I’m an atheist. Well no, that’s not strictly true. Some atheists can be a bit shouty and Richard Dawkinsish. I used to be an atheist when I was young, mainly because I enjoyed winding up the priest and the RE teacher when I was at Catholic school. I’ve mellowed a lot now and converted to apatheism, which is the most laid back religion. Apatheism means you don’t know if there’s a god but can’t be bothered enough with religion to give a toss anyway.
There’s no formal conversion process when you become an apatheist, it just happens one day when you overhear people arguing about religion and realise that you’d far rather do some ironing. And I really hate ironing. Ironing is possibly the only thing in the universe more tedious than the nexus between fitba and religion and having to listen to Celtic and Rangers fans arguing about the relative merits of their fitba teams. Although Rangers has been cited by some as evidence of divine intervention, because the team proves that it’s possible to come back from the dead. Although not for tax purposes.
But you don’t even have to iron to be an apatheist. One of the great beauties of the faith is that no one cares what you wear, or indeed whether you wear anything at all. Although to be honest nudity isn’t recommended on a cold dreich day in Dalmarnock. The central ritual of apatheism involves having a long lie in on a Sunday followed by a fry up as you hurl abuse at the Scottish politics programme on the telly. But no one really cares if you don’t bother.
But sometimes I do wish there was a god, one of the vengeful and wrathful variety beloved of the Old Testament, prone to raining down plagues of frogs and inflicting boils on the private parts of hypocrites and evil-doers and people who pronounce wrath as though it were spelled wroth but they’d never dream of pronouncing path as though it were written poth. Because if there was such a god then right now the Tory party and the Parliamentary Labour party would both be skidding on amphibians as they rushed to the chemists for some ointment for their inflamed genitals.
On Friday Paisley MP Mhairi Black introduced a private member’s bill to the Commons to reform the benefits sanctions system. The benefits sanctions system is an exercise in capricious cruelty. Its underlying theory being that poor people need to be punished in order to motivate them. This is 180 degrees opposite from the government’s methods of motivating the rich, who apparently need to be rewarded. But if you’re poor then the British government is very much of the plagues of frogs and boils persuasion. Only unlike a wrathful deity Tory policies don’t offer any chances of redemption even if you do follow the rules. They only offer the damnation of poverty and deprivation.
Mhairi Black’s bill proposed to introduce new rules forcing Job Centre staff to take a claimant’s personal circumstances into account when deciding whether to impose sanctions. Right now they don’t. Right now there are abundant tales that Job Centre staff have sanctioning quotas to fill, although the Job Centres deny that. Back in 2011 a whistleblower revealed to the Guardian newspaper that staff in the Job Centre where he worked were given a target of imposing three sanctions a week. There are accounts of people losing their benefits because they were a couple of minutes late for an appointment at the Job Centre, because their bus was caught in heavy traffic. Yesterday in Parliament one MP even recounted the tale of a constituent who was sanctioned because instead of attending a Job Centre interview he was attending the birth of his child.
You’d think that since sanctions are theoretically supposed to teach people the discipline of the workplace that they’d apply the same standards as a workplace. Instead they apply the standards of the workhouse. No one in normal employment would be expected to be at work when their child was being born. No one in normal employment would lose 3 months wages because their bus was late one morning and they arrived five minutes late for work. But grossly disproportionate punishments are the norm in the benefits system, and no account is taken of the personal needs of circumstances of the claimant. The Job Centre staff wield absolute power.
Mhairi Black’s bill aimed to address this. It was an attempt to introduce a small amount of humanity into an inhumane system. It was of course opposed by the Conservatives. As Mhairi explained how many claimants were fearful and afraid when they attended interviews at the Job Centre, one arsewipe Tory MP called out that the only thing the unemployed fear is getting a job. Middle class wankers who think not having enough money means not having enough for their daughter’s pony and a skiing holiday have no compassion for those who when they say they have no money mean they have two copper coins in ther pocket. And that’s the most disgusting thing about Britain today. We’re governed by people for whom compassion, empathy, and understanding are a sign of weakness and not a sign of humanity.
We expect that from Tories, because if you look up the word Conservative in a political dictionary it’s defined as “selfish bastard”, but Labour didn’t even bother to turn up for the debate. That’s Labour, defending the interests of the poor and the weak by not being arsed enough to care. It’s fine to be apathetic about religion or football. It’s not at all fine to be apathetic about poverty and deprivation. But Labour won’t support any motion proposed by the SNP, even if it’s a good and worthwhile motion that will help the constituents of Labour MPs. Because it’s far more important to the Labour party to play pathetic party political games. But it’s not a game when you’re playing with a person’s chances of putting food in their stomach. It’s not a game when you’re playing with the life of a child who returns from school to a cold dark house with no heat or light and bare kitchen cupboards.
Scottish anti-poverty campaigner Mark Frankland has started a fundraiser for clients of the foodbank he runs in Dumfries. Mark recently had a client who has been sanctioned for three months, despite the fact he has learning difficulties. For the next three months this man faces being in a cold dark house, reliant on cold food from the foodbank. Mark has started a fundraiser to raise money to help pay for a bit of warmth and light and Christmas cheer for clients like ‘Donald’ (not his real name). It’s worth contributing. Some things we should never be apathetic about.
Link to fundraising campaign https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Mark-Frankland1
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