This is the second of two posts on two David Cameron’s Closing speech to the Consevative Party Conference delegates. The first is concerned with Cameron’s take the Paralympics, and people’s view of disability. In his speech Cameron also talked about something called “Compassionate Conservatism” and said that they were providing for vulnerable people.
Sorry ‘Dave’ but you don’t have a clue mate!
What does ‘Compassionate’ Conservatism actually mean? Is it just to make them sound better? From where I’m sitting there’s not a lot of compassion. Yes, Dave, I understand that you think you understand, but having one disabled child does not mean you understand what it’s like to live day my day with a long-term illness or disability. I’ve had a disability for almost 30 years, and been ill for at least the last 10, and there’s so much I don’t yet know about disability. For example, I couldn’t pretend to know what it’s like to live with even a moderate learning disability. Also, when Ivan was alive, the Cameron’s won’t have been at the mercy of the complexities of the welfare state. Most problems are easier if you have money to chuck to chuck at it, including the provision of high quality specialist care.
As far as I can tell, the conservatives have this idea in their heads that they are providing for those in ‘genuine need’ and so being compassionate, while encouraging everyone else, to get a job, which they think is best, as work, rather than benefits pay, and so they are being compassionate. The reality is that it is not just the Ivan’s of this world who are unable to work. It is quite right that people who have his level of disability should be given the very best, but can the country afford it? There is a complex mixture of people who are unable to work, but the benefits system is too inflexible to recognise this. As a dear friend said recently, it is impossible to compare two people, even those with the ‘same’ condition/impairment, or a ‘similar’ level of disability, but for the purposes of doling out finite resources, there needs to be a way found of comparing people with money being distributed as fairly as possible. Yes, an absolute minefield!
Even where one does qualify for what is called the ‘support’ group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) as I do, the form is a peculiarity in itself, as it is designed to trip people up, and the system is designed to recognise specific words and phrases as being associate with corresponding levels of need, and so it is best for the claimant if they fill in the form with someone beside them who knows what these specific words and phrases are and who can arrange the wording accordingly. I have been filling in forms for government since I was 18, and even with two degrees, I required the help of a friend who hold a senior position at a local social enterprise to be able to fill the form in correctly. My friend asked me for absolutely minute detail. For example, where was the pain, how long does it last, how often does it occur, how severe is it. which tablets help, and how much of the pain do the tablets take away. What are the side effects I suffer from of the pain relieving medication, and how does one medicine interact with the other. We had to do this for every place I have pain. When writing about how the fatigue affects me day to day we had to write in similar detail, for example, how often does it confine me to bed; how often does it limit my level of activity, and in what way? What impact did this have on my mental wellbeing. It was the same with the problems with my ileostomy bag, other medical ailments, how my cerebral palsy affects my mobility, dexterity, how my independence has been gradually chipped away… and the rest! We ended up with at least three double-sided blank pages of closely written extra information. The whole exercise took the best part of three hours, and left me utterly exhausted. When my friend left, I took to my bed for the rest of the day!
The form also required me to list every professional I see, and at the time I think I had a list of about fourteen! Every time I lose one, there is usually another to replace them! Not only this, but all the names and address and phone numbers of each of the team of people. It was the same for each subsequent question; so much was required. Even then, I was at the mercy of someone reading all this information who was able to process it all and understand the impact of everything on my daily life, and which group this placed me in. Obviously as a Christian, I prayed before the form was posted that such a person who be the one to assess my level of need. You might think that all this effort may entitle me to support for at least a year or two…. wrong!!
Compassion?! What Compassion?
Every time the benefits system is altered I am at its mercy. There are new forms to fill in, new benchmarks for the different levels of need, and fresh understanding required to fill in each form. To be constantly required to use my precious limited energy on all of this is, for me, a hallmark of a lack of compassion, and also, a pointless exercise, as it means telling the Job centre or Department for Work and Pensions, who they already ought to know. I understand that they have to know who is in need tobe able to determine who is not, but it is not as simple as this, and therefore, one system does not fit all… therefore even the very words universal Credit strikes fear in my heart. As I have described in some detail, it is hardly possible for one system fit all, as each individual’s level of need varies, and yet to “make work pay” it has been deemed necessary to lump those who are not working together. From next April, the reassessment fun will begin again, twice over, for “Universal Credit” and for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which replaces Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
Every time the system changes, so does my income as I am entirely dependent on the state. Obviously as a Christian who attempts to live out her faith on a daily basis, I know, and have to trust my heavenly Father that he knows what I need and will provide. This week, I lead a bible study focusing on the first four chapters of the book of Esther. This book is about a women who battled with her circumstances, and won, with the help of her God. An appropriate study for me to lead, as it turned out, because the opening question asked which factors in each of our lives we out with our control, and how did it affect us. Of course, the natural answer for me, aside from my illness and disabilities (impairments) is my level of income. This was something of an eye opener for the group, who being caring people began to feel sorry for me as say things like “but surely this does not affect you?” the assumption being that I would quality for support with ease, and so not have anything to worry about. Once I explained, however, that the system changed regularly, and with it my level of income, they understood that this was indeed something out with my control, and therefore something I had to trust the Lord with. They had compassion.
The One with the MP
A number of months ago, as the forthcoming changes were being first discussed, I was, naturally unsure what the changes would mean for me personally. One Saturday, as I was in my local supermarket, I noticed my MP was holding a surgery, so I duly waited in line. My MP listen intently to my story and my questions, as an intern or assistant took notices, and tried to understand my situation. He assured me, as Liberal Democrat, that he was prepared to stand up for sick and disabled people in his constituency, and he would be seeking assurances from his colleagues in Government, that people like me with a genuine need would be provided for. As promised, he wrote to the then Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, seeking assurances to that effect. Ms Miller’s answer to my MP was a clearly photocopied stock answer which parroted out the propaganda now associate with this Conservative government, that the forthcoming changes with necessary in order to encourage disabled people, of which I was one, into work, with no acknowledgement that there would be those who could not work, however much they might like to. One had compassion, the other did not. I will leave it to you, to decide which!
What does the Bible say about ‘Compassion?
There are many reasons for the current Government’s lack of compassion, some of which I have outlined above, and partly springs from a lack of understanding and from not knowing the everyday reality of life for someone like me. However, their very understanding of ‘compassion’ may be questioned. In his speech. Cameron was talking about a type of compassion, compassionate conservatism. Surely if they were truly compassionate this would be apparent in every policy this government introduced. however, as I have explained, I am doubtful that the current Government even understands what ‘compassion’ is. I am privileged to know One who does know what compassion means, and that’s the Lord Jesus. There are many scriptures I could quote here, but the one that came to mind first was when Jesus fed the five thousand.
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way. (Mathew 15:32 NIV)
Here, Jesus saw a need he could meet, and dud so, out of the abundance of his love for the people. It may sound obvious, but hungry people need food, In this country, there are people going hungry who do not have food. One example of an organisation trying to meet these needs is the Trussell Trust, who say “Rising costs of food and fuel combined with static income, high unemployment and changes to benefits are causing more and more people to come to foodbanks for help.”If the Government is compassionate, why are people going hungry? To me, this is yet another illustration that they do not know the extent of the need in their own country.