BEEM: We’re no longer allowed to talk about poor people in social housing because it hurts other people’s feelings.

BEEM is the umbrella group registered tenants associations in Edinburgh & Lothians, which forms part of the tenant participation strategy of  the Scottish Government. I hadn’t ever heard of  them before but they were offering free lunch to members. And, seriously, who turns down free lunch?

It was tedious.

Free lunch did not even remotely compensate for the tediousness, despite being excellent and involving cake.

The first two hours were presentations on why the Scottish government came to develop a national strategy on tenant participation and the achievements therein. The information was interesting but not what I had expected from the blurb in the email. I wanted more information on how BEEM could support local tenants’ organisations; not a history of Scottish government legislation.

There were lots of complaints about how few tenants organisations showed up to this meeting. But, it was on a Thursday. The fact that people in social housing might have actual jobs that they can’t take time off for free lunch events seemed to have been missed by a number of people paid to be there. And, we won’t even go into the issue of caring for children or family members with disabilities. That being a barrier to people (read women) participating seem to have missed everyone completely. Yes, there is some funding for childcare for these events but BEEM didn’t include any suggestion of potential childcare in their email invite. And, really, when was the last time a local authority paid for a carer so that a person (read woman) could attend these meetings safe in the knowledge that appropriate support had been covered for those they care for?

There was also no real discussion of literacy or language issues being a barrier to tenant participation in their community organisations, at the city, regional and national level. When I raised it, everyone pooh-poohed the suggestions saying that all Edinburgh council documents were available for translation. How this is meant to help people who are functionally illiterate went unanswered; as did my point that not everyone was comfortable accessing translation service via the council for numerous and valid reasons (and as someone who speaks English as a first language but with a ‘foreign’ accent, I can’t imagine how much patronising “support” those who speak English as a second language get from local employees. More than one has heard my accent and done the whole talking in a loud voice very slowly routine.)

The lack of recognition of just how severe these barriers can be for tenant participation was evidenced by an employee of a local housing association who thought that tenant at community level could be increased by holding meetings on evenings and weekends. My hand shot straight up in the air and I went straight through the “working/caring” commitment roll call. This was met by blinking.

The final note was a discussion on a desire for a major cultural shift to get people into renting properties rather than home owning. Because too many people equal social housing with poverty and that is just too embarrassing for some social housing tenants. After all, who wants to be poor? Granted, people who are poor don’t really get a choice in this but BEEM weren’t overly concerned with this somewhat large section of social housing tenants. There was no discussion of fact that places like Germany and Canada with huge rental markets also invest in pension funds negating the need to depend on a house to fund old age.

Personally, I’ve never understood the logic of home owning as a retirement fund. If your house is your investment for your old age, then surely you need to sell it when retired? Having no pension but a house you want to pass on to your children as an inheritance makes no financial sense to me. But, heh, I’m poor and will never own a home. so what the hell do I know?

It’s safe to say I scurried out as soon as it was over and won’t be going back. There may be a huge stigma attached to being poor and living in social housing in this country but that isn’t the fault of the people living in those conditions. It’s the fault of government policy, media coverage and people who think it’s more important to pretend that poor people don’t live in social housing . So that other people living in social housing don’t get their feelings hurt by having to recognise poverty in their neighbours.

Between this and the fucking appalling presentation by Police Scotland on internet safety for children this week, the revolution can’t come soon enough. And, I’m not having Police Scotland or BEEM along to mine.

Trashing Boxing Day sales ignores structural poverty within the capitalist-patriarchy

My FB and twitter feed are full of people commenting that they wouldn’t dream of going to the Boxing Day sales – just as it was on Black Friday. I can understand the desire to comment on rampant consumerism that our capitalist-patriarchy is predicated on, but targeting the people buying in these sales is not appropriate because it completely ignores the issue of poverty.

I believe that the patriarchy will not be smashed unless we also destroy capitalism. There is no way to make capitalism ‘fair’ – it will always be predicated on the exploitation of the unwaged labour of women as carers for children and family and the the labour of people who live in “non-industrialised/non-Western” (or whatever othering term is being used this week).

Advertising makes us believe we are shit parents for not buying our kids the must-have toys of the season. We know it’s a scam to make rich men richer and that our kids won’t be scarred for life if we don’t buy them the toy, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t buy the toys because we don’t want our kid to be the one missing. As a single parent, I’ve always shopped in the sales. This is why we have the entire first edition of the Lego Harry Potter castle (75% off at Tescos), Playmobil school (50% off), pink micro-t scooter (25% off plus free delivery but only if you get the pink one) and numerous Barbies, Polly Pockets and My Little Ponies (both the branded and non-branded ones). Did I need to buy these for my daughters as a single parent? No. Did I still line up on Boxing Day, first day of the annual Playmobil sale at Toys’R’Us ( 40% off & if you spend £40, you get a ‘super’ set worth £20 free!) and Black Friday. You betcha.

They didn’t make me a better mother and they didn’t compensate for my eldest daughter’s father being a dick and either failing to even make contact at Christmas (having not paid child support all year) or sending her a puzzle for 18 month olds when she was 6. I still shopped on those big sales day because I didn’t want my kid to be the one at school who didn’t have a gazillion presents to talk about. And, I know most of these are made by people, including children, who are making less than a pound a day and frequently live without clean water and sanitation. It feels shit being in this position but I’m very lucky compared to many single parent households as I never lived under the poverty level.

So many women, and it almost always women, live in poverty because men refuse to financially support their children and the state colludes with these men by allowing them to perpetuate financial child abuse. The state, and increasingly NGOs, collude with multi-national corporations forcing huge swathes of the population of the planet into poverty with farm subsidies in ‘industrialised’ countries, commodifying water, running a “war on drugs” when we have a worldwide shortage of medicinal morphine & have destroyed the cash crops of indigenous famers, and denying workers a living wage (whether they be living in a slum in India or in London).

Capitalism requires people to live in poverty in order to continue. We need to challenge the corporations like Apple (I say typing on my new Apple computer bought on credit card as my old one was dying) who build their products in inhumane conditions or Nestle, who continues to promote their formula in areas with no access to clean water despite the fact that this actively kills babies, or any company who participate in the arms trade – all of whom are culpable in mass genocide.

Yes, there are many people buying in the sales who are ‘middle class’ but let’s talk about why they feel the need to line up at Next at 4 in the morning  for sales. Are they buying work clothes that they can’t afford at normal prices? Buying bags to make them look ‘professional’ at job interviews? Clothes for the kids to wear on weekends (since school uniforms are more expensive because it forces you to buy two sets of clothes)? School shoes which are grossly over-priced and completely impractical for girls to play in? Are they buying that TV because it’s the only form of entertainment they have?

Instead of denigrating people who buy at these sales, let’s talk about the capitalist-patriarchy, consumerism and poverty. Let’s examine why it’s considered acceptable to denigrate those who shop on Boxing Day but not those who line up in the week before Christmas spending thousands to have the Perfect Christmas. After all, spending hundreds on one toy the week before Christmas is as damaging to the planet as it is to spend 1/2 on the same toy on Boxing Day.

The Tories hate children: Or, no/ poor access to education is state-sanctioned child abuse

Cynical Croydon charging children £3,500 for remedial lessons

I would have thought that a party which prefers children to live in poverty than hold their fathers responsible for financially supporting them can’t get any higher on the “Who hates children the most” game.  Turns out, I was so beyond wrong I might as well have been on a different planet. The Tory-led council of Croydon have come up with a brilliant plan to punish children who need extra support. They’ve privatised learning support for remedial literacy, put it in a new building and are now going to charge children a whopping £3,500 for the privilege of learning to read. A government which does not give every single child access to appropriate educational services is committing state-sanctioned child abuse.

EVERY SINGLE CHILD HAS THE RIGHT TO AN EDUCATION .

This includes any extra support they may need to help them. Requiring children to pay is horrific.

It is unbelievable that we live in a country where a child who needs extra support is expected to pay. And, let’s be honest here, this is a punishment for parents who are guilty of the heinous crimes of being poor, speaking English as a second language or having a child who is not “normal”.

No country which punishes children rather than supporting them is civilised. And, every government which believes it’s okay to force children to pay to learn is participating in state-sanctioned abuse. A child who goes through a state education who cannot read has been failed by everyone.

I know the language of abuse seems almost hyperbolic but, really, a child who lives in the UK who has to pay for support from the state education system is being set up to fail. A child who can not read is severely oppressed by the state. What is forcing a child to live in poverty because she/he has no basic literacy skills but abuse?