The Grand Inquisitor at the DWP
(with apologies to Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Anna Akhmatova)
Don’t walk on the cracks. Don’t tempt fate.
If you slip and the bears get you,
You will not be found.
You will not be feted
With care or succour or those lefty Christian values
Which we’ve offloaded onto the do-gooders
Who frequent churches. Though perhaps not ours.
In our church we wear Sunday best;
Your type would just feel out of place.
We’re not mean. Far from it.
Benefits will go to the deserving,
But only when we know that you deserve to keep being poor.
Those who do not qualify
Will not be kept, and will not be poor.
Our resources are scant
So do not dare to be hungry.
Our housing is scant
So broken homes will not be tolerated.
You all have many options, much potential.
How to make you see this?
The blind can be dog-handlers.
The lame can get the bus to work,
And what about those made-up illnesses like PTSD?
You all have Skills;
Why aren’t you working properly?
Rent in arrears
Unwashed and unclean …?
You need fleas in your ears.
Why are you still here?
We thought we’d made it clear –
You are not welcome.
Do not stand at our door and knock.
It may have been the banks that trashed it all,
But let’s face it – you were always the drones,
Droning on about your needs.
You had to go.
What made you think you were so special?
We have been here before.
Each monetary crash begets a war.
You’ve got to cut costs
And clean out the drones.
We can’t just nuke places, though.
Not since they got tooled up with nukes too.
Besides, they’ve all come here.
So we internalised war,
But did not call it war.
Asymmetric warfare is, after all, not an exclusively Russian province.
There were no troops:
We were asset-stripping the MoD at the time.
There were no rifles:
Who needs guns when you’ve got the DWP?
But make no mistake:
This is war.
A single death’s a tragedy – so Stalin said.
But in each individual case, we were not responsible.
There was no causative link
Between benefits sanctions
And an ex-army man’s corpse on the floor.
Hypoglycaemia got him.
At the time of his death, and for our purposes, he did not exist.
Then the UN had the temerity to talk us down (three times).
Said our policies were punitive,
Our attitudes were negative,
When all we said was that work must pay.
How could they disagree with that?
Work sets you free.
The UN can go hang.
And hanging’s so passe: why waste rope on people who don’t exist?
30,000 excess deaths in a single year
Due to austerity measures, an Oxford study said.
But Oxford’s turned out some looney tunes,
And everyone knows statistics lie.
We made some tough choices. There, we admit it.
Were there consequences?
Of course there were. But that’s tough.
We dispute these findings.
We accept responsibility for no specific deaths,
Least of all for those who did not exist.
We have told you in confidence what we’re about,
You cannot do anything.
Your type never could.
So stick thorns on your head,
And a spear in your side,
Shove nails through your hands
And spread your arms wide,
You can die if you like – we won’t be impressed:
Just please, please, please –
Don’t come back.
Joachim Stanley was born in Devon in 1974. He was awarded a doctorate in English literature from Oxford University, and then retrained as a lawyer. He now works in clinical negligence. This is his first published poem. He is currently working on a satirical sci-fi novel.