A Disrespectful Carelessness

Politicians love a crisis. It’s the orgasm of political life.  A good crisis allows them to do all the things they wanted to do but were afraid we wouldn’t love them if they did. We need a crisis to get them to do all the things we elected them to do. Trouble is they get so over excited by a crisis that they end up making a mess.

Last weekend it all went horribly wrong. Someone briefed someone that part of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reform proposals – which he is announcing later this week – would involve “mandatory work activity” to get the unemployed used to working again. Compassionate conservatism had revealed itself at last. Chain gangs were back!  Before poor IDS could launch his welfare reform master plan, which for all we know might contain some good proposals, it had been holed beneath the water line by an act of carelessness.

Is carelessness is becoming the hallmark of this coalition? It could be. I’m not convinced they really understand the effect their welfare policy proposals are having on ordinary people who are now being asked to carry the can for years of political incompetence. Of course the benefits system is a mess, but it is not the fault of the recipients. Reform needs to be gradual and to be done with care and sensitivity – which it is not.

It was careless that the housing benefit reforms were announced without any thought of the effect that they might have on some of the very vulnerable people on this benefit: careless not to have an alternative plan in place.

Last weekend’s briefing – official or unofficial – was careless. Most of the long-term unemployed are not workshy scroungers. Many have found it impossible to find work and have become depressed and ill as a result. Joining a chain gang of road sweepers is certainly going to do little for their self-esteem and is very likely to send them into a downward spiral of despair.  

Few would argue against the need for welfare reform, but the way it is being handled is both disrespectful and careless. The people of this country deserve better.

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