All is well when welfare’s fair

For a day the stress of exams was largely forgotten, the university precinct aflutter with leaflets and chatter. The election was exciting; it was our first chance to tick a box that could guarantee more than a grade. People were zealously defending their pick, aligning themselves into groups, unknowingly forming like-minded circles, locking swords in discussion. I invariably had the edge pointed in my direction, having received a fair few derisive looks for proclaiming my support for the Greens. I was not allowed to vote in the general election (a feeling of being subhuman, a nagging detail that keeps the estrangement smouldering and painful) and ultimately, my flimsy local vote for the Green Party was like a hopeless drenched bee.

Enthusiasm petered out and disenchantment set in. The press are still playing a table-tennis blame game and tit for tat finger pointing, with some articles lampooning the left as ‘whingeing bad losers’. In this piece, Bryony Gordon commended Ed Miliband’s dignity in the face of defeat whilst calling on the left to stop ‘caterwauling’. What was Mr Miliband supposed to do, I ask? Stamp his feet and refuse to stand next to his class-enemy? This was not a puerile playground brawl; it was an election and Miliband respected that accordingly. We are not, however, privileged politicians and the wave of reaction is justifiable given the daunting prospect of cuts that will eventually slice the NHS out of our price range, and leave yet more people at the mercy of food bank supplies.

This is where the author of the article misses the point, because the truth is that one cannot maintain the ostensible political cool; there is so much at stake for a huge number of truly vulnerable people. Let us express our qualms for the future then, because we are scared. Protests are not taking place to “bully and silence” those with differing opinions. On the contrary, we need the government more than ever now, to cooperate with us and take into account our needs. £100 billion for the renewal of the Trident? Go for it, ignore the fact that deterrence doesn’t work and serves only to aggravate extremist groups. Tampering with the Human Rights Act is a middle finger unabashedly pointed from the high seats, and the impending disability cuts may as well come with free nooses. Austerity does not work.

There are protests taking place because a few people gaining fox hunting rights is higher on the government’s agenda than welfare or equality. People are angry because education should be a right, not a privilege, because arts degrees are important, enriching, and necessary. The vicious continuation of austerity proves that the past five years were testing ground; the new plans make the previous policies seem like child’s play. People are being shut out already. The London protesters received publicity only after committing an act of vandalism in an otherwise peaceful demonstration. It was disgusting and unwarranted, but it also showed how skewed the media is, giving a clear view from the eyes of those in power that people do not merit a voice and will be fire branded as thugs if they dare to step out of line.

To pinpoint a particular issue, the rise in homelessness is deplorable. Now, I feel as British as they come, but if one has lived in more than one country, one cannot help comparing the before and after. People do this even when they go on holiday because experience naturally gives wider perception. Having always been acutely aware and sensitive to others’ suffering, I charted the problem through memories. One of the things I marvelled at when I moved to the Midlands was the absence of begging. Yes, there was clear-cut class division, neighbourhoods signalling wealth and dearth, but there was virtually no begging. On the other hand, there were disabled people, mothers with children ensconced in their arms during harsh winters, or even children themselves pleading for change on the streets of the town where I grew up, but that was Eastern Europe. Although England didn’t meet my expectations of top hats, monocles and fine teapots, it certainly delivered on the front of a fresh system that promised security for the majority, and believe me it was an auspicious start. This had been turned on its head, and since the last election I’ve witnessed a startling surge in poverty and homelessness, attesting the rise in official data.

What’s to be done? ‘Whinge’ till your heart’s content, in a constructive manner, because we need to talk about this. “No ‘if’s’, no ‘but’s’, no public spending cuts!” was the key chant on the 13th of May at the anti-Austerity demo in Bristol. We were a mixed bunch, marching with parents and new-borns drooling on their shoulders, fellow students, everyone forming human shields around those in wheelchairs and mobility scooters, protecting each other.The march reasserted the belief that the government should not fuel dichotomy amongst its citizens, but listen to and act in the interest of the nation, a duty that has thus far been neglected.

As much as I want to conclude with “By god, I am flustered by this”, I feel it has been palpable enough a sentiment. Instead, I will say that it must be borne in mind that it is important for us to keep pleading; it does no good to be torpid, we must be proactive. Support organisations that aid those who will be in line of fire of cuts, sign petitions, make your voice heard. My tips may be hackneyed but they feel appropriate, so just a simple reminder: act, support and stand up for what you believe in.

(By the way, here is a brilliant article if you’re interested. Coverage from the EndAusterityNOW demo can be found here and here. Oh and I crocheted a headband of green flowers especially for the occasion, as captured in the photos below.)

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