Monday, 1 December 2014

Ebenezer Scrooge and Uncle Sam

Our rulers have always found poverty a head-ache:
The timeless search for the nice distinction
Between the deserving and the undeserving poor,
                                        The worldly-wise demand  -
Their unvarying, relentless meanness
Supported by protestant virtues such as thrift,
And Diary of a Nobody self-help:
‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’;
‘Stand on your own two feet’;
‘Charity begins at home’;
‘You have to be cruel to be kind’,
And so on and so on and so on,
Right back to early life nursery rhymes
(‘Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark!
The beggars are coming to town,
One in rags, one in tags,
And one in a velvet gown.’):
This is the convenient ideology
That has kept us in our place since Tudor times  
The whipping and branding of vagabonds,
Beggars, tramps, in Shakespeare’s England,
Sending them back to the parish of their birth,
‘Kicked to and fro like footballs in the wind’;
The benevolence of Thomas Malthus:
If population increases geometrically,
And food production arithmetically,
Why! Starvation, malnutrition, famine
And early death for the lower orders
Should resolve that imbalanced equation.
God bless the Reverend Malthus!
(You are an ingrate, Oliver Twist.)
The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act,
Banning outdoor relief, dividing families
Into workhouse wings, where ‘less eligibility’
Made conditions inside the workhouse 
Worse than the worst paid job outside;
And now? Once more, we see the old, old story:
The criminalization of the poor,
The apotheosis of charity;
‘Prosecutions for begging rise 70%’,
Said the headline in the Guardian,
Whilst a letter told a Black Friday tale:
‘Shoppers … were buttonholed by assertive volunteers
and urged to give donations to the local food bank.
Lists thrust … requested tins and packets’
In a rewrite of A Christmas Carol;
At this time of the year, when tradition dominates discourse,
Together with its other side of the coin –
Modernity and Americanization,
It’s no bad thing to remember the traditions of the Left:
‘Parity not Charity’,
Is a reasonable discourse, 
Whenever one is charitable,
In this hugger-chugger world in which we live,
Where Ebenezer Scrooge walks arm in arm with Uncle Sam.

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