The English language is odd isn’t it? People learning it for the first time often refer to its pit-falls, the fact that the spelling of words is not intuitive and even that the meanings of them can be different depending on their context. Even though I have lived in the UK all of my life, I can often find the English language confusing.
For instance, I often wonder if people who attend public schools use different dictionaries to the rest of us. Is there such a thing as an Etonian Dictionary, for example? The reason I’ve begun to think there might be is that I became utterly dumbfounded by David Cameron’s definition of the word ‘fair’ this week. It is certainly not a definition that I am aware of, and everybody I have asked about it doesn’t seem to recognise it either.
Right-wing people often do this. They go out of their way to alter the meanings of words without due consultation with the rest of us. People have written a great deal of academic work about neo-con Donald Rumsfeld doing that with his use of terminology like ‘collateral damage’ and ‘friendly fire’, but you’d expect an egregious monster like him to behave in that way. David Cameron – a self-proclaimed patriot standing in front of a union-jack – should have more respect for the English language.
Cameron seems to be trying to convince us that ‘fairness’ means that only those who are hard-working deserve any standard of living at all. His belief is that ‘the poor’ can be split into two definable groups; those who work for little money and those who are unwilling to work but receive a little bit more money from benefits. The problem with this half-baked concept – if indeed it has ever been baked at all – is that it doesn’t really stand up to any close scrutiny.
There are large communities throughout the UK where unemployment has become the norm over three generations. The origins of this began during the Thatcher years when those communities were deindustrialised. Ask any Conservative supporter about this and they’ll tell you their heroine did this because those industries were running at a loss and had to be swept away to make the UK more competitive. Even if one accepts this argument (and I certainly don’t) those industries were not replaced with anything economically viable and therefore there are no employment opportunities in those communities.
If Conservative MPs made some effort to understand the challenges that one faces in such communities I might have some respect for their opinions on the matter but they don’t (and if anybody mentions the Iain Duncan Smith paper I’ll get annoyed). Imagine if your grand-parents were made redundant and have spent the rest of his/her demoralised life on benefits. Then imagine that your parents, too, have been unable to find employment – when they have it has been on government training schemes. Consequently, you have spent your entire life in a household where there was never enough money and never any hope of the situation improving. Imagine the pressure in such a home. On top of all of this, you then leave school and find yourself in precisely the same situation as your grandparents and your parents. There are no employment prospects anywhere in your local area. Firstly, would you feel there was any point in learning anything in school? Would you feel there was any point in looking for employment if everybody you know is unemployed and living their lives on benefits? Is any of this ‘fair’?
Are you then expected to put a hold on your life? Are you expected to carry on living with your parents, never having a home of your own, never settling down with anybody and having children? Is that ‘fair’?
Areas where this is the case have many social problems because of it. Traditional socialisation models don’t happen because young people continue to hang around with the same peer group as they did during their time at school. The workplace fulfilled a vital role, one would learn from adults who become role-models and in the absence of such a workplace, the behaviour of the school-yard is unchecked and it can often spill over into the community.
After eighteen years of Conservative rule the problems became deeply ingrained in such communities. Despite New Labour’s thirteen year tenure in office the administration never quite managed to undo the damage done during those years. Is it any wonder when one examines the scale of the damage? Industries that had taken scores of years to grow were allowed to wither and die during ten years or less. As a direct consequence of this, the UK became over-reliant on the financial sector and look where that has led us…
Cameron’s attitude is disturbing for many reasons. He has reawakened the phrase ‘the undeserving poor’ with all its dangerous connotations. It certainly pleases the likes of The Daily Mail, and the coalition seem to delight in using the same language as such papers; benefit scroungers, etc. An example of this is the government’s new proposal to cap benefits, to allegedly make sure that those on benefits aren’t receiving more money than those who are working. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the government that wages may be too low rather than benefits being too high.
Not only that, but there is an even stranger component to Cameron’s argument. To illustrate this he has used the standard media-cartoon of families with something like fifteen children. This evokes images of the kinds of unfortunate people Jeremy Kyle undoubtedly trawls council-estates to find (Kyle even hosted a fringe-event, which speaks volumes about this government). Cameron’s argument seems to be that people shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford it. This is a typically rather stupid thing to say since it avoids issues like divorce, bereavement, redundancy and domestic violence – all of which can happen to anybody without much warning. This is particularly insulting in light of the Camerons’ own flaunting of their new-born baby before the conference started. Who are the government to tell people how many children the public can and can’t have? Aren’t the Tories supposed to be the supporters of ‘the family’ (as long as it conforms to the ‘traditional’ model of course) and don’t they talk about individual freedom all the time? There isn’t much ‘fairness’ going on here.
Even if one accepts Cameron’s argument and agrees that people shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford them, it is difficult to defend capping the benefits of those that do. A policy like this would punish only children, and it’s not as if they had any say in the matter. The Conservatives have been critical of Labour’s actually rather good record on child-poverty – surely even they should realise that capping benefits would make matters infinitely worse. Again, is that fair?
I suggest that David Cameron should invest in a new dictionary and throw that Old Etonian one away. It really isn’t doing him any favours and is simply making him sound like a retired colonel during Dickens’ most prolific of periods. The only one who is ‘undeserving’ is him, to be honest. He doesn’t deserve to be Prime Minister.