The Tory government’s decision to withdraw from the search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean where tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing their war-savaged homelands is an act of pitiless inhumanity. Already this year alone some 25,000 people have arrived in Italy, and similar numbers from Eritrea, with thousands more from Iraq, Nigeria and Somalia. The numbers who never got there and drowned on the way are not known, but they certainly run into thousands. To back out of this humanitarian mission is callous and despicable, especially when the motive is plainly to compete with Ukip in being hostile and harsh to migrants. It is made even worse when the Home Secretary hides behind the disingenuous pretext that saving lives only encourages more persons to risk this treacherous escape route. It is a shameful indictment to Britain’s reputation as a haven to the persecuted that the UK has resettled less than a tenth of the number of Syrians taken by Germany and Sweden and is now washing its hands of a fundamental humanitarian duty.
Tragically this hard-heartedness has also been played out across the whole spectrum of domestic policies too. It is displayed in sanctioning – now affecting a million persons a year – whereby a recipient of job-seeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance have their allowance withdrawn in full if, for example, they are 5 minutes late for a job interview or are in hospital when they’re supposed to be on a work programme. And for a second infringement they’re deprived of all their income for 3 months, and for a third the loss extends to 3 years! No wonder so many are forced to steal, especially when they have dependants, and then are given a fine which they cannot pay when they only stole because they had no money in the first place. It even leads to the penniless deliberately stealing expensive items because then they’re sentenced to a few months in a warm cell and are fed 3 means a day. Then there are the further million a year – not the same people, but with some overlap – who are forced to use foodbanks. Plus the hundreds of thousands of disabled people subjected to flimsy work capability assessments and signed off as capable of work, which often their GPs deny, with a halving or more of their benefit – supported by the Tory welfare minister, the ineffable Lord Freud, who told us the disabled weren’t worth £2 an hour anyway, and that the spread of undreds of food banks was because people like a free meal.
Then there is the freezing of pay for public sector workers (when MPs are being offered an 11% rise by Ipsa), the extension of the waiting days (before any benefit is paid) from 3 to 7 days implemented last Monday, the housing benefit cap, the increase in social rents to private rent levels, the bedroom tax, and on and on it goes. Most of these impositions will save little money and make a minuscule contribution to paying down the deficit. But what they all share is a gratuitously punitive attitude towards to the poor and downtrodden. Inhumanity is now the defining characteristic of this Tory government, and Labour should nail this on their electoral coffin.