lunes, 21 de octubre de 2013

Why Tory MPs should never tell beggars to 'get a job' - Metro

Why Tory MPs should never tell beggars to 'get a job'
Daniel Kawczynski said he wanted to encourage the man to take advantage of government literacy and numeracy programmes (Picture: PA)

Here's a little bit of gentle, kindly-meant advice for Daniel Kawczynski, the Conservative MP who has got into trouble for telling a one-legged beggar he ought to get a job.

Next time you come across a wheelchair-bound drug addict, think again before opening your mouth.

On a human level – the most important of all – his instruction to the beggar to get a job was a terrible error.

Instructing a stranger to get a job implies an instant moral judgment. Mr Kawzcynski might have been trying to help but by intervening in this matter he implicitly places himself in a position of knowing superiority which, at best, is counter-productive.

Why Tory MPs should never tell beggars to 'get a job'
Homeless people are among the most vulnerable of all in Britain (Picture: Reuters)

And at worst – well, today's headlines about the story sum up why Mr Kawczynski is living the worst-case scenario.

If this was a Labour MP, it wouldn't have attracted nearly as much attention.

Conservatives believe, very deeply, that everyone is capable of improving their lot if they really want to.

This is nice and comforting for those with middle-class backgrounds who are now enjoying the glittering prizes following their public school education; they had to get a lot of homework in on time, after all.

One-legged beggar 'names and shames' Tory MP who told him to get a job
Mark McGuigan said he was humiliated and intimidated by the Tory MP's intervention (Picture: Mark Richards)

It also happens to be very nearly true. Yes, pulling your socks up and trying your hardest will help make a difference.

No, it doesn't mean that absolutely everyone get themselves out of their difficulties. That is the assumption of every Conservative. It is the kind of mental shorthand which leaves vulnerable people shut out. It is what made Margaret Thatcher so hated.

Mr Kawczynski has argued the conversation has been misrepresented; he suggested the man, Mark McGuigan, ought to be enrolled on the 'government initiatives' addressing illiteracy and innumeracy.

He's sticking by the fundamental moral judgment, though. Why should he, an MP earning well over the average income, hand over a few coins of spare change to a homeless beggar? What is the beggar doing to justify his charity?

Why Tory MPs should never tell beggars to 'get a job'
Should charity towards beggars be unconditional? The purist Conservative outlook doesn't think so (Picture: Reuters)

Depending on your politics, this is either an outrageous imposition or a perfectly reasonable slice of conditionality. It's the same harsh choice being pushed through in the government's welfare reforms: we'll give you a handout, but only if you can justify it.

That's the real significance of Mr Kawczynski's altercation with a man reducing to begging for money from politicians. Tories are becoming less afraid to stand up and ask these questions about the vulnerable in public.

Even in an extreme case like this one, where a well-off politician in a suit is deciding whether or not to come to the aid of a man brought to the worst of circumstances by a life of suffering, the politician now believes he can get away with it.

That says a lot about the society we're now living in. And I, for one, don't like it one bit.

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