Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Scoring Points From Suicide. How Low Can You Go?

This article in The Scotsman has been doing the rounds on twitter this evening. It's the tragic story of a talented writer who has been having a savage time, and killed himself because his benefits were to be cut.

As a left liberal, the progress of the parliament is troubling me. I am finding the cuts in housing benefit, and rise in VAT (for example) hard to swallow even if I try to justify it with pointing out the compromises we've managed to lever out of our coalition partners like the 10% rise in capital gains tax. I do think it's the job of the opposition and the press to hold the government to account on these issues and judge them by results. I think this very important as public opinion and strong enough pressure may strengthen the case of those in the coalition who would like to see policy remain as fair as possible in the face of some damn ugly ideology coming from the right.

However, this story does nothing to help that case as it's pure screaming hyperbole. Life on benefits is brutal, and the bureaucracy and hoop-jumping involved in justifying your uselessness enough to get helped to survive when you can't support yourself is depressing even for the strongest of souls. But that's nothing new. It has been ever thus. This guy's death can't be linked to any action of the current government as reforms don't come into force yet, and weren't even announced until the day of the funeral.

Paul Reekie's death was horrible, and it's certainly a sobering reminder of the responsibility the government has to protect and support the most vulnerable. In my view though, it's nothing short of cynically disingenuous to suggest (as the deceased's social circle, this journalist, and the left-activists who have been reposting the link have done) that the current administration is directly to blame. To really believe that this "wouldn't have happened under Labour", you'd have to be quite astoundingly unaware of life at the sharp end over the last few years when the supposed progressives were running the show. In case you need reminding, the gap between rich and poor in this country, in terms of education (education education), health, and income disparity, WIDENED in the thirteen years the last government held power.

It's pretty sick to use someone's death as a means of political pointscoring, and will turn people off listening and taking it seriously when *fair* and damning commentary is made.

9 comments:

John Minard said...

I agree but there is also a very real risk of, particularly, mentally ill people committing suicide under the stress of benefit re-assesssments carried out by officials with no real knowledge or background on their cases and a not-so-subtle remit of saving money rather than helping people to do some paid work where possible.

A Liberals duty is vigilance and opposition to such risks.

Don't underestimate the depths our opponents will plumb to try and damage the coalition. But support of the coalition doesn't require we take a blind eye to the vulnerable.

Scotty said...

Firstly,I agree that making the issue party political helps no one.But there is a very real issue here that needs to be addressed concerning people with mental health problems being cut off from benefits.A desperate person could easily see such an action as the final straw.This issue needs to be looked at otherwise we'll be reading about a lot more tragic cases such as this.

Frank H Little said...

We're not told in the article why the housing and invalidity benefits were stopped. There does not seem to be any direct connection with the budget. Reekie's reassessment would almost certainly have been made under the policies of the last government.

Steph Ashley said...

John, Scotty - aren't you re-wording the point I am making,rather than disagreeing with me?

glynbeddau said...

Surely the point here is that the current proposals of your coalition will increase the feeling of desperation amongst those people for what ever reason are on state benefits. They know that the chances of finding any employment under current circumstances are negligible and face huge cuts in their benefit. What you and the previous government are trying to do is give the impression that people on benefit are skivers and that all they have to do is seek work and it will be there. The proposals are a disgrace and the Lib-Dems are a disgrace for allowing it. If you are really a “left leaning” Lib-Dem then campaign against it.

Steph Ashley said...

glynbeddau, I really am voicing my dissent, but coalition government means compromise. On both sides. I'd love to have Lib Dem priorities win out every time, but for that to happen the Lib Dems would have to win an outright majority and as it is, we won about a tenth of the seats in the house so the best we can do is rein in the worst of tory excess. And I'm not about to leave my party, whose policies remain intact and distinct from the programme of government, just because the coalition partners are a bunch of wazzocks.

I really take exception to you telling me what I am trying to give the impression of, by the way. Especially when it's the opposite of what I've said.

How on Earth can you read "Life on benefits is brutal, and the bureaucracy and hoop-jumping involved in justifying your uselessness enough to get helped to survive when you can't support yourself is depressing even for the strongest of souls...it's certainly a sobering reminder of the responsibility the government has to protect and support the most vulnerable."

Then tell me "What you ... are trying to do is give the impression that people on benefit are skivers"?

If you're going to put words in my mouth at least have them make some bloody sense!

glynbeddau said...

When I used the term “you” I was referring to the Lib-Dems in general and not yourself. However you cannot distance yourself from your policies simply by announcing your dissent and by pointing out the need to compromise. I see no evidence so far of you (Again I mean the Party) “reining in the worst of Tory excess”. Good luck with your efforts” but don’t think people will believe that you (I do mean you now) will be found guilty by association.

Steph Ashley said...

No evidence so far? So you think the tories would have increased the personal allowance on income tax, reinstated the link between earnings and state pension, and raised capital gains tax by 10% all by themselves? Interesting.

I'm not distancing myself from Lib Dem policies. You and everyone else need to understand that Lib Dem policies and coalition government actions are NOT one and the same thing. A the junior partner in a powersharing arrangement we're having to swallow some horrible things that are against our own policy. It has never been Lib Dem policy to set housing benefit maximums at the 30th centile instead of the 50th. It has never been Lib Dem policy to raise VAT. But on the other hand, the Conservatives have had to go for a far more progressive tax system than any of them would have wanted, and a civil liberties agenda I haven't even touched on which has Lib Dem fingerprints all over it. I'd rather have the government we've got than untrammeled toryism with us as some kind of pure but spineless opposition, who had the chance to pull the right back to at least centre but didn't bother!

glynbeddau said...

From this I gather the Lib-Dems will be fighting the next General Election by saying “these are our future policies anything done by the coalition government in the last 5 years has nothing to do with what we propose now. Will you fight the Assembly elections by opposing government policy ? Pperhaps this will be the first Assembly elections where the Lib-Dem leaflets do not mention Westminster Policy?

And as for the

“civil liberties agenda I haven't even touched on which has Lib Dem fingerprints all over it”

The Tories were opposed to Identity Cards so you can’t take credit for that and most of the other moves have come because of court rulings.