19 Mar 2014

Time for radical change

Green Party activist Matt Hawkins wrote this excellent piece in the Huffington Post recently, talking about the need the challenge the Tory rhetoric of 'hard working families'.

In-work poverty is a growing issue. People are working ever longer hours, for ever less economic power, as rising housing costs and energy prices particularly, make it impossible for most of us to keep up. We've no time to rest or to live, only to work frantically in a desperate bid to stay afloat. There is so much misery being caused by this. For the poorest, it has meant food banks and destitution. For many in the middle, stress, depression, anxiety, loss of social connections, loss of family time and loss of quality of life are having real impacts. The vast majority of us are suffering.

We need to be aware that 'the poor' are not some special group, and any of us can go there. Ill health and the loss of a job can take a comfortable middle class family into arrears, debt, and crisis. The idea that 'hard working families' are not at the same risk as those unspecified 'other people' keeps us running hard with no security whatsoever. The myth that those in crisis got there because they were not working hard enough also needs challenging, because in this climate, most of us are not capable of putting in enough hours to maintain our standard of living. It is not possible, for most of us, to run fast enough in order to keep up. Disposable incomes are falling, and we are all feeling the pinch.

For those in most difficulty, pushed to total crisis, the language of 'hard working families' is not just unhelpful, it's downright cruel. It implies there might have been a choice, or a viable alternative and so often no choice was available. It implies that only if they had tried harder, disaster could have been averted. This language encourages those who are still just about staying afloat, to feel that those who are sinking have failed through their own lack of effort, not because the system is sick and destructive. This keeps us from questioning the system too much. So we blame the poor and those in crisis, and if we're lucky enough not to be in that much trouble ourselves (yet) we cling to the irrational belief that if we can just stay at the edge of almost working ourselves to death, we might get away with it.

The Green Party does not believe that work is the meaning and point of life. We want a decent quality of life for all. We want meaningful work for all that pays a living wage, but to get to that place - which is entirely possible - we've got to stop believing in the fairy tale that hard work pays, and that hard working families are something a country should aspire to having. Let's talk about the common good instead, and work on making that happen.

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