I attended a meeting the other day where a bunch of people gathered in a community centre to discuss the impact of the Welfare Reforms. I was pleasantly surprised to find that for once the audience wasn't made up of the usual suspects. Instead of Council employees filling page after page with meaningless notes, the room was home to mainly disabled people. Broken bodies and broken minds with some pretty serious axes to grind.
The coffee was strictly Government issue. Think prison. Think hospital. Think school. Starbucks might be teaching us all we need to know about dodging tax, but they have a long way to go before the great organs of the State discover that a few pence extra spent on decent coffee is actually a pretty damn fine way of infesting public funds.
The event was run by a couple of enthusiastic young women. Once they overcame the mandatory mini crisis with the power point projector, they kicked things off with statistics.
The numbers on the screen soon started to ring bells and make connections. Numbers introduced themselves in my mind and started to network.
Amount chopped from the Welfare Bill? £27 billion a year, mainly from those guilty of the crime of being disabled. Ouch.
Other recent numbers stepped forward and said “Hang on a minute, you're a bit like me!”
Cost of four nuclear subs to carry Trident 2? £32 billion.
London pocket money for the Scottish Government to provide roads, cops, hospitals and schools for 5 million people? £30 billion.
Bankers bonuses last year? £40 billion.
Don't you just love the logic of the capitalism of the new Millennium. Bankers screw up. Bankers crash the world. So what do you do? Well, duh! Give the self same bankers £40 billion and take it out on the real bad guys to the tune of £27 billion. Because we all know in our heart of hearts that all the problems of the last few years are entirely down to those scheming swine in wheelchairs. Did they seriously think they would be allowed to sabotage the American mortgage market and actually get away with it?
Once the numbers were done with, the presentation moved along to an unexpected destination. Human Rights. One by one the screen showed the terms and conditions of the various carved in stone rights we can all now demand and enjoy. The fruit of seventy years worth of careful work to try and make sure that there can never again be the kind of crash in the value of human life the world witnessed in 1940's.
We were told there is no means testing when it comes to having access to these Human Rights. All you need to qualify is to be a bona fide human being. Once you tick the Homo Sapiens box, you are eligible for the right to be safe, free, sheltered, warm and fed. Those in charge of nations have a legal duty to make sure these rights are in place for every man, woman and child in the Realm.
Each one of the these commendable terms and conditions asked pretty serious questions of the Welfare Reforms. Is the Department of Work and Pensions actually breaking the law by plunging so many into near destitution in the name of austerity and helping the cause of George Osborne for Prime Minister?
It seems like they probably are. Not that anyone is about to take them to court any time soon. So a moot point then. It's the hard edged world of Uncle Joe Stalin. When a person is killed it is a tragedy. When a million people people are killed it is a statistic. When mentally ill poor person on a benefit sanction nicks a Mars bar in a Spar shop, they will be hauled up in front of the judge to have the book thrown at them. When the DWP ignores all those cast in stone human rights and picks the pockets of millions of disabled people, well there isn't an ambulance chasing lawyer in sight.
Break time. I collared one of the enthusiastic young ladies to ask a couple of questions about the small print.
You were saying that to be eligible for Human Rights all you need to do is prove that you are a human being.
What about if you are a migrant?
Not really a human being then?
No. 'Fraid not. You are only an actual human being if you have the right kind of paperwork for the country where you happen to be at the time. You need a state to be deemed to be an actual human.
So if you are in a country that has signed up to guarantee Human Rights, you are not actually eligible for any Human Rights unless you have the right paperwork. And if all the paperwork you DO have comes from a country where they don't do Human Rights whether you are deemed to be a human being or not, well then of course you can't have any Human Rights because there are none to be had.
I can't say I was surprised. It was the same bottom line we are seeing quite a bit of at First Base right now. We are feeding two of these non human being families at the moment. Four adults and eight kids under the age of ten and not a human being among them.
To say they have no Human Rights at all would not be true. If they get stabbed, they have the right to call the cops and the cops will come. And the kids are human enough to have the right to go to school although they are not human enough to warrant free meals and help with the cost of uniforms.
Warmth, shelter and full bellies? Forget it. Not a chance.
One of the families is rapidly approaching complete crisis. D Day arrives on 17 May which is the day when they will be thrown out onto the streets. A mum and a dad and four young kids, one of whom isn't very well at all. They have asked nicely for the right to shelter and warmth? But asking nicely hasn't got them very far. The answer is always the same. Just go home. You lack the right paperwork for us to classify you as the kind of human being who is entitled to all that warmth and shelter stuff.
So go home. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.
Home? Sunny Tunisia. Enjoy the beach and the museum and as a free extra, you can yourself get cut in half by a Paradise seeker with an AK47. Sunny Tunisia where a young market trader doused himself in petrol and flicked his lighter. Remember? A flick of a Bick and the Arab Spring was born. Jihadis and secret policemen and 50% unemployment and the shadow of hunger stretching out further with every passing day.
But never mind all that. Just go home. We really aren't remotely interested in any of the niceties. The small print. Not our problem. We have a book to follow. To the letter. And the word is as clear as clear can be. If the person doesn't have the paperwork to categorically prove they are a genuine human being, then they get nothing. Nada. Zip.
Is it worth mentioning that the kids are settled in their school and English is now their first language? That they are used to different letters entirely from Arabic letters? That they are used to writing from left to right and not from right to left? Does that not make even a jot of difference?
Oh pleeeeeaaase. Spare me the whining. What do you take us for? Some kind of assholes? Come on. Just piss off home.
Actually, at this point I really need to be fair. I know for a fact the the good folk in Dumfries and Galloway Council have no wish whatsoever to see our Tunisian family out on the streets. Their instincts are to follow each and every one of the Human Rights requirements available to human beings with the right paperwork. But there is a problem. Her Majesty's Home Office is darkly suspicious of Scottish Councils. They don't trust Scottish Councils to crack the whip in the required manner. So Her Majesty's Home Office is keeping a very close eye indeed on these pesky Scottish Councils. And a very clear message has been sent. If we catch you giving Human Rights to anyone who lacks the right kind of paperwork to be deemed to be a human being worthy of such rights, then we will most certainly throw the book at you.
As in the High Court and the best QC money can buy. And we will take you to the cleaners and we really, really don't give a shit how broke you are. Not our problem. Got yourselves a fine of £500,000? Oh diddums. So lay off a few bin men. Serves you right. It's all about being better together, right?
So there we are. The clock is ticking down to May 17. The dad came in to see me yesterday. Excellent English quietly spoken. Just a long shot. A straw clutched at. If I could think of anything. Anything at all....
And what can you say? Can I imagine being in his shoes? No. No even nearly. Four young kids and nothing you can do to stop the nightmare from happening. Not eligible for a penny of State support. Not allowed to do so much as an hour's worth of work.
And of course I felt useless and angry and ashamed and all the usual stuff but not a single one of those emotions was worth a jot to the dad with despair in his eyes.
So here's the thing. The community is the only show in town now. Maybe there is a deal to be struck. Just maybe. Maybe there is somebody out there with a big house and a big garden. And maybe they are entering the autumn of their years and keeping on top of the big house and the big garden is starting to be too much. And maybe they lack the funds to employ the services of a housekeeper of a gardener to help out? Maybe? Well, I have had a chat with the dad and he says he would do the garden and his wife would do the ironing and the cleaning in return for a roof over their heads.
Or maybe someone out there has a caravan site and might be interested in offering a caravan in return for work undertaken?
Maybe. Of maybe someone out there might have some other ideas. If you have, please share them. Absolutely anything. Because you know what? These good people absolutely ARE human beings no matter what the Home Office has to say about it. Are we going to see this lovely family tossed out onto the street? Or is there something we can do about it?
Here's hoping. If you know anyone or have any good ideas give me a bell on 07770 443483.