More views on politics and benefits outside the bubble:
Each Tuesday from 11am, a group called The Ark puts on a few hours of free sandwiches, coffee, cake and bible readings at the Salt Cellar resource building in Oldham. There’s a pool table in the room which is popular as well. People from all walks attend. Some are in and out of street homelessness. Some have alcohol and drug addictions. Some have mental health problems. All worry about money.
Image: A sign at the Salt Cellar
Many people at the sessions are affected by welfare reform. They have problems with housing, benefits and paperwork. I attend the Tuesday sessions every few weeks to record interviews on these and other issues. We talk about all kinds of topics: politics, Brexit, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, benefits, service cuts, housing, street homelessness, addiction, jail, family, aspirations – the works.
For this post, I wanted to ask the guys for their views of people who must live exclusively on benefits – people such as themselves. Everyone else in the world has very strong, and often very negative, views of people who receive benefits. I like to ask people on the rough end what they think.
This can be hard. Not everyone wants to talk politics. Westminster is a world away much of the time.
When I arrived at the Salt Cellar, James and his friend Vance, 43, were out the front of the building, pushing bottles and belongings into their rucksacks.
Vance, James and I have known each other for about six months (you can read more about their stories here). They often ring me very late at night for a chat.
We all laughed as they put their bottles in their backpacks.
“It’s my Lucozade,” James grinned.
We sometimes meet outside the building. People who drink must drink their alcohol outside and behave when they go in. They don’t always. They get chucked out of lunchrooms if they’re pissed and/or aggressive, or when they bring in booze in backpacks. Different lunchrooms have different views on enforcement.
I’m for turning a blind eye to the boozing. I understand that people who run lunchrooms need to keep order – people bring babies and little kids to these places and you can’t have people smacked out on spice or booze or whatever – but there are dimensions that are hard to ignore. Sickness is one. Vance is definitely getting sicker. He’s lost so much weight in the past six months that I don’t like to ask him how he’s going any more. It’s obvious how Vance is going. His health sits in the mind. He’s skeletal. He looks pinched and pained around the eyes.
There was something else going on around Vance’s eyes that Tuesday, too. He had deep, bloody scratches under both of them.
“Jesus,” I said, pointing at Vance’s face. “What happened?”
Vance laughed. “Fuckers threw a cat at me,” he said. “If I find that cat, I’m going to fucking eat it.”
“He coulda lost his eyes,” James said. “That cat is really scared of the owner.”
“Bet it is,” I said.
Vance and James have neighbour problems. They live in a central Oldham flat. Vance was placed there by the local homelessness office in 2016 after years on the streets. James has lived at Vance’s for several months. Before he moved into Vance’s place, James was street homeless. Vance found James trying to sleep on the concrete landing outside of Vance’s flat, so Vance invited James in to stay. Says Vance: “He [James] was sleeping outside on the landing. I can’t see that, because I’ve been homeless meself…It is very cold and wet. You can’t sleep.”
There are dealers, users and all sorts in the neighbourhood. Smooth sailing is rare. A few months ago, a bunch of guys beat James up and threw him out of the flat (you can read about that here). I don’t know how the cat incident came about. I do remember that a couple of weeks after it, James turned up to lunch with a black eye.
“Relationship breakdown,” people usually say when I ask how people end up street homeless.
Image: Pool table at the Salt Cellar
On the topic of benefits:
At lunch, I ask James for his thoughts on people who must rely on benefits.
James doesn’t say much. He likes to sit close and touch, but not to talk. He rarely wants to speak on political themes. When I start on one, he usually heads off to make us all a coffee. Fair enough, I think. Not everyone is in that groove.
James receives Employment and Support Allowance. A charity worker helped him sort out his ESA application in February. “Yeah, there’s benefits coming in now…ESA.” Before that, James had no income at all. He was street homeless and reluctant to sign on. He didn’t want to go into Oldham jobcentre to ask about potential entitlements. He politely turned down all offers of help.
“Foodbanks and stuff like that. And begging,” James said when I first asked how he got by.
Now, he has ESA.
“That’s great news,” I tell him. “Maybe there is a god.”
“I’ve done enough work in my lifetime,” James says. “I have paid in, me.”
James obviously wants to leave it there. He thinks that government is planning to stop all benefits anyway. He says that a lot:
“Can’t rely on benefits, can you. Got to work…You can’t carry on claiming benefits all your life… It’s going to get stopped anyway. It’s going to go. All the benefits are going to go. It’s going to get like America. They will stop it… and they are all going to be shooting each other around here. Yeah. … Most definitely. Can’t rely on benefits can you. Got to work. You can’t carry on claiming benefits all your life. There’s always work. There’s always work. All the time.”
[James leaves then, because Vance walks past and pinches James’ hat. They head out of the building again].
Image: Lunch and notes with Paul at the Salt Cellar
Next, I speak with Paul, who is 47. I’ve spoken with Paul before. Paul is always happy to talk politics and so he does. He’s angry and has much to say. Paul lives in Ashton in a housing association flat. He receives ESA for depression and anxiety. He worked as a painter and decorator before that. He’s been participating in a community gardening project for people with mental health problems, but may stop, because there’s now a charge to attend.
Paul doesn’t vote in local or general elections, but he did vote in the EU referendum. He voted Leave. He hates the “patronising” liberal left and politicians such as Theresa May – “they have no idea. No idea.”
Paul likes UKIP and the UKIP “spirit of rebellion.”
Paul is always eloquent on Brexit, inequality and his mistrust of the political class. He is an avid newspaper reader. He voted to leave the EU, because he wanted “border control…I feel like a foreigner in my own land.”
Paul completely expects government to attack people on benefits. As far as he’s concerned, that’s what well-off people do. As soon as I ask, Paul says that he is furious about a House of Lords documentary he read about recently. The documentary revealed that a peer left a taxi waiting out the front of the House while the peer ran in to sign in so that he could collect his daily attendance allowance. The peer then ran out again to get back into the cab.
“It’s the rich get richer and the poor get poorer … it’s just typical of society, isn’t it? You get impoverished areas and you get these posh, toffee-nosed areas.”
“I read this article the other day… someone in Whitehall, they stopped their taxi driver [to] go into the House of Lords.
He was a peer. [He said to the taxi driver]: “wait here, taxi driver. I won’t be a minute…” [The taxi driver said] “I’m on the yellow lines, on the double yellow lines.” [The peer said]: “calm down. I won’t be long.” He had to run in dead quick and sign his name to say he’d been there that day. He’d hardly been in there – [just] signed in from nine to five. One of those bullshit peers. Then [he was] back out again in the taxi – just for the sake of getting the attendance mark [and the daily allowance].
… just for attendance £500 a year…[sic]. They get for that just… £500 [sic] a day …
[These people can’t do a good job with Brexit]. No! – because they’re just fundamental liars, these peers that go to the Lords. The Lords is one of the most corrupt and bent parts of government known to man now. They’re lords. They’re peers. They’re more bent that me and you. They’re really bent fundamentally…”
[Paul imitates a conversation with someone who has a posh accent]:
“Oh yes, peer – what do you think of the homeless?”
[Peer says] “Oh, that trash – don’t talk to me about the trash. I have no time for them.”
“You can imagine what is going on behind closed doors, can’t you? That sort of fundamental judgementalism. Of course they do [judge people who receive benefits]! They’re high and mighty, naming what you want. Bent bastards.”
What about government?
“There is so much division.
[Michael] Gove – he put himself up for prime ministership when Cameron decided he was sick and tired of Europe. Gove, he had his own contingency plan, which was that if the referendum vote doesn’t go my [his] way, I’m going to pack it in.
Gove must have known what [David Cameron] he was thinking, because he’s some sort of mind reader. On Friday, it was in the i [newspaper] that how the mighty are fallen. He’s admitted that he’s sort of a sinner, this Gove, which is a good thing, but at the same time, he says Cameron won’t speak to him now, because he’s so pissed off with him for putting himself forward all of the time…undermining him [in] the time when he was prime minister.
He says he wants to make it up with Cameron, but Cameron won’t make it up with him, because he’s so pissed off with Gove.
I’m UKIP, me. United Kingdom Independence Party. United Kingdom Independence Party, me.”
Have you voted for them?
“United Kingdom Independence Party.”
What do you like about them?
“I don’t. I just like the rebellion. The rebellion, just like that. The rebel vote. Because let’s face it – the Conservatives are in cloud cuckoo land, Labour are in cloud cuckoo land and the Liberals are in cloud cuckoo land.”
What do you think of Paul Nuttall?
“He’s an arrogant scouser. A real arrogant scouser. I know a lot of them – arrogant scousers. Even blinking the poorest of poor – if they’re a scouser, they are really arrogant. They want to take you for everything you’ve got.”
Do you like Nigel Farage?
“Yeah. Someone’s got to do the job, don’t they? He’s a realist. I’m into realism. I’ve been into realism for a very long time. He’s a complete realist. I love that he gives it to you straight. Because he’s straight and straight talking, people don’t like him. Because he won’t keep his mouth shout, people hate him…but you need characters like that. There are a lot of characters these days in politics who keep their mouths shut, but open it up behind closed doors, because they’re sort of either in self-denial about stuff, or they’re evasive.
[Farage is not evasive]. Oh no. If he is, he’s not as much as what any of these other creeps are. There are a lot of them creeps. They are so evasive. They’ll tell me anything that you want to hear, for their own ego.
[Farage] is not egotistical like these other bastards. There’s no ego. There’s not as much of an ego compared to all the other shit. He’ll give you an honest answer. He’s honest…he won’t give you no bullshit.
I like him coming on Question Time with that David Dimbleby. These ministers, they turn around to people… [UKIP says], “don’t lecture me when you’ve lectured all these other people yourself. Don’t blinking give me a lecture when you can’t take a lecture yourself.”
That’s what I like about the UKIP leaders that go onto David Dimbleby’s Question Time. They turn around and say, “don’t lecture me when you can’t be lectured yourself.”
…. Brexit so far… it’s complicated. It was always going to be complicated, wasn’t it. Because everybody interbreeds from all over the world. It’s natural, isn’t it… people from Europe marrying people here.
You get your religious element as well. [People say things like] “I’ve just been told by God to marry this person to let them into the country for the sake of me own Christianity.” That sort of fundamental religious Christianity mindset…. They will marry someone to keep them in…
On Donald Trump
I think that Gove’s right. That Gove, he said in the i newspaper that Trump is an egomaniac.
[Some Americans] like Trump’s ego. Most of Americans have got an egotistical mentality anyway. That’s Americans for you. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not stereotyping. I’m not a stereotypical sort. Don’t get me wrong, but they’ve been like all their lives. As far as I’m concerned, the Americans will never change, because they’re set in their ways.”
What do you think about people like Hillary Clinton or Jeremy Corbyn on the Left?
“It would have been interesting to see [Hillary] get the vote, because of her husband. She seems to talk a good talk, but she might not have been able to walk the walk. That’s probably why the vote went against her. It would have been interesting to see Hillary Clinton win just for the sake of how she got on with Theresa May. That sort of like – feminine bonding. It would have been interesting just to see how she got on with Theresa May, being another woman.
They might have got on, Theresa and Hillary. Possible.”
Brexit aside, Paul is concerned about the environment. He is very much an environmentalist. He believes that politicians want to encourage building and development for their own financial advantage:
“Most [people] in Ashton are going on about this spatial [development] framework at the moment.
All these private developers, contract developers, want to build on green belt land.
A lot of environmentalists live in Ashton. They’re joining in with the protests. Don’t build in Mottram. Don’t built in Stalybridge. Don’t build in Glossop. You councillors – all you’re interested in is getting a fast buck to line your pockets…They want to build this spatial framework all for greed and it’s for the foreigners. They say we need more land for foreigners and we need to build in these green belt areas like Saddleworth, Mottram, Glossopdale. People say, “No greed, because you just want to line your own pockets…”
Sometimes, I join the protestors and say, “Fuck off, you greedy bastards.” All they’re interested in is to get the money as fast as possible for their own blinking… they say it’s for the council, but it’s not. It’s for their own fat blinking wallets.
It’s going to affect all blinking habitats and all wildlife. What are they going to do? The squirrels have all got to go somewhere and rats and mice, field mice and all the birds. They’re going to rip up the birds’ nesting and try taking all these trees down.”
What do you think the government should do to solve the housing crisis in that case?
“They’re building some in Stalybridge, aren’t they, for foreigners, near Acres Lane. That development’s going up facing Holy Trinity in Stalybridge.
But they need to be more transparent with their environmental footprint and they’re not being transparent enough with their environmental footprint. More and more anger is going to be directed their way if they’re not.
People are getting more and more angry especially the environmentalists… All that shale gas, especially near Blackpool….that’s all greed and demented. The greed is becoming a demented greed.”