Dog-whistle time again. Following his dishonest diatribe on immigration a few days ago, Cameron has today turned that unique blend of privilege, ignorance and mendacity on those on long-term benefits. New DWP figures show that 80,000 people claim incapacity benefit because they are alcoholics, drug abusers or obese; As the BBC reports, Cameron immediately enlists the numbers in support of Con Dem prejudice.
David Cameron said many taxpayers would object because they felt recipients should be “people who are incapacitated through no fault of their own”.
In an interview with BBC Scotland, the prime minister said: “It is interesting as we go through all these cases [we’re finding] people who were just frankly left for dead by the last government.
“We are finding a large number of people who are on incapacity benefit because of drink problems, alcohol problems or problems with weight and diet.
“And I think a lot of people who pay their taxes and work hard will think: ‘That’s not what I pay my taxes for. I pay my taxes for people who are incapacitated through no fault of their own.'”
Leaving aside the obvious questions about therapeutic effect of having your benefits taken away by a gang of feral Old Etonians, there are big issues here that the Tories and their tabloid parasites just don’t get. Addiction is, quite obviously to anyone who has any real experience of life, not a simple matter. Yes, it’s treatable – although the Coalition is notoriously reluctant to fund such treatment. The causes are many and varied. There are deep-seated and powerful prejudices among employers that need to be overcome. And this concept of fault – it’s all so easy to get on the moral high horse. I knew an alcoholic who had been systematically abused by her stepfather. I can’t talk with any certainty about cause and effect, but does anyone really think that talking about “fault” helps that person to get their life back together? It’s cruel, frivolous and self-indulgent, and tells you nothing.
Deep down in all of this lies the old Victorian idea of the deserving poor – that people in distress who pledge themselves to the values of the system, when it usually that system that is at the root of their distress, are somehow morally superior to those who challenge that system, and that those who have wealth and power have the right to determine who is “deserving”. It’s about the belief that your station in society is a result of your effort and piety, and not the accident of birth or background. It’s about a Government of massively privileged individuals trying to pretend that privilege doesn’t matter. It’s utterly pernicious – and the Tories and Liberal Democrats want it back.