One might almost think that the fake news furore over the purported de-Eastering by the National Trust earlier in the week, which Theresa May laid into, was specifically designed as a distraction from the unpleasantness of this government: how Theresa May is currently in Saudi Arabia, pitching further sales of arms to that disgusting, medieval regime; and how they are introducing massive cuts in benefits to the bereaved with children.
On this latter issue, the government’s attempts to spin their appalling cuts to families struggling with the most horrific of circumstances as not just necessary, but actually generous go beyond mere cynicism. Richard Harrington, the Under-Secretary of State for Pensions, recently suggested that cutting bereavement benefit from the entire period that the remaining parent had responsibility for children to a paltry eighteen months was an act of generosity, as the bereavement payments previous would stop people from “readjusting” to life as a single parent. Nasty, cynical? That was just the warm-up. Because his justification for the fact that cohabiting but unmarried bereaved partners will get precisely nothing was that this was in order to save them distress: that “having to prove cohabitation could be a lengthy, complex process, which could cause distress at a time of bereavement.”
This is breathtakingly cynical and vicious. To portray this removal of support from grieving and possibly suddenly impoverished people as an act of kindness… well, it’s almost a surprise that his own oesophagus didn’t spontaneously close over and refuse to allow him to utter such a hideous, distorted piece of mendacity.
Now, let us skip forward to today, and the introduction of new rules about tax credits for children. In general, I am in favour of the government discouraging families from having large numbers of children. We have far too many people on the planet already, and we certainly don’t need to be producing more at the unstoppable rate that we currently are. But whatever steps are taken to encourage less children must always balance this against the fact that not all pregnancies are volitional, and that some people have moral objections to abortion—though I may disagree with them on this, it would be as hideous to push people who genuinely objected to abortion into having one as it is for those who oppose abortion to attempt to prohibit them for others. As such, direct financial incentives tied simply to number of children seem too blunt a tool for the government to use to achieve the end of discouraging over-large families. Unless, of course, the government’s actual purpose was not discouraging volitional third pregnancies, but simply an excuse for finding further support to cut.
Because, as of today, tax credits will only be paid for the first two children in a family—unless a rape or coercive relationship led to the pregnancy with the third child. A rape, which the mother will have to prove by completing an eight-page form, and reporting the rape to a “third party organization” who will assess her claims: this for a crime so personal and traumatic that only about 15% of instances are reported to the police, and where institutional support for survivors is so desultory that precisely those Rape Crisis Centres who will be required to carry out the third-party confirmation (and who will thus be put in the position of having to make judgments on behalf of the government concerning the validity of a survivor’s claims; rather than neutrally and unjudgmentally providing support and counselling) had, as of March 2016, waiting lists of more than 4,000 people.
So, this is the state of welfare under Compassionate Conservatism. Bereavement and rape must be two of the most traumatic events that an individual can experience in their lives. But any bereavement payments at all are withheld from a unmarried person, to save them the “distress” of proving cohabitation—something that a quick glance over the electoral register would rather easily accomplish. And yet to gain support for a child born from rape or a coercive relationship, extensive and intrusive enquiries and proof must now be undergone.
Cynical, hypocritical, and just downright nasty: this government has no moral grounding of any kind. It is the most repugnant administration I have seen in my lifetime.