‘Benefit fraud apparently cost the Government £1.9 billion last year but they dished out £955 billion to support the banks.
Almost 500 times as much.
Refocuses the rancour, doesn’t it?’
Sunshine on Maryhill Posted on October 17, 2013 by Julie McDowall
The sun rarely shines on the council estates of Maryhill. But on the rare occasions when it does, they emerge, dragging their Argos Value deckchairs behind them.
The high-rise flats do their best to block the light, but they find a spot in the concrete playground where the sun peeks through. They plant their chairs, flap open their Daily Records, crack open their cans and bask in the thin angle of the sunlight.
Throughout the day, their merry camp is uprooted as they’re forced to follow the sun as it drifts behind the 26-storey skyscrapers of the 1960s. They leave the littered playground and move round to the bin area where it’s good for an hour or so, before being forced up again and round to the car park.
By the time I get home from work they’re clustered on the steps of the close and I’ll need to step over them. By now they’re sunburnt and drunk and it’s hard to know what to say in order to get past. If I say ‘Excuse me’ I’ll sound posh. If I say nothing and just tramp through I’m asking for trouble. If I smile and gently step around them I’m a coward. How do I get home?
I loathe these people.
I’m educated and working two jobs but will be dining on something called ‘curry pockets’ from Farmfoods tonight, whilst these people loll in the sun all day, the damp wrappers of their fish suppers gathered at their ankles. I haven’t been on holiday for eight years, but they’re talking about how ‘mental’ Ayia Napa was.
I got that terrible letter in bold red type as I missed my council tax payment, but these people have it all paid for them. And their rent, too, leaving loads of spare cash for Ayia Napa and chips. Leaving time to drowse and drink in the Maryhill sun.
Scroungers. Scum. I say it again: I loathe these people.
I hated them even as I was down there amongst them, living a poor, thin, nasty life. Being poor and utterly stripped of hope, it seems, evokes two chief responses. You can give up and join the bedraggled deckchair camp or you turn hard and bitter. I went for the latter.
I hated that I could only get a call-centre job despite having a good degree from a posh university. I despised myself for not being able to earn more. I was embarrassed that I lived in a high rise flat. I was ashamed that I missed my council tax payment and there was now talk of taking me to court. So I lashed out at the people in the deckchairs, as there at least was someone I could feel superior to. I have no career and no hope but at least I’m better than them.
And isn’t this what the Government delights in?
Turning us against one another via the discourse of the benefit scrounger?
My hatred of that ‘type’ of person made me keep quiet about my troubles as I didn’t want to be tainted by association. To be known as a poor person from a council flat. No-one knew I was in debt. No-one knew about the red-inked letter. No-one knew that a Sheriff Officer had been to my door and asked if he could come in to discuss ‘options’. No-one knew I dined nightly on curry pockets.
I desperately wanted to distance myself from the fate of the poor person, so I hated them. Rip away their benefits. I don’t care if they starve. I work so why can’t they? All my own insecurity was whipped up and spat out at them.
Bloody scroungers. Bring back the workhouse.
At my lowest point, thank God there was still someone to feel superior to.
Years have passed and my circumstances have changed. No-one is taking me to court. I am warm and well-fed. But that’s not all that’s changed.
My venom towards ‘scroungers’ has gone. Of course, there are scroungers and benefit cheats, though only in relatively tiny numbers.
Look at it this way. Benefit fraud apparently cost the Government £1.9 billion last year but they dished out £955 billion to support the banks.
Almost 500 times as much.
Refocuses the rancour, doesn’t it?
Popular anger and tabloid rhetoric is totally mis-directed as we’re too busy fighting one another. We miss the bigger picture, but who can blame us when we are consumed with getting money together for last month’s council tax, not to mention this month’s. Then there’s next month. You pace the kitchen floor and resist the urge to phone your gran and cry and all the while the drunken chatter from the suntanned ‘scum’ drifts up to your 14th floor kitchen window.
So you hate them. And you miss the bigger picture.
Truly, IDS must smirk when the Daily Mail reports on the latest over-sized brood to be given a council house. If you dare to read the readers’ comments below such stories they are full of bile and fury.
It’s only now, years later, when I’m out of poverty and no longer threatened, that I have become political.
I’ve had calm and distance to think clearly, unmuddled by fear. That’s why I’m writing for this website.
If I’d submitted an article a few years ago I’d have been turned away as a right-wing nutjob, having fallen for the establishment trick and hated the poor as they were draining our scarce resources.
I believe it’s called “divide and conquer”.
We need to start seeing clearly.
We need to know our enemy, and it’s not a bunch of sad drunks on a council estate – it’s our own apathy. An apathy which allows brutal, right-wing governments to be returned again and again even though we haven’t voted for them for more than two generations.
In less than a year’s time, we can make a choice to do something about that once and for all. Or we can vote to stay in our cheap nylon deckchairs, scavenging in the debris like rats, fighting each other for a fleeting glimpse of the sun.