The Paradise Papers and charity

Many of the people implicated in The Paradise Papers leak are notable for their charitable giving: Bono and Lord Ashcroft seem to think they are above tax but willing to donate both time and large sums of money to their own pet causes.

What the fuck?

Tax is not something you can opt out of and decide how to use your money and status better. You don’t get to choose who or what is worth your expenditure. You don’t get to ‘solve’ famine in Africa and not contribute to Government aid to a hurricane, or donate an entire wing of the IWM and not contribute to the arts, sports and museum grants that keep countless doors open. You especially don’t get to be an active political commentator, whether that’s organising protest concerts or forming part of the government, when your actions converge so wildly from those demanded by the system of government you operate in.

If you want to be a rich twat, then do. Lewis Hamilton has never pretended to be a benevolent force for good and he takes endorsement deals for anything – we know he wants to be rich, and under capitalism and the current legal system (whatever my own view on the morality of it is) that’s OK. But how the fuck do you think you can tell people that you’re doing good and valuable work to support them – whatever country they are in – if you cannot support the work that voters chose? How can you show off all the good you do when all the money you deny has actively caused crippling austerity? We the taxpayer don’t want your dirty charity money. It’s the nation’s equivalent of and off-list wedding gift: sure, that’s a nice bottle of champers, but we don’t have plates to eat off. Schools don’t want a book you chose for them, they want adequate funding. Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that everything you give as charity pushes your agenda and image above whatever moral value it is supposed to bestow? Can’t you see us scrabbling for money to pay nurses as you ‘forget’ you bought a shopping centre for over £5m?

You, the individual, do not get to chose what is of value to our nation. If we are in a situation where we require rich men’s charity bestowed upon us to fill holes in our society, it does not take a rocket scientist to work out where those gaps came from.

Just pay your fucking taxes. Everything else is extra.

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Happy World Mental Health Day

Very common, specific things give me crippling anxiety: someone rattling the toilet door whilst I’m in there, making me unsure if I should say ‘sorry, I’m in here!’ ir ignore and wait for them to go away (which they will – they want to see me pee about as much as I want them to see it). The idea of being underdressed anywhere. 

Very vague things give me anxiety: existential dread and christmas celebrations and the children I teach having to apply for jobs, and be rejected, ten years from now.

I know very clearly the difference between a phobia and a fear: I’m scared of bugs and they make me jump, but I’m so afraid of spiders that tropical plants make my chest constrict because jungles are their natural habitat, so phobic that thinking or talking or typing about spiders makes me put my feet on the chair and have to stop it before I cry.

I know how it feels to be plagued by depression: to see yourself laugh at a joke as if you’re looking at your own body do things you don’t recognise, or to be physically incapable of getting out of bed despite needing to go to work or eat something or do things that you love and want to. 

I know how difficult it is to break an tick: to make yourself step on an uneven slab, eat in a less gross and specific way, take the deep breaths that will stop you clicking and flailing. 

But I’m in a good place. I’m doing things I love, surrounded by people who push me out of my comfort zone, working in the future I want for myself. I go to events and do things I don’t want to and am learning not to give a fuck about things with no consequence.

I am empathetic and strong and enthusiastic. I have put myself in a position where there are minimal things in my life that set me off, and I recognise how good my life is right now. 

Sometimes, still, my motivation goes. I ignore things I don’t have the spoons to deal with and don’t pick them up later. I have difficulty explaining why I shouldn’t do things – from looking at the pavement when I walk to drinking at certain events – when they deserve to know the truth. I am erratic. And the things I have made and the people I care about are still here.

Happy world mental health day. 

Happy World Mental Health Day

Very common, specific things give me crippling anxiety: someone rattling the toilet door whilst I’m in there, making me unsure if I should say ‘sorry, I’m in here!’ ir ignore and wait for them to go away (which they will – they want to see me pee about as much as I want them to see it). The idea of being underdressed anywhere. 

Very vague things give me anxiety: existential dread and christmas celebrations and the children I teach having to apply for jobs, and be rejected, ten years from now.

I know very clearly the difference between a phobia and a fear: I’m scared of bugs and they make me jump, but I’m so afraid of spiders that tropical plants make my chest constrict because jungles are their natural habitat, so phobic that thinking or talking or typing about spiders makes me put my feet on the chair and have to stop it before I cry.

I know how it feels to be plagued by depression: to see yourself laugh at a joke as if you’re looking at your own body do things you don’t recognise, or to be physically incapable of getting out of bed despite needing to go to work or eat something or do things that you love and want to. 

I know how difficult it is to break an tick: to make yourself step on an uneven slab, eat in a less gross and specific way, take the deep breaths that will stop you clicking and flailing. 

But I’m in a good place. I’m doing things I love, surrounded by people who push me out of my comfort zone, working in the future I want for myself. I go to events and do things I don’t want to and am learning not to give a fuck about things with no consequence.

I am empathetic and strong and enthusiastic. I have put myself in a position where there are minimal things in my life that set me off, and I recognise how good my life is right now. 

Sometimes, still, my motivation goes. I ignore things I don’t have the spoons to deal with and don’t pick them up later. I have difficulty explaining why I shouldn’t do things – from looking at the pavement when I walk to drinking at certain events – when they deserve to know the truth. I am erratic. And the things I have made and the people I care about are still here.

Happy world mental health day. 

Looking Ahead to August

I’m away this weekend, which means I have very little time to cement my (somewhat meagre) July achievements. By breaking down the chores I’ve been avoiding all month into short tasks I can be sure I have enough time to actually do the shit I need/want to get done. By thinking of it as a want I can motivate myself to actually do it – after all, the only person I’m cheating is myself!

To Do Before The End of July:

  • Finish at least one blog post (1/2 hour)
  • Read/annotate two more poems for dissertation (1/2 hour plus each)
  • Put the documentary I watched on Lied singing into my dissertation bullet journal (10 mins?) and update the whole of July (1/2 hour to an hour)
  • Sort my new railcard (omg like 1 hour but such faff)
  • Go for a swim (1/2 hour swim but it will take like 1 hour to walk there, change etc)
  • Read at least one more for-pleasure book (1/2 day? don’t pick Anna Karenina)
  • Take the giant thingy of old fabrics in my room to H&M/Marks & Sparks for recycling (about an hour? Maybe less)

To Do During August:

  • Begin Booktubing – queue up a whole series (can probs film them in a day and edit over a week)
  • Post an instagram every day and save up at least 10 draft instagrams (maybe spend a day wandering around, taking pics? it’ll be fun)
  • Finish Der Romantisch Schule w/ annotations.
  • Swim once a week. Not on Fridays, Fridays are already exhausting.
  • Finish I Love Dick.
  • Finish 1x practise GRE.
  • Practise German every day. Schedule actual lessons.
  • Start seeing therapist again – schedule appointments.
  • Do not forget that Becky is staying last weekend of August.

A Short and Achievable List of Aims for the Coming Year.

  • Write an excellent dissertation. 
  • Get onto MA.
  • Make my hobby more rewarding.
  • Have more therapy – stop being quite so hypercritical (I understand that this won’t go away but I can work on it)
  • Take a holiday.
  • Finish a long piece of writing.
  • Get fit to look amazing for graduation.
  • Fix or throw away all the clothes in my wardrobe.
  • Learn to cook new and exciting foods.
  • Exercise to look and feel better.
  • Relax to feel better and remind myself I actually enjoy everything I’m doing.
  • Work hard to attain the best that I can: reading, ‘riting, and a touch of ‘rithmetic.
  • Get a damn job! (non-negotiable; does not have to be enjoyable)

Boots and the Morning After Pill

Today there has been a call to boycott high-street store Boots for their extortionate pricing of the morning after pill. With Tesco and Superdrug (as well as local chemists) selling it much cheaper, people have demanded a justification for Boot’s high prices, and their answer has chilled women everywhere. “We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product”, says the chain.

This is a feminist issue, a class issue, a social order issue. The Boots response to their pricing plan is outdated and devalues the autonomy of the woman and her male partner (after all, gay women do not require contraceptives, only barriers to prevent STDs) and infers that with the ability to pay comes responsibility. But you can read about this in all of the papers.

More disturbingly for me is Boots’ relationship with the NHS. Whilst the conglomerate dictates to us how we should be viewing women who take Emergency Contraception, it rakes in millions of pounds a year from prescriptions and pharmacy products. As it refuses to lower its price, we begin to understand how prescription services would work without the flat £8.60 per item (or free for children, pensioners, ex-soldiers, inpatients and the registered disabled) the NHS gives us – and we should be appalled by this potential vision of the future. We see that Boots views us – not just women, but all of us – as customers before people, and not even as valued customers but as possible cash cows. Until now they have been protected by market pricing and lack of public knowledge, but as the media net closes in over them the company’s actions are in for widespread condemnation. Probably even more widespread and vocal than the complaints they anticipated in their statement.

I’ve been boycotting Boots for over a year now, for their relationship with tax, and I can tell you it’s much easier than I thought it would be: I’ve gone from someone who bought makeup, toiletries, snacks, medication and accessories ranging from travel plugs to tights in there, who popped in there to conveniently exchange their goods for a bit of my dollar nearly every day and who was doggedly loyal to their Advantage Card scheme, to somebody who hasn’t set foot in a Boots for over a year. Once in that time it has become an issue: I was elsewhere in the UK and needed makeup remover because I had forgotten mine, but an ordinary (albeit larger than local) supermarket came to my rescue. That is why I believe that a customer boycott will be an effective pressure on this particular high-street retailer. Not only is there a direct competitor whose reasonably-priced alternatives can easily replace Boots’ wares, but also because ordinary supermarkets charge similar or lower prices for the same things. If we stop going to Boots, we will not become deodorant-shunning, Goop-reading snowflakes. We can keep all the conveniences we’re used to at the prices we’re used to whilst we bypass this high-street parasite.

If public opinion really is the problem, Boots will lower the price of Emergency Contraception, but it has gone beyond that now. We should be boycotting Boots because of their attitudes to not only women but all sexually active people, all people in need of healthcare (which, after all, is everyone at some point or another) and all people who need financial aid to access services. This is all of us, and we are all far more instrumental in creating a harmonious and dynamic society than one company that behaves like shit.

To-do list I

To to this weekend:

  • Update my bullet journal for July. It is now the 7th and I haven’t touched it once.
  • Annotate a sufficient number of Heinrich Heine poems to show Supervisor next week – two or three should be sufficient for an initial meeting and developing a focus.
  • Finish reading + annotating Der Romantisch Schule (it is not long and it is quite funny).
  • Apply for the job I just found in case this week’s interviews went less well from the other side’s perspective.
  • Find my mum some sources for her William Blake (aka find resources for and plan some sixth form work).
  • Keep up with all usual chores – eat healthily, practise Duolingo, wash up.

I reckon four or five of those can be done in just one sitting at the library, and none of it sounds like something I don’t want to do.

An equal number of achievements from this week to balance my list and prove to myself I am competent:

  • Ran the vacuum round my house without it being a major task. Emptied the bins without being reminded (inc. food bin twice).
  • Saw Daisey – was civilised and cultivated friendship. Managed to talk about things other than our school days because we are dynamic and growing humans.
  • Went to Caroline’s birthday – was sociable and had an excellent time, but was sensible and went home before burning out. Proved I can have just one drink!
  • Put my best face forward at job interviews.
  • Have cooked consistently healthy meals. Have healthy leftovers to go home to tonight.
  • Have done good work at my actual job and been praised by my LM. Have effectively prioritised and engaged with pupils well.

An Open Letter to James Cleverly, MP

Dear James,

One of my Conservative-voting friends liked your Facebook post yesterday about why you voted against the housing bill. I just want to clear up why, in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, I (and many others) am directing my anger partially towards you and those who voted with you, and to address some of the things written in the comments of that post. I have rented in London for four or five years now. It’s not a long time, but it’s enough that I have moved into four or five rooms (several of them in quite quick succession, which is common) and to understand the way housing works in London.

The insinuation is not that you are personally responsible for the faulty cladding on Grenfell Tower, but that you are responsible for the lack of recourse for the residents and a culture in which they were not valued. Many of the newspapers have focussed on just one clause of the Housing Bill – ‘fit for human habitation’ – but I agree with you that this is dog-whistle politics. The finer details of what you voted against are much more insidious. 

The Labour amendments to the Housing Bill were a compromise: the Bill was intended to sell off ‘higher value’ council homes (an ideological difference between a party whose focus focus is providing economic ‘freedoms’ and one whose focus is on providing welfare), which would necessitate the movement of council tenants from areas where their homes were deemed ‘high value’ and into homes that were less sought-after. What this meant in practice was selling homes in London and moving tenants outside London. This is an economic folly, for one: a city as vast and sprawling as London requires low-paid workers to do ordinary jobs which keep it ticking over, and it requires them in droves. Each Starbucks drunk, Pret eaten and taxi ridden requires a low-salaried worker during unsociable hours to provide the service. You would be surprised at some of the places that do not pay the ‘recommended living wage’ (but that is more of my personal experience, and a different story). It is not just about economics, though; it is about what we value as a society. By saying that the artists, refugees, schoolchildren, Muslims, pensioners and teaching assistants who lived in that building matter less than somebody who can pay for it says that we as a society (and you as a person) value them less than any person with a fat cheque. Their income and their race become relevant factors in the fire because these are contributing factors in their vulnerability and the thing which has marked that particular set of people as potential – and now actual – victims.

The Housing Bill implemented powers to tackle rogue landlords (the legislation you decided duplicated the ‘fit for human habitation’ clause): allowing local authorities to request a banning order, creating a database of rogue landlords and allowing tenants to apply for a repayment order. Again, this values money above people: the idea that I want money back from my landlord as a fit compensation for living in squalor is laughable. I would much rather be guaranteed a safe home than compensation. Furthermore, this legislation presupposes that the council are not the ones at fault, as they were in the case of Grenfell Tower. It presupposes that your claims are for your own home, rather than the building as a whole as in the case of Grenfell Tower. It also presupposes that your complaint falls under existing legislation that describes ‘unfit habitation’ rather than allowing that phrase to be interpreted by the judiciary on a case-to-case basis or extended in the eyes of the law.  It presupposes that you have the skills or means to bring about a claim. There are too many variables.

Those powers to tackle rogue landlords are not sufficient. I know, because I have tried to use them. The council and environmental health can do very little to a private landlord other than send a letter (an ‘improvement notice’) and wait. If you go out of your way to make your own property fit for habitation (like calling the London Fire Brigade who will install smoke alarms free of charge) then there is nothing they can do. Photographs, statements and the word of any number of tenants (past or present) are not sufficient evidence, and you must wait for a member of the council to visit you (during council hours) and write a report. For vulnerable people, who lack resources like time, money or knowledge of their rights under British law, the easiest thing is to not even go to these meagre lengths and so many landlords go without even these paltry checks to their behaviour. We as tenants have no rights. 

There are any number of things this Bill did not provide for: extortion from letting agents (it does not cost £70 to run a credit check, nor does it make sense to charge a ‘signing fee’), protection from landlords who do not use letting agents, a meaningful punishment for landlords who break the law. This Bill did not serve ordinary people. 

Privately rented properties are what I and all of my friends live in (except one friend who bought a flat and is having the building knocked down by the council – but that’s a different scandal). Many people I know live in ex-Council Flats which are rented at market price like some of the ones in Grenfell Tower (a policy which you approve of), so these ‘unfit for human habitation’ homes are not cheap, they are the standard for London living except among the elite. The association of them as the homes of the working-classes shows how little London landlords care about ‘little people’, but the victims list demonstrates that this block was for people of all walks of life, and many of the stories show the community spirit from within the block. Having lived in a house that was ‘not fit for human habitation’ as well as in several homes where the landlord (and other people with keys) has not followed legal requirements, I can only tell you about the fear I have felt in my own home and my frustration at being unable to improve my own living situation. But more than that: this letter is not written with selfish aims to improve my own lot in life. This letter is written in anger that you can dismiss your place in a culture that does not value the people who need help the most and wash your hands of your involvement in a Bill which you claim seeks to protect tenants and which I – and many others like me – know to not serve anybody. 

Furthermore, people are widely angry because of what the Housing Bill represents. To many people, the idea that landlords can vote together on any Bill represents a conflict of interests in a system which values the property-owning and wealthy above the ordinary citizens of our nation (and harks back to a time when only men of property could vote at all). A major aspect of the criticism levelled at you, and those who voted with you, is not about how you voted but about the fact that you were allowed to vote together, especially when the only collective power the residents of Grenfell Tower had was their much-publicised blog, which did not affect public policy and brought about no change. 

A few final points, to address the comments under your post: Momentum does not tell me how to think. Momentum shares information to like-minded people who often come to the same conclusion (in the same way that a person’s views often reflect the people they are friends with due to shared experience). They are a flawed organisation, and I do not just read The Canary and The Socialist Worker for my news. Make no mistake, I am similarly not happy about the political point-scoring being made of this tragedy, but it is not all coming from the Labour Party (who are, by the way, fallible) press office – if you hadn’t noticed, the image being contrasted with Theresa May by the newspapers and on social media is generally NOT of Jeremy Corbyn, but Elizabeth Windsor. 

Please do be careful in your analysis and in understanding the criticisms which are being levelled at you. The people of this nation are angry, and your indignation at our anger disrespects the dead as well as our concerns for our safety and security. I am sure that you yourself are a good landlord and therefore cannot comprehend the fear and needless expense that we renters face daily, but your misunderstanding of this issue fails the people of Braintree as well as the nation at large. Share-and-shame posts list your actions – your voting record and your expenses. If you think these actions are defensible, defend them! Don’t dismiss claims of their relevancy if you think you did the right thing. 

This is a national moment of trauma and we need to be shown that those in power understood what they must do to ensure that death on this scale can never – never! – be allowed to happen again. 

Yours sincerely,

Kitty