Though perhaps understandable, it would be a grievous mistake to take the unbelievably egregious cruelty surrounding the role of the government’s Universal Credit in isolation. It would be a mistake because do so and we miss the salient point that this conscious and unspeakable attack on the most vulnerable in society – those who have the least and are now faced with more being taken – is part of an overarching assault on the working class by a Tory establishment whose hatred for the poor is so deeply and intensely held it is has reached the level of intoxication.
Universal Credit is merely the latest salvo in the class war that has been unleashed by a privately educated, privileged and wealthy ruling elite under the rubric of that mass experiment in human despair otherwise known as austerity. However unlike most wars, this is one in which one side has been throwing all the punches and only one side taking them. In other words, we are talking the psychological and, in more and more instances, physical destruction of defenceless human beings – men, women, and children whose only ‘crime’ is that by dint of circumstances beyond their control they find themselves existing at the sharp end of this government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
Poverty is no natural phenomenon. It does not fall from the sky like the rain. It is instead the product of a grotesque economic reality configured to benefit the few at the expense of the majority. Erected in support of this grotesqueness is an apparatus and architecture of propaganda, spewed out by those with a vested interest in the status quo, designed to condition and fashion society’s acquiescence in the brutality meted out to untold and growing thousands of our fellow citizens.
The recent revelation that calls to the government’s Universal Credit helpline were being charged at 55p at minute calls to mind the sage words of American author James Baldwin, who pointed out that “anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely sensitive it is to be poor.” Though when challenged by Corbyn about this outrageous state of affairs, Theresa May announced that calls to the helpline would be made free, the mere fact that anyone could have set such a charge in the first place boggles the mind.
Earlier this year it was revealed that 30% of children in the UK – around 4 million – are now classed as living in poverty. The willingness of a government to mete out economic cruelty to vulnerable adults is one thing, doing the same to children is an act of barbarism.
It bears repeating that the financial collapse and ensuing global recession of 2008 was the product of private greed on the part of those for whom the taxpayer was used as glorified ATM machine in response, bailing them out to the point where the resulting pain wrought by the collapse has been almost exclusively borne by the poor and working class. In truth, the recession has been used as a pretext to effect the transference of wealth from the poorest in society to the richest, sold as the need to ‘tighten our belts’ and clear up the mess left behind by the previous Labour government.
At the other end of the economic and social spectrum, the rich and wealthiest in the UK have never had it so good, evidenced in this year’s Sunday Times Rich List.
In the conclusion of his Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, Mark Blyth, Professor of International Political Economy, writes, “Austerity doesn’t work. Period…The costs of this epistemic arrogance and ideological insistence [in support of austerity] have been, and continue to be, horrendous. If European economic policy makers, like medical doctors, had to swear to ‘do no harm,’ they would all be banned from ‘practicing’ economics.”
The key word in this aforementioned passage is ‘ideological’. Austerity is not and never has been driven by economics. It is an ideological weapon deployed in the interests of the rich against the poor in conditions of economic extremis. It is an attempt to breath life into the corpse of neoliberalism, this extreme variant of free market capitalism whose burial is long overdue. Instead of burying neoliberalism, however, we have a Tory government and establishment that have opted to bury the most vulnerable with wave after wave of assaults on the ability of millions of people to survive. It begs the question of whether they actually want people to riot? For what other recourse do communities have in response to such blatant and sustained cruelty have?
The burnt-out shell of Grenfell Tower stands as a symbol of Tory Britain. Along with benefit sanctions, foodbanks, the housing crisis, homelessness, a prison system falling apart at the seams, and now Universal Credit, it is proof positive of the carnage suffered by so many at the hands of so few.
And this – this is what they call ‘Great’ Britain.