Saturday, 25 February 2012

Life on benefits

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while, and I've always put it off because I couldn't be arsed with the hassle and abuse I've feared that I'll get for writing it. But it seems like the right time to do it now. All I'll say is - if you're thinking of slagging me off on Twitter or in the comments section, go fuck yourself.  I'll take your terribly important job for a month and you can be on benefits if it's so damn easy.

I've been unemployed for six months now. In fact, I've been unemployed so long that my contribution-based JSA will run out in a week and I have to switch to income-based JSA. I've taken out what I put in to the system and am now officially A Burden. That's a crappy feeling in and of itself, and it's not helped by the 'scrounging youth' rhetoric so beloved by the Tories. I mean, I worked in a pub to support myself for five years - through college, university and after, while I tried (and failed) to get a proper job. I'd often find myself with only one full day off every three weeks. I'm not a shirker.

So, what are benefits like? Well, each week I get around £62 in Housing Benefits and £53 in JSA. Of my JSA, £13 immediately goes towards topping up my rent (£75p/w) - luckily, my rent includes utility bills and council tax. That leaves me with £40 a week left, or £160 a month (quick note - two thirds of all my benefits go to my landlord).

How do I spend this throbbing great amount? Well, it goes a bit like this:

  • I spend about £30 a month to travel to see either my partner or my family (I live around 300 miles away from each). 
  • I spend £40 on food. I have the luxury of having the time and ability to cook all my meals from scratch, and being vegan means I can ease by reasonably cheaply.
  • £30 goes on tobacco. I'm not going to defend this, it's probably a bad choice. But a saving of £7 a week and nothing to really do with it leaves me with little incentive to quit.
  • I also have to pay £10 for my mobile (my only means of communication with most people) and £5 for internet access in my house.
  • I pay my bank £10 a month because, being so utterly bloody skint, I'm at the bottom of an overdraft and have to pay interest on it. 

That's £125 gone, like that. Which means that each month, I have the grand sum of £35 to spend on myself. There's always a niggly something, like a birthday or having to replace essentials like toiletries which takes £5 of that, so at the end of the month, I get £30. £7.50 a week to spend on anything else I might want. Which leads me to the isolation.

You can't do anything. You can't make friends, and you lose the ones you had because you can't see them. If I want to go to a gig (£4 entry, 3 pints at £3 each), that's two weeks of disposable income gone. I literally can't do anything else that whole time. I mean, I'm lucky because when I'm with my partner he'll pay for me to go out and do things. But I hate that. I feel like a leech. When I'm away from him, I only leave the house to go to the supermarket and the job centre. This year, my little sister had to give me money so I could go for a few pints with her on her birthday.

Sure, there are things you can do for free, but it's still incredibly isolating. I've stopped getting involved in activist stuff down here because I don't know anyone, and when you're at the meetings you're focussed on the issue at hand. I tried, but if you can't socialise with people outside of meetings, they don't know who you are when you're there. Hard to believe, but I'm just the quiet girl in the corner. When I leave, no one will notice I'm gone, because no one noticed I even arrived. 

So what do you do instead? Well, if you're me you buy a few bottles of the cheapest cider the supermarket sell (£1.50) to entertain you in the evenings, and you don't leave the house, and you let the depression and anxiety kick in. As much as right-wingers would like me to, I don't search for jobs all day, every day. I spend a fair bit of time looking, but the more applications I send to jobs which I could do but I don't have the necessary (unpaid) experience for without hearing anything in return, the harder it gets.  I don't feel like I'm good enough for any job. I'm so used to not leaving the house or speaking to people or having to live up to anyone's standards, the thought of being made to do it five days a week terrifies me to the point of tears. I desperately search for jobs I can do though, fearing that the DWP will arbitrarily decide to stop my JSA or put me on Workfare.

The rest of the time I spend just occupying myself. I educate myself about issues I'm passionate about. I'm planning a conference. I read books, I play games, I watch DVDs. I do anything to keep myself from going into a pit of despair. I count the hours I have to kill until I get to go to my partner's next (133 hours, or 78 if I don't count when I'm asleep). I write, long rambly things like this and usually delete them before anyone else can see.

It always comes back to me though. I'm not good enough. No one wants me. I'll never be a proper person. Scrounger.

Things are changing though. I'm moving in with my partner next month, which means moving cities. That brings new challenges though. When I move in with him, I'll stop being 'a jobseeker'. This is good as it means I don't have to spend half an hour a week convincing some drone at the Jobcentre that I'm not   tabloid-worthy workshy dolescum and instead need the benefits that I'm supposedly 'showered' in. However, it will mean that my partner will receive Working Tax Credits (of around the same amount as JSA) to support me. As in, I will have no independent income, and instead have to ask him for money whenever I need to buy anything. So now on top of everything else (I'm a horrid, pathetic waste of space who hasn't done anything in the two years since I left university and will spend the rest of my life being useless), I now feel like a failure to feminism too! I worry about this. I worry he'll get sick of paying for everything for me. I worry he'll get sick of working to pay the bills while I'm a useless shit. I'm worried about being a burden. 

I also worry about the other people in the same financial situation as me. Comparatively, I'm lucky. I don't have kids to support, or have to worry about a massive unexpected bill coming from somewhere. If I were in the situation where I wanted (or needed) to leave my partner, I have family and friends who would help me do it. How are you supposed to get money to enable you to move away from an unhappy relationship if your partner controls all the money? 

I don't really know what I've been trying to say in this post, but it's basically that being on the dole is shit.    It makes you alone, friendless and feeling like crap. It makes you so wary of your precarious financial situation that even something awesome like moving in with the man you love just makes you worry about how you would cope if that wasn't the case. And then it makes you feel like a total shit for moaning when other people have it even worse. Asylum seekers, for example, get £35 a week, if that.

Actually, I think I can put it even more succinctly than that: Fuck anyone who thinks a person would voluntarily put themselves through this shit and is living the high life. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy*.

UPDATE: Please go read this wonderful and moving post by commenter Evsie on being a single father on JSA. 

(*I would wish it on Tories and other people who think that benefits is easy and everyone's a scrounger, but only for a month to show them how hard it really is.)

Thursday, 23 February 2012

INTERSECT conference

Some of you may remember that back in December, I decided to set up a one-day feminist conference in Bristol, called INTERSECT. Well, after lots of behind-the-scenes organisation and discussion, and thanks to the many generous people who donated to help get the project off the ground, I am pleased to announce the launch of the official INTERSECT website!

On it you will be able to find all the details of the conference, including pages for all the awesome speakers we have lined up, travel routes, information about accessibility and remote viewing. Also (and most importantly) tickets are now on sale - priced at £3 for concessions (students/unwaged/NMW) and £6 full price.

You can follow progress with the conference on Facebook and on Twitter, or email with any questions you may have.

Looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible on May 19th - and if you can't be there in person, the conference will be live-streamed and you'll be able to take part in Q&A sessions on Twitter. Tell your friends!

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Pill: Destroying civilisation since 1957

Disclaimer: Since the piece I am responding to is very cissexist and holds up notions of 'uterus holder = mother, sperm-giver = father', I will address it in these terms. It's stupid and wrong though, like the rest of the piece.

I read a lot of people saying really, really daft things on the internet. But sometimes something is just so utterly bizarre that it surprises even me. Step forward Michael Brennan Dougherty and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, who have co-authored a piece titled Time To Admit It: The Church Has Always Been Right On Birth Control. I'm going to go through it with my trusty red pen, because you really have to see this in its entirety. While reading, please bear in mind that MBD is a politics editor and P-EG is a senior research analyst (i.e. in theory, very intelligent and not wild-eyed conspiracy-peddlers). So, here we go. From hereon, my words are in red, theirs are in black. No links or words have been changed.

Painting the Catholic Church as "out of touch" is like shooting fish in a barrel, what with the funny hats and gilded churches and systemic coverups of rape, child abuse and paedophilia. And nothing makes it easier than the Church's stance against contraception. And the other stuff.

Many people, (including our editor) are wondering why the Catholic Church doesn't just ditch this requirement. They note that most Catholics ignore it (actually a whopping 98%), and that most everyone else finds it divisive, or "out-dated." C'mon! It's the 21st century, they say! Don't they SEE that it's STUPID, they scream. PERHAPS BECAUSE IT IS STUPID?

Here's the thing, though: the Catholic Church is the world's biggest and oldest organization. It has buried all of the greatest empires known to man, from the Romans to the Soviets (either they kept that damn quiet or it didn't happen. Given these guys' extremely tenuous grasp of history, my money is on the latter). It has establishments literally all over the world, touching every area of human endeavor. It's given us some of the world's greatest thinkers, from Saint Augustine on down to RenĂ© Girard. ALL GREAT THINKERS EVER HAVE BEEN CATHOLIC. THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS THE ISLAMIC GOLDEN AGE. SOCRATES WAS A CATHOLIC. ARISTOTLE WAS A CATHOLIC. IN FACT, UNTIL CATHOLICISM EVERYONE LIVED IN CAVES AND SHAT WHEREVER THEY FELT LIKE. (NB, I'm not saying there haven't been great Catholic thinkers (or at least, great thinkers who lived in times and places where it was dangerous to not be a Catholic), but let's not pretend they're the only ones by a long stretch of the imagination, or that all Catholics are good - as far as I'm aware, Professor Steven Hawking is not a Catholic, but Robert Mugabe is. Just saying, y'know? Shades of grey and all that) When it does things, it usually has a good reason. Profit? Domination? More people in their club than in the other clubs? Everyone has a right to disagree, but it's not that they're a bunch of crazy old white dudes who are stuck in the Middle Ages. Except when they are a bunch of crazy old white dudes who are stuck in the Middle Ages. 

So, what's going on? The Church teaches that love, marriage, sex, and procreation are all things that belong together. That's it. But it's pretty important. I drew a diagram to illustrate my problems with these ideas. Here it is:

And though the Church has been teaching this for 2,000 years, it's probably never been as salient as today.
Today's injunctions against birth control were re-affirmed in a 1968 document by Pope Paul VI called Humanae VitaeHe warned of four results if the widespread use of contraceptives was accepted:

  1. General lowering of moral standards
  2. A rise in infidelity and illegitimacy
  3. The reduction of women to objects used to satisfy men
  4. Government coercion in reproductive matters 

Does that sound familiar? Because it sure sounds like what's been happening for the past 40 years. As George Akerloff wrote in Slate over a decade ago, by making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father. Instead of two parents being responsible for the children they conceive, an expectation that was held up by social norms and by the law, we now take it for granted that neither parent is necessarily responsible for their children. Men are now considered to be fulfilling their duties merely by paying court-ordered child-support. That's a pretty dramatic lowering of standards for "fatherhood." Things that did not happen before these slutty women got their harlot-mitts on the pill: Sex outside of marriage. Children outside of marriage. Absent fathers. Absent mothers. Parents splitting up. What I find interesting about this though, is the quote they pick from Slate. Because what they are actually saying is that "if we DON'T give a woman a physical choice about whether or not she has a child, a man will have to stick around". They DON'T WANT WOMEN TO HAVE ANY PHYSICAL CHOICE IN WHETHER SHE HAS A CHILD. Excuse me while I go vomit my uterus out. 

How else are we doing since this great sexual revolution? Kim Kardashian's marriage lasted 72 days. I'm confused. A minute ago they were all about the hetero-marriage. Now divorce is caused by IUDs? PLEASE TELL ME HOW CONTRACEPTIVES SPLIT UP KIM KARDASHIAN'S MARRIAGE, HEAT MAGAZINE MIGHT SEND ME A T-SHIRT FOR A WORLD EXCLUSIVE. Illegitimacy: way up. In 1960, 5.3% of all births in America were to unmarried women. By 2010, it was 40.8% [PDF]. In 1960 married families made up almost three-quarters of all households; but by the census of 2010 they accounted for just 48 percent of them. Cohabitation has increased tenfold since 1960. Gosh dammit, these sluts are so slutty with their coils and their implants and their live-in partners that they're having children with. How absolutely dare they use contraception to be slutty and have illegitimate children all over the place with their (usually) monogamous partners. Doesn't it make you sick? And of course, we never had any illegitimate children before 1970, heavens no.

And if you don't think women are being reduced to objects to satisfy men, welcome to the internet, how long have you been here? Since the early 80s! Not me personally, of course, but... you know. Anyway, I'll add 'objectification of women' to my list of 'things which did not occur before 1970'. 

Government coercion: just look to China (or America, where a government rule on contraception coverage is the reason why we're talking about this right now). Contraception means that the government can coerce reproductive rights! Let's get the government to ban contraception in order to stop that happening! 

Is this all due to the Pill? Of course not. But the idea that widely-available contraception hasn't led to dramatic societal change, or that this change has been exclusively to the good, is a much sillier notion than anything the Catholic Church teaches. Dramatic societal change like not punishing women for having sex like the filthy beasts that they are. Nope, we've truly regressed now. We were so enlightened when we used to force women in to Magdalene asylums! By the way, the Catholic church teaches that the same stuff that makes Flying Saucer sweets turns into bits of human flesh once you say the right words over it and that all babies are evil when they're born because of talking snakes. Which I happen to think is a much sillier notion than "I think it is nice that people can partake in consensual sex without fear and I don't think that this has brought about society's downfall".

So is the notion that it's just OBVIOUSLY SILLY to get your moral cues from a venerable faith (as opposed to what? Britney Spears?). LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE! Sorry, but what? I don't believe in Jesus so I'll just phone up Justin Beiber and ask his opinion on whether or not it's OK to steal, shall I? Then I'll email Jedward and ask what I should do if someone covets my ass. It's true, this is what atheists do ALL THE TIME. When I was growing up, instead of going to Sunday school to learn how to be a good person, I just read Smash Hits and watched MTV. And I grew up to know that it's wrong to rape people and abuse children. Britney Spears 1, Catholic Church 0. 

But let's turn to another aspect of this. The reason our editor thinks Catholics shouldn't be fruitful and multiply doesn't hold up, either. The world's population, he writes, is on an "unsustainable" growth path. The Population Bureau of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations sees (PDF, h/t Pax Dickinson) the rate of population growth slowing over the next decades and stabilizing around 9 billion in 2050…and holding there until 2300. (And note that the UN, which promotes birth control and abortions around the world, isn't exactly in the be-fruitful-and-multiply camp.) More broadly, the Malthusian view of population growth has been resilient despite having been proven wrong time and time again and causing lots of unnecessary human suffering. For example, China is headed for a demographic crunch and social dislocation due to its misguided one-child policy. I'm too lazy to take these figures apart (if anyone wants to in comments, please be my guest) but seriously. We have around 7bn people on Earth. This is up from 6bn in just over ten years. Millions of people are starving. There is no room. We are running out of natural resources. Even 2bn more people is a really, really bad idea.

Human progress is people. Everything that makes life better, from democracy to the economy to the internet to penicillin was either discovered and built by people (as opposed to those damn freeloading non-people). More people means more progress, more war, more famine, more disease, more every other bad thing too! The inventor of the cure for cancer might be someone's fourth child that they decided not to have. Or the baby someone didn't have because they were pregnant with another child. Or didn't have sex while they were ovulating. Or died from starvation as a child because there were too many humans to feed. Or were birthing more damn babies instead of in a laboratory. This game is fun!

So, just to sum up:
  • It's a good idea for people to be fruitful and multiply; and
  • Regardless of how you feel about the Church's stance on birth control, it's proven pretty prophetic. Sorry guys, but:  

So, there you have it. Before 1970 everyone got married as virgins, stayed married their whole lives and had lots of babies. Nothing bad ever came of this, and there were absolutely no deviations from this formula ever. Like, say, prostitutes in the Bible or anything like that. I'll finish with this: