Following the muse
Sunday is usually a day for reading the Observer and getting cross at the stupid articles contained therein (like the two pages in the news bit uncritically telling us about the 'grassroots' campaign of pro-homelessness campaigners in rural England).
It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to read a really good article by Barbara Ellen, 'At least when I was skint, Caroline Flint wasn't around to shatter my dreams'. Most articles in the papers about Flint's plans have come from the perspective of whether they are the correct policies that 'we' (people who work, pay our taxes etc.) ought to adopt to sort out the problems of 'them' (people who are out of work). This one is rather different:
"The point is that bumbling around in my late teens/early twenties, living in various squats, housing association homes and council flats, being poor continued to be do-able. Like all the other directionless idiots I knew, I signed on, claimed housing benefit and ate baked beans straight from the tin. The idea was somehow to keep afloat while one followed one's 'muse', which in my case was churning out music fanzines nobody wanted to read until I could get to college and get a degree I'd forget to collect. Could this happen today? One doubts it. Considering I spent four years signing on, qualifying as a 'long-term unemployed', one assumes my rent would have been stopped, my benefits frozen, someone like Flint coming to the conclusion that my 'commitment contract' was void. She would have been wrong.
For people like me, those years as welfare sloths counted among the most priceless and productive years of our lives. Those tiny cheques serving as a kind of grant, while, to paraphrase the Pet Shop Boys, you became 'the creature you meant to be', welfare culture dovetailing with the counter-culture in a wonderful display of optimism and energy.
Indeed, if you weren't from a cookie-cutter, middle-class background, this was one of the ways you did it, how you made your great escape. Leastways, it used to be. It seems inconceivable that broke young people could get away with it now. Any young people, in fact."