With a little over a week to go before the UK General Election of 2015, I find myself getting steadily more depressed about politics, as the large parties continue to frame the choices between them as a dismal game of "Who's going to do the least damage to the country in the short term?"
This is what I want out of the UK government.
I want them to ensure that the nearly one million people who had to use food banks this year can pay for their groceries every month. (In 2008-2009, a mere 25,000 people used food banks. Which is still too many, but the scale of the increase in six years is mind-boggling.)
I want them to ensure that we can point proudly to a benefit system that supports and cares for those in our society who cannot work. I do not care whether they have ever made an economic contribution. I do not care how old they are. I want them to have a roof over their heads, medicines, heating in the winter and food in their bellies. Shockingly (it seems), I even believe that they should be allowed to be a bit frivolous and say, enjoy watching television, owning a pair of fashionable shoes or wasting time on the internet.
I want them to ensure that the increasingly massive imbalance in wealth distribution is stopped. I'm sick of being told that we could all be ultra-rich if we just tried harder
. (Side note: Every time I see George Osborne, apart from throwing up in my mouth a little, I think of Denholm Reynholm from The IT Crowd
giving a motivational speech to his employees. "When I started [Reynholm Industries] all I had was a dream!...And six million pounds." Except less inspirational because he doesn't even have the self-awareness to make that joke.) It is simply untrue, even for those of us who were born with sufficient privilege and good health to have led a comfortable existence in the middle class. There are plenty of people who will never work a job that pays more than minimum wage. Instead of blaming them for failing to alter the large-scale machinations of the economy, perhaps we could just pay them a minimum wage that pays the bills. And perhaps we could tax the ultra-rich sufficiently so that the ultra-rich cease to exist as a socioeconomic class
. This should not be impossible. I don't understand why the very idea of it seems to be anathema now.
I want them to stop propagating the myth that the country's economic problems stem from its immigration policies. There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that all immigration ("skilled" or otherwise) has a net positive effect on the economy, so I'm not going to bang on about that now. Instead, I will just reference my personal experience. I spent 10 years as an immigrant here. I've been in multiple visa classes over that time, in the following order:
- Domestic partner (I came over with an American partner who took a transfer from the LA to the London office of his company)
- Employer-sponsored work permit
- Highly Skilled Migrant (became Tier 1)
- Tier 1 (for which I would now no longer qualify since the income threshold was raised to £150,000/annum)
As a non-EEA (European Economic Area) migrant, I was never able to claim benefits, and if I ever lost my job, I had 28 days to find another one before I'd've had to leave the country. I spent the bulk of the 10 years in paid work, making regular NI contributions above the basic tax rate. Not only that, the visa system itself is a great money-spinner for Britain. With the exception of the employer-sponsored work permit, I (and my British partner, because he loves me and wants me to, you know, stay here and help raise our children) have paid out of pocket for all of my visas and renewals, for my Indefinite Leave to Remain, and most recently, for citizenship. The total cost is over £6000. So in addition to the money that my job naturally generated for the British economy, I voluntarily gave six grand to the UK Border Agency just for the right to continue to live here. I would imagine that most people could think of a lot of other stuff they'd rather do with six grand. To be honest, so can I, but I was willing to make the sacrifice in order to stay. And I am 100% certain that mine is not the only story like this.
I want them to keep the UK in the European Union. There are good political reasons for staying in the EU, but for me, one important factor, unsurprisingly, is SCIENCE. Without the UK's participation in the EU, a lot of large-scale multimillion pound research collaborations (e.g. high-profile space missions and a certain large particle physics experiment) would either fall apart or the UK would have to withdraw from them. Additionally, I'd love to hear how the parties trumpeting about an EU exit and closing borders to immigration would plan to repatriate the hundreds of thousands of British persons living abroad who would very likely be ejected in retaliation from the countries where they're presently residing.
I want them to address the housing shortage, which is increasingly looking as if it's going to screw nearly everyone's children out of ever owning a home for the next several decades. I want to see, for instance, the long-dead boarded-up shops on the high streets, which are never going to reopen because internet shopping, turned into nice flats and small parks. Bonus points if they're council flats, or rent-controlled if they're owned privately, so that private renters aren't paying more than 50% of their wage packets to their landlords to live in minimally maintained hovels.
Why does it have to be the case that believing in these things seems to mark one as a hopeless, unrealistic idealist? Is it all truly impossible to achieve? Why do we shrug our shoulders at an increasingly unequal and unfair status quo? One that, if it carries on as it's going, will mean that our children (and also many of us who are in our thirties and forties) will never be able to pay off their student loans, to own homes or to stop working when they get old, let alone believe that they'll have pensions or a health care system that will support them when they can't? It can't be too late to stop that from happening, can it?