Tuesday 7 July 2015

Mrs Jenkins and Mr Osborne

Guest Post by Panda Paws

In a recent Christmas special of “Call the Midwife” they covered the tragic story of Mrs Jenkins. 

They actually toned it down from the full story in the book - it was too heart-breaking for broadcast. 

Mrs Jenkins had six children when her husband died early in the last century. 

There was no welfare state so she took the eldest, a girl of ten, out of school to look after the younger ones whilst she worked. The oldest and she took in sewing to eke out their income. 

Then an industrial injury to her arm, for which there was no compensation, r meant that she lost the job.

The sewing didn’t bring in enough money to support them. She was evicted having already sold her teeth and her hair for money. She turned to the parish for help but the trustees told her she was “workshy” and denied her any help.

They had nothing and when the youngest, still not even a toddler died, she found a box and committed his body to the Thames river.

Eventually as the health of her starving children failed, she was forced to do
something she dreaded. The family turned up at the workhouse (more usually called "poorhouse" in Scotoland). As they waited in the reception room she hugged them knowing, as they didn’t, that they would be separated. She never saw any of them again. 

She was released from the workhouse when it closed down decades later, her mind shattered. 

You see not one of the five remaining children lived, the last to die was the eldest. 

She wasn’t allowed to see the bodies or attend the funerals.

In the fifties, the midwifes and nuns had seen her around, but didn’t know her story. She loved babies you see, but the mothers didn’t like this old, dirty, shambling figure around them and shooed her away.

She walked funny because her toenails had grown to over 12 inches long. 

When the nurses came to tend her, they had to cut the boots off. They bathed her, sent her to a specialist to cut her nails (which remain
today in a London museum) and gave her second hand clothing. She tried to refuse it: “that’s too good for the likes of me, you keep it”. 

She couldn’t believe that she could see a doctor for free; the NHS was a miracle, the money from the new welfare state a Godsend.

On Wednesday 8th, George Osbourne will announce his second Budget this year and the first solo Tory budget since 1996. 

He is the heir to a baronetcy, privately educated and due to inherit millions from a wallpaper firm (Osbourne & Little, if you want to avoid it!) jointly founded by his father. Although he has never worked for the firm, his shares have earned him a tidy sum. 

He’s already slashed the benefits of the disabled and unemployed. It’s been announced he’s found £12 billion of “savings” which if the leaks are right will affect the working poor. It’s also been leaked that he will raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million.

As the announcements are made, my thoughts will be with Mrs Jenkins, a woman who, like my late mother, knew life both before and after the Welfare State and how brutal it could be. I suspect, unless Scotland becomes independent, that a Tory voting England will ensure that I also discover what life without a State safety net is like.
Addendum: Guys, I know I usually try to write with some humour, but watching what I suspect to be the dismantling of the social security system is more of a crying than a laughing matter.


  1. Exellent piece Panda. It just puts into perspective what the Tories are truly all about ... keeping the poor on the edge of survival whilst the toffs and their millionaire mates roll about on thick carpeted floors of their ivory towers.

    1. Look at what's getting the money:

      MPs' pay;
      MPs' accommodation;
      Royal family's income;
      Royal family's accommodation.

      That's for starter, but it gives you a bit of an idea where it's all going

    2. thanks Arbroath. Austerity is just a short name for reverse Robin Hood. Right wingers control of the MSM means that people focusing their ire on the wrong people, the "benefit scroungers" not the tax dodgers.

  2. Only a matter of time before rickets and scurvy reappear. I was going to add malnutrition, but that's already here.
    They call us civilised.

    1. It seems to me it's a damned good job we don't have lums (chimneys for non Scots), otherwise little boys would be sent up to clean them.

    2. TB is making a comeback too. Once they introduce charges to see GPs (proposed in England), all the old diseases of poverty will be with us.

    3. Where do you think the TB was imported from ,try romania !

  3. An excellent piece and I have said that it is a pity that more people do not read and know about the past because we are heading backwards. I don't know if I have said about my own Grandmother who was forced to approach the Parish as it was known then in 1935. She had finally rid herself of a bully and an adulterer, she was left with four of her five children and had no means to support herself or her children. She was told she would have to divorce him, something my Grandmother was violently opposed to, well things were different then. She was so disgusted with them that she moved back to her parents home, they had a kitchen a best room, a bedroom and a boxroom oh and do not forget the inside toilet (they were well off). So my Mum, her sister and her two brothers, one no more than a baby moved in and my Gran managed to get work cleaning railway carriages, shift work I should mention and when she wasn't working she was looking after aged parents and her kids. So people should not think that things were rosy in the last century maybe not the workhouse/poorhouse but still not enlightened. I get really angry when I hear single mothers getting a hard time, and you can imagine why. The longer Scotland stays with the Tory loving English we will go back to those times. I read Peter Thomson (Tarff Advertiser) who puts it so well. He is sad and angry and I think that is how I feel, depressed and have been since September. Should anyone read his blog you will also be.

    1. That's what they want though, becasue it brought out the best in people. It made them work hard in appalling conditions for just enough to feed themselves.

      Self reliance, strivers not skivers! And the big society to look after you...not the state... if you are lucky to fall down nearby decent people with enough to share... if not...well... tough.

    2. Thanks Helena. A lot of people don't realise how important the welfare state is to them. They assume it's just unemployment benefits for the "workshy". Without it, those with no family to fall back on will find life a very hard place.

      I think most families have a story like yours. I remember Brian Cox on "who do you think you are" finding out a close relative (I think his dad??) spent time in the poorhouse. And Jeremy Paxton's Scottish granny got money from the parish after she was widowed with children.

    3. I agree Panda Paws, there are too many who have no idea how it actually was for people, the people who were not middle class, my Gran got a job working up where my School had a house for teaching Domestic, way back as a youngster. This was working as a maid for a banker and his wife, seems to me those days are returning. My Husband said to a couple we met on holiday, a lovely couple but so much higher up the social spectrum from us that in the past THEY would have had a maid, that Downton Abbey would be looked at shortly as a training manual.
      My Gran had a hard time, she was deaf in one ear due to the attentions of her abusive husband as was the Lady I called Mum, my Mother's oldest sister, my Mother died of Tuberculosis middle twenties, shortly after my birth, and I agree with Arbroath, we have malnutrition now and actually some Asia people have seen rickets and how soon will we see these in the general population.
      I do wish our neighbours would stop being so stupid, the Tories are not our friend, Wings is reporting Kezia and her party being so utterly self centred today.

  4. It seems to me that the Tories are hell bent on returning us to Victorian times. Not themselves and their ilk, of course, but us.

    Powerful piece Panda Paws.

    1. Some sort of Victorian time for them too. Remember the rich were awfully rich then, and the poor awfully poor.

    2. Thanks Douglas but any credit must be shared with Jennifer Worth who wrote the Call the Midwife trilogy detailing the sad story (and there's bits I left out for length) and of course Mrs Jenkins who I hope had some moments of peace before died. And all the unknown "Mrs Jenkins" (and Mr Jenkins) whose stories have never been told.

    3. tris:

      Remember the rich were awfully rich then, and the poor awfully poor.

      I know. This fragmentation of a social democracy - our beliefs I think - is exactly what is so hateful about the Eton boys. They want to return us to a class system that I had, naively, believed was on it's last legs. No such luck.

      Comments have been made elsewhere about the IMF and what they are doing to Greece. Greece was apparently willing to deal with tax avoidance / evasion as a means of balancing it's budget. That was unacceptable to the IMF. The pain had to be at a visceral level, so's the people would know their place.

      This, and the present budget, are both designed to tell us to know our place. It is what happens when you give the English Upper Class complete freedom. They take the piss with any idea of democracy. FPTP, whilst it gave the SNP an amazing result is a busted flush.

      They had better make the most of it. For it ought to be obvious to anybody that this is a dictatorship of the rich against the people. We are probably spiralling backwards in time to pre-Victorian times.

      You thought I had finished?

      Mrs Jenkins who I hope had some moments of peace before died. And all the unknown "Mrs Jenkins" (and Mr Jenkins) whose stories have never been told.

      panda paws, the sad reality is that most people were treated like that. Either they died down mines, etc, or through epidemics - like the post-WW! flu - or through just being worn down by poverty.

      I too, hope Mrs Jenkins found some peace, but it reminds me of Tacitus, not exactly, not to an nth degree, but it seems to fit the sentiments of this BTL discussion rather well:

      They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace.

    4. Beautifully put Douglas.

      I agree with it all. FPTP is a ridiculous system designed to help the already strong. That the SNP benefited from it on this occasion is nether here nor there. I note that they still want to get rid of it.

      As for the Greece situation, I've always considered the IMF to be an appalling organisation there to help the rich make the poor poorer. I've never heard of anything that they have done that worked for anyone except them.

      The trouble with enforcing rich Greeks to pay their proper share of tax is that it might spread to other countries,like for example, the UK. Horror.

  5. I fear this, piece, is a vision of the future and not a sorry tale from the past.

    1. We'll see tomorrow. Rumour has it Scotland is going to hurt like never before...Revenge maybe... but probably also a lesson to Scots that the SNP is powerless to help them against the likes of the Bully-don Boys.

    2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b060zw8b

    3. Jimnarlene, I fear you are correct. I don't think people realise this is the logical conclusion of the attacks on the welfare state. Though they only need to open their eyes to the suffering of the ordinary people in Greece to see what happens when the safety net is slashed/withdrawn.

  6. My granny was brought up in a poorhouse. She had only occasional contact with her siblings. Her mother, my great granny, had been arrested for looting during a riot. She had smashed a butchers window and attempted to run off with some meat.

    Her brother was a sad man. He returned from the war 'shell shocked', and became a tramp. He would wander the length and breadth of the country, and turn up once a year or so. My granny would take him in for a couple of days, scrub him and feed him, then he would be on his way again. My parents told me that when they had their first house, he would visit them too. They said his mind was gone, but he was harmless, and always cheery. Sometimes they would come home to find a big sack of tatties at their front door. He always left a present if nobody was at home.
    His visits just stopped, and we reckon he is lying in a paupers grave somewhere.

    As you can guess from my history, I FUCKING HATE THE TORY BASTARDS!

    Anyway, mustn't grumble. :-)

    1. Like I said above, Juteman I think all families of, not just the working class, but also the middle classes (see Paxman for example) will have stories like this in their history. Frankly I think social history should be part of the school curriculum - maybe it still is.

      I remembered being horrified when I read about the lives of mill workers and the truck system. They could only spend their wages on food that was bought from the millowners' shops. Which the millowner

      1. overcharged for
      2, filled with poor quality and often "cut" food - ie altered with e.g sawdust etc.

      Plus they lived on site and paid rent to the millowner too.

    2. Forgot to say, great article.

  7. Strong article, but sadly a reflection of what may come as Jim points out.

    There are some cuts to the welfare budget that I do agree with, but there needs to be a balance to reduce the impact. Austerity on it's own simply does not work.

    Also noted that the Chancellor is going to slow the pace of changes to the benefits system. I think the situation in Greece has finally opened his eyes as to what can happen if you push people to far. I think Greece is heading for anarchy. We've already had the Arab Spring. Could the same happen in Europe? It's a scary thought, but anything is possible.

    1. You can only push people so far into misery.

      Without any melodrama the situation is that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. A return to the situation 100 years ago.

      But this time people are less inclined, as Mrs Jenkins did, to feel that it is simply her place to accept this; that this is how is should be while other people consume oysters and champagne.

      We don't really know our place anymore.

      Added to that the internet has changed everything and our sources of information are no longer, the main stream media (with mega rich proprietors looking for titles and advancement) or the establishment BBC trotting out the government line.

      People will know things that they never knew before and can be in touch all around the world within seconds.

      An English spring? Probably not. But unless the leaks have been HUGELY exaggerated there is a serious possibility of trouble on its way.

    2. But the Torys want trouble so that they can further restrict peoples freedoms and Labour will sit on their unsoiled hands as they have expenses forms to fill in.

    3. tris,

      I am probably trying your patience, but:

      People will know things that they never knew before and can be in touch all around the world within seconds.

      And you know what? They are generally just like us.

      Any attempt by elites to stifle that must be resisted.

      People are different, but the more they communicate with you, and you with them, the less these differences manifest themselves.

      I, kind of, trust ordinary people. I, kind of, don't trust extraordinary people. It seems to me that democracy is about an attempt to control extraordinary people. Either through their 'Divine Right of Kings' bullshit, or a government that 'could do' something about inequaity but prefers to entrench it.

      Over the years I have had huge arguements with Libertarians and Fascists. But, if you engage with them, the worst they will say is if they get power, I'm persona non grata which I think means the gulag for your truly.

      It is vitally important that the internet is free. Otherwise we will all live in little havens of personal prejudice. It is not to say that people can't pretend to be only associated with the Daily Mail site, or whatever. But even they are going to have social media, friends, family, saying wtf? Have you seen the truth?

      It is really hard to deny reality when it is coming at you from all sides except the MSM. It is, if you like a samazdat.

      I leave you with the thought,

      You are doing incredibly important work.

      Best wishes

    4. Yes, you could be right CH. They might just end up getting more than they really want.

      Or maybe not.

      I guess we don't know.

      A hot August in London may answer.

    5. You never try my patience Douglas.

      I think everyone who takes part in online discussion, including very definitely, those who don't agree and who provide argument, are doing a useful job.

      I may host the room, as it were, but it's everyone who contributes, sometimes a very great deal.

      So pat yourselves all on the back. You are democracy!


    6. tris,

      Seriously, pat yourself on the back too! Maybe you don't realise it yet, but the people that provide a reliable forum, do a lot more than host a room. You are an alternative!

      This is a samizdat, which was really about telling the truth against, err.. Pravda.

      It is an honourable and noble cause, (except I don't like the word noble, anyway, you know what I mean).

      Best wishes.

    7. I've just patted Munguin on the back. He, of course, agrees that he deserves it.

      Furry animals are the bally limit when it comes to big heads.

      Anyway, thanks Douglas. We must all do what we can.

      I'm glad I've got such great contributive readers.

      On that note I'd like to say a big thank you to Panda Paws for this superb article.

  8. This pooling and sharing is going rather well for Better Together No voters as it was what they wanted, hell mend them. The moral of Panda Paws story is never ever vote for a unionist party ever again under any circumstance.

    1. Well, everyone is entitled to their beliefs, and I'm sure that all of us need to remember that when we take part in a "democratic" decision, there are consequences.

      Let's not pretend that there wouldn't have been some negatives along the road for an independent Scotland, or indeed, that there will be when it happens, as it will.

      If when people voted no, what they wanted was Tory or Toryesque government for the foreseeable future, then they got what they wanted. If on the other hand they believed what Gordon Brown and the others said, and thought that we could have a very different Scotland secured from the horrors of Tory government... then they were wrong. hell mend them. Threy ,may reconsider their opinions next time round.

  9. What a tragic story of Mrs Jenkins and her children, but I guess it was common back in the day, the introduction ofthe welfare state and the NHS, were things Britain could be proud of around the world.

    Unfortunately it would seem as though this country is going backwards instead of forwards.

    Government after government at Westminster, have undermined societies rights from trade unions to privacy, I'm sure this Tory government if it could would takes us back to the Victorian/Dickensian era, unless we get independence from Westminster, I forsee a bleak future, for many poor, sick, diasbled people and of course the children as well will suffer immensely.

    1. Yes, it was, as people have said in the comments. My own family had people living in tiny houses with outside toilets and only just enough to live on. We'll have to see how this all pans out. Some of the very worst leaked stuff didn't happen...yet, but that's an old trick where you leak terrible stuff the week before and then the real thing doesn't look so awful.

      My abiding memory of the day is of IDS orgasmic over the living wage being reduced to £7.20 an hour.

      Undoubtedly people are going to suffer.

      It's going to be all hands to the pump at the food banks.

  10. IDS was behaving like an arrogant shit.

    As to the pay freeze for public sector workers, that is simply adding fuel to the fire. There is a public sector organisation (actually an NGO) where all but the lowest grade staff have endured a pay freeze for 4 years already. But they are not getting the 1%. They just got a pay rise of....... £100. For an employee earning £25000 (junior management / specialist) This works out as an increase of 0.004%. The reason apparently is the there is a bonus scheme in the organisation, but under Government rules, only a maximum of 25% of eligible staff may be awarded the bonus, no matter how well they perform. As you can imagine, the unions are involved.

    Many other organisations are suffering in a similar fashion, with severe staffing cuts but not reduction in workload, causing additional stress which is causing more sickness absences.

    Yes, people still have a job, and are better off than others. However under the Tory plans jut about everyone is going to get shafted.

    The way things are going, there will be appeals in third world countries for aid to the UK.

    1. Yes Anon.

      For a country about to spend £100 billion on nuclear weaponry, up to £10 billion on the palace of Westminster and can afford pay rises for the MPs and royals, it astounds you that they freeze pay for 8 years. Benefits too.

      You can only assume that they don't care what happens to people who are not in the "those and such as those" catagory.