that I never will. It’s either your most recent job or “never worked”.

Anyway, they say that there are now seven social classes depending on one’s economic, social and cultural capital. They never said what class I belong to. My scores were not surprising though:

  • low economic capital (low income, no savings, renting my flat)
  • low social (no money so do not socialise – connections break off once you are on the dole and all you have to offer is a cup of value tea) and
  • medium cultural (low income – no money for entertainment; I think my library habit saved me; or my education).

All in all, I think I am a member of the precariat (an ugly portmanteau for precarious proletariat):

This is the most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious.

Apparently, 15% of society belong to precariat which is really sad when you think about it. That’s a very large group whose basic human needs are not met. We have very little chance to improve our lot and currently our opportunities are being limited even further by the welfare reform. It makes you wonder how the Tories manage to stay in power when so many people are at the bottom of society.

I am waiting anxiously to hear IDS say that precariat is obviously where all the skivers are – if we only made some effort, we could rejoice with him in the upper echelons of the strivers’ elite class.

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