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Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King

Number 247: March 2017

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Off the dole again

I'm no longer 'unemployed', one less person on the sadistics. My financial position? I am now 'low paid self employed' but there was no advantage to be staying on the unemployment register as my partner in life is earning above the limit that would get me anything – I can pay a couple of quid a week for 'a stamp' (national insurance) and be without the hassle of 'the dole'.

Being in Norn Iron I was subject to UK unemployment regulations. Show six things you have done every fortnight to get a job. Have a more detailed interview every couple of months. Feel like you are back at school and a formulistic teacher is asking questions about your homework – not enough detail here, what are your plans on this or that (sometimes "I can't read your handwriting here...."!).

Honestly, while I took it in my stride, this is a humiliating ritual which I found counterproductive to finding a job. I believe the system is partly designed to browbeat and humiliate people into taking the first, however inappropriate, badly paid and poorly managed job that comes along. And Norn Iron doesn't have as bad a reputation with social security as Britain with its targets for numbers of people to 'sanction' (remove payments from) in particular offices. If I didn't feel creative with my possible responses (I said creative, not lying) and with a bit of a gift for words, well, words would fail me. The system penalises the least able.

The human beings at the other side of the counter ('desk' or booth as it now is, things have moved on since I 'signed on' before, nearly 25 years ago) varied, as with the rest of humanity. There was the smiley person who came across good humoured and you felt would be on your side so long as you did the minimum required. Then there was person who was a stickler for knowing the details, presumably in case you might be pulling wool over the eyes of the bureaucracy and they could be 'done', though they didn't push it too far. I played a game with a third person at times, to see how little verbal communication could take place; one time in me sitting down, saying hello, going through my 'things done' and being noted on their computer, signing the form and being handed back my papers, and leaving, I got in total a 'There you go' and a grunt at the end. Result. But they were a decent enough individual under the non-communicativeness.

Some criticisms have emerged of universal basic income systems from a progressive point of view, that it can be a mechanism for governments to forget about the poor. That could be true and requires vigilance and activism. I don't go for the argument however that universal basic income systems are 'too expensive' – too expensive for who? With automation and de-industrialisation, the amount of work, even in a complex society like ours, is less than it was. So why not make a virtue of necessity and make work more voluntary.

The vast majority of people will still want to go to work, for the structure, the camaraderie, and the extra money. It may assist some of those who don't or want to do other things, or do them for some of the time, and encourage volunteerism and creativity, of all sorts. And it would remove a curse and stigma from those who are 'unemployed', which would cease to be a category. The result with be greater satisfaction with life for more people – 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'?

Of course additional financial support will be needed by certain groups who are unable to work and top up their universal basic income to a proper living wage (something which the UK system has been decreasingly doing). But take away the disincentive or prohibition for unemployed people to work and 'we' may be far more inclined to pick up any little job we can, and that little job may lead to more work. Being without income is bad enough but the unemployment system does little to help the unemployed to feel human and thus contribute to society.

I'm not going to be earning a great deal because I have ceased to be a statistic in the unemployed register - but coming out of the category of 'unemployed' has certainly been a weight off my shoulders. I breathe freer and I have said goodbye to the dole office, never to return (given that the pension beckons in the not too distant future),

Loving
Went to see Jeff Nichols' film 'Loving' which starred Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in a film set in the USA at the end of the 1950s and up to 1967. As Ruth Negga is partly Irish most people on this island will be aware of the film and her Oscar nomination. But both lead actors played outstanding and rightly understated roles in a drama about the 'crime' of being a mixed (black/white) marriage in a particular state in the US of A (Virginia). If humanity won through it was also at a cost, and a risk, for those concerned, not to mention the misery imposed on others as well.

For more details of the background see here which among other things talks about the documentary 'The Loving Story', and see also ovingfilm.com (details about the documentary itself which, if you click on the trailer, will also lead you to other material).

It was a rather different situation here in Ireland, 'mixed' marriage being understood as marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant. Being personally in that situation, getting married to someone 'a long time ago' from across the Irish religious divide, I could more readily identify with the film Loving (and that was really the couple's surname, respectively Richard and Mildred). When my partner and I announced to our respective families our intention to get married it was more like announcing a funeral than a wedding. Families did come around to acceptance and we had a good wedding day though some trials and tribulations (family and church) on both sides in the lead up to it. And then there were some issues to decide further along the way, e.g. what denomination to bring up children in (we managed both). Some family members were more concerned than others about the situation but I think the realisation that we were happy, and respectful of each other's traditions, helped.

I suppose we were lucky at the time. In previous decades it had been assumed, after the Ne Temere decree from the Catholic Church in 1907, that children would be brought up as Catholic. This caused much angst in Ireland. The common previous practise had been a very reasonable compromise, if of an arbitrary nature, that girls followed the denomination of the mother and boys the denomination of the father. By our time Ne Temere had changed to the Catholic partner being expected to try, in the context of the relationship, to bring the children up as Catholic.

Today the situation in Ireland is very different thanks to secularisation and immigration. There would still be a small number of people who might be very set regarding the religious duties of their offspring, or, in Northern Ireland unwilling to have a family member from another political and cultural tradition. But it is now much more likely that people will welcome a member into the family by marriage who is of any background and any faith or none. This is certainly much healthier for all concerned. That is not to say that prejudice has been eliminated; if you announced you were to marry a Traveller or a Muslim you might still elicit a reaction akin to some in the past.

Talking about loving
Sometimes there are particular laws or regulations which seem to sum up an uncaring, dismissive or downright hostile reaction from a state. One such regulation is what currently pertains in the UK for spouses married to a British citizen who are from elsewhere, and the need for the British partner to have earnings of £18,600, or more if you have children. It is designed so that no one coming in can be a 'cost' to the state. This regulation does not take the 'migrant' partner's earnings potential into account. Campaigners have estimated 43% of the UK population do not fit the income threshold – that is nearly half. The law has recently been found acceptable by the UK Supreme Court.

This is an appalling monetarist approach – "You don't earn enough? Tough – go and live in exile elsewhere." That is what it is saying. It shows no respect for people's love or bonds. It shows no respect for individuals. It also shows no respect for society – those concerned could be wonderful additions to the country, they might be able to contribute, or already contributing, in all sorts of ways, they might even have decided to follow a path for altruistic reasons which did not lead to large financial payment. None of this matters; if you don't have the moola then you can go ag siúl.

For one particular case see e.g. www.theguardian.com A woman married to a British man for 27 years has been deported because, despite having previously been given leave to remain, she spent too long out of the UK at home (in Singapore) caring for her dying parents. Her husband himself is seriously ill and needs his wife, she has two children and a grandchild in the UK.....and she has been deported – back to Singapore where she has nothing.

The UK is one of the world's richest countries. But you would not believe it. Maybe, just maybe, when the whole Brexit morass is traversed the UK may realise that treating people fairly is important. But then again it may be a repeat of the attitude shown in the 1950s English newspaper headline, "Storm on Channel – Continent isolated".

Tools for Solidarity
Tools for Solidarity, see news item this issue, currently have a poetry competition on the theme of Solidarity. Something to get your creative teeth into. Here is my extensive effort:
"Solid
Arity"
Beat that if you can!
- - - - -

Great to see the days getting longer, a bit of a s t r e t c h, and the spring bulbs showing their bright faces to the world. I'm now sowing many of my summer plants, indoors of course. When you see such signs of life, how can you not have hope that despite all the terrible things going on in the world, that life will win through?

See you again soon, Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

Copyright INNATE 2014