By JR on Monday, January 16, 2012
It’s always a poor day for politics when the House of Lords becomes not simply the nation’s second Chamber but its conscience, as it did with the Welfare Reform Bill this week. Does it take being ennobled and stuck in an anachronistic institution to be able to speak up for the very poorest and sickest among us?
Anyone who had glibly assumed that Cameron’s own family experience of disability may make his Government less keen to cut the benefits of those who really can’t work was wrong. His experience is of profound disability, not profound poverty.
As the Bill unravels, few deny the need for reform or cutting the deficit. What we cannot stomach is picking on the ill or dying. Is a child born with multiple disabilities, never able to work or pay National Insurance, a ‘something for nothing’ scrounger? Should those with a terminal diagnosis have to worry if they have enough money to get through the week? This is the cruel reality of what was proposed.
Classifying all those on benefits as workshy semi-criminals will not wash, if we get back to basics. We care for the weakest out of decency, not statist ideology. Cuts to the Disability Living Allowance mean the disabled and their families living on less money, and continual assessments.
Lord Patel put it forcefully in the debate: ‘I am sympathetic to cutting the deficit, but I am highly sympathetic to sick and vulnerable people not being subject to something that will make their lives more miserable.’
What does he know? Aren’t the Lords just a bunch of inbred toffs?
Actually, I have had to reassess my view. Lord Patel is an expert on the rights of the disabled. The British-Tanzanian son of Indian immigrants, he is an obstetrician who has specialised in high-risk pregnancies, foetal-growth retardation and standards in health and clinical provision. He may indeed know a thing or two in a way the average supine MP doesn’t.
Indeed, I’ve been impressed the last few times I’ve been to the Lords. Yes, there are elderly hereditaries and pompous bishops – but also people with all types of expertise who would never have been MPs.
As the political class narrows to comprise privileged clones who have done nothing but PR, law or media, we need a Lords full of those who have lived differently. If political success is won only by thrusting, photogenic youthful people with perfect families, we are all poorer for it.