The ideology of cuts affecting the most vulnerable people in our society is totally out of character for a nation that traditionally prides itself on bringing support to those in crisis. Over the years, the UK has led the way in terms of people and organisations who have gone way beyond the call of duty in terms of supporting others and treating them with the dignity and respect they deserve. This is a country that after years of struggle, made health, education and general wellbeing a basic human right.
This coalition government has taken the decision to fly in the face of these hard fought traditions and has instead, become hell bent on passing the responsibility and burden of the national debt onto those who can least afford it. As a result of this policy, we now see people struggling to make ends meet, forced into the ever-willing arms of payday loan companies who, on the face of it appear to be offering help and financial security. The reality is that they push people into further poverty and desperation.
The introduction of the benefit freeze and the accompanying diatribes spewed by government ministers was designed to set a trap for the government’s opponents. In the end, it only served to further highlight their total lack of understanding or empathy, never mind respect for the British people. The government made it abundantly clear that they were more than happy for those on low incomes to be used as political footballs, in order to achieve nothing less than petty, childish point-scoring.
As a trade unionist I didn’t join the movement in order to feather my own nest, or jump on a gravy train. I took the decision to become active because I wanted to protect workers who were unable to speak up and defend themselves. I wanted to represent my fellow workmates in pursuit of a better, fairer workplace and improved living standards. Whilst the cuts have had no direct effect on me thus far, I believe it is my duty to speak up for those who in many cases are unable to speak for themselves. A question I often pose when taking part in public debates is “if not us who?” Clearly there are many people in our country who feel as I do. It has been both heartening and encouraging to see communities and organisations informing the wider public about the punitive measures this government is pursuing and it has been an indicator of the growing resistance to see people who have never been involved in demonstrations or disputes, coming together to say “no” to these attacks.
Right-minded people are becoming increasingly and rightfully disgusted at the amount of taxpayers’ money being spent on government ‘initiatives’ run by companies like A4E and the disgusting practices used by ATOS. We have seen certain sections of the media finally waking up, writing columns, articles and even producing documentaries highlighting how those with disabilities are being abused as a result of government policy. Politicians of every shade ought to be ashamed that they have allowed and in many cases, encouraged this situation to develop. It is both a scandal and a national disgrace.
When elections take place, we should remind constituents of the failure of politicians to protect our citizens. My strong belief is that if we want credible change, we simply have to come together. Communities, Trade Unions and all the different campaign groups need to get organised and demand real change. Not a quick-fix change that papers over the cracks and protects the status quo; not a change that says “our cuts are better than yours”, but change that leads to politicians being judged on how they treat people. We need a society which demands politicians reconnect with their constituents and don’t simply follow the party line. How can an MP vote in favour of a bedroom tax without actually knowing what he or she voted for?
2013 should be the year we finally get off our knees. I feel that this year will bring people from all walks of life out on to the streets to protest, but we have to have a clear understanding of what we want to replace the current system with. In 1945, when the country was truly broke, we decided that we would plan for peace in the same way we planned for war. We decided that we would build and invest money in order to tackle the ‘five evils’, with eradicating poverty at the centre. That society drew up a blueprint of free education, free health, social housing and full employment. Every single politician signed up to it. Sadly, the only blueprint in evidence today is one designed to share the country’s wealth among the few, rather than the many. Surely a system that supports its vulnerable and celebrates its workers is one we all deserve to be part of. Surely a society without barriers and limited aspirations is one worth fighting for.