NOT IN OUR NAME!

Two images are particularly arresting; the exhausted,  abandoned migrants jam-packed and fearful in their myriad craft, and angry, desperate wheelchair users ejected from  the "people's parliament of the House of Commons as they tried to protest upcoming and previous cuts to their disability allowances.

And then, this morning, news of last night's European non deal on rescuing the tidal wave of humans fleeing war, famine, and lack of opportunity.  Some 40,000 would be found unspecified refuge in unspecified European countries on a voluntary, unspecified basis.  When the going gets tough, the tough are increasingly reluctant to get going.  And nowhere more reluctant than in the UK government where even that voluntary commitment was rejected courtesy of playing the opt out card.

That seems to be the default position of this administration; opting out of sharing burdens, opting out of common humanity.  it brings shame to us all and misery to those we choose to penalise for having been dealt a hand which renders them in need of care and support.

Remember the heady days of  Better Together where we were advised that as members of a Union we would be protected in hard times, for wouldn't resources always be pooled and shared?  A logic which apparently does not apply to the European Union of which we are still, however reluctantly, a member with responsibilities and obligations.

As for pooled and shared resources within the UK? To them that hath shall be given, but to them that hath not shall be taken even that which they have. What was it Neil Kinnock said all these years ago? "I warn you not to be poor, I warn you not to be sick."  The weasel words being used to sell welfare reform mask the appalling damage being done to those whose lives are already limited by infirmity. 

The goal of disability living allowance used to be one of maximising independence. Giving people the wherewithal to stop them being trapped in their homes or, worse still, in institutions. Giving them opportunities to exercise skills not dependent on mobility.  Giving them a modicum of the dignity we all expect.

Now, in an effort to deliver a punitive pre-election pledge, it is the poor and the disabled who are again expected to pick up the tab.  Before May we thought the Tories were refusing to come clean on billions of pounds of welfare cuts because they knew every fair minded voter would  be outraged.  Now an even more insidious explanation seems possible.  Maybe they didn't tell us, because they didn't know themselves.

Even now, Tory spokespeople find themselves unable to explain exactly how these vast sums can be cut from a welfare budget from which any fat has long since been trimmed. Anyone familiar with the 2015 welfare model can tell you endless horror stories of people having their benefits cut for a range of trivial reasons from wrongly filled in forms to appointments unable to be met for reasons of domestic logistics, travel problems, or sheer lack of funds to meet the demands.

It is no longer the exception to find people deemed qualified for work or training when their mental or physical condition makes that notion risible.  There is an new  exhibition mounted of the art and photography of Mark Wood who starved to death four months after his benefits were cut off two years ago. His family wanted his memory to be more than that of a man with a variety of health conditions who died malnourished and anxious following his sickness and housing allowances being removed.  Atos, the then assessor, declared him fit for work. The coroner said he had been seriously underweight at the time of death. His doctor said the pressures applied to him had made his anxiety disorder "significantly worse."  It is people like Mark who have filled the queues for food banks, and cuts like his which have made the latter the most unsavoury contemporary growth industry.

His is an extreme example of a culture which presumes fraud instead of need, which applies sanctions but not common sense,  where pollsters routinely find guesstimates of the number of "cheats" to be wildly out. Many parts of the third sector are also now on life support, desperately trying, with shrinking resources, to sew up the widening gaps in the welfare safety net.  You will notice too that governments have long since stopped talking about social security.  There is nothing secure about funds which can be cut or removed at no notice.

Meanwhile the conventional wisdom is that the July budget will outline plans to cut  working tax credits, awarded to top up low levels of pay and give families a level of income which allows them to survive but hardly thrive. The Prime Minister's speech this week indicates his government's direction of travel. It is nonsense to tax people on low pay then give them back money, he said.  True enough perhaps.  As was his rider that what was needed were proper wages.  Nothing was said however about legislating for employers to pay a living wage, and presumably the working poor will have to live off air until such time as they get more crumbs from that table.

The Cameron government's grotesque drive to penalise those "hard working families" so often flagged up in election oratory for the appalling crime of being paid too little for their labour , is mirrored by a foreign policy where victims are also somehow to blame for their plight.  There is a pattern to migration.  If you examine the figures for those claiming asylum here they fluctuate with war and conflict zones.  Thus during and following our 13 year adventure in Afghanistan,  where we expended billions of pounds hundreds of our own and thousands of civilian lives, there was a particularly significant number of Afghans seeking refuge. (There would be a significant number of Syrians now too, except that we won't let them in.)

There are also of course thousands of would be migrants from zones like war torn sub Saharan Africa to whom we are content to turn a blind eye. Our vision is less impaired where oil and other economic interests are part of the equation.  The much vaulted policy of "humanitarian intervention", adopted by both Blair and Cameron governments, has left much of humanity in the middle east in desperate straits. Think Iraq. Think Libya. Yet where we arguably had a historic duty to intervene on behalf of the  the oppressed in Mugabe's Zimbabwe, we deployed only the occasional wrung hands. 

And the wringing of hands is a continuing theme as the Mediterranean becomes a watery grave for thousands of desperate men women and children.  Action is limited to sending funds to refugee camps adjoining conflict zones.  We must tackle this at source, intones the Home Secretary. We must stop the people smugglers.

Since the sources of  internecine warfare,  famine drought and assorted pestilence have resisted solution these many decades it's unclear where Teresa May will source her magic wand. As for stopping the smugglers - like all criminals they are subject only to the laws of supply, demand and greed.  Sink one boat and they will find another. Close ports and new routes will be devised.  In any event no initiative, however inspired, will prevent the current needless deaths, or remove the imperative for safe havens. 

Imagine if the people concerned were drowning in the Thames. Or the Clyde. Could we still turn a Nelsonian eye to their plight?  Doubtless Iain Duncan Smith would say the solution was for them to seek seaborne work.

This government is making the UK itself a pariah.  A country once welcoming to those in peril on sea or land is being turned into a compassion free zone.  We are the Europeans who only turn up in mainland Europe to whinge or demand exemptions.  Britons encouraged by our own government to cross the road to avoid the needy.   We shouldn't leave it to our wheelchair bound fellow citizens, or foreign charities to rail against these appalling policies.

We should all be on the rooftops shouting  NOT IN OUR NAME.