One of the most sinister achievements of the Tory government is the ease with which it has managed to condition the public to accept the most brutal victimisation of some of its most vulnerable and defenseless members as something normal and acceptable. In the last four years, benefit sanctions against the mentally-ill have gone up by an incredible 600 percent.
Between 2011-2014 2, 380 people died after being declared fit for work. This ought to be a national scandal and a source of national shame, yet these stories have become so common and so routine that we barely pay attention to them. Take the awful case of Luke Loy, that was reported in the Guardian last week. At the time of his death last year Loy was 42 years old and suffering from schizophrenia. Until 2013 he had been receiving incapacity benefit for more than twenty years and had been living with his mother.
According to the Guardian:
‘Luke lived with his mother in their two-bed council house in Birmingham and had built a stable rhythm: carving wood sculptures as art therapy in their front room, going for walks five times a day, and shopping for his elderly neighbours.’
This was not the kind of lifestyle to engage the sympathies of Lord Snooty and His Pals, or their many supporters. You can almost hear them asking why the taxpayer should pay for schizophrenics to carve sculptures and go for walks, and what about hard working people, etc,etc.
Of course one reason why ‘the taxpayer’ does this is because Britain once believed itself to be a society that was prepared to help people who couldn’t help themselves, especially ifthe alternative was that they might become homeless, or get into debt, or even die or kill themselves.
But that was then, and this is now. So in 2013, when Loy’s mother died of cancer, his housing benefit was cut and he had to pay the ‘bedroom tax. In late 2014 he was given a work capability assessment and the incapacity benefit he had received for over 20 years was cut. He was then forced to fulfill the requirements of his local jobcentre, and he couldn’t do it. He had his jobseeker’s allowance taken away, and lost his council tax support. He got into dept and couldn’t feed himself, and on May 29 last year he was found dead in his bedroom.
Such deaths tend to be described as tragedies, which they undoubtedly are, but the concept of tragedy doesn’t fully encapsulate these incidents, and in fact tends to blur the fact that such deaths were entirely avoidable.
There are many levels of moral responsibility for this awful incident. First of all, there is the government which introduced the policies that led to his isolation and deprived him of the support that he should have received. There are those who would have you believe that democratic politicians are always essentially well-intentioned and well-meaning, even when the consequences of their actions are bad.
According to this school of thought, if mentally-ill people die because they have been declared fit for work or because their benefits have been cut, or because they have had a ‘bedroom tax’ imposed on them, we are expected to shake our heads sadly and regard such incidents as inevitable consequences of the tough choices that politicians are obliged to make In order to satiate the goddess austerity and ensure that we don’t live above our means.
But there is nothing inevitable about what happened to Loy and so many others. This government is responsible for their deaths, as responsible as if it had lined them up against a wall and shot them. These deaths are not the result of short-sightedness or ignorance or inaccurate information. The politicians who introduced the policies that killed Loy know perfectly well what is happening; it just so happens that they don’t give a damn and they have convinced large sections of the British public not to give a damn either.
Of course others are involved; the newspapers that relentlessly denigrate people on benefits as scroungers and parasites; the gutless jobsworths who bullied and harried a helpless man to his death, perhaps to please some line manager or because they hoped to go up the ladder themselves.
But the responsibility is also shared by British society as a whole, which has tolerated and accepted these monstrous policies, and allowed a cruel and morally-bankrupt government to dehumanize its weakest members and transform people like Luke Loy into something akin to what the Nazis once called ‘useless mouths.’
So let’s feel sorrow and sadness, for sure, at the fact that a vulnerable man who needed help was coolly stripped by the state bureaucracy of all the supports that he needed to live.
But we really ought to feel rage too – and something like hatred – towards the politicians that are doing this, and shame that a supposedly civilised society in the 21st century can allow such things to happen.
And if we can’t do this, perhaps we really ought to wonder if we are all becoming as monstrous as they are.