Workfare 19/02/12

‘Economy’, what does that word mean to you? The market? Capitalism? Something that’s so shrouded in mist as to make it meaningless?

The word has its origins in Greece – evolving from a word that meant to look after one’s household. Anyone over 40 will remember that dark art taught at school – ‘home economics’ – where we learned how to produce that fine dish, egg au gratin. This subject has been replaced with ‘food technology’ – the son of a friend of mine recently created a ‘ham sandwich’ (me too, I had to google it) in this ostentatiously named subject.

As ever, digression is my middle name…

Economy meant looking after the home and the people therein.

Capitalism – well, that puts capital – stuff, widgets, property, the market, ahead of everything else.

People – you know – us – seem to be mentioned less and less. Except for that great call to arms ‘We’re in this together’ folk have been forgotten.

The most important thing at the forefront of George Osbourne’s mind is that the UK maintains it’s AAA credit rating under the scrutiny of Moody’s rating agency.

Which brings us neatly round to workfare. A system where people on job seekers allowance – £66.50 – or who are disabled – people who have a terminal illness and are likely to live longer than 6 months are made to work for their benefits.

After an introductory week, if said person leaves their placement with Tesco’s, Asda, Mind (who’d have believed it?), Argos….the list goes on…then they are threatened with sanctions – such as losing between 10- 100% of their benefits for between 6 an 13 weeks.

No money for 13 weeks? What would you do?

The good old U.S of A have a triple A credit rating for their economy. They use workfare – surely that’ll do the job for us…?

Well yes and no. They have a triple A credit rating – Hooray – but….

As spending on welfare has decreased – spending on the penal system has increased. The land of the free may have only 2% of the world’s population – but it also holds 25% of the worlds prison population…

2 million Americans, at any given time, are in prison. In some states where they use the 3 strikes and your out (imprisoned for life) policy – that final strike has been in some cases for stealing shoes for children.

A quarter of Americans have no healthcare insurance….

Shanty towns – tented cities are growing all around the States for people who er choose not to live in a house or have a job…

They’ve kept that triple A though.

So – you lose your benefits for 13 weeks – is crime looking tempting? So, you commit your crime – let’s call it shoplifting – you’re fined – you have no money – you get community service (back to workfare?) – you still have no money…

You go to jail – finally, at last, the government can make you work for your keep.

I’m not certain about this, but I’m pretty sure prison sanctions for not towing the ‘working for your keep’ rope can be quite imaginative.

Meanwhile, back at the workfare, companies who sign up to this – and, to be honest, who wouldn’t – free workers? – the companies who sign up to this have signed a clause that prevents them from speaking to the media without first running it past the department of work and pensions.

Which brings me to Mind – the charity that supports folk like me in all things mental healthily – you’ll notice that half of the charitable donations of my walk are going to them.

But aren’t they part of the workfare thing? Well, yes they are.

With Mind we have an expectation that they will look out for us. Like Nick Clegg before them, we have realised that the bastard brother of expectation is disappointment. It somehow feels worse when we felt that these guys were looking out for us.

This is a huge mistake for Mind, especially given the fact that the vast majority of those sanctioned in workfare are people with ‘behavioural disorders’. Er…that’s us folks.

A huge mistake – but let us not forget that Mind are the good guys – and how they have fought our corner in the past.

If we are further divided we will be further conquered. With pressure they’ll come round.

The thing is – even after all the good they’ve done – people have long memories.

Divided, hmmm….

There are many voices out there shouting into the teeth of the gale – these are separate – often easy to marginalise voices.

Can we, dare I say it, move as one? From those in the occupy London / Edinburgh / Wall Street movements; to the broken of Britain; the anti cuts protestors; to the boycott workfare groups….

What would happen if all the marginalised groups came together to shout ‘NO’

I’m returning to my walk around the edge of the UK on the 8th of March 2012.

There are 600 of us in the Walk a Mile in My Shoes Facebook page.

Join us – join me in Ullapool on the 8th of March – walk and talk with me as much as you like. Tell your story – shout it from the highest mountains – we’ll listen.

Join us on Facebook here

And Twitter here

Phone me here… 07535 035909

Email me here…

We’re with you.

Let’s make a bit more of a noise

Walk a Mile in My Shoes


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