Posted on Saturday, July 7th, 2012 at 4:02 am
Author: s.e. smith
The UK has entered a lethal age of austerity, right in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics. As elite athletes from all over the world to descend upon London to compete in the most-watched sporting event of the year, ordinary Britons are dying in their homes and on the streets, and the world is not taking notice. The stark contrast between the nationalistic outlay of cash, energy, and resources for the Olympics and the escalating benefits cuts in the public sector is galling, particularly when considered in the context of the lavish royal wedding earlier this year.
For Britons relying on the public safety net, the message from the Cameron government couldn’t be more clear: Unless you’re famous, don’t expect any government handouts.
With Europe in the grip of a financial crisis brought about by irresponsible bankers, capitalist speculators, and financial officials, the public safety net across the troubled European Union is under threat, and Britain is one of the places where this is most evident. Protesters have been taking to the streets since 2009 to raise awareness about the escalating cuts and demand action. In protests marked by acts of police violence including throwing a disabled man out of his wheelchair and kettling, people have raised their voices in outrage and in the hopes of retaining public services, to little avail.
Among the services targeted for cuts have been disability benefits, which help maintain independence for Britons with disabilities; housing benefits; and unemployment benefits. Such funds are direly needed during periods of economic downturn, serving as a lifeline for people who might otherwise fail to survive in a hand to mouth environment. Disability benefits in particular have been sharply slashed, and accompanied by policies with ludicrous rules like demands that people attend regular evaluations to confirm that they’re still too disabled to work; even when they have permanent conditions like blindness and paralysis.
Personnel at Atos Healthcare, charged with assessing Britons to see if they’re able to work, have been doing things like certifying a man in a coma as ready to return to work, clearly demonstrating that the evaluation process is deeply flawed, to say the least. Each wrongful approval for work leads to a flurry of appeals, a mountain of paperwork, and even more stress for people with disabilities who are patently not able to work and rely on these services to stay alive. Some do not survive the process. Meanwhile, benefits allowing people to retain personal aides, vehicles, and other necessities of life are being suspended, leaving vulnerable Britons in a dangerous position.
Under these circumstances, it’s probably not surprising that government employees began receiving official advice on how to deal with suicide threats, and attempts, early last year. Given the escalating nature of the cuts, more and more Britons are being pushed to the breaking point, and clearly the government felt that rather than addressing the core problem, it should provide employees with policies on how to handle suicides. An entirely natural response to concerns about the threat of suicide in vulnerable populations, no doubt.
In the wake of these preparations, a rising number of suicides clearly and indisputably linked to the cuts have occurred across the United Kingdom. Last August, a father committed suicide with a kitchen knife after his housing benefit was cut. In Birmingham, a man set himself on fire outside a Jobcentre Plus, fortunately surviving, but drawing attention to the struggle many Britons have in a nation with an unemployment rate at 8.2%. The Mark and Helen Mullins suicide pact less November drew national attention after Mark appeared in a video to talk about taking a 12 mile round trip on foot to pick up vegetables from the soup kitchen, making them stretch for a week’s worth of soup. Such deaths occur as a result of institutional and social failures, not personal ones.
Scores more have drawn little to no media attention in the wake of their deaths, though local advocacy groups have attempted to raise awareness and make sure they are not forgotten. In a notable symbol of cooperation between activist groups, many anti-cuts groups have joined forces with organisations demanding that corporations pay their fare share of taxes, along with people with disabilities and other individual activists concerned about the impacts of the cuts on British society.
While unemployment has recovered slightly in recent months, the claims of boosters that the economy is on its way to recovery are entirely unwarranted. Civil service jobs have been slashed over the same time period, and more and more benefits cuts keep taking place, cutting Britain’s vulnerable to the bone. Rising desperation has been cited with concern by a number of agencies, including the police, who warn of a repeat of last summer’s explosive riots, and disability advocacy groups, who are concerned about the risk for not just suicides in the disabled community, but also unattended deaths, forced institutionalisation, and declining health among people who may not get the care they need.
Britain’s social welfare system is irredeemably broken, and in its current implementation, it is destroying lives. The government seems to be expecting private charities to pick up the slack, and the result is scores of desperate people pouring into the offices of charities ill-equipped to handle their needs; in the face of rising demands for services, many are experiencing a drop in donations.
While wealthy residents attend expensive fundraisers for charitable causes overseas, residents of Britain are entering a state of increasing despair, desperation, and misery. The social inequality in Britain is proceeding by leaps and bounds, to a level that should be shocking, but instead goes utterly unremarked.
Meanwhile, Britain is prettying up London for international guests, presenting a sanitised and neatened version of the city, one that doesn’t speak of the turmoil lurking just beneath the surface. As people attend events across the multibillion dollar Olympic facilities, they won’t be meeting the Britons who are paying the real cost for this event: Those in critical need of a safety net that has been yanked out from under them.
The international community closely scrutinised China during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is poised to do the same for Rio in 2016. Intriguing indeed to see the West so concerned about human rights violations and social welfare in these nations when it cannot apparently extend the same fears to London.
Global Comment © 2012 | Design & Developed by : Slate