THE BLOG

Dear David Cameron: A Letter From the Young Me You Denied Benefits

29/09/2014 17:43 BST | Updated 29/11/2014 10:59 GMT

2014-09-28-8587451816_af826f6a49_z.jpg

Hey up Dave,

I don't like it when the personal is political. Two reasons: one, I think it rarely is. I don't believe in socialism because I grew up in a council house, I believe in socialism because I am a nice person. Two, I think when people bring personal circumstances into their political arguments it makes for articles easily described by heartless toffs - and by themselves - as mawkish rubbish.

But there is no other response I can have to your latest declarations of benefit cuts for young people. Soz. I've tried to write a dispassionate dismissal of why the policy makes no economic sense, quoting facts and figures, but it always comes back down to this roar of downright rage.

Because when I was younger, I claimed housing benefit and JSA solidly for a year. I did it so I could live in a place where I could find a job I could turn into a meaningful career, a meaningful existence. I grew up in an area short of prospects, short of jobs. I did not have parents who could fund a year long series of internships. I had to rely on the state to get me on my feet.

Let me make one thing clear: being unemployed and claiming benefit was the most difficult year of my life, but it was a damn sight better than the policy you, Dave, have floated several times over the past few years and which surfaced turd-like again over the weekend. Hearing about that policy makes me feel sick. I get a cold sense of dread, a shiver up my spine. I get a horrible, grey glimpse of the Rebecca Winson who the government didn't help out, the one who had no choice but to move back to an area with no job prospects, no friends, no love of her life, no self-respect.

There's a blurry sense too of that huge never-ending mass of people even more restricted in their choice than I was. People whose parents would be unable or unwilling to put them up. People who would be too scared of their parents to go back or to stay at home, people whose parents just don't exist. People who a policy like this would undeniably see on the streets, see malnourished, see - and I'm completely sure of this - a few of them dying.

I'm letting that grey, miserable Rebecca write this. She's stuck in a town she always hated, staring at the wall of a childhood bedroom she spends most of her time in, trying desperately and sulkily to get some sense of independence from the parents she still lives with. If she has a job it'll be seasonal work just about to be reduced before winter, or a dead-end, no hope role in an industry she has no interest in. In a local economy with low paid jobs and high rents, there's little prospect of her ever owning her own house or renting her own place.

She lost the good, brilliant, funny man she met down south, because when he couldn't find a job he had to move back home too. She lost all sense of self-respect her degree gave her when you made it clear that people like her didn't deserve the luxury of putting their tertiary education to use. And you? You've lost the income tax she'd otherwise pay on an above average wage, the council tax she'd pay on a property she'd otherwise rent, the bigger payments from her student loan she'd otherwise make.

What's she gained? Probably a stone or so through comfort eating (pies are more readily available up in t'North you know). A huge, unassailable amount of anger. A complete lack of interest in participating in your system when she reaches the golden age at which you've decided she suddenly becomes eligible for help her elders and betters are entitled to.

Most importantly, she's gained knowledge of exactly where you think her place in society is. Not starving if it can be helped, nor homeless. But not excellent either. Not pushing your sort of kids out of jobs in London. Doing just well enough. No better than she ought to be.

Because that's what this is all really about, isn't it, David. It's not just about encouraging young people into work, it's about forcing them to take the sort of jobs you've decided that some sorts of people should be taking. The sorts of people who have no choice but to claim benefits. The sorts of people who are the only ones your policy will affect. The career of their choice for those who can afford it, £2.70 an hour apprenticeships with no real prospect of permanent work for everyone else.

It's difficult to not take that politics personally.

Image by duncan c, used under a creative commons license.