View From The Side: Tax Credits And The Birth Of Ransom Note
After a bit of a chat, we decided it was time Ransom Note weighed in on the subject of tax credits, and the best way to do the subject justice was to talk about the site itself.
There were two major economic factors that enabled us to get Ransom Note up and running some 8 years ago; affordable rent and working tax credits.
Wil, who started the site, was renting a place off a friend who was happy to keep rent within sane levels, and I wrote a lot of the early content whilst living in a squat in New Cross. If we'd started Ransom Note a few years down the line, both of these set ups would have been incredibly unlikely – and in my case illegal; in 2012 the Tory government made squatting residential properties a criminal offence. This new legislation was opposed by 90% of respondents consulted on the change. Other opposition came from homeless charities, The Law Society and the Metropolitan Police. But what do they know? FYI, the place I was squatting back then is still empty, five years on, and there are more homeless people in New Cross than ever.
Between us we chucked hours into work. Wil spent his entire life focused on building the site whilst I built a career in freelance journalism. Neither of us have come from a public school background, with all the door-opening media links that can offer. Neither of us has a wealthy family footing the bill, or paying our rent. We’ve both slogged and hustled our way through shit jobs to keep the wheels on. And when it was time to focus on our future exclusively, we both claimed working tax credits. This made it possible to survive in London, and, eventually, build something we believed in.
Now (brace yourself for the happy ending) neither of us have to rely on tax credits.
Ransom Note picks up hundreds of thousands of hits a month, and I think we can reasonably claim to be part of London’s dance music cultural family. A curmudgeonly ginger step child, perhaps, BUT WE’RE STILL HERE FUCKERS. Ahem. I’m lucky enough to earn an alright living between DJing and writing, and the site has branched out into a few different ventures, from ticket sales to a digital agency. R$N, in its various forms, employs a small, growing team. We contribute to the economy and we’re job creators, and we do both whilst also doing something that we (generally) love. Staring down the barrel of our 30s, confronted with a future of soul destroying jobs and weekends spent blotting out the misery, we used tax credits and hard work to make something better. Surely that’s the kind of striving that gets Tories all gooey inside?
But no. For some reason this narrative of self-improvement via tax credits is completely absent in all of the bullshit George Osborne is spewing. He seems hell-bent on pushing through a policy more unpleasant than Christmas dinner with Maggie T’s preferred necro-nonce. Despite the Fiscal Institute insisting that slashing tax credits specifically attacks ‘hardworking families’, and despite Tory voters weeping tears of frustration and despair when contemplating the future, pallid George pushes forward, his skin taking on an ever more ghastly sheen as he spreads fear through the land by day and, (quite probably) feasts on mildewed corpses by night.
The claim that the gap in finances left by hacking away at tax credits will be made up by the raise in minimum wage is a bizarre nonsense. This raise doesn’t come into force until 2020. That’s four years and change from now. What are people meant to do ‘til then? Oh, that’s right, food banks – the hallmark of a truly booming economy.
And as for the self-employed? Essentially, the younger versions of us? Well, fuck them. Gideon’s sending out a big fat signal that this is a land where only the gentry can have aspirations. Apparently hard work only counts if you’re already rich. Sayonara to redistributing a relatively small amount of wealth in a way that might actually improve the whole society. Why bother when you can just grind your citizens down, squeezing and squeezing until you’ve created a new peasantry? Keep ‘em fearful and desperate! Keep ‘em accepting the crumbs off our table – in fact, have them beg for them. Who knows, with a bit of luck prostitution could boom. Not that that’s something Osborne would be interested in.
Looking back over the history of the site, realising how we managed to pull off the oft-eulogised Tory feat of pulling our socks up/ getting on our bike/ (insert your own meaningless aspirational proverb here), we can't see the attack on tax credits as anything other than economically illiterate, uncomfortably punitive, ideologically driven and just plain shit. Unlike some of our more -ummmm- esoteric political ideas, we're not holding a rogue or unusual stance on tax credits; supporting them is a mainstream position that is being completely disregarded by a chancellor who failed his Maths GCSE. Unfortunately, there’s not much time to stop him. But if you feel that a society that can spunk a fortune on unwinnable foreign wars, can sling bottomless funds at failing banks, can fail to close loopholes that see Facebook paying £4000 a year in tax, and that can offer the queen an 18% pay rise (that’s £16,000,000 kids), can also work out a way to keep a mass of its citizens out of horrible, relentless poverty, then perhaps you might look into signing this petition.