By Dan Vevers
“That’s because Labour wouldn’t let the job centres advertise them.”
This – though I’ve paraphrased – was David Cameron’s pathetic, weasel-worded explanation for the explosion in food banks his government has presided over, during his recent Battle for Number 10 interview with Jeremy Paxman. He was lying. He was lying wilfully. In the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s analysis on this subject, the number one reason for the use of food banks is benefit sanctions and delays.
This inhumane regime is literally driving people to their deaths.
A father, Benjamin Del MacDonald, who “doted” on his five-year-old daughter, was driven to suicide in East Lancashire after his benefits were stopped last November.
The same month, a woman who suffered from chronic back pain – and founded her own charity for others suffering from chronic pain – killed herself after the DWP threatened benefit withdrawal and also demanded thousands of pounds from her in backdated benefits. On the day the results of the inquest into Julia Kelly’s death were announced, Iain Duncan Smith called taking people off benefits an example of “Conservative compassion.”
Army veteran and diabetic David Clapson who served during the Troubles, died in Stevenage last July with no food in his stomach, £3.44 in his account, and an out-of-credit electricity meter. He was unable to keep his insulin chilled as a result. He died of diabetic ketoacidosis.
Sheila Holt from Rochdale, who had suffered from severe bipolar disorder since childhood, was forced into the Work Programme in 2013. She was sectioned under the Mental Health Act in December of that year, after the pressure from the Work Programme led her into a manic episode. Later she had a heart attack that put her into a coma and caused brain damage. She died last month in hospital.
A man Irvine Welsh described as “the poet laureate of Leith”, Paul Reekie, committed suicide only a month after the Coalition Government came to power, after his housing benefit, along with the incapacity benefit he claimed for severe depression, was stopped.
These are just five examples from a heinously long list. The DWP has carried out “60 peer reviews following the death of a customer” since 2012. Some customer service that is.
The Conservatives are not planning to disclose where the £12 billion of further welfare cuts they have proposed are going to fall. Five weeks out from an election and they aren’t even willing to lie about it. They’re just not telling.
Cameron spoke of cuts to welfare as though they were the only option. Nuclear weapons we’ll never use and maintain purely for prestige are more important than society’s most vulnerable. A train line is more important than society’s most vulnerable. Cutting tax for people earning millions is more important than society’s most vulnerable. Burning through cash to bomb what is now a hell-hole, Libya, was more important than society’s most vulnerable.
But it’s worse than merely not helping them. They’ve actively fucked them. Benefit sanctions that kill. Nearly a million on foodbanks. The slave labour of Workfare. The closing of all Remploy factories. Their complicity, their participation, in the right-wing press’ demonisation agenda, against anyone who’s not from round here or has fallen on hard times.
The costs of benefit fraud are completely dwarfed by those of tax avoidance and evasion. It’s like being a shopkeeper, getting your till emptied by professional thieves, then rounding on the kid who nicked a couple cola bottles out the pick ‘n’ mix.
The City of London – and ridiculously, deliberately convoluted UK tax laws – are a huge part of this epidemic. Yes, it’s an international problem. But as The Economist put it in 2013:
“The City of London, which pioneered offshore currency trading in the 1950s, still specialises in helping non-residents get around the rules.”
Everyone knows this. Some call the Square Mile the “tax haven capital of the world”. They are the international problem – at the very least, a huge part of it. They, along with the politicians they bankroll. George Osborne’s tokenistic £5 billion target for new anti-tax avoidance measures – only 5% of the black hole avoidance and evasion is estimated to generate – would have more credibility had it not come from a man who, as an MP, recommended “legal” tax avoidance to a caller live on national television.
But no, it’s welfare that’s the problem. That, and funding for local councils. These are the only two areas besides their own Government departments the Conservatives can possibly think to cut – social security and core local services.
Iain Duncan Smith can’t tell us where exactly, though – at least, not until the Tories are safely back in power. The same despicable man whose disastrous tenure as leader of the Conservative Party was backed by the pro-Apartheid Springbok Club, while his campaign for leader was vice-chaired by the father of Nick Griffin, Edgar Griffin, a believer in voluntary repatriation for ethnic minorities. The same man who ignored the food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, for a year while they asked for an audience to talk about child poverty, but instead then met JP fucking Morgan to brainstorm the issue. The same man whose Damascene conversion to social justice in Easterhouse in 2002 was revealed as the cruellest and most shallow demagoguery when he actually got a chance to do something about it.
Not even this well-practised forked tongue deigns us worthy of a lie. It’s none of our business where they cut. Although DWP leaks suggest restrictions on Child Benefit, tightening eligibility criteria for the Carer’s Allowance, and most ludicrous of all, taxing Disability Benefit. Taxing a benefit. You read that right.
But these are just ideas, we’re assured. I mean, sometimes I get the idea I’d like to watch PMQ’s, but then I remember I’d rather eat my own eyes. However, does anyone think for a nanosecond that the Tories we’ve seen over the last five years – diluted by the Liberal Democrats, let’s remember – would balk at a single one of these proposals?
I am no fan of Labour. They invented the benefit sanction. They laid the groundwork for the bedroom tax. Their complete complicity in the Thatcherite media narrative dominating UK politics is beyond depressing. I am very glad to have the SNP to vote for instead. That said, I’d infinitely rather have a shitty Labour government than the unbearably cruel hypocrites and liars in the Conservative Party.
I was taught that looking after your most vulnerable was the mark of a civilised society. We are not a civilised society. The privileged and comfortable might scoff at that, but the families of people who’ve killed themselves in desperation, because of a benefits system designed to make their lives a misery of stigma and hardship – I don’t think they would.
When Cameron talks about “finishing the job”, be afraid. Think what that means in relation to the people in our society who need help the most. There is only one word for this Prime Minister, this Party, this Government.