Conor, Cled the Guide Dog and myself managed to get on the bus at the last minute, and a lady with a pram squeezed over to let us sit down and made room for Cled in the buggy space. We exchanged the usual pleasantries regarding the weather (terrible) and England’s exit from Euro 2012 (also terrible, James Milner grrrr).
Anyhow the conversation took an unexpected turn. I don’t whether is my blindness or some kind of vibe I give off, but not for the first time a complete stranger offloaded some stuff which the rest of us would do well to listen to.
Cameron, and to a certain extent Liam Byrne have completely wrecked any semblance of a rational debate on welfare. This from Labour Party stalwart Duncan Anderson.
“ A staggering number of people still believe in the spin about scroungers, forgetting that Slum Landlords who push up rents at faster than inflation are making the money. This includes a large number of LP supporters who still believe that being under-employed means you’re a scrounger, whilst those who do not pay a fair share of tax are not scroungers.”
Therefore we are in to the cul de sac of “deserving” and “undeserving”. And this doesn’t just extend to welfare. I have been in the embarrassing position of people, out of good intentions, telling me how brave and deserving I am of my treatment. They then cite the example of drugs and alcohol abusers getting help whilst, “people like you have to fight to get a bed”.
Once we lose our cast iron belief in universality then we have had it as a Party.
Back to my new friend on the bus. Her comfortable middle class life had been wrecked by a sequence of largely unpreventable events. Firstly her partner, whilst she was pregnant developed cancer. She was full of praise for Castle Hill but the facts were that they both had to stop work. Him because of chemo followed by surgery, her because she had to be his full time carer. £58 a week instead of a well paid job in an office. Less than the minimum wage.
When the baby came he turned out to be severely epileptic, at one stage suffering twelve seizures every day. Her relationship broke down. She obviously can’t work as she has to care for her son, but no carers allowance is applicable until the child is two.
All this led to the lady suffering a breakdown. She told me that talking helped but the problems never go away and she doesn’t know how she will cope not just financially, but emotionally from now on.
I am not going to even pose the question of what a Tory would think, because the truth is they don’t give a shit about people like her. They pretend to, but actions speak louder than even their mean minded words.
But I AM going to ask Liam Byrne what he has to say.
“Decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off, and say, “Why should I vote Labour when they let this happen?”‘
In January 2012 Byrne told the Guardian, ““Beveridge would scarcely believe that housing benefit alone is costing the country over £20bn a year. That is simply too high.” But he failed to address why he thought it was too high and crucially what Labour would do about it if returned to office. It smacked of headline grabbing, and attempt to chase the Daily Mail agenda of out doing the Tories by being tough on benefit claimants.
But then our Liam knows all about scrounging. Even the fees office baulked at his attempt to claim £400 a month for food whilst he was living in a hotel and charging the taxpayer for room service.
What are we going to do for the lady on the bus? What are we going to do for the single Mum, 24, whose was appalling parented and due to chronic lack of self esteem has led her into the vortex of a life no one would wish for anyone?
I want to hear it from the Front Bench and I want to hear it PDQ.