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On Being Radicalised

I’ve come to the conclusion I’ve been radicalised … by the Conservative Party. Allow me to explain.

There’s an increasingly right-wing faction gaining sway within the Conservative Party that believes that the Coalition is too left-wing and soft. It wants to take Thatcherism well beyond what Maggie did, and in a book shortly to be published called Britannia Unchained, the authors claim that the only way for Britain to compete in a global marketplace is to reduce the state to the bare bones and radically reduce employment rights, including abolishing the minimum wage. This group seem to have the ear of the odious George Osborne, and this week’s Tory conference included a lot of telling rhetoric about working harder and longer.

The basic ideas seem to be the following:

  • Employees have “excessive protections”, and not being able to fire someone for not busting a gut continually is unreasonable and creating a nation of idlers.
  • The claim is made that Britons work some of the lowest hours in the world, something I’ll examine later
  • The minimum wage for under-21s (the lavish sum of between £3.68 and £4.98 per hour) should be abolished to get more young people into work
  • The state should provide little more than a basic safety net
  • ‘Raw capitalism’, unhindered by employment laws, a minimum wage and environmental responsibility is the only way forward.

Paul Mason, the BBC’s economic editor, sums up the proposals as:

‘The race to the bottom, to be like China, is on, and we’re all going to do it. So your wages will meet the Chinese somewhere, and so will your social conditions”

Given the sorts of noises coming from the Tory leadership, it seems that while the Coalition is too fragile to go anywhere near as far as Dominic Raab and others would like to go, some of this mindset is finding its way into the mainstream. I, for one, think that Cameron and company are already living in a bubble and implementing policies that will be massively detrimental to some of the most vulnerable people in society. This ‘revolution’ is plain frightening, and I can’t be the only one who sees a society with no job security, slavish hours and social breakdown as a disaster, not an aspiration.

Let’s examine both some of the proposals from the conference and the claims of Raab and co:

  • Scraping housing benefit for under 25s is one of the stupidest things I’ve heard in years. The argument made is that many people are living at home well into their 30s while they struggle to get together the deposit for their own home, so why should others be supported in being independent by the state? Well, for starters, for many young people, moving back in with mum and dad is simply not an option: no room/overcrowding, abusive families, drug and alcohol issues (on both sides), poverty, no mum and dad. Moreover, even if one could go back to a safe and happy home, not everyone lives in an area with good job prospects, particularly in areas like the North East. I’d love to get on the housing ladder, but do not believe this should be at the expense of creating misery and making it harder for young people to study (especially those going back to college), escape abuse and be safe. Shelter argue that this policy will put young people in danger or trap them. It’s ideology-driven madness.

 

  • Slashing benefits, and making them rise slower than inflation: I grew up on a deprived council estate with around 2/3 of people being without work when I was around fifteen. I did meet some who didn’t want to work and knew how to play the system. However, I also met a great deal more people who were unable to find a job despite filling out endless applications and were despairing, people trying to study or retrain but facing obstacles from the same benefit system that made it financially harmful to go into low-paid work (which means a better minimum wage, not greater poverty on benefits), and people whose life circumstances, such as disability, caring responsibilities, lack of decent childcare and so on made it impossible. To suggest that the majority of benefit claimants want to scrape by on next to nothing is absurd and simply untrue. Moreover, when there are no jobs around, what exactly are people supposed to do??? Existing on benefits should not be made even harder – for the vast majority, it’s not a choice and they are not scroungers!

 

  • Disabled people should be ‘encouraged’ back to work: Ruth Anim’s story is just one example of flawed assessments for disability benefit by private firm ATOS. Around a third of those turned down for benefits as a result of said assessments have had the decision overturned on appeal, and tragically, many have died after being declared fit to work. If someone wants to work and can do so given the conditions they live with, that should be supported and encouraged. However, forcing vulnerable people onto the Work Programme to save money is cruel. Moreover, mental health issues are often poorly understood, and along with the impact of various physical problems, ATOS assessors are not qualified to make these judgments. All the government has succeeded in doing is increasing hate crime and causing a great deal of distress. Enough is enough!

 

  • Employment rights can be traded for shares, and small firms should be subject to looser laws: In my not-so-humble opinion, trying to entice people into surrendering their rights, especially in relation to redundancy, is profoundly wrong. Increasing insecurity does not lead to greater productivity, but instead a dog-eat-dog environment in which teamwork suffers and stress-related illness increases. Ask anyone who has been in an organisation making selective compulsory redundancies. Moreover, as with exemptions to the European Working Time Directive, how long before signing away one’s rights becomes a condition of employment? Stress has already become the main reason for taking long-term sick leave. This will only cause more problems, and allow exploitive employers to demand unpaid overtime with impunity. What happened to work/life balance?

 

  • Britons work some of the shortest hours in the world. Such a view ignores some key statistics. For starters, according to the latest English Business Survey, 23% of businesses fear their employees are overstretched, compared to 9% who feel they are under-utilised. That doesn’t suggest laziness. The heart of the matter, though, is the balance of full- and part-time work. According to the Office for National Statistics, “The fall in average hours worked in the UK can in part be explained by the increase in the proportion of the UK workforce employed in part-time jobs, from 24 per cent in 1992 to around 27 per cent in 2011”, and partly because of the shift from manufacturing towards the service sector. Additionally, “Full-time workers in the UK work longer hours than the EU average”. However, my dear Tories, there’s no need to let facts get in the way of policies that benefit the wealthy, is there?

 

To finish my rant, here’s a pretty picture to illustrate the above. Note that the Greeks work the longest hours in Europe – fat lot of good that did them!

 

European working hours (Source: ONS)

Forgiveness and Families

Recently,  I came across this article on the Guardian website.  It’s an interview with Danu Morrigan, whose mother was a narcissist, which means she needed the whole world to revolve around her would viciously put down other people, mainly her children, while appearing all ‘sweetness and light’ to the outside world. In the end, the only way Danu could cope was to cut contact with her mother completely. Reading some of the comments, it seems that respondents were divided between those who had experienced similar situations and taken similar action, and those who couldn’t understand why one would want to break contact with parents.  My own parents weren’t narcissists, but did have various issues that made my own childhood somewhat difficult, and this article got me thinking…  How should one react to people within one’s own family who behave abusively? It’s notable that most people would tell someone with an emotionally, physically or sexually abusive partner to run for the hills for their own safety, but many don’t take the same view about family. After all, blood is thicker than water, right? I don’t claim to have definitive answers, but I wanted to reflect on my own experiences.

My earliest memories are not exactly happy. Both my brother and I have, I think, suffered from the fact that mum was too busy either cleaning or recovering from cleaning (this used to be a six days a week, every week, thing  – she had OCD) to play with us, and physical affection was non-existent. We were told we were being good if we were basically invisible. Now, I’m not pretending I was an angel and was never a precocious brat, but the way things were was pretty horrible. My dad was very short-tempered and mum was so panicked about ‘mess’ that I felt I was always walking on eggshells.

Going into adolesence, things got worse, for the most part because my brother, who is autistic, got ill and my mother struggled to cope, my gender dysphoria was getting far worse as I went through puberty, and I struggled at school as I stuck out like a sore thumb. I had caring responsibilities that I was scared to mention to other adults in case the dreaded social services swooped in, so I didn’t go out much. Add to that the fact that I was doing well academically and I got a pretty hard time from some of the other kids.  Thus, both home and school life were troubled and tense. Things got to the point that at fifteen I was suicidal; if I did something well I was told not to be big-headed (not that I was – I was pathologically shy!) and if I did something wrong I’d be reminded for days on end . Leaving home at 18 was a complete relief.

One of the things about being in an emotionally violent environment is that often the things that happened would have been in isolation pretty trivial, but the point is that it was like a dripping tap, a constant addition of more and more till it was overflowing. I deliberately haven’t gone into specific incidents, as much as anything because it can be hard to convey to others what it was like and be taken seriously, but I can certainly understand what Danu was getting at with the story about the handbag. Like many others who’ve come from such environments, I made bad choices when it came to relationships, and my ex was emotionally, physically and sexually violent. Getting out of that relationship was one of the hardest and best things I’ve done. A few months after that, I had a breakdown, and from there have gradually been able to rebuild my life. God has done some pretty amazing healing.

Thanks to some amazing friends, a fantastic and incredibly patient minister, some great counselling and the love of my partner, I’ve been able to start on a journey of forgiveness, and have learnt that people who say ‘I love you’ do not all turn into abusers. It’s been tough, and though the scars have healed significantly, they still twinge sometimes. I wouldn’t wish the breakdown and depression on anyone, but they are (thank God) largely in the past now. It’s taken five years, but I’m getting there, slowly but surely.

Deciding to forgive (and it was a conscious decision) wasn’t easy. For a long time, I held onto the anger I felt, partly because I got it into my head that if I didn’t stay angry then it meant that what happened didn’t matter, and partly because I was convinced no-one liked the ‘real me’, but they might feel sorry for me. That’s not easy to admit, but for a long time it’s how things were. Letting go involved taking the risk, on myself – am I lovable for my own sake? I guess that I’ve gradually learnt that the answer is ‘yes’, and as much as anything else, getting to the point of being able to begin gender reassignment is a result of this journey of self-acceptance.

A key part of that journey has been learning to see my parents and my ex as human beings, if that makes sense. It’s easy to blame one’s parents and to forget that they had a huge amount of shit to deal with and had been through a lot of pain themselves. Reading the article helped to make a lot of sense about why my ex was like he was; his mother sounds like a classic narcissist, and I suppose growing up with leaves its scars as much as my experiences of a less bad situation did to me. She certainly scared the crap out of me while being deeply concerned that the rest of the world thought she was wonderful. I suppose it’s no wonder he was so messed up.

None of the above is to excuse what happened, but learning to see those people as human beings and not simply monsters, as well as accepting that I made mistakes and was a prat sometimes, has really helped me to let go of the anger. I reckon (though have no proof) that I’m not the only one to have had therapy, as while when I went back up north a few months ago some things were as crazy and dysfunctional as ever, so much has changed for the better.  I now have a reasonable relationship with my parents, though having clear boundaries is essential. I can see why someone might make the choice to cut off their parents; I thank God that I haven’t needed to do that, and have been able to focus more on the good stuff that happened in my childhood alongside the bad. Having said that, I want nothing to do with my ex ever again.

I suppose it comes down to the fact that one has to make  a judgment about how to maintain sanity and safety. I can have a relationship with my parents and with God’s help, try to focus on making the ‘now’ good rather than letting the past take over.  The barriers would be just too high with my ex, and I fear I’d be putting myself in danger. It’s not a case of blood being thicker than water, so much as reconciliation of a sort not always being possible…

A brief update on life…

I’ve had a mad three weeks or so and therefore just haven’t found the time to blog, so here’s an update on life at the moment:

I am now Dr TOH, as of 8th June. I have just minor corrections and thankfully not many of them, so the thesis should be all done soon. However, I doubt I’ll make July congregation because of the rest of life…

I have been up and down the country looking for work. Had a few interviews since I last wrote anything. One will take a fortnight to get back to me and I’m not convinced I want the job anyway. One would have been great but turned me down – since when has talking through in detail the planning of the final two chapters (representing a year’s work) of a PhD thesis been an insufficiently strong example of planning an activity? The interview I had in Manchester today seemed to go well and I’ll hear tomorrow. The company seemed great so I’d really like to progress to the next stage. All in all, with job applications, life has been hectic.

I had my first experience of the dismalness of benefit claiming this month. One now has to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit by phone, and they want to know one’s entire life story. Then I had to go for an interview with Jo, an advisor who slavishly followed her computer system (which couldn’t cope with the concept of a graduate looking for graduate jobs) and talked to me as if I am a particularly stupid monkey with a particular reason to be stupid. She refused to listen to me and the system couldn’t cope with the types of jobs I’m applying for – management consultant wasn’t on the list, so such jobs can’t exist… I’ve promised to be a good girl and look on the Jobcentreplus (plus what, exactly?) website twice a week, which I intend to use to find the most bizarre jobs going and blog about. I have to go back Monday for my fortnightly humiliation. Prayer please – felt very down after the last time.

TractorGirl has been on a pioneer missioner adventure. Whatever comes of it, I hope it gives her the confidence to explore the Diaconate when the time comes. Can’t deny it hurts, though, watching her being encouraged when the Church of England gives one no room to pursue ministry with integrity.

We have had some sunshine at last, and I now have a tan of sorts. In other news, Prince Phillip is still alive. Oh yes, I may have solved my impending housing issue and last week I bought a new tie 🙂