If there was one phrase used by politicians, including Liberal Democrats, I could choose to put in Room 101, it would be “hard working families.”
This is partly because it doesn’t reflect all those who have been helped by the Liberal Democrats’ tax and pension measures. All basic rate taxpayers, whether they have children or not, have been helped by the raising of the tax threshold to the tune of around three or four months’ council tax, or a month’s rent.
The anxieties of living on a low wage in an insecure job are just as strong if you are single or part of a couple with no children. In fact, it’s petrifying if you’re single because there’s only your income to fall back on. If you’re on a low income, you don’t have the chance to save much for a rainy day and if your car and washing machine break down at the same time, you’re a bit stuffed. Having not enough money is a nightmare whatever your family situation. Life is a perpetual struggle.
The other reason I don’t like the phrase is because it has more than a whiff of judgement about it. I don’t go for the deserving and undeserving poor thing. It implies that if you’re out of work for some reason you are somehow at fault. My husband, with an unblemished employment record, took almost a year to find a job when he was made redundant in 1994. It was horrendous and he had the best support imaginable in terms of getting job applications done – the services of British Coal Enterprise in Mansfield. He went there every day as though he was going to work and completed hundreds of job applications and went for many interviews and for a while ended up coming second all the time.
You can’t talk with one hand with understanding at the horrors of long term unemployment and the effect it can have on someone and then rub salt in the wounds by making it sound like hard working families are the only people worth helping.
It was Party President Tim Farron who set me off on this train of thought late last night when I read the email he’d sent out highlighting Nick Clegg’s call for an emergency tax for the very wealthy in which he used that phrase. I told him on Twitter that it made me feel like crying and, as he always does, he responded almost immediately and said he’d “try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” He might have a hard job ahead of him given that it’s one of the MP’s bingo card things that they are supposed to say all the time, along with “as a Liberal Democrat”, “coalition government”, “cleaning up Labour’s economic mess” and “doing the right thing.”
I was talking to Mark Pack about this last week and, while he doesn’t mind “hard working families”, he told me that in Australia that the phrase used to describe those struggling with financial adversity is “the battlers.” That’s a bit more inclusive so maybe we need to find an equivalent – or just nick theirs. Certainly “hard working families” doesn’t cover the woman caring for her husband, disabled after a Stroke, or the retired couple struggling to make ends meet, or the redundant factory worker desperate to find another job to keep the wolf from her door.
I am impressed, by the way, that Tim replied so quickly. It’s been a feature of his presidency and not something he just turns on and off at election time. Even when the party is fed up with him for some reason, he listens to all the points made to him and replies courteously and promptly. He might not always say what I want to hear, but nobody ever will. He is up for election this year and I will definitely be supporting him for a second term.
Tim used the opportunity within his email, by the way, to invite everyone to Conference. He was a bit tame, though, saying people should go because: “we will now debate real ideas to fix our economy and to make sure we build one based on fairness”. We will, but we’ll also do shedloads of training, learn so much from the organisations who have fringes or stalls and just catch up with our Lib Dem family. As Party Conference is the most fun you can ever have, naked or clothed, I’d recommend that you take him up on that invitation to Conference if you possibly can. There are cheaper options available if money is an issue – going as a steward for example. Register here for Brighton in just 3 weeks’ time.