Foodbanks, homelessness and my dad

I was awake at 4am this morning lying in bed pondering different things in a weirdly melancholic way. It’s weird for me to be melancholic, even misanthropic, because despite my online outrage, I’m a happy person and tend to take what life throws at me with a shrug and sarcasm.

But something has been caught on my mind for a while that only ranting on a blog could deliver the subsidium I need.

My mum and I were catching up on what I’d missed at uni. She told me that she’d seen my father, who she seperated from some three years ago (I’ll get back to that), in the GP Surgery. It was awkward, of course, but they exchanged updates on the other’s lives. She was fine, she said, we have been in a lot of financial pickles these past few years but things are finally not so grim.
Great, he said, but not quite so sunny for him. You see, he’s been homeless for about three years now, living in a YMCA and eating at foodbanks. He’s still unemployed and, I presume, on JSA. They parted ways.

My mum told me this pretty nonchalantly -it’s been his situation ever since. She isn’t his biggest fan, either, for good bloody reason. Things ended badly, abusively. He got himself into a very bad situation, and got us into a terrible one, and he left much to our demand. But this isn’t a personal commentary on my parents. I’d rather not reveal the details of their history pre-crash or their split. This is about what happened after, and how poverty intertwined with gender relations, and the contextualisation of the Coalition government. (You knew I’d get there, right?)

When my mum told me this in such a nonchalant way, I gasped. “Well, now I feel deeply upset”, I said. Surprised at myself for being upset. I didn’t like him either. But by God, I wouldn’t wish food and home insecurity on anyone. Certainly, we had experienced the latter ourselves. “He bought it on himself.” My mum retorted. Yes, he did. Doesn’t mean it’s deserved. Doesn’t mean there isn’t a wider context to our predicament.

Does an abusive man made destitute deserve empathy? As an outsider, I’d scream ‘HELL NO’. The hell am I thinking? But I was nevertheless pondering the gender paradigm of homelessness: had my mother been made homeless, she would have found refuge at a women’s centre. And quite right. The reason there are less women than men made homeless is because women are often made homeless because of domestic violence, and wouldn’t surivive a day on the streets. Being a woman under this government has been truly awful. Everything that has badly hit the poor hits poor women twice as hard. Zero hours, low pay (My mum’s wage in a job predominantly occupied by women was frozen for 4 years), childcare costs, cost of living, benefit cuts, and especially those that have experienced domestic abuse but have seen their services -refuges and legal aid- stripped from them. So being a woman and being in poverty can often be interlinked in the most disastrous of ways.
But this time it was a man, my dad, who was homeless and hungry, because he had perpetrated domestic violence. Because he was the abuser and not the abused. It’s here that we see trends reversed, and here where MRAs taunt feminists, wrongly and deserving a punch in their smug, misogynist faces. You cannot conflate an abuse victim with an abuser.
But it did get me worrying. It made me question if my dad would ever find help. He didn’t deserve empathy, but there I was, dishing it out to him, knowing that there was nowhere for him to go. What the hell’s wrong with me? Was I victim blaming? Feeling sorry for the perpetrator?

Turns out that like any human, I wouldn’t wish awful things on even my greatest enemy, and certainly not one that happens to be my father. I know what life is like under this government. It wasn’t about him being a man, it was about this happening under this particular government.
See, my dad lost his job, started gambling, turned to payday lenders, and piled up the debt we had to pay back when he left. We were left resorting to anti-poverty charities, even at one point facing repossession. I had a lot of anger toward him for that.
But in my community in particularly this sequence of events was fast becoming the norm. Payday lenders dominated our high street at the peak of the financial crisis. They preyed on us. In fact, the fastest growing industries of the time were payday lenders and gambling, both of which have deep ties with the Conservative Party and often get treated to meals with Iain Duncan Smith and other senior ministers. They benefit directly from the suffering of the poor during this time, and hand their support to the Tories in return. My dad was just one of millions, and when I think back contextualisation of our own financial crisis as a microcosm of a wider crisis was everything. And this gradual realisation of the context is what politicised me in the first place, what radicalised me.

And it also hit me that what’s happening to my dad now also deserves context. Gender and domestic violence is integral to the questions of the situation, yet it is intertwined and intersected with socio-economic factors too. He is still homeless partially because there is such little social housing and no rent controls. He is unemployed because, despite what Osborne boasts, the new employment figures are for insecure jobs on zero hours, part time and low pay, and even then competition in deprived areas is still vast. He is hungry because JSA and other benefits have been slashed, and he has had to join a legion of 1 million others that now use foodbanks.

So when my mum said “He brought it on himself” I nod, but not decisively. He had to leave, and he did not deserve my sorrow at the predicament he placed himself in, having to walk out to the streets alone. Good riddance.
But this situation started during the financial crisis and Tory policy -even though it was in the making before-, exacerbated for both him and more importantly my mum because of the crisis and Tory policy, and it’s still happening because of Tory policy. To him and to us. No one deserves this. Anyone experiencing prolonged poverty and insecurity has my sorrow.

And it took me a long time to justify my empathy for my dad, but I finally have that justification; no one should have ever fallen victim to the cruelty of these last 5 years. Not my family or any family. No man good or bad. I despise my dad for a lot of things, but I despise the government more.


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