Decay like you wouldn’t believe – which century are we in?

Don’t know how to put this without sounding like I’m overdoing the drama:

I’ve talked with a couple of street homeless people recently who are so badly affected by ill health and homelessness that they look as though they’ve turned up from penury circa 1850.

Dirt, sores and decay: if it wasn’t for people’s modern (if rotting) clothing, you’d wonder which century you’d crashed in.

I find this timewarp disturbing. You see a human corrosion that belongs in historical photos.

On Wednesday morning, I talked to a youngish woman on Fairfield Street by Manchester Picadilly.

She was holding a dirty red sleeping bag. The woman was small, pale and had lost some of her teeth. Her thin hair was tied back.

Her hand, though.

I asked the woman how she managed on the streets in winter.

The woman said the cold had been hard. She still had trouble with her hands, because they were always wet and cold.

She showed me her left hand. It was swollen twice the size of a normal hand and covered in sores and yellow scabs – obviously infected.

I said, “oh my god.”

“I should go to the hospital,” she said.

“You need some antibiotics,” I said.

We talked.

Like everyone you speak with on the Manchester streets, the woman was hoping to raise the £17 or so that people need for a hostel bed for the night.

The woman said that she was banned from going into Picadilly station. The transport police moved her and others on from the station if they got too near.

She said that grating had been put up around some buildings so that people couldn’t sleep under them.


Wtf is politics doing?

How can Brexit be more pressing than this decay?

53 thoughts on “Decay like you wouldn’t believe – which century are we in?

  1. Hi, Kate

    You wrote, “Wtf is politics doing?”

    Biased as I am, I’d say that right wing politicians are using Brexit as a ‘burying bad news’ smoke screen, but also bringing other stuff to bear in downplaying the ‘affordability’ of our human rights. See, eg: Minister suggests realities of the world mean government will not halt attack on rights. And the past records of Gove, IDS and Johnson in ‘turning the clock back’ on human rights was a major factor in why I voted Remain. See also Heading here.

    I would also say, “What/who is politics and politicians?”

    I’m a Green Party activist and have had letters published locally in Hereford on some of the issues you and your interviewees deal with. Eg, Chancellor’s spring budget statement and Herefordshire council policy.

    A major problem I’ve found is that media agendas and mainstream people’s blinkers can get in the way. With the help of local Green Party External Communications Officer, I’ve had quite a success rate in getting letters published locally, and friends frequently comment that I’ve had several letters published in Hereford Times. I’ve also had several letters not published though, including ones based on personal experience such as knowing that PIP claimants are routinely summonsed by Capita to Cardiff; maybe Hereford Times consider publication of such letters as making me more vulnerable?

    On the positive side, my giving a talk about Universal Credit to local Green Party soon after I arrived in Hereford in 2017 raised the profile of these issues among local Green Party folk, as I’ve known other claimants who don’t want to expose themselves as benefit claimants in non-claimant circles; and I was perhaps the first ‘out’ claimant that my audience had come into contact with?

    Perhaps we are all ‘politicos’ overtly or covertly?

  2. I would take her straight to the Mayor’s Office, and ask what plans they have in place for such a contingency as her serious problems obviously represent.
    I would also want to know about what outreach was being made.
    Or are they all expected to present themselves?
    And where do they get their 17 quid a day from?

    • Yep the all encompassing Brexit is a real worry. Can’t see that stopping soon. Pisses me off in a serious way.

  3. Have just been chatting to a neighbour who is in dire circumstances due to ill health and the dysfunctional nature of Universal Credit. He’s been left with nothing to live on and waiting months for a UC appeal because they stopped his payments before they even began due to the fact that he is working part time hours of 15 hours per week due to illness but DWP say he is earning more than £1000 per month when he isn’t and has shown them wage slips to prove it. It’s got to the point now whereby he’s given notice on his bedsit because he can’t pay the rent, and is already 2 months in arrears. His only option now is to move back in with his wife, even though they are separated. He’s now got a sick note for 7 weeks having just been in hospital for an operation, but is still not receiving any money from anywhere. He had just £1.35 to live on last week, and now cannot even do his part time job for at least another 7 weeks. Jesus. I would give him the money myself if I had any. I advised him to go to the CAB about his UC problems, his debts, and to apply for food parcels referral. That’s all I can do. This is just one more person of many who through no fault of his own has been let down by the system and pushed into destitution, just like a film script, but real life.

    • Dunno if I’ve got this correct Trev, but don’t you live in Leeds? If that’s the case, what have the local Labour MPs been doing about situations like the one your neighbour finds themselves in?

      That’s more of a rhetorical question though, just in case you hadn’t guessed, as I’m prone to believe that all they are doing is sitting on their hands again. It actually beggars belief really, the political establishment is busy tying itself in knots over Brexit and why people voted for it, and why they’re increasingly ready to vote for Ukip and the Brexit Party when it’s been stark staringly obvious for decades now that there is a widespread dissatisfaction amongst people because of shit like that which is happening to your neighbour all to indifference on the part of the political establishment.

      I don’t agree with those people who would usually vote Labour who are planning on voting for UKIP or the Brexit Party as I regard the former as fascist and the latter as proto-fascist, or at the very least enablers of the far right, but I do understand the kind of frustration that persuades many to vote for them in an attempt to give the political establishment a bloody nose, even if it’s short sighted in the extreme. That doesn’t mean that I buy into the xenophobia or islamophobia of many people, of course, but I think those things are whipped up by the gutter press, and they become scapegoats.

      If Labour had been listening to people over the decades since Thatcher, they would know that people have been feeling frustrations for a very long time. I remember in the early 90s hearing people locally bemoaning the fact that their children couldn’t find social housing in their community, so it didn’t go down too well when they saw people from ethnic minorities getting housing in that area. Of course, they weren’t queue jumping, as social housing is allocated on a needs basis, and it was lack of supply that was denying their children housing locally. But this kind of thing goes by the bye and is interpreted as ‘racism’ by the political establishment of the left and ignored instead of being analysed at a deeper level. Of course casual racism must be challenged, but people’s valid concerns also deserve to be listened to and addressed, otherwise we end in in situations like the one we’re in.

      I’m no genius, but that was obvious to me long ago, and I’m having some difficulty getting my head around why the Labour Party has been so bloody useless when it comes to challenging the Tory masterplan.

      I read an interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian online by John Harris where he writes about how different politics are in Scotland where political discussion is focused on social issues and the economy, whereas in England, (and this includes Wales, unfortunately, largely because of the absolute direness of Welsh Labour) the focus is on … What?

      It’s probably too late now for Labour, or indeed the mainstream parties, which is something I say somewhat fearfully, as I suspect that the right to far right are going to get quite some representation at both local government level and also at the European level, should we actually end up casting votes for European representatives at the end of next month. The success of neoliberalism is really down to the lack of an effective opposition that made sense to people. Instead of coming up with sound policies to restrict the damage the loonie left could inflict, Labour bought into the neoliberal rhetoric being promoted by the Tories and their media supporters. But it wasn’t just Labour, as the wider left itself has remained remarkably quiet. mute even, in the face of Thatcherite anti-union legislation, which, on the face of it might seem draconian, but in reality is very easy to circumvent, that is, of course through being democratic. One only has to look at the upsurge of the more radical industrial unions that are slowly gaining ground, such as IWGB, United Voices of the World and the IWW – the first two more or less being ‘clones’ of the IWW. They are very active, very militant and organise a lot of demonstrations, actions and strikes, and because of their fundamentally democratic nature, (they are democratic to the point where it is often tedious) they have absolutely no problem complying with the laws on unions. They are also run entirely by their grass roots, and no-one with any degree of power gets paid – and indeed, they aren’t even representatives, but delegates subject to instant recall.

      I don’t know if you’re heard of ‘ACORN The Union’ but I think they have a presence in Leeds, certainly in Sheffield, but they might be able to offer some support for your neighbour. I know of them from my time in the IWW when a few people in the Bristol branch established ACORN. It’s not a union for workers in the classic sense, but more of a community activist organisation which seems to have had quite some success. Whatever, there’d be no harm in getting in touch with them, as they’d probably at the very least have some useful suggestions.

      • I’m in West Yorkshire and I do have a Labour MP, I don’t think it occurred to my neighbour to contact the MP, like to many people the MPs seem remote and irrelevant.
        My neighbour was working full time in a regular job but when he became ill the company offered him part time hours for a year basically just to keep his job open, but that seems to have unnecessarily confused the DWP and complicated his UC claim, which is ridiculous because that is exactly what they claim the system was developed to do – “making work pay” etc. It’s total bollocks. He would have been better off without the part time hours.

        • Yeah, it is total bollocks, and I think we’re going to see UC melt down massively when full roll out occurs. UC seems to work for single claimants; get rid of sanctions and the insane ASW requirements, the JSA test was sufficient, and it wouldn’t be too bad. However, that’s of little comfort for those with more complicated situations, such as your neighbour. And that’s where the old system scored. It might have become very complex, but that’s because people’s lives are complex, and it needs a human being, (which rules out most of DWP staff) to help people navigate the system. Yeah, it would cost money, but hey, that gives people jobs and money which keeps the economy going and everyone benefits, though the obscenely rich might just be filthy rich instead. I can live with that, and so can they.

          The more and more I look at the situation I can’t help but think that a UBI would really sort out many of these problems, which ultimately come down to a simple lack of money. It would certainly do away with all the bureaucracy, which seems to be the single point of failure with UC.

          Situations like your neighbours would even have been easier to sort out under JSA by the simple expedient of abolishing the stupid 16 hour rule, which always seemed to me something of an anachronism, as well as the £5 earnings disregard – I mean, a whole fiver, wowee!

    • Disgraceful Trev, leaving people without money like this. Yet the DWP are still trying it on that if you change over to Universal Credit you will be much better off. If you have to pay transport costs for up to 90mins travel, food and clothing etc. to do the job, then you are no better off, or maybe £2.50 better off. And what use is that ?

      • It’s just awful to see, this guy’s life is falling apart and the system that is supposed to be there to help him is so dysfunctional that you might as well bang your head against a wall. How the hell they can construe that he’s earning over a grand a month when he has wage slips to prove otherwise (more like £360 p/m) is beyond me, and at the moment his earnings are zero. He could be homeless or dead by the time they sort it out. It’s just unacceptable.

    • Interesting article. We are getting an increasing amount of Corporate help at my local foodbank, many supermarkets have our collection bins, some companies hold fundraising events, some donate the time & labour of staff for a day, and one local company that is a co-op donates a pallet or two of tinned soup. The trouble is with wider Corporate involvement on a bigger scale is that food poverty becomes Institutionalized and accepted. Food poverty should be seen as a failure of the State.

      • Absolutely, and I think that comes across quite strongly in the article – that avoiding the situation that has been allowed to develop in North America should be paramount.

        However, it’s already become pretty ingrained that benefits as of right are being replaced with a charitable response which of course throws up all kinds of issues, one such being whether one is being deserving or not, and also, given that corporatism is a large player in this, how long would it be that before there is some kind of obligation placed on would be recipients, such as having to complete tasks, perhaps having to wear ‘PPE’ emblazoned with company logos?

        To a certain extent, this is already in place, and of course there are a lot of working class people who are quite comfortable with the notion of claimants having to work for their benefits. Making an argument against this, that basic needs should be fulfilled as of right, as per UN Declaration on Human Rights falls on deaf ears – somewhat insanely people reject things that would massively benefit them, and make society so much better, even when it’s been the law of the land since 1976!

        It would be well nigh impossible for the charities and groups operating food banks to do it without the involvement of corporations, which I’m sure presents a massive dilemma for those running those operations who have thought it all through and seen the bigger picture about what is happening. Sadly, even if this does reach the mainstream and a TV programme is made, maybe Dispatches or Panorama, it will remain if niche interest whilst there is some vapid and vacuous ‘reality’ freak show to divert attentions and poison minds.

        I’ve never been a huge fan of charity, except for those that support animal welfare, (and even then only when they treat humans well) as most of them dealing with human issues are there to plug state shortcomings of some sort or another, many ultimately dealing with the same problem we discuss here – a simple lack of enough money for a decent standard of living. For that not to be the case somewhere as rich as the UK or USA is criminal. And yes, food poverty is a failure of the state, but I’d go a little further and just say that poverty is a failure of the state.

    • P.S.
      Some of the food donations we receive (at my foodbank) is ‘waste’, i.e. from overproduction. We get yesterday’s surplus pasties, sandwiches & buns from Greggs, unsold fresh sandwiches that are near the sell-by date from Tesco, for example, and it is better than it going to waste but I’m still uncomfortable with the notion that this is ok. In an equitable and civilized society no one should need to rely on cast-off food waste, and environmentally there shouldn’t be such over – production of food. But that’s how Capitalism works, and I hate it.

      • Again absolutely Trev. As that article hypothesised, waste food for ‘waste’ people?

        Yes, the whole issue of waste food is a thorny one, as governments would face huge hostility if people were required to pay the real cost of food. We’ve become so used to cheap food that we ignore, or forget what’s behind it and how the production of our food sometimes distorts entire economies, and is a major cause of migration from sub Saharan Africa. If those countries were allowed to develop a genuine local economy, and not one on the one hand producing crops for export to European supermarkets, and on the other having local agriculture undermined by cheap imports of heavily subsidised food from the USA the huge levels of migration we are seeing would not be an issue.

        Yeah, capitalism, I hate it too!

        • A local bakery recently began donating their excess bread to the foodbank, it’s fresh- baked the previous day and is still perfectly fine but has to be given out to clients straight away, or frozen. There’s lots of it, a van load 2 or 3 times a week, and prior to this they were throwing it away! Apparently all, or most, bakeries operate in this way. They bake more than they need to ensure their shops don’t run out, but the shops don’t reduce the price to get rid of it because then their customers stop buying it because they’re waiting ’til later in the day to get the reductions. These are not supermarkets I’m talking about but small independent bakers that have a string of shops around town. There must be lots of them in towns all over the country so that,s a lot of wasted bread. Also, I was told that to a bakery a sack of flour is relatively cheap and the biggest expense is running the ovens (plus other over heads of course) so it makes more sense to fill the ovens once they are up to temperature and bake as much as possible at a time. Hence excess bread. I dread to think how much is chucked away.

          • It is important the issue you both raise about “waste food” for people for whom “waste” is thought better than nothing… at a fairly recent session at Oldham foodbank, the volunteers were giving out wrapped up Greggs leftovers to one guy in particular who had exceeded his food parcel limit but who is well known locally as someone with serious addiction and coping difficulties (I’ve interviewed him a number of times over the years myself). It is all a bit of a shitshow really. This man tends to require food that doesn’t need cooking etc as his life can be chaotic but it’s also hard to shelve in your own mind this issue of waste food for waste people… I don’t know. The whole foodbank scene does my head in.

          • Yeah it is hard to get your head around. I guess it’s just the way the system works, excess production driven by profit, and excess workers to maintain balance of power and regulate wages. Without going full-on Schumacher I don’t know what the answer is – Nationalize Greggs?

          • Nationalise Greggs Trev? What a great idea! It might mean that at long last I could get pasties made with wholemeal flour!.

            While we’re about it, we’ll get syndicalists to take over all the supermarkets…

    • At least that’s one MP who seems to be doing something – though even they are quite despondent that the letter will achieve anything. However, what might happen if this kind of thing were escalated and lots of MPs started to send similar letters?

      • UC obviously has its problems and must be a nightmare for claimants but claiming JSA is pretty awful too. I signed on yesterday and my new Dole Clerk (“Adviser / Work Coach”) gave me a hard time. I took in all my jobsearch evidence, print outs of all the confirmation emails I’d received from all the jobs I applied for and a couple saying I had been unsuccessful or that my application was being considered etc. but she wasn’t interested and didn’t even look at them, and it cost me 2 quid to print this crap. Instead she just berated me for not getting a job, putting me on the spot with questions like “when did you last work?”, “when did you last have an interview?”, “why aren’t you getting any of these jobs you’re applying for?”, “what do you think is preventing you from getting a job?”, “are you still attending Right Steps?”, “when did you last go?”, “when is your next appointment?”, “are they helping you to apply for jobs?”, “when are you starting the IT course?”, “what makes you want to do an IT course?”, etc.etc. Christ Almighty. She went on and on, and wouldn’t fucking shut up. I left there feeling battered like I’d done a round with Mike Tyson. God I hate the Jobcentre. I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to do – jobsearch, applications, work experience in the form of voluntary work, attending every bloody scheme & course they send me on, doing everything I am required to do in exchange for my poxy 70 quid, and are they happy? No, are they fuck. Bastards. I wish the place would burn down, I really do.

        • Bad luck Trev, sounds like they were giving you the runaround deliberately. Apparently there is extra management pressure on the Work Coaches to try and get people onto Universal Credit. Because of the continuing delays in the official transfer process. The DWP are getting impatient now with the remaining JSA claimants who they see as stalling things as long as possible, instead of ‘co-operating’ and putting themselves on Universal Credit.

          • Yeah I think you’re right there, she was definitely on one, like a dog with a bone.

        • Sorry to hear your advisor gave you the third degree Trev. If she’s new she’s probably trying to prove willing, and of course, we know that DWP themselves are under pressure, but that doesn’t give them the right to treat you like something they’ve stepped in.

          You are entitled to respect. Perhaps next time you could arrange someone to accompany you? That would give her pause for thought, especially if you could find some way to record her.

          She sounds as if she’s still somewhat wet behind the ears, and no doubt has bought into the crap that since age discrimination was outlawed you, as an older worker, face no impediments to work. Trying to tell someone in their thirties that getting a job when you’ve got grey hair etc is difficult because of ageism is like trying to tell a Bedouin that sand doesn’t exist. And that’s even if they care, which most don’t as it’s just a job, and they are just following orders…

          One of these days someone is going to go postal in a Jobcentre and people will get seriously hurt, and whilst I wouldn’t condone the use of violence I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did one day retaliate against the DWPs use of violence. Especially when we increasingly see headlines like these:

          And then there is this:

          One in five adults experiencing some degree of food poverty… In the UK, a wealthy country!

          • I know, I’m not even on the dreaded UC and I’ve managed to avoid getting sanctioned but there’s been times when I’ve eaten food my neighbour chucked in the bin, or food I’ve found in the streets, and have had to resort to stealing toilet roll from the local library (before they closed it).

            One of the problems I face is that most of the work I’ve done in the past couple of decades has been cash-in-hand work, temporary, casual, sporadic and on the side, so I can’t tell them I’ve done it and can’t put it on my CV so on paper it looks like I’ve done nothing other than voluntary work.

            I have been turned down by agencies because they required me to complete a health questionnaire with very specific questions asking if you have (ever) suffered from a variety of conditions and ailments – Depression, Anxiety, digestive/stomach problems, Arthritis, blood pressure/sugar/cholesterol etc. etc.

            One agency rejected me because I declined to sign a waiver saying I would be prepared to work more than 48 hours per week. I said I wouldn’t want to work more than 40 hours,preferably 30 – 35, and that I wasn’t looking for anything “fast paced”. They just said “sorry, we haven’t got anything for you”.

          • Bastards trying to get you to sign away your right under the EU Working Time Directive to not have to work more than 48 hours. That was one of the concessions that Thatcher and her motley got from the EU. Otherwise it would be 48 hours max.

            Personally I think it’s time that the full-time working week was reduced to 21 hours – after all, it’s been 133 years since workers were hanged after being fitted up by the police in May 1886 over the Haymarket Affair. They were protesting for an 8 hour day, and it’s why May 1st is International Workers Day.

          • 21 hours sounds reasonable, that would amount to 3 days. The pressure placed upon people by the DWP is counterproductive, I think most people would find their own way in life if given a bit more freedom and some more money, that way they would gravitate toward some means of earning a living in a way that suits them, if not their true vocation at least something bearable that they can fit their lives around. Being kept in poverty under constant pressure is very oppressive and people become trapped in a debilitating quagmire of stressful despair, unable to move forward in any way, jumping through endless hoops to avoid sanctions and basically running on the spot never getting anywhere.

          • What you’ve just outlined there is one of the primary selling points of a system of UBI; that it would truly liberate and empower people to make their own economic choices. It would be totally transformative for society, and that’s probably what most of the detractors most fear – workers would be able to simply vote with their feet if their employer wasn’t either paying them enough or the working conditions were crap. Or they’d be able to set themselves up in business.

            About the only slightly concerning element about UBI is the support it receives from some some neoliberals, as that would just amount to a cash replacement to social security whereas anyone genuinely concerned would realise that giving people enough to support the basic cost of living is just a start. So much of what is wrong with the situation we now have comes down to a simple lack of money.

            And, importantly, as Yanis Varoufakis has pointed out, it would empower jobseekers to refuse jobs offered if they didn’t come up to scratch – this should be a fundamental right, unlike now where refusing a job attracts a sanction – though I’d be curious to know whether a prospective employer grassing someone up to the DWP for not taking up a job offer would contravene the GPDR.

  4. Work Coach quote of the week on Universal Credit:

    ” You’ll have to manage your money..”

    Who said the DWP don’t have a sense of humour ?

    • May as well have said you’ll have to sell your arse on the streets or resort to begging, shoplifting or drug dealing if you want to avoid starvation because you won’t be getting any fucking money.

  5. Another thing I dislike about the Jobcentre is that there’s no privacy, with it being open-plan everyone can here your business and what’s being said to others. Yesterday as I was sat waiting my turn I could overhear some poor young lad being interrogated about a personal problem and how that might interfere with his ability to work. He is addicted to Gaming, and has managed to get it down to 7 hours per day but obviously not under control. He isn’t seeing his doctor about it and hasn’t sought or received any specialist help from a psychologist. He lives with his parents but they don’t acknowledge he has a problem. His mother works but his father doesn’t. I don’t know this guy from Adam but I now know all about him. Imagine if he had been addicted to porn, would the Dole Clerk (“Coach”) have questioned him in the same manner, detail, and volume? “so how often do you masturbate Mr. Smith?” “What type of porn are you addicted to?”, “Are your parents aware?” “How would your addiction affect you at work?” etc. 😵 It’s bad enough when they’re asking you about mental health issues such as Depression and Anxiety, and everyone and his dog can hear, or if you’re recovering from an illness – “How’s your recovery coming along Mr.Jones?” – “Well I’ve had the stitches out but my bollocks are still swollen…?

    • I agree with you 100% Trev, but reading what you’ve just written should be used for some kind of absurdist comedy sketches on TV, with it being prominently indicated that, whilst these scenarios might seem far-fetched, they are in reality an accurate reflection on what people routinely have to face.

      Again, it comes back to an issue of fundamental lack of respect. On that alone they could be taken to task. It should be drummed into these people that privacy is paramount – and I’m sure that reminding them of their obligations under the GDPR would sort them out, though I doubt that even the line managers of these cretins even knows what that is. Perhaps we should be encouraging people to note down these incidents and send in reports to Mark Serwotka, leader of the PCS. It’s only because the PCS is abrogating its moral duties that DWP staff behave like this. What they are doing is quite plainly wrong, and is indefensible.

      I found this earlier today, and though it might not change much in the short term, at least it shows that those with some real influence are beginning to realise what is going on, and that it isn’t incompetence or carelessness that’s behind it, though the judge dismisses discussion of that for another time. The very fact that it is mentioned at all that it might indicate malice aforethought and doesn’t dismiss it outright is interesting:

  6. I’m Gavin’s pet tarantula
    Jet black and hairy too
    I scared the shit out of visitors
    And I’d do the same for you

    I made him look like a tough guy
    In my tank in the MOD
    Or at least the Tory tough guy
    That he was trying to be

    Many a time I’d sit on his lap
    And share a few flies with my master
    He could pull the wings off quicker
    But I could eat them faster !

    And now my master has lost his job
    All thanks to Fu Manchu

    A Tory and his Tarantula
    Now what are we going to do ?

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