1990s >> 1997 >> no-1117-september-1997

The Last Word: The Undeserving

Cartoon: Peter Rigg

There is a hell on earth reserved for those with no money. These are the “socially excluded”. These dwell in the darkness of inescapable poverty, ever wrestling with the torment of survival in a world dominated by the fast buck. If you have no money to feed to the profit-hunger of the owning élite you must starve or eat rotten food; you must sleep on the pavement or in slums designed to accommodate the economically imprisoned; you must freeze when it gets cold and sweat in the urban heat; you must watch the ceaseless propaganda serenades of the ad-men who are not talking to those without money to buy, but merely teasing your expectations; you must eat the crap which is poisoned by its cheapness; you must learn to go without and watch your children go without—sinners in the land of the Great God Money.

The deprivations of extreme poverty are still here. They are built into the very fabric of the profit system, like a viral fungus which can never be contained. From time to time the smiley reformers will come to peer at poverty—they will set up their Social Exclusion Unit, packed with euphemisms to describe poverty and futile remedies which never worked before because the system spews out such affronts to its callous economic logic. The simple-minded reformers, now Brand New (Extra Sterile) Labour, doped up on Christian platitudes and forgotten memories of every previous attempt to exorcise poverty from the profit system, come to throw their crumbs and offer sympathy.

They do not begin to understand. It is as well they don’t. For knowledge would only show them that the stink which offends them is inherent to the system they seek to run. So, they wave their wands of Social Inclusion and sermonise about Social Justice and play games with the welfare rules until they are satisfied that their latest spray will de-odorise the capitalist air and free it from the stench of poverty. How good it makes them seem to those who elected them to rid the world of smelly beggars and single mums.

They do not understand what it is to spend night-after-night adding up figures to see whether you can buy your way through the coming week. Pay the rent—then what about food for the weekend? The ghostly footsteps of the bailiff draw closer each time you shut your eyes. Adapt to each latest deprivation only to be hit by a new one.The humiliating rituals of the welfare maze forever eroding your humanity and ripping away your dignity.

The new propaganda, now being pushed like an opiate for the just-surviving, speaks of “the deserving poor”. Yes, the very deserving ones should be helped. The ninety-seven-year-old, blind, deaf and one-legged wretch who has never taken a drink and now lives in squalor, must be . . . must be Socially Included. So throw a few quid at the geriatric service and, let’s be really socially inclusive here, take the poor old sod on a day trip to Margate care of the tax-payers.

But as for those who chose to dwell in hell—the shouldn’t-have-got-pregnants and the couldn’t-be-bothered-at-schools and the petty fools who thought they could beat the law or find temporary oblivion in a drug- haze—these are the sinners who are beyond redemption. The Socially Excludable. The Victorian profit-louts called them The Undeserving Poor. Let them rot. Did they not read the rules of The System when they entered this world? Did they not believe it when they were told of the eternal agonies of hell?

I have just finished talking with a friend whose disability benefits have been withdrawn. They have decided that, despite all the obvious evidence, he is fit for wage-slavery. He is sick with worry. He does not know which way to turn. He is one of tens of thousands in the same position. Him today, you tomorrow, me the day after? New Britain; Old Poverty.

Steve Coleman