As the Conservative Party Conference begins in Birmingham, Cameron has set out his agenda of further benefit cuts and a focus on the ‘strivers’ in society.
Who are these ‘strivers’? They are people who ‘work hard and want to get on in life’.
The issue is that I believe Cameron’s definition both of ‘working hard’ and ‘getting on in life’ is probably vastly different to my reality and the realities I’ve seen at work.
The ‘benefit claimants’ v ‘hard worker’ dynamic is a very toxic one. The government has become very used to divide and rule and this is a further demonstration – and is particularly nefarious in a time of high unemployment and particularly high youth unemployment.
Cameron seems to work on the assumption that all people who have jobs ‘worked hard’ to get them and ‘work hard’ at them. I would challenge that. I wonder how ‘hard’ the Duchess of Cambridge works at her job.
And looking for work can be an exhausting, demoralising and exceptionally difficult piece of ‘work’. As can caring full time for a family member (with a paltry ‘carers allowance’). Are these people counted as ‘strivers’ in Cameron’s books? What about people who contribute to a community? What about people who overcome challenges and difficulties, including health-related ones for whom actually just getting through the day is an enormous challenge – are they ‘strivers’? Do they really not work as hard as some people who drive buses, work in social services offices, work in banks etc? There are hard jobs, of course, but there are also hard lives that exist outside jobs.
The best thing we can do is bat back this ‘striver’ agenda. I don’t want to live in a society that grinds down on those at the bottom without making further expectations of those who have been able to make a success of their lives – and I include myself in that.
Punishing people who don’t, can’t or aren’t able to work seems to be a populist agenda but one of the key things as a social worker I feel a need to challenge are the assumptions made from the safety of the Westminster village about the day to day effects that their policies and their discriminatory rhetoric has on the lives of those who DO strive. Strive desperately – but strive without economic recompense and strive for different goals.
Compassionate Conservatism? It was never anything but empty words.