Sunday, 9 December 2012

Morally Unacceptable

In terms of getting right exactly what I want to say, this is been one of my most difficult blogs to write.

Indeed, I almost abandoned the idea altogether, choosing instead to indulge my "hobby" of Italian politics. For in that latter regard it has been a disastrous weekend. The decision of Monti, the support of the PdL having been withdrawn, to stand down as Prime Minister is not only catastrophic for Italy but might well sound the final death knell of the Euro, at least as far as southern Europe is concerned. And, believe me, that is very, very bad news for us as well.

When I was on the radio last weekend I found myself expressing some sympathy for, of all people, George Osborne. Certainly, he is responsible for his own earlier conduct of our own Nation's finances but he most definitely would not be responsible if the US House Republicans opt to jump off the fiscal cliff or if, in the ultimate example of Berlusconi's cult of personality, the Italians opt, expressly or at least implicitly, to return to the Lira. Either eventuality would almost inevitably throw us back into a recession, leaving to the judgement of history any argument as to whether it needed to be "triple dip" recession or, given a different approach since 2010, could merely have been a "double dip" one.

But, and it is a big but, any sympathy I had for Osborne disappeared on Wednesday.

It's a disguised part of our current political discourse that all Parties are committed to cuts in public expenditure. I'm not, tonight, interested in peculiarly Scottish politics but, in that regard, I include John Swinney, who, strapped to a lie detector would admit such a state of affairs would still subsist in an Independent Scotland.

But back to the real world. Labour's position is merely "too far and too fast", which, for all it allows us to pretend otherwise to all and any plea of a "special case", still cannot properly be translated as "not at all and, even then, not now".

I'm no naif when it comes to Welfare Reform. The implementation of the Work Capability Assessment in the transition from Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance has undoubtedly been a debacle in its implementation but it is a reform, in principle, introduced, in my view correctly, by the last Labour Government. Similarly, the idea that suggesting that the long term unemployed, whether they appreciate it or not, might benefit from a period of compulsory work, seems to me self apparent: if only, at best, in showing them that work is not as difficult they perceive or, at worst, in sorting out those who are not truly unemployed at all but actually engaged in the black economy. And, as I've said before, anybody, with no particular personal commitments, in London and the south east, who didn't work at all during the long New Labour boom surely can't have been trying very hard.

But, and it is a huge but, every day at my work I deal with a lot of very poor people. Very poor people already who, last Wednesday, George Osborne decided should be poorer still.

I'm not saying that they are all people with children but they overwhelmingly are. And I am not saying they are all without work, for 6 out of 10 children in poverty have parents who are working,. But the parents, or more correctly the parent, or more correctly still, the single mothers who I deal with professionally are, overwhelmingly, without work. For they cannot work as they have children to look after and no one to share that burden. And I'm not even saying these mothers are without responsibility for their own circumstance because.............., with the benefit of middle class detachment,.............. to a significant degree they are.

Young women with children and no reliable "partners" who would, in an ideal world, have to experience neither circumstance.

Now, here again, I want to jump back into my middle class, comfortable, all knowing, person. Anybody who has ever attended the eighteenth birthday party of a middle class kid can't fail to notice the hormones at play in the room. But they can't also fail to be aware of the barrier contraception lurking discretely in the background or the discrete, distressing but determined, fall back position of early abortion positioned further back still.

And the imagined  but certain conversations that start and end "As your parents, we only want what's best for you but, David and Emma, if you are still together after University, there will be plenty of time for you to have children".

And even someone with reservations about abortion as a morally consequence free solution, someone such as me, must surely pause to wonder if it would not be better if many other unintended pregnancies ended this way.

But they don't. They don't even as the father is already subject to bail conditions as a consequence of domestic violence; they don't even as he's describing, on facebook, the mother of his child to be as a "slag"; they don't even as he's already parading his new "girlfriend" in her face.

This world is so beyond my personal experience that, even after thirty or more years in dealing with it's fall out, I cannot understand it. I cannot understand how any father could drag their child out of bed at 2am for "access" in frustration at being denied sex, as a default option, by their mother. I cannot grasp how anyone would duck and dive over their employment status in order to deny their child (a mere) 15% of their income. I cannot comprehend how anybody given contact rights by a court would then be too busy, or forgetful, to turn up.

But that is the world these kids live in.

And in one respect I blame their mothers for subjecting them to it.

Except. These women really love their kids, at least as much as those financially able to be the most middle class of middle class homemakers. And they would wish them to want for nothing. And, in that regard, every pound is a prisoner. Real mums might go to Iceland but, be in no doubt, it is only because they cannot go to Sainsbury's, or even Tesco.

So, to that extent, Osborne's decision that subsistence benefits for those with children should rise only by one per cent, irrespective of the rate of inflation, is a call neither I nor any Labour politician could ever make. It cannot, ever, be acceptable that these kids suffer by reason of moral disapproval of their parents life choices or by reason of avoiding the case for progressive taxation. For they are just kids.

And, what's more, there is surely no more certain guarantee that this circle of disadvantage will spiral down through the generations than if it is not confronted in this one.

If you look at the comment sections on the internet versions of our press, you see Ed's dilemma in the trap Osborne has laid for him on this. For you see civil servants and white collar local government workers, classic swing voters, posting to the effect that, since they have had no pay increase for the last three years, why should the "feckless" be exempt from similar penalty. The answer is because the self same "feckless" are already at the bottom. There is nowhere further, decently, for them to fall. Ed must make that case and, in fairness to him, it appears he is prepared to do so. And in that he must surely have all our support. And, anyway, no kid is ever feckless.















4 comments:

  1. Well said. I can see your difficulty. At the end of the day, we are all in this together.

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  2. I have been asked to point out that,when I say all Parties agree on the need for some public expenditure cuts, "all Parties" do not apparently include the Greens. Fair enough. It's as well they're not running the Country right enough.

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