Opinion: Making wellbeing the primary aim
PUBLISHED: 12:30 06 February 2020
Compassion in politics has to transcend and override all party political allegiances.
We are moved when people suffer, particularly if they suffer as a result of inhumane laws. We have been reminded just how inhumane laws can be this 75th year after the Holocaust.
I have witnessed both compassion and oppression in British law. Shortly after the foundation of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust in 1997, we achieved a contract with High Wycombe Magistrates' Court.
Defendants who do not turn up at court when summoned are fined in their absence. If the fine is not paid they are called back to a fines enforcement court. The low income people I helped were benefit claimants. They had been fined for failing to pay their TV licence or for shoplifting.
Their means statements showed that a low benefit income, and their repayment of existing debts, meant they could not afford their weekly grocery bill, let alone pay for a TV licence or the fine imposed for not paying it.
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As a McKenzie Friend (a layperson permitted by the court to support a defendant), I presented their evidence to the magistrates. A first offence or a change of circumstances, such as ill health, a marriage, the birth of a child or becoming unemployed, were accepted as valid reasons to cancel the fine or to reduce it to a level proportionate to the defendant's income. It was paid off in instalments.
The law and the evidence together permit compassion in the magistrates' court. It gets harder for repeat offenders. Yet, even then, there is enough left, after the imposition of a fine, for their household to eat. The habitual repeat offender is fed in prison.
Whichever political party Ham&High readers belong to, there has to be a substantial proportion of party membership who are now profoundly concerned about the way compassion has drained out of politics since the 2007/8 financial crisis, particularly in Haringey and other London boroughs with high deprivation. The law now permits harsh punishments to be imposed by job-centre officials. They leave unemployed people without the money to buy food, fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities. They are destitute for weeks, even months, on end, while debts, rent and council tax arrears pile up until they become unmanageable. More and more people are hungry and homeless. People's lives are at risk and, as a result, too many have died young.
The structures that were once called 'social security' are now used to force people into work, at whatever cost to their health and wellbeing. All unemployed people are punished by inadequate incomes because of the very few who manipulate the system. It would be better to set the law against those dishonest few and to care for the health and wellbeing of the vast majority of decent unemployed people
A growing movement is demanding that the government makes the personal health and wellbeing of British people, rather than economic growth, the primary aim of spending. Our advice? Get compassion done, prime minister!
- The Reverend Paul Nicolson, founded the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust in 1997 and Taxpayers Against Poverty in 2012: taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk