Saturday, 20 April 2013

Baishou qijia (raising a family with one's bare hands)

Having read so much pro- and anti-Thatcher rhetoric recently I began a process of introspection to try to understand why I am pro-Thatcher.

What's wrong with me? I asked the husband. Why is it that despite reading all that left-wing media as a student, despite working amongst left-wing academics, I am still what I am?

Why is it that 'people up north', after the mines had closed for decades, not got up to do something different for themselves?

Why is there this entrenched hatred of all things capitalist?

It is the capitalists who pay the taxes that pay the schools. When Jessops the high street chain of camera shops went bust, who came to its rescue? A capitalist risking his own money.

Risk. Is that the key?

People moan, there are no jobs. But surely there are jobs: window-cleaning, car-washing, ironing, charring (house cleaning as it used to be called), et cetera.

My father came to Singapore virtually penniless. His older sister had arrived before him. There were a few contacts. He went into labouring work.

I understand that he tried to start a business, but was swindled, and ended up for most of his life as a butcher at Alexandra Road wet market (now demolished).

It was as butcher that he raised six children, with no help from a welfare state. He borrowed money from loansharks to buy textbooks and uniforms for my older siblings. He raised money on other occasions through tontine rings, but always paid back.

Channel 4 News ran a series on how people were affected by Thatcher. Two people said they got her message to do something for themselves and they did. One guy invested the £100 he had buying stuff (anything would have done, he said), sold it, made a profit, and within three to four years was turning over seven figures.

Another decided to leave his safe job to start his own business, and started hiring within two years. But the other two talked about how Thatcher killed industry and communities.

I think anthropologists could make themselves useful by understanding what are the cultural barriers to people striking out on their own. Or even what is the cultural capital that can be harnessed to raise financial capital within communities.

When I went to secondary school I was desperate to join the school band because I wanted to play music. My parents could not afford to give me the piano and ballet lessons I so wanted. I could not afford the band uniform after I fought tooth-and-nail to get in there.

So I bought loaves of bread and made sardine sandwiches to sell them to other girls. I managed to pay for the band uniform after two years.

What is there to stop people from raising capital by making things to sell? Make things out of waste, stuff from charity shops, and start. Buy seeds and compost. Sow them at home. when they are slightly bigger, sell them to neighbours at profit. Once you have made some profit, that bug would bite and you would want to make more.

Here's an example of a website that has useful information:

There are also lots of government grants available such as New Enterprise Allowance. What you need is determination and a willingness to take a risk.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Lady Thatcher's Funeral: random rants

Or thoughts, really. Further to my earlier rant.

On celebrating someone's death, an unpublished letter to The Telegraph:


In Confucian thought there is the junzi (gentleman) and the xiaoren (small man).

A junzi will never dance on the grave of the newly deceased, even if the latter is a xiaoren.
It brought to mind the occasion when a Singaporean politician died and his sons received a 'letter of condolence'.

Britons out to protest the cost of the 'not-a-state funeral' said to cost £10 million.
  • There will be winners and losers, as in any free market: caterers, waiters, drivers, policemen (apparently some volunteered), cleaners, public transport workers, etc. will be taking home more money this month as a result of the additional hours they are working.
  • A mother with pink hair interviewed by BBC was vociferous about spending 'our money -- taxpayers' money' on the funeral. I wonder how much tax mother-with-pink-hair pays personally every year. Most of us are too busy working to earn the money to pay the tax to attend a protest. Many of the spectators lining the streets of London are workers, taxpayers, yes, who work in the City (plus tourists, and many others who took time off to pay their last respects). And those of us who work can very rarely get away with pink hair.
  • Isn't it funny that when people are arguing for better benefits they use the term 'government spending', but if it is for something they do not support, it becomes 'taxpayers' money'? There is no such thing as 'government money'. It is taxpayers' money. Next time you ask for more spending, remember it's 'our money -- taxpayers' money'.
  • So they are against the cost of the funeral. What do they do? They threatened to demonstrate. More secruity needed to be deployed, thus jacking up the cost. ???
  • I am sure if 'the government' made it possible for people to contribute (if they wished) to the funeral: £2, £5, for those watching at home, £10 for those lining the streets, or £100 a head for all those inside the Cathedral, say, with any receipts above the actual cost of the funeral going to charity, there will be very many people happy to pay.
People say that the Queen as Sovereign should not have attended the funeral of a mere commoner.

Anyone spotted the flaw in this logic yet?

Hello! What's the point of being Queen if she could not choose to attend the funeral of any of her subjects (or ex-subjects)?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Singapore’s most famous student?

I sat up when I read from The Telegraph this bit about Lady Thatcher's funeral:  
Among the protesters was David Winslow, 22, a student from Singapore who is studying anthropology at Durham University.
He was holding a placard featuring a tombstone with the inscription, "Rest of us in poverty" and wearing a home-made t-shirt with the words "Power to the people" on the front and "Society does exist" on the back.
Mr Winslow admitted he was too young to remember anything about Lady Thatcher's time in office but said he had seen first-hand how people were suffering under the Coalition's cuts.
He said: "I have nothing personal against Margaret Thatcher. I never met her. But what I do oppose are her policies and the continuation of the policies that she started under the current Tory Government.
"These are policies that I believe are causing great harm to society."
He said he would be turning his back when the cortege passed, adding: "We want to maintain a dignified protest and not have people cat-calling and jeering. I would not like to make this about her personally.”  
It is a great embarrassment to me as a Singaporean and also as an anthropologist.

I have nothing personal against Mr Winslow. I never met him. But what I do oppose are his blinkered views about:

"Rest of us in poverty": He can hardly be impoverished as a Singaporean student at Durham University. He wants to know poverty, I will show him poverty. Did his father have to borrow from loansharks to pay for textbooks? No, delete that. It is not kind of me to drag his father into this discussion.

Is he referring to Britons who are impoverished? Clearly he knows nothing about the benefits system. I do. (Just read any of my recent posts.)

"Society does exist”: This is clearly referring to what Lady Thatcher was supposed to have said that there was no such thing as ‘society’.
I worked alongside people who said, “Why bother to save? ‘Social’ would take care of that, right?”

‘Social’ refers to ‘social services’. So forget contraception. Have a baby at 15. ‘Social’ will take care of me.

Today The Bishop of London clarified (again) what she meant: Don't blame 'society'. We are interdependent. We each need to be responsible for ourselves and our neighbours. Do not  expect ‘Social’ or ‘society’ to pick up the tab when we ruin our lives. The problem in Britain today is many people cannot face up to the consequences of their choices and actions. It is always someone else’s fault.

What is wrong with preaching some self-respect and responsibility?

‘Coalition's cuts’: The welfare budget has not been cut. Now if you and/or your spouse are working 40 hours a week and just about make ends meet. You have not had a holiday for three years. New shoes? Only because your only pair had worn out.

Then you find neighbours who do not work and take home more in benefits by choosing not to work, or pretend to be too ill to work, or have another baby so they do not need to work. Yes, there is a cap on benefits. It means that people on benefits do not get more than the average income of an average worker.

A newly-qualified teaching (with postgraduate diploma) gets about £25,000 before tax. There are workless families getting more than £26,000 (net) for not working. How can you create economic growth when people are richer on benefits than when working?

“Too young to remember anything about Lady Thatcher's time in office”: Well, I was not. I was a sociology/anthropology undergraduate/postgraduate and read the left-wing Guardian and New Statesman at NUS Library (Current Periodicals). But I evaluated the data and came down on the side of Thatcher.

I would not like to make this about him personally.

I am sure he was quoted out of context just as Lady Thatcher was often quoted out of context.

Why would a 22-year-old Singaporean -- born after the Lady left office -- with no recollection at all of Thatcher hold such views?  
  • Because he has been brain-washed by the left-wing academics in Britain?
  • Because he is a product of an education system which only regurgitates what the teacher says?
  • Because the freedom to protest is O! so liberating?
  • All of the above?

Update 19th April 2013 17:22: Two people posted comments below. Neither identified himself/herself sufficiently so I am minded to delete both posts. Please, ha, if you want to say something, don't hide behind a veil. However as I support freedom of expression I shall leave these in, for now.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Welfare or Illfare? Six children dead

[NB I can only use links to newspapaers not protected by paywalls. Just in case you are wondering.]

Sadly and by some coincidence this story puts into context what I had been saying:

His story throws into surreal relief the row between the Tories and Labour this week about Iain Duncan Smith’s much-needed benefit reforms. While the Left and the Church cry that they are unfair and immoral, the Government argues calmly that what is immoral is leaving families such as Michael Philpott’s to languish on benefits for generations.

Indeed, Philpott never even attempted to find a job. The children owed their existence to his desire to milk the welfare system.
[Read and weep.]
Lots more hand-wringing today from journalists:
Welfare reform: It's class war, but not in the way you'd expect (Telegraph)
Writer says it's the Liberals who are far, far removed from the welfare system who are crying out for such reforms. The poorest and proudest actually do not wish to be trapped in a cycle of benefits-poverty.
Pity the poor, unthanked middle-class warrior for welfare rights! These lonely campaigners have come up with all sorts of theories to explain the poor’s failure to get off their lardy derrières and defend welfarism. Their favourite is the idea that the less well-off, being a bit dim, have been brainwashed by “scrounger”-hating tabloid newspapers.

The implication in all the hand‑wringing commentary is that the less well-off should, by nature, be pro-welfare. And if they aren’t, they must be brainwashed by “the Right”. Yet Britain’s struggling communities have never been fans of welfarism, and for good reason: unlike columnists and campaigners, they’ve seen with their own eyes the devastating impact it can have on community life.
So, all you well-to-do campaigners for welfarism, there is no need to be bemused by the poor’s indifference to your battle. For what you love about welfarism – that it insulates the so-called “vulnerable” from the chaotic, often unfair world of the market and struggle – is precisely what the poor hate about it. And what you hate about IDS’s cuts – that they remove the “safety net” that many experience as a trap – might just be what the poor admire in them.

The truth is that the real ‘welfare dependency’ problem is with politicians on the Left. They rely on the distribution of handouts to their client state to remain in power.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

April Fool's joke? No!

Yesterday we woke up to BBC Radio 4 flagship 'Today' programme in which a man claimed that after the recent changes to benefits, he is left with £53 a week. He wanted to ask IDS (Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions) whether he could survive on £53 a week.

The interviewer John Humphrys (also known as the 'rottweiler') did just that, but he also kept interrupting the Minister who was trying to answer the questions and this really annoyed my husband: Why don't they ask me on radio to talk about how I don't want my taxes to be wasted on such people.

Today, we learn from a newspaper, that the man who claimed to be left with £53 a week was not all he made himself out to be. More crucially, it shows the left-wing bias of BBC in allowing this benefits claimant the air-time.

Those of us in Singapore who grew up on the BBC World Service might be surprised to learn that BBC is very much derided, hated even, by many in the UK because we pay a 'licence fee' which is akin to a tax. The head honchos at BBC make obscene sums of money, and they are clearly left-leaning Labour Party supporters.

Take this guy who challenged IDS. As a market trader he must surely earn quite a bit more than the £200 a month he claims. But that's a good figure to claim, making him 'self-employed' enough to claim Working Tax Credit, but not enough to have to pay Income Tax or National Insurance. At some point, for whatever reason, he also qualified for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

He talked about how he worked '70 hours a week' and still did not make ends meet. Then he said he was only able to trade 21 days in three months. Hello! Inconsistency there. Either he was very hard-working and shortchanged (working 70 hours a week) or he was unfortunate (only able to trade 21 days in three months = about 70 hours a month).

If he worked only 70 hours a month then his number of hours would be short of the 25 [correction: should be 30] a week he needs (as a single person, as his ex-wife looks after his children) to qualify for Working Tax Credit. If he is working more than 16 hours a week, he also does not qualify for JobSeekers Allowance. So I wonder on what basis this man claimed benefit. ???

Elsewhere we read of churches coming forward to voice their concern with the 'benefit cuts'. I'm afraid these church leaders do not speak for me.

British Christians cannot be selective in their use of the Bible to support their views. One group talks about taking inspiration from Jesus clearing the temple to support people who are exploited and marginalized.

They include amongst the 'exploited' those in the "Workfare" programme requiring benefits claimants who have not worked for years to work in the community for 30 hours a week or lose their benefits (face 'sanctions'). The aims of the programme is to give such claimants some skills and even the habit of getting to work on time which is alien to many claimants.

Objection is particularly vociferous from those who believe that benefits claimants should not be made to work 'for free' for supermarkets and big retailers. To get £71 for 30 hours of work is exploitation.

Hello! No such thing as a free lunch, OK? Claimants usually get more than just the £71 a week. Housing/Council Tax benefits are several times £71, so don't kid yourself. Who is exploiting whom?

Why should my husband work 40-50 hours a week and we only take one real holiday once in two-three years while some people sit on their butts all day long in front of their satellite TV?

What does the Bible say about responsibility for oneself and one's family? About the holy state of matrimony? About not stealing, because benefit fraud is theft.

No jobs, you say. Why then the influx of East European migrants? Why are employers crying for workers to work in restaurants, care homes, farms, etc.? Jobs or no jobs: mutually exclusive categories.

Employers not paying a living wage, you say, better stay on benefits. That's the point, isn't it? We pay one lot of people the minimum wage to do the jobs that are there because the locals do not do those. Then we pay the locals to stay on benefits.

Employers and taxpayers are effectively paying two lots of people. If we paid only for one lot then we can afford to pay this one lot double the amount, right? To do that we must reduce the welfare bill.

About 80 per cent of the clients I see are 'single mothers'. 'Better off' not working. Suffers backache and cannot work.

When clients say they are single mothers and they've just had a new baby, I have to ask whether there was any violence involved. They say 'no'. So it's not like they were forced to have a baby. Modern contraception is very effective, you know. But having a child under five keeps you on Income Support, you see.

I don't want to be included in the group of Christians who condone such irresponsible lifestyles.

There's free healthcare, free education. How could families be three generations out of work? It beggars belief.

Eradicate the fraudsters, the feckless, and give my hard-earned taxes to those who are really not able to help themselves. Please.

Welfare reform isn't about hurting poor people