So the axe has finally fallen and, as usual, it falls hardest on those who have the least. The new Coalition Government constantly blames the cuts on Labour, who undoubtedly played a large part in creating the problems we now face with their unrestrained public spending and were responsible for deregulating the banks, but they have other choices they could make and seem to use Labour as a convenient scapegoat to distance themselves from responsibility. They seem to use the word “fairness” to describe the cuts in a way that I have never heard before and the Spending Review will achieve nothing more than the further stratification of society in the UK.
At the moment, despite our claims to be a classless society, there are four economic classes based on income and wealth – upper, middle, working and underclass. The top two classes can be further sub-divided but for the purposes of this blog I shall leave it at the main four classes. For the people of the underclass whose only means of income and support is state benefits, the cuts to welfare funding will push them further towards poverty and closer to extinction, which is, perhaps, the point of the exercise.
Some people may say that those living on state benefits do so as a matter of personal choice and, while some do, the majority of people on benefits do so because they have no other choice, either through illness, incapacity of some description or not being able to find work for one reason or another. I am a member of the underclass due to reasons of my mental health that limits the kind of work I can do and my ability to deal with other people but I am not idle. I am, in fact, one of the people who this government supposedly loves and wishes to see more of in their attempts to create the “Big Society”. I volunteer in various roles – as a befriender for Thurrock Mind, as the Chair of the Thurrock Mental Health Service Users and Carers Forum, as the Mental Health Lead for Thurrock LINk, as a member of the Steering Committee of Making Involvement Matter in Essex (MIME) and as a Community Co-option Governor for Thurrock Adult Community College. I have also organised two mental health awareness events in my local area, been part of a number of consultations and write a blog column for Your Thurrock, a local news website.
You may ask how I can do all of these things if I am claiming Incapacity Benefit for reasons of mental ill health and I would answer that I do these things 1) because very few others are willing or able to do them, 2) because they help me to remain occupied rather than sitting at home complaining all day and 3) because I am comfortable in my local area and the events I organise are in locations that reduce my anxiety around people. I suppose I could add a fourth reason which would be that I do them because if I don’t I doubt anyone would bother.
Other people will be in the same boat as myself – willing to work but unable to, for one reason or another, but giving back to society by doing voluntary work. I have to wonder if the Coalition Government has taken any of this into account when conducting their Spending Review because, if our benefits are cut, we will be unable to continue doing the necessary work we do which contributes to the “Big Society” and we will become a drain on the already stretched National Health Service. We may be part of the underclass in society but some of us are also the foundation on which the “Big Society” will be built and, without us, it will fail.
The Coalition Government should take a long, hard look at what they wish their legacy to be and then, perhaps, re-think their methods. The Liberal Democrats actually hold more power in their hands than they believe they have. They should stick to their principles and not make life so easy for the Conservatives. They may be in coalition but that should not mean that they do not have a voice that should be heard.
If the Coalition Government does not take great care, there will be riots, demonstrations and strikes such as we have not seen in recent memory and they will not be able to blame the Labour party.