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Of course Britain will pay its respects to the Queen, but why should poor people pay the price? | owen jones

GRAMWept is the price we pay for love, said the late Queen wisely; but for many of her subjects, her royal income is the price of pain. Aspects of normal life have been put on hold, but no one has yet found a way to cancel or stop the cost-of-living crisis, a danger without recent precedent. What happens when an abrupt national event collides with an economy defined by insecurity and falling wages: well, more misery and hardship? But in the midst of mourning the Queen, few people want to talk about it.

“Now is not the time,” decrees the self-styled grief police. Perhaps someone should inform a victim, let’s call her Helena, that now is not the time to complain that her partner was ignominiously dumped from a royal residence onto the scrap heap. “My partner was fired from work at Windsor Castle last Friday without notice just because of mourning,” she tells me. As a contract construction worker, he received no prior warning, simply ordered to secure the site and then leave. Helena understands that many want to cry: “But for a young family this has put us in a desperate situation, and I feel resentful because this has nothing to do with us: I have respect for the death of an old woman, but that’s it.” we still have to eat.

Forced grief and poor labor make bad bedfellows. Take the example of Bunty, who works at minimum wage for a Devon bakery company. He has been given a choice: either lose a day’s wages or deduct it from his annual vacation allowance. He can get by financially, “but it’s the principle that’s at stake, in my opinion,” and he’s right. This period of mourning shines a light on the deep cracks in our labor market and the damage that has been done to its foundation by decades of government policy.

Consider some of those affected: the freelance paramedic who was already itching to shell out for the school uniform; the community artist working with vulnerable people in poorer communities who has lost £350 due to cancellations; Graham, a Liverpool taxi driver, who had planned Liverpool’s first home game of the season and the tens of thousands of foreign fans it would attract, “I’ve calculated it cost me over £200,” he tells me. “All I hear is ‘pay a little respect’ – well, I’ve certainly paid, but I won’t be able to pay my rent.”

While Britain’s army of millions of self-employed people is revered as the entrepreneurial backbone of the free-market economy, their lives are often defined by hardship and insecurity. In fact, as the pandemic ebbed, more than a quarter reported difficulties pay basic expenses in the previous month. With little cushion, a sudden loss of income can be difficult to absorb. Caitlin, a self-employed fitness instructor who wants to “lose a decent chunk of her income,” tells me, “If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I’m devastated.” Every penny matters. “I’m already on the verge of keeping my business afloat, and I had counted on that money coming in to pay the bills. I have no idea where I’m going to find the extra money.”

Those who defended this “flexible labor market” affirmed that it was about freedom and unleashing the inner potential of each individual. In reality, these are workers deprived of basic security and brutally exposed to the consequences of events beyond their control. Whether it’s a financial collapse, a pandemic, or a real death that demands a national shutdown as proof of pain, workers are always expected to empty their pockets.

This accumulation of resentment is hardly conducive to stability. It is notable that there were four Prime Ministers in the last six years of the Queen’s life, with no change in government. All have faced and failed to address the issue of living standards. The victims of stagnation in the old industrial cores voted for Brexit and brought down David Cameron, then deprived Theresa May of her majority and mortally wounded her position as prime minister. Then there was public fury against Boris Johnson, for his illicit parties, but also for the rise in prices, a problem for which he had no solution. Resentment continues to build, but it will do so when sacrifice is always expected from those who have the least to spare.

In the days ahead, flags will wave, mourners will march, marching bands will play, and those who fight will suffer. It is not indecent to say it: it is indecent to remain silent.

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words for publication consideration, please email it to us at guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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