Illustration by Sam Taylor
Back when I was a student I listened to a lot of Hot Chip and fucked a lot of guys for money. I basically have a degree in fucking. I have a proper degree too, on our much-loved English language and its lofty literary heritage. I got a first. Higher education taught me how to use my tongue in every sense, from clever syntax to cleverly working it around wherever I was paid to do so. These two qualifications are not unconnected. Without having sex for money I wouldn’t have been able to support myself during my studies. Nor would I have been able to move away from my hometown, which was essentially shut down with the mines in the 80s. So I did what I had to do. As politicians of all persuasions are fond of telling the unemployed, you can get a job if you really want one. You just get down on your hands and knees and scrub toilets for a living, right? And if a man who wants his dick sucking happens to pop in while you’re doing it, you stay put, open your mouth and get yourself a week’s cleaning wages with a mouthful of spunk.
I was in the audience for Channel 5’s Big Benefits Debate on Monday night. At one point, Edwina Currie told a young mum from Benefits Street that she should just get a job. “Give me a job then, innit!” screamed the girl. Comment of the night, if you ask me. It’s all very well telling people to go out and work but where the fuck are they supposed to work? Are you doing anything to help create jobs, Edwina? We can’t all get paid to go on Strictly Come Dancing. My mum was a project manager at Boots for 16 years but they had to let her go last winter. She is yet to find another job, and not through want of trying. Four years after graduation, I don’t have a full-time job either, and I know plenty of post-grads in their twenties who work in bars and cloakrooms. Or both. Maybe that’s why there are no vacancies? Because some people have two or three jobs just so they can afford to live? If know-alls with degrees can’t find work, people in big cities, people with years of experience in the workplace, how the fuck are the residents of James Turner street and others like them supposed to magic up careers for themselves?
Taking people off benefits solves nothing without job vacancies. They’re going to turn to crime instead. Or prostitution. I did, and studies show I’m not the only one. Research conducted in 2010 shows that 25 percent of students know someone who has worked in the sex industry to fund their studies. In 1990, it was just 3 percent. Middle-class kids go to university with the promise of a good position when they graduate – but it was never meant to be doggy style.
Meanwhile, a generation of politicians who had their uni fees and accommodation paid in full by the government – and then had a good job to walk in to – are now forcing their children and grandchildren to fund themselves through university. The fuckers. Edwina went to a good grammar school in Liverpool and then onto Oxford in the 60s – so, not to generalise or anything, but she and her selfish baby-boomer generation are a bunch of hypocrites. University was free for them. Now you need tens of thousands of pounds and you probably won’t find a job at the end of it anyway.
When I mentioned the lack of jobs during the Channel 5 debate, Matthew Wright played Devil’s advocate and asked me about immigrants who find work in coffee shops. Are these the 1,700 people we saw applying for eight vacancies at a Costa Coffee in Nottingham? Or was it the people we saw in Fergal Kean’s documentary last month, who share filthy mattresses in cramped and filthy squats? You might be lucky enough to get yourself a job in Starbucks and maybe even a decent coffee, but good luck finding a living wage.
We’ve seen this before, of course:
"It is by no means unusual to find 18 or 20 in one small room, the heat and horrid smell from which are insufferable… If they have linen, they take it off to escape vermin… The amiable and deservedly popular minister of a district church, built among lodging houses, has stated that he has found 29 human beings in one apartment."
Social researcher Henry Mayhew wrote that in 1851. London’s poor don’t seem to have moved on much in the past 160 years.
Why was the sinking of the Titanic such a disaster? Because the people in charge, the ones with the power and the money, sacrificed everyone’s safety by cutting corners to maximise profits. They thought they were too big to fail. Sound familiar? Wide decks for first-class passengers trumped adequate provision of lifeboats for all passengers. Blaming people on benefits for Britain’s economic troubles is like blaming a sinking ship on poor people fighting over lifeboats. Sure, some poor people are acting shitty. Some are cheating the benefits system. They’re only copying the rich, though. Benefit fraud costs the taxpayer £1.2 billion each year. Last year, tax evasion cost us billions. Why aren’t we all talking about that? And when is someone going to make a documentary about the real cheats in Britain? The banks and energy companies that makes billions of profit and then expect to be bailed out with public money when things go wrong? The MPs who were caught red-handed fiddling their expenses? The business owners who use every trick in the book to avoid paying a penny of tax to the country that made them rich? Poor people know the score. They’re playing the same game everyone else is.
I don’t fuck for cash these days. Sorry guys. I media whore instead. When I met someone special I decided it was time to come off the game, but I couldn’t find work – so, what did I do? I went on benefits. Now I earn money through writing but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without a year or so of unpaid internships and writing for free to get a name for myself. I am lucky. Privileged. I was able to do that because someone helped me. Truth be told, if I wasn’t in a relationship and hadn’t prostituted myself through uni, I’d probably be stealing stuff from Primark myself. People make poor choices when all the good choices have been taken away. Work doesn’t pay for many people so why would they choose it? The answer isn't fewer benefits but higher wages.
Also, if you want people to make better choices, make them more obvious. For example, we keep hearing the message that people shouldn’t have babies if they can’t afford them. That may be true – so why has the political elite just voted against plans to make proper sex ed compulsory in all British schools? If you don’t teach kids about sex and relationships and the realities of parenting, you can’t blame girls for letting lads jizz up them without a johnny. It’s just one of many examples where working-class people are blamed for making bad choices in a system set up by the privileged for the benefit of the privileged.
At university, I suffered from depression. I had my reasons. When Benefits Street's White Dee talked about her depression on the Channel 5 debate – a mental illness that can affect anyone, of any class – there was a look of disgust and disbelief on Katie Hopkins’ face. Wouldn’t you be depressed if you lived on James Turner Street and had been out of work for years? Wouldn't Katie Hopkins? I know I would. Poverty doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Many poor people have shit to deal with that has nothing to do with being poor – and maybe that means they’re not in the best position to find a way out of their poverty. My heart broke when I heard White Dee's pal Fungi say that he’d been on tranquilisers since he was 16 because he “was messed about with as a kid”. What sort of person feels no empathy for someone like Fungi? He could be anyone. He is anyone. So, Edwina, unless you personally are offering him a job – or to put someone like me through university – you’re in no position to judge us. In other words: gimme a job, innit. Or fuck off.