Depending where you get your news, it’s possible you’re not aware that Iceland jailed a significant number of its bankers for their misdeeds leading up to the financial crash and the damage they did to that country. It was reported in the UK, in the Independent, Huffington Post, even a mention on the BBC News website – but remained low-key in the televised news.
In this country, we ask bankers to look a bit sorry before returning to huge bonuses rather than jailing them, so Iceland’s actions didn’t fit the preferred Establishment narrative.
But Iceland proved it’s not unthinkable to make the rich and powerful accountable for their actions – nor even to imprison them.
You could almost argue that the bankers were probably reckless rather than intentionally causing the damage they did – that they didn’t care, or hoped the worst wouldn’t happen. But in this country, damage is being done that those responsible are fully aware of. They’ve been warned, over and over again, and they continue to be told.
Just last week, for example, the Labour Party’s motion to pause Universal Credit led to a lengthy debate in Parliament, before the government’s ‘whipped’, cowardly disappearance when it came to the vote led to a 299-0 drubbing for the Tories.
In that debate, Labour and other MPs laid out in unambiguous terms the dire consequences Universal Credit (UC) is having on vulnerable people – and that’s on top of the damage already done by the government’s earlier cuts and changes to social security.
The words ‘suffer‘ and ‘suffering‘ appear twenty-three times in that debate. ‘Cruel‘ and ‘cruelty‘ eight times. Ministers were told over and over of the fear, anxiety and stress it causes.
There is no excuse on the part of those responsible for any ignorance of the consequences of their actions.
Likewise, the government’s changes to PIP (Personal Independence Payments) and other disability benefits have been widely shown to be a horror for those on the receiving end. The government’s decision to remove Motability vehicle allowances from over 50,000 disabled people (and counting) who can walk twenty metres – less than the length of a cricket pitch – has forced many into what amounts to house arrest, imprisoned in their own homes.
The harm and suffering caused by that decision has also been the subject of parliamentary debate, both in the Commons and in the Lords.
There is no excuse on the part of those responsible for ignorance of the consequences of their decisions.
But it often takes something – some event, some revelation – to crystallise the reality of a situation in the minds of the public at large enough that the public starts to realise its awfulness and becomes outraged enough to demand accountability from those responsible.
Could this video released by BBC South-East of a disabled woman be that catalyst?
Deborah Brown had her support reduced because a paid assessor decided she could walk twenty metres – less than the length of a cricket pitch. Losing the higher rate will also mean she will lose her mobility allowance, according to disability campaigners.
And you only need to see her to realise that the system is rank with the ‘conscious cruelty’ that film director Ken Loach described a few weeks ago:
The sad truth is that after seven years of such conscious cruelty, Deborah’s case is unlikely to be the straw that broke the camel-back of Tory predations on our most vulnerable people.
But something has to.
When it does, when the country finally ejects the Tories, mere electoral defeat will not be enough to prevent their eventual successors repeating their malfeasance. Skipping off to some highly-paid directors’ position funded by grateful corporations for favours received must not be an option for those who have condemned the poor and disabled of this country to years of horror – and in many cases, death.
We need to follow Iceland’s example and make sure that there are consequences for those responsible – consequences severe enough to give pause to those who might follow in their footsteps in future.
After all, what is happening to our people is not accidental, nor even the adverse result of a gamble gone wrong. It is conscious cruelty, inflicted in the full knowledge of its consequence – flagged again and again to those doing it – and done anyway.
We jail people for cruelty and neglect toward animals. If Iceland can jail its bankers, we can jail those who have been consciously, callously, dishonestly cruel to so many for so long – and send a message to those who might do so in future.
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