Thursday, 16 February 2012
Signing the Official Secrets Act
This is autobiography
I am currently clearing a small room of the hoarded papers of fifty years - expect more Posts in this vein - and turned up this 1972 Declaration. I think it's the only time I signed the Official Secrets Act.
I had come back from a year studying in Paris and had moved to Exeter prior to taking up a teaching job at Exeter College (sixth form and technical - I was Liberal Studies for the technical students). I probably had no entitlement to unemployment benefit and must have gone to claim Social Security, at which point I was offered a job working for the Ministry's local office.
I was happy to take the job. My mother was largely dependent on social security payments from the time she left my father, in 1961, until her death aged 71 in 1978. Mental and physical ill-health meant that she worked for only a few years of that period.
We had had mixed experiences of the SS, still the National Assistance Board at the beginning of the period. On the down side, when I was an undergraduate at Oxford, my mother's payments were reduced when I came home for vacations on the grounds that I should contribute to the rent on her flat. On the up side, the NAB / SS took over full responsibility for providing my mother with a regular income when my father became a serial defaulter on his Court-ordered maintenance payments. The NAB / SS recouped what it could from him by taking him periodically back to Court.
In Exeter, I prepared pension books for postal despatch and I have no memory of doing anything else, though maybe I did. I can't think of any wikileakable Secrets that I learnt.
I did learn one thing which made me feel that a sense of humanity was somewhere at work in Social Security's bureaucratic body.
If you were terminally ill and dependent on benefits, then these could be increased (at discretion) to enable the purchase of alcohol. Perhaps you were given cash, perhaps vouchers. I don't recall but there was a schedule of allowances. But whatever the details, it was somehow comforting that the State accepted this carefully measured responsibility to enable some everyday oblivion in the face of extinction.