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The King’s Injustice: Choices and Consequences

by Naomi Jacobs

Under the Conservative-led government, homelessness has risen 55% in the past five years. Photo: homeless man in London.

Under the Conservative-led UK government, homelessness has risen 55% in the past five years. Photo: homeless man in London. By Victoria Johnson.

After that, Lugaid mac Con was a year in the kingship of Tara, and no grass came through the earth, nor leaf on tree, nor grain in corn. So the men of Ireland expelled him from his kingship, for he was an unlawful ruler.
– Aislinge Meic Conglinne, trans. Preston-Matto, 2010

A ruler’s truth overpowers armies. It brings milk into the world, it brings corn and mast.
– Early Irish text cited in Ó hÓgáin, 1999

In ancient Ireland, the king’s justice, the King’s Truth – fír flathemon – was the condition of sovereignty on which the prosperity of the land depended. If the king ruled with justice, the land prospered. If he failed in this, the land was barren, and the people suffered. Eventually, he would be deposed and a good king would replace him.

On May 7th, the UK had a general election, and a Conservative government was elected. This post is not about party politics. It is about political activism, and why it is needed – especially when the king’s justice is by no means certain for the future.

The Conservative-led UK government has spent the past five years implementing all manner of economically and socially conservative legislation and programmes. These cuts and measures have disproportionately targeted the poorest and most vulnerable* people in UK society. Here are just a few examples. I could have cited many more.

Injustice limits access to justice

Legal aid is an extremely old concept, found in the Bible and other ancient legal systems. It’s been a pillar of the UK social security system for generations, and it exists in many other countries too. The UK government has made sweeping cuts to legal aid, limiting most people’s access to financial support for legal representation. People in the foster care system, homeless people and parents in custody battles are all having to represent themselves in court. The worst affected area has been family law, which has seen a reduction in the use of mediation, which is likely to have had negative effects on families and children. In an unintended side-effect of the implementation of the cuts, people who experience domestic violence have been asked to show evidence of this before legal aid will pay their legal costs. The evidence is required to be no more than 24 months old. And it must be police evidence, which is a serious problem if the police haven’t believed you, or if you’ve been too afraid to report the abuse. Meanwhile, employment tribunal fees are no longer being paid by the government, as a result of which the rate of tribunals has dropped by 90%. This means less justice for those working in insecure jobs, in poor conditions, not receiving minimum wage, or facing discrimination at work. Injustice entrenches itself in the system.

Injustice compounds injustice

Then we’ve had the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. If people in social housing have more bedrooms than are deemed necessary, they have to pay more for them. Often this occurs in housing where people have lived for many years, where there can be many reasons for extra bedrooms (including the need for space to store disability-related equipment or to have a care worker sleeping nearby), and which they are now being made to leave. This measure is very badly timed, hitting people simultaneously with other serious housing issues, including a rental market that is spiralling out of control, as landlords charge more and more in rent, especially in the cities. As a result, thousands of people are being forced to move away from their home towns, relocated to cheaper housing elsewhere. This is having a knock-on effect on families, with parents even losing their children to the foster care system. Injustice compounds injustice.

No extra rooms allowed, no matter what you need them for. Photo: wheelchair in a room at home. By Wheelz24.

No extra rooms allowed, regardless of need. Photo: wheelchair. By Wheelz24.

Injustice destroys the weakest

Another horrendous move has been the closure of the Independent Living Fund. This fund helps to pay for the care of the most severely disabled people in our society, ensuring that they do not have to live in care homes, allowing them a measure of independence despite severe impairment. The fund is due to close in July. The government claims that the funding will move into the general local council social care budgets – but it is not ringfenced, i.e. the government will move the funding over without forcing local councils to spend it on the care of disabled people. Local council budgets have been cut by up to 30% across the board, and they are already struggling to pay for the care of disabled and elderly people, whose support is being cut as a result. This moving video features disabled people who are currently supported by the ILF, talking about their fears for the future. It’s worth watching. Injustice is brutal.

Photo: disabled people protest against cuts. By Roger Blackwell.

Photo: disabled people protest against cuts. By Roger Blackwell.

There’s also been ‘reform’ of disability benefits – by which the government really means cuts to benefits. Disabled people have been affected by government cuts 18 times harder than non-disabled people, some statistics suggest. Employment Support Allowance, an out-of-work benefit for those who can’t work due to disability, has been scandalously implemented via a ‘fitness to work’ test that has certified people as ready to go back to work just before they died from their conditions, as part of a system which has negatively impacted many people’s health. ESA has since been time-limited for many thousands of people, while ill people are being penalised and having their benefits removed if they cannot keep appointments (because they are sick).There have also been changes to funds that help to pay for the extra costs of disability, regardless of whether or not a person is in work. Without some of this funding, I will have no money to pay the soaring costs of disability in a society that increasingly doesn’t have room for me. I fear for my future and ability to work when I do. Injustice is expensive.

Injustice tramples the rights of the people

The government is now attempting to scrap the Human Rights Act, which allows us such terrible things as the right to freedom of expression, the right to an education, and the right to a private family life.

According to ajgcanada.com, these are all reforms that entrench poverty and increase inequality. Reforms that leave people in desperate situations. Reforms that destroy local services, including social care for elderly people and the National Health Service that all of us rely on (there is very little in the way of decent health insurance available to anyone in this country, except for those who are very rich and healthy). Reforms that kill. Injustice is relentless.

Fír flathamon – our truth, our justice

In a system that allows free elections, we are complicit in ensuring justice for all, and in denying it to anyone. We are the king’s justice, and the absence of it. We voted in a government that plans to aim further cuts at an already-ravaged population of poor and disabled people. We will only be able to blame ourselves when the land is torn apart by fracking, the foxes begin to die again if the hunt returns, homelessness numbers rise and rise, the people suffer because food banks are not enough to meet the needs created by government austerity programmes, and more poor and disabled people die.

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Photo: protester holds sign that reads ‘Ban fracking and support clean green energy’. By The Weekly Bull.

 

One of the worst kickers has been that, when I’ve told US citizens about this situation, hoping for commiseration and support, their reply has mostly been “Welcome to America.” Thanks for the schadenfreude, friends, but I think we can do better than that. One country’s injustice does not mean we have to support a string of unjust systems across the world. If anything, it should make us more keen to fight for justice, both in our own lands and abroad. The UK has a history of an excellent welfare state that was a true safety net for those in trouble. We should all fight its collapse, not celebrate it.

Religious institutions have been slow to respond to the injustice of the austerity measures and cuts in Britain. So slow, in fact, that our Prime Minister recently felt able to co-opt Christian frameworks in support of his cuts. But members of various religions are starting to step forward and speak out against the situation. Pagans need to do the same. We have access to many myths and metaphors that highlight how social injustice can lead to social and economic collapse for all. Some of those myths have been validated in the modern world – we know that societies that emphasise social justice and reduce inequality tend to do better economically and socially. The good judgments of the king really do lead to a prosperous and peaceful land. The opposite is also true. The land will not prosper while the people are oppressed. No grass comes through the earth in Britain today, nor leaf on tree, nor grain in corn. It’s just that not everyone can see that yet.

Today, the King’s Truth is our responsibility. It is our truth. Today, the majority has failed the minority in society, those who are weakened to sustain the power of the rich, of the more privileged. The bankers who get away with economic collapse. The politicians who get away with murder. We give them their power. We can take it away again.

But on May 7th, we failed to do that. We elected a government that we knew were planning to extend austerity measures and to create even more devastation and destruction. We could have deposed the king and replaced him with wise and just ministers. We chose instead to sustain and support gau flathemon, the injustice of kings.

The question is, what are we going to do about it now?

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Photo: a large sign held up by protestors reads “Thatcher’s gone – now let’s bury Thatcherism”. By Darren Johnson.

*Generally I dislike the word vulnerable, but in this case it’s true. Society is making disabled people, and others, ever more vulnerable in this country. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s another thing that we choose to allow, to stand by while it becomes ever more true.

References

Preston-Matto, 2010, Aislinge Meic Conglinne (the vision of Mac Conglinne). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Ó hÓgáin, 1999, The Sacred Isle. Cork, Ireland: Collins Press.

All photographs used under Creative Commons licence.

19 Comments »

      • It might help to remember that many American’s are very dispirited at the moment when it comes to social welfare issues. There aren’t enough of us getting angry about safety net issues to make a major impact in the political system. Those who are speaking out find themselves up against literally unimaginable amounts of wealth and power. This is made even worse by a rigged electoral system that makes it certain that conservatives will control a major part of our government until at least 2020.

        It is the way it should be, but many Americans are just too weary to be anything other than ironic about such things at this point. It is a choice between irony and despair.

        Liked by 3 people

      • I can absolutely see where that comes from. As this post should illustrate, we’re moving into a very similar situation, although with its own British twists around the class system and attitudes towards the poor. I think you’re a few years ahead of us – we’re still dealing with the initial shock of the end of the welfare state here (though we should have seen the signs that it was coming), while you’re more used to the situation and have sunk into despair, maybe. I have hope that we won’t become America – but it’s a very loose hope. We can only hang on to our welfare state and social services if we are able to fight. Alas, for disabled and other vulnerable people, it’s not an easy task. I can imagine how much more despairing you must feel about it all over there.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I cried on the morning of 8th June, as the election results came in. Good friends on the left reminded me not to mourn, but to organise. We must organise (but I still need to mourn). Thanks for this powerful piece.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Interesting concept, the King’s Truth – reminds of the great call of the Welsh Eisteddfod, written by my favourite C18th visionary/forger Iolo: “y gwir yn erbyn y byd,” the truth against the world.

    Your post is a timely reminder that this blog is not just about playing with ideas; it is about challenging injustice that causes real harm, to real people and places, all over the world. I tend to remain cautiously ambivalent about politics, but feel increasingly unable to allow myself that luxury now.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for this, Naomi. I’m not in the UK, but Canada is going through similar changes right now under the rule of Harper, whom we have little hope of ousting. Many Canadians feel that the country is no longer recognizable. While it’s never been amazing for many groups, it’s definitely gotten worse for everyone, and we’re basically living in a totalitarian state at this point (even if no one wants to admit it).

    I think your post is important reading for my countryfolk, too.

    Standing with you in solidarity.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m so sorry to hear this, Naomi…I knew things over there were bad, and wasn’t happy to hear of Cameron and his cronies’ victory after the election, but had no idea that it was *this* bad…

    You are entirely correct to speak of Fír Flatha in this context. Those who are unrightful rulers, in the old days, didn’t just get deposed from the kingship, but often underwent the Threefold Death, brought about directly by the Goddess of Sovereignty Herself, or her agents. If only that still happened regularly…

    Perhaps, as part of Fír Filid, it would be good to do a proper satire of Cameron and co. (and perhaps Boehner and friends in the U.S.) and call them to responsibility for their offenses and utter lack of virtue and hospitality. If it doesn’t get them deposed, perhaps it will get the attention of the otherworldly powers to do something about their continued obstruction of justice.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you so much for writing this Naomi. I’m so despairing over the direction that the UK is going in. Your words here have reminded me that I must oppose the injustice I see happening in my land or else become part of it. Thank you for that and for your strength.

    Like

  6. Thank you for writing this Naomi. I despair at the direction that the UK is going on and that despair can make action difficult. Thank you for this reminder that I must act to oppose injustice in my land or else become part of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I work for a program similar to ILF here in the States and the idea of this kind of shit happening to my co-workers and friends terrifies me. Thank you for sharing and speaking out. We need to stop this “screw the poor and disabled” politics all over the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Spot on analysis! For some reason, on NPR I mostly managed to hear about the Scottish National Party’s gains in Scotland, but not the UK-wide election. Still more than most Americans know! We need more international solidarity, and less schaudenfraude- I’ve been hearing for years from folks in online disability communities about struggling to get services, diagnoses etc. in NHS and similar problems in other countries with national healthcare, so I had no illusions that anyone was living in a magical socialist utopia with flying unicorns. Even Sweden. Many of my countryfolk will point to that and say “See, national healthcare/single-payer doesn’t work!” And then they will go to their appointment that’s paid for by Medicaid…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m so sorry this is happening to you. As an American, I feel like the last thing any reasonable nation should do is follow my country down the drain. I hope I’m not one of the ones who’s come across as dismissive or indulging in schaudenfreude–it’s just as awful happening to you as to people here, and it shouldn’t be happening anywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

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