Opinion

I am the benefit council estate kid. I write out of frustration

Playwright Kat Woods on the rise of The Underclass in British theatre

Aoife Lennon stars in Killymuck by Kat Woods. Image: Craig Sugden

The term underclass, in general, refers to the section of society who resides below that of the working class. The perpetuated myth entrenched in the terminology surrounding the underclass is one of a fag smoking, alcoholic, drug addicted, widescreen TV watching, culturally bereft, lazy, work shy benefit claimant. We can even see it in the language that Frank Gallagher spews when he describes his own lifestyle on the fictitious Chatsworth estate featured in TV Drama Shameless:

Tickets this way for the Chatsworth Express… Cause this, people reckon and me included is why pubs and drugs were kindly invented, to calm us all down, stop us going mental. These are Chatsworth Estates basic essentials. We are worth every penny for grinding your axes. You shit on our heads, but you pay the taxes… Make poverty history, cheaper drugs now!

Over the years, the Conservative party have chosen to vilify the poorest sections of society in a war on welfare and a perverse absolution of state culpability. In efforts to exonerate their own failings, the buck of blame they bestow is one that serves to rain down on the oppressed and marginalised communities as opposed to the Bankers, the elite and tax-avoiding corporations.

kat-woods
Kat Woods. Image: Javi Ortega Saez

Former Conservative PM David Cameron, once claimed in a speech that those on benefits, the underclass, are creating a Culture of Entitlement.  He said, “And it has led to huge resentment amongst those who pay into the system, because they feel that what they’re having to work hard for, others are getting without having to put in the effort”. By using inflammatory language like this, Cameron is ensuring that the working classes make an enemy of those residing on benefits. The Underclass. Reinforcing the stereotype of the lazy layabout. Creating a common enemy.  Fetishising the label that we see so often across TV land and the right-wing press of the scrounger.

The ones that will reap the rewards of a meritocratic society will be the white, cis, middle class or upper working-class male

The meritocratic narrative that this present government pushes is a highly flawed argument. Anyone can work hard and achieve their goals. This may have some truth to it, however this specific ideology is heavily biased and thrust through the gaze of privilege. In particular the ones that will reap the rewards of a meritocratic society will be the white, cis, middle class or upper working-class male. The narrative appears to be minority and class washed. It omits oppression and how that systemically affects individuals in society. It sees a meritocracy as a fundamental way to achieving equality but ignores workplace sexism, class, racism and other minority based oppressive barriers.

Killymuck-Aoife-Lennon-The-Bunker-courtesy-of-Craig-Sugden-1
Aoife Lennon stars in Killymuck by Kat Woods. Image: Craig Sugden

Instead of punishing the most marginalised section of society, this present government should be looking at new ways of creating a solution. Maintaining a fair job market and providing the necessary tools for children, born into these environments to succeed in the education system and beyond. The starting blocks are never equal when you come from an impoverished background. This is what we need to start implementing instead of punishing the poor for being poor.

We can start by dispelling the myth that The Underclass are a subhuman section of society. For when you speak of the underclass you speak of me. I am the benefit council estate kid. I am also a playwright. I write out of frustration. Frustration at the middle class dominated industry. Frustration that my work has taken so long to be published even though I have won awards and had work produced in Finland, America and across the UK. Frustration that my peers from wealthier backgrounds have no problem getting their voice heard in the industry and their career trajectory has taken flight much faster than my own. Frustration that we as the benefit class so often are pigeon holed into the working-class narrative.

Our voices silenced and pushed aside for the bigger minority within the minority. We are the taboo. Frustrated at myself for still feeling shame and a sense that I don’t belong in these spaces, in these buildings. So, I wrote an autobiographical piece called Killymuck which will run alongside Monsay Whitney’s incredible Box Clever. Two darkly comic pieces that highlight class and the oppressive structures that are implicit in the cycle of impoverishment, the systemic failure of institutions set up to help and the will to survive. We are at The Bunker Theatre in London Bridge and run until 13 April.

They said my work wouldn’t sell. They said it was a risk…why? Because I’m poor! I plan to prove them wrong. The Underclass are coming, be prepared.

Box Clever by Monsay Whitney and Killymuck by Kat Woods at The Bunker, 53A Southwark Street London, playing until Saturday 13 April 2019

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