What with all the vicious media ranting and disapproving government pronouncements recently, you might be forgiven for thinking that almost every single person claiming state benefits of any kind in this country is actually on the fiddle – and thus getting away with ripping off the Treasury and the tax-paying public to the tune of billions and billions of pounds.
Let me repeat that: Not. True.
I’ve written before about how those on benefits, especially the sick and disabled, become an easy scapegoat for a government who are more concerned with feathering their own nests and protecting the interests of big business than looking after the most vulnerable in our society – and that the levels of fraudulent benefit claims are much, much lower than most people think they are.
This afternoon, I’ve been looking at the official Department for Work and Pensions report Fraud and Error in the Benefit System: 2010/11 Estimates (Great Britain), which was released last week and contains some very interesting statistics indeed; statistics that clearly demonstrate that the current spate of media and political poor-bashing and the demonisation of benefits claimants is based on a tissue of lies.
Here’s a little story for you.
Once upon a time there was a small island in the middle of the North Sea. On this island lived many different people from many different cultures and and many different backgrounds; some were old and some were young, some were very rich and some were very poor, some had power and some were powerless. Much of the time, most of the islanders got on well enough with each other and tried to help those in need when they could – even during sad times, when there was not much money to go round.
However, there was one group of islanders who were determined to cause trouble. This strange and terrible group were called the ConDems, and they were very rich and very powerful. They saw that there was not much money to go round for most of the islanders and they saw that some particularly naughty people had been breaking important money rules, so they determined to do something about this because they thought it could be to their advantage…
And that’s where it all went badly pear-shaped. You see, the ConDems chose the wrong set of naughty people to target. It’s all too easy for politicians – who have posh houses and nice cars and plenty of money – to point the finger at and financially penalise those at the bottom end of society who are either just scraping by on a low wage or who have been forced to fall back on the welfare state in order to have any income at all.
I guess we’d all like to think our dying words will be something as witty and pithy as those attributed to Oscar Wilde, who, on his Parisian death bed, is supposed to have commented:
Either that wallpaper goes, or I do
However, some people don’t seem to get this final moment of mordant wit quite right. A classic example of this is the final words allegedly spoken by Pancho Villa (the Mexican revolutionary); seemingly on the very subject of final words – or the lack of them in his case:
Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.
But some people manage to get it gleefully, wonderfully right – which is why I had to smile this morning while reading the many obituaries published in tribute to the nurse, newspaper agony aunt and NHS campaigner Claire Rayner, who has died at the age of 79. The BBC report on her death says:
She told her relatives she wanted her last words to be: “Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I’ll come back and bloody haunt him.”
And I should bloody think so too! Considering that this country is still paying the price for the last Tory government’s ‘reforms’ of the NHS (let alone what the last Labour government did to it…), further Conservative fiddling with the health service should strike fear into the hearts of patients and NHS staff alike – and the ghost of Claire Rayner should strike fear into Tory hearts everywhere!
I’d love to think she’ll be as good as her word – so, if reports start filtering out of Downing Street of poltergeist activity and sightings of the ghostly figure of a grey-haired, kind-hearted, slightly bossy nurse-type lady around David Cameron’s office, I think we can safely conclude not only that there is life after death but also (and more importantly!) that Claire Rayner has returned and she’s not very happy with this government….
So it’s May 6th then. Now there’s a surprise.
In exactly a month’s time, the polling booths will be open and the British people will be casting their vote for a new/old government, but, finally, today Her Madge gave her consent to Gordon Brown dissolving Parliament – which means the election campaign really, actually, finally, officially starts now (despite the fact that some candidates have been at it for months already).
And what an exciting morning it’s been for all us armchair election followers!
I’m not entirely sure what was most (least?) thrilling about this morning’s frankly mindless media coverage. Forced by Freeview to choose between Sky or the BBC, the telly ended up being muted when my brain started dripping out of my ears. I did catch Gordon Brown’s thoroughly tedious speech – although I was slightly distracted by the phrase ‘as dull as ditchwater’ bouncing round what little brain I had left by this point.
Other media lowlights included David Cameron’s unpleasantly smug speech to the rapt party faithful, complete with its mysterious (hmm) omission of the same two words (“gay” and “straight”) which were so heavily emphasised in the draft version revealed yesterday.
Now we’re a month into it, I suspect that it’s still too much to hope (perhaps) that 2010 will be a better year politically than the last. I suspect things will pick up where they left off at the end of last year and we’ll get another twelve months of bitching and moaning – but very little action on behalf of our elected ‘representatives’ in Westminster. Quelle surprise.
I can’t help being so cynical. I used to be a full-blown idealist (and I still hold firm to an arguably idealistic belief in the necessity of peace, equality and fairness, despite everything), but the more I learned about and the more I understood the way the political system in this country works, the less convinced I was by its weasel words (ie, not at all), and the less I believed in the possibility of it being an agent for and a necessary force in creating positive change.
Cynicism comes naturally after that.
2009 did little to disabuse me of this belief. All in all, it was a pretty sorry year, politically speaking – although no matter how much you despise the government of the day (and no matter how enjoyable the schadenfreude), it is never comfortable viewing to watch them dig themselves deeper and deeper into a pit of infamy; that same pit of infamy which Tony Blair played such a prominent role in originally (re) opening up back in 1997.
I’m wondering if it is really true. I’m wondering if this really is victory – because no-one seems quite sure either way yet.
After all the campaigning and letter-writing and protesting, and after the government’s controversial decision on the matter, the ‘announcement’ that BAA will not be submitting plans for the third runway at Heathrow before the 2010 general election slipped out with barely a whimper last week in an article in The Sunday Times.
As one of the thousands of people who live under the Heathrow flightpath and who have been involved in the various local campaigns against the third runway, I should be dancing in the streets and cracking open the cooking champagne as a result of this apparently new decision, but, if anything, it’s left me feeling even more confused than before.
The final decision on the third runway was always going to be a complex and controversial one. Any financial and economic benefits of its development had to be weighed against the impact of a new runway on the lives of the communities in the immediate vicinity and under the wider flightpath of the airport. Or at least that was the theory, anyway.
Of course, when major projects like this are in the planning stages, the agencies involved (whether of big business, government, or – in this case – both) will always make lots of colourful and seemingly sincere noise about how they intend to listen to and take on board the views of ordinary people, particularly those who live locally to the development, and about how this type of consultation is an essential aspect of their decision-making process.
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me” – Martin Niemoller.
Martin Niemoller was a controversial figure, whose motives and actions are still debated by historians, theologians and political theorists to this day. But his words (above) ring as true today as they did in the 1940s. Like many Lutheran pastors (and other religious leaders) in 1930s Germany, Niemoller was an anti-communist who opposed the democratic experiment of the Weimar Republic and its associated ‘decadence’, welcoming the Nazi accession to power in 1933 even to the extent of apparently having official meetings with Adolf Hitler.