No laptop for me, IDS

Funny what I think about in the middle of the night. I can’t use a laptop. Strange, the realisation that it’s not worth the heartache of buying one of these svelte beauties only to see it crushed or dented when, as will come the day, I trip and fall while carrying it. Not to mention what that’ll do to my wrists, elbows, etc.

Which led me inexorably on – as these things do – to the injustices of Universal Credit, a scheme dreamed up, in all its complacent cruelty by the great Ian Duncan Smith, who, having planted this pseudo democratic notion in the minds of enforcers, has conveniently abandoned any position of authority from which he might mitigate its worst effects. His subsequent apparent change of heart and resignation from the cabinet is gesture politics at its most pointless.

But my point is, Universal Credit, introduced by Westminster conservatives to mimic the universalist character of Universal Basic Income and to offer the comforting illusion that the welfare state is non-judgemental and fair, is an impossible scheme, intended to be accessed and assessed on-line (in a constituency for which basic literacy is still a major issue. Texting is ill preparation for the simplistic brutality of on-line questionnaires). Those who depend on welfare benefits to top up in-work pay or to shell out bus fares to attend interviews (non-attendance at which can lead to sanctions) are not going to be worrying about laptops. They might be worrying about their phone credit, but how many people will access benefits from their phones?

Doing it on-line sounds sexy, fun, quick and easy, but only for those who can take the basics – a plug, an electrical supply, a computer, patience, distraction-free time, warmth and comprehension – for granted. And anyone with these advantages is not likely to be the person most in need of welfare support.

A quick glance at IDS on Wikipedia suggests that he is not short of a penny. So it’s rather sad that from the comfort of his family’s wealth he has been central in forcing those who are already down on their luck into a system which is arbitrary, slow and painful to navigate. It may not matter to IDS if he doesn’t get paid for six weeks. He might not miss the occasional sanction for turning up late; but a sanction under UC affects the entire payment, including housing benefit.

Those who apply sanctions are so rarely called to account – and by the time they are, the damage has been done, so that’s all right, then. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to be part of a society which has the unbridled power to impose pie in the sky schemes against those who have so few resources with which to fight back. Since ancient times, those in power have sought to clean up and educate the masses. I wish they would just offer us all dignity.

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