5 Quid for Life’s New Year Message to David Cameron: If Britain is heading in the right direction, why are we still here?
BRITAIN, so David Cameron tells us in his New Year message, is “heading in the right direction”:
We are still dealing with debts that built up over many years. And for many families, making ends meet is difficult. So to anyone starting this New Year with questions about where we are heading and what the future holds, I want to reassure you of this: we are on the right track. On all the big issues that matter to Britain, we are heading in the right direction and I have the evidence to prove it.
Splendid. So perhaps, David, you can explain why on earth a project such as this, 5 Quid for Life, is necessary? Why do those on benefits whose mental health is such that they are unable to work need a safety net such as this?
Admittedly, we’ve been quiet: the real damage that your changes to the benefits system will unleash upon some of the most vulnerable people in our society has yet to be seen; and the reassurance you offer rings hollow in view of what lies ahead for them.
You say, “When people say we’ve got to stop our welfare reforms because somehow it is cruel to expect people to work, we are saying no.”
Who, exactly, is saying this, please, David? I’ve googled the phrase “it is cruel to expect people to work” and the only person I’ve found using it is you. Ever heard the term “straw man”, David? They’re very easy to knock down. In some ways, sadly, that makes them rather like people with mental health problems: very easy to knock down. The difference is that with a straw man, there’s no blood spilt, no pain: everything just blows away in the wind.
But people… well, David, I find myself wondering: do you even recognise those with mental health problems as people? Or are they just another easy target, like the homeless, out there selling the Big Issue? “On all the big issues that matter to Britain, we are heading in the right direction…”
Did you watch Mr Stink in the run up to Christmas, David? Mr Stink stank. He also stunk. He was the stinkiest stinker who ever lived… but as the story goes on, a more serious stench emerges: the stench of hypocrisy from politicians who want to either sweep the problem people away or use them for their own ends. But you’re not like that, are you? Are you?
Dear David, it isn’t cruel to expect people to work; far from it, in fact: most of those I know with mental health problems would love nothing more than the ability to work. They’d love to be able to hold down a job, to make their own way in society without our support.
But here in the real world, the world of real people rather than straw men, life’s not that simple. The changes you’re making to the benefits system won’t just blow away the straw men in your fantasy world where everyone can work: those changes are likely to blow away real people.
That’s why we’re here. That’s why 5 Quid for Life exists: a mental health safety net to catch the people — or some of them, at least — that you seem set to blow away.
You’re right in the things that you affirm, David: “Getting people into good jobs is absolutely vital, not just for them, but for all of us.” I love that you’ve used the term “good jobs” there: it gives me hope that you’re not simply set on forcing people into any old job regardless. Perhaps you’d care to reinforce that at the sharp end of the welfare system, to emphasise to your colleagues in the Job Centres that any old job won’t do, that the work needs to be appropriate? Because that’s not the message that most of those who are unemployed are receiving, is it? It’s more a case of, “Take this job or we’ll stop your benefits” — with all that that implies about loss of housing, food and everything else people need to live.
And that isn’t good for anything except, perhaps, your statistics. It doesn’t help a worker to be forced into an inappropriate job; it doesn’t help employers. Worst of all, however, it doesn’t help those who can’t work: they need our support, and lumping everyone on benefits together as no-good scroungers, as work-shy parasites, does no one any good. On the contrary, for those with mental health problems, it drives them deeper into despair. Is the sense of shame and self-hate that many of them feel not good enough for you? Must you hammer their fragile psyches into submission until their entire world collapses and their only way is out?
So this is my message to the country at the start of 2013. We can look to the future with realism and optimism. Realism, because you can’t cure problems, that were decades in the making, overnight. There are no quick fixes and I wouldn’t claim otherwise. But we can be optimistic too because we are making tangible progress. We are doing what’s right for our country and what’s best for our children’s future. And nothing could be more important than that.
Again, you’re right in what you affirm: there are no quick fixes. But the future you’re holding out to us is not a future of “realism and optimism” unless you’re in the exceptionally privileged position that those such as yourself occupy. It is, rather, a future of increasing futility and distress for the most vulnerable members of our society, which is neither right for the country nor best for anyone’s future, least of all for those children growing up to face that future; and nothing could be more important than that.
David Cameron, I wish you a Happy New Year and best wishes for 2013; and I hope and pray that you will rethink your policies and apply them in a way that offers genuine hope for the future in place of your blind optimism that refuses to see reality as it is for the majority of those whom you, I trust, seek to serve.