Are there no Workhouses?

Just doing my subject alert on Black and Minority Ethnic Equality and Diversity issues, and this article by Tim Montgomery in the Mail,  pops up. That’s the trouble with alerts. Can’t avoid the Daily Heil or the Torygraph.  Makes me read all sorts of stuff I would usually avoid out of fear for my blood pressure.

This one’s not so bad though. While I disagree with some of the conclusions, the core point is true. The primary reason I don’t trust the Tories – or indeed some of their Lib-Dem coallition colleagues, or Labour opponents, politicians in general – is that I fear many of them have no idea what it is like to live with no money. To have to earn enough to put a roof over your head and feed yourself and your family.  To not be able to ask Daddy if it all goes wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t all their fault. Just like I don’t blame the Royal family for being the Royal family. You can’t help where you’re born. David Cameron can’t help that he was born the son of a stockbroker, into a historically wealthy family, any more than his wife can help being descended from the lords of the manor house where my ancestors worked as agricultural labourers.  History is a quirky thing.  Ancestry is no guarantor of where you’ll end up. I recently discovered a “Rear-Admiral of the Blue” in my lot – and yet a couple of hundred years later I have almost entire families wiped out by disease and poverty in the late 19th / early 20th century. David Cameron may be Prime Minister and monumentally wealthy, but he isn’t King. (unlike one of his great great great great great grandfathers) Nor Queen like his fifth cousin Lilibet.

No. You can’t help where you’re born. Nor how you’re brought up. And there in lies the rub. You are the result of your upbringing and education, and if nothing in that upbringing, experience or education shows you what life is like for people who are different from you, then you only have what you are taught.  And the relationship with money that the wealthy have, is entirely different to that experienced by the poor. Or even the getting by, or moderately well off. Wherever you put the cut off line. If one year of your school fees is more than you are prepared to allow a family in need to live on, then you are missing the point somewhere.

The question which always springs to my mind when listening to someone of more (economically speaking) right wing views – whose faith in the market to provide, and determination that every person has within them the wherewithal to make their own fortunes, let alone modest living – is, well – fine, if that happens for some, or even many – great. But what about when it doesn’t? What about when someone can’t find a job, or is too sick to work, or too old, or unlucky. What if they can’t pay the rent, or for food, or for doctors’ bills. Are you happy to see them rot? Is there to be no mercy or charity in your society? Or must it be only that – charity? The beneficience of wealthy souls to throw some scraps the way of the poor. A chance to wag fingers and be disapproving.

Your life isn’t always in your own hands. They talk about trying to bring an end to a culture of dependency – but it’s impossible. We are all dependent upon something. If you seek employment, you are dependent upon someone to employ you at a reasonable rate, for work you are able to do. It doesn’t matter how many applications you send out, if no one will take you on. If you go into business in some way for yourself, you are dependent on customers or users to take up your offering. You are dependent upon your suppliers, your landlord, your bank, not charging you more than you can afford for the essentials you need to run your business and to live. You are dependent upon your employees to be healthy, to be educated, (usually) to have respectable clothes upon their backs.

I thought that the whole point of the welfare state was to acknowledge that the system, our society, requires certain things in order to operate. We talk a lot about growth. Profit. My understanding of profit is that it is that portion of income left over after all essential costs are paid. That which is not required to be put back into a business in order for it to continue at the same rate. The growth, or profit, of our society – shouldn’t even be thought about while people are homeless, hungry, uneducated, without employment.  Any company which makes people redundant, in order to make a profit, is a cancer on society.

I sat in a workshop some time ago talking about the Equality Act. The man at the front was talking about the various equality duties placed upon public sector bodies by the act, not all of which were in force at the time. Discussion fell upon the Socio-economic equality duty – which was in the process of being kicked firmly into the long grass, largely due to the objections of the then Opposition Tories.

I admit to being somewhat surprised, though I am not sure why, as in retrospect it is obvious, to be told that actually, these days, the biggest indicator of inequality is not race, or gender, or even disability – but one of socioeconomic status. Inequality in educational outcome, life expectancy, criminal status, health outcomes.  The inclusion of this aspect in the draft of the Equality Act was an acknowledgement of this. But the changes to our society which would be necessary to resolve these issues are phenomenal, and expensive, and strike right at the very heart of the individualistic, every man for themselves, capitalist heart of conservative ideology. The thought of being legally required to make sure that nothing you do is contributing to socioeconomic inequality, nothing hits a person from a council house background harder than it hits Mrs W in Buck House. Can you imagine? But, until a Conservative Party recognises that that is the issue at the heart of the problems in our society, and that making sure big business friends can still roll around in their swiming pools full of cash is really as far down the priority list as it could possibly be – there is no way I will ever trust them with keeping our vulnerable safe. Big business doesn’t care if people freeze to death, or have to sell their bodies to buy food. Because those people probably won’t ever buy their products or use their services. They will never make them a profit.

The business of Government should be ensuring that we pay our bills. That everyone is healthy, housed, warm, clothed, fed, educated, employed, safe. If there is work to be done, then let people be employed to do it. If business wants to benefit from our human and infrastructural resources, then let its profits be taxed sufficiently to pay for them.  I believe individuals have a duty to make the effort and contribute to the system themselves as much as they can- be it by paid or voluntary work, but if you are going to tell people they have to work – then you have to have a concurrent right to employment at a certain reasonable level of income. And you must also accept that some people won’t be able to work. Or work as much as others. And they shouldn’t be disadvantaged because of it.

Unless you’re happy to see them starve.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s