This amazing article was written by ‘A Girl Called Jack‘, a freelance writer who campaigns for Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group. Jack took part in the ‘The Big Benefits Row’, a live discussion programme in which experts debate the controversial subject of benefits. (shown on Channel 5 Monday 3/2/14.)
It’s 9 o clock on Tuesday, the morning after the night before, where we were both on a panel on The Big Benefits Row on Channel 5. I haven’t watched it back, I was there, and know what I look like when I’m angry.
I need to get this out – because it’s everything I wanted to say last night but couldn’t, as I kept being rudely shouted over by you. Honestly, my three year old behaves better than that. At least he knows that when Mummy does her ‘will you just be QUIET and LISTEN to me’ then the best thing to do is to stop running your mouth and let Mummy say her piece.
But you didn’t. Because you were terrified of what I had to say.
I wanted to say, when asked by Matthew Wright, that poverty is almost indescribable to someone as blinkered as you. That turning off the fridge because it’s empty anyway, that sitting across the table from your young son enviously staring down his breakfast, having freezing cold showers and putting your child to bed in god knows how many layers of clothes in the evening – it’s distressing. Depressing. Destabilising.
Sure – you could probably live on benefits for a week to ‘prove it could be done’. But imagine living for 11 weeks with no housing benefit, because of ‘delays’. Imagine those 77 days of being chased for rent that you can’t pay, ignoring the phone, ignoring the door, drawing the curtains so the bailiffs can’t see that you’re home, cradling your son to your chest and sobbing that this is where it’s all ended up. It feels endless. Hopeless. Cold. Wet. Day after day of ‘no’. No we aren’t looking for staff. No there isn’t anything else to eat. No I can’t put the heating on. No I haven’t got any money to pay my rent arrears. No, no, no,
Sitting on the bathroom floor vomiting up the paracetamol and sleeping pills I took to try to end my own life – that wasn’t, as you hissed in an aside, “a rich girl pretending to be poor.” I was alone, with nobody to ‘pretend’ to. I didn’t write about my suicide attempts, because I was scared that if anyone knew how bad things were, I would lose my son. There was a lot I didn’t write about. You become adept at keeping up appearances, at smiling and saying you’re fine. It was almost a year before I was referred to a food bank for help, almost a year of searching for work, holding my home and my son together at the seams with an iron will. And all those ‘no’s.
When you descend into personal attacks against your opponent, it is because you have no political argument left.
When you tweet your opponents grandfathers obituary all over the internet in a foul attempt at smearing their reputation, it is because you are scum.
Did you stop to think for one moment how you might have made my family feel? My nan, my mum, my dad, all people who dearly love the man whose life and death you used in a live television debate last night to try to unsettle your opponent? Of course you didn’t.
I was asked to sell my life rights to a movie director last week. I refused on two counts.
1. I’m not that interesting. As proved by you, when the biggest scandal you can dig up is that I used to drink Aldi lemonade with my grandad at his guest house.
2. I’m not an island. My life is interwoven with complex relationships, as are all of ours. Having been subjected to professional trolling for over a year now, I would never put my family through those levels of abuse. I get death threats. Rape threats. Personal attacks on my weight, appearance, sexuality, education, lack thereof. So I try to retain a degree of privacy, for the ordinary people on the periphery of the right wing media monstering of Jack Monroe. If you love someone, you don’t throw them into a bear pit.
If you’d have been willing to listen, you’d have realised how spectacularly you missed the point.
Poverty can happen to anyone. That’s why I unsettle you and your cronies. Because the Tory party rhetoric of ‘work hard and get on’ can fall apart in the blink of an eyelid. I worked hard. I got on. And I still spent a year and a half scrabbling around in a festering pit of depression, joblessness, benefit delays and suspensions, hunger, and the entrenching, gut wrenching fear that I was failing as a parent.
I’ve never claimed anywhere that my family were “poor”. They weren’t “rich” either. I’m not really sure what they were, which I guess makes them quite ordinary. As a child, I had dinner on the table and always had clean clothes. We had a holiday a year in a caravan in Devon or Yorkshire, and the occasional foray to Ireland.
I went to a grammar school, not with any coaching or private tuition, I just sat the entrance exam aged 10 and was offered a place. It was hardly Eton. I struggled at that school, grades gradually getting worse each year, until I dropped out with not enough GCSEs to take A Levels. I went to work, in a shop, at the age of 16. No degree, no Oxbridge education, no feet on ladders, no family business to inherit – just me and about £5.85 an hour.
But Thankyou, for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight about my upbringing live on air.
Thankyou for showing your party to be the nasty, out of touch, gutter scraping worms that they are.
Thankyou for the extra 5,000 supporters I’ve had on Twitter, my blog, personal emails since your revolting attack.
And I ultimately feel very sad for you. Sad that you can say on television, without an ounce of remorse, that people should be starving in Britain. Sad that you cannot see beyond party battle lines to the real human pain and suffering up and down the country. Because it’s easier to talk in statistics and sound bites than it is to hear one persons story. It’s easier to shout down than to have to hear what poverty is like in Britain.
As for your little hissed aside when the cameras stopped rolling: “Still working for Sainsburys are you?” Yes, I am. The ad campaign runs for another couple of days. I guess I ‘worked hard and got on.’
My mum wants you to apologise, by the way. Are you woman enough?