I spent the best part of the weekend in a police cell in Illford. I’ve been accused of taking part in a peaceful protest at Fortnum & Mason’s, and charged with aggravated trespass. But being locked up for a day is nothing, nothing to the fate of those who will be hardest hit by the government’s cuts and privatisation.
While out promoting the march a few weeks ago, a friend and I met two such people. Both of these people are severely physically disabled. They cannot leave their homes without help. They have a carer who comes, twice a week, and takes them in her car for a trip into town, where they do their shopping, and maybe see a friend.
But the money that pays for the carer’s petrol is being withdrawn by George Osborne. She can no longer afford to take the people we met into town – can’t afford to help them get out of the house. And so both expect to be left imprisoned in their own homes for much of the rest of their lives.
Or let’s look at Martha. Martha is a multiply disabled woman from Oxfordshire. She lives in a care home – has lived there for most of her life. That’s where her friends are, she knows her carers there. It’s her home. Sometimes, she is pushed in her wheelchair around the garden, and she likes this. Her Dad, William, can tell she likes it, because she calms down. She’s not been calm very often lately, because she can tell what’s happening to her. She may not know the details – that the government is launching a radical economic experiment: mass privitisation and the biggest spending cuts in a western country since those that prolonged the Great Depression. She probably doesn’t know that that George Osborne announced massive cuts to the support she needs by telling us that anyone who thinks these cuts are solely about saving money is “missing the point” – that the credit crunch is a “once in a generation opportunity” to change the services she relies on. Martha doesn’t know what these cuts are about. She hasn’t come across phrases like: “shock doctrine“. She’s never heard of Fred Goodwin or derivatives, or sub-prime mortgages.
But she can tell that she is going to be kicked out of her home. The cuts to the Disability Living Allowance mean that she can no longer afford to stay there – her parents can’t afford to subsidise her place. She will be forced into a much cheaper home. One where she won’t be with her friends – friends she may never get to see again. Her trips outside will be much rarer. She will be left lonely and alone, with a rapid turnover of carers she can never get to know. And so she will be too will be imprisoned locked up in an institution she hasn’t chosen, trapped by cuts and by a government who thinks that she can’t fight back.
Or let’s look at my friend John. John is exceptionally talented – as many people are. He works hard and he is diligent and he is passionate. But as a member of the jilted generation, he has been left unemployed. He has been thrown onto George Osborne’s scrapheap of the ‘undeserving’: poor people, disabled people, young people. His plight is the plight of my generation – a fate spelled out in unemployment stats and on a million rems of recycled job applications and a million fading dreams. After months spent searching for work that isn’t there, days carefully filling in forms and updating CVs that end up in the trash, John gets depressed. Nothing knocks his confidence like unemployment. The evidence tells us that joblessness kills. It causes stress, it breaks down communities. And this too leaves people imprisoned – trapped by their own self doubt and self loathing and depression.
In the recent stories about Mark Stone – the police officer who infiltrated the climate movement – we saw the lengths to which the police are willing to go to gain intelligence on peaceful protesters, and to attempt to intimidate us out of activism. And that may be what they are trying to do here. But it won’t work. It won’t work because we know that protesting does work – we remember that every intitution of organised justice in this country had to be fought for. It won’t work because people are beginning to see that these cuts have nothing to do with fixing the economy and everything to do with right wing ideology. And it won’t work because a day in the police cells is nothing compared to a lifetime trapped as a prisoner in your own home. It is nothing to what they are doing to Martha, and what they are doing to John. It is nothing compared to the damage that these cuts will do to our communities and our friends and our lives.