David Cameron is, apparently, a caring and compassionate man. He believes in the ‘Big Society’, although of course he cannot say what that is, but it sounds rather touch feely, and he feels “physically sick” when he thinks of prisoners being allowed to vote in elections. His sensitivity and compassion do not, however, extend to the unemployed who have become fair game for attack with a series of stories currently being fed through the right of centre media. In fact he and his government seem to positively revel in giving the unemployed, sick and disabled a good kicking.
If we believe the likes of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, the country is at threat from the “sicknote” culture and that most, if not all benefit claimants are “workshy”. Of course, the words ‘sicknote’ and ‘workshy’ are sound bites with a purpose; they are designed to convince the general population that these words describe all benefit claimants. They also help divert attention from the fact that the economy under Osborne’s slash and burn policy is faltering. And, as the Tories admit, there is no Plan B. In a matter of weeks unemployment will rise further, with tens of thousands of public sector workers and a similar number in the voluntary sector being thrown on the dole by the inept policies of a government driven by ideology.
The most obvious point is being missed: the country has an unemployment problem because there are not enough jobs. Why are there not enough jobs? Because the economy is in a mess. What caused the economy to be in a mess? The crisis in the banking sector, which began in the UK with the problems at Northern Rock back in September 2007.
Let us be clear, this is not a world economic crisis – India, China, Australia and Brazil are flourishing. It is a crisis principally of the economies in North America and Western Europe which had become reliant on credit and finance to oil the wheels rather than industrial production. It is a crisis created by the financial sector, not by those who have been thrown out of work by the crisis, or by the fact that the rates of welfare benefits paid supposedly act as a disincentive to people working.
One effect of sound bites such as ‘sicknote’ and ‘workshy’ and the catch phrase “make work pay” (as if work doesn’t pay) is to turn public anger away from the wealthy bankers, who created the economic problems, and blame the unemployed, sick and disabled. “Make work pay” suggests that people are so comfortable on benefits that there is no incentive for them to work. The reality is rather different. The benefits advisers in our centre see many people every day who would love to have a job, we cannot recall a single instance of a client saying that they claim benefits because of the financial rewards, or indeed of a client rejecting a job that has been offered to them because they would be better off on benefits.
The unemployed, sick and disabled are often by the nature of their status isolated within society. Their low income excludes them from many social activities and, of course, they do not experience the social interaction of the workplace, because they have no job. They are an easy target. A caring and compassionate government has a duty to protect its vulnerable citizens, not to kick them when they are down. But there again, this is not a caring and compassionate government. It is a government of millionaires who see the banking industry as their friends and the unemployed as their enemies.