Poverty in the UK: More Disillusionment Please

A potent symbol for the political left today still remains the peasant revolt that erupted out of  14th century which was in response to a series of socio-economic developments including land-property distinction. Due to the Black Death, there was a labour shortage along with a food shortage. The Statute of Laborers was a law created in response to the peasants demand for more wages, “Peasants were forced to work for the same wages as before, and landowners could insist on labour services being performed, instead of accepting money (commutation). This meant that the landowners could profit from shortages, whilst life was made very much harder for the peasants[1].” Today, in the UK, economic dispaarity is no different. No, we are in the wake of the Black Death, but we are in the wake of an internal and external economic haemorrhage. Someone once said that you can tell the success of a nation by how it treats its poor. If this true, then the UK is not doing well at all. Something needs to change drastically.

 We live in a country that is dedicated to keeping its low-class citizens in a position of low-class stratification. The way the current economic setup is, it undermines any possibility for anyone in the lower-class to gain any traction. This can be seen in the fact that the government gives just enough assistance for those in the poor, unemployed, single-parent bracket to maintain their current status, nothing more and nothing less. There really is no future opportunity to get on the housing market with the lower-class income

 One in every six children live in poverty in the UK. One in six. How is this acceptable? It is estimated that by 2017-18, an extra 200,000 children will live in poverty[2]. This is mainly due to the Autumn Statement which will include a higher personal tax, and a 1 percent cap for three years. Not to mention the upcoming ‘Big Bang’ changes highly hailed by Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne[3], who claims, “all about making sure that we use every penny we can to back hard working people who want to get on in life… For too long, we’ve had a system where people who did the right thing – who get up in the morning and work hard – felt penalised for it, while people who did the wrong thing got rewarded for it. That’s wrong. So this month we’re going to put things right.’ Get on in life? Isn’t that just yet another class development?

 That we have now privatised economic stratification down to economic mobility. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for sheer inactivity for the sake of it, but it seems Osbourne is missing the bigger picture here. That the government and the way its addressing poverty is actually at large fault for the economic disparity. That the Commons [and Undercommons[4]] has been nothing more than a hopeful placebo that we talk about in the name of change, and gives us the illusion of doing something transformational. But it hasn’t worked. We can’t afford to speak about the Commons unless we’re willing to mobilize, fight and bleed for it to be a reality, even above and beyond the gaze of governmental control. We need something different. We must be willing to open new lines of discourse and ask very hard questions about the world we live in, not just about what’s wrong with government or the 1%, but rather begin to see that there is a larger issue haunting human progress, and that is the way we have come to both define and limit the way we both manage and seek liberation. It’s just not good enough. 


John Ball, a radical pre-Marxist communist priest was known for his speeches that pertained to apprehending liberty from the bourgeois leadership of his time. The following is a well-known excerpt that not only demonstrates the struggles of his time, but of ours as well. 


“My good friends, things cannot go on well in England, nor ever will until everything shall be in common, when there shall be neither vassal nor lord, and all distinctions levelled; when the lords shall be no more masters than ourselves. How ill they have used us!… They have wines, spices and fine bread, when we have only rye and the refuse of fine straw; and if we drink, it must be water. They have handsome seats and manors, when we must brave the wind and rain in our labours in the field; but it is from our labour they have the wherewith to support their pomp.… Let us go to the king, who is young, and remonstrate with him on our servitude, telling him we must have it otherwise, or that we shall find a remedy for it ourselves”


Is this not what we need today? The complete abolishment of those things that enforce economic distance from another? Is not history whispering its words of challenge to us now and calling all of us to rise up against those systems and people that would seek to make life about production and economic enslavement? Should we too not go to our kings, leaders, MP’s and demand a better way, and if they are not willing to give it to us, then we too must be willing ‘find a remedy for it ourselves’? For some this might seem a bit too sensationalist. However, if the last 20 years has demonstrated to us anything its that the West is just as vulnerable to the possibility of economic collapse then the typical under-developed countries as concentrated on in the media and by religious organizations.  From Greece imploding, to multiple-recessions, to the apparent economic shift from America being the largest world power, to now China or India taking its place. The world is changing. The economy is changing. Now, is the time to respond to poverty, not just in the UK, but globally.


 The longer we try to help the poor, the longer the system that creates it will be sustained. We no longer need to think as idealist Utopians, but rather we must adopt a new charter, that of material realists that embrace a form of dystopian idealism. Che Guevara exemplifies this ideological turn in how own words, ““I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”  Here we encounter the very issue today with a lot of leftist thought, academic or otherwise, that we somehow must wait for someone to come and liberate us. That we must somehow participate in pseudo-revolutionary acts [i.e., stand-ins, picket lines, campaigns and so on] to actually make a change. Is this not idealism in its worst form? Are we not still conceding to those who have created the very socio-economic divides that we have come to despise so vehemently? 


There is not enough disillusionment within the Left today, this was a major issue with the Occupy Movement, it eventually succumbed to the system. It became a victim, and yes, there were many great organizations and events that sprung up from this, but it’s not enough. It still believed the system could be changed, rather than thinking beyond its gaze.This is also the same issue with the inspiring words of Russel Brand, who unlike most of us, has ‘star-power’ and can take his notion of revolution to a much deeper comprehensive place than most of us ever could. But it’s still not enough. Because the responses so far have been measured, calculated and conditioned by those in power. It seems we have let the system believe for us, that it, like the Matrix feeds off of our belief that we’re simply pedestrians in a universe much larger than ourselves. Better said, would be in Mel Gibson’s biopic Braveheart, where the main character is talking to some of the leaders of the clans, and utters the following, “Why? Why is that impossible? You’re so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Longshank’s table that you’ve missed your God-given right to something better. There is a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.”


Isn’t it intriguing that it took a medieval priest to incite the peasants war? Maybe we’re now living in era where religion must be taken seriously as a radical interlocutor, but not as some ritualized spirituality, but as designator of a new way to be human. That in religion we find the radical kernel hiding in plain sight, that a new world is possible within this one. That the whole notion of the Christian Incarnation is more about the potential within human creativity to be limitless. To be without any limitations or Big Others, as Slavoj Zizek would say. Our horizon is filled with all kinds of possibilities, but we have to be realistic and deny the temptation toward some blind idealism that invokes even more myopic allegiance to apathy. As Che says elsewhere, ‘ Be realistic, Demand the impossible!’ We must fight for that. We must believe for something better. And even die for it, if that’s what it takes. 



[1] https://www.marxists.org/history/england/peasants-revolt/story.htm

[2] http://www.poverty.ac.uk/tags/tax-credits

[3] http://www.poverty.ac.uk/editorial/april-2013-%E2%80%98big-bang%E2%80%99-benefits-and-taxes

[4] http://www.elkilombo.org/the-university-and-the-undercommons/


One comment

  1. atravelersnote · September 2, 2014

    Reblogged this on The Love Revolution.


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