Independent luminary Andreas Whittam Smith reckons the Conservative Party in its current form is both nasty and stupid – and also clumsy, if his latest article is to be believed.
Nasty because of its aggressive behaviour – such as the decision to withdraw support for rescue operations that save thousands of migrants from drowning as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
Or because of benefit assessment policies that mean people living with progressive and degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and rheumatoid arthritis are being subjected to what a group of charities describes as “upsetting and unnecessary” examinations to see whether they will recover enough to look for work in the future – a pointless exercise because their conditions are flagged up from the start as progressive and degenerative; they’re never going to get better.
Or because, after the Resolution Foundation found that one-in-five employees (4.9 million people) earned less than the living wage, George Osborne is promising that if the Conservative Party wins next year’s general election, then most welfare payments that the working poor rely on – including child benefit, tax credits, jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and income support – will be frozen in April 2016 for two years. They are currently rising by 1 per cent a year. He will make the working poor poorer.
Clumsy because they have imposed unpopular decisions on the people in an unfair way. Mr Whittam Smith defines fairness in terms of “the four main elements that go into creating a sense of procedural justice: Those concerned should have been able to play an active part in the process. The rules should be applied with sensitivity to individual situations. Decision-makers should be impartial and fair. And the agents of the system with whom people have to deal should treat them with respect.”
He continues: “There is no evidence that people living with progressive and degenerative conditions or members of the working poor or families struggling to pay care bills for elderly relatives have been consulted. There is no evidence of sensitivity to individual situations or else the bedroom tax legislation would have recognised the special difficulties of disabled tenants who are unable to share a bedroom and would have taken into account where homes have been specially adapted.
“As for the agents of the system with whom people have to deal, outsourcing many of these tasks has not produced happy results. Naturally the outsourced staff work by the book. They cannot be flexible or understanding. They are chiefly concerned with getting the job done as quickly as possible so as to reach the profits targets set by their employers. And then, in the final analysis, claimants are not dealing directly with the state at all but with a sort or mercenary army. Mutual respect cannot exist in these circumstances.”
Let’s expand on the last point for a moment, and connect it with the previous points about benefit assessment, with this snippet of information: An academic report from Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Stirling has confirmed that the Tories’ welfare reforms are not helping people to find work.
According to Alan Wyllie on the A Working Class Man blog, the report showed:
- “The current welfare system is not helping people find work. Those who had moved into employment found work independently and not due to Jobcentre Plus services;
- “There was limited support on offer to help recipients of out of work benefits move into work. Those participating in the Work Programme did not report that it was helpful;
- “Most people wanted to work but issues such as childcare, illness and training made it difficult for them to do so;
- “The current welfare system also does not appear to meet its aim of ‘make work pay’. People who had moved into work felt only slightly better off and continued to find it difficult to make ends meet;
- “Benefit freezes or restricted increases have meant falling real-term incomes, with many study participants finding it hard to meet basic needs.
“The report concludes that: ‘Participants with a health condition or a disability, and those who were lone parents, reported that they wanted to be in work but faced considerable barriers to doing so, which were unlikely to be addressed by increasing conditionality.
“’According to the views of participants, stronger conditionality is unlikely to get more people into work, due to a lack of suitable work and barriers in the areas of education, skills, employability, childcare and health.’
“The researchers found that claimants who did not abide by the new conditions faced serious consequences.
“’The impact on benefit recipients who fall foul of new rules – or who are affected by a mistake on the part of a benefits agency that is not their fault – can be severe,’ they said.”
That’s nasty – not only have benefit changes been forced onto people without any regard for them, but they don’t even work.
However, this – moving back to Mr Whittam Smith – may be the Tories’ downfall. He points out: “Nowadays we are no longer a homogenous mass but an agglomeration of minorities. In my own circle of family and friends, for instance, there are people who are disabled and others with serious illnesses. There are those who are single parents, others who are retired. There are middle-aged people with back-breaking mortgages, others who are and young and ambitious. There are regular Church-goers as well as non-believers. There are people in jobs, and people who cannot find work. There are Londoners who can’t conceive of living anywhere else (I am one of these), and people who resent the capital city and all its works.
“Each of these minorities has its own particular concerns and needs, prejudices and resentments, but yet feels sympathy for any group that is badly treated.
“The Coalition led by its Conservative ministers has often gone about its work in an unfeeling, insensitive manner. And for that shortcoming there could be a price to pay at the next general election.”
Quite so – especially as they came into government under the banner of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’. What a terrible joke.
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