The political tricks of the trade that the right have used to push through their agenda of austerity are many and varied, but I think we can safely say division and demonisation are their most virulent, disgusting and (sadly) successful methods. Nowhere is this starker than with welfare.
The motivations are clear enough. The Tories want a smaller state, lower taxes for the rich, and still have to claim they’ve done something to reduce the budget deficit, so of course slashing welfare is the perfect policy. And how better to justify the cuts – which will affect the many – by blaming the few… ‘Yes, sorry you’re going to be worse off, but don’t blame us, blame the scroungers…’ ‘The reason we can’t afford for you hard-working, deserving people to have a better life, is because that guy’s an unemployed free-loader.’
Middle-class are turned against working class (and vice versa – see child benefit cuts for higher income families), employed against unemployed, able-bodied against disabled, old against young, and even poor against poor, and suddenly no one blames the government, but rather the one who seems to be getting a good deal from the DWP.
It works brilliantly. Every single person on any given estate, (I say estate, it need not be an estate, just any collection of housing in close proximity) will justify any money they receive in welfare, but the moment the conversation turns to someone else who’s receiving it, opinions change. ‘Of course I need my benefits… but that woman at twenty-two who ‘claims’ to have a bad back…’ (I have genuinely heard that from someone in conversation.)
And all the while the government fob off any criticism with the aged line ‘we can’t afford it’. So disabled people will die on the job, children will go hungry, young people homeless… but don’t blame the government, it’s that black immigrant family down the road you should be blaming…
Oh, but you would say that! I hear you cry. After all, you’re just a wishy-washy, idealistic, left-wing, liberal do-gooder. Well, yes I am, but luckily I also have the facts on my side. Which is why I shall shortly be presenting a Welfare Debate Points article to tackle the main myths which cavort across the pages of the Mail, Express, Sun et al on a daily basis – not to mention government press releases…
The point of this article however, is not to present those facts. It is to point to the government tactic being employed as cover for this great reversal in welfare, public spending and general living standards, which is taking place, here, now, in our time, on our watch, so to speak. It’s enough to make you want to protest.
That said, and whilst I have protested against the cuts, if any government, ever, wished to do such things, I say, let them. They are (to some vague extent or another) elected, democratically, by us, to do so. We have no one to blame but ourselves for the disastrous consequences they bring to bear on us. We can, and should protest, and naturally elect different leaders at the next opportunity, but in the meantime we have a government elected by some vague majority to do something along the lines of what they’re doing.
But… for them to implement such policies, not with their hands up, with an air of ‘well, we’re Tories, what did you expect’, and rather, to do so under cover of division and demonisation of large segments of society… that is almost as despicable as the austerity they are implementing, and carries with it no democratic legitimacy.
Cut disabled people’s benefits and make them work to death, force young people out of education or employment and onto the streets, make children go hungry and lower our living standards… we always knew you would. But don’t do so and place the blame anywhere other than at your own feet.
The most disgusting thing about this government, for me, is not what they have done, but how they have done it. The arrogance, divide and conquer tactics and demonisation of men, women and children up and down this country has been a testament not only to the failure of their policy, but to the failure of them as individuals to govern this country with the respect it deserves.
Welfare is about extending a hand to those who need it. It expresses the best that a society can accomplish and the greatest ideals a society possess. The way welfare has been made a dirty word by this government (and the right-wing portion of the media), is an affront to the decency and ideals of our society, and I hope we make them pay for it at the next election.