Tuesday 3 September 2013

The Perilous Politics of Envy

I am disabled - hence the "crippled' in the name of this blog. I also live in the Manchester area (in North-West England). Our local newspaper is titled Manchester Evening News, which is locally and within the press sector abbreviated to M.E.N.

[Image description: a screen-shot of part of the cited article]

Today the paper published an article authored by Jennifer Williams and entitled: Revealed: Human cost of hard-hitting welfare cuts in Manchester.

Below is an extract:

The first detailed study into how benefits changes are hitting Manchester has revealed the ‘human cost’ of swingeing welfare cuts.

New research warns of overcrowding, new social ghettos, soaring levels of debt and mental illness – with minorities bearing the brunt.

The analysis – by the council, housing providers and Citizen’s Advice Bureau – examines a string of policies, including cuts to legal aid, the ‘bedroom tax’ and the benefits cap.

It finds minority groups – including the disabled, women and certain ethnic groups – are being hit disproportionately hard by the policies.

As far as I am aware this is the first time our respected rag has printed such an item since the creation of the UK's ConDem coalition government. Most of the the twenty-odd comments were rather reactionary. This stimulated me to submit the following commentary.

"I am simply appalled by some of the comments listed under this article; but wish to express my gratitude to M.E.N for publishing the item.

It looks like many commentaors (sic) have bought into the insidious polemic in the mainstream media: the rhetoric of divide & conquer and the politics of envy.

I am non-partisan. I am disabled. I worked for the Civil Service in the 1980's where each year under Thatcherism I was a recipient of annual salary cuts due to below-inflation 'rises'. I retrained as a teacher, a job I loved until disability forced me to retire on ill-health grounds. I have no regrets: life took me where it took me.

However, I have no compunction about claiming the benefits to which I am entitled. I paid and still pay thousands in taxes (income tax, duties, VAT, etc.) as well as National Insurance Contributions. There's a clue in the latter's nomenclature - 'insurance'. I paid into the scheme and now, due to circumstances beyond my control, I am making claims on that scheme; in the same way one makes a claim against car insurance, home insurance, health insurance, credit-card insurance, warranties, and so forth.

Some commentators seem to be under the impression that I should exist in penury just because I claim social security payments. Instead of envying that to which I am entitled, I should suggest such commentators support moves for all citizens to be paid a living wage (not to be confused with the minimum wage) including our pensioners, who are some of the worst looked after in Europe. Additionally, I should suggest that folk sign up to campaigns, such as wowpetition.com, that are attempting to ensure that our treasured social protections are not removed.

British culture has long had the values of fairness and justice at its heart: I sincerely hope we don't lose such treasures. %)"


A commentator retorted:

"Colin, the majority of people have no problem with people like yourself. As you I and millions of other people have a problem with those who have not contributed put it you have "Paid In". 
a single bean, but expect to be given something for nothing.
I managed to retire at 48, having been sensible and making provision to have a decent pension. I hate to think how much i have paid into the system, and will continue to pay into the system as i am taxed on my pension.
The only benefit i will get is the oap, thats if the goalposts are not changed in the next 15 years or so."

So I responded:

"Disabled children have not paid into the scheme; youngsters in local authority care have not paid into the system; qualified unemployed youth and young adults cannot get jobs, so cannot pay into it either; then there are the carers who save the nation a fortune (usually estimated at £Billions) in care costs, their insurance is paid for them by a grateful nation.

On your logic, these folk should not receive benefits to which they have not directly contributed.

I iterate that this is against British values of fairness & justice."

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