Friday, 12 July 2013

Power: good at handing out the pain, maybe not so good at taking it

As the sun was rising on the morning of Saturday 4 May, a 53-year old woman stepped off the hard shoulder of the M6 motorway in the Midlands, into the path of an oncoming lorry. She was struck and died instantly.

Before she left home, she wrote notes to friends and family, one of them to a neighbour with whom she also dropped off her keys so that her cat could be rescued.

Why did Stephanie Bottrill take her life? To her son, she wrote ‘Don’t blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the Government. I love you so much.’ She chose to die because the government had brought in the ‘bedroom tax’ which reduces housing benefit paid to claimants who have a spare room (a room ‘too many’ in the judgement of some of the wealthiest politicians in the country).

In a parliamentary debate in January, among a litany of such tales, Labour MP Steve Rotheram told the story of a constituent, Janine: ‘Her dad was thrown off sickness benefit in November after an Atos work capability assessment and was declared fit for work despite suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Six weeks later, on Christmas Day, Janine's father died.’

The government is no longer able to count the number of people who die each year after being judged fit for work: it costs too much money to find out. It might also cost too many votes. However, the generally accepted figure is that around 30 people a week are dying after having been refused incapacity benefits.

As part of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the King James’ Bible in 2011, David Cameron said ‘we are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so.’ Saying so is cheap, but acting as though it were so, seems to be beyond his powers. Here’s Matthew's Gospel (25:36): ‘Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’

Funnily enough, that last bit, about prison, is particularly apt. In March this year, Bethan Tichborne, teaching assistant for disabled children, appeared in Oxford Magistrates’ Court, charged with disorderly conduct. Her offence? When David Cameron had been switching on Christmas lights in Witney, his constituency, she’d tried to climb a security barrier to approach him and protest against benefit cuts.

Bethan Tichborne,
troublemaker for reminding Christians of the plight of the poor

She claims she was beaten by his security entourage for her pains. However, it has to be said that she did shout at Cameron, telling him he had ‘blood on his hands’. This profoundly shocked the judge who heard her case: he found that her comments could ‘hardly be more insulting to anyone, whether a politician or not.’

It seems that Cameron is a sensitive soul. Not sensitive enough to want to stop harming the Janines of this world or the Stephanie Bottrills, but more than sensitive enough to need a judge to spring to his defence if someone says something nasty about him.

In other words, he’s OK about handing it out, not so good about taking it himself.

Tichborne was duly convicted of the charge and ordered to pay fines and costs amounting to £745. History does not record whether Cameron came to her, in observance of the injunction to comfort those who lie in jail, any more than he tried to clothe Stephanie or to visit Janine’s Dad.

Instead, yesterday George Osborne, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that he didn’t intend to raise taxes as part of his drive to reduce government debt. Clearly, he needs to do something because far from reducing the outstanding amount, he’s only managed to increase it over the last three years. So clearly he means to move away from his already eye-watering formula of 80% cuts and 20% tax rises, to focus even more on cuts.

So expect more Stephanies and Janines. 

The upside is that Osborne will continue to protect important people from the pain of tax increases. That’s important people like his boss Cameron, and Cameron’s friends, such as his neighbour Rebekah Brooks, now facing criminal charges over the hacking carried out in News International on her watch.

One wonders whether her judge will be as stern in applying the law as the one Tichborne faced.

Incidentally, where did I get the Stephanie Bottrill story from? My source was ‘Calum’s list’ which tries to publicise some of the cases of deaths attributable at least in part to the government’s benefits cuts.

And what was Tichborne trying to do when she was prevented approaching the Prime Minister? Why, disturbing the peace by reading Calum’s List to him. Not that it would have disturbed his peace. That good Christian wouldn’t have listened. And if he had, he wouldn’t have taken any of it in.


Anonymous said...

Excellent piece. The shocking thing to me is that a young person gets a criminal record primarily for shouting at Dave & in the Judges eyes insulting him. What happened to Freedom of Speech? The security barrier was apparently one of those waist high metal jobbies. Hardly a high security measure. Beth was armed with a homemade placard on a stick.

So Daves feelings were hurt. How much hurt has been caused to the hearts, minds & very souls of those affected by his cruel, misguided policies

Faith A. Colburn, Author said...

Perhaps you have heard that the U.S. Congress stripped food aid out of the Farm Bill. The excuse? The program has grown a whole lot in the past few years--so there must be a lot of waste and fraud. Right?

The fact that millions of people lost their jobs and many of those who got jobs aren't making a living wage seems to escape them.

Faith A. Colburn, Author said...

This, too, is a Christian nation. The people who make that claim the most loudly are the same ones who are the most mean-spirited.