Struggling with the cost of living? The Tories think it’s all your own fault

Rachel Maclean’s top tip for folks in poverty is to go out and get a better job, and if you can’t do that then beg your employer to let you work longer hours

Britons struggling with cost of living should get ‘better job’, says minister

Scarcely a day seems to go by without some Tory MP making a fool of themselves by wading in and trying to be helpful to people struggling with the cost of living crisis. It’s getting to be like Wordle, a regular little tweet – you know it’s coming, even though you can’t say exactly what it will be – in this case, which particular backbencher or member of the government will come up with some outstandingly patronising piece of “advice”. Unlike Wordle, however, what the Tories say is an insult to intelligence.

The latest one is somebody called Rachel Maclean, who is a junior minister in charge of safeguarding and partly responsible for that great public policy success – the Afghan refugee resettlement scheme. Her top tip for folks in poverty is to go out and get a better job, and if you can’t do that then beg your employer to let you work longer hours.

In her words: “We have often heard in the past when people are facing problems with their budgets that one of the obstacles – and it may not be for everybody – is about being able to take on more hours or even move to a better-paid job.

"Of course, it’s an individual situation, depending on that particular family’s situation but that’s why the job centres exist, that’s why the work coaches exist, that’s why we’ve put the support into those job centres – to work with individuals on their own individual situation. So it may be right for some people – they may be able to access additional hours. But of course it’s not going to work for people who are already working three jobs."

That’s it, really. At least there’s an acknowledgement that some people are already working three jobs, though her aside does carry the slightly menacing implication that unless you’ve got three jobs already (not counting company directorships, lucrative “consultancies” with lobbying forms or cushy sinecures on public bodies) then you’re  really not trying very hard. Nurses and teachers really just have no idea how tough it is to be a parliamentary undersecretary of a state at the home office.

The Maclean Doctrine is that all will be well if you just adopt the trend fashionable with tech tycoons in China, I believe, of “9-9-6”, which is toiling from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. Never mind the childminding, caring (and indeed safeguarding) responsibilities, health and safety or the law (if you’re a delivery or bus driver, say), just “get on with the job”, to borrow a phrase.

If you haven’t got a job, get one. There’s loads apparently. If you can’t work, then there’s a modest pot of hardship cash sitting with your local council that you can try and access (and the very best of luck getting through on the phone).

In fact, luckily enough, Maclean herself has a vacancy right now in her own office. She’s looking for someone who has: “Strong Conservative Party values with a love of politics, campaigning and a highly developed political awareness”. Much like herself, at least in the first respect, though the criteria does tend to constrain the available pool of talent.

After all, if you’ve spent the last 12 years struggling to get by under a variety of Conservative-led governments of millionaires and non-doms, and you hate their guts as a result, then you’d probably not fit in with Team Maclean terribly well. The salary? It’s on standard scales, which look to be between £21,529 and £32,983, if you live outside London.

Not bad, you may think, but please remember that the job description states: "Analyse, evaluate and interpret data ensuring I am accurately informed on key issues." On the other hand, it includes the option of working from home and a four-day week. Don’t tell Jacob!

I don’t like to be that personal, but Maclean seems to be an idiot, albeit a well-educated one. I notice she has two degrees in psychology, but that doesn’t seem to have helped understand the desperate psyche of those living in poverty, including her own Redditch constituency. She also wears spectacles that look like they’ve been borrowed off Timmy Mallet, which just adds to the sense of triviality. Inspired by the blocks in the old Blockbusters game show, the specs probably cost more than a pensioner gets in a month. I assume the rose tinting was extra.

As I say, it’s a Tory habit to patronise the poor. Lee Anderson claims you can cook a meal for 30p, which presumably means that MP’s expenses for subsistence, of around £25 a day, could be scaled back commensurately. He’s now potentially being sued by the food poverty campaigner Jack Monroe for defamation, carrying the risk of substantial damages and legal costs. This may mean Lee will have to try to follow his own advice soon.

George Eustice, the cabinet minister responsible for farming and food, thinks that no one’s cottoned on to these supermarket own-label products, which can be cheaper than the well-known brands. Katherine Fletcher, MP for South Ribble, thinks people are “sitting on benefits” and should get “any job”.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks the surge in food bank use is a tribute to the generosity of the British people. In Dartford, the Tory council leader and mayor, complete with chain of office, turned up all smiles to the opening of their latest food bank as if it was some symbol of civic achievement, like a new cancer unit.

My all-time favourite dates back to 2012, and it came from the keyboard of the now Tory MP Ben Bradley in a blog post: “Sorry but how many children you have is a choice; if you can’t afford them, stop having them! Vasectomies are free…Families who have never worked a day in their lives having four or five kids and the rest of us having one or two means it’s not long before we’re drowning in a vast sea of unemployed wasters that we pay to keep!"

And that’s basically what unites the Tory view of the poor or indeed anyone finding life a struggle: it’s your own fault, a lifestyle choice. It’s the old story of the “undeserving poor” (and who are always even less deserving if they look or are “foreign”). It’s the mean-test, the Poor Laws, the “get on your bike” view of the world. Nothing new.

The “gaffes” are tone-deaf insensitive, condescending, out of touch, even sadistic, but they’re not actually gaffes at all. They are mere expressions of deeply held ancient prejudice. The attitude displayed by these MPs is that the poor are either too idle, too promiscuous, too stupid, too lazy, too dishonest, or too drunk or high to get themselves a proper job, work hard and perform that job to the best of their ability, with honesty and dignity. Which is pretty ironic when you think about the qualities of the members of the present parliamentary Conservative Party.

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