John Clark writes…
First published: May 2013 – Gazette & Herald
I enjoy canvassing. Despite the occasional abuse most people appreciate their candidate talking and listening to them. The numerous offers of coffee are much appreciated. In order to represent people effectively a councillor needs to know their electorate, their problems and concerns.
The biggest issue in this campaign brings a massive split in the Pickering community. In thirty years of canvassing I have never seen such a split. Many people support the ConDem view that benefit claimants are ‘skivers’ and on the fiddle. “All benefits should be cut or removed”. Others are in disbelief or receiving the benefit cuts. A working couple with young children had moved from a small flat to a three bedroom house. Hard work has tidied the garden and decorated the house. Their housing benefit has been cut – the bedroom tax. Do they move? What happens in a few years time when they will need three bedrooms? Do they move back? What a brutal and derisive policy. I expect this from the Tories but the LibDems should be ashamed of themselves. Others with serious medical conditions are being questioned by Atos, the government agency. A doctor is sent round. A brief examination is followed by the doctor declaring: “this has been a complete waste of my time, qualifications and travel”. That hasn’t saved any money and how much did it all cost?
My understanding is that there is less than 1% fraud of welfare benefits. Of course fraud is wrong but the cost of trying to reduce it further is likely to be more than it saves. None of this justifies the stigmatization of all benefits claimants and the likely cost to them.
Every ‘striver’ is one event away from becoming a ‘skiver’; a car accident, major illness or even a redundancy notice. Mrs Thatcher created this kind this kind of division; in her case it was whole communities. People who are on the end of the ‘benefits stick’ are isolated and have no means of working together against this oppression.
This divided society provides a wonderful ground for right wing politicians to thrive.
Other reactions on the doorstep are nearly as concerning. In the Gazette and Herald last year I described canvassing in Harrogate: “You are all the same”, “All in it for your own gain”, “You are all liars”, “It doesn’t make any difference who gets in”, “I’ll vote BNP to get rid of all of you”.
In Ryedale in these elections the comments have been very similar. This time instead of threatening to vote BNP many took the opportunity to vote UKIP.
The influence of UKIP and the ‘popularity’ of the ‘benefits stick’ will encourage all the major parties to move to the right. This move to the right will cause even further pain for the hard working but low paid, the vulnerable, the poor, the elderly and the young. These people need a voice. If this voice does not come from the left of politics then the politicians in power will continue with the carnage they have started.