Do you remember?

Do you remember when you were young:
When they sold us a future in which everyone
Would have more time for leisure and
Life’s simple pleasures?

I do.

I remember how ‘progress’ was sold as the shift
Toward treasured Modernity’s time-saving gifts.
I remember when ‘free time’ were not dirty words,
But the envy of those who knew it was absurd
To work hard for The Man, at the cost of your Soul;
To neglect your own senses to fit in a mould;
To conform to consensus and stick to the path
Laid out in perpetuity – however daft…

And yet,

Where does the time go and how is it spent,
But by serving The Man just to pay him more rent?
And while faster goes quicker and more becomes less
Of a joy than a measure of burden and stress,
We regress to Draconia’s cold, hostile age
As a new class of servants with masters who wage
On us their aspirations for their perfect nation.

Obnoxious concoctions and new imitations
Of outdated thinking, consigned long ago
To the scrapyard of ignorant, privileged foes.
Resurrected prescribers and makers of woe
Who would keep us distracted and chained by the nose
To a grindstone which cripples and overly loads
On our bodies and minds and the whole of our time
Is spent rushing and pushing and fleeing and fighting
To be the first one to the end of the line.

 

[First posted: March 2013]

To Iain Duncan Smith

Mr Iain Duncan Smith,

About this “shake-up“. Could you please find me a job that is tailored to my abilities whilst maximising my potential; one that pays me enough that I could live, not just independently but well; sufficiently that I would require no top-up credits. Of course, I’d still need to retain the gateway awards that I was once told were indefinite and unconditional (such as my DLA and Blue Badge); that recognise how my disabilities are not going anywhere, no matter how cross and determined you are that they will. I apologise for the way my life has unfolded so unhelpfully for everybody – including me – however, I don’t know what real and beneficial work I can do that will be meaningful to Society, will end any State dependence, won’t compromise my health and will satisfy your self-righteous values and relentless need for me to justify my monetary worth within your stupid socio-economic model.

You know that bit where you say “claimants should be made to take up any work they can, even if it is just a few hours”? Well I need a job that I can do as and when I have the physical and mental resources which fluctuate, daily, according to exhaustion, pain level, concentration, the day’s commitments, your downward pressure and my subsequent social anxieties and, consequently, mood, capacity, vulnerability and efficiency. I tend to have problems – even on good days – with travelling, sitting at a desk, walking and standing and my body is deteriorating, generally and specifically – my hands, most recently, to my great distress – from years of coping with my limits and, naturally, I’m not going to get any younger, either.

I’m probably not worth the time and money of an employer who wants me at a shop till or at a desk at a call centre or inputting data, say. And my days of being a cleaner, care-worker, etc are way behind me, now. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not ‘above’ such work – I’ve done many different jobs – but the idea that I’m suitable or capable now is silly. And the notion that it’s worth the financial cost to try to enable me to do such work for an hour or two, here and there, is laughable. I’d really love an actual career but I reckon I may be a bit long in the tooth, now and that the training, itself, would likely be physically inhibitive. Besides, there are plenty of young people who need the start far more than Society should need me to compromise my health further and inevitably cost everyone more as I prostrate myself to prove my sorry lack of market value.

You know that bit where you talk about “a system focused on what a claimant can do and the support they’ll need and not just what they can’t”? Well, my best skills are now reduced to the erratic ability to communicate what is in my mind with a certain amount of eloquence. So, if you mean it about the personalised help and support then perhaps you could fix it for me to be paid for the reading, observing, thinking and writing with which I have primarily learned to content myself? I’m sure you know many who are paid handsomely for doing far less. My best times are indeterminate and unpredictable points within a given 24-hour period, according to the spoons I have, minus those I need just to get through an uneventful day. Take them away from me and I will be a husk.

I’m not saying that there’s nothing I can do, at all or that I think I’m not a worthy human being. I’m saying I can’t jump your petty false-economy hoops and that I’m worth more than that. We all are. And I’m not saying that I’m more special than anyone else, either. I’m saying it has taken me a long time to create a productive life that I can bear, with the resources I have and that my well-being is more important than your shameful social experiments. I’m telling you that I think I would rather die than live the empty life you would prescribe for me. I will not be a scapegoat for your ignorance.

Too much here

Be in the world but not of it
As matter fixed
Though spirit be not bound to here.

But, what, then, of the days
When you feel so much
Of the world and yet not in it,
That the spirit follows limit
Into hollowed ground to disappear?

“Can you bring the coleslaw?”

I could go for days
With just me
For company
And sometimes
Wish I could
Alone is good
No inspection
No rejection

Sitting in a room
When all is trivial
Chatter
An endless stream
Of stuff that doesn’t
Matter to me –
Small talk in
Small doses please

“Can you bring the coleslaw?”
Did my shopping the day before.
Online. Lucky to cover more than
One aisle these days.

Pressure

Cash and logistics
Shit: a physical trip
To Pesky Tesci’s

The kindness of a lift
Door to door
Someone to carry the
Basket.
And an extra, along
For the ride.

The car park’s different
They’ve changed
The entrance, too
“Oh, it’s been like that
For ages”

Shuffle along
Older by thirty years
In the space
Of twenty minutes
Falling behind
Panic
Unnoticed
Saving everyone
From embarrassment:
Check.
Relief

A tattooed- headed man
I’ve never met
Pulls along side
With an open smile
And honest eyes
“Would you like to lean
On my trolley?”

The joy of faith in
Human spirit re-
Affirmed
Both softens
And heightens
Lonely’s turn.

Spoons

When I wake to the day
And straight away
Feel bereft for the theft
Of my spoons in the night,
I must reset my pace
For the hours I face
And the fact I don’t keep
All my spoons in one place,
Is what lessens my plight
Though the day’s still a fight
And I grieve at the waste
Unless I stop pretending,
Surrender to fate and
Just focus on mending
And wait.

When I wake up renewed,
With all spoons am imbued,
I feel hope that I’ll cope
With the basics, at least –
Unless there’s a treat
Or appointment to keep.
I will try for an even keel
Mostly, unless I feel
Daring – spoons sparing.
And, if I succeed –
Which means no extra need –
I retire to bed with
A positive head.

My spoons are my wealth
For my life is defined
By the soundness of health
In my body and mind.
It is measured and treasured by
One simple goal:
That of having control
Just as much as I’m able,
But, oh! For a ladle
To hold in reserve that
Makes up for how much
I rely on my nerves.

Welfare Reform Scapegoats

So, there’s not nearly enough work for the employable population and by this, I mean those of working age who are fit, healthy, underemployed or unemployed but available. We have the kinds of unemployment which threaten whole communities and entire generations: mass redundancies and NEETS galore who can’t get a foot on the first rung. Now, most sensible managers, given a choice, would utilise this potentially wonderful source first. But not this Government. Oh no….

Instead, the pillocks at the Top Table seemed to have divined that, lone parents and those whose lives are habitually dictated by a spectrum of physical and mental challenges have too little to do and should be the country’s premier source of fuel as a response to economic malaise.

This relentless and ruthless pursuit of the lone parent and the disabled person, at the same time and in the least conducive of economic climates, smacks of crass stupidity and boorishness. Yes, undoubtedly there is need to reform some aspects of Social Security – and certainly Social Care. Yes, undoubtedly there are cheats – but then, is there a walk or sphere of life where cheats do not exist? It seems beyond the wit of this Government to recognise that, as a result of their economic malfeasance, the economic climate is not currently conducive to their ‘welfare’ reforms. In fact, the timing of them is ignorant and cruel and demonstrates that they either don’t care or don’t know how to encourage a climate in which the whole country can flourish. Surely the financial costs can’t be worsened by a stay of these punishing reforms on those whose daily lives are already prescribed in no small measure – especially when the money “saved” is merely diverted to those who are implementing this ridiculous programme. This Government refutes the bigger, wider, sustainable solutions to this socio-political-economic picture, such as major investments in housing; infrastructure; universally accessible and meaningful education and health/social care provision; and whatever else you are mentally adding, dear Reader. But then, as we know, this cowardly Government hides behind easy scapegoats and superficial thinking.

The current measures are not being implemented to bring independence and autonomy to disadvantaged individuals. Nor are they being enforced because the country’s future and economic prosperity depend on it. This is to satisfy an ideological position informed by a mix of puritanical judgement, fake fatherly concern and that panic that comes with a lack of knowledge and imagination. But there is a fine line between pragmatism and cruelty when it requires the disabled and lone parent to validate their existence because they are deemed to be taking up room and draining resources.

A lone parent is often quite literally alone. You can’t rely indefinitely on goodwill and shared resources. If you are the only parent, with little or no unconditional and immediate support, then you are effectively on-call 24/7 – always. You’re bringing up the next generation, the source of Humanity’s continuum – it’s not a hobby – and, while it certainly isn’t temporary, the years when you have most influence and input might be. When you and, mostly you, alone, are that unconditional constant, the stability in your child’s life, you tend to want it to be you who is available when they are upset, or ill, reticent or just on holiday- not the childminder; not Day Care. That’s the sphere of your life in which you need to be reliable – not the job that pays you so little that you still need government credits.

Where is the sense in a society that forces single parents out to work for such low wages that they still require top-up benefits so that someone else, who may not be your idea of a suitable surrogate parent and who may not even like the job, can also be paid a pittance to look after your children? The same society which frets about family breakdown, quality time, modern pressures, neglected kids…

And if you have physical and or mental challenges that were officially recognised as disabling before the economic meltdown, it has already been accepted in some measure that your ability, capacity and reliability are potential barriers which narrow sharply the types of employment available – especially those jobs which pay sufficiently so as not to need government credit. How do you juggle the household, the personal care and the practical help you require: help that is already not always at a convenient time for you; and make yourself available for work: work that is already scarce for ‘fit’ people and probably doesn’t accommodate your variety of needs? How are employers to be convinced into equipping a workplace for someone who can’t guarantee whether they will manage five minutes or an hour of productive and reliable activity from one day to the next? How do you do said work at all if the journey to the workplace is all you can manage? How do you stop yourself feeling like you might be a patronised and resented token, a nuisance, an inconvenient expense?  How do you let go any dreams you had of forging your own progression as you’re herded from one advisor to another, knowing you could well be parked and still poor – and that this is it – trapped in a system with ever decreasing exits?

Is it wrong to be afraid that chains of pen pushers have been given arbitrary powers to play around with and effect control over so many real lives?

[Please do know, dear Reader, that I have experience of both single parenthood and disability and that I am not at all suggesting that lone parents or disabled people should in any way be excluded or discouraged from the workforce. Or that they should be prevented from achieving any degree of personal progress and fulfilment. Not at all. I think anyone, including a lone parent or disabled person who wants to, should be able to contact their not-for-profit jobcentre and obtain generous, competent and useful assistance in entering employment. I also believe in lifelong learning for all, access to retraining and voluntary work that is actually voluntary. But then, I believe in lots of things like that…]