"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A few days of contrasts - part two Friday Evening

It has been remarked that Elizannie and Other Half on occasion scrub up quite well. In fact those who only know us from marches and demos or from Somerset when our default clothing is mostly sandals and shorts in the case of Other Half and floppy hats, sandals and rather wifty wafty odds and ends in the case of Elizannie have been known to completely ignore us until 're-introduced' if also attending the same 'posh do' as us.Something similar happened on Friday evening when we were invited to a lovely evening party. For once I actually felt I had the right outfit on and Other Half even remembered to wear shoes and not trainers. Good going. And really interesting company, some of whom we already knew so there weren't too many of those looks when someone realised that we were not only trade unionists who vote Labour [well one of us does, the SWP member keeps quiet as that usually causes mild hysteria] but both of us were professionals who really should have known better.

Anyway our new friends realised that despite being born in close proximity to the Thames Estuary [me] and Arsenal Football ground [Other Half] we really were both educated and could discuss quite entertainingly a range of subjects. The subject turned to Workhouses. Which was really bad luck because it is one of those subjects on which I am a real anorak [did I tell you that I used to be a lecturer?]We were having a discussion about unemployment at the time - not a good subject after the day I had had [read my previous blog!] and I was desperately trying not to be controversial. Honestly. The lovely lady I had been talking to was very active in her local church, had moved to our area from the South West many years ago, had her own business and I am sure works very hard in both her business and her charitable activites. BUT. There is always a but, isn't there? But, she had been saying how wonderful the local Conservative MP is. Fine, and I had been very non-committal. I was behaving honestly.

And then someone suggested bringing back the workhouse. Remember I was tired, and had been working all day sending CVs out for my unemployed friend. Please remember too that his 'crisis loan' had been refused. So I pointed out that workhouses had a bit of a history and I gently explained it. I explained about the 1834 Act that instituted workhouses on the Parish Union basis* and explained how if a pauper did not come from a particular parish s/he would be given a loaf of bread and sent on to the next Workhouse [usually around 12 -16 miles away, which was judged to be a day's walk], given a bed for one night and the process was repeated until the pauper reached his/her home parish which was then statutorily obliged to house that pauper.

General cries of 'That's what we should do now' from the little group of business people who were making up the group by now. Ah, says I, knowing that one or two had had to close down parts of their business in the past ten years ago, affected by the large global employer who made Other Half redundant. After all, if you lost your source of income and had to walk back to your 'home parish', where would that be? Looks of consternation. It could actually happen, when we used to meet up ten years ago I know that they all felt secure - nowadays especially in the 'Prosperous South East' there are not any businesses which feel secure or jobs which feel that safe, believe me. Plus we are all 10 years older with many of us hovering around the State Pension Age, and we all feel secure that the Coalition Government will look after us in our Old Age, don't we?

So food for thought for my new friends I hope. We are all in this together but some are further in than others and the spectre of the workhouses is not too far away from any of us. The workhouses were unforgiving institutions but in a way the beginning of the welfare state - they were instituted to prevent paupers dying of starvation and this was judged the cheapest way to feed them. With a government determined to cut welfare budgets please do not suggest that they return, even in jest.

*For more information and history of the workhouse do please visit Peter Higginbottom's wonderful site from which the photograph above is taken of Williton, Somerset workhouse. A place dear to my heart for very different reasons.

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