Since the 'economic crisis of 2008 and the eye-watering sums taken from the public purse to bale out the banks, the predominate political narrative in the United Kingdom has been the need for austerity. Central to the government's 'austerity' programmes has been the controlling of and reining in of public expenditure. The sub-narrative has been the support of 'hard working families' and clamping down on the benefits system, within which, so goes the narrative, lurks an unnumbered horde of feckless skivers and cynical cheats. Too many people, it is claimed, have chosen, or at least have settled for what is portrayed as a 'cushy life' on benefits.
In the course of the past year the Dundee Fairness Commission has taken evidence from experts in the fields of welfare, employment, education, health and housing. The evidence has clearly shown that, far from 'all being in it together', as the predominate narrative goes, the gap between the comfortable and the vulnerable has widened dangerously. Thanks to the skill and efforts of agencies in the town like Faith in Community Dundee the Commission has been able to hear at first hand the voices of vulnerable people, our fellow citizens. The Commission's report which is now at the stage of being drafted, has been fundamentally shaped by these voices which have put living breath and throbbing flesh on the bones of the evidence of the experts. The Commission has heard an alternative narrative!
Although in every aspect of life there are cheats and skivers to be found, the Fairness Commission has heard compelling testimony to just how hard people on benefits or low pay have to work to survive. They have to survive in the face of suspicion and stigma and all too often being treated as 'rubbish'. The challenges of everyday life are like mountains to climb loaded down by the weight of low income, erratic income, going without food, afraid of the costs of heating, the worry of the cost of the school day, bus fares, rents and sanctions that leave many desperate and dependent on food banks. It cannot be right! The rigmarole around being ill or disabled seems to tower like a colossus over the illness itself. A changing face of work that seems more like a revolving door than an escalator to better things, a benefits system that seems like a maze without a map, a system designed to trip people up. We should stand in awe of the burdens people in poverty have to carry rather than judge on how they carry them!