I was meant to get my first payment of Universal Credit today. I checked my account online with some anticipation (though not much) only to find nothing there. I’ll be calling Scotland soon, listen to canned Vivaldi once again. Eventually I’ll get a dour voice telling me something. But even if I got the money, it wouldn’t be the answer.
Some have no idea what it’s like. Try paying your rent without a job. Try covering your travel costs. Try paying your Council Tax too. Try eating healthily. Try saving up for anything without disposable income. Try paying your bills. Try all of this on just £57 a week. That plus housing benefit, if you get it in time. Try it. Go on.
All of these things are hard enough when you’re working a minimum wage job. You will be lucky if you’re getting by with £100 leftover in your bank account. If you’re a recent graduate, you might be lucky enough to still have an overdraft without the charges. Feel free to dip in and go for a swim. You can sink in for days, before resurfacing at the end of the month.
That’s if you have a pay day, a monthly wage, an annual salary, with the taxes taken out by your employer. An existence as an intern or free-lancer can be highly stressful. In any case, life on what used to be called ‘the dole’ is much less simple. You can find yourself trapped financially. It’s supposed to make you “get off your arse, get on a bike and get a job”. It is true, after all the system is so shit it does give you an incentive to work.
Nevertheless, if you live on benefits — you can barely travel and eat properly. The propensity to depression is natural. You’ll soon find yourself waist-deep in despair, and sinking fast. Once you’re there, you’ll find it hard to motivate yourself to apply for jobs. Fortunately, the job centre may sanctionyou for this, so you have fear to motivate you and, I’m sure, you will apply to the best of your abilities under such intolerable conditions.
Wages have been stagnant since the 1970s. That’s why we’ve had a huge explosion of private debt — the only way to raise demand without high wages — as people relied more and more on credit cards, mortgages and loans, to stay afloat. The credit crunch and the subsequent financial crisis did not end this trend, but rather entrenched it further. We can thank ourpolitical leaders for a low-wage, low-growth economy with huge amounts of debt and unaffordable, lousy housing.
Since the credit crunch in 2007 the UK has seen wages continue to fall, in real times, putting us next to Greece. Real earnings have fallen by over 10% between 2007 and 2015 in Britain. According to the OECD, the average wage rate has risen by 6.7% in Europe — but not in Great Britain — as we find in France (11%), Germany (14%) and Poland (23%). This is what the Conservatives mean when they say they are “making work pay”.
Meanwhile the UK’s top bosses have taken home a 10% raise — on an average salary of £5.5 million a year. Wages for the average worker rose by just 2% in 2015. That’s after years of falling wages. The highest paid CEO isSir Martin Sorrell at WPP, taking home over £70 million quid last year. It may sound good for aspirational types, who stupidly imagine they could earn that much one day. The brutal truth is the poor works so these people don’t have to.
Profits are what you make when you don’t work. Except, if you’re in a dole queue — that’s scrounging! If you can digest this thought, ask yourself: How did that taste? Was it disgusting? It should be.
This article was originally written for Notes from the Underclass.