Eyes down for a full house: The Striver/Skiver Binary.Posted: March 20, 2014
I didn’t watch yesterday’s Budget announcement as I was too ill (unfortunately? Fortunately?) but I got the general gist of it from Twitter and so on. Especially the #torybingo hashtag that went floating round Twitter last night. (for the rest of this blog entry I recommend this as background music, to really get into the Tory idea of “hardworking people”)
So the line the Tories have been pushing ever since they’ve been in power is the “Work hard and get on” idea. Now, this literally means nothing. It has no intrinsic value, which means people put onto it what they think it means. Your idea of “working hard” might well be very different from mine, which is probably very different from George Osbourne’s. His idea of “working hard” is hard grafting at a job 8 hours a day, possibly manual labour, definitely something that involves getting grimy. Mine is “managing to get dressed and possibly even leave the house”. Just don’t expect me to do it repeatedly for five days a week.
The Tories have, of course, built their whole welfare and tax system on a pile of unmeasurable concepts. “Working hard”, “getting on” and “hardworking people” aren’t something you can measure. But it’s something you can use as a stick to beat the people who you feel don’t measure up. My “I might be able to leave the house” idea of hard working would, no doubt, be seen as “skiving” to someone who self-identified as a “striver”.
And herein lies the problem. The Tories have built up a grand idea of the hard-working, hard-grifting “strivers” and told them that, somewhere below them are those scroungy, work-shy “skivers”. Y’know, the ones who wear the tracksuit bottoms and smoke rollies outside the Job Centre all day, possibly with half a can of Special Brew and maybe a dog on a string. “You’re one of us!” George Osbourne says to the self-identified striver “on your minimum wage zero-hours job, you’re working hard and getting on, you’re on our side!” as he earns over £100,000 a year.
The way for the Tory-identified “skiver” to stop becoming a “skiver” is, of course, to get a job. But what if you’re incapable of working? It doesn’t matter how many part-time shelf stacker jobs there are if you are literally unable to work. So, you become the Tory “skiver” forever. There is nowhere else for you in the Tory worldview. You cannot work your way out of skiverdom, so you live there forever. And while people will often bring out the old chestnut of “Oh, I don’t mean people like you!” if you challenge them on that view, we live in a country with what we could call the “Striver/Skiver Binary” (ooh look I think I just came up with a new sociological concept!) If you’re not one then you’re the other, and it’s usually a case of “skiver until proven to be a striver”.
So if you’re disabled or ill, be it with a physical disability, mental health condition, chronic illness, a mixture of those and other things you will forever be a skiver. You may get singled out as a “don’t mean you!” but the Tories work on generalisation, and generally, we’re all a bunch of skivers. And because we can’t remove ourselves from that label, sick and disabled people will never be able to get out of being seen as the bottom of the heap.
But in fact, this is all smoke and mirrors. Because in reality, it shouldn’t be the “skivers” and “strivers” fighting against each other. It should be the people who “Work hard and don’t get paid enough” and the “disabled people who need more support” and the “unemployed who cannot find work” and the “drug addict who cannot find work and desperately needs help” and the “single mum who lives in a run-down council flat” and the “people who are employed by the public sector who get shat on from a great height” working together to defeat the real opposition, those in power who use their wealth and influence to keep the poor and sick and disadvantaged down. But the Tories want us to be so busy fighting each other we can’t see that in fact, it’s them we should be rallying against.