I have the honour of being Saint Patrick on Sunday for the parade through the fair streets of Copenhagen. I have to address the gathered crowds. I might begin with something that he might have said: “Once again the poor are being made to pay for the wickedness of the rich.” Although to be fair, it will be more of a reflection on life in my home country than the one I now make my home in.
Back in Britain, the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has justifiably criticised the coalition government in the UK. The draconian cuts in welfare payments and the general hardening of attitudes towards the unemployed are giving support to the Conservatives to be seen as ‘tough’ on the weakest members of our society.
My own younger sister has a back problem. It’s something she was born with: four of her vertebrae have fused together. An operation remains as risky now as it ever was: 50/50. If it were to go wrong, she’d have to live the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She worked for over 30 years but has been unemployed now for three years, and she has been one of the prime targets of the government.
Recently she was assessed by one of their new ‘spot-the-fraud’ officers. He kept her waiting in the waiting room for an hour longer than her scheduled appointment. The cameras allowed him to observe her on his monitor walking from the waiting room up the stairs and along the long corridor to his office.
When she arrived he announced that she seemed to be “walking alright”. His in-depth interrogation, without once referring to her medical records, focused on what she did with herself during the day.
“Oh, you feed the birds in your garden and you walk to the library?” he asked. “It’s only 400 yards away from my front door,” she replied.
It may not come as a surprise to you, dear reader, to learn that this individual stamped my sister as ‘fit-for-work’, and as a result, her disability allowance has been cut. It has now become a ‘case’ and I urged my sister to contact her local MP, who despite being a Conservative can see that my sister is being unfairly treated. Even so, her ‘case’ might take six months to reach a conclusion …
The unfairness angle is worth looking at. The ones fortunate to be relatively rich or very rich seem to be getting all the benefits. Don’t get me started about bonus payments to bankers who take irresponsible risks with our money with impunity …
The archbishop said a “civilised society” had a duty to support the vulnerable.
“When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish.” He’s a good man to get involved in this, and I hope that it will encourage us to think about the greater good.