Earlier this month, Stephanie Bottrill threw herself in front of a lorry, on the M6 motorway, near Solihull. She left a note at her home, blaming the government and its "bedroom tax" for giving her no option but to take her life.
The 53-year old, who couldn't work due to a serious chronic disease, had no other income than the £70/week she got in benefits. According to the government's tests, she was "under-occupying" the 3-bedroom council in which she had lived for 18 years and brought up her children. As a result, she was given two "options": either she paid an additional £20/week - as a tax on her "unused" rooms - which she obviously couldn't afford; or else she could move out and since Solihull council had no smaller alternative accommodation to offer her, this meant becoming homeless.
In the end, Stephanie Bottrill saw no way out of this government's vicious turn of the screw on the poorest than to pay up - with her own life!
Meanwhile, in the city....
Meanwhile, at HSBC's headquarters in London's Docklands, the board of directors was preparing to drown in champagne a two-fold announcement: first, a 95% increase in profits (to £5.4bn) over the first quarter of this year alone; and second, a record overall payment of £10bn for shareholders.
Never mind that not one penny of this money is due to any contribution from the "world's local bank" to the real economy - whether here, or in the Asian countries where HSBC makes most of its money. In fact, the bank's CEO underlined with all due cynicism that most of its profit increase was due to the massive 60,000 job-cutting programme undertaken since 2011 - which speaks for itself!
What he "forgot" to say, however, was that another large - but hidden - part of this increase in profit is due to HSBC's heavy use of the fresh money manufactured and offered to the banks by the Bank of England and to its sophisticated tax evasion organisation (133 bogus subsidiaries in British-controlled tax havens alone!). And all of which comes straight out of public funds, either in the form of the money printed by the Bank of England that we all pay collectively through inflation, or in the form of unpaid taxes which increase Osborne's deficit and serve to justify yet more cuts and attacks on the working class - like the "bedroom tax" among others!
And this comes on top of some even more stinking profiteering: for instance, by twisting borrowers' arms into taking Payment Protection Insurances which were useless to them (it admits to have made £1.5bn out of this, but how much more did it really make?); or by laundering money (HSBC has agreed to pay a £1.2bn fine in the US, which gives some idea of the scale of the fraud); or through its involvement in the Libor scandal; etc..
Towards a replay of the 2008 crisis?
But HSBC is only the tip of a rotten iceberg. Last week, many more champagne corks were popping in the City, when it was announced that the FTSE100 - the index that measures the share prices of Britain's largest 100 companies - was just 2% below its all-time high, back in December 1999.
But hasn't this crisis been described, since its very beginning, as one of "scarcity"? Haven't we been told that there was no money for investment? Haven't ministers claimed that banks were so cash-strapped that they "couldn't" lend and that they had to be subsidised out of public funds? Haven't we been told again and again that welfare protection, from benefits and old-age care, to pensions, was an "unaffordable" thing of the past?
And yet, what does this new explosion of share prices tell us? It tells us that there is a massive excess of funds. Rising share prices mean that floods of cash have invaded stock markets and stayed there to speculate. In fact this is confirmed by the fact that British companies are sitting on over £300bn of unused cash (more than 4 times as much as the government's annual budget!)
But this stock market bubble tells us something else. December 1999, the last time the FTSE100 index reached such a record level, was just before the high-technology bubble implosion (the dotcom crash). Except that today, on top of the threat of a stock market crash, we've got a 5-year old crisis affecting the economy. How much more will we have to pay for this mad system?
For Stephanie Bottrill, the ConDems were unbearably unaffordable - but she was facing them on her own. For the working class as a whole, the crazy operation of this system is unbearable and unaffordable. But we still have our collective strength to use. And it would be suicide not to use it in order to overthrow this mad system.