Austerity has hardened the nation's heart

According to the latest survey results, 56 per cent think benefits are too high and stop people looking for work. At the height of Thatcherism, the figure was 35 per cent

Share

Under the arches in Waterloo, a man sits, his head bowed. A scarf is wound tightly around his neck, as if he wants to strangle himself. His hands are grimy and covered in cuts, one suppurating. As I give him some coins and antiseptic plasters, I ask him why he is out there. He doesn’t look at me, and seems unwilling to talk.

I am with a friend. We are going to the screening of a forthcoming BBC TV drama. My friend is impatient and then cross that I have stopped and wasted time (it is barely three minutes)  on “these people” – yet after a trip to India my friend told me how awful it was that well-off Indians simply ignored beggars all around them. I remind her of that and she told me: “It’s completely different. They have no welfare there. Here we do. People don’t have to be poor here. It’s a choice.”

I can’t be her friend any more. She is not a bad person but somewhere along this road we are travelling during the recession, she decided that the real enemies within were those who depend on the state or the goodwill of others, “charity pests” as she calls them.

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey (2011), 56 per cent of the British population think benefits are too high and stop people looking for work. In 1983, at the height of Thatcherism, the figure was 35 per cent. Today 63 per cent also believe that children are poor because their parents are feckless and lazy.

As life gets hard for the middle classes, they turn harder and the same is happening to those who define themselves as working class. Most of our people, it seems, approve of the benefits cuts, the bedroom tax, substantially reduced disability allowances and a drastic cull of local services. They are now persuaded that the needy are greedy and are a parasitic hoard responsible for our shrinking GDP and economic woes.

Look around you. Listen to the doctors, church leaders, local councillors and workers, homeless and children’s charities, those who run shelters and refuges, and others. They speak to our consciences, tell us what is happening and are not being heard.

A few days back, Stephanie Bottrill, only 53, killed herself because she could not afford to pay an extra £20 per week for her extra bedroom in a home she had lived in all her life. Did her death cause people to rethink their hostile attitudes to such people? I don’t think so. Their eyes are shut, ears deaf and hearts locked up to stop such emotional intrusions.

Here are some of the truths assiduously avoided. David Stuckler, senior researcher at Oxford University warns “austerity kills”. Suicides rise during times of high unemployment. Since 2011, they have risen dramatically, most of all in the areas where there are no jobs and among people badly affected by the Coalition policies. Stuckler is also concerned about the disabled, those who can’t afford homes, and the sick.

A new report by the British Medical Association (who are not a gang of lefties) warns that government policies are hitting the most vulnerable. A quarter of a million children are already failing to meet the basic standards of normal development. The GP Greg Wood, who worked for Atos, the company charged by the Government with assessing disability claimants, has just resigned because he thinks that the system is biased against the disabled. Food bank suppliers can’t cope with demand; Salford council, one of many, is closing shelters because it is unable to get state money to house the homeless.

The Centre for Global Education confirms, with some apprehension, that the debate on poverty has been redirected away from structural and political causes to opprobrium towards the unemployed and welfare dependents. The national sport of baiting and hating of the poor has been damned in The Lies We Tell Ourselves (Jan 2013) and The Blame Game Must Stop (March 2013), both commissioned by church groups.

In the foreword of the latter report the Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather writes: “Stigmatising people on benefits is politically popular, but it isn’t fair or right... it will make Britain less generous, sympathetic and willing to co-operate... It will make it more difficult for campaigners coming after us to argue for an option for those in poverty, because public opinion will simply not tolerate it.” How true that is, and too late already. Compassion is now a minority hobby in this great country where, remember, the welfare state was created during years of unimaginable  hardship and post-war devastation.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, describes austerity programmes as an “unethical experiment” on human beings. Public opinion can scare or encourage politicians. Today millions are backing this human experiment. They, more than the ruthless Government, are responsible for the blood and tears flowing among the unfortunate and disenfranchised. The savage tyranny of the majority, as history shows, destroys nations, social and human bonds. It is happening here. One day we will all miss the nation we once were, but there will be no way back.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices