There's only so many more cuts a bleeding person can take....

I’m a British citizen, and I love my country. Traditional cream teas, incredible stretches of coastline, ironic British summers, rainy bank holiday barbecues, and a general stoic attitude to life. I love that my country has a welfare state, a system which endeavours to ensure people’s basic human needs are met, regardless of their social economic status, education, or experiences in life. I love our NHS. In fact, I am hugely reliant on our NHS for B. He has severe medical needs and I am literally dependant on the NHS every single day for his survival. If you haven’t seen the recent film Paddington then you’re missing out. Clever scripting and great performances follow the hilarious adventure of a Peruvian bear, sent to the far flung land of London for safety following a devastating earthquake and destruction of his home. Britishness personified.  Paddington also shows some wisdom beyond his years. ‘Mrs Brown says that in London everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in. I think she must be right - because although I don't look like anyone else, I really do feel at home. I'll never be like other people, but that's alright, because I'm a bear. A bear called Paddington.’

Following the recent election I’ve been trying to collate my thoughts into some sort of legible piece- something which proved a lot harder than I first imagined. Whichever way you voted, there’s no doubt that the result was a shock to the British public; an overwhelming blue majority left the rest of the country wondering where it all went wrong. It’s true that our seat system doesn’t make for fair democratic representation. It’s also true that a third of the eligible electorate chose not to use their vote, but, those things aside, the overwhelming feeling on Friday morning across the country was a bleak and hopeless one. Maybe it’s because I hang out with people of a similar mindset, but my social media feeds were full of people desperate to know why we had not only voted the same government in again, but how this time round we’d voted them in to govern alone.

Austerity has hit hard the last few years, globally as well as nationally, and as a working class member of society with a disabled child the cuts have been deep and wounded us savagely. I know it’s terribly un-British to talk about the m-word, but hear me out. The leaders of today’s government are privileged enough to have come from homes where private education, private healthcare and well above average incomes abounded. David Cameron himself said he wasn’t in politics to defend privilege, but instead to spread it. I’ve unfortunately not felt the benefit of any of that privilege-spreading. In my lifetime, rents and house prices have soared, those from low socio-economic status have been priced out of higher education by ever increasing tuition fees, and the cost of living has risen disproportionately to the wages people earn. Forgive me Mr Cameron, but that doesn’t sound like the furthering of privilege.  On the contrary it suggests the intensification of an ugly elitism already prevalent and hell-bent on polarising the British people into those able to build on inherent wealth and privilege, and those scrabbling around in a wholly unsupportive and unrealistic economic climate.

Stripping back all the political rhetoric, I want to make this personal. I grew up under Thatcher’s regime; born into poverty to parents struggling to make ends meet, and the first child of a sick mother and an uneducated father. Of course back then the kind of sickness my mum suffered with, mental illness, wasn’t recognised like it is now, and services were fairly non-existent excepting admission to psychiatric institutions for those most severely affected. After mum had me, she went on to have my sister, and her mental health deteriorated steadily with the pressures of raising two small children alone on minimal income while our dad found forces work abroad to make ends meet. She didn’t have family close by, and our only support network was the local church, which was, incidentally, incredible. The thing is, my mum needed more support than a cuppa and a shoulder to cry on. She needed professional help to manage her bi-polar disorder (and other associated diagnoses) alongside bringing up her kids, not least because on my fourth birthday my dad decided it was all too much and left in search of a newer, better life.

That was the beginning of a pendulous existence for Mum, swinging wildly between varying periods of institutional ‘care’ and managing at home with minimal community support. For us as children, it meant a life spent carouselling between friends houses, home (where we cared for mum, presumably to save the state money on essential professional support) and short or medium term foster placements. The nature of mum’s disorder meant she was often unable to get out of bed or function on any sort of living standard level. Serious self harm featured regularly, and she acted impulsively, failing to adequately manage the little money she was offered by the state to ‘live’ on. Dad was never held to account in contributing financially to support his children, and so responsibility for our survival as a family fell to mum. Responsibility she just wasn’t able to deal with. The worst thing about this all? We were mum’s world; she would have done anything in her power to keep us safe and give us the life she never had. But that’s exactly the point- none of this was within her power. She was ill. Just like cancer, except that this sickness didn’t qualify for support from the system. And like cancer, this sickness led to a downward spiral of guilt, anger, and more depression, exacerbating the already hugely prevalent issues in our little family. Some weeks we were sent into school with a packed lunch consisting of nothing but a piece of buttered bread and some water. Other weeks we had to be taken home from school by teachers since mum never made it out of bed that day. I remember being chilled to the bone during double glazing and central heating-free winters in clothes and shoes that were frankly inadequate for such inclemental weather. All the while feeling the responsibility of caring for Mum and my younger sister; making sure I knew the numbers to ring if I couldn’t wake Mum up, or scraping together a hot meal from the freezer to feed us, reassuring my sister that whatever happened I wouldn’t let them split us up if we had to go into care again.

Essentially, while the Tories continued to bring the country into economic success, families like ours fell off the radar. Poverty was pushed out of sight, where it remained out of mind for those who weren’t affected. Blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of those who found themselves in less than favourable circumstances, and while the country thrived from the outside, a whole subgroup of people went deeper and deeper into despair.

My mum actually passed away in January of 2013. For her, the damage inflicted by the system supposed to protect and support vulnerable people was too much. She passed away from pneumonia at the age of 54 during a particularly cold winter, too scared to switch on the one gas fire in the house for fear of not being able to pay the bill. Her mental health had by this point impacted on her physical health, and she had a host of additional physical diagnoses which became too complex for any one field of doctors to deal with effectively. Mental health professionals decided she needed medical support, while medical professionals passed her care to the mental health department. As such, everyone became complacent in her care, and as a direct result, she died. After her death I found over £30,000 worth of debt in her name, lots of it amassed through loan consolidation companies that had done nothing but increase her troubles, preying on her at her most vulnerable. Banks had lent her money she could clearly not afford to repay, and her embarrassment and shame was such that I never even knew about any of this until after her death.

This is the true cost of austerity. Real people, in real situations, with all-too-real struggles. I’m a British citizen, and I love my country. I love its people. And I see far too often, how the government does not. How the mantra of the middle classes is money first, people second. I know the system is strained, and I know decisions need to be made about tightening our collective belt, but what does it say about us as a nation when we use that belt to choke those who already have no voice? I want a better future for my boy and others like him. And as a wise man once said, a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but how it treats it’s lowest ones. Do we really value diversity? Do we treat those lowest citizens with the respect they deserve just because they are fellow human beings? Can everyone, like Paddington, fit in, even when they are different?

Manifestos and policies are in danger of reducing people’s worth to what they are able to contribute economically, but humanity demands a different measure. A measure not easily identified by charts, or graphs, or numbers, but one of higher-order thinking. My child will likely never be able to contribute financially to society, but he has taught so many people so much on multiple levels. We cannot and must not use people’s economic ‘worth’ to make decisions on the help and support they are entitled to; this moves us as a nation into seriously precarious territory. I’m an idealist, and in a country as rich as ours, no child should be going without food. No disabled person should be lacking in care support necessary for their basic human dignity. Those with mental health problems should be adequately supported, not institutionalised. Those struggling with poverty-stricken environments should be facilitated, not vilified. Please, please, think for yourself on these things. Because this matters; literally, in a life and death kind of way, this really matters.

Humanity necessitates humility, and humility means sometimes saying, we fucked it all up, let’s start over. I can’t change my childhood experiences, but we owe it to the next generation to change theirs. Everyone is valuable, everyone has something to contribute, and everyone is worthy of the chance to be the best person they can be.

Success is a dreamer who never gave up. Let’s dream the dream together and make a better world happen.


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