Nicola Sturgeon made a speech on Monday asking Better Together and the naw ye cannae campaign to spell out the consequences of a no vote in the referendum. We already know what the consequences of a no vote are, asking Better Together to spell it out is like asking Hannibal Lector to publish his cannibalism recipes in the lifestyle section of the Herald.
What we do know is that George Osborne promises another round of austerity cuts after 2015, and he wants the poor, the disabled, the unemployed and the vulnerable to bear £12 billions’ worth of the £25 billion he wants to axe from public spending. The unemployed are in no position to offer retiring politicians lucrative directorships so there’s little point pandering to their interests. Anyway, it’s only fair, the poor and powerless caused the financial crisis by selfishly not having any money to buy things and stimulate growth in the economy. Besides, they don’t make as much of a fuss as investment bankers faced with a 0.08% tax on their bonuses.
Since the Tories have promised that the benefit cuts will not affect pensioners, that means the unemployed, the sick and disabled, and carers, will cop it in the neck amidst Daily Mail headlines about welfare scroungers. Welfare is a Tory weasel word which aims to replace benefits in popular speech. Welfare reeks of alms giving, rich people tossing a few coins at the ‘deserving’ poor in order to assuage their consciences. Yet benefits is the better term, because a properly run and funded benefits system benefits society as a whole as well as the individuals receiving support. I want country with a benefits system, not a welfare system.
Meanwhile Labour also promises to cut public spending by the same amount. They also make liberal use of the welfare word, which is the only liberal thing about Labour these days. Labour is quite definite that Tory welfare cuts are bad cuts, but they’re keeping very quiet about what they’d cut instead. Meanwhile Johann Lamont tries to pretend she never described Scotland as a “something for nothing” culture. This does not inspire confidence that Labour is committed to the principles of universality in the benefits system, nor indeed that we should have a benefits system at all. They seem quite happy with Tory ideas about welfare and the deserving versus the non-deserving.
I have a direct interest here. I do not receive welfare, I receive benefits and society benefits from the deal. I’m a full time carer who had to give up employment in order to look after my partner, who has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. You don’t choose to become a carer, you do it out of love and commitment. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life, physically and emotionally.
I don’t want to use this blog to discuss my partner’s care needs, but life is tough as it is, George Osborne’s plans will make things even tougher. I have zero confidence in Labour, where the only difference from the Tories and their Lib Dem hangers on is that they promise to make cuts with a sad face instead of with the manaical glee of Danny Alexander. This is the future the Union offers fulls time carers, no matter how Better Together might dress it up with a promise of devolutionary jam.
In return for a full time job like caring for a person with dementia, a job requiring you to be in attendance or on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, carers get the princely sum of £59.75 a week Carer’s Allowance. Fulltime carers often work 168 hours a week in stressful and distressing conditions, and receive just short of 36p per hour for doing so. There is no time off, no set breaks, no holiday pay, no holidays, just 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, working as carers or on permanent call, catching up with sleep when you can. It’s not an easy job, emotionally or physically. But we mustn’t grumble, at least it pays better than another Union benefit, the zero hours contract.
The local authority where we live can no longer fund much respite care due to the cuts that have already come in. Formerly those like me who get no break from caring were able to receive up to 8 week of respite care annually, now the local authority can only fund 2. Following the next rounds of cuts, it’s quite likely they’ll not be able to fund any at all.
I’m not complaining about having to care for my partner. It’s what you do for those you love. I would do it even without the £59.75 per week I became entitled to after I was forced to stop working. All carers would, we’re not doing this for the money, for career prospects, or for public recognition. We do it for unfashionable reasons that do not figure in UK Government policy making – love and loyalty.
A recent study from Carers UK found that, at an average unit cost of £18 per hour (the average cost of purchasing care services), the cost to the state of buying in care, unpaid carers save the Treasury £119 billion annually, more than the entire NHS budget across the UK.
The UK government is very much the benefits recipient here. But making the weak, the poor and the powerless foot the bill for the mistakes and misdeeds of the elite is the politically prudent choice for a Westminster politician. This will not change no matter who is in power at Westminster. No further proof is needed that our political system is terminally ill and beyond hope of redemption.
The Union recognises no benefits from us, and there are no benefits from the Union, only welfare. I dread the consequences of a no vote. No matter what promises Better Together eventually trots out on what Scotland will get after a no vote, the destruction of the benefits system remains the harsh reality.
There will be challenges and difficult decisions to make in an independent Scotland too, but those choices will be made by a government we can hold to account. There are no guarantees that an independent Scottish state will do more to lighten the burden of carers, but I don’t believe anyone who says Scotland couldn’t afford it.
I’m fed up with the lies and the scaremongering, of being patronised by idiots. Scotland is a rich country, if we are facing unprecedented austerity it can only be because Scotland has been badly mismanaged by Westminster. If we are too poor to afford public services when we are such a resource rich nation, whose bloody fault is that then?
If the Union has been such a grand success, why are we too poor to make it by ourselves, especially since we are positively lowpin with natural and human resources that people will pay money for – oil, gas, renewable energy, whisky, coal, leading universities – and apparently we have shale oil and gas coming out our ears too, but we’re such a resource rich nation that we can afford not to exploit it. This is not a choice you can make in a resource poor country.
The reason we face unprecedented austerity is because of political choices made by a political class over which we exert no effective control. So it’s time for new management, a management that can be kept on a short leash and held to account, and which has to operate under constitutional rules that are written down in black and white instead of made up to suit themselves as they go along.
With independence there is the hope that things could change for the better, that we might have a government that believes in a universal benefits system, and recognises the benefits to society that such a system delivers because it ensures all citizens have the capacity to live decent and dignified lives. I hope and believe that can be achieved with independence. I’d like to hope it could be achieved in the UK, but I don’t believe it can.
There is no hope anything might change for the better with a no vote. A no vote promises only austerity, welfare cuts and a privatised dignity services provider staffed by workers on zero hours contracts. Those are the consequences of a no vote. They’re not pretty, no wonder Better Together is keeping quiet.