Category Archives: Self-interest

“Hunger, filth, fear and death”: remembering life before the NHS


I came across the following article, by following a link posted on Facebook. It was published in the New Statesman, on 31st October, 2014 and, after reading it, I was so very saddened to realise that, once again, through the machinations of the ‘ruling’ classes, the UK has, in 2019, found itself in such a similar situation to that of Harry Smith, as he grew up in the 1920’s, that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sheer waste of time, that so many people fought, strived, and died through, in order to make life better for themselves and their families and friends 😦

Once again, almost a century after Harry’s birth, there are countless people here in the UK, living in gruelling poverty – with Child Poverty at an all-time high since the Welfare State began – and it’s all due to the greed and corruption of the same class of people who, through their constant lies and deceit, have turned our country from the safe place I grew up in, into a similar scenario to Harry Smith’s early life 😦

Read his account and, if you can’t see the similarities, then you must be part of the problem 😦

Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old RAF veteran born into an impoverished mining family, recalls a Britain without a welfare state.
  By Harry Leslie Smith

Over 90 years ago, I was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, to a working-class family. Poverty was as natural to us as great wealth and power were to the aristocracy of that age. Like his father and grandfather before him, my dad, Albert, eked out a meagre existence as a miner, working hundreds of feet below the surface, smashing the rock face with a pickaxe, searching for coal.

Hard work and poor wages didn’t turn my dad into a radical. They did, however, make him an idealist, because he believed that a fair wage, education, trade unions and universal suffrage were the means to a prosperous democracy. He endured brutal working conditions but they never hardened his spirit against his family or his comrades in the pits. Instead, the harsh grind of work made his soul as gentle as a beast of burden that toiled in desolate fields for the profit of others.

My mother, Lillian, however, was made of sterner stuff. She understood that brass, not love, made the world go round. So when a midwife with a love of gin and carbolic soap delivered me safely on a cold winter’s night in February 1923 into my mum’s exhausted arms, I was swaddled in her rough-and-ready love, which toughened my skin with a harsh affection. I was the first son but I had two elder sisters who had already skinned their knees and elbows in the mad fight to stay alive in the days before the social safety network. Later on, our family would include two half-brothers, after my mother was compelled to look for a more secure provider than my dad during the Great Depression.

By the time I was weaned from my mother’s breast, I had begun to learn the cruel lessons that the world inflicted on its poor. At the age of seven, my eldest sister, Marion, contracted tuberculosis, which was a common and deadly disease for those who lived hand to mouth in early-20th-century Britain. Her illness was directly spawned from our poverty, which forced us to live in a series of fetid slums.

Despite being a full-time worker, my dad was always one pay packet away from destitution. Several times, my family did midnight flits and moved from one decre­pit single-bedroom tenement to the next. Yet we never seemed to move far from the town’s tip, a giant wasteland stacked with rotting rubbish, which became a playground for preschool children.

At the beginning of my life, affordable health care was out of reach for much of the population. A doctor’s visit could cost the equivalent of half a week’s wages, so most people relied on good fortune rather than medical advice to see them safely through an illness. But luck and guile went only so far and many lives were snatched away before they had a chance to start. The wages of the ordinary worker were at a mere subsistence level and therefore medicine or simple rest was out of the question for many people.

Unfortunately for my sister, luck was also in short supply in our household. Because my parents could neither afford to see a consultant nor send my sister to a sanatorium, Marion’s TB spread and infected her spine, leaving her an invalid.

****

The 1926 General Strike, which began just as my sister started her slow and painful journey from life to death, was about more than wages to my dad and many others. It was called by the TUC in protest against mine owners who were using strong-arm tactics to force their workers to accept longer work hours for less take-home pay. At its start, it involved 1.7 million industrialised workers.

In essence, the strike was about the right of all people, regardless of their economic station, to live a dignified and meaningful life. My father joined it with enthusiasm, because he believed that all workers, from tram drivers to those who dug ore, deserved a living wage. But for my father the strike  was also about the belief that he might be able to right the wrongs done to him and his family; if only he had more money in his pay packet, he might have been able to afford decent health care for all of us.

Unfortunately, the General Strike was crushed by the government, which first bullied TUC members to return to their work stations. Eight months later, it did the same to the miners whose communities had been beggared by being on the pickets for so long. My dad and his workmates had to accept wage cuts.

I remember my sister’s pain and anguish during her final weeks of life in October 1926. I’d play beside her in our parlour, which was as squalid as an animal pen, while she lay on a wicker landau, tied down by ropes to prevent her from falling to the ground while unattended. When Marion’s care became too much for my mother to endure, she was sent to our neighbourhood workhouse, which had been imprisoning the indigent since the days of Charles Dickens.

The workhouse where Marion died was a large, brick building less than a mile from our living quarters. Since it had been designed as a prison for the poor, it had few windows and had a high wall surrounding it. When my sister left our house and was transported there on a cart pulled by an old horse, my mum and dad told my other sister and me to wave goodbye, because Marion was going to a better place than here.

The workhouse was not used only as a prison for those who had been ruined by poverty; it also had a primitive infirmary attached to it, where the poor could receive limited medical attention. Perhaps the only compassion the place allowed my parents was permission to visit their daughter to calm her fears of death.

My sister died behind the thick, limestone walls at the age of ten, and perhaps the only compassion the place allowed my parents was permission to visit their daughter to calm her fears of death. As we didn’t have the money to give her a proper burial, Marion was thrown into a communal grave for those too poor to matter. Since then, the pauper’s pit has been replaced by a dual carriageway.

****

Some historians have called the decade of my birth “the Roaring Twenties” but for most it was a long death rattle. Wages were low, rents were high and there was little or no job protection as a result of a postwar recession that had gutted Britain’s industrial heartland. When the Great Depression struck Britain in the 1930s, it turned our cities and towns into a charnel house for the working class, because they had no economic reserves left to withstand prolonged joblessness and the ruling class believed that benefits led to fecklessness.

Even now, when I look back to those gaslight days of my boyhood and youth, all I can recollect is hunger, filth, fear and death. My mother called those terrible years for our family, our friends and our nation a time when “hard rain ate cold Yorkshire stone for its tea”.

I will never forget seeing as a teenager the faces of former soldiers who had been broken physically and mentally during the Great War and were living rough in the back alleys of Bradford. Their faces were haunted not by the brutality of the war but by the savagery of the peace. Nor will I forget as long as I shall live the screams that fell out of dosshouse windows from the dying and mentally ill, who were denied medicine and solace because they didn’t have the money to pay for medical services.

Like today, those tragedies were perpetuated by a coalition government preaching that the only cure for our economic troubles was a harsh austerity, which promised to right Britain’s finances through the sacrifice of its lowest-paid workers. When my dad got injured, the dole he received was ten shillings a week. My family, like millions of others, were reduced to beggary. In the 1930s, the government believed that private charities were more suitable for providing alms for those who had been ruined in the Great Depression.

Austerity in the 1930s was like a pogrom against Britain’s working class. It blighted so many lives through preventable ailments caused by malnutrition, as well as thwarting ordinary people’s aspirations for a decent life by denying them housing, full- time employment or a proper education.

As Britain’s and my family’s economic situation worsened in the 1930s, we upped sticks from Barnsley to Bradford in the hope that my father might find work. But there were too many adults out of work and jobs were scarce, so he never found full-time employment again. We lived in dosshouses. They were cheap, sad places filled with people broken financially and emotionally. Since we had no food, my mum had me indentured to a seedy off-licence located near our rooming house. At the age of seven, I became a barrow boy and delivered bottles of beer to the down-and-outs who populated our neighbourhood.

My family were nomads. We flitted from one dosshouse to the next, trying to keep ahead of the rent collector. We moved around the slums of Bradford and when we had outstayed our welcome there, we moved on to Sowerby Bridge, before ending up in Halifax. As I grew up, my schooling suffered; I had to work to keep my sister, my mum and half-brothers fed. At the age of ten, I was helping to deliver coal and by my teens, I started work as a grocer’s assistant. At 17, I had been promoted to store manager. However, at the age of 18, the Second World War intervened in whatever else I had planned for the rest of my life. I volunteered to join the RAF.

****

My politics was forged in the slums of Yorkshire but it was in the summer of 1945, at the age of 22, that I finally felt able to exorcise the misery of my early days. In that long ago July, I was a member of the RAF stationed in Hamburg; a city left ruined and derelict by war. I had been a member of the air force since 1941 but my war had been good, because I had walked away from it without needing so much as a plaster for a shaving nick. At its end, my unit had been seconded to be part of the occupational forces charged with rebuilding a German society gutted by Hitler and our bombs.

It was in the palm of that ravaged city that I voted in Britain’s first general election since the war began. As I stood to cast my ballot in the heat of that summer, I joked with my mates, smoked Player’s cigarettes and stopped to look out towards a shattered German skyline. I realised then that this election was momentous because it meant that a common person, like me, had a chance of changing his future.

So it seemed only natural and right that I voted for a political party that saw health care, housing and education as basic human rights for all of its citizens and not just the well-to-do. When I marked my X on the ballot paper, I voted for all those who had died, like my sister, in the workhouse; for men like my father who had been broken beyond repair by the Great Depression; and for women like my mum who had been tortured by grief over a child lost through unjust poverty. And I voted for myself and my right to a fair and decent life.

I voted for Labour and the creation of the welfare state and the NHS, free for all its users. And now, nearly 70 years later, I fear for the future of my grandchildren’s generation, because Britain’s social welfare state is being dismantled brick by brick.

****

My life didn’t really begin until the end of the Second World War. I fell in love with Friede, a German woman, whom I married and brought home to Halifax. My wife gave me emotional stability while the welfare state gave me economic stability. When I was demobbed, I didn’t have many prospects, except using my brawn over my brain. I took factory jobs while my wife and I studied at night school. But I am forever grateful for the foundation of the NHS, because it allowed my wife to receive first-rate treatment for the PTSD she acquired by having witnessed both the atrocities of the Nazis and the firebombing of Hamburg, which killed 50,000 people in three nights of intense RAF bombing in 1943.

My experiences of growing up in Britain before the NHS, when one’s health was determined by one’s wealth, and after 1948, when free health care was seen as a cornerstone for a healthy economy and democracy, convinced me that it was my duty to share my family experiences at this year’s Labour party conference. I agreed to speak about the NHS because I know there are few people left who can remember that brutal time before the welfare state, when life for many was short and cruel. I felt that I owed it to my sister Marion, whose life was cut short by extreme poverty and poor health care, along with all of those other victims of a society that protected the rich and condemned the poor to miserable lives. In many ways, making that speech freed me from the suffering of my youth. 

* * * * * * * *

Harry Leslie Smith is the author of a memoir: “Harry’s Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down and What We Can Do to Save it” (Icon Books, £8.99) 

* * * * * * * *

Harry Leslie Smith is a survivor of the Great Depression, a Second World War RAF veteran and an activist for the poor and for the preservation of social democracy. He has authored numerous books about Britain during the Great Depression, the Second World War, and post-war austerity. Join Harry on Twitter @Harryslaststand.

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Filed under Austerity, Benefits, Budget Cuts, Catastrophe, Changes, Childhood, Choices, Collapse of the NHS, Degraded Public Services, Deprivation, Despair, Divide and Rule, Eugenics, Homelessness, Human Rights, Impoverishment, Injustice, Low Wages, Self-interest, skewed presentation of events, Starvation of Resources, Tory Cuts, Tory Lies, Tragedy, Underfunding, Welfare Cuts, Workhouse

Watch The Iceland Christmas Ad Which Will Never Be Shown After Authorities Banned It . . .

This ad has been going the rounds on Facebook for days now and, every time I watch it, I cry – not only for the Oragutan bravely trying to stop the destruction of it’s home, but also for the sheer destruction being allowed  every  single  day – all for the sake of a few multi-billionnaire’s profits!

I still don’t understand why housewives keep buying products full of palm oil – the destruction of the rain forests, in order to grow this stuff, is known world-wide now, so why don’t they boycott the products, and start protesting, along with the few die-hards who have been shouting out about this for years?

I guess the answer will be, they keep buying, because it’s cheaper for their pockets – but they don’t seem to realise that it won’t only be the Orangutans – and every other species – devestated by the rainforest’s destruction, who will pay this desperate price for so-called progress – it will be their children, and their children’s children, who will end up paying the final price for their momentary saving!

I’m not surprised any more at how short-term savings drive such destruction of our environment – but I am surprised that people don’t seem to realise that this is the only home we, and so many other species being killed off for our momentary satisfation, have got, and so it’s up to us to start thinking about the future – or lack of it – of this Planet Earth.

But, in the meantime, this ad brought to our notice, ironically, by the Supermarket chain, Iceland, has been banned from airing on TV by the powers-that-be, for being ‘too political’!

Just how political are most ads we see on the TV screen every day? Quite a lot, thankyou!

But, because the ads are for something that is to the advantage of the reigning political party of whichever country it’s aired in, that’s OK, then 😦

All of my life I’ve loved Orangutans – but even more so since ‘The Librarian’ was introduced to us all, in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (and, yes, I’m a total Pratcheteer, here!).

Terry brought to life the wonderful gentleness, the fierce loyalty, and the enduring pain, that The Librarian shows in his character and, although he is just a character, it made countlesss thouands of us all aware that we have the basis of this creature, this wonderfully amazing Primate, being torn away from his and her homeland – a homeland the Orangutan has probably lived in for as long as they have been a species – and all that pain, killing, and destruction of their habitat, has come about because of the human race’s greed and avarice, our need to buy products a couple of cents, or dimes, or pennies, cheaper!

I hope this ad gets all around the world because of the internet – and that something can be finally done, before every single habitat of the Orangutan has been bulldozed over!

Iceland’s Christmas TV advert banned for being too political: Supermarket’s Greenpeace film on palm oil’s impact on orangutan deemed rule breach

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DWP Reveal How Much More It’s Paid Out in Staff Bonuses – for failures!

I was shocked, when reading The Canary, earlier on this evening, to discover that the DWP are STILL paying out millions in bonuses to their staff, despite the catastrophic failures they have wrought, while making the lives of anyone who needs to have any help to live, a living nightmare 😦

Here’s what The Canary said:

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed it paid out over £6m in bonuses last financial year. But the figures are even more eye-popping when you compare it to the previous year. Because despite the DWP losing court cases and receiving international condemnation, it’s actually on track to pay out more.

Eye-watering figures

The DWP has released its provisional payroll figures for March 2018. When combined with the provisional totals from January and February, it shows the department has paid out £3m of “non-consolidated performance payments” (that is, monthly bonuses). For the same period in 2017, it paid out £2.21m. This is a 36% increase year on year. But delve deeper into the figures and the numbers make for even more interesting reading.

As The Canary previously reported, the DWP paid out £5.3m of in-month bonuses between April 2016 and March 2017. It paid out £6.1m from April 2017 to March 2018 – a 15% increase. But when you analyse the payroll costs, it shows a different picture.

Total payroll costs between April 2016 and March 2017 were £2.46bn. For the same period a year later, they were £2.52bn – an increase of 2.44% year on year. So, as a percentage of the total payroll costs, the bonuses were 0.22% and 0.24% respectively.

As a percentage of pay, the bonus increase may not seem like much. But in cash terms, the DWP has substantially increased its bonus payments, and the year-on-year percentage increase is well above the rate of inflation.

To read the rest of the article, please click on the following link:

DWP Reveal their Staff bonuses:

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Filed under Austerity, Benefits, Bonuses, Choices, Conservatives, Disability, DWP, DWP Policies, Financial Year, Ideology, Inflation, Payroll Figures, Self-interest, Social Security, Wages, Welfare

Plastics – to Use, or Not to Use . . .

I’ve just been reading a post in a Blog called Chris and Shana’s Waffle Experience
and had to agree with Chris’ reaction to the thought of having to do without all the things we use in everyday life, made from plastic.

I have to admit, when I learned, fairly recently, the news that even the smallest of sea life is being affected by our use of plastic, I began to feel really guilty at my using acrylic yarn in my crocheting – plus all the multitude of things used around the house, that Chris had already mentioned.

But, after sitting and thinking about it, I realised that, even if I could afford to get rid of as much plastic in my home as possible, it would make my life even harder than it already is 😦

We have very little money, so can’t afford to replace things with natural replacements – such as replacing our plastic double-glazed windows with a wood equivalent, or buying wool carpets, instead of man-made material ones – and I definitely couldn’t do without my double glazing!

It doesn’t help that I read blogs by people who are actually making all these changes a little at a time but, when I mentioned it all to my hubby, he made me realise that, if we just make a few small changes in our home ourselves, at least it would be a start, and I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed with guilt 🙂

I’m busy making a ton of xmas pressies at the moment, thus reducing my yarn stash by at least a half so, when I get to order more yarn to replace what I’ve used, sometime in the New Year, I’ve decided to pay that bit extra, and try to use as many natural products as I can, instead of just using acrylic.

I’ve found I really enjoy using cotton yarn, and I even had some silk yarn last year, that I used to make my daughter something with, but it was very expensive, for a small amount, so I’ll be looking at bamboos and other, natural, mixes when I shop next.

If it weren’t for the fact that I’m allergic to so many types of wool, I would have started the ball rolling long ago, but I’ve been told that there are some amazing natural yarns out there now, so I’m going to enjoy myself trying as many of them out as I can.

But, as far as the plastics in our home are concerned, at least we’ve stopped using plastic carrier bags when shopping now, so that’s one thing we don’t have cluttering up the place, and we re-use as much plastic packaging – that we get when receiving things through the post – as we can, too!

All those baby steps may not seem much, but if we all do it, it’s bound to make a difference – especially if the scheme, here in the UK, to put a deposit on plastic bottles goes through – then I’m sure it’ll be a good start in helping to clean up our seas, and protect our wildlife, around the world! 🙂

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Filed under Acrylics, Changes, Choices, Crochet, Ecological Disasters, Economics, Natural Yarns, Plastic Use, Self-interest, UK, Yarn

How the actual Magic Money Tree Works

I read this article in The Guardian How the Actual Magic Money Tree Works, and it made it so very clear that either Tory MP’s are abysmally ignorant of practically everything financial (except, of course, how to make sure that they get all the savings they make, from financially ruining the poor), or they are habitually lying through their teeth when they deny that there IS a Magic Money Tree.

I know which one I’d choose!

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Filed under Austerity, Budgets, Choices, Economy, Government Spending, Ideology, Impoverishment, Inflation, Politics, Self-interest

Happy Anniversary To Me . . . and Postal Votes!

I had a notice from WordPress today and, apparently, it’s been 4 years today, since I started Blogging on here.

It actually amazes me that I’m still doing it 4 years on, especially when I think of all the times when I just wasn’t well enough to come on here and whitter away, as is my habit!

The irony that today is the anniversary hit me when I saw it as, apart from checking my emails, I’ve been avoiding any kind of media today that I can, as I can’t bear the suspense with all the general election furore going on. Not because I don’t care, but because I care too much, and the results mean far too much to me, and many thousands of other disabled people.

Talking of which, I spoke to my daughter on the phone earlier on. She lives in Bristol, and we live in west Wales, and so we spend a lot of time either on the phone, or chatting through Facebook, especially when she works abroad.

Anyway, she was telling me of the hoopla she had to go through today, in order to vote – and that she was very nearly tempted not to do so, but for her strong sense of fair play, and even stronger stubborness of character – which she insists she inherited from me – as if!

My daughter works all over the place as a fire performer, and she also helps to manage and direct other stage performances, with other performers, too, and so she travels a huge amount, all over the UK, and the EU, with the occasional trip to the USA and, as she wasn’t sure where she’d be at the time of voting, she had applied for a postal vote. She was accepted for this, but her voting pack hadn’t turned up by the time she had to go off to another festival, and so she assumed this meant that she wouldn”t be able to vote that way.

As as it happened, she ended up back in Bristol a couple of days ago and so, after catching up on everything, and everyone, she needed to, she decided to stroll down to her local voting station, with plenty of ID to prove who she was, to ask if she could do her vote that way.

She arrived, and spoke to one of the helpers, who checked her ID, then checked for her name on the list, and was told she couldn’t vote, because she had a postal vote. My daughter explained that she hadn’t received it in the time needed before she had left for her work at a festival, and that it still hadn’t been there when she checked her post on returning home. She also had to explain that she hadn’t been informed by anyone that this precluded her from voting in person. The lady asked her to wait while she found out what my daughter needed to do to be able to vote.

A few minutes later, she was told that, in order to do be able to vote today, she would have to travel right across Bristol, opposite to her present location, and go to a particular building, and register to vote with them. As it happens, my daughter had a friend with her, who had a car, and her friend offered to take her to the place – an hour and a half away by foot, 30-40 minutes by public transport, or 20-30 minutes by taxi – always supposing she had the money spare for a taxi, of course.

They managed to find the building, and my daughter went to the office she was supposed to, then explained the situation to the people working there, who were puzzled that she was sent there in the first place, as it was the wrong building, and also puzzled that nobody had rung them up to check with them, before my daughter started out to them. They then told my daughter where she should actually have been sent – and it was, once again, right across the other side of Bristol!

My daughter’s friend offered to take her there, too as, by now, even she was angry at the runaround my daughter was being given, and was determined she’d be able to have her vote, and so they set off again, and eventually got to the proper place where, once again, my daughter had to explain why she was there.

Fortunately for everyone, this was the correct place at last, but my daughter then had to fill in all the same forms she had filled in when she first applied for a postal vote then, once they were signed, she was handed a printed-out postal voter’s form, which they then asked her to fill in, fold, and put into the sealed envelope, and then to place in the ballot box.

All-in-all, what had started out as her idea to take a leisurely walk down to her local polling station to vote, actually took her over 3 hours, a lot of petrol and miles, and a couple of arguements – in fact, the final lady to speak to her, thanked her for persevering in the face of everything being put in her way to trying to vote!

If my daughter wasn’t the determined woman she is, she might have given up in the face of all these obstacles in her way and, as we chatted on the phone, and I congratulated her for her perseverance, she was sat in a cafe, having something desperately needed to eat and drink, as she’d had nothing since her morning toast, and we both wondered how many more people were put off voting today,  by the same kinds of things happening to them?

To be fair, it probably was just a concatination of events, totally out of everyone’s control but, with so many postal votes not turning up where they should be in this election, we did have to wonder whether my daugher’s postal vote was one of these, or not?

Neither of us knows who it is, in charge of the postal voting system, nor how partisan they may be with one party or another but, for people like me, who are disabled and unable to leave the house to vote, or people like my daughter, who work all over the place, and can’t guarantee getting to their local polling stations, that postal vote is a necessary thing for us to be able to express our decision on who we want to represent us in Government, so to have it being abused, or even just not being correctly used, is an attack on our very democracy!

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Filed under Anniversaries, Changes, Choices, Daughters, Democracy, Disability Issues, Family, Ideology, Politics, Postal Voting, Proportional Representation, Self-interest, Travelling

AAV: 10 Economic fairy stories that people need to stop believing in . . .

I’ve just been reading Another Angry Voice’s post today, and it has so many points to consider when listening to all the Tory b******t about our economy!
I had to agree with every point made, so why don’t you follow the link below, and read it for yourselves – and do let me know what you think? 🙂

10 Economic Fairy Tales . . .

 

 

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Filed under Austerity, Benefits, Budgets, Choices, Economy, Government Spending, House Prices, Impoverishment, Inflation, Low Wages, Overseas Investors, Private Sector, Self-interest