Comparing stories of people who don’t have money with stories of people who have

Because nasty, biased rubbish like On Benefits and Proud continues, I’m posting more interviews with people who are on JSA and/or who are dealing with street homelessness below. The aim is to give more examples of reality and to outline some of the real reasons why people need benefits from time to time.

And because I’m all for the balance that is missing from tripe like OBAP, I’ve also posted – after each of the three interviews below – a few words about people from the monied classes who’ve fallen on hard times at one point or another, but who were either paid handsomely to leave their places of employment, or, in the case of the one and only Chris Huhne (whose miraculous and miraculously fast rehabilitation continues to annoy me badly), were welcomed back after their self-inflicted “misfortunes” and handed high-profile gigs like shit never happened. Some of the people I’ve written about below also had unfortunate experiences – they lost a business, or a job and/or started drinking heavily to cope with those things. The difficulties that they are in now would be viewed as self-inflicted by the political class and thus deserving of no sympathy whatsoever. Unlike Huhne, though, they’re expected to pay with everything, forever. They’re from the wrong class.

I’ve said this many times before. It’s not just the fact that people are being forced into poverty that I find upsetting, although I do find that upsetting (I’m pretty sure that most people do). It’s the fact that people who having nothing are being targeted so viciously, while charlatans who have everything are allowed to carry on and even enjoy themselves and are paid to do it. If the wheels come off, the people who have the least are made to suffer the most, while people who have the most suffer the least.

Anyway. I’ll keep finding people to speak with and posting their stories – and posting comparative stories about the evil rich.


Let’s start with (I’ll bet some people will say she shouldn’t have a TV):

Susan Roberts, aged 60, Stroud. On JSA. Interview and recording made at lunch at the Marah drop-in centre in Stroud:

“I’m 60. My job is – I used to do cleaning work, so [the jobecentre wants me looking for] cleaning work, or shop work or kitchen work. That’s the jobs that I’m supposed to be getting – but when you tell them your age, that’s it. They say that you’re too old.

“I think I’ll be nearly 63 when I retire, because my retirement age is March the 6th and I’ll be nearly 63. They’ve stopped me (my benefits) three times [through sanctions]. It’s all because I’m not good enough looking for work at my age. They say I haven’t filled in the sheets and that I could have it stopped again. A month ago, they threatened me again and it’s still going on, but every time I go in [to sign on], once a fortnight. I get worried. I only get about £65 a week and I got to pay all my bills. By the time I get my shopping, I got about £20 left- for the TV licence, water rates, electric. [And people have to pay] gas if you got it, but I’m on electric. Some people have got both, haven’t they. When my budget loan finishes, [Susan is paying off a loan], that’ll go back up again.

“They stopped mine [JSA] for a month. They left me alone for a while, but I’m dreading [my jobcentre meeting on Friday]. If my paperwork is not good enough, they will try and stop my money. You have to take a sheet in stating your name, your national insurance number and then stating what kind of work you’re doing and what kind of work you’re looking for. If there’s no work to look for, they still put it down that you’re not looking for work. It’s ridiculous. All these school- leavers can’t even get a job. There’s people like us trying to look for work and then all these youngsters coming out of school. To me, I’m getting depressed, because they’re on your back all the time. They haven’t left me alone since I’ve been back on it for a year.

“In the job centre now, you can’t look for work, because they got these machines. You can’t look for work, because they’ve got these machines to do it and I don’t like that. The last time I went in there, they didn’t have no newspapers, so where do you look? It’s a bit ridiculous isn’t it?”


Let’s put that story next to the story of….Emma Harrison, pisstaker extraordinaire:

Emma Harrison was the founder of the ironically-named and notoriously poor-performing DWP work programme provider Action For Employment (A4e).

From Emma’s wikipaedia page:

“In February 2012, it was revealed that Harrison was paid an £8.6 million dividend on her A4e shares in 2011, in addition to her £365,000 annual salary. The majority of the turnover of A4E is funded by the taxpayer… MP Stephen Barclay said the payment’s size was of concern with regard to the DWP receiving value for money. He questioned the justification of paying management fees not linked to performance, adding that “It’s not A4e’s fault if they get paid for poor delivery.” The payment was criticised by former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and current Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge as “ripping off the State”.

Emma stepped down as chairperson, but, you know – if you’ve got to go, this is the way to do it.


Next, I talk to:

Karl [name changed], 48. Spent an hour recording a talk with him on Wednesday morning in Camberwell Green.

The hour I spent talking with Karl on the Green this week was one of the most uncomfortable I’ve had – simply because it was raining. It was raining when we started talking and the rain just got heavier and heavier as the hour went on. At the end of it, we were both soaked and I was also freezing cold (Karl said he was okay, as you’ll see below). All that water weighing down your jacket and seeping through to your skin just gets colder and heavier as more and more rain arrives.

The truth is that nobody would sit out on a park bench in that kind of weather if they didn’t have to. Certainly, we were the only ones doing it on Wednesday. Everyone else who turned up at the green that morning was under an umbrella, or had a jacket pulled over their head. Without exception, people were hurrying across the park to get to wherever they were going as fast as possible.

So. We got talking. Karl told me that moved to the UK from the West Indies in 1976. He said that he used to be a self-employed carpenter and did Youth Training Scheme courses when he was young, but that at some point, things changed and those changes meant that he couldn’t work any more. He didn’t want to talk about whatever it was that happened. Maybe he will as we get to know each other better. He hinted at breakdown and often referred to a time “before this” – at which point he would indicate the collection of differently-sized bags of clothes and belongings that he had with him on the bench in the green. He said that he was “not illegal in the country. I’ve got documents, but they keep blocking me.” He said that he was not on benefits because of that. “When they took me off the system, they just took me off. They want to know if I am who I say I am.”

So. I don’t know very much about Karl at the moment, but I know one thing for sure. I know that whatever Karl “did” to get into this situation, he’s sure as hell paying for it now (and that’s presuming that he did anything. Something may well have been done to him). Certainly, he’s paying for it in a way that the better-placed don’t. He’s wearing layers and layers of clothes which are all soaking wet and he’s sitting on a park bench with his belongings, which are also wet. That’s what he’s doing. That’s how he pays.

He said that learning to deal with the weather was a matter of getting control of your mind. I found it hard to believe that I’d ever do it. “My body has changed its pace,” he told me. “When it’s warm, I take the heat into my body, so the cold doesn’t affect me. I only sleep when it is necessary. I become one with nature, innit. Even when it’s cold. I come from the sunshine, I’ve got the internal heat in me from when I was young. I might be cold outside, but inside, it’s okay.”

He said that he “used to be more stable. I’m not stable now. I don’t have a fixed abode. I travel a lot now. During the day, I never be in the same places. You will never see me in the same place. I move away. I might go to the library, read two books, catch up on some writing, or some form of artwork, or go visiting people. I usually like visiting people, but everybody is like in their own world at the moment. I never put up no barriers, but barriers are being put up. It might have to be that way now because people don’t trust each other. Some don’t trust themselves, so the barrier has to be up because it’s like a form of defence.”

He told me that he saw his situation at the moment as a test. “When I set up on this road, I find out who I am. I can find out who I am, because nobody tell me who I was. I’ve got no former record and I’ve never been to prison.

I asked him where he’d go that night. People don’t always like to talk about that, though, and Karl was no exception. Having to talk about hostels and shelters can be difficult and demeaning and nobody likes it. People often move onto other subjects when I ask about that one. “I never really plan,” Karl said, “because I already slept already, so I’m not really in a hurry to go to sleep. I just look at the birds and I just look at nature… I am just used to my own independence. I’ve lived many lives. I’ve lived in the best life – the best of the best life – and I’ve lived the tough life.”

It is tough indeed. After an hour spent sitting right the rain, I was so wet and so cold that I had to make an excuse and leave. And it wasn’t even winter yet. Temperature-wise, Wednesday was mild in London – it was wet, but fairly mild. Just sitting in the rain is enough to freeze you, though.

But anyway – let’s sit Karl’s story next to the story of Francois Barrault – a man who made some very big mistakes in his time and who also had to pack his stuff up and move on – but who was sent on his way with a very large cheque. To say the least. I’ve decided to put Francois here, because he stands as glowing testimony to the private sector’s inclination to shell out spectacularly for non-delivery.

When Francois was boss of BT’s corporate IT division, the division’s dire performance:

“forced the telecoms company to axe 15,000 jobs and slash its dividend. Barrault was ousted in October (2008) as the dreadful performance of his business led to a monumental profit warning by BT.”

But – “Barrault received £1.25m in salary and benefits such as his company car, home security, dental cover for his family and even his own financial counsellor. It also included a housing allowance, school and social club fees. There was a £1.6m termination payment and he also collected £283,000 worth of shares under the company’s long-term incentive plan, £264,000 worth of shares under its deferred bonus plan and had £135,000 worth of unrealised gains on his share options.”

“The award for François Barrault was branded as “outrageous” by union leaders and has forced BT to introduce a clawback scheme designed to prevent any director collecting a huge payout, despite the poor performance of their business, in the future.

On the take and proud.


Next, I talk with –

Jim, 56, Stroud. On JSA. Recording made at lunch at the Marah drop-in centre in Stroud.

“It’s been hard. I used to have my own signmaking company and I lost it because of the [change in the economic] climate. Then, I went into freefall. I started drinking too much. I tried to get a job for two years. I’m 56 now, but I tell people I’m 44 and I lie about my age. It’s quite hard for someone at my age.

“Trying to pay food bills out of benefit – there’s always a shortfall in your benefits. There’s far too many people like me unemployed. My children are grown up. One is in the army – my daughter. She is in Afghanistan. Two and a half years she’s been there – she’s come back and gone back out again. This government has not moved on the war. They are supposed to be coming out next year, but it depends what happens. She’s all right. She’s not on the front line, so she’s safe, which is a relief.

“My drinking was about getting down about the job scenario. That happened about three years ago. I got into the credit crunch and finding jobs has been difficult. Well – it is impossible. They will not give you any money whatsoever. About four months ago, I went to a job about running a pub and I had to pay to go there, because the jobcentre said No, we can’t pay your expenses. So all that’s been cut back. At the end of the day, if you’re only getting 68 quid a week – then how can you afford £14 to go to Wester-super-mere and back and have to pay £20 a week and then food about of that – about £40 a week. I find the jobcentre hard. But it’s really hard to get a loan to start a business again.

“The government at the end of the day – they haven’t done themselves any favours. They’ve cut all the benefit. They have made this country a lot less wealthier. There are a lot of young guys here [at the drop-in having lunch] as well. They’re not stupid. They want to work. It grinds you down a bit. At the end of the day, one government goes out and another one comes in and nothing changes – but places like this [the drop-in] really help. I used to come here twice a week here, but now I’m here on a Wednesday. I probably come once every two weeks, because if I can feed myself, which I can most of the time, I don’t like putting a strain on these people.”


I’m putting Jim’s story next to the story of Chris Huhne – a man who also had a midlife misfortune, but has gone from strength to strength and has scored a Guardian column, because he “is in a good position to write well-informed and insightful pieces about coalition policy.” I would have thought a lot of people who are on the receiving end of coalition government policies were in a good position to write insightful pieces about that as well, but there you go. You can read more of my views on Huhne here. Or you can read Huhne’s own views of the world in his Guardian column. That fact that he has that column at all and that it doesn’t appear to be a parody pretty much speaks for itself.

4 thoughts on “Comparing stories of people who don’t have money with stories of people who have

  1. Reading others story’s it never ceases to amaze me just what society has become 365 grand salary a year c’mon greed pure greed nobody should be able to command that certainly not at others abject misery disgusting doesn’t even touch this for sure something radically wrong with any who put power and greed first and formost at a cost to a less fortunate human being glad so glad I was never one of these

  2. Pingback: Boycott workfare: join the week of action | Kate Belgrave

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