Don Berwick is an inspirational figure in the field I am currently employed in and was hand-picked by President Obama to introduce the reform of the American healthcare system so villainously and stupidly opposed by right wing America. ‘To Isaiah’ is the commencement address to the graduating class at Harvard University medical school. That sounds dull. It really isn’t.
There are three quotes in Don Berwick’s address that have particularly struck me. The first is by Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
“To become a man is to be responsible; to be ashamed of miseries that you did not cause.”I am deeply ashamed – mortified to the point of anger by the on-going widening inequality between the rich and the poor in this country. I feel helpless with barely controlled rage when smarmy Dave Cameron and his equally clueless toffee-arsed chums bleat on about how they understand that life is hard for ‘hard-working families’ but ‘we’re all in this together’. I find it shameful to be living in a country where job centre managers are being given suicide prevention training because of the numbers of desperate people they are seeing each day. It hounds me to the core.
The second quote is from the late Senator Hubert Humphrey:
“The moral test of government is how it treats people in the dawn of life, the children, in the twilight of life, the aged, and in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”So, how are we doing on this? How are the people living in the shadows? I tweeted recently how thousands of people are being denied disability living allowance under tough new governmental rules – and how, hypocritically, millionaire David Cameron and his wife Samantha claimed DLA themselves when their disabled son, Ivan, was alive.
I felt sorry for David Cameron when Ivan died. But I wonder what kind of bereaved father would wilfully turn the screw on parents who are going through the same experience of living with a disabled child.
Let’s be clear – the austerity cuts, the assault on the NHS, the denial of basic services to the community and particularly to the poor and needy are only ideological. They stem from a Tory conviction that the rich should not have to ‘subsidise’ the poor, that you are not your brother’s keeper, that if your neighbour only has one cloak you should take it from him if he owes you money, that compassion is only due to those you consider ‘deserving’, that the market is the divine authority and that the poor will always be with us so why bother trying to change things.
A remark on Twitter caught my eye today – on forming a government the Conservative’s priority was dismantling a working NHS. The rotten-to-the-core irredeemably corrupt banking system, which has yet again been exposed for the criminal racket it really was, attracted no attention. Bankers caused the global economic crisis that has been handily used as cover for the undermining, underfunding and destruction of the welfare state infrastructure. Have bankers been punished? Have they even been investigated?
There was an alternative to austerity – close the tax loopholes that allowed huge thieving companies like Goldman Sachs and Vodafone to pay less tax than the average corner shop. Deals were cut between HMRC and the accountants in those companies that were as unscrupulous as anything the traders at Barclay’s have been up to recently. Did the Tory government act when these came to light? Well, you know the answer to that.
And that gives the lie to the necessity of the austerity cuts. That gives the lie to the necessity of further impoverishing the disabled, the blind, the ill and the poor. That emphasises how these swindlers and conmen in government are in cahoots with the conmen and swindlers in the city and how the deliberate removal of what amount to a pitiful percentage of government expenditure, but means everything to the needy, is motivated by nothing more than an ideological, implacable hatred of ‘scroungers’ and ‘spongers’ by the wealthy.
This has happened by carefully and calculatingly distracting people. Firstly by the mythical debt that we had to pay off – although nobody I have ever asked could tell me exactly who this debt was owed to. Then by the righteous anger directed at the rioters, most of whom were uneducated dumbass kids from the worst of London’s sink estates. Then, by the wickedness perpetrated by journalists, although once that crept close to the government’s door it has been far less of a soapbox issue for politicians. And then by the Jubilympics, the endless stream of Union Jack tat, and the artificial excitement encouraged by a government led by a man who wanted everyone outside at street parties rather than paying attention to what was going on.
All this has happened in a haze of denial – encouraged by the incessant variation of a common theme: Keep Calm and Carry On. This ubiquitous message, to be quiet and shoulder the burden and just get through to the sunny lands promised on the other side of the long, hard, trek to freedom, is a meme that keeps coming back, and very convenient it is too. It appeals to the British stoicism, the ‘mustn’t grumble’ brigade, the ‘it’ll turn out alright in the end’ wishful thinkers.
But, no! We shouldn’t keep calm and carry on. We should get angry and change things.
This thought-train started by reading ‘To Isaiah’ (although much of it had been brewing for a while). I want to end with an original line from Dr Don Berwick that I found irresistibly prophetic:
“A nation that fails to attend to the needs of those less fortunate among us risks its soul.”Where is our soul?