Photo from The Telegraph website
Yesterday (27th May 2015) saw the rich display of pageantry that accompanies the delivery of the Queen’s speech to the British Parliament. The Queen is the sovereign figure head of the U.K and whilst the constitutional tradition is for the monarchy to be separate from and not interfere with democratic governance she is forced every year to give a speech to the House of Lords that outlines the government’s agenda. The Queen is not allowed in the House of Commons as she is not an elected member of parliament so is only permitted to be present in the House of Lords (the second legislative chamber). The House of Lords contains unelected members that are there due to life peerages and was previously only inhabited by the elite who passed down their ‘seat’ through the family line. To add to this charade (as pageantry is) the Queen delivers a speech that she has not written nor had any input in forming. She is the mouthpiece for the government of the day. The Prime Minister watches adoringly as the Queen parrots his words, agendas and those cringe-worthy sound-bites politicians love. Watching and listening to the ultimate symbol of privilege surrounded by gold fixtures and fittings set-out an agenda that fails to consider yet alone address the needs of the poorest, sickest and most vulnerable members of the population pours salt into the wounds that an extra 12 billion pounds of cuts to welfare will make,
After the speech had been delivered to the House of Lords the Prime Minister returned to the House of Commons to debate the contents with the House. I came to the debate part way through its live coverage due to a home visit I received from my council’s occupational therapy team. I am sorry to say that I missed the name of a labour MP that asked a question about how the proposed 12 billion cuts to welfare will target the disabled, poor and vulnerable in society and how could the PM justify it. The PM’s response was cruelly dismissive. The PM claimed that he had previously cut the welfare budget and that more was justified as they must get people to work. He then reiterated that hard-working people demand that such welfare cuts need to made and that his party is the party of hard-working people, he qualified this by throwing back to the MP that his party (Labour) had lost (Labour fought the election on a left-leaning agenda).
The Prime Minister is incredibly sure of himself at the moment due to the shock election result that saw him return with a majority, but this majority is of only 12 MP’s and as the speaker for the Scottish National Party stated the Conservatives were not the largest party in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and whilst they are the main party they came nowhere near receiving 50% of the vote in England yet alone taking account of the whole of the UK. The idea the PM has of the whole country agreeing with his ideology is simply ludicrous. I also fail to believe that a country such as ours that has been celebrated for its financial generosity in charitable giving thinks that it is ok to make the poor poorer and the weak weaker. The problem is the phrasing of the debate as ‘working people’, ‘hard-working families’ and pitting them against welfare recipients implying by framing them as an opposite that if you’re not classed as ‘hard-working’ then you are lazy, you are not worthy of consideration. Polarising the debate between the hard-workers and the non-workers wrongly suggests that everyone on welfare is unemployed and that they are perfectly capable of working and thus not ‘deserving poor’.
Most people that have a disability or illness don’t work because they physically can’t and those with a work-limiting disability are more willing to work than those that are unemployed for non-health or disability reasons (poverty.org referenced in http://www.efds.co.uk/resources/facts_and_statistics). The sick and disabled should not be confused or mixed with those that are unable to find work or those that refuse despite being able (those who adamantly refuse to work are not as numerous as we are often led to believe). People who work can find themselves part of the ‘working poor’ and many working families rely on welfare to live: child benefit, tax credits, carer’s allowances, disability living allowances etc. Many people wouldn’t consider working tax credit as a benefit but it is and its title alone undermines the failings of this polarization.
Geraint Davies MP (Labour) also spoke out in the Queen’s Speech debate and referenced an Oxford University study that claims that if the 12billion in welfare cuts go ahead the use of food banks would double. The food banks are an emergency service used by desperate people in times of crisis (over one million people used them last year) and a significant proportion of those who use them are in work but on a low income, also the main reason why people use them is due to benefit payment/assessment delays (http://www.trusselltrust.org/stats). Working people can also be poor, can also get sick, can also be disabled and can also find themselves as carers.
There is no doubt that welfare cuts will deeply hurt the most vulnerable and in order to pre-empt any backlash against this the Conservative Party has long been trying to create an us vs them attitude with regards to ‘workers’ and ‘non-workers’. This is an insult to those of us that would love to work but can’t and to those that do work but do not earn enough to live, it’s an insult to carers and to pensioners. The polarisation of the workers vs the non-workers is so grotesquely contrived in over-simplification that it goes beyond normal political language into something more sinister. This contrived ‘conflict’ encourages hostility, myths and degradation to society’s most vulnerable. It pushes us further into sanctioning social inequality and disability discrimination. It is dangerous language and dangerous policy that must be challenged.
If you have read this to the end big thanks and please feel free to comment. x