Political courtesy aside, allowing for a cowed media, and acknowledging the lazy tolerance of an exhausted electorate, we should, nonetheless, name things political as they truly are. From the ‘bedroom tax’ to limiting child benefits, severe reductions in the spending power of benefit claimants and other creative ways of increasing the suffering of the vulnerable, Conservative (+ Lib Dem) governments since 2010 have afflicted ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment on the non-wealthy of the UK. Unfortunately, there is no peacetime equivalent of ‘War Crimes’ or ‘Crimes Against Humanity’, and we cannot formally allege ‘cruel and unusual punishment’, even though the monicker fits the thing that waddles and quacks like a duck. It is a duck.
But we do, in the gnashing teeth of Tory odium, enjoy the Human Rights Act. Now, there are 14 Articles in that Act – ie. 14 statements of our rights. I’ll look at Article 8, but, meantime, while watching the Act being determinedly whittled away…we note that a number are currently under threat or, simply, being violated, in your face, as it were. For example, Article 3, Freedom from torture or inhuman and degrading treatment: Am I being hysterical, or is the failure of this right exemplified in Tory-sanctioned cultural celebrations like lying on a hospital trolley for 30 hours, undergoing ritualised humiliation to secure (or be stripped of) benefits, being lampooned in Parliament for our crassness in visiting a food bank, and so on? Article 6 The right to a fair trial is already stripped from many owing to cuts to the court system and legal aid (you’d need to read the detail to see how lamentably short we fall in this respect). Article 11 Freedom of Assembly and Association is threatened by Bills passing through the Houses of Parliament today making us criminally liable for public expression that we have not yet made (!!), as well as anti-strike laws, of course – pan du jour for the Tories. Article 14, Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms, has been a site of the Roman slaughter of the Christians for the Conservatives, as access to these rights are increasingly monetised and enjoyable by few apart from the svelte, perma-tanned elite.If you don’t have the dosh you don’t get the right – much less the resources to appeal the right. And, of course, read some of these articles through the eyes of single-mothers and Muslims, among others, and they look more like overpriced toys in a shop window – but, anyway, not meant for your likes.
So, to Article 8, Respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence. This implies your right to peace, autonomy, comfort and dignity in your home. Well, bedroom tax and all that…cuts to housing benefits (comfortably nested in the Universal Credit board game)…being priced out of heating and energy supply…the stoking up of a ‘rent crisis’ through lack of regulation and refusing to build new homes (I use apostrophes because if you look down the telescope from the other end it appears as a ‘rent bonanza’ for the propertied classes). In fact, Article 8 gives us rights to engage in “essential economic, social, cultural and leisure activities”. If you don’t have the money to travel to a benefits interview or to feed your kids you’re not likely to have it to visit an exhibition, say, celebrating Britain’s creation of a world-beating Welfare State, or to go to the gym or to a London mass-gathering to protest against poverty-inducing legislation, or to take your kids on holiday.
The slow dissolution of Article 8 rights reach right into our heart and hearths, undermines our loved ones and our relationships and, of course, threatens the wellbeing of our children. Like grass growing through concrete, the clear intention to erode these rights exerts an inexorable, relentless pressure through whatever welfare state protections and aspirations once protected us. A single blade of grass is, in the end, stronger than concrete. For ‘single blade of grass’ read ‘any piece of legislation since 1979 limiting state benefit; for ‘concrete’ read ‘the social safety net’.) So, we can appeal for these rights – no?
Ah, well – even the liberal elites who drafted the original Bill saw that one coming and took a duck. See – these rights are protected within limits. Read this and weep: “There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country…” And – there you have it. We can, it seems, withdraw your benefits, tax the bedroom of your dialysis-using child, and cut your resources to just sufficiently below the level of bare subsistence to make you feel it is your own crime that you cannot cook a meal for 30p.