Thursday, March 4, 2021

A Degrading Relationship (1967)

From the March 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The man with a black brief case and an aura of the National Assistance Board stood in the doorway . . . “I am looking for a Mr. So & So”, he began, and added . . . ‘I am from the Ministry of Social Security”. . .

The new era of capitalistic '‘Social Justice” had arrived, grandiloquent title and all.

I directed him up the Edwardian staircase to a proletarian attic, and brusquely swinging his case of “social security” he mounted the stairs to dispense it. But behind the new title and the suave officials, it may be timely to enquire whether the old relationship that existed between the National Assistance Board and its applicants has been abolished along with the title?

What was that relationship anyway?

The following incidents, witnessed by the writer in 1965, may serve as an illustration . . .

A long queue of the destitute moved slowly over a wooden bench as their surnames were lustily echoed to the rafters by an NAB. official whose voice would have done justice to a court crier.

The dejected queue moves one by one before a tough looking receptionist who demands of each . . . “Name & Address” . . . which he busily scribbles down. Then . . . “Have you signed on for work”?. . . “Yes”. . . “Then come and see us again in three days”. . . “But I am destitute”. . . “Well, try and hang on for another day or so, we don't pay out any money here before the three days rule”. . . Crestfallen, the majority shuffle out and count the weary days that must elapse for each fresh applicant.

One, however, an immigrant from the Emerald Isle threatens to break all the NAB windows if he does not get immediate aid. Significantly, he is given preferential treatment. This is the set up of bullying and degradation that existed under the NAB. On one side, the power of. the capitalist state machine, on the other, worn out hulks of those who spend their lives on the wages treadmill until they finally reach a bench at the NAB.

Nor can it be said that relations were any better under a previous state department —the Unemployment Assistance k Board . . . that notorious UAB of the Hungry Thirties which incorporated the Household Means Test in its obnoxious administration and under which the present writer received 34/- weekly for himself, wife and two children after the Inquisition had been well and truly applied.

Thirty years later, the NAB scale of 76/- plus rent allowance for each person has to be viewed against the rise in the cost of living that has occurred in the interval. This makes it clear that the share of the destitute in the “affluent” society is, to say the least, nothing to write home about.

However, we are not here concerned with the degree of relief from destitution authorised by successive Governments, but with the degrading social relationship between the haves and have nots arising from the class division inherent in a profit based economy. This subjection of the vast majority by a small ruling class, and the indignities following from this state of affairs, is what Socialists the world over are dedicated to destroy. When property society is finished, that eternal plaint of capitalism . . . “Brother, can you spare a dime?”. . . will go down in history as the scene of disease which plagued humanity far too long.
G. R. Russell

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