The current government keeps talking about the need for austerity cuts. Nobody wants waste but we seem to have reached a point where actions, which in the past would have been deemed immoral are now considered necessary in the name of austerity. I have read numerous accounts of people who have been "sanctioned" by their local job centre resulting in the loss of benefit, frequently for very minor or trivial reasons. These people end up losing benefit and face incredible hardship and as a result are dependent of food banks to eat. While I am a great believer in the principle that if you can work you should, I know of people who, for example, have mental health problems being persecuted for failing to meet every single requirement of the system. We used to have Remploy factories where people could take work that was appropriate for their skills but they have all been closed. The Office of National Statistics says there are approximately 2.5 million unemployed people but when you look in more depth at the figures you find that there are almost 9 million economically inactive people aged 16-64 in the UK. There are still huge numbers of applicants chasing every job yet people seem to be expected to get a job immediately and if they don't they are labelled "shirkers". Persecution of the poor and unemployed seems relentless.
But what I have seen in the last few days is even worst; an all out attacked of the most disadvantaged in our society.On Friday, I read with incredulity, that in Barnet, social workers working in Learning Disabilities have been set a series of targets including one which requires each social worker to make savings of £42,000 on service user care packages they assess this year.
This is going too far. I understand that the cost of social care is high but I have no problem paying my taxes to fund this because that is the sort of society I want to live in, one which is fair, equitable and which cares for those who need it. Yet as the same time as I see demands for these savings, I see the massive Trans National Corporations like Amazon, Google and Vodafone getting away with paying little or no tax, making limited contribution to our society. I met a chap not that long ago who had used very skilled and expensive accountants to help him avoid a tax bill of £50 million. I would stress that he had done absolutely nothing illegal but that his money had allowed him to secure the brains of the best people to help him use completely legal ways to avoid paying that tax. My view was this was morally wrong but I was seen as an eccentric for challenging why he had not paid the tax.
In Britain we have to decide whether we want a decent society and be prepared to pay for it or accept that the weak may suffer but that is ok because it is cheaper. Maybe I'm old fashioned, maybe I am eccentric but I believe that to some extent over the last 15 years and certainly in the last three year we have lost our moral compass. We face the slippery slope of accepting the iniquitous in the name of austerity and I am terrified as where it will end. My late father was brought up in abject poverty, his father having been killed in the first world war. He used to recount to me how tough times were and how for a period he was put into care because his mother could not afford to feed or clothe them. He believed that he had fought in the second world war for a fairer society where that type of inequality would never be seen again. With the growth in food banks, with cuts in services to the most vulnerable, with wages being cut thanks to outsourcing, with housing becoming completely unaffordable, I fear we will see those desperate times again.
Morality versus austerity, there has to be another way.