The Olympic flame is on its way to fantabulous London and the Queen’s Jubilee should get us all jiving in parks and eating lots of iced cake. CHANGE HERE Visitors and the loaded, devoted Royalists, sports fans and privileged politicos these are just so, so excited, can’t wait CHANGE ENDS . I come to spoil the party. The merriment feels impolitic and uncivil, callous too. Buried evidence of destitution and hopelessness crawls out from under official assurances ( and excuses) and PR spin. Calls to Mind, the mental health charity have risen by a hundred per cent and new research by the Church Urban Fund finds that in parts of Manchester and Liverpool the average life expectancy is 70 years and 65% of the children live in poverty while in parts of Surry and Berkshire folk the average is 85 and only 1% of children live in poor households. As shocking is the indifference of all of us who own homes, easily pay the bills, have savings, and who can, in hard times still have very good times.
Of course many of us are feeling a little squeezed and do moan about that incessantly, unlike the truly, provably deprived. The paralysis of poverty takes over the mind, body and soul. Few give a damn about these wasted citizens. Or their children.
Instead Alistair Darling yet again, comes out defending Fred Goodwin of RBS, that unfortunate millionaire who lost his knighthood for not doing his job well enough. And billionaire dictators dine with the Queen and news comes that the Sheikh of Qatar owns the most expensive house in Britain- 200 million pounds.
Last week I had lunch with a wealthy, intriguing, sensitive Tory in a packed, upmarket fish restaurant where the recession was further than the farthest, unseen orb. The very same day I went to a small flat where people lived in fouler conditions than I ever saw in Uganda, my birthplace. Earlier in the month I spent half a day with the phenomenal Camilla Batmanghelidj, founder of Kid’s Company, a highly professional, multidisciplinary charity trying to save thousands of children from going under. They see severe psychological and emotional problems and kids with simple physical needs, like breakfast.
Politicians of all shades have brought us to this. Reaganomics and Thatcherism instigated the shift away from social cohesion to individualism. New Labour proudly continued that ideology and the Coalition fanatically pushes it further still. In the Queen’s speech they promised they would make it easier for bosses to sack workers without all that bother of tribunals. Their benefits rearrangements are cutting down the most disadvantaged. A disabled woman, Merry Cross, whom I met last year, emails to describe the iniquities of the work capability assessments which are often so ruthless and senseless assessors must have been ordered to impose cuts without due care. Suicides among the disabled, she tells me, are rising fast.
We have become divided Victorians again but without the conscience. Pamphleteers and church leaders energetically defended the poor then. Dickens, Mrs Gaskell, Tory PM Benjamin Disraeli wrote novels explicitly to stir up national guilt and action. In Disraeli’s Sybil or the Two Nations, Walter Gerard, a working class radical, describes his country thus: ‘Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s thoughts and feelings as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, are not governed by the same laws’. Disraeli detested the exploitation of workers by the laissez faire capitalist system. His political descendents want that laissez faire back and with a vengeance.
Even more outrageous is the way the dispossessed are blamed and hated by those in their localities. Large numbers of those we demean and exclude then do turn feral and beastly. The other day, walking in a tough district, teens started spitting and racially abusing me and threw some pretty scary missiles. I hated them at that moment, wished them nothing but ill and bad punishments. But no child is born that way. We must remember that and compel our elected representatives to understand that we don’t want planned economic apartheid.
The geographer Danny Dorling writes in his book, Injustice : ‘Social inequality within rich countries persists because of a continued belief in the tenets of injustice, and it can be a shock for people to realise that there might be something wrong with much of the ideological fabric of the society we live in.’ Slave owners, he argues, believed there was no alternative to slavery; others argued female suffrage was ‘unnatural’ and so it is with the modern capitalist model. Too many believe or are made to believe it is part of the ‘landscape of normality’.
There is nothing normal or good about living in such a dreadfully cleaved nation. The Victorians understood that better than we modern Elizabethans. Goodwin is in the list of the sixty most influential Britons of this horrible age, thus confirming that the establishment is determined to carry on sucking up to the rich and crushing the poor. One has to ask if Team GB is fast losing its claim to be either civilized or an advanced nation.
Published in The Independent