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Opinion

No measure of health

21 Apr 2024 5 minute read
Rishi Sunak on welfare reform

Ben Wildsmith

We don’t tend to think of Rishi Sunak as being intimidating. If he was in the Rheola in Porth on a Saturday night and started effing and blinding in front of the ladies, I’d have no hesitation in stepping up to him and issuing a reprimand.

‘I don’t know how you carry on in the nose-to-tail gastropubs of Richmond, North Yorkshire, butt,’ I would tell him, ‘But round here we mind our language. Now, sit down and finish your Babycham.’

I wouldn’t anticipate any further trouble from Sunak. If anybody spent breaktimes at school with his head down the toilet looking for the blue goldfish, it’s him.

Intimidation takes many forms, however, and the Prime Minister comes into his own when he’s using his ‘caring’ voice. We’re not often treated to this.

More commonly, he’s flanked by union flags comically trying to put the frighteners on people-smuggling gangs or attempting to troll Keir Starmer at PMQs… ‘Yeah, but you were mates with Jeremy Corbyn!’

Unctuous insincerity

It’s only when he’s trying to project kindness that his black heart is properly revealed. At the outset of this week’s speech on illness and economic inactivity, the PM sought to reassure us that of course he would never make life more difficult for people who faced genuine health challenges.

The tone of voice he employed for this section of the speech was legitimately terrifying. His caveats were slathered with an unctuous insincerity that set off every fight or flight alarm I possess.

Part Bitcoin grifter, part Stepford wife, one can imagine him being employed to tell people that an AI programme has selected them to be euthanised.

He is a walking Happy Meal, the ostensibly human equivalent of an online mortgage application. We are sorry, you have been unsuccessful…

All of which, of course, is of a piece with the substance of what Sunak had to say. The casual assumption that there are millions of workshy parasites gaming the system for an easy life is a go-to trope for failing regimes everywhere.

It’s not you of course, it’s those other, the lead-swinging malingerers who are to blame for our ills.

I can’t remember a time when politicians hadn’t suddenly realised that the latest cohort of working-age people was letting the side down. It’s so familiar in its desperation that much of the speech could have been written at any time during the last 200 years.

Sunak is, of course, relying on an increasingly elderly segment of the electorate to turn out and vote so wheeling out condemnations of feckless youngsters will be a feature of the next few months.

So far, so depressingly predictable.

Financially incentivised

What was new and far more alarming, is Sunak’s suggestion that GPs be stripped of the power to issue sick notes, or ‘fit notes’ as they are known in the newspeak of our times.

The responsibility for this is to be handed to unspecified ‘professionals’ who won’t feel the ‘pressure’ to issue them experienced by family doctors.

These ‘professionals’ will undoubtedly be employees of private companies whose government contract will specify that they return as many people to work as possible.

So, if you need time off, the conversation you have will not be with a clinician who is trained to ensure your wellbeing, but with someone financially incentivised to persuade you into work.

Will such an employee be interested in the chronic shortage of medication that is a feature of post-Brexit Britain?

Sunak specifically highlighted mental health issues such as depression and anxiety as targets for ‘help’ in returning to work.

Ignoring the 1.9 million people on waiting lists for mental health treatment, he implied that many if not most sufferers should be dragging their conditions to the workplace where the ‘dignity’ of work will do them the power of good.

Glassy-eyed

Labour rightly pointed out that much of this problem stems from underfunding of the NHS. It didn’t, however, attack the moral premise of the speech and that is a concern.

Is it now a given that people who feel unwell are to be mistrusted at the institutional level?

In the absence of an explicit pledge not to pursue this line of thinking, the comforting reality that Sunak is in no position to enact anything might soon be replaced by the realisation that Labour has accepted his position as the status quo.

Tony Benn once remarked that the treatment of refugees was instructive as to how governments would treat the rest of us if they could get away with it.

As the monstrous Rwanda plan meanders towards legislation, we are seeing its dehumanising language directed towards the population at large.

The glassy-eyed, casual cruelty of governance in the UK is bearing down on more of us by the day.

‘It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.’ – Jiddu Krishnamurti.

Ben Wildsmith will be in appearing at Llandeilo Lit Fest on Saturday 27 April from 13.00 to 14.00 at Hengwrt 8 Carmarthen Street Llandeilo, SA19 6AE. Follow the links for tickets.

The event is sponsored by Cambria Publishing and will be Chaired by Adam Price AS/MS.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Modi boy nothing else but. Him, Fat Shanks, Hunt, Patel and Braverman are pursuing some diabolical crusade and the Tory Party handed them the UK to @Slash, Burn and Pillage and finally pollute in every way…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Rich beyond Croesus but lacking in any human virtue what so ever…

Lord Custard
Lord Custard
1 month ago

Clearly the 300,000 premature deaths caused by Tory austerity weren’t enough. (Figures from a Glasgow university study). This millionaire, who wastes taxpayers’ money flying round in helicopters, can’t work out why so many people are sick. Has a waiting list of 8 million for operations, has raised the pension age, caused the worst drop in living standards since WWII and has the highest taxes in 70 years. A nasty party, with nasty policies designed to appeal to nasty people.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

The tories are intent on destroying everything that can be described as good, changing britain into a cesspit populated with gong farmers!

adrian savill
adrian savill
29 days ago

Just keep these articles coming – they will get through..

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