Dear David and Jeremy
I know that you don’t want the Torys to be known as the Nasty Party. But you have scored an own goal with your manifesto.
I am going to focus on two paragraphs only. They are on page 28.
The first sentence says
“We will work to eliminate child poverty and introduce better measures to drive real change in children’s lives, by recognising the root causes of poverty: entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependancy.”
Second, you say
“We will review how best to support those suffering from long term yet treatable conditions, such as drug or alcohol addiction or obesity, back into work. People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work. if they refuse a recommended treatment, we will review whether their benefits should be reduced.”
Certainly, there are children in poverty because they live in families where their carers have addiction or other mental illnesses, or where there is unemployment. These families need our support. But it is foolish, unfair and discriminatory to suggest that poverty is caused only by worklessness – or what I suspect you would have liked to describe as ‘self inflicted illnesses’ but didn’t on the advice of your PR team.
But there is a problem with your world view – no wonder, since the lens it is viewed from is one of wealth and privilege – 61% of children in poverty in the UK have working parents.
It is immoral to pretend that zero hours contracts, low council housing stock, high private rents, illness, and poor wages don’t cause child poverty. How dare the Tory party focus the blame for child poverty just on addictive illnesses and a lack of work.
Second, your idea of benefit cuts for people who don’t take your treatment. Had you cared about the children in poverty you would protect them first – not by threatening to take, or taking, their parents benefits. Unless you had high quality evidence that making these threats is beneficial to children – I can’t find any such evidence. If it exists, please bring it to light. If there is no trial of this policy, you do not know the level of harm it will cause. You do not know how many people or their children will be maimed or harmed because of this policy.
That is irresponsible.
The problems go on. You want people with obesity or drug or alcohol addictions to submit to treatment before they can have benefits. Where are the sanctions for the people who don’t take their blood pressure pills, who don’t exercise regularly, who smoke? Will they be punished too? Why are you singling out this group of people? Let’s be honest: this is stigma in action. The undercurrent is that of a political elite who seek (more) power over people who are already likely to live less long and poorer quality of life. People whose obesity prevents them from working usually have complex, difficult problems; neither is addiction a choice. Will you force doctors to tell the DWP which of their patients aren’t taking ‘their treatment’? This will effectively force already disadvantaged people to ‘submit’ to treatments – placing their doctors and nurses in an ethically unjustifiable position. Further, since most treatments for obesity or addiction need the person themselves to be at the heart – ‘patient centred care’ – or didn’t you mean it? ‘no decision about me, without me’?, not just agreeing but participating in their care – the treatments are likely to be ineffective or even harmful, disrupting the trust that is necessary for good medicine.
I hear you both, David and Jeremy, saying that you care about the people at the bottom of the heap. How will you show that care? When I’ve been off sick I have trusted that the community around me will look after me, through fair tax. I am glad to pay my share of tax to ensure that I live in a community where that care is returned. But if I develop an addictive illness will this ‘fair use’ no longer apply to me?
These policies are not just unfair. They are – as far as I can see – untested, capable of harm, and plainly nasty.