Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Dehumanisation of our Welfare State

I want to point out one fact: The Welfare State, just like the NHS belongs to us all. It was set up by a socialist Attlee government to protect citizens in times of great need. It is OUR welfare state. A rock solid tangible acknowledgement that the Britain we live in protects its most vulnerable citizens in their time of need. As socialists it is our biggest achievement alongside the NHS. In times of crisis it says to me "Turn to your country. We will look after and protect you through this hard time".  To  disabled citizens, many with lifelong disabilities, the Welfare State has without question stepped in and declared " As a compassionate,caring, civilised country, the state will  protect you financially from poverty. Full stop."

Right up until Thatcher's regime the Welfare Stare was never questioned regarding its role. It existed to protect vulnerable citizens unreservedly. Then the right wing Thatcher government set about undermining and  prepared to dismantle the welfare state as we knew it. Three consecutive years of freezing child benefit and targeting women and children was eventually thrown out by John Major when he took over from Thatcher, but the damage had already been done; thousands of children thrown into poverty. But Thatcher was just the start. How proud she must be of Duncan-Smith and Cameron for daring to do what she couldn't, as public opinion back in the 80's would not have tolerated it. How times change.

The toxic elements of a ruling class Tory cabinet and front bench, stuffed full of individuals who think they have a divine right to rule the country, coupled with a march of right wing media people, both on TV and in newspapers, has produced a hatred of anyone who has to claim any benefit from the Welfare State. It started off with the complete dehumanisation of the unemployed. Unemployment for the vast majority of people is a temporary predicament. Who the hell wants to live on £71 a week by choice? Yet that is exactly what Iain Duncan-Smith and the DWP have pushed into the media and into working class lives. Osborne jumped in with the 'hard working people going to work every morning while they see other neighbours curtains drawn'. By 2011 this Coalition had made unemployment shameful. Something that had to be hidden at all costs when in conversation. Within a year of coming to power, we were seeing TV programmes like 'Saints and Scroungers' on the BBC. The Daily Mail has weekly articles on unemployed people, many with large families as their centrepiece, praying on people who have no idea they are being ridiculed and scapegoated: the offer of a quick shot at 'X factor style' notoriety of celebrity, soon to fade with the next days salacious headlines.

Being unemployed however is not good enough for the ConDems. There has to be an element of 'sport' in it for our over priveleged Eton boys. Benefit sanctions have been brought in. We are sold the lie thousands of unemployed people can't be bothered even going to the Job Centre so its worthwhile giving them a kick by stopping their benefit altogether. However, its not quite so simple is it? Here in my rural area of N Wales some 'local' job centres are 10+ miles away. So the staff at Job Centres are told to sanction claimants for being 5 minutes late. To hell with the fact the buses and trains are ultra expensive when on benefit anyway, but when they are late too, your whole existence can depend on it! Funerals of close relatives are sanctioned too because you can't be in two places at once and the 'icing on the cake sanction' is when you get a job interview on the same day as signing on. Often a choice has to be made; job interview or survival. But if you attend the job centre, you get sanctioned for not attending the job interview! Unite Community branches throughout the UK are demonstrating against these sanctions in a National Day of Action on 19 March at job centres everywhere. I am leading the NE Wales Unite Community demonstration in Wrexham, and I urge you all to find out locally what is happening in your area on 19 March so we can highlight this scandalous abuse of power by the DWP. More info on the Unite Community website;Unite Community v Benefit Sanctions

Hellbent on demonising not just the unemployed in people's eyes, the ConDems and the media barons then decided to turn their sights on the disabled. Disability hate crimes in 2013-2014 rocketed accounting for 4% of all hate crime. Much of this can be attributed to both the right wing newspapers highlighting the tiny 0.7% of disability living allowance fraud, but conveniently overlooking the 99.3% of genuine disability claimants. There have been suicides by disabled people directly attributable to stoppages of benefit and having nothing left to live on since 2010.

What kind of government hounds its disabled citizens to the point where the only way out is to take your own life? The dehumanisation of the disabled is being felt acutely as Cameron steps up his attack on this section of society. New announcements include a promise to end disability benefit for the obese and people with an addiction. No announcement on any help or support however, to deal with either affliction. The Tory way of course; sink or try to swim with no lifejacket on. The disabled are judged to be the flotsam of society and not worth helping as the spin doctors have us way down on the list of electoral priorities. The rest of society have been sold the lie again on TV mostly that the disabled are 'scroungers' and 'putting it on' and not worthy of being treated with dignity by our government. The only disabled people Cameron seems to favour are Paralympians. If only all disabled people could aspire so high, he says.

But isn't it up to us working class people to say enough is enough? There have always been a tiny percentage of people trying to game the system. But we have been sucked into this Tory mantra of believing the majority of benefit claimants are unworthy of our support. This simply is not the case.Now we are left with whole sections of our society, villified, verbally and physically abused, and met with disgust at being unemployed or disabled.

Hold this thought. If we devalue, dehumanise our once proud Welfare State, what will happen when misfortune comes yours or your families way? You are one accident, one redundancy, one factory shut down away from perhaps having to claim a state benefit. Don't you want a compassionate government to be there and help you out in your hour of need? I do!

So support your Unite Community National Day of Action v Benefit Sanctions on 19 March and shout from the rooftops enough is enough! And secondly ensure you vote in a Labour government in May. The alternative is a Tory or even a Con-Kip coalition that will destroy the welfare state for good. Don't let that be the legacy you leave your children and grandchildren. I personally will fight until my last breath to preserve our Welfare State. Make sure you do too.