Tomorrow is Christmas and soon 2014. This is I suppose my Christmas message. I’m away from home and without my usual toys so alas no cartoons 😦 But lots of deep meaningful pontification. Don’t worry – it get’s happy towards the end!
This was a year which saw drastic cuts to benefits, pay rises for energy bosses along with massive price rises for energy bills, train fare increases, food prices soaring, fuel costs on the up yet wages dropping. Use of food banks rose by 98%, 600,000 people were added to the fuel-poor, one in six families is now considered too poor to afford rental accommodation. Giant corporations avoided tax while the poor lost out to the bedroom tax and reductions in housing benefit. Many disabled people and others with support needs were forced to look for work they were unfit to do. This is a mere handful of examples.
Added to this was the political bullshit. Benefits didn’t just go down – now you have to find £24 a month for council tax. This means that not only did benefits not rise to meet the cost of living, but they dropped by a further £24 a month which was not even accounted for in this calculation. That’s a big chunk of a £280 monthly income. To reduce the numbers of fuel poor the Tories simply changed the way they calculated fuel poverty. To decrease unemployment figure they introduced apprenticeships, zero-hours contracts and various ways in which people can be paid so little they cannot eat but still count as working. In so many ways we are made to look better off – which only makes how bad things appear even more worrying.
Still, as the Conservatives have said – if you can’t afford the bedroom tax get a job (although there isn’t one) or move to a smaller home (which doesn’t exist) or take in a lodger (although their rent will count as income and come out of your benefits).
Meanwhile politicians increase their pay, reduce taxes for the rich, fail to prosecute corporate bosses and MP’s who flout taxation laws and defraud expenses. The rich find their lifestyles utterly unaffected because the only ones actually losing out in all this are the poor – yet the poor are blamed, labelled shiftless, lazy and scrounging. The victim is spun to appear to be the villain.
We say that poverty kills – but this is a lie. To say poverty kills is to hide the true cause behind its very name. There is enough food to feed everyone, enough money to go round, there are enough homes and rooms, enough shoes and clothes, enough of everything if it were distributed with decency and kindness.
What really kills is the greed of the few, who hoard while others are deprived, who would sooner burn their grain mountains than feed the needy, who will pay £30,000 for a handbag while other cannot even dress their children.
This year I have lost my job, my home, one business (and counting!) and my wife. I’ve had to move and contact with my children is limited, money is painfully tight and I’m in a strange city. Outside of work all my time and money is spent commuting to see the kids – so I have little social life. But please, put away the violins!
The main reason things have fallen apart is my own stupidity – and it is my responsibility to accept that and to rebuild things again. Meanwhile, with there being so few things in my life I have noticed something remarkable happening. It happens in different ways, but one example is enough.
While I was married I worked a lot, and spent a lot of time angry that I had no time! I wanted to write, to play music and fulfil some of the many things I knew I was capable of. Really I should have achieved some of these ‘selfish’ or self-focussed things before having children, but having come from an abusive background I’d spent many years simply recovering and so started ‘flowering’ very late in life. My frustration was a large part of my allowing things, and pushing things, to fall apart.
Now I have comparatively nothing. I used to see my son every day, now it’s just the weekend. We used to be able to go to the beach, on holidays, to museums and on other adventures. Now I have to fit it all to deadlines and tiny budgets. Yet the effect has been to concentrate time. When I am with him I am WITH HIM, my attention is on our task. We don’t do big stuff where actually we talk little (like the cinema or a fairground) – we do small stuff like lego and cars, and we are therefore in constant communication. While it does fill me with a sense of sorrow for times past, I see now that I let the gift of my son slip by me even as I lived with him. Now I treasure our time, I pour myself into it – my personal ambitions come second to his welfare, and as a result our relationship is, ironically, stronger and better than ever.
The second effect of this focus is that he fills me. In the past I believed I needed to achieve something – to write a best-seller, hit number one in the pop-charts or become the CEO of some important company. I spent so long feeding this ambition I missed what I had. Now I am nurtured by my love for my family – they are the meaning I once sought in things, and they give me the happiness I once believed would only come from some worldly achievement.
This is truly the biggest tragedy of our age. It isn’t the poverty or the benefits scandal, it’s the fact that everything we think about is framed in money. We learn not for joy but for employment, we work not to afford pleasure but to afford to eat and we are now so busy struggling to keep the roof over our head that there is no time to find the delight and beauty in our loved ones, our children and the world around us.
The truth is we don’t need more money per-se, or better benefits in and of themselves – we need a complete change of focus away from living to work and back to working to live.
So this Christmas my message is this: look around you. Try and see where you are with new eyes. Are you nursing resentments against family, or feeling like you want to throw your kids in the bin! Is nanny Miggin’s driving you mad with her tales or her faint odour of wee!? Then try and get past this – even though it may take a huge effort at first. If you have children, if you have a husband or wife, if you are with your mum or dad – then treasure that. If you are alone then reach out – go to a soup kitchen, not to get care but to find someone to give your care to. Find a hostel, a church or a charity, a Salvation Army group, and don’t remain alone. Pour your heart into someone and really grasp the understanding that they are all that matters, that people are precious and those we love are all that truly makes life worth living.
If you can do nothing else towards this hopeful dream – you could go here on Christmas day, and give and get a little love from around the world, Bloggy-Style!
Have a good Season, whatever flavour you take, and may 2014 be the year we remember that people are worth more than money.