Saturday, 23 October 2010

Work and Responsibility

The beautifully produced, intelligently written and faultlessly acted UK ITV series Downton Abbey has, among its many moments of thoughtful reflection on society, a scene where the current Earl is talking to a cousin, his only male relative and therefore inheritor of the estate (this is the 1920s).

The cousin, Matthew Crawley, is a middle class lawyer and uncomfortable with the lifestyle of the landed gentry. He refuses to allow his new valet to assist him in dressing, etc.. The valet has politely informed the Earl, and now the Earl gently reminds Matthew that although his sensibilities may be ruffled, for the valet it's his job and livelihood that are at stake. The point being that the "downstairs servants" have useful - and for most - fulfilling employment. For the Earl, this is part of his responsibility, and it weighs heavily upon him. He sees himself not as the owner of the estate, but its steward, and as such is responsible for the jobs and livelihoods of those who live in and on it.

After my recent criticism of the comprehensive spending review, it occurred to me that there is a connection here. The Earl, in his small way, is like the government. People are dependent upon him and his decisions affect their lives. He takes this very seriously and sees it as both his duty and his privilege to "serve" them by doing his utmost to rule with justice, compassion and mercy.

This should be the role of the government. I think they have forgotten this. They would do well to reconsider. How many times a day do Messrs Cameron and Clegg ask themselves, I wonder, "are we doing right by the people of the UK?" -- or if they do so, do they then do their utmost to ensure that their decisions meet that goal? Consider:


They are making one in twelve people in the public sector redundant over the next few years -- and women will be hit disproportionately harder.Where will all those out of work people go? Just how many will find new jobs? What plans has the government made for them?

Well being

Those that remain in public sector employment will have to pay more towards their pensions (making the pensions bill cheaper for the government, and effectively imposing a pay cut on the workers). And social services will be hit hard too, meaning that vulnerable people like the elderly will be adversely affected. At the other end of the scale scrapping the education maintenance allowance (EMA) will stop low-income students  receiving financial support and perhaps forcing them into the (un)employment market early with fewer skills.

The Cuts don't Pay!

The irony of the cuts is they are short term and rather than looking at how the economy and tax income can be rebuilt, they are simply short term remedial actions that will create a reduction in public debt at the expense of the future.

So is our government like the Earl of Downton Abbey? Somehow I don't think so.

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