Imagine my joy. I thought I had invented a word! An intoxicating reverie pictured me immortalised in the dictionary (perhaps even garlanded with laurels. Or worshipped like a word goddess…) Fame beckoned. Precariati! I did that!
Of course, reality pierced my dream. ‘Precariat’ has been used elsewhere, a social group identified by author Guy Standing (although I prefer ‘precariati’ and yes, I am sulking.) Sometimes overeducated, on short-term, low-pay employment, dipping in and out of stability, with only the safety net of benefits to occasionally save them (us) from penury and the streets, as they (we) stagger on from day-to-day.
Many people I know live in rented housing and work under short term contracts, doing their best, trying for long-term employment with the phrase permanent becoming increasing exotic, as once your CV says the phrase of doom freelance, you are stuck there (it means you are less likely to find a home to rent as freelancers are popular.) Life is uncertain. Signing on, or claiming Housing Benefit is an ever present, undermining inevitability for we, the precariati. And it’s no fun: the current rate of Jobseekers Allowance is £67.50, not enough to live on short term, and utterly impossible long-term. People do not sign on for laugh, or because they need a holiday from work. They claim benefits so they can eat.
Housing Benefit (or Local Housing Allowance) is being abolished. The self-employed, or new business start-ups could at least hang on to their rented homes while trying to make a living. I’m not noticing much opposition (at least not from anybody important ie a celebrity – you know, from a soap…) and so ‘Benefit Claimant’ has, like the terms ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’ been corrupted and now implies scrounger, when this is far from the case.
Housing Benefit helps the precariati stay housed, in turn allowing them to work. Looming, ever present rooflessness takes up all your energy, and it’s hard to be a young entrepreneur or diligent jobseeker when you can’t pay rent. It’s exhausting.
The precariati are debilitated by uncertainty, especially in housing. People in new found jobs can be fired within the space of one year without much excuse (and those cuddly, cuddly condems are thinking about dropping even that requirement). It’s like wandering around with an axe hovering over your head, ready to chop off your prospects. But at least you can receive housing benefit, so you won’t be out of a place to live, right?
Wrong. Unopposed the new regime are hacking away, undermining an already tenuous existence. This is a government following an economic philosophy advocating low regulation and minimal intervention (well, alongside welfare for bankers who are bailed out, but that’s not the same as Housing Benefit, right?)
The precariati endure the imposed uncertainties caused by a wrong-headed philosophical system of cuts. When in certain areas of the country there are no long term jobs, what are they supposed to do without housing benefit? Grimly shuffle to the work-house, perhaps? Corralled into the precariat - punished for being a member of the precariat. There’s no way out.