Yesterday Cameron spoke to the Conservative Party Conference wrapping up what seems like an interminable conference season. I can’t say that there was anything ‘different’ in the speech nor anything earth-shattering.

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The speech started by talking about ‘new politics’ – gone is the tribalism of the old party system but then, rather bafflingly or perhaps obviously, he went on to a full scale attack on the Labour government.

He played on a rhetoric of ‘fairness’ that he seems to want to overshadow the cuts that will be forthcoming. I have no problem with child benefit being cut, by the way, but there is a very strong hint of a return to the dichotomy of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor and coming from a descendent of King William IV married to the daughter of a baronet, he is moving into increasingly dangerous ground.

He said

Fairness means giving people what they deserve – and what people deserve depends on how they behave.

If you really cannot work, we’ll look after you.

But if you can work, but refuse to work, we will not let you live off the hard work of others.

What people deserve depends on how they behave? Really? And who is the arbiter of this behaviour? My concern is that this judgement will be made by the readers of the Daily Mail as that is the true constituency that Cameron is playing to.

If you can work, but refuse to work – yes, we can see the inherent ‘unfairness’ of that but what about the not having work because THERE IS NO WORK? And what exactly does ‘refuse to work’ mean? Who will decide what refusal is? Is refusal not taking a job in the next town? Is refusal not taking a job that doesn’t  use one’s qualifications?

There are a lot of questions to be answered.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no time for people who might be wilfully deceptive on their applications for state benefits but I continue to believe that that is a very tiny minority. As for those who are claiming what they are entitled to, sure the methods of entitlement may be and possibly are wrong but these people ARE NOT CRIMINALS and they are repeatedly targeted as being the most evil influence  on our society.

We, in our comfortable and safe ‘employed’ status can chortle merrily at ‘chavs’ but it doesn’t take much to redraw the lines of the haves and have-nots and for those ‘safe and comfortable’ jobs to melt away.

Of course, the further removed you are from the baseline, the more likely it is that you will laugh harder at the weak jokes made by the government.

One of the things I am grateful for in my job (while I still have it!) is that I work with people from a wide range of backgrounds. Mental illness strikes across lines of race, class, culture and language. Age also affects all groups of all types of people equally.

I see fairness and unfairness up very close on a day to day basis. Mostly I see unfairness. I see nothing, absolutely nothing in this government’s agenda that will tackle this unfairness. The last government didn’t do much better though.

But the one thing I am most sceptical about is Cameron’s promise to protect the NHS. The White Paper is more likely to destroy it and whoever buys into his guff about services in the NHS not being cut clearly has no experience of working within it.

Yesterday we had another meeting in our office about cuts. I can’t go into the details. We are already a few staff down and can’t recruit but other cuts are being made on the services we can directly provide. Money is being pulled from directly provided services and pushed into personal budgets. This will have a horrendous impact on some of the most needy people I work with because personal budgets work best for the people who shout the loudest.

I grew increasingly angry during the meeting about the direct services that were being cut because I know the people who use them and benefit from them. People who don’t want to access personal budgets that they would be entirely entitled to because they ‘don’t want to make a fuss’ or they ‘don’t want to scrounge from the state’.

Mr Cameron, members of the Conservative Party – by stigmatising people who claim, by talking about deserving and undeserving poor, you are putting off elderly, vulnerable people who are ABSOLUTELY ENTITLED to support from claiming precisely what they have worked hard for and are able to claim.

The damage of the rhetoric is not that it will ‘guilt’ people who are mis-claiming, it won’t. It will draw applause from us hard-working ‘entitled’ middle classes who don’t want anyone to have anything they ‘don’t work for’ – entirely forgetting about the structural discrimination which exists in our society and it will also shame those who need our help into not asking for it.

I have spent so much time over the last ten years begging people to accept services and benefits they are wholly entitled to to apply for them than I ever have come across anyone getting things they are not entitled to.

That is the effect of this talk. That is what I’d like the government to have an appreciation of.

This is pretty rhetoric. But it is also very very damaging to the social fabric of a country and a society that I care very deeply about.

8 thoughts on “Fairness

  1. I think this is a brilliant post. I have to say that ‘there is a very strong hint of a return to the dichotomy of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor and coming from a descendent of King William IV married to the daughter of a baronet, he is moving into increasingly dangerous ground’ made me laugh out loud. It always seems so absurd to me that we have the super rich, upper class people running the (democratic) country and making all the decisions on the behalf of everyone else. I hate the cuts that Cameron et al are making. They are attacking the most vulnerable sections of society who are least able to defend themselves. What will the 20% of people who get their DLA taken away do without it? The vast majority of them are entitled to it, and need it, and it is so unfair that they won’t be receiving it. And what infuriates me more than anything is that it is ATOS who will be making the decisions. If they are bringing in changes as drastic as this they NEED to listen to the consultants and GPs and CPNs and social workers and people who are responsible for the care of people – not a government appointed non-specialist doctor, who will deliver a generic assessment and just not take how people cope on an every day basis into consideration. I am getting angry, so I will stop writing now!

    • Thanks a lot, Bippidee!
      I was remiss actually in this post because I made no mention of the potential changes to disability benefits but trust me, that is an mega-rant all in itself!
      You are completely right and the targetting of DLA is invidious to the highest degree. This is not about saving money alone, this is about ideological approach.

  2. How frustrating. I always hope that we’re moving beyond the concepts of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. You’re so right, who gets to decide these things? There was recently an article in an NYC paper about a pregnant young woman with a toddler, who was about to become homeless. The city was not helping her with eviction prevention, because she was placed in the “control group.” (They’re doing a study to see how people fare with and without the prevention programs.) Everyone who commented or wrote letters had no sympathy at all for this woman–“well why did she go and have another baby? She’s irresponsible, she doesn’t deserve help!” You might disagree with her choices, but how will punishing her and her children make anything better?
    The “pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality” is so harmful. Why is it considered noble to refuse a program you’re entitled to, in order to suffer?
    We’re dealing with budget cuts too. The idea of caseloads increasing is frightening. I’m sorry to hear that things aren’t any better internationally. I hope you get through it all right!

    • Urgh, I hate that kind of attitude about ‘they bring it on themselves’ – because the ‘people who have’ can’t identify with some of the hopelessness of not having and think that everything is based on the same degree of free choice.
      I’m sure I’ll get through though (and thanks for your best wishes), but then, I’m fairly resilient and would be hard for them to get rid of as I’ve been knocking around for long enough for my experience to probably count for a bit but firstly sometimes I go for the melodrama and secondly, I sometimes feel that we can’t ever be sure of anything in the current climate.

  3. Another excellent and thought provoking post. Your anger is very palpable and your arguments are very well framed. My only criticism is regarding the “descendent of King William IV married to the daughter of a baronet” comment: we shouldn’t try the children for the sins of the father (or mother). There are plenty of perfectly fair things Cameron (or for that matter Clegg and Osbourne) can be criticised for but none of us can pick our parents: probably best to stick to these things which are in their control.

    (I think I have got the measure of you enough to be confident you will take this in the spirit it is intended! I very much agree with the rest of you post and am certainly not seeking to defend the actions or words of the coalition or the right wing press).

    • Thanks hound and don’t worry, if you look back at some of the criticism I’ve had here, this is positively friendly and I would have no problem in accepting what you say but for one point.
      Cameron specifically spoke and criticised people who profited from the earnings of others (benefits claimants). Now, I think in that context, it is useful reminding people that his fortune far from self-created.
      I don’t blame him for his ancestry but I do think he is treading on dangerous ground when he talks about working hard for the money that we have.

      • Fair game, I take your point. I suppose it is just reframing his deserving and undeserving poor in the context of deserving and underserving rich (all of which are, IMHO, daft concepts). Keep up the good work on here!

        • Exactly and had I actually thought and planned the post more, rather than writing in the 30 mins after I wake up in the morning, I would have expanded on that point a little bit more!

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