My constituents believe in a tough-minded fairness code, applying to both work and welfareby John Denham / June 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Sarah’s front room, in the Weston area of Southampton, is crowded with friends and neighbours. They are at the end of their tether over the behaviour of a nuisance neighbour. These are not selfish or uncaring people. Indeed, some of them have shown great generosity in dealing with their drug-addicted, alcoholic neighbour. They have given money, fed and clothed her children, and lent furniture when she burned her own. Now they feel there is no one on their side.
“We phoned the NSPCC, the social services, the school – all the time we’ve tried to get support for her. But the housing association aren’t enforcing the tenancy agreement; the police only react. She’s got all these social workers and we have no one.” Everyone agreed that “it just isn’t fair.” It is a sentiment I have heard a lot over the past year, summed up by a working mother: “You got to work, pay your taxes, play by the rules, but all the help goes to other people.”
Another place you can hear this said is at employee-owned Southampton Cargo Handling. Ten years ago, the company was visited by John Smith’s social justice commission. Gordon Borrie, chairman of the commission, declared, “I have seen the future and it works.” Today, the worker-owners say, “The future doesn’t work because people keep bloody screwing us.” Owning their company has brought the workers benefits in health and safety, training and so on, but intense competition has held down wages. Workers who had once enjoyed a decent pension scheme now have no company pension at all.
The director of a ship-repair company complains that there is no premium to be gained from shipowners for a good health and safety record. It makes business sense to make more use of subcontractors, even if it means that the next generation of shipyard workers will come from EU accession states, not Britain.
The resulting resentment is only partly directed at employers. Migrants, especially illegal ones, are resented for their readiness to work in the most dangerous conditions at the lowest rates. But it is the government that is seen to let it happen. Many people believe, rightly or wrongly, that while other countries bend the rules, we can’t, because “we’re British.”
A young IT professional says, “My mother has MS but she can’t get beta interferon. She is told it’s too expensive, but she’s not smoked,…