The other day while in the High Street, there was a disabled man begging. I gave him the few coins had in my pocket, then not even a hundred metres further on there was another cold and forlorn person, young man looking far older than his years, sitting on the wet street outside a shop, with only a tattered scrap of cardboard to protect him from the elements. It’s a scene that has become commonplace these days – I was about to write has sadly become commonplace – but that’s the wrong word. ‘Sadly’ implies that there is a tragic inevitability to destitute people, begging for a few coins from passers by to help them get through the day, but there is nothing inevitable about it. These scenes are a product of descisions taken by politicians, decisions which have put decent and affordable housing beyond the reach of many, decisions which have shredded what was once the safety net of the social security system and left it so tattered and threadbare that falling through the net is now the norm rather than the exception.
So the correct phrase is not ‘sadly comonplace’, the correct phrase is ‘criminally commonplace’. Homelessness on such an appalling scale exists because the Conservatives in Westminster have systematically destroyed the stock of social housing by allowing it to be sold off. Many former local authority properties are now in the hands of private landlords who charge rents far higher than the local authorities or housing associations once did, meanwhile the Conservatives have encouraged home owners to view their homes more as an investment than as a place to live, and house prices have soared, meaning that getting onto the property ladder is now impossible for many young people unless they are fortunate enough to have parents who are wealthy enough to give them considerable financial assistance, and the social inequalities which blight Britain, already amongst the greatest in Europe, are perpetuated for another generation.
It’s not just an epidemic of homelessness, food banks have sprung up all over the UK. I am old enough to remember when they were unheard of. The first time I became aware of the existence of such a thing was on my first trip to the USA in 1981, before Thatcher’s malignities had truly started to bite back home. I heard of a food back in the part of America where I was staying and was appalled that in such a wealthy country people should have to resort to charity in order to put food on the table. In my youthful naivety I was thankful that I came from a country where such a thing was unnecessary, where the needs of fellow citizens were valued enough that they could be certain that they’d have a roof over their heads and food on the table.
That was then, this is now, food banks crept in to the UK too, first as an extra top up, then as a vital part of a system that the Conservatives have rebranded from social security – a right – to welfare – a privilege, and moreover a privilege that can easily be taken away. Just like young people and disabled people begging on the streets, what was once unthinkable in its awfulness has now been normalised. Now we are talking about warmth banks, places where people who cannot afford to heat their homes can go in order to keep warm, and this in a country like Scotland, with an embarrassing abundance of energy resources that by rights belong to all of us. This descent into public cruelty and callousness combined with a worship of private greed has been achieved by successive Conservative governments, none of which Scotland voted for, indeed which were not voted for by a majority of people in the UK either. The current unelected Prime Minister enjoys his power on the back of nn eighty seat majority in the Commons won by his party on less than a third of the available vote. This majority doesn’t mean the Conservatives have won the argument, it just means they’ve just rigged the system.
It’s a system which the Labour party will not change, even if the polls are correct and it wins its own unfairly large majority the next time around, Labour is as much in thrall to the drug of absolute power as the Conservatives are. Yet in order to attain that majority they must ape the Tories, promising the same vile policies, just with a sad face emoji. And then the electorate in England will eventually tire of the Labour party and turn once again to the anglo-exceptionalist posturing of a Tory party that now occupies the same political space as Ukip did, and which by the election after the next could very well have moved even further to the right and the whole miserable cycle descends another turn into hellscape.
The Conservatives may currently be facing electoral defeat, but they will do all they can to claw back support. They are likely to do so by doubling down on their talk of a “refugee crisis” and by further demonising those desperate souls who brave the dangerous waters of the English Channel.
The UK does not have a refugee crisis. There is no such thing as an ‘illegal’ or ‘bogus’ asylum seeker. Under international law, anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 Convention and to remain there until the authorities have assessed their claim. The UK wants to breach the Convention by sending them on a one way ticket to Rwanda. Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Poland, and several other European countries all host more refugees per capita than the UK.
What the UK has is not a refugee crisis, it’s a crisis of scaremongering right wing politicians who are enabled by a right wing press, the same right wing press and politicians who brought us Brexit. Things in Britain don’t look like they are going to become any kinder or gentler any time soon. The UK is very firmly on a trajectory to more cruelty, more demonisation of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. Scotland needs to get out.
My other half is home now, unfortunately he came home with covid. Thankfully he had only mild symptoms and after a couple of days was testing negative and feeling much better. We self-isolated. I had no symptoms at all and tested negative, but it was my turn to look after him for a change.
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