David Cameron’s politics might be better described as poli-tricks.
We have to be wary about his promises - good as they might sound - even on a subject as important as this.
The emerging pattern of Cameron's politics goes like this: Cut services deeply, cause devastation, bring to crisis point; step in and express concern; claim the service has been failing for decades; make a big announcement, promise `reform` and use a strong and meaningful phrase that will stick in the minds of the public, for example: 'end the stigma of mental illness'. And, of course, this is crucial: make sure the media is silenced and does not remind the people of the main cause of the crisis – government cuts and negligence.
Last week it was all about prisons. This week it is Mental Health.
We should rejoice that he wants to ‘end the stigma of mental health’ and bring it on to an ‘equal footing as physical health’? This sounds great – but should we be scared? If so, why?
Think for a moment how this Tory government treats people with physical health problems. It's not a good record.
Basically, they do not believe people are physically ill - they do not believe their Doctors, Occupational Health, or anyone with any medical training, or even the evidence that might be obviously staring them in the face. They tell us that going to work makes us feel better, we may not realise it - but it is good for us. To a certain extend we might agree - but they go much too far with this questionable philosophy.
Everyone now with any physical illness, even if they are terminally ill or severely disabled – is expected to work until they retire – and the retirement age is going up all the time. In fact, some MPs don’t even want the retired to properly retire – they want to impose pension sanctions if pensioners fail to provide some voluntary service to the community.
This week alone we heard about 14,000 disabled people who depend on specially adapted cars to get to work have their mobility cars removed. We have seen a person with no arms and legs, due to meningitis, being questioned that he is actually disabled. We have had people with Parkinson’s – being asked how long they are likely to have it; and people with Alzheimer’s being questioned about when they can return to work.
People who are already suffering from illness are being harassed on a daily basis to return to work or pay some penalty. This is common procedure for the DWP - CIPD Best Practice seems to have disappeared - people cannot expect any fairness, sensitivity, help or support from their employer when they fall ill now.
This is how our government treats people with `physical illness`. And it should be noted that when it becomes clear to them that a person cannot work again - they remove their support and cut their benefits. Not being able to work due to illness - is now regarded as deserving a punishment, not support.
So – when the government says they are going to `end the stigma of mental health` and bring it on to an equal footing with physical health it does not inspire much confidence. What exactly do they mean? Do they actually mean they just intend to ‘end mental health as an excuse for people not to work?’ - and that they intend to force people with mental health illness into the workplace just as they do physically ill people? Isn't that what 'equal treatment' means in Tory-talk?
Whether people are physically or mentally ill they are already not believed. DWP want `proof`and they interpret most of the 'evidence' as `faked`- it is their assumption that `all` sick people are just trying to escape their responsibility to work. At the moment there are many mentally ill people in our prison system who should not be there - and nothing is being done about that.
We know that this government promises a lot of things which sound good to us. But their words mean something very different to them. We have to learn to read between the lines, to see the evidence of their behaviour in other areas. In this case – how do they treat people who are physically ill? Will it be a good thing to be treated the same as them? How are they likely to treat people who are mentally ill? Most probably, as they do already.
The Tory government have re-defined illness – illness does not exist, there are just different levels of health, none of which allow a person not to work. They force ill people into the workplace – and as we know many terminally ill (around 4,000) have died. If people don’t die – their performance is regarded as inadequate by their managers and they end up being cruelly punished in some way by the system for failure to conform to the work standard – and so many fall into unemployment, poverty and homelessness.
They are playing games with our health. They are playing games with our lives. We are like pawns in a game of chess – all too readily discarded.
This government measures our `worth` in terms of how useful we are. Can we work? Will we work long hours for low pay? What can we offer businesses? Can we generate any wealth for the rich? How much do we cost the tax payer? The tax we pay – they do not want to spend on the welfare state to people in need (whom they have re-defined as scroungers and layabouts because they cannot work) - they prefer to spend on subsidies to do the things they want to do but don’t want to pay for out of their own funds. We don't 'deserve' it! We have all been labelled and written off in some way or another - the sick, disabled, old, unemployed, poor.
Austerity has given them the golden ticket to do as they please - in the name of prudence. And anyone who questions this is labelled and dismissed as imprudent with claims that we 'all knew it was going to be hard.'