Austerity and the Damp Fog of Alienation

http://twitter.com/stevieknackered/status/286905373456203777

The tweet above, about welfare claimants, struck a chord with me.

It is very worrying that the welfare safety net is being reconfigured, to become something that could coerce claimants.

It is actually quite easy for those with job security (not just the wealthy, but the middle classes too) to imagine certain aspects of poverty. Regardless of our jobs or bank balances, we’ve all experienced moments of hunger, or the boiler has broken and we’re without the central heating. While affluent people do not know what it is to live perpetually in that state, they can at least imagine the physical discomfort. So it is easy to be outraged by extreme poverty.

However, it is harder to imagine the feeling of being in the position of weakness that comes when one is entirely dependent on others to sign-off on benefits.

Only a few will have to suffer an egregious abuse that power (like Lisbeth in The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo forced by a social worker to submit to sexual abuse before he will sign her maintenance cheques).

But a much larger group will feel something more ephemeral. A latent powerlessness, like a constant damp fog that never lifts.

A few years ago, in a video blog about civil liberties, I tried to convey the difference between the spectacular abuses of liberty, which everyone notices, and the constant, low-level erosions which nevertheless get in the way of how we wish to live our lives. The latter issues arise slowly and quietly, so that we do not notice them.

I think that many effects of this Government’s austerity programme may be similarly overlooked. I worry that we lack the imagination to properly understand this corrosive quality of the cuts. Our political discourse lacks the stories that help us empathise with many affected people, because the denials of service they suffer are not egregious enough make the local news. We therefore remain detached as they absorb the routine subjugations and the petty inconveniences, which are brought about when the state begins to withdraw from its obligations and instead choose to berate and threaten its citizens.

Frustrated days, stunted ambitions, sub-optimal lives, lived out just one street down.

 Heygate Estate
The condemned Heygate Estate, Walworth, London. Photo by yrstrly.

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