The Current Political Climate Is Creating Serious Inequality And Putting The Lives Of Vulnerable People At Risk
It has been interesting to observe the debate on welfare spending over the last few months and how politicians have used the current economic climate to try and bring the British public onto their side of the fence. A wide range of adjectives have been used interchangeably to describe welfare recipients, from those who keep their curtains drawn on working days, to skivers v strivers and right down to scrounger. The media are part of this narrative that has been unfolding over the past few months.
As words are thrown around to describe unemployed people, it is evident that Britain is rapidly turning into a divided society in modern times more than ever before. While the current welfare changes are applauded by those in favour of less government spending, the speed with which the reforms have been implemented is being opposed by others on the left, who feel the cuts are having a catastrophic impact on many communities and have led to accelerated inequality.
The current government have presented a strong case for the reduction of the welfare budget to tackle the deficit. The bone of contention for most critics of the current policies is that the manner in which changes are being made has created an atmosphere aimed at vilifying the poor and vulnerable. Many people claim that It feels like a war is being waged on the vulnerable and the poor.
Recently three disable people applied for judicial review to challenge the decision of the Secretary for Work and Pensions to subject applicants for disability allowance claims to tests which would determine whether they were eligible to make a claim. This challenge is a clear indication that issues regarding fairness were not considered when the decision was made to subject claimants to a series of tests. There is a strong feeling that disabled people were not put at the “heart of the consultation process”.
Most people with disabilities who are heavily dependant on these payments because of their illnesses which will never get better, feel humiliated and dehumanised. The negative way in which the press and politicians have handled the debate on welfare, has resulted in an increase in the number of disabled people being physically attacked or abused verbally on the streets. Charities such as Scope which carries out polls of people with disabilities revealed recently that there has been an increase in hostility and verbal abuse towards at least two-thirds of people with disabilities in the first quarter of last year.
There is a need to handle the current debate in a more responsible way that is not divisive and will not have this nation look back years from now, in shame at the appalling way in which vulnerable members of our society have been treated.
- Charity says too many claiming disability support (abc.net.au)
- Government admits it did not consider impact of welfare changes to disabled people (liberalconspiracy.org)
- Quarter of disabled people living below poverty line (abc.net.au)
- We are building a fair welfare state | Esther McVey (guardian.co.uk)
- Welfare cuts will cost disabled people £28bn over five years (guardian.co.uk)
- Disability cuts come with a dehumanising rhetoric | Frances Ryan (guardian.co.uk)
- New welfare row as 600,000 are set to come off disability benefit (telegraph.co.uk)
It was quite distressing to read a story recently published in a Zambian newspaper, about a woman aged 30, who was brutally attacked. She was allegedly beaten by men supposedly carrying out the orders of the Chief in her village, who it is believed, presided over her case which she brought before the traditional court. She sustained a broken spine, serious swelling to parts of her body and is now bedridden. She can no longer go about her daily routine of working on her farm which provides an income for her and her elderly parents as well as other family members. Apparently this woman’s offence which resulted in the brutal beating that nearly killed her, was the fact that she contested the verdict by the traditional court.
This case highlights the problems that women in developing countries who are subject to plural legal systems (customary and English law) face. It is evident that plural legal systems mostly found in patriarchal societies hurt the rights of women who remain under represented in the judicial systems of many countries. Here is a woman trying to exercise the right to have her case heard only to end up with life threatening injuries.
Most women living in developing countries that were once British colonies, tend to be subject to plural legal systems which operate in an incoherent way. The patriarchal institutions in place particularly the traditional courts which heavily rely on customary law, continue to maintain the status quo with no indication that things are moving towards adapting to the needs of a 21st century world.
These courts where the Chiefs are at liberty to generate their own rules and procedures, are structured in a way that has led to abuse of
power by those in authority who often insist on induced compliance of the decisions they make. Subjugation of women is institutionalised in these courts that are now a legacy of a bygone era.
The thrust of the argument is not that customary justice should be relegated to the past. The need to preserve long standing traditions relevant to dispute resolution remains. There is however, a need for coherence and uniformity in the law to ensure that the legal remedies available in traditional courts are in compliance with state constitutional enactments.
A good number of traditional courts that exist where no women are present to provide a balance to the arguments presented, deny women equal opportunities before the law. There are no mechanisms in place to prevent the arbitrary use of power by the chief who presides over the case and also ensures that his pronouncements are enforced. The lack of gender balance does not inspire trust, credibility and confidence.
Dual legal systems found in many parts of the African continent are known to promote random application of legal remedies which can have long term effects in the stability of the judicial landscape. Traditional court systems which tend to operate in a semi-autonomous manner in a bid to preserve traditional ways of living in communities, need to be brought in line with constitutional requirements of their nations in order to serve the rights of women as well as other marginalised groups.
It has been quite interesting to hear the views of people from diverse backgrounds regarding the recent American elections. There is no doubt that inequality featured a great deal in many discussions that political commentators on the left had. For those on the extreme right, the discussion was all about curtailing the powers of the state, working towards “taking America back”, whatever that means. Using phrases of this nature which are divisive has clearly alienated the Republican party which appeared far removed from the reality of what 21st century America is all about.
The speech delivered by Obama after he was declared the winner of the 2012 presidential elections will be remembered as a historical speech comparable to the Gettysburg address by Lincoln.
Here is an extract from that historical speech :
America, I believe we can build on the progress we have made and continue to fight for new jobs, new opportunity, new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders. The idea that if you are willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you are black or white or Hispanic or Asian or native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you are willing to try.
This speech resonated with many people and reinforces the fact that Obama is arguably one of the most unifying icons of our time.
Who would have thought a children’s book would contain nuggets of information that are so powerful. This book documents the work of the civil rights movement in Britain, in ways that very few historical books do. Most narratives regarding the civil rights movement in the United Kingdom tend to focus on the 1950s, a period of time when there was mass migration of workers from the Caribbean and Africa, who filled vacancies as transport workers and laborers. Very little is written about the Civil Rights movement following the abolition of slavery in Britain.
It is refreshing to see a children’s book that documents the life of prominent black people such as John Archer (1863-1932) who was the first British black mayor born in Britain. We are often given the impression that people of colour in the early to mid 19th century had no aspirations.
Not much has been written about Dr Harold Moody (1882-1947) who qualified as a medical doctor in 1904 at Kings College London with excellent results but was denied a hospital position because some members of staff at the hospital he applied for work felt uncomfortable having a “colored doctor” working with them. Dr Moody set up a medical practice of his own which became very successful . Its a shame that the personalities mentioned above are rarely remembered as pioneers particularly by main stream historians.
The professional ban of black people in professions like medicine, law and many other sectors explains in part why ethnic minority people gravitate towards certain professions in this country. The impact of the inequalities of the past is still felt today. Furthermore, there seems to be a persistent kind of historical amnesia which casts black people as lazy and always willing to assume the position of victims.
As we celebrate black history month, its important that people from diverse background explore the history of black people in Britain in order to understand why their communities struggle particularly when it comes to social mobility issues. We can not run away from the fact that our past will always influence our present.
The controversial proposals by the British government to re-write the European Convention to incorporate subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation will no doubt be met with opposition from some of the 46 countries signed up to the convention in the upcoming summit in Brighton.
The argument being propounded by ministers who wish to capitalise on Britains six month presidency of the Council Of Europe to introduce these sweeping changes, is that there is a massive backlog of cases and a watering down of the powers of British Courts. The argument that giving people less time to apply to the European Court will clear the cases seems cogent. However, there is a growing feeling these proposals are driven by populism with little regard for the implications.
The idea that the Court in Strasbourg dictates what happens in the British legal system, “one of the best legal systems in the world” has angered certain sections of society. The European Convention On Human Rights is being viewed with contempt by those who see it as an instrument used by a few to undermine the human rights of others. It’s quiet interesting that this debate is seen as timely given that the likes of Abu Qatada can not be deported “thanks to the European Convention on Human Rights”.
Most human rights campaigners view the proposals as a move towards a slippery slope to a despots dream and will not encourage the promotion of human rights in young democracies. Countries that are signatories to the ECHR need to ensure that the Court in Strasbourg stands above the political fray in order to defend individual rights when it is unpopular for governments to do so.