Complicity and the Cuts
One of the most disappointing features of the period of severe cuts and non-reforms of the welfare state since 2010 has been how many in the public and voluntary sector have been complicit in allowing these harms to be done.
I know a wise old Buddhist monk who, in a speech to his fellow countrymen, once said he'd love to know why someone who boasts that he is the cleverest, the strongest, the bravest or the most gifted man on earth is thought ridiculous and embarrassing, whereas if, instead of 'I'; he says, 'we are the most intelligent, the strongest, the bravest and the most gifted people on earth' his fellow countryman applaud enthusiastically and call him a patriot.
E H Gombrich from A Little History of the World
Our own vanity, our own desire to be on the inside of the club, is one of the most dangerous human tendencies. It turns out that we will sell our souls very cheaply, as long as we feel we are inside the in-group.
There often seems to be a difference between doing evil and standing back and letting someone else do evil - one is the sin of commission, the other the sin of omission. But both are sins, and the difference between these two kinds of sin can be very fine indeed. In fact, sometimes, not to resist evil is to join in with evil - to be complicit.
For example, currently in the UK, we are seeing the most significant direct attack on the rights and conditions of the poor and of disabled people. By 2015 spending on services for disabled children and adults will have been cut by 33% and the government hopes to cut benefits by £22 billion - about 20% of the current spending on benefits.
You can read more about this in our report - A Fair Society? how the cuts target disabled people.
This is in a country that is already the third most unequal developed country in the world. This is a policy which is far more extreme and far more negative than anything for which Margaret Thatcher is blamed.
Yet, many of the organisations that one would expect to stand up to government, to point out the error of its ways, are silent. A Labour politician justified their own muted response to the cuts by observing that none of the big charities had really come out against the cuts - and the MP is right. Where are the big charities and advocacy organisations and why have they not stood up to government, carried out the necessary research and organised effective PR?
It is impossible to know for certain why so many organisations are so quiet. There are many possible reasons:
- Some may be focusing on getting themselves ready for the storm - cutting posts, saving money.
- Some may be worried that they will lose lucrative central government funding if they become too challenging.
- Some may feel that they must be nice to government in order to negotiate with it - to get on the inside track and to reduce any harm it intends.
- Some may seek the honour of peerages, knighthoods, awards and all the other trappings of status that are so keenly distributed by our leaders.
Perhaps some do not even understand how bad things are, and how much worse they are going to be. In 2010 the Campaign for a Fair Society published data showing that social care would be severely cut. Not only was this not picked up by the media, it was not even picked up by many in the mainstream of the disability movement. Many seemed to accept the false claim that social care had been 'protected' simply because this is what the government had said.
For more information on the statistical manipulations behind all this read this article in the Guardian.
Personally I have been particularly upset by how the organisations that are supposedly in the 'vanguard' of reforming social care - e.g. Think Local Act Personal (TLAP), In Control and Helen Sanderson Associates - barely mention the issue of cuts or the injustice of current government policy. For example, In Control's website talks about:
"With significant resource constraints and demographic growth, there are major challenges ahead."
"Significant resource constraint" hardly does justice to severe cuts that target disabled people. You cannot advocate the increased empowerment of disabled people through personalisation, while ignoring a 33% cut in social care funding.
There is one other very worrying reason why some organisations may be silent; and that is that some in the voluntary sector may even be seeking to benefit from these cuts, from the increased poverty and from the erosion of public services. This may seem an extreme statement - but it is interesting to look at the recent letter which was sent by leaders of the voluntary sector to government:
The letter pleads that the voluntary sector be given the opportunity to take over public services and in addition it says:
Thirdly, as the Government’s welfare reforms take effect, we know that some of the most vulnerable people in our country will be affected – including children. Our sector will be at the frontline – helping individuals and families prepare for and manage change.
So, instead of arguing against the injustice of these reforms, the voluntary sector offers to pick up the pieces - on the government's behalf - to help people "prepare for and manage change" - the change of having your income severely cut. This is a dreadful state of affairs. It's as if, frightened of being steamrollered or forgotten, these groups have now chosen to join the powerful and to abandon the weak.
It is this kind of complicity that makes so many of us frightened for the future. It reveals the true nature of our current social situation. It seems we are no longer a society that believes in equality, citizenship or mutual support. We are a society where the powerful trample on those beneath them. For those of us in between - neither powerful nor weak, neither rich nor poor - then this is the time for making critical moral choices.
We must become complicit or we must resist - there is no room left to claim that this has got nothing to do with us - that it is someone else's problem.
One strategy, one that has been used in the past, is to make complicity more expensive for those who lack moral fortitude. For instance, it may be possible to name, shame or boycott organisations that are becoming directly or indirectly complicit with government. These policies may seem extreme or divisive - but the risk of inaction is that fewer and fewer individuals and organisations will be left who have not succumbed.
The more of us who are caught up in the implementation of these dreadful policies then the more likely it is that they will succeed.
Thankfully the National Coalition of Independent Action has collected together the signatures of many other organisations who do not accept the approach set out in the 'voluntary sector's letter' to government. If you are interested in supporting this approach you can contact NCIA: