My thoughts on the 2015 budget

I wanted to write this piece straight after the general election. I began to see Facebook status’ of not-so-shy Tory voters banging on about the self-righteous left and some other nonsense about how awful Ed Miliband was. As a member of the ‘self-righteous’ left, I began to compose a passion filled, Fox loving, human right endorsing status. I began to furiously type why everyone was wrong, and I, the social justice fighting leftie would prevail to be the voice of reason on a day as horrendous as May the 8th. But just as I was about to publish my status, my sister rang me, she had finally got an offer to do medicine at Edinburgh. I was incredibly pleased, as she has worked tremendously hard over the past 2 years. After my phone call ended, I received a whatsapp from my close friend, announcing her engagement. After many squeals of delight, I was in a much better place, and saved the status for another day, I didn’t feel like arguing with ill-informed tory voters about benefit cuts.

But, as a politics student, it is my duty to shove my political views down your throat so hard that you can taste my tears of disappointment at the newly appointed government. Today, Cameron and Osborne released the first Conservative budget since 1996. But why am I bothered at all? ‘Who even cares? All politicians are the same!’ I hear you cry, but in this past year I have learnt the true extent of austerity, and I would like to share it with you.

This year, I wrote my dissertation on food banks. The question asked why there had been an 142% rise in food banks in the UK over the past five years. I visited 7 food banks as part of my research, and spoke to numerous volunteers and staff members. It’s important to establish what a food bank is at this point of the blog, it’s an apolitical organisation, that receives no funding from the government and solely relies on public donations. Clients of food banks must be referred from organisations such as the Job centre, the council, The CAB and the NHS. A client can only be referred 3 times, and their problem cannot be long ended – there must be a solution. I feel the need to explain this, as over the past year, a lot of people have asked what my dissertation topic was, and then gave a nonchalant shrug with one of the phrases ‘isn’t that for scroungers?’ ‘ I heard only immigrants use them!’ ‘They’re full of junkies.’ This baffled me. Until one day, I rang my grandfather, he asked me how my dissertation was going, and I began to relay some of my experience. Half way through he said ‘well that’s not what I read in the Mail..’ The Daily Mail published an article last year with the headline ‘No ID, No Checks… and vouchers for sob stories.’ Not only is this claim false but incredibly insulting to the hardworking volunteers, who give up their own time to help the most vulnerable in our society. The volunteers and staff do a fantastic job, when I visited they were unbelievably kind and patient. One of their crucial duties is to simply have a chat to the client, ask how they are doing, offer a cup of tea and a biscuit and suggest other agencies that a client may find useful.

My research found that a rise in food banks is down to several reasons. Including, benefit sanctions and benefit cuts. However, a lot of people who use food banks have jobs, yet simply not paid enough. Families are earning enough to pay the bills, and just about trundle on, but if there is unexpected bill; the car breaks down, the boiler stops working, suddenly a black hole is created in their finances, and they are stuck between a rock and a hard place: Do I keep a roof over my head or go hungry?

I now feel incredibly passionate on the issue of food banks, and I am consistently disappointed with this government’s lack of urgency on the matter. The Trussel Trust have recently fed their one millionth client. I dread to think what a further five years will bring to the most vulnerable people in the UK. As proven, austerity literally bites.

But I don’t have to wait five years, I barely waited 5 weeks. The budget was announced today, and yet again the most vulnerable people are in the firing line. University maintenance grants have now been cut. No longer will students from poorer backgrounds be eligible to receive a sum of money to allow them to survive. The government will save £2.5 Billion, but Britain will lose a generation of students. The grant will be replaced with a loan. The students that rely on grants cannot rely on their parents. As the loan is means tested on your parents income. We are letting the most disadvantaged young people pick up a bill that was not created by their spending or borrowing. Which I find troubling, and in all honesty, heart-breaking.

University is expensive. I lived in Reading as a student, and was given a £1000 loan every term. My rent was £375 a month – even over the summer months in which no loan was given. Without my part time job, my overdraft and help from my parents I would not have been able to attend university. I find it sickening that prospective students are being financially crippled by simply wanting to further their education and gain better opportunities for themselves.

The nasty party has returned with vengeance. This time they’re serious. About cutting tax credits and crushing dreams of social mobility. This is why I do not vote conservative and this is why I constantly share articles by Owen Jones on my facebook page. I ask that you keep donating to food banks, and maybe we could launch a kickstarter for all your poor friends that can’t afford to go to uni. But look on the Brightside, at least when your rich granny dies you won’t pay any tax.

(image found from The Guardian via google images)


My relationship with Scotland, and my thoughts on Indpendence

This summer my eldest cousin got married, and I was sitting at a table with an assortment of cousins, family friends, and strangers. As we made polite conversation, my cousin’s boyfriend asked, ‘so what is it that you study?’ … ‘err politics’ I mumble knowing what this would lead to. The collection of wedding guests suddenly descended in to a 30 minute long heated debate about independence. Nothing says ‘family gathering’ like a dispute over North sea oil. The conversation then ended with ‘Well that’s the problem with you English…’

‘But I’m not even English!’ I said with my very much English accent.

I was born on the 31st of March 1994 in the town of Cambridge, England. I was ill as a baby, and my parents decided it would be easier to move back to their hometown of Coatbridge, Scotland to be nearer family.

But my gran told the story like this…

‘aye, so, me and your papa were in yer mammy and dad’s English flat, and it was horrible. It was offy cowl, and they didn’t even turn the heating on, even though it was snowing! And me and yer papa had to sit, with jumpers on and blankets, and I said to yer papa, this isn’t right. I said ‘no wonder this poor wain is sick, stuck in this English flat’. And so I said to yer mammy, ‘move back to back to Scotland. The Scottish Air will do her good’ and she did. And look at you now. You’re fit and healthy’

I lived in Coatbridge until I was 5 (my 5th birthday was held in the Time Capsule – obviously), until my mum and Dad decided it was time to move back to Cambridge.

I assume it was quite a big culture shock, to move from Coatbridge (probably google Coatbridge – if you’ve never heard of it) to a small village on the outskirts of Cambridge. I think adults must have been pretty bemused by mine and my sister’s accents, and would often ask ‘oooh, so are you Scottish or English now?’ I would fiercely reply that I was Scottish. And went to very extreme lengths to prove my ‘Scottishness’. For example, for the 2002 world cup, my primary school invited students to come in early and watch the England games on the big projector screen. Of course, Scotland didn’t qualify, which left me in a very tricky position. I still went to school early, with the rest of my classmates, but instead of being a good sportsman, I booed England. I went to school, an hour early, to boo the home team. That must have been a bizarre sight for the rest of the school. This small child booing David Beckham, and going out of her way to do so. When slightly cocky boys in my class reminded me that Scotland hadn’t even qualified, I just shrugged ‘I don’t even care. I’m supporting Sweden anyway.’ I was a huge Henrik Larsson fan at the time, I had a laminated poster of him on my wall, side by side with my Harry Potter Wall stickers.

After going through some sort of identity crisis at 8 years old, I’ve mellowed. For example, I no longer have Henrik Larsson on my wall, however, in July I went as ‘Sweden’ to a World Cup Party. I’ve always enjoyed being Scottish, and getting ‘in’ Scottish jokes. Me and my sister Katie loved watching Karen Dunbar, she had a character of a wee old Granny, and her catchphrase was ‘jeeeessooooooooo’. We loved it because it reminded us of our Gran and none of our friends would ever quite understand the joke. We always watched ‘Still Game’, ‘Chewing the Fat’ and ‘Burnistoun’, In my first year of university I couldn’t believe that my flatmates had never heard of Kevin Bridges. He is one of my favourite comedians, I showed my flatmate a clip on Youtube of his bit about ‘emptys’ and Chad Hogan’s house parties. I howled with laughter, my flatmate sat in silence: ‘I don’t get it’ she admitted, I re-enacted Kevin’s jokes…‘But…chip and dip man… chad Hogan! And then it’s funny because, at a Scottish House party someone Shat in a kettle… and it’s an empty… and…’ My flatmate took pity on me ‘I’m glad you find it funny Han! I just don’t get it.’

I’ve now lived in England for 15 years (our family moved to Carlisle when I was 9) , and although I would never define myself as ‘English’ I don’t state that I am ‘Scottish’ either, I would define myself as British – a mixture of the two. For example, I love quintessentially English things such as: Yorkshire puddings, chips and gravy and Made In Chelsea. I also enjoy the best of Scotland: Irn Bru, Frankie Boyle and phrases such as ‘pua chuffed to the gutty’. But together, I proper love British things; Great British Bake Off, The London 2012 Olympics, Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and Harry Potter (Harry born in England, raised in Hogwarts, Scotland. Seamus Finnigan, Irish, and the final film was filmed in Wales. Therefore the best of British!)

The Referendum leaves me in a tricky position, what will I ‘be’ if Scotland votes ‘yes’ tomorrow? Basically, I want to be keep being British, I don’t want to be English on the week days, and Scottish on the weekends.

The referendum has left me feeling split in half, the term ‘heart and mind’ has been used a lot throughout the debate. Many Scots feel that their heart screams ‘FREEDOM’ and their mind says ‘ohh yeah, currency. Yeah we probably need a currency’

I’ve been asked countless times what I think about Scottish Independence. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s such a big decision. I can see both sides of the argument, I agree with points from both the Yes and No campaigns.

As a politics student, I have kept up with the debate reading countless articles, journals and even read (a bit) of the White Paper. However, as a Huge Harry Potter fan, J.K Rowling’s argument for the ‘No campaign’ was incredibly thought provoking. I have also always been a big fan of Frankie Boyle, and I thought what he had to say about voting ‘yes’ was different to any other Yes Campaigner I have ever heard ‘some people say they don’t want Alex Salmond in power… how long do you think he’s goanny live? He has the life expectancy of full fat milk.’ (This made my papa LOL, like proper lol, not just chuckle. ‘och, he’s no wrong that Frankie!’) An independent Scotland is so desirable, it would be fantastic to wake up on Friday, and suddenly Scotland is oil rich country with its own place in the EU and the UN, an army, a strong currency and a booming economy. But it doesn’t work like that, it will be a slow process with many hard decisions along the way.

We’re living in tough times. And I know that Scotland is hurting, the Bedroom tax has hit the most vulnerable in society, people are having to use food banks. But so are people south of the border, who also did not vote for David Cameron or his government. And without Scotland, the rest of Britain could be looking at another Conservative government or who knows, maybe even a coalition with UKIP (but that’s another blog…) , as Labour’s majority will suffer profusely, and Scotland has the power to stop that. Scotland also has free higher education. I have dreams about free higher education. I’m in my final year of university, by the end of this year I will be in approximately £30,000 worth of debt. As Cameron has just promised to up the spending per person In Scotland, A ‘No’ vote pretty much guarantees that Scottish graduates walk away with a degree and no university fees debt.

Ultimately I think we’re better together, I think England is better with Scotland, and I think Scotland is better with England and Wales and Northern Ireland. It’s a tough decision, one that should not be taken lightly. This is forever, it can’t be taken back. This referendum is like the drunk text you sent to your ex last night, once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t delete that text, and you can’t take back your words. Don’t be the drunk ex, be the Ex that the rest of Great Britain wants to keep seeing; ‘hey, did you see Scotland last night? Yeah Scotland was looking fine, what with its free education, free prescriptions and Major new powers over tax, spending and welfare services.’




Image via Google