Saturday, 5 January 2013

Divide and rule: Is the govt guilty of hate crime?

Divide and rule: Is the government guilty of hate crime?

"In crime and law, hate crimes occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group" 1

Throughout history, in times of crisis, whether war, plague or financial hardship, scapegoats have been identified and persecuted. Religion or race has been the major identifier, and still is. In his 2012 Christmas address, a concerned King Albert II of Belgium warns against "trying to find scapegoats for the current financial crisis, whether foreigners or compatriots".  In the UK today, however, it is the most vulnerable groups in society who are being targeted: the elderly, the disabled and the jobless. 
As 2013 begins, instead of my usual blank-page-on-which-anything-can-be-written excitement, optimism is hard to muster as society becomes more and more divisive. And the perpetrators of this divisiveness are the self-proclaimed champions of fairness, the Big Society and Localism, namely the government. 

We're facing a year of massive cuts from the welfare budget and the government seems determined to put the blame on those who will experience these cuts, to make it appear as if they deserve it. The newly-identified social group of 'strivers', ie the good people, are portrayed as the victims. The country would be so much better off if all the cheats and scroungers who are draining the economy dry, have their ill-gotten benefits whipped away. And the flames of hatred and mistrust are being fanned by The Sun writing of "freebies" and "handouts".

So is the government guilty of hate crime under the Criminal Justice Act of 2003? Their blanket bullying, harrassment and victimisation of these vulnerable groups suggest there could well be a case against them. There is even an element of physical abuse in the brutal, unfair, inaccurate way the chronically sick and disabled who are obviously unfit for work are forced by ATOS to take up some form of employment that has led tragically to a series of seemingly-related suicides. 

George Osborne's now famous portrayal of the jobless as work shy “with their curtains closed, sleeping off a life on benefits” is juxtaposed with the behaviour of the approved 'strivers' who walk past these drawn curtains on their way to work. Grant Schapps, the new Co-chair of the Conservative party, recently started up a campaign entitled “Time to end Labour’s something for nothing culture”. And in answer to Labour MP, Ian Lavery's PMQs plea for change prompted by a suicide note from one of his sick constituents who had been told he must work or lose his benefits, David Cameron grabbed the opportunity to tell-tale in Violet Elizabeth style that "some people have been stuck on these benefits and not been reviewed for year after year after year."  This is just not true. The people I personally know who are suffering through the ATOS system were previously checked every two years with medical back up from their doctors and consultants. 

There can be no objection to people being properly assessed. That is how it should be. But it is the target-driven decisions to intimidate someone chronically sick, either mentally or physically and/or disabled into a job that they obviously cannot do, by assessors who are bullying, medically unqualified and ignore the reports of medical experts, that are objectionable.

The system isn't working, as around 40% of people who appeal against ATOS decisions, and of those who go to tribunal, around 38%, have the decision overturned in their favour. However, it is expensive to take action.

One chronically sick and disabled friend of mine who bravely deals with severe pain as well as paralysis and blurred vision and more every day, has been deemed fit for work and advised to take up her old profession of hospital carer. She is also advised to apply for a grant for a carer to accompany her to work to carry out the "physical side" of the job. Your way is not working IDS. It makes no sense and it is causing human misery.
Yet there is no recognition by the government that anything is wrong. In fact, in today's divide and rule Britain, those at the very top of government including the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Works and Pensions and the Deputy Prime Minister are justifying it. IDS claimed in November that "There is no evidence at this stage for a further period of radical reform".[2] In other words, the government doesn't feel that anything needs to be changed.

Job Centres are now places of security guards and CCTV cameras and stern interviewers whose aim is to catch you out and make it so difficult to fulfill the rules that as many claimants as possible can be relieved of their benefits or have them drastically cut for not trying hard enough to find a job that isn't there to find. And it is in the open, public, policed areas of these Job Centres that ATOS interviews the sick and disabled, overheard by anyone who happens to be there.

From this month the jobless must look for work on a "revolutionary" new government website, Universal Jobmatch. Failure to do so could lead to their benefits being slashed. They will be tracked online to ensure that they fulfil requirements. The system, run by a private company, Monster, is known to be insecure but jobseekers must provide details such as national insurance numbers and CVs containing personal details.  IDS calls the system "brilliant" and boasts that "It will be accessible in internet cafes, libraries and on personal computers".  Let's hope for their own sakes that every jobseeker is computer literate, that if they don't own a computer, they can still find a library that hasn't been shut down, or that they can afford the hourly rate each time they need to visit an internet cafe.  

Next Tuesday, there will be a Commons vote to sanction a loss to the unemployed of their weekly £71 jobseeker's allowance for up to three years if they are judged to have serially breached the tough new conditions for the universal credit, including the obligation to attend job interviews, accept job offers or take on unpaid work experience. At the risk of stating the obvious, the government is determined to rid itself of its dependents however needy and deserving they may be.  

The welfare system is an unwieldy, overcomplicated, expensive mess. It is also abused by some, though not by nearly as many as the propaganda suggests. An overhaul is long overdue, but not by this inept government of playground bullies and the nobly intentioned but seriously bonkers IDS. Just look at Child Benefit: unfair, complicated, and already a disaster in its implementation.

The government has entrenched itself until 2015, but Cameron and the Conservative party made a contract with the people in 2010. Vote us out in five years' time if we fail to deliver on promises. There was that bit about protecting the winter fuel allowance, bus passes and free TV licences for over 75s and this week a worried Cameron, mindful of the implications in 2015, vowed to keep his promise on pension benefits. The opportunity will arise to kick the Coalition out on its ear, but what we need to know is if Labour will do it any differently. For the time being we can only dream of a better future and live in fear as Tory Westminster Council threatens to penalise the overweight. Who is next? Never send to know for whom the bell tolls as hate crime reigns.

Demonization of pensioners coming next...............................

[1] Wikipedia definition

[2] IDS response in November on behalf of the government to Professor Malcolm Harrington's third independent review of ATOS's Work Capacity Assessment

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