I don’t usually give Tory politicians much thought, except to generally hope they all die. Partygate has roused me though, in what I feel is a very healthy BRING ME MY GUILLOTINE way.
There are 2 allegations I’d like to level at Johnson and Sunak and other party spares today.
The first one I think we can probably describe as murder. This could be hard to forgive.
I think it is possible – let’s call it a dead cert for accuracy’s sake – that Johnson and Sunak et al killed people by holding their parties and mixing with other people at them.
The lockdown concept was straightforward. You didn’t need training to grasp it. The idea was that we distanced ourselves from each other as well as we could so that we didn’t blow this killer virus around. It absolutely followed that if you met up with other people and as a bonus got pissed, you’d pick up the virus and breathe it onto whichever poor bastards had the misfortune to stray into your lethal cloud.
I know this was the idea, because I paid close attention to it. This was partly because I thought it was important for everyone’s health and partly because it was important to my chances of a lasting marriage. My (still) immunosupressed husband was on the extremely clinically vulnerable list. He got regular Stay Inside Or Die emails signed by Matt Hancock, who I now assume was penning these instructions from a dancefloor. Suffice to say that No 10’s lockdowns sounded more fun than ours.
Which takes us back to the parties.
It doesn’t take great imagination to know who’d have been at greatest risk from these parties. Inevitably, the people who take the real hits from these things are the usual disposables: people who clean toilets for and during flash parties, or people who prepare food, or people who worked in nearby shops that sold crisps and party booze, or carers and keyworkers who, during the party months, had to use public transport and/or tend to the sick and who had no choice but to breath in fumes guffed out by roaming Tory swingers and people they’d spread covid to.
There would also have been the family members of all these people – family members who shared the overcrowded and unventilated homes that low-paid people could not self-isolate in. And of course, of course – I realise that some people in these jobs might be migrant workers, so who would really be bothered counting, but still. You could kill people by holding parties and you could make a lot of other people very, very sick. A shit show even for Tory grandees.
I rant on.
Let’s move my second point/allegation – that the Tories let themselves off the hook for rule-breaking, but viciously punish people in poverty who break rules. Hypocrisy is the theme here.
To get a feel for this, let’s go to the DWP – the government department which for as long as I remember has jointly held first prize (with the Home Office, which may be edging ahead today with the Rwanda refugee-dumping idea) for the job of thrashing poor people on behalf of government.
I’ve spent over a decade going to jobcentre meetings with people at the absolute arse-end of poverty – jobcentres being places which deliver an absolute smorgasbord of opportunities for anyone who is looking to watch the state smash people in need.
The state does this by catching people out for “breaking” ridiculous rules – rules that have considerably less point to them than the Don’t Have Parties During Covid ones did.
Here, for example, is Linda – an older woman with learning and literacy difficulties, bawling her eyes out at Kilburn jobcentre. Why was Linda upset? A jobcentre adviser had closed Linda’s benefit claim, because Linda had broken the “missed meetings” rule that the DWP held sacrosanct for the very simple reason that it could trip heaps of people up on it. Linda missed 2 meetings, because she’d been very sick and had had thrombosis.
It was amazingly hard to find anyone who gave a shit about that, though. I searched for quite a while. Jobcentre advisers knew Linda well. The knew she had learning difficulties and was ill. They knew she needed on her benefits to buy food and pay rent (her housing benefit was stopped when her JSA claim was closed, which meant that the eviction threats had started piling up). Advisers knew there’d be a reason for Linda not showing up to meetings. They’d have known for sure she wasn’t at a party.
Still – the rules said that missing 2 meetings in a row meant you lost your benefits then and there, even if you were sick and disabled. Or especially if you were sick and disabled. No better way, after all, to cut the benefits bill that to stress sick people to the point of collapse. Linda was so sick that day at the jobcentre that I had to get advisers to call an ambulance. Probably as far as the DWP was concerned, things were going beautifully to plan.
If you can stand it, here’s a covert video I made of Linda crying with stress at the jobcentre. No points lost if you can’t stand it, though. It wasn’t much of a day.
But hey ho and on we go. Let’s look at some of the other below-the-poverty-line rule breakers I’ve met over the years.
Here’s Craig at Stockport jobcentre. I got to know Craig in 2018. He had serious mental health issues and struggled to dress, wash and leave the house a lot of the time. He’d been getting universal credit for about a year.
He wasn’t getting much of it when we met, though. He was on a sanction that day – he’d been sanctioned twice in a row. The rules Craig broke to get sanctioned? Bloody ridiculous. The first sanction was for breaking the sick note rule. He was supposed to take a sick note to the jobcentre, but was too unwell to go. Craig was often very unwell. I can’t actually remember what the second sanction was for, but I do know that it was hot on the heels of the first. The first sanction went from January to March and the second from March to June. Probably another missed meeting thing. What I can say with confidence is that it wasn’t for wilfully spreading a killer virus that he’d sucked in at a banned party.
Let’s crack on. Anne, in her 50s, was also at Stockport jobcentre that day. Anne had been sanctioned for missing a meeting the day after she’d been in hospital. She called the jobcentre to let advisers know she wouldn’t be in, but nobody passed the message on. Or they chucked the note in the bin. Rules are rules, after all. Anne was certainly paying for her transgression. She was getting £40 a week in hardship money, instead of the usual JSA riches of £72 or whatever it was. That was going about as well for her as you might imagine:
“”I’m on Pay As You Go [for] gas and electric – ten pound a week on them two. Then you’ve got £30 a week on food… I even had to borrow £4 off her [Anne’s daughter] to get up here about my money [the bus ride to Stockport jobcentre from Anne’s place cost about £4]. I went to the bank on the Wednesday and I thought “Oh No.” I didn’t even have the £4.”
People had appealed these sanctions, but as you know – good luck with that. Better idea is to create a diversion by sending people in need to Rwanda.
To this blog’s most recent rule-breaker then: N, a young mother of 2, whose story I’ve been writing about this year.
When we started talking at the start of this year, N was homeless, pregnant and about to be evicted (with her toddler) from the homelessness hostel she lived in. Her transgression? – she said No to a flat that her council told her to move to. She had good reason to say No. The flat was a ground-floor place with a shonky front door that she thought her abusive ex could easily break through.
Still, the council clung to its decision to evict her from the hostel for saying No even after N’s reasons for saying No were explained. Sad to threaten to chuck a woman with a toddler and a newborn onto the street, but there it is. How else do you get through to people in poverty, really. They must be held to the rules.