It’s disturbing how quickly we accept as the norm something which, only a short time before, would have been considered totally unacceptable. I was struck by this thought the other day, as I watched yet another of those TV commercials for a pay day loan company. Not so long ago such companies were considered beyond the pale: sharks operating from dark alleyways, preying upon the misfortunes of the poor. Yet now they have glossy adverts on prime time TV, coming on as if they are providing some kind of social service: financial saviours of the lower middle classes. But can this really be the new normal? How can we have ended up living in a Britain where people are paid so poorly that it is now considered acceptable to take out short term loans at exorbitant rates of interest just to cover their bills until the next, inadequate, pay day? When you stop to think about it, these commercials present an alarming picture of the present day Britain – a country where turning to dodgy money lenders is seen as the only viable way of getting your car (which is essential for work) fixed, or your boiler (essential if your family isn’t to freeze to death) repaired, (to use two of their favourite examples).
But it isn’t just the pay day loan sharks plugging their wares on TV. There are a whole plethora of money lenders popping up in just about every commercial break offering loans. Even those irritating pillocks from 118 118 are getting in on the act, offering to loan money to people with poor credit histories. I remember a time when only the disreputable of money lenders, (many of them specially set up subsidiaries of High Street banks who would refer their own unsuspecting high risk customers to for loans at much higher rates), specialised in such clients. Now we have telephone directory services trying to ensnare them. Debt, it seems, has become an acceptable fact of life for certain sections of society – at the same time as benefit claimants are being vilified. It seems that it is OK to borrow money from loan sharks, but not OK to claim welfare that you’ve paid for through your taxes. Which, again, shouldn’t come as surprise – it’s an effective privatisation of in work benefits. That’s the problem with the welfare system, you see, nobody makes a profit from it.
For those too poor to qualify even for the type of loan which will effectively indenture you to the money lenders for life, there’s always the food bank as a way of surviving. Indeed, business is booming for the food banks – it’s one of the few sectors actually expanding. Still, at least they aren’t exploiting the poor for profit. But they are another symbol of what we now accept as ‘normal’ which was unthinkable only a short time ago: namely the idea that the less well off should be dependent upon the charity of the better off for their survival. This was an idea we surely all thought had been banished back to where it belonged – the Victorian era. We spent decades working toward the welfare state (now a dirty word, but once an ideal) where the poor would be treated with dignity. The new normal, however, id that the poor must be ‘deserving’ of help – and that help should come from middle class do-gooding liberals rather than the state.
Then there’s the general lack of tolerance, not just toward the poor, but also toward anyone ‘different’. Refugees are ‘swarms’ and suspected terrorists. Immigrants are all criminals. The disabled are all benefits cheats. The mentally ill are all dangerous psychopaths liable to gut you and your loved ones with a fish knife. This is the new normal, apparently. Decades of hard work changing public attitudes toward these groups has gone out of the window. Intolerance is the new normal. It isn’t just minorities we’re encouraged to hate by default. Anybody who questions the new orthodoxy is an enemy of the people, a dangerous radical hell-bent on destroying society and, probably, murdering us all in our beds. Anybody who challenges irrational management decisions by taking industrial action are Marxist revolutionaries. In fact, anybody who advocates or, even worse tries to exercise the most basic human rights is a terrorist-loving dupe. You want your privacy protected? You must be hiding some kind of sexual misconduct – you are obviously a peadophile. These are all attitudes we now seem to accept as being normal. Certainly, they are openly and vehemently expressed in newspaper headlines and on radio phone ins on a daily basis. And, as one former BBC local radio presenter recently found out, if you call out the bigots, you are the one in the wrong.
So, how did we get here? Lack of regulation is one reason. The past few years have seen successive governments choosing to try and ‘regulate’ citizens, by restricting our liberties, rather than establishing proper regulatory frameworks for, say, financial institutions and the press. Consequently, they’ve been allowed to do pretty much as they please, whilst our ability to seek recourse against them has been systematically dismantled. The other pertinent question is whether this is the society we want to live in? I mean, really, do we want our children to grow up in a world where the ‘answer’ to poverty and low wages is charity and debt? The result of the last election, where the Tory bastards got a majority, would seem to suggest that the answer is, yes, people are happy with this situation. Except that it isn’t that simple, thanks to our electoral system, they were able to achieve hegemony with less than 25% of the total electorate voting for them. But again, such vagaries are accepted as normal – it goes unquestioned in the media which instead presents the election results as a wholesale rejection of any ideologies which don’t accept the current Tory orthodoxy. I suspect, however, that if pushed, most people would tell you that they would like to live in a different, more positive, society which isn’t based on hate and fear. But our political leaders and the media keep telling us that any alternative to the new normal is impossible. If change is to occur, then people have to start questioning the current orthodoxy and rejecting its poisonous received ‘wisdoms’. Which, I fear, will be an uphill struggle.