In today’s newspapers, Iain Duncan Smith hits back at the petititon calling for him to live on £53 a week, after he claimed that he ‘could’.
A brilliant word, ‘could’. A dodging delimiter that I find myself using every single day – it isn’t a promise, it is just a suggestion, shrouding the ‘if’s and the ‘maybe’s in a nice comfortable ‘could’.
The trouble with the IDS £53gate debacle, is that it is irrelevant, insulting, invalid. Anybody ‘could’ live on £53 per week, especially under IDS’ insistence that it was ‘after housing costs and bills’. Wahey. £53 a week for food, travel and the odd bit of bleach and shampoo is easy enough for most people, if they put their minds to it. What he seemingly failed to grasp with his exemptions and delimiters is that benefits don’t exempt you from paying bills, so how he thought his £53 was safe from the clutches of the gas, electricity, TV license, water rates, etc, etc, is beyond me.
Bitching and bickering about whether the Work and Pensions secretary could cut a few luxuries in a publicity stunt is by the by, and cleverly distracting from the real issues surrounding worklessness and long term poverty.
£53 a week sounds like a manageable amount of money.
£2,763 a year however, is suddenly not that much money.
£2,763 in a year – what happens when your boiler breaks, or your cooker, or your fridge? If you’re anything like me, you’ll have had second, third, fourth hand versions of all of the above, picked up outside people’s houses and from friends of friends of friends. There’s no magic three year warranty, and due to the age and wear and tear, they’re bound to go wrong at some point.
When they do, when the fridge packs in and you have to throw the food away and restock it from scratch, and you have to replace it with another second hand one from another second hand shop, paying an extra £25 for delivery because you can’t afford to run a car – that’s a chunk of your £2,763 gone. Because you didn’t have insurance, because who has £17 a month for contents insurance anyway?
Once you’ve spent £120 on a new fridge, and that £25 to deliver it, you have to then fill it up again, from scratch. But these sorts of things don’t occur to the Work and Pensions Secretary.
Then there’s children. Children that grow, and god, all of a sudden their clothes, coat, and shoes don’t fit, almost overnight. It’s winter, it’s bitter, and you have to replace the lot, to keep your child clothed and cared for. It’s not just expected, it’s instinctive, and you skip meals to buy your child a second hand coat and shoes from your local Oxfam shop.
A bank charge hits, the scourge of the poorest in society. £25 yanked out of your current account for going forty pence overdrawn, and if that £25 doesn’t get paid in time, another £25 is charged. If any direct debits attempt to come out while you’re forty bloody pence overdrawn, the bank charge you again, and usually the company requesting the direct debit does too. More charges, more money being yanked out of a crippled and bedraggled bank account, with no hope of catching up again.
Applying for jobs, day after day after day. You’re offered an interview, and realise that the 3 stone you lost in a year of half-starving unemployment and survival means you need a new pair of trousers, as the jeans with a worn-through tear in the knee that you wear seven days a week won’t get you the job. You head again to your local Oxfam to pick up a pair of trousers for £6, but that’s £6 from your food shop that week.
IDS may claim that he ‘has’ lived on the bread line, but he has not cried himself to sleep at night with stomach cramps from missing three days of meals. He has not had to explain to a two year old why he is not eating breakfast, or that he can’t have seconds because there is no bread and jam, because there is nothing left.
He has not taken a cocktail of sleeping tablets and beta blockers, desperate to end a seemingly endless cycle of uselessness and poverty, because he just couldn’t see a way that it might get better.
He has not held a crying toddler to his chest, as he sits with his back to a door that the bailiffs are hammering on. He has not shouted and sobbed through that door that there’s nothing fucking left because you sold everything – EVERYTHING – you owned in an open house sale to try to get back on your feet.
As Pulp said:
“Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school
But still you’ll never get it right because when you’re laid in bed at night
Watching roaches climb the wall
If you called your dad he could stop it all.
You’ll never live like common people
You’ll never do whatever common people do
You’ll never fail like common people
You’ll never watch your life slide out of view
And then dance and drink and screw
Because there’s nothing else to do
Sing along with the common people
Sing along and it might just get you through
Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they’re laughing at you
And the stupid things that you do
Because you think that poor is cool…”
Sure, sign a petition for an overinflated cacophony of bullshit to live in £53 a week. It won’t prove anything. It won’t change anything. The cuts are so much deeper, the despair so much worse, than Iain Duncan Smith’s £53 a week claim can even comprehend.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe Email: firstname.lastname@example.org