Anyone who doesn't fit a narrow definition of 'hardworking families' will suffer under this government
David Cameron labelled his government’s programme, delivered yesterday in the Queen’s Speech, as being for a ‘one nation’ Britain.
That’s a ‘one nation’ that, it appears, is ‘one nation of the kind of people we approve of (and tough if you don’t fit the definition)’.
That dreadful, hackneyed, divisive phrase ‘hardworking families’ appears in the official briefing for the speech.
You could, indeed should, define a single mum struggling to deal with her depression while providing care for her children, or a disabled adult contributing to their community through campaigns and supporting others, as ‘hardworking’ – but it is clear that our prime minister wouldn’t do that.
These are members – many members – of our society, but not members of Cameron’s ‘one nation’.
The Speech stated front and centre that ‘nothing is more crucial to [security] than a job’, but of course that only applies to some jobs, not those that are on zero-hours contracts, those that pay less than a Living Wage (as is the case for more than 20 per cent of jobs), those that are seasonal or offer only part-time contracts when workers want full-time employment.
All of those individuals are likely, with the government’s planned freeze in benefit levels, to find themselves struggling even more next year than they are this, with scant hope of improvement on the horizon. The five million workers earning less than the existing tax threshold will see no benefit from the government’s much-vaunted increase in that figure.
These are members – many members – of our society, but not members of David Cameron’s ‘one nation’.
Another ‘one nation’ approach the Speech played up was owning your own home – with the government’s much-slated plan for the sell-off of housing association homes (and even more council homes). A ‘one nation Britain’ that excludes plenty when you think of the unaffordability of house prices across most of the country. And certainly no help for the 1.8 million households on the social housing waiting list.
And then there’s the 18-21-year-olds who’ll no longer be eligible for housing benefit – struggling to survive in our grossly inflated rental markets. As Crisis says, many risk being pushed into sleeping on the street – not members of David Cameron’s ‘one nation’.
There’s also the fate of our children. The overall picture of the way in which we’re failing our young was well set out in the Guardian by Aditya Chakrabortty, but there’s one particular discrimination that sticks out here: free childcare will be available for three and four-year-olds where ‘all parents are working’.
So those children for whom this doesn’t apply – and it isn’t hard to imagine the complications – will miss out on the chance to learn and develop in a group setting, their parents denied the chance to participate in education or community activities. These are not members of Cameron’s ‘one nation’.
So who are the ‘approved’ members of this one nation? Well, it would appear bankers and high earning tax-dodgers are approved – this Speech says nothing needs be done about them.
Despite the recent slew of financial scandals exposing of the depth of fraud and corruption in the sector there was no mention of regulation (although Cameron in the speech debate did slate the former Labour government for its failures in this area – provoking the thought that the Tories weren’t calling for regulation then, and still aren’t).
So, what positives can be found from the contents of this speech? Well the term ‘climate change’ was included, but only in the context of supporting global negotiations, not in terms of British government action (and only put in second place behind economic growth). Here’s the entire section, in case you missed it:
“My government will seek effective global collaboration to sustain economic recovery and to combat climate change, including at the climate change conference in Paris later this year.”
And the Green Party policy – which I found highly popular on the campaign trail – of reregulating local bus services makes an appearance in attenuated form. It is proposed to only apply to communities that opt for directly-elected mayors. It’s an interesting attempt to offer a policy to which is entirely against Conservative ideology (re-regulation) as a bribe to try to win support for a generally unpopular constitutional change.
There’s much more that could be pulled apart about the ‘one nation’ claim, and no doubt many will be doing just that in the coming days, but one important thing to focus on now is not just anger, but action.
Yesterday I headed to the People’s Assembly protest against the speech, and I’ll be joining the big march on 20 June. In the short period since the election I’ve already seen an upsurge of activism around the country – and that’s exactly what we need, to send a message that the quarter of the electorate that put this government into power did not give it the authority to tear the UK asunder under the figleaf of ‘one nation’.
Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party. Follow her on Twitter
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