Cut to Shreds: Injustice for All

October 27, 2010 10:23 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

At what point does total indifference become malice? Behind the technocratic arguments over the endlessly spin-able figures increasingly lurks this dark question, as the ConDem government continues its mission to feed the growing moral vacuum at the heart of our social conscience.

The poorer and more marginalised they are, the easier targets they will make – that is the rationale which has so clearly driven the programme of cuts, thinly veiled by a few calculated token moves to appear ‘fair’ and ‘progressive’. But like Fox News in the US with its slogan ‘fair and balanced’, no amount of endless repetition will turn the lie into truth – these cuts are the exact opposite of fair; in fact they are the manifest political expression of the trait which most defines Tories and all those who support them – indifference to the point of malice.

The roll call of groups being hit hardest makes this point well enough: the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, those on housing benefit, the young and students. Note also the obnoxious and cynical logic at work here: Pensioners have been largely spared purely because it is politically too sensitive to attack them, the same goes for schools and hospitals, whereas the unemployed are a much more viable target because in the popular imagination they are ‘lazy’ and ‘workshy scroungers’ living a life of ease and relative luxury at the taxpayers’ expense.

Never mind that the state of the economy and ‘flexible’ labour markets determines that a certain proportion of people have to be unemployed at any given time, and never mind that up to a million more are certain to swell their ranks during the next 5 years as a direct result of the public sector cuts. Never mind as well that the image of the leisured welfare class who freely choose to exist on benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’ is a fictional creation of the tabloids, driven by the desire to sell newspapers by appealing to the basest parts of the national psyche and simultaneously fuelling and feeding off envy, pettiness, resentment and malice – no better than racism, if infinitely more socially acceptable.

Never mind all that, because in essence the British public still like to think in terms of the Victorian distinction between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, and the unemployed fall firmly into the latter camp, if for no better reason than because those in work and with no experience whatsoever of being unemployed resent what they falsely imagine to be a life of ease lived at their expense.

Not only is this patently moronic, it is symptomatic of a plutocratic value system in which social hierarchy is rendered as moral hierarchy, with wealth and success lauded as reflections of intrinsic worth and good character, rather than contingent social opportunity and advantageous circumstances. Unemployment and hardship are conversely equated with a lack of moral worth, hence those who fall on hard luck must be lacking in the necessary qualities for success, such as a willingness to work hard.

That value system is also why the bankers, who were more responsible than anyone else for the financial crisis, have been allowed to quietly return to the culture of massive bonuses from which they were only very briefly diverted, whilst the poorest are being made to pay disproportionately for the greed and irresponsibility of the wealthy. Never mind that the entire financial sector and all those who continue to grow rich from its activities should be regarded as the real welfare scroungers, having taken billions in handouts from the taxpaying public in order to avoid having to face the consequences of their own recklessness. Never mind that, because at the end of the day they are the rich – they are the ‘wealth creators’; and in our society that in itself signifies their intrinsic worthiness

The very concept of ‘fairness’ is quickly becoming meaningless as the ConDems co-opt the word into their Neo-Thatcherite agenda. For this reason a better concept with which to expose the truth of these cuts is ‘justice’. And make no mistake; there is no justice in the measures being taken. There is no justice in turfing people out of social housing if they manage to get a decent job, whilst also threatening to turf them out or force them to move if they don’t find a job.

There is no justice in cleansing London of the unemployed through a cap on housing benefit, moving those looking for work out of the only area where there are job opportunities, and forcing thousands into bed and breakfast accommodation or onto the streets. There is no justice in doubling university tuition fees, making university education the preserve of those who can afford it, and pulling the last of the rungs out of one of the very few remaining ladders of social mobility in this country.

There is no justice in throwing half a million public sector workers onto the dole at the very same time as cracking down on unemployment benefits and demonising the unemployed. There is no justice in cutting housing benefit for those who are unemployed for more than a year when there is no prospect of the kind of economic growth needed to create sufficient jobs. There is no justice in cutting local council budgets by a quarter so that a range of local services which make a vital difference to people’s quality of life will inevitably be withdrawn. There is no justice in targeting those who can least afford it and those most in need of social support.

We are witnessing an act of social injustice of a scale never previously seen by anyone alive in this country, an unprecedented rollback of the welfare state going well beyond anything attempted by the Thatcher governments. What is at stake for all but the privileged minority is the very possibility of leading a decent life free from constant fear, anxiety and insecurity. What is being challenged is nothing less than whether we still have the capacity to care about other people or only for ourselves.

These are things that millions of people fought, suffered and in many cases died for, and they are being taken away by a bunch of arrogant, self-satisfied, over-privileged aristocrats and millionaires who were not elected by a majority but rather seized power by means of a political coup. The values which define our social conscience are being deliberately eroded by individuals who clearly manifest the characteristics of deeply flawed human beings – lacking the capacity for genuine empathy or understanding of people in situations different from their own. This is where indifference becomes malice. It is also where rioting becomes rational.


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This post was written by Richie Nimmo

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