‘…………By Yasmin Alibhai Brown
This government’s brutish front-benchers have sharpened their biggest knives, and introduced planned poverty
They do this to stop “the damaging culture of welfare dependency”, cure people of persistent indolence and ensure the welfare system has returned to “sanity”. The millions of voters who backed the Tories – including some of my own aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins – will one day, I hope, understand that they consented to the splintering of Britain into six nations.
The wealthiest, the Brahmins, are zoned off from everyone else, eating gold-leaf-sprinkled chocs, purchasing mansions and penthouses, hunting and shooting on vast estates, protecting their billions from impertinent tax collectors, buying political influence. The upper classes are similar, but with millions rather than billions of pounds to play with. They suffer untold anxieties about their shares, status and money.
The largest group, the middle classes, live the good life but are increasignly defensive. The working poor, scandalously, cannot achieve a decent standard of living (read the Trust for London reports on this exploited group which gets no respite). Then, in this caste system, come the workless poor, many of whom resent migrants and other indigents. And, finally, the homeless or illegal migrants, the untouchables who matter less than stray dogs.
In Dagenham last week, Bernadette, a 73-year-old ex-council worker, told Labour MP Tom Watson that, to stop them from coming, we should “microchip the immigrants”. A young chap also moaned: “We are forced into being racist.” Of course, it is easier to blame the outsider when life is hard. For our current lords and masters, the scapegoating is a godsend. It diverts folk from intolerable facts.
Here are some: according to research carried out by Professors Danny Dorling and Benjamin Hennig at Oxford University, Britain is more divided than it was in the 1980s under Thatcherism. There has been a 68 per cent increase in the number of poor households and a 33 per cent increase in the number of wealthy households.
Last year, Labour MP Frank Field warned that “a large number of children are turning up at school hungry and returning to a cold, dark, home at the end of the day”. Figures just released show that child poverty rises will reverse the real advances made in the 1990s. (Tony Blair pushed those policies. That bloody war ruined his reputation.)
The Child Poverty Action Group is deeply concerned that the next raft of cuts will lead to more children living on the breadline. Disabled groups are terrorised by existing regulations and those to come. The TUC and Women’s Aid believe “financial abuse” is a growing problem. With changes in the system, women have lost access to their own benefits. Many have to depend on the men to give them cash and suffer violence and deprivation.
In some parts of the country, there are no jobs. In Rochdale, where I went before the election, despair hangs over the place like thick smog. There are jobs in Manchester, but rents are prohibitive and travel expenses too high. How can we then blame the unemployed for such structural obstacles? This is worse than Victorian poverty because some among the great and good then defended and helped to raise the wretched. George Cadbury, Joseph Rowntree, Sir Montague Maurice Burton, for example, were all rich manufacturers who pushed for profits as well as fairness. The post-war idealists who created the welfare state were inspired by these righteous Victorians. Christianity has been replaced by naked capitalism. Piety and social conscience now seem old-fashioned.
But hark, here come the revivalists, beating their drums. On Saturday, thousands of Britons came out to protest against punishing austerity measures. Walking with those on benefits were teachers, lawyers, nurses, students, trade unionists and others. A school librarian from south London was there because a friend who was “benefits sanctioned” was suddenly destitute. A small businessman thought the cuts were immoral. The MPs Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas were there; so, too, Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.
Lucas spoke with conviction: “It wasn’t people on jobseeker’s allowance who brought down the banks. It wasn’t nurses and teachers and firefighters who were recklessly gambling on international markets.” Singer Charlotte Church reached out to the “most disaffected, desperate fringes of society”.
I wasn’t at the demo because it all seems so futile and hopeless these days. I am now sorry that I stayed away. We cannot give up and roll over. That is the point made by the stunning documentary film We Are Many on the massive, global protest against the Iraq war. Produced by the comedian Omid Djalili, it is showing in selected cinemas. The objectors could not stop the war, but Western leaders haven’t dared to go to war since.
This government’s brutish front-benchers have sharpened their biggest knives and are ready to hack into the state. Labour is cowering in unlit corners.
Remember that the poll tax revolts helped to bring down the Iron Lady. We who oppose austerity must take up cudgels against planned poverty. It is a patriotic duty surely, not to let these savages destroy the bonds between us.