Sadly, there isn’t a definitive way to measure how a healthy society operates. Most people would judge it on how well those in need of help are cared for. There is no set point when Britain became less concerned with those in need. Did it start in the 1980s, when trade unions were tamed and the invention of the classless society? Or when the Labour Party became New Labour and lost its working class ethic?
Government is elected on the basis that to govern the country means to address the issues of all citizens. The economic recovery has been hugely damaging for some, and due concern should be shown to those in trouble as a result. Unemployment and poverty have increased since, but these aren’t character defects; they are issues that affect thousands that need help.
It’s the job of politicians to curb these issues and address the causes. Instead, government policy has only ingrained them into the poorest in society. Poverty is associated with countries that have a history of civil war, infighting and natural disasters; not one of the G8 member states.
Take the growing use of food banks as an example. Usage has increased multiple times in the past few years, with many working families now receiving hand outs, according to the Trussell Trust. The image of members of the House of Commons laughing at the idea of an inquest was particularly disturbing. To see the potential for an inquest thrown out of the Commons altogether not only shows an indifference to the plight of thousands, but an ignorance to acknowledge that it is a growing concern for working families. Instead of addressing the issue, the government simply dismissed it as scaremongering. Iain Duncan Smith described the link between welfare reform and increasing food bank use as purely coincidental.
Labour leader Ed Miliband spoke last year about freezing energy prices in an effort to ensure that the winter months didn’t claim the amount of lives it has done in previous years. Where hundreds of OAPs have died for fear of the ever increasing tariffs charged by energy companies, it was a token gesture to win faith, but one that could have huge benefits for some. Instead of embracing the idea or welcoming the discussion, MPs from all three major parties dismissed the idea as ridiculous and chose to label it as a socialist fantasy.
Questions need to be asked of a government that started (but no longer) claiming that “we’re all in this together.” Since its introduction, the cap on benefits has saved £1 million a month. The sale of Royal Mail has taken £1.4 billion worth of business, which had been turning a profit, from the public to city investors in the private sector. 50,000 people face eviction since the introduction of the bedroom tax, even driving people to suicide. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit system has written off £40 million in the process of digitalising benefits. Cuts in public services and funding have hit the poorest in society the hardest, with the effect largely unnoticed by the richest. Tax avoidance in the UK is estimated to have cost the government close to £64 billion in the last 12 months.
The past few years has seen the demonization of those on benefits as lazy, scroungers, degenerates and numerous other labels. Channel 4’s Benefits Street has been a revelation for the network as Twitter became an outlet for the pent up hate and abuse directed at some of the poorest in Britain. Death threats were directed at some, and the children of some parents featured are now being bullied at school for issues totally out of their control.
The easiest response is to demonise these people, write them off as the lowest in society and those that wasted their chance. People on benefits, living in poverty and struggling to pay the bills don’t deserve mocking or to be sneered at because they deserve it. They need help, like anyone else in a difficult position. Parts of Birmingham suffer from over 10% unemployment and job prospects are severely limited in cases. Welfare in Britain was designed to be a safety net when times are tough. The government’s job is then to help these people get back into work and ease the pressure that unemployment can cause.
A compassionate society would sympathise with those hit hardest in the economic recovery. Instead, ours just ridicules.