STILETTO – a high pointed HEEL on a woman’s shoe or a small dagger.
WHEELS – a medieval instrument of torture or a vehicle for personal mobility.
I wrote a piece this week about being irritated by the ROH asking if I was on benefits. As I tweeted a link to this piece, I read about someone committing suicide in desperation because benefits had been denied to them. It felt like a bizarre, and uncomfortable for me, juxtaposition of circumstance resonant with the current debates about scope, level and means testing of benefits and allowances.
Let me be clear. I support the welfare state and think it a valuable mechanism in allowing us to address both persistent and passing inequality in our society that would otherwise lack redress. I am opposed in principle to blanket means testing for essential benefits and allowances because I think it divides, absolutely, those who pay for the welfare state from those who receive benefits from it. Critically, and as a consequence, the premise - of there being a 'safety net' - on which the majority of taxpayers willingly accept welfare costs would be undermined maybe even to the point where they resent paying anything at all. This can never be a good thing for the most vulnerable, the poorest and, yes, those who are used to paying tax but who may fall upon hard times or find themselves incurring essential, exceptional, costs in order to keep earning an income.
Our current coalition Government seems determined to utilise the psychology of ‘separation’, supposedly in an attempt to reduce costs – fostering a them/us mentality, with constant references to undeserving scroungers and people living in luxury off the back of honest taxpayers. I feel already over-familiar with their distasteful rhetoric – how long has it been? It feels like aeons and I wish they’d stop it! But, I don’t think they will.
Listening to Nick Clegg, amongst others, I am increasingly of the view that the Government’s motivation in this psychological separation is less financial and more political in nature – and it is a politics that purports welfare to be the benevolence bestowed by those who work on those who do not. If you work, you must pay your way: if you do not, prove yourself worthy of state-funded support. Yuck! What happened to our compassion, respect and empathy for those who are less well off than we … and I don’t just mean financially?!
Don’t get me wrong. I do support some of the coalition government’s agenda: yay, reduce the size of the state and its’ interference, be efficient, be smart, waste less. I also understand that there is a financial crisis and belts must be tightened: sure, take reasonable measures to prevent fraud, make sensible savings and increase taxes.
I am also entirely onboard with the ethos of motivating and assisting those who are able to work although I am concerned that the Government does not understand how much this must involve encouraging employers and society to adapt if they are to employ those with disabilities and poor employment history rather than simply insisting those who can work, must!
What I have no stomach for is name-calling, harassment and misrepresentation of those who, but for the grace of circumstance, location, poor health and bad luck would otherwise be – and many of whom were or still are - members of the tax-paying majority.
What I will never support is reducing the level of monies paid to the poorest and the exclusion of help for those who, having paid when they could, fall on hard times through no fault of their own.
As a person with severe physical disabilities, I feel impotent when I read of already disadvantaged people being put through hell and even killing themselves because support is refused or withdrawn from them and, yes, it does stick in my throat to be waltzing off to the opera whilst this happens. Believe me, I would give up my opera seats and even my DLA in a heartbeat if it would change things but my personal feelings and contributions will never be enough.
The bigger problem is that the Government persistently chips away at the principles that support the existence of the welfare state, hammering in a wedge of dissatisfaction and disgruntlement between those who pay and those who receive under its aegis.
We need the millions and millions of able-bodied taxpayers to care as much as I, and you, do about those who are less lucky than themselves. If they do not, there will be no welfare in this state and we will all be poorer for it.