Do you ever wonder where all those phrases come from? All those things we throw out in conversations, safe in the knowledge that the other parties we are talking to will understand exactly what we mean. Money for old rope, money gained through little effort, deriving from a sailing term where short off cut lengths of rope were sold off for domestic use when a boat returned to shore, the making of money from something that is essentially rubbish. The benefit system in the uk is often seen as money for old rope and succesive right wing governments and tame elements of the media have been happy to perpetuate this myth at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable whose support networks have been cut to the bone. But the real correlation is that poverty is a huge industry in the uk as it is elsewhere in the world and there is a vast amount of money to be made if you know where to look and have the wherewithal and contacts to go about getting it. The deeper end of the feeding trough is populated by IT companies and training organisations that specialise in the dubious medicals for the sick and vulnerable, weeding out the dishonest but taking the confused and vulnerable with them as well as those whose health fluctuates. These tests are designed for a version of the world that is at best naive and at worst purposefully created to ignore the realities of finding and holding down a job (let alone having a career) in a time of economic tumoil. The training companies, many ironically describing themselves as charities have morphed into a confusing mass of fiefdoms, contracting and subcontracting between the public and private sectors, seeing their clients as little more than gambling tokens to be tossed around for the benefit of their shareholders and a distant and disinterested board of directors. The shallow end of the trough consists of people who do the strangest of things, what can loosely be described as therapeutic activities compelling the poor to jump through hoops at the behest of a well meaning middle class. Whilst money isn’t always a direct motivation, it’s usually in there somewhere, often euphemistically labelled as expenses, allowing those on a jolly to pocket their cash for interacting with the poor with a modicum of guilt. I have seen and experienced all these things myself and I have been other people’s cash cows, instantly put in positions where your vulnerable state makes you malleable and you agree to things of dubious merit out of fear or exhaustion, never really knowing what your rights are.
Probably the most insidious of these situations are where the poor are encouraged to be involved, often in some well intended way or where the naive middle classes are encouraged to assuage their guilt by mimicking the lifestyles of the poor for a conveniently short and unrealistic period before wandering back to a world full of overpriced organically and ethically sourced goods and settling down to a nice glass of wine in front of the wood burner rather than a plate of oven chips and a tin of special brew whilst your legs burn and your back freezes by a halogen heater.
I guess many readers will be detecting an edge here and, if not already fully formed in your brain, the word “bitter” will be on its way to your synapses.
Bitter is the uncomfortable silent fart of those in the upper hand in any situation and it is a word I despise. It releases all that uncomfortable pressure forming that someone might actually be expressing a valid point of view about their situation and the unfairness of it. It masks unacceptable behaviour and allows people who could do something to change things not to, particularly when the vulnerable or underprivileged party speaks. “Please sir, can I have some more”
I am often expected to bite my lip, smile, and be affable in the face of adversity and there are people who are actually pleased with me when I do this. There is a whole area of mental health therapy in terms of mindfulness and areas of cbt where we are required to accept our lot whilst the people who write the books and develop the initiatives speed off into the distance in their precision engineered hybrid luxury cars. I have to take a deep breath and relax every time I try and photoshop an image on my now antiquated computer, squinting at the tiny screen through failing eyes as I pray that today won’t be the day it dies on me. I’m aware that for every idea I struggle to bring into the world, another twenty slip past me through lack of funds. I also understand that by not squandering what little I have on being down the right pub, turning up at the right dinner party with the right bottle of wine, inviting the right people round to the right property I have failed to aquire and spending two months food money to line the stomachs of people I probably know appalling things about, I shall fail to get the right leg up on the greasy pole. And there it is again, bitter, bitter, bitter you can hear it’s susurrations at the edges of your mind. Just release the pressure that the working class, self educated, well read and been through enough therapy to know his own mind as well as the Dalai Lama might have a bit of wisdom and shout bitter! and it will all be ok. Just tell yourself he obviously has a martyrdom complex or something convenient, anything that fits, just don’t let those pesky educated working class poor bite the hand that is feeding them. They are supposed to climb up the ladder, pretend to be middle class themselves , drop their kecks and piss on those below them and not on the table of their new found peers. And once more with feeling….. BITTER!!!
Hastings is now in the run up to its Big Sleep event, probably the most extreme and obscene form of this poverty tourism where people sleep out in a cardboard box for the night for money. There are others though but this is the worst offender, I got into trouble for mentioning it last year and here I go again. Sorry, wasn’t it persistence that is virtue? No? Patience? Oh well! Never mind! I guess this is why I’m extra twitchy about class, position and closed off opportunities today…
There was a darker side to the phrase money for old rope in that one of the worst jobs in Victorian workhouses involved it. If it wasn’t bad enough to be separated from your spouse and to have your children sent off to orphanages where they would then be sold off to work for tradesmen. One of the worst jobs in the work house was to sit out in the yard, in all weathers, and to strip down rope into it original hemp and sisal fibres, shredding your fingers to the bone in the process for it to be spun into rope yet again. The society that esposed morality in one hand exploited the poor mercilessly in the other. And today, really, has anything changed? Probably not.