Without compassion and empathy, we are all poorer

No blogs in months and then two all at once. Stop it, I hear you saying, you’re spoiling us. Aye but just wait til you read it …

Yesterday the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond called for the welfare budget to be cut so that the MoD budget doesn’t have to be. The same MoD that has spent billions on equipment it doesn’t need and can no longer use in the last two years. That MoD, long a model of financial probity and restraint.

Meanwhile, the bedroom tax is wreaking havoc on the lives of people on benefits in social housing who have been told either to move (to a smaller property that doesn’t actually exist) or find an extra few hundred pounds a year to pay for all that lavish extra space they’re swanning around in.

Then there’s the switch from disability living allowance to “personal independence payments”, changes that the Coalition says will target those who need it most but which virtually all disability charities and campaigners like Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson believe will take away vital support from some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Looming large on the horizon is Universal Credit, Iain Duncan-Smith’s big idea to reform and simplify the welfare system but already considered so complex and unwieldy that it’s only being rolled out bit by bit because its creators know it’s an omnishambles waiting to happen.

I haven’t even mentioned the reform of the NHS which is nothing more than the dismantling of universal health care, putting responsibility for our health care in the hands of corporations not doctors.

Let’s not kid ourselves – the Tories (aided and abetted shamefully by their Coalition useful idiots the LibDems) are waging an ideological war on the people most in need in the UK.

The poor, the disabled, the sick – we’re all grist to the Tories’ relentless mill where the discourse is always private is good, public is bad. Or to put it another way, let’s give public money to our chums in the City because they’ll be so much more efficient in trousering it than those pesky civil servants.

And we’re letting them get away with it. The divide and conquer tactics of the Tories have been absolutely spot on. The rhetoric of strivers and scroungers is so laughable that it actually defies belief that people are swallowing it. But swallow it they have.

So the poor and the disabled and the sick have been identified as the major burden on the “hard-working families” of the UK, crucified by welfare cuts and demonised daily by politicians and commentators, aided and abetted by a willing media.

Times are tough but when did we lose our ability to empathise with those less fortunate than ourselves? When did it become ok to blame the victims of poverty for the situation they find themselves in? When even those on benefits are judgmental about fellow recipients and convinced everyone except them is on the take and on the make?

When did compassion become a dirty word?

I’m not denying that Britain’s welfare system is in need of reform. The system is so complicated and complex that even the staff who work at the DWP frequently haven’t a clue about how its different elements come together, as I know from recent experience. I’m not shying away from any uncomfortable truth that, for some people, life on benefits is all they know and want. But that is not the case for the vast majority, the silent majority who are sneered at for their misfortunate in having to seek state help.

A civilised society should be judged on how it cares for its old, its sick, its vulnerable. Every citizen of the UK should count, not just those considered to be worthwhile and worth listening to because they have a job or own their home or can afford medical insurance.

A favourite expression of my mother’s was “there but for the grace of God”. It is an acknowledgement that, through no fault of your own, your circumstances could change in an instant for the worst. It is also heartfelt thanks that you are not in that unfortunate position. It’s not an expression that passes judgment on the worthiness of the poor individual with whom you’re sympathising.

It’s an expression we could all use more often. That, along with a little more compassion and empathy from those of us who are “alright, Jack”, is sorely needed right now.

Without it, this country of ours is a much poorer place.


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