David Cameron, bless him, is a millionaire straight from Eton with influential friends and high powered connections. He has never known a day’s poverty in his life. He has not lived on a sink estate. He has not faced living in a gang culture. He has never known a dearth of opportunity. He is just the sort of person you would expect to have the right perspective of life to help tackle the troubles of people who live at the sharp end of it. No? Well he’s going to have a crack at it anyway.
Today (15 December 2011) starts the beginning of a brand new half a billion pound initiative to repair broken Britain. …or at least it is money to be spent around (not spent by, I hasten to add) 120,000 of the country’s most badly behaved families in an attempt to make them not so bad in the future. It all sounds so wonderfully brave and innovative. We save money in the long term by not having the police coming out to deal with their troubles so often, the ambulance turning up to deal with frequent mishaps, the kids go to school the adults go to work and everything in the garden will be absolutely ticketyboo.
There is, of course, a deep recession going on so money is difficult to come by. Local Government is shedding jobs like a winter coat in springtime to satisfy the demand for cuts in public sector workers while private business has created only less than 10% of the promised private sector jobs to compensate. So it comes as no surprise to find Mr Cameron announcing with pleasure that while Local Authorities would have to find 60% of the money for this initiative to even begin to take off, Central Government would ’match it’ with the other 40%. Sorry, did he say match? If one defines the word ‘match’ as ‘being equal to’ then alarm bells should be ringing at the treasury if the Prime Minister believes that 40% and 60% are equal. It also brings into question his perspective of other things, like responsibility and fairness and how on earth creating what would effectively be a social police force for socially displaced families is likely to achieve nothing more than limiting their involvement with other State departments.
David Cameron’s perspective of how to ‘fix’ these problem families centre around the typical conservative view of ‘rightness’, namely that the children should go to school, the adults should get a job and all the poverty, crime and dysfunction will disappear in a puff of magical right wing logic. What strikes me as the most bizarre observation in all this rolling up of sleeves to get on with the job of turning broken Britain around, and its full steam ahead towards a better and brighter future, is that David Cameron’s perspective is blind to the truth of the situation; he has to be because the cost of fixing it goes way beyond half a billion pounds and way beyond ‘educating’ a few families.
This scheme, which is nothing new as it happens because the Labour party looked at something similar before the Tories picked up the torch and put their own unique -watered down - spin on it, is clearly designed to get dysfunctional families to conform to the norms of society with an emphasis placed on the orderly fashion of education, employment, abiding by the law and being a considerate neighbour. It sounds fantastic – too good to be true. What it does not do is address where dysfunctional families are now and how they got there in the first place. In short, the scheme puts the cart before the horse because no sooner does the Government ‘fix’ one generation of misfits, there will be another generation just around the corner. Why is that? Because Britain has problems like everyone else in the world that cannot be solved as conveniently as politicians would wish. This scheme, fanfare announced in all its glory, is a great example of political pointlessness. If you are not going to tackle the real problems there is no point in tinkering around the edges.
Poverty is by far the number one issue in the capitalist system, and the UK is not alone in this. Some people have gotten so good at manipulating the capitalist system that they have accelerated its evolution towards its terminal conclusion. Where everything is made and sold on the basis of profit, and where there can only be a finite amount of money to play with, eventually just one person / company / corporation will own everything and the system must collapse. Not even the monopoly commissions can prevent big business and powerful individuals from hoarding money. They cannot be forced to spend what they don’t need to spend. And while this slow-release cancer causes pain and misery among the millions of ‘have-nots’ the rich and powerful stick their hands in their pockets and pretend it isn’t there.
At the other end of the scale are the millions of people who have nothing. Not only do they not have the advantage of rich parents / contacts etc, they are born into a societal structure that knows it cannot compete with the expertise of consumerist gurus, clever product advertising and mind manipulating media all hell bent on worshipping the altar of money and getting as much of it as possible. One of the most precious of commodities is truth and there is precious little out there. The truth for many dysfunctional families is the daily struggle to make ends meet and to keep a roof over their heads. The social context in which to describe the problems are very complicated, and maybe if a report made by the individuals (who will be charged with trying to make the money offered by Cameron worth spending) helped to quantify the source of these problems, it might lift the blinkers from politicians and business alike; but I am not holding my breath on that one.
The child we want to send to school to learn is fed on the cheapest rubbish available because it is all the family can afford. But why does a responsible Government allow poisonous substances to be fed to our children at all? Adults may choose to drink alcohol or smoke. Both are poisonous to the system and there are some things that history proves would simply go underground if a prohibition were placed on them. But we don’t allow our children to drink alcohol or smoke tobacco because we know it would be bad for them. Poisoning our children is surely something that should be banned no matter how it is packaged. Fast food restaurants are bad enough but supermarket shelves are also stuffed full of additives, e-numbers, high sugar, high salt, high fat that is the real reason behind childhood obesity, attention deficit, anti social behaviour and lack of concentration at school. All of these packages of poison were not available in the mid 20th century, where most right wing politicians like to point out at how good everyone was back then compared to today. They could only buy fresh food – the good food. But the good food today is too expensive for poor families. Even if we forced the food industry into a universal colour code system to identify healthy and unhealthy food, families in poverty will still struggle to afford to make the changes because they can’t negotiate on the rent, gas, electric, water rates and so on. Even poor families need some societal conformity but the cost of telephone, TV, Internet access adds to the pressure to economise on choice of food.
Mr Cameron’s scheme will not address families where mental health issues are present. In many cases the carers must be full time family members who therefore cannot escape the poverty trap. Ordinary families, without looking after people with mental health issues, disability issues and health problems that prevent them from working, have to deal with the stresses and anxieties that go along with living in a poverty state. For families where one of the above issues is an added problem, there is no solution, no support and no avenue open to them to escape it. Once again the issue of poverty is the touch paper to which all dysfunction that impinges on society beyond the confines of the family home begins.
Recreational drugs is a big issue that I have discussed at length, so to avoid repetition please see http://ec.europa.eu/justice/anti-drugs/files/contribution-ward-shane-uk_en.pdf which is an open letter to the European Commission in advance of their border control strategy for drugs and contraband.
Likewise the lack of work opportunities for people with criminal records is discussed in full on http://shaneward22.blogspot.com/2011/09/discrimination-against-ex-offenders-in_15.html
The above list is far from exhaustive but in these three issues alone exist fundamental issues that David Cameron’s scheme will not tackle – and why it will therefore fail to make the slightest impact. Perhaps there are some who prefer the way broken Britain limps along and are happy to let the masses scrabble around in perpetual ignorance, while the pointless politics of left and right wing thinking vie for supremacy over each other. In my humble opinion, Mr Cameron’s scheme is just another distraction from what really needs to be done.
What I believe should be made public, and it would seem to be one of the best kept secrets in the UK, is the formula that the Government uses to work out welfare benefit. The letter accompanying the award for Income Support, for example, says that the amount payable to an individual is the lowest amount the Government believes is required for a person to live. Who knows if the formula for benefit has ever changed from its inception in 1946 but what I can say for certain is that the poverty of many families – and their subsequent reaction in the form of criminality, anti social behaviour, lack of education and work opportunities – are inherently linked to causes that David Cameron wants to ignore. To steal one of Al Gore’s catch phrases, there are some inconvenient truths that must be addressed to solve the problems that David Cameron says he wishes to eradicate. And it won’t be achieved by throwing money at the squeakiest cogs. Perhaps instead of looking at how society demonstrates symptoms of dysfunction within the current models and try to make them conform to those models, we should perhaps be looking at the models themselves to see how they cause dysfunction. David Cameron, like all staunch right wing supporters, is happy to tell everyone about grasping the nettle of a problem to solve it. Well this problem is particularly thorny and no one has grasped it.