Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Austerity

This is an essay written by Helen of the writers’ group called ‘Spread the Word’ who meet at Ilford Central library on Tuesday evenings at 6:30pm. For more info contact Nina Simon on 020 8708 2423. It is set a few years into the future ... are you sitting comfortably?

For the first time in my 82 years, I sleep with the light on. Whenever there's any electricity I do, anyway. If I'm going to be murdered in my bed, then I'd like the chance to see my killers, to look them in the eye.

Whoever would have thought that life in England would become so precarious? That life could be so cheap? I lie here in the small hours, shivering despite the warmth of the duvet because I am afraid. Sixty years, I've lived in this house and I was happy, first with Brian and our sons and, later, I was content to live out my days here as a widow alone with my lovely memories. Then, it was a happy home, full of love in a country I was glad to belong to.

Now, the Dispossessed are out there, roaming the streets and avenues in howling bands; stealing and despoiling; taking whatever they feel should be theirs by right, never hesitating to hurt anyone who resists.

Where did it all start? And why? I suppose the 2010 riots were a pointer, if anyone had cared to take notice. After that, it was just a long, slippery downhill tumble. Incompetent governments let bankers and financiers run rings around them while multinational corporations drove motor-coaches through tax loopholes. Jobs were exported to third world countries where the employees spoke better English than their counterparts in this country and would work for less money. Millions were abandoned in the dole queue with little hope of ever finding new work. Whatever work was offered paid minimal rates, only acceptable to young Romanians prepared to sleep 10 to a room.

With a critical need to patch the holes in the financial bucket, government ministers announced ever more desperate measures to curb public spending. Eligibility for benefits was re-assessed; those benefits were reduced; health and education services along with all the blue light services were pared to the bone and beyond. Local councils could barely function as their resources were cut and cut again while taxes, all kinds of taxes, were raised and raised to pay for pointless wars and compensation to criminals whose human rights had been contravened.

Extraordinary weather conditions across the globe led to world shortages of just about everything and prices, inevitably, rose. For those trying to subsist on benefits, it was too much; they were on the verge of starvation and when yet another oil crisis forced up fuel prices, the first riots took place.

Sporadic and without focus at first, they quickly gathered support and increased in frenzy. Initially a desperate robbing of shops and supermarkets for survival, the movement that's become known as the Dispossessed took shape, co-ordinated through Twitter and word-of-mouth alike. It quickly became apparent that the reduced forces of law and order couldn't cope and when the jails were completely full with the relatively few rioters who'd been convicted, the magistrates all walked out of court saying there was no point in them hearing cases and passing sentence if the miscreants couldn't be locked up.

The Home Secretary wanted to use the army to police the streets until the Joint Chiefs of Staff pointed out that there weren't enough military personnel to do the job. So many were getting blown up in Afghanistan and sundry hot, unpleasant places while others were made redundant that there were now barely enough guards to change at Buckingham Palace unless they did double shifts. A contract to hire G4S as temporary sheriffs with emergency police powers was drawn up but the company refused to sign.

With rioters having everything their own way, the situation was soon entirely out of hand and raids on shops and violent protests outside government offices led to more personalised attacks on the homes and persons of those the Dispossessed perceived as causing or profiting from the current situation. Bank managers, civil servants, oil company executives, MPs, senior police officers, judges: any establishment figure was likely to be hauled from bed and have his or her home ransacked and probably torched with spouses and children still inside. Insidiously, the madness spread until it appeared that anybody who owned or appeared to own more than they did was regarded as fair game for street robberies, burglary or a general beating up.

It was around this time that another group, calling itself Workers' Rights, was formed. These were workers who’d become disenchanted and disillusioned with, as their leaders put it, working their butts off for a shrinking wage packet and paying ever higher taxes to support the Dispossessed and many others in a life of idle criminality. Workers' Rights members simply downed tools and stopped work in their millions, leaving businesses and public services to lurch to a chaotic standstill. The Dispossessed were so angered by this that Workers' Rights became their new target for hate and running battles erupted in many streets all over Britain.

Added to this, tension simmered between different ethnic groups and there were regular attacks on Polish immigrants by bands of Pakistani youths; indigenous English people began attacking the Scots, Welsh and Indians in their communities and so on. Whatever the politicians said, there was no sense of "we're all in this together". Schools, hospitals and transport ceased to function and it was every man - and woman - for himself.

The government, alarmed at the sheer scale of the thuggery and violence and disturbed by the increasing stench of bodies in the streets of Westminster, decamped to a secret bunker somewhere under the Mendip Hills. The BBC was taken over by a cabal of Dispossessed supporters who were being made redundant from the news production team. All TV was shut down and every radio station broadcasts only a constant diet of raucous music and intemperate rants about injustice and the rights of the common man. Commercial broadcasting had already ceased, mostly because the broadcasters feared for their lives as both factions railed against them for bias and lies.

Meantime, the greatest liar of all, the Prime Minister, sneaked out of the country on a military flight, and is busy smarming his way around the world, asking for help from other world leaders - in the shape of money, advice or even troops to maintain order. We only know of this, of course, because foreign radio stations are still broadcasting and anyone with a good old-fashioned radio can pick up news bulletins from Europe and Ireland. Many of the overseas stations are even obligingly producing extra news bulletins in English. The internet is merely a source of gossip and rumour if you can get connected at all. Like power and water and phones, it goes on and off and cannot be relied upon.

It seems that our plastic-faced PM, despite his ingratiating smiles and plaintive, little-boy-lost pleading voice is not having any success on his mission. Geman radio reported that Angela Merkel laughed in his face and the president of Bulgaria spat on him. There's a rumour doing the rounds on Twitter that he doesn't want to come back and has asked for political asylum in Australia. Good riddance to useless rubbish, I'd say …

Things at home just go from bad to worse and now everybody is a target for the feral bands who roam the land. Anything that can be stolen will be and anything not worth stealing will probably be trashed. I was fortunate, when they broke into this house I was out queuing at the Spar shop which still had a little food for sale. There was no money to steal but they took my little jewellery box with all my trinkets and my warmest winter coat along with the laptop. They must have missed the iPad in the dressing-table drawer in their hurry.

But they, or someone, will be back. There's no food left in the shops, no shops open any more; no money to be had from the banks, the financial system has completely shut down; pensions and benefits can't be paid and everybody's starving. I ate my last tin or sardines last week and I know it's a toss up whether starvation gets me or one of the mobs.

Whichever it is, I'm tired and I’m ready to go now. There's a crowd outside, ranting and screaming, banging and rattling, shouting 'Get the rich bitch!' Earlier, I heard gunfire. Is it too much to hope they'll kill me quickly? I don't want to be here any longer.

© Helen C Casey, 2013

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