where did we lose the basic skills of self-reliance to cope with financial austerity?

The Grauniad’s had a series called Breadline Britain about how dreadful life is for our increasingly financially challenged nation. Now I just about experienced Britain in the 1960s, as it was pulling itself out of the post-war austerity, and one of the things that strikes me about the difference between the Britain I saw as a child and that of now is that adults have become far less self-reliant. We have lost many basic skills that soften the issues of having less money, and it appears that many adults just don’t seem interested in learning. The second thing that strikes me is the appalling incompetence at household financial management. Perhaps it was easier for my parents’ generation because borrowing money was much harder in the past, so people had to live within their means or just lump it. And the last thing that is obviously wrong is people don’t seem to be asking themselves whether they can afford to have children before doing so. This lady has four children – on a family income of £44k. It isn’t hard to see why she is struggling.

People design in fixed costs into their lives without giving them enough thought. It first struck me when I reflected on a colleague who lived 25 miles away from work, where I was 6.5 miles from work. We were both higher rate taxpayers, and I calculated that he needed to earn ~£5k more than me, just to have the same disposable income. How’s that? Well, design in a 50 mile round trip instead of a 13 mile round trip. That’s an extra 37 miles he needs to drive, each and every day. That’s about £1300 a year in fuel alone. He’s putting 8100 extra miles a year on his car, with all the wear and tear that entails. I could keep my cars for 10 years and buy them well secondhand; he bought his cars new – in the service life of one of mine, he’d have put 80,000 miles on the clock, so that just wasn’t an option for him. I could bike to work when the weather was congenial. Taken in the round he was taking a hit that was probably equivalent to a salary cut of £5000 a year. And of course he was losing about an hour of his time each day.

Every time you pay someone to do something you can do yourself, you have to earn enough to be able to pay tax on the money you are paying out. If that person is employed, you have to cover the overheads, sick pay, employer’s contributions, the lot, whereas if you are doing it yourself, you do not have to earn the money and pay the tax and NI on it.

It is always much more expensive in cash terms to pay someone else to do something that you can do yourself.

Now that isn’t a reason to insource everything, because there’s the opportunity cost to the money you could be earning at the same time 😉 If you are hiring someone on minimum wage and you’re on minimum wage yourself, that is barmy – do your own cleaning. If you’re earning £50k then knock yourself out and hire the cleaner if it means you can earn £20 an hour net and paying them £6.19.

The cleaner on minimum wage is the obvious example, but there are more subtle costs. For instance, it’s more expensive to get Tesco to prepare your meals for you rather than do it yourself, which is why ready meals are more expensive than the ingredients, and if the cost is the same then the ready meal will contain ropey ingredients 😉

I was staggered at this bunch of Guardianistas who are struggling to feed two children and two adults on the meagre income of… £35,000 if you please, and they’re living with his parents! Let’s take a closer look. They were on a combined household income of £75,000. Now I have never lived in a household that had this much income – ever! I haven’t been in a household with two incomes for most of my life. The Ermine is not one of the 1%. So I ask myself how the hell these good people managed to get made bankrupt. She lost her job when they had twins. Now I appreciate that it’s not meant to happen that way but in general many mums leave the workforce for a few years after having kids, so the loss of that income was to be expected. Have they never heard of savings? Now they are complaining of not being able to afford decent food, and having to use ready meals. Mrs Ermine has examined that fallacy in this post and found it wanting – the problem there is food preparation skills, or the lack thereof, as well as a shocking lack of imagination and general get-off-your-backside-and-do-something smarts.

Now eating is one of those fundamental things that everybody needs to do. If you’re rich enough to afford ready meals, then have at it, but if you’re not, or you have the temerity to want your food to taste of something other than sugar. vegetable fats and monosodium glutamate, or maybe you are rude enough to want vitamins, then you have to re-acquaint yourself with the food prep skills that humanity has preserved across generations – until now. Sometimes I wonder if people realise that food doesn’t only come from supermarkets – it’s actually possible to grow some things yourself 😉 I particularly like the line

I’m not stupid: I know this is going to have a detrimental effect on my children’s health.

For God’s sake, woman, you’re running on £35,000 a year, and have more time, being unemployed. And yet you see fit to switch from cooking yourself to using ready meals? Where’s the rest of that £35k going, on the horses?

It is the loss of skills that will hurt people in future. In the past people grew food on allotments and in gardens, which saves a lot of money – Mrs Ermine qualifies that at about £2000 a year saved; for a basic rate taxpayer that’s equivalent to needing to earn about £3000 less every year! As an added bonus, although your veg will look gnarlier that Tesco’s, it will actually taste of something and be good for you, as well as filling you up.

Food does this – it just sprouts from the ground, despite what Tesco would have you believe, and here some citizens of Ipswich are taking advantage of that fact

There are other skills that could save people money. When I bought my first house, I had a problem with a stuck main intake stopcock under the kitchen sink. Now I could have called in a plumber, but because I had seen my Dad do plumbing, I figured I’d change this myself. I had ambitions of using a blowtorch and Yorkshire fittings but couldn’t reduce the seepage from the Water board stopcock enough to get enough heat into this, so once I got within 5cm of the inlet with some abortive attempts I sucked it up and used a compression stopcock. Job done. I replaced the guttering myself on that house – for the cost of an aluminium ladder and the materials, which was a lot cheaper than when I had that job done on this house; I was time-poor and wanted the soffit and bargeboads changed to uPVC which wasn’t within my capability. I fixed my heating system when the timer/programmer died and again when one of the motorised diverter valves died. I changed my own cold water tank, taking the opportunity to relocate the bugger to the apex of the roof to give a decent head of water to the shower, rather than run a power shower. I changed the water pump on my car, and replaced brake pads in the past. I did this because I grew up with the expectation that any halfway competent person who wasn’t rich would be able to do those – people just couldn’t afford not to.

More work, yes. More money, no – I can’t save any more money on heating 😉

Mrs Ermine asked me recently if I was going to run the wood stove in the day. I don’t generally, because the heat is preserved in the house from the evening before. I said no, because I didn’t want to spend the money. She looked at me as if I was crazy. “How’s that going to cost us more then?”. She was right – we don’t pay for heating, because we are prepared to chop up wood and pallets. I did some of that today. Heating less doesn’t save us money. But we need to chop up more wood.

In Britain we need to become more self-reliant. We need to learn how to cook decent food from ingredients that our grandmothers would recognise. We need to learn to fix some of the basics ourselves. We need to learn to go without if we haven’t got the money, rather than borrow money and have our future selves pay even more back. In the last decade or so we have outsourced a lot of these basics to outside agencies and to the welfare and benefits system, to try and buy our way out of needing to tackle the gritty basics of life. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, spit on our hands, and get to work relearning some of the basic skills our grandparents used to take for granted.

Where’d they print the instructions on this darn thing?

Knowing how to feed yourself and your children from food not sourced from supermarkets and food that doesn’t come with instructions printed on the back is a skill we seem to have lost somewhere. My mother’s opinion of supermarket veg was unprintable – she got that from Lewisham market stallholders who would get it from Covent Garden market in the early morning. Even as a student supermarket veg was tired and low-grade. Fortunately students don’t need veg 😉 The supermarkets have found how to make veg last longer by chicanery like de-oxygenated atmospheres in plastic packaging and the like, but they can’t get round the problem that the flavour of food fades with time, and most of it seems to fade in the first day or two. It’s why those stallholders got their produce from Covent Garden barrow-boys in the early morning – because they’d have got an earful from their customers if their produce tasted as poor as Tesco’s finest. But it was more faff, and somewhere between the 1970s and now we collectively decided that all the adults in a household should go to work, so we don’t have time to buy decent fruit and veg, or grow it, or cook our own food, or fix our own plumbing or any of those things that our grandparents took for granted.

We could afford the luxury of losing those skills in the last couple of decades. From the Guardian’s Breadline Britain series it looks to me that these skills are now being very sorely missed. We need to stop borrowing so much money and start living within our means. We need to think about whether we can afford to have as many children because it looks like some of the freebies there are drying up. And all in all we need to man up and start to take responsibility for the choices we make in our lives and skill up to be able to do more with less. The Guardian’s we never had it so bad is absolute bullshit. I grew up in a London of coal fires where only a single room in a house was heated in general, where most people didn’t have cars, and where people grew their own food and cooked it themselves.

Fridges had no freezer compartment – I recall the excitement when we got the first one with a two-star icebox – you could store frozen food in that but couldn’t freeze it I think. Respiratory ailments were widespread, because the damp and condensation were endless problems; I got bronchitis nearly every year until we moved to a house with central heating. That was not poverty in a Guardianista sense of the word – nearly everybody was like that. But what we did have was a broad base of basic skills, and good and reasonably stable communities. The move to paying for everything and having both adults working has atomised those communities and we have surrendered some basic skills for the blandishments of advertising. It would make the Guardianistas wring their hands in horror.

And yet there was some satisfaction and camaraderie there. People had hobbies other than watching television, and often these were creative, in quite eccentric ways. There may not be so much money about in future, but we have enormous advantages over those times, communications are far cheaper, the relative level of wealth in much higher.

The essential difference is that Britain in the 1960s, though it was far poorer than the Britain of 2012, was improving. It was better than Britain in the 1950s, and immeasurably better than the Britain that had endured its darkest hour standing alone against the Axis. The Britain of 2012 stands wanting compared to the Britain of 2006/7, and the Britain of 2015 will probably be wanting in material terms compared to today never mind 2007, for many people.

We probably can’t dodge that, but we can soften the blow by taking our lives back from the endless messages of spend spend spend. There is a certain reward in taking control of some of the variables, and pulling back from the money economy to improve our quality of life, rather than our standard of living. In a previous life, I used my meagre skills to grow tomatoes in the back garden. The crop was variable because I didn’t really know what I was doing, but for a lot of the time they were far better than Tesco’s Finest vine-ripened tomatoes-  because they had experienced th sun until the day they were eaten. Some simple pleasures can’t easily be bought, and perhaps we will find pursuing these more rewarding than chasing the admen’s plastic dreams. There’s something peculiarly short-lived about the enjoyment derived from satisfying a want that is created by marketing, because it is always a hostage to the next updated version. The stillness when the treadmill stops is a silence that is valuable in itself…



Christmas is a time for … getting into debt and polluting the world with low-grade plastic tat?

The nights are drawing in towards the end of the year. After the imported ghoulishness of Halloween we have the splendid and ancient tradition of –

  • celebrating the return of the sun’s life-giving light after the nadir of the darkest day 
  • honouring the birth of Jesus Christ, emulating the gifts of the three Kings
  • splurging on our credit cards, going into debt to buy stuff for Christmas, save retailers from going bust and keep the wheels of capitalism running for another year.

More debt, more plastic, more trash. Ah, that’s what it’s all about, and I introduced myself to some of this when I took a wander into town to get a 5 x 2.1mm breakout power cable from Maplin. They seem to have displaced all the vaguely useful, if overpriced, stuff to make way for the Christmas gadgetry. No power cable for me, then. Perhaps I could get a cheap set of Christmas lights in time for our early December party then.

We all seem to feel a bit poorer nowadays than in the heady days of the Goldilocks economy, but clearly this isn’t bringing out an attitude of make do and mend in us. We simply want our tat, but cheaper, so welcome to the Pound shops across the high street from Maplin.

Yes, it's only £1, but you're still being taken to the cleaners
intense competition in the sub-prime retail space

Let’s take a look at what we’ve got here then. What really strikes me about Christmas in these pound shops is the absolutely execrable taste and design of this garbage. If this is the stuff that appeals to the children in the family, then the parents need to do some serious soul-searching as to why they are failing to inculcate any sense of taste in their progeny. Sadly however, looking at some of the customers, I fear that this is doing the underage population of Britain a disservice – it’s the adults that seem to have no detectable sense of taste.

People filling their baskets with plastic Xmas trash
People filling their baskets with plastic Xmas trash in Poundland.

Makes you want to slap these folks around the chops with a wet fish and holler in their ears

‘Stop fixating on the price. You’re still being taken to the cleaners because this junk should have never been made, never been shipped over here and should have been sent straight to landfill if we’d failed on the first two counts.’

But no. It’s only a pound, so what have you got to lose? Well, a pound, duh!!!! It’s actually worse that that, because you have to buy more house to store this crap!

How about some inflatable Father Christmases over here on the left.

Roll up, roll up, plastic rubbish for just a pound!

I mean, really, when is an inflatable Father Christmas ever a good idea? How are you ever going to bring up your kids to appreciate two thousand years of Western culture when you sully your dwelling and their braincases with such addled, vile and ephemeral trash? Just Say No. See the top photo – there’s a convenient bin outside the store. If you find yourself outside Poundland having spent good money on such crap then for God’s sake repent now and cram it in the bin to save everybody any further embarrasment.

Now there’s nothing particularly wrong with Christmas lights, and the move to LED lights is a welcome one, provided they are mains-powered via an adaptor. You reduce the power consumption, and the lights should last a lifetime. However, there is everything wrong with Poundland’s battery-powered LED lights flogged here.

Poundland e-waste designed to help them flog you batteries

Basically this is plastic e-waste that is designed to sell you their consumable batteries. Depressingly, if you try and be clever and use rechargeable batteries you will find that the 2.4V rechargeables gives a result dim as Toc H lamp compared to the 2.8-3V from disposable batteries, because there’s a  threshold effect on the LEDs. You’d either have to change the heat-shrink encased resistor in series with each and every LED to fix that, or chuck out the battery cases and use a three-cell battery case. Neither of which the punters are going to do, so you might as well add some of Poundland’s value packs of batteries. Because they presumably have them made to a £1 price you’ll be changing them all the time but at least it keeps Poundland in business.

Notice these are all strings of 10 LEDs because Poundland get these made to their £1 retail target, so it’s a royal PITA to string up enough of these for a show worth doing, in itty-bitty short strings with a battery box every 10 lights. They ought to give the lights away free as they’ll make it up on the batteries. Where else other than a pound shop can you buy such a short-assed string of lights? That’s the price you pay for being cheap – if you pay a bit more for a 30 or 40-light string then at least you can rig a decent show. But hey, it’s only a pound, you can’t lose!

Oh yes you can – saving money on lights at Poundland is going to cost you a fortune by Christmas – you’re gonna get through a lot of batteries by then 😉

Strangely enough, I escaped from Poundland without buying anything. Let’s take a butcher’s hook at Yippee next door

Classy shopfitting, perhaps some corporate social responsibility to give the local schoolkids something to do maybe?

Here we have a cavernous cathedral dedicated to plastic tat that used to be a JJB Sports before it all went titsup

Cavernous cathedral of tat

Why do they have security alarms on the escalators? I thought Poundland was bad, but the stuff on sale here defies description; it makes Poundland look like a outpost of Design Museum. I’d have thought they’d be grateful if people lifted it.

‘Ello madam, did we pay for this plastic abomination? No? Please, please, take more, let me get you a boxful, get it outta here!

Why? For crying out loud, why?

It’s at times like this that serious questions come to mind. For the last three hundred thousand years humanity has been involved with an epic struggle to self-actualise. We stand on the shoulders of giants, previous generations used hand tools to carve things of timeless beauty.

Saxon purse lid, Sutton Hoo, about 1000 years old. Where did we start going wrong?

Surely someone, somewhere, in the long journey from plastic pellets in some Chinese factory to the placing of this vile cat-shaped kitchen timer in pole position on Yippee’s display, should have asked themselves why? What are we doing here? And ideally smashed the mould 😉 For Pete’s sake, they couldn’t even line up the eyes and whiskers graphics with the nose button, or the zero marking.  Be competent at least, even if you can’t be tasteful. Talking of which, it appear that the town is short of Christmas -themed cowboy hats. Once again the waste of human potential struck me – somebody spent time ‘designing’ this for manufacture. Bet they’re going to wish they’d spent more time at the office designing such life-affirming tat when their time is nigh, eh?

less bad than the timer.. just. Still begs the question, why…? Just why make it, why buy it?

It was time to get outta there, before the cloying stench of decadence sapped any more of my will to live. People are wondering why consumers aren’t buying, perhaps its because the fire of aspiration of make things of value has failed in the face of the need to make a fast buck. People are getting themselves into debt to buy shit like this for Christmas.

In a last attempt to find something of value I went to Wilkinsons, to see their Christmas lights. I am in the market for some lights to add to the party kit. It’s a pain needing to be able to rig this for 12V battery power for the summer parties outdoors, but Christmas LED lights are easily modified for that. Wilkinsons was a large bump up in the taste department, I’m glad to see. Kitsch I can forgive in Christmas decorations, some of that goes with the territory and is even necessary, it’s the downright fugly and the appalling taste that I can do without. Thomas Kinkade kitsch, OK perhaps. Malformed plastic garbage, no. Wilkinson’s are crafty buggers, too – I thought I’d clean up this January on discounted Christmas lights from 2011, but they don’t sell them off cheap, they clear the shelves, presumably landfilling the stuff.

Looks like the Chinese manufacturers of this Wilko product  have found a use for their chicken feathers, probably doesn’t pay to dwell too long on what happened to the birds. They probably weren’t free-range 😉

One of the reasons people are in such dire straits now is that we have unlearned our ability to do even the most basic things for ourselves. Take this, for instance –

Wilko wreath, plastic pine, real-ish cones, yours for £10 fully loaded

We appear to be so deracinated that we’d prefer to spend £10 of our heard-earned dosh on a plastic (yet again) simulacrum of pine, rather than getting ourselves and/or children into the pine forests that lie to the nearth-east and north-west of the town and having away with a few pine cones from the forest floor and some branches. However, if the thought of constructing our own wreath does occur to us, then Wilko have that covered over here at the make your own Christmas wreath experience. In a nod to Poundland, all the natural stuff, holly sprigs, pine cones come at £1 throw in six-up lots. At that rate my box of firelighting pine cones is worth about fifty quid.

£50 worth of pine cones, at Wilkinson’s rates

It’s barmy, you don’t even have to go to the forest – Access to Nature Ipswich is holding a Festive crafts event on the 15th December where they will show people how to make Christmas wreaths and provide the materials – all free of charge! These are wholly compostable and contain no plastic.

I came away appalled at the sheer ephemeral waste of it all. None of this stuff is going to last more than a year at best. It wouldn’t be so bad if this were just a waste of money, but this plastic trash holds a darker secret, one that people who are buying disposable plastic trash for the children should know be aware of.

Nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today somewhere

Yes, that includes biodegradable plastic other that that made of corn starch, it simply becomes smaller pieces. Plastic has only existed since the last century, and nothing on earth has yet worked out how to eat it and break it down. This TED talk has more:

[iframe http://embed.ted.com/talks/dianna_cohen_tough_truths_about_plastic_pollution.html 560 315]

This alterative take by Brooklyn band Chairlift has something to be said for it too

[iframe http://www.youtube.com/embed/7Ux9o7pEFTM?rel=0 420 315]

Even though I don’t have kids it made me think about trying to reduce single use convenience plastics. It’s about getting things into perspective. The plastic that keeps a hospital syringe needle clean is good even if only used once. The plastic in my computer serves me every day for about 5 years. But the plastic in a shopping bag is needless, in the face of good alternatives. And ephemeral, low-grade trash like from Yippee needs some thinking about before we continue to give the market the feedback that this is something we want more of in the world –

Ephemeral, low-grade plastic trash from Yippee

Perhaps something really bad happened over Halloween, and the town has been taken over by zombies, shuffling their abused plastic credit cards to the tills of Poundland and Yippee in exchange for these vile and tasteless plastic products of decadence.

Yet again, I escaped the High Street with my wallet undented.  Not because I was dedicated to frugality, though unlike some of my fellow citizens I hadn’t come to spend money purely for the sake of spending money. No, I came away empty handed for one simple reason. I found nothing of value. This is the thing people are getting wrong when they crowd Poundland. Just as Ellen Ruppel Shell identified in her book Cheap, we have lost sight of the value side of the “value for money” equation. Without value, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is, indeed something value-free is worse than nothing, because it is an insult to dwindling resources and takes up space in homes and landfill.

I needed cheer, and I have polluted the Web enough with pictures of trash. Two miles in the other direction from my house the crisp autumn day I cycled in the countryside for eight miles, looking for attractiveness rather than garbage.

The light was crisp and low, and I rested my eyes on the delights of the natural world instead of the garish colours of tawdry Christmas items made in China.

the way out of town
Good honest crap, none of this plastic garbage. It will be returned to the soil and become something useful in due course
Nightingale’s Hill

I’ve lived fewer than three miles from Nightingale’s Hill for more than twenty years, and to my shame I’ve never been here before. It is remarkable how much more of the world, including the locality, I see once work is out of the way 😉

I will come here in the Spring and see if it still hosts some of the dwindling stock of nightingales – down some 50% over the last decade. Most of the nightingales I have heard have been towards the coastal areas, though I did hear one on the way to work a year or so ago

another place two miles from home I hadn’t observed in 20 years, though I often passed it on the way to work when driving 😉
Finally time to head home at this tree


Local council leaders frame the Ermine as a victim!

Here I am, in Ermine towers, drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, when the local council freesheet rag drops limply through the letterbox. Normally it’s full of the inside skinny on the Christmas panto and which leading local celebrity is going to switch on the Christmas lights [ref] apparently we will have Xmas lights and they’ll be switched on on the 25th November. They’s also arranged for a market of 150 stalls to cover up the fact all the shops have turned into charity shops and Money Shops which is truly inspired – the Ermine tips his hat to fortitude in the face of adversity.[/ref] in the shattered remnants of what used to be the High Street before all the shops turned into payday lenders and charity shops.

This time it was different. Hold the front page guys, the news today is:

Will you be hit by welfare cuts?

It’s a pretty leading question, no? It sets us up as losers from the off. There’s a lot of pain coming to the ordinary man in the street in the UK, because living standards are going to fall. We’ve been spending money that wasn’t ours to spend, and the hangover is usually worse than the party was good. That pain needs to get shared around a bit, and yes, we are going to see some real suffering. Everybody needs to suck in their guts and cut back, and that includes welfare recipients as well as people who are working or have worked. So if you get benefits, then it is likely you will get hit by welfare cuts. Other people get hit by earning less in real terms, or having to save money to pay taxes.

Normally, if you earn less, one of the things that leaves you more alone is tax. Which is probably all round as it should be, indeed it was a key part of my early retirement strategy, to drive my costs down so I need to pay less tax 😉 One of the things that really is intractable because it doesn’t follow this rule is Council Tax. I will never get anything off Council Tax, because you must have savings of less than £6000 to even be considered for a reduction. That’s savings, not income. So even though Council Tax is about 1/3 of my current income, I have to pay it. Which is fair enough, I knew this before I went down the path of retiring early so obviously I factored this in. However, it does rather make me spit bricks when I see all this bitchin’ about how terrible it all is for people on low incomes to have to pay something towards it. Someone on full income-based JSA has a higher income than I do. I’m okay with that fact per se, but I don’t want to hear the sob story. Got less money? Buy less shit, pal. And ice the Sky subscription.

Now I have gone out of my way to eliminate debt, to anyone. So no repo-men can legally come knocking on my door with hobnailed boots and turf me out of my home because I owe them money. However, Council Tax is an annually self-renewing debt. In the troubled times ahead, when the shocking levels of inflation due to QE bailing out excessive borrowers start to overwhelm my pension, I can cut costs. I can start shooting pigeons and rabbits. Or I can eat ramen every day, grow spuds in the front garden and scrump apples and pears.

But come what may, there is one bunch of people that have a hold over me with their annually renewing debt, and that is the Council. They are the only people now that can turf me out of my home if I become skint and can’t pay that debt, year after year after year. It’s as bad as continually carrying a credit card debt of £6000[ref]Assuming a typical usurous interest rate of 20%[/ref], without a chance to shift the balance to a cheaper card!

Unlike many people, it appears, I believe in looking ahead. I note this static load on my finances, and try and hedge it. I have to save £27,000 pounds to get an income at 5% that is enough to roughly guarantee that I can pay this tax, at its current level in real terms, for the foreseeable future. If I buy about 27k’s worth of FTSE All-share I can probably expect a 3.5% annual yield[ref] Dividend yield is not the only component of the real return on the FTAS which is why there is a discrepancy. My actual Council Tax is £1200 p.a. so I neeed some capital gain over inflation and to sell down some proportion of units annually to match that.[/ref] and to track long-term inflation in real terms.  So £27k of my net worth, as I shovel it into ISAs over then next three years, is purely dedicated to paying Councul Tax. Think of all the holidays, Sky TV subscriptions and pints of beer I have to forego to get that security. I’m prepared to do it, because that’s the law of the land, but it makes me intolerant of the whingeing of folk that didn’t have to pay it from their benefits, and now do. It’s not like they have to go out to work to pay for it or save up 😉

So thanks, Ipswich Council, for addressing us all as people who will be ‘hit’ by these benefit cuts. It’s kinda galling that there isn’t a tip of the hat to all of us who have to stump up to pay for these benefits, because we are probably the majority of the readers of this paper. I have to save £27k just to be able to secure myself from being turfed out of my own home by the Council’s jackbooted thugs demanding money from me with the threat of force if I don’t pay. It is the one totally inflexible part of my budget, over which I have absolutely no control.

Reading further, I observe that the whole article is basically couched in terms of how terrible it all is that we can’t keep on dishing out largesse at the expense of other council tax payers;  welfare happens to be 35% of the councils’s spend, the largest line item and considerably more than the cost of the staffing and buildings. To wit:

The changes could mean:

  • Cuts to your housing benefit;
  • Paying part of your council tax even if you are on benefits;
  • Making rent payments yourself rather than having them made for you;
  • A limit to how much benefit you can get.

From April, every working age adult will have to pay some council tax regardless of their income.

Housing benefit will be restricted if you are living in a home considered too large for your needs.

And the amount of housing benefit you receive could fall further if you have an adult living in your home who is not claiming benefit.

I mean, for crying our loud, why have we been treating some the good citzens of Ipswich as if they were children without agency or responsibility for their actions?

Let’s take these points in turn.

Cuts in housing benefit

mainly a framing statement that you may get less. As the man said, there’s no money left. Whaddya do when there’s no money left? STOP SPENDING – don’t borrow it! That, above all else, is where previous generations had an edge on us now. They understood what Wilkins Micawber meant when he said

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

and they acted accordingly, rather than living on the never never.

Paying part of your council tax even if you are on benefits;

It’s the other side of the old 1776 cry of no taxation without representation; there should be no representation without taxation, even if that taxation does come from your benefits. Because otherwise you will vote for free stuff, paving the town streets with gold and jam today at other people’s expense. You need to have skin in the game, and understand that doing more costs more. Note that the money to pay the tax does come from the benefits, it isn’t real money in that sense and probably costs more administration. But we have to get a sense of responsibility into people, and hitting them in the pocket usually does that.

Making rent payments yourself rather than having them made for you;

Yeah, what exactly is the problem here?  You get your housing benefit, some/all of it needs to get paid to the landlord. The clue here is in the name, housing benefit. Just like JSA, which is supposed to keep the wolf from the door, so you get it, you pay it to Tesco for your food, right? In my early working life I hated paying landlords, it was money down the drain. So I lived in sleazy dives and shared houses with other people to reduce the fixed costs of rent and household costs. I still had to pay the buggers, I just made sure it was as little as possible.

Paying for your shelter is part of what being a grown-up is all about, and why exactly did we infantilise people by pretending that housing was free? Grow up, people. The only people who should have their rent paid on their behalf are children, ‘cos keeping a roof over their heads is the job of their parents/guardians, and those who for some reason like disability aren’t able to comprehend or operate their household finances. Otherwise we are just creating a system where entitlement festers and escalates. Welfare was designed as a safety net, not a lifestyle choice.

A limit to how much benefit you can get.

I think that’s the same thing as the first statement, just double up to make it sound all mean and nasty. Of course everything has limits, because if you get more benefits, some other poor bastard has to pay more tax to pay for those benefits. Everything in the world has limits. There seems to be a subtext here, that this is done to be vindictive and mean. It isn’t. I’d love it just as much as the next man if we could return to the days of abolished boom and bust, the Goldilocks economy and everything was going swimmingly. We could afford our welfare then or so we thought. Now the repo-man has come to call, so we cant afford it so much. That means going without stuff we used to take for granted.

The whole article has a dreadful hand-wringing tone to it, automatically assuming the readers are victims, and framing them as such. How the hell are we ever going to pull ourselves out of the crap when we have people charging around telling adults that it’s a really bad thing if they have to pay their own rent, out of the housing benefit they receive?

Oh yeah. then we have the coup de grace in the first section:

And the amount of housing benefit you receive could fall further if you have an adult living in your home who is not claiming benefit.

Too bloody right. I am an adult living in the home who isn’t claiming benefit, though to be honest this Angle article makes me think I need to get off my ass and claim contributory JSA before Universal Credit comes in. And guess what? Even if I do claim JSA I don’t get my Council Tax paid for as well!

This putative adult living in the home can bloody well find the money to sub the household directly or go out to work. We presume this adult is more connected with the household than I am, given they live under the same roof, so they should be more involved in paying towards its upkeep than me.

So in answer to your question, Ipswich Council, no. I won’t be hit by the benefit cuts. Thank you for asking, all the same. I’ll bear it in mind, perhaps apply for JSA before April’s introduction of Universal Credit which debars me from all benefits, but if for some reason I don’t get it, then I will accept that shit happens and pay Council Tax from my own resources, even though the people you’re addressing with that article have a higher income than I do at the moment 😉 This is not leading from the front, at all. Contrary to what you’d guess from the headline, most of the town’s residents won’t be hit by the benefit cuts, so don’t make out like the town is full of people like Ray’s feckless family fruitlessly frittering our financial futures away. Don’t frame us all as victims, develop some spine and stand up for your council tax payers and say what the Council will do, what it won’t, and why not. The latter could start with the infamous phrase ‘there’s no money left’

As for the no representation without taxation, Council Tax is essentially about allocating cash resources, it isn’t about your inalienable rights as a human being. It’s all about divvying up the dosh, and if you want a say in how to divvy it up, you need to contribute towards the pot. I am not arguing against paying it, and indeed have outlined how I am going to pay for it. However, I am tired of people who don’t have to pay in having a say in how it’s divvied up. It’s easy enough to be all for paving the streets of Ipswich with gold, if you’re not part of buying the bullion. It would look lovely, but I don’t want to pay all my income towards it, thanks all the same. We do need to have a debate about how the limited resources will be allocated, and on the whole th council do a pretty good job. It’s now time for all the stakeholders to have skin in the game, so their choices are informed. If we really all do want to pave the streets with gold, I guess I just have to move, but at least I will know it really is the will of the people, and that they all have to go without something to do it.