'The public sector attack will turn society into an uglier place'
I was reading recently about a group of older Japanese scientists who have volunteered to go and work at the still stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant in a bid to make it safe.
The logic of the scientist who brought the group together, Yastel Yamada, is as clear as it is generous. He says: “The cancers that are formed by the radiation take 10, 20 or 30 years to appear. Most of us will be dead by then.”
Their aim he says is to “put the nuclear monsters to sleep”.
I have mentioned this story to a few people and the responses are interesting, not so much because of the different take people have but because of the emotions that underpinned their responses.
Some considered it brave, others logical. One said: “I bet they’ll want big money.” Another said: “Are they retired kamikaze pilots looking for glory?”, which struck me as cynical or at least disrespectful.
Other people doing something noble or good can make us feel uplifted or humbled, perhaps. Or maybe it can make us feel inadequate, slightly lessened.
I wonder if the latter set of emotions may be underpinning the current Tory led-assault on public service workers.
They say it is about economics. We hear politicians argue about what is economically desirable or possible. That it is not possible for the public sector to continue to drain on resources. We are told off for running up the national debt and given dark warnings about the deficit. The economics of cuts are thus presented not as political - that is a choice about how to express power, vision or values - but as inevitable. “We have no choice,” they say, “we have to do this.”
Now, personally, I don’t think they do. I think there are probably other ways of reorganising our collective wealth that would enable us to get through these difficult times. Cut back on the wars, for example. Or tax avoidance. Or re-examine the surreal relationship government has with the banks, perhaps. However, none of that is going to happen, so arguing about economics seems a distraction. So perhaps we should argue about politics.
I was chatting to a colleague who was talking about his wife. She is a social worker. By all accounts she is a brilliant social worker. She has been working with vulnerable people for 22 years and earns £30,000 a year. What is notable is that she will probably never earn much more than £30,000, no matter how brilliant she is.
Her doing that job makes our world a better place. Not only is she being useful for not very much money but also she is contributing meaningfully to making our society more civilised, more considered and more generous. Without her work, or the work of nurses - who are society’s main manifestation of caring being a social responsibility as opposed to an act of charity - our society becomes a darker, uglier, less civilised place, doesn’t it?
Politically speaking, how we value things like duty, responsibility, generosity and kindness are rarely discussed. Yet they define us.
The nature of the assault on wages, funding and pensions is at best graceless, isn’t it? It is not respectful nor considered but aggressive and confrontational. I wonder what underpins it. Is it dislike? Embarrassment? Misanthropic intolerance?
Or is it a political attempt to shift our values fundamentally to the point of eradicating the social expressions of duty, responsibility and a commitment to the wellbeing of others?
It feels like the latter to me. This is all about politics dressed up as economics.