Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Beware censorship and Government bullying!

So the benefit cap is now in place. And with warnings from the Chancellor and others that they want to make it lower. Indeed various mean minded folk on the Commons backbenches want to make things harder for folk at the sharp end of life. Telling them not to have more than 2 children if they want to keep benefits for example. Politics is getting meaner and nastier all round.

A stark example of that was the Today interview with IDS. Another wise sensible conversation with the great John Humphrys descended to farce. IDS risked sounding paranoid, rather than the rehabilitated, no-nonsense Secretary of State for Work and Pensions since 2010. Allowing his irritation to get the better of him, he accused the BBC of seeking out ‘politically motivated’ criticism of his benefits cap, when all that John Humphrys was seeking to do was test policy claims against research. When IDS declared ‘I believe I am right’, it sounded like a death knell for evidence-based policy in his Department. 

But it was followed by the Chair of the Conservative Party also having a go at the BBC. This is a classic case of “shoot the messenger". As we do not yet have a Soviet style news broadcaster that merely publishes the thoughts and prejudices of our rulers lets hope the BBC will continue to highlight the real suffering of those on benefits who are losing out. In a balanced way, yes. But it’s not the job of the BBC to act as a cheerleader for Government. 

And there is a warning here for our charity sector. It is our job to speak out. It is our job to point to injustices and iniquities and to hold Government to account. But in this febrile pre election era expect government to get heavy about criticism. It is not far off the time when I expect overt and covert pressure being brought to bear on those who criticise.  We have already seen some of this from the PASC report, and some of the attacks by memento of said Committee on Shelter for speaking out for the homeless. 

So to my members I say; watch out but don't buckle. You will know you are being successful if you come under criticism. And continue to highlight the problems of the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and other reforms. It’s our job on behalf of our beneficiaries to do so.

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