I can remember being in a meeting in the run up to the 2011 General Election in a hustings event organised by the then Princess Trust For Carers. They invited several politicians to attend and this time was the turn of Johanne Lamont the soon to be announced leader of Scottish Labour. She used this to launch a new initiative. A carer’s champion, who would sit in the cabinet and raise how labour policy might impact on carer’s life. At that time I asked her about how one person could talk for all carers but it was just discussed briefly.
This week the same Johanne Lamont announced in the press that a carer’s champion has been appointed. The first non elected member of the shadow cabinet but the first of several others.The SNP not to be outdone will be naming carer’s champions in local authorities they control. When I spoke to some of my political friends some of them at first thought this was a move in the right direction, surely this must have been the result of carers’ lobbying the politicos, well done, power to your elbow,but like many of the actions of professional politicians it smells of placation and cynicism.
This week one of the main sponsors of the Paralympics are ATOS, a french company who have been awarded a multi million pound package by the condems to carry out assessments for people with disabilities fitness for work. Their role has been criticised by many groups and charities. Many people who receive DLA under the current rules will be deemed “fit for work” and will lose their entitlement to the new Personal Independence Payment. Their carers will no longer be eligible for Carer’s allowance. Cuts are being made to front line services affecting the most vulnerable in our society. These cuts are being made at a local level by all the political parties. Day Centres are being closed, learning support budgets slashed, sheltered employment workplaces losing contracts. Of course the politicians in opposition in the local authorities look on and condemn such action while their colleagues in power have to make similar “choices”.
My fear for the champions is the decisions that may be made in their name. Will they be asked about who should have priority for adapted housing? policy on welfare reforms. The labour party leadership have indicated they are broadly in favour of welfare cuts and Universal Credit was the brainwave of their own Frank Fields. We all perceive the world through our own very specific binocular vision, our experiences are ours alone and like it or not do colour our decision making. Even the very best well intentioned of us will have our own personal bias. That is why in Scotland we have more than one MSP representing an area in the hope we can have a new way of politics with different voices being heard.
The champions will all be wonderful campaigners, I laud them for all they have done but not one person can speak for me and my friends. We envisioned a carer’s cabinet a group of carers who could give a wide range of different perspectives. One voice can easily be quietened and used for justification for many difficult decisions. Look at the example of Bob Holman a poverty campaigner living in Easterhouse. Ian Duncan Smith used him as justification for workfare and welfare cuts. Recently he has taken the brave step of refusing his MBE and being critical of Duncan Smith in the press and media. However this is a man who has a lifetime of experience behind him and the experience of making a stand on issues that concern him.
What are the pros and cons of tokenism? Politicians can pat themselves on the back and say we consulted you. When decisions are made, we consulted you, when all it comes down too is a box ticking exercise. What about the carers who they say they want to represent? we become more cynical about the whole political process and realise it is ot about about the wealth of your experience but who you parlez with. We want real representation from those who we choose not just photo opportunities and sound bites. If the Scottish Parliament is really the People’s Parliament show us some respect as intelligent people facing difficult circumstances. As partners who often may swim against the tide and disagree with what you have to say, not as a homogeneous mass of “carers” but as extraordinary people all with a different perspective and a valid viewpoint. Anything else is simply not good enough.