Lord Freud, the welfare minister, has announced that under the new Universal Credit system that is being rolled out to replace many state benefits later this year, that, as well as making life harder (let’s be honest here—we can be after all, for this is not a Tory blog) for millions of low-earners, the new system will also target the self-employed with humiliating texts, letters and ‘friendly’ interventions from JobCentrePlus staff. Until now, JobCentrePlus was only used by the Tories to torment and cajole the sick and threaten the unemployed with destitution. With the new Universal Credit, they will be also be able to terrorise employed people for the first time ever. Well, only those who aren’t earning enough to survive and instead rely on top-up working tax credits to address the failure of successive governments to enforce living wages for all.
Freud—an infamously callous bastard—has said the tax credit system as it stands allows people to pursue “hobbies, earn nothing and subsidise their income through state support without any expectation that they will increase their earnings and move towards self-sufficiency. This flies in the face of a principled welfare system”. As often is the case with Tories, there’s a veneer of reason Freud wraps his words in, to make the poison taste sweet. It’s still deadly, though. As with the scroungers-versus-strivers bullshit from George “I’ve never done an honest day’s work in my life” Osborne, this latest serving of ideologically-driven nonsense could potentially make intelligent people say, “okay, fair enough” but wait, please. Take a moment.
I work long hours as a self-employed writer but I have no boss or Big Brother computer watching over me to confirm those hours. There is, after all, a much-lauded (by all but Tories) freedom to self-employment. I work more than the average 9 to 5 and don’t, as yet, earn very much despite having a number of bestselling books on the market. My income is supplemented by the working tax credits the Tories loathe (because they despise all forms of State support for citizens)–and I’m not, believe you me, sitting eating grapes watching daytime TV taking the piss every day. I am building a career. I’m no layabout. Of course, you could say writing is a hobby and it is, for some. I’ve no problem with such things as writing-for-therapy. For me, though, and many other professionals, it is a passion and a vocation and something I am very good at. You surely know that a damn fine book isn’t something we crap out of our behinds in under five minutes? That there’s work involved?
If Mr Freud came to my door to tell me I’m a hobbyist ripping off the State, I’m rather afraid I’d thump him. I’d certainly be beyond rational discourse faced with such an insult. What this is, no more or less, is a direct attack on anyone who contributes to the diversity of our culture, takes chances to bring about new products and books and films, or works hard but is trying to get to a point of recognition at which stage they’ll start to earn significant sums that will make the breadline years worthwhile in retrospect. Once again, we are presented with new myths—ideas that, unlike real myths, do not travel down the centuries as wise words wrapped in fairy tales but instead get conjured up in Tory Central Office and then repeated ad nauseum until the general population overall starts to believe they have validity.
A government of cultural philistines has already slashed arts funding without the promised arrival of the private sector to fill in the gaps. Local authorities are closing down theatres, youth groups, playgrounds. Our imaginations are being constrained. Even our schools are having arts excised from their curriculums by the Education secretary, Michael Gove. There isn’t a day goes by now when the consequences of this government’s twisted policies aren’t laid bare in the press—a million more children in poverty as a direct consequence of their actions, for example—and they are targeting pretty much everyone except the ultra-rich for harassment, intimidation, extreme Big Brother scrutiny, penalties, pay and pension cuts—forcing us to work longer, work harder, for less and less. Perhaps it won’t be long before the shirkers-versus-strivers rhetoric collapses in on itself, like an over-baked cake, because increasing numbers of people will come to realise: hey, I’m a striver—so why am I being painted as a shirker?
Bugger off, Freud—some of us have work to be getting on with, trying every day to make our lives better. The more of us you go to war against, the less votes you’ll get and the bigger the retaliation when it comes.