A few columns of meaningless names and numbers pop up on screen. Photo: Getty
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The night the Estranged Wife and I decided to take a look at our investments

I’m not planning on retiring, but sometimes the world has other ideas, so it is wise to make plans.

Once again, we come to that time of year when the last Test match has been played, the first proper chill of autumn seeps into summer, and I celebrate, if that is the word, the anniversary of my moving into the Hovel. Seven years. Jesus. Not for the first time, I think about moving somewhere else, only now it is not so much in the way one wants to change an itchy jumper, but with the urgency of someone who smells smoke when there shouldn’t be any. A new lodger will be joining me: a young woman called Daisy, who, as one of my children observed, looks more like someone called “Daisy” than anyone else who has ever been given that name. She dresses, by her own admission, in the style of a hippie and is studying music at Soas. Oriental or African music? I asked. I wanted to prepare myself for whichever style of percussion instrument was going to haunt my evenings. Both, she said.

I think I could afford to live in Kettering, I realise after doing some research. There is always the possibility of moving to Gothenburg but although there would be the presence there of someone I really want to be with, the Swedes have a very different approach to breakfast from mine. It involves yoghurt and muesli, and a couple of slices of cheese, strictly rationed, if you’re lucky. Some establishments choose to serve the muesli in decorative bowls, but as far as I’m concerned tipping the contents of a bird feeder into a heart-shaped ramekin does nothing to alter the essential nature of the food. I also fail to see how I could persuade every publisher in the country to start mailing the books they think I’d like to review to Sweden.

Things are looking grim, then, so when the Estranged Wife calls to say she’s coming round to help me sort out my pension, I do not have the strength to say no.

A little word about pensions. As everyone in the country has worked out by now, these are things into which one pays a sum – generally around £100 a month – to a company that invests the money with all the expertise and cunning at its disposal, so that when the time comes for you to retire you will have a guaranteed income of about 50p a year.

I’m not planning on retiring, but sometimes the world has other ideas, so it is wise to make plans. The problem is, as the EW understands all too well, I have the financial acumen of a bumblebee. And not one of those brainy, hard-nosed bumblebees who have been to business school and got an MBA, but the dreamy, vacant kind of bumblebee who cares for little more than buzzing from flower to flower in search of nectar for his little ones.

In my case, my pension pot has been managed with all the skill one might expect, and I am the kind of customer (or, strictly speaking, “mug”) that a callous, neoliberal, grasping financial firm dreams of. I simply give them the money and hope for the best. But the EW, who has a 50 per cent stake in anything I own, has spotted that something is amiss in the way the sums are being invested, and has been nagging at me for something like four years now to Do Something about it.

Luckily, relations between us have reached the point where the proportion of laughter to recriminations has been reversed, and we get on well, although I am aware that if anything is going to put a strain on things, it is going to be this. I once changed the master password to my account in a panic when I feared she was going to do something unilateral, but I had misjudged her. I now know it is safer for her to have the password because invariably I forget it.

So, fortified with wine, we go down the rabbit hole and look at the eerie world of my personal long-term finance. A few columns of meaningless names and numbers pop up on screen. (Annoyingly, I had remembered the password.)

“I see our holdings in Venetian Tarmac seem to be underperforming somewhat,” I say, “although not as badly as our shares in Tongan Aerospace plc.” We stare glumly at the screen, then turn away and drink some more wine. When we look back again, we have been timed out, and I have to re-enter the password. “Damn, it worked,” I say.

In the end, we decide that we should swap some money around from one useless stock to another one that seems to be marginally less useless. God, these things are, excuse my language but it’s necessary here, such a f***ing con. I suggest, by way of a last feeble, desperate throw of the dice, taking the lot out and investing it in fine wine. And then, I do not add aloud, drinking myself to death with it. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The new caliphate

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Who is responsible for an austerity violating human rights? Look to New Labour

Labour's record had started to improve under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. 

The UN has made it clear the Government’s austerity programme breaches human rights. This is not because of spending cuts - it is because because those spending cuts target women and disadvantaged groups, particularly disabled people and asylum seekers.

The degree of injustice is staggering. The Coalition Government used a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts to reduce the net income of the poorest tenth of families by 9 per cent. The cuts faced by disabled people are even more extreme. For instance, more than half a million people have lost social care in England (a cut of over 30 per cent). Asylum seekers are now deprived of basic services.

The injustice is also extremely regional, with the deepest cuts falling on Labour heartlands. Today’s austerity comes after decades of decline and neglect by Westminster. Two places that will be most harmed by the next round of cuts are Blackpool (pictured) and Blackburn. These are also places where Labour saw its voters turn to UKIP in 2015, and where the Leave vote was strong.

Unscrupulous leaders don’t confront real problems, instead they offer people scapegoats. Today’s scapegoats are immigrants, asylum seekers, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people. It takes real courage, the kind of courage the late MP Jo Cox showed, not to appease this prejudice, but to challenge it.

The harm caused by austerity is no surprise to Labour MPs. The Centre for Welfare Reform, and many others, have been publishing reports describing the severity and unfairness of the cuts since 2010. Yet, during the Coalition Government, it felt as if Labour’s desire to appear "responsible" led  Labour to distance itself from disadvantaged groups. This austerity-lite strategy was an electoral disaster.

Even more worrying, many of the policies criticised by the UN were created by New Labour or supported by Labour in opposition. The loathed Work Capability Assessment, which is now linked to an increase in suicides, was first developed under New Labour. Only a minority of Labour MPs voted against many of the Government’s so-called "welfare reforms". 

Recently things appeared to improve. For instance, John McDonnell, always an effective ally of disabled people, had begun to take the Government to task for its attacks on the income’s of disabled people. Not only did the media get interested, but even some Tories started to rebel. This is what moral leadership looks like.

Now it looks like Labour is going to lose the plot again. Certainly, to be electable, Labour needs coherent policies, good communication and a degree of self-discipline. But more than this Labour needs to be worth voting for. Without a clear commitment to justice and the courage to speak out on behalf of those most disadvantaged, then Labour is worthless. Its support will disappear, either to the extreme Right or to parties that are prepared to defend human rights.

Dr Simon Duffy is the director of the Centre for Welfare Reform