'It is not as if we are unaffected by UK politics – if the UK sneezes it sprays us with a nasty virus'

Anne Southern

By Anne Southern

WITH the news of the lifting of the 15-year limit on former residents being able to vote in the UK, I have been trying to register. As I have no official document showing my last UK address (it was more than 50 years ago) I may struggle to do so. And part of me wonders if it is ethical for someone who has not paid taxes in the UK since 1972 to vote in national, let alone local elections. However, the Tories are going all out to garner the expat vote, so perhaps in the interests of balance I should persist. It is not as if we are unaffected by UK politics. It is said that if America sneezes, the UK catches a cold, and similarly if the UK sneezes it sprays us with a nasty virus.

There are several developments in the UK at the moment that I hope will not prove catching. It was reassuring to hear that Jersey will not be bound by the inhumane Rwanda Bill, though as we don’t have boatloads of asylum seekers turning up in Gorey, it can hardly be relevant to us. But I would like to distance myself from the lack of logic in this bill – if the prospect of drowning in the Channel doesn’t deter desperate people from attempting a crossing, the outside chance of being put on a plane to Rwanda is not likely to. We have surely reached a 1984 dystopia if the UK can pass a law to say that a country is safe, when it clearly is not. Human Rights Watch documented evidence of the killings of dissidents abroad as well as at home in Rwanda. Some asylum seekers hail from there. If we want to stop the boats, surely providing legal routes for those escaping torture or death would be the answer. And instead of spending millions on this cruel scheme, allowing immigrants to work whilst waiting to be processed would make them net contributors to the economy instead of a drain on it.

Another piece of cruelty with a lack of logic at its heart is the attack on the ‘sick note culture’ that labels people unable to work as slackers and will take away people’s benefits if a non-medically trained official deems them fit to work. Sunak’s government seems to be unable to make a connection between long hospital waiting lists, especially for mental-health services and the number of people who are too ill to work. I salute the former health minister and mental-health consultant Dr Dan Poulter for resigning from the Tory party and taking the Labour whip due to the government’s failing the NHS and its patients.

I recently saw the excellent play Nye at a National Theatre Live performance. It celebrated the achievement of Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, who established the NHS in the teeth of fierce opposition from all sides. What a wonderful man to do so much for the benefit of so many – and yet I found myself very distressed to think that this achievement is being eroded by underfunding and creeping privatisation. Let’s hope a new UK government can help the nation to become healthier, and that we in Jersey will do more for our population, ailing in mind and body.

A further scandal is the way carers are being issued with huge fines for receiving overpayments on their benefits for mistakes in declaring their income. This is an issue for many benefit claimants in Jersey, who will hopefully no longer be made to pay back overpayments due to administrative mistakes, from an income that is calculated to be the bare minimum to ensure survival.

The UK government, in its death throes, thinks that targeting the poor and needy will help them at the ballot box. But the tide is turning. The British Social Attitudes survey finds that only 19% of the population, down from 40% think those on benefits get money they don’t deserve. The only people that support such cruelty and unfairness are their own backbenchers. The Labour Party’s policy of charging VAT on school fees to boost the funds for state schools is now supported by 71% of voters according to YouGov.

It is encouraging that a kinder nation is turning from favouring the rich to supporting the disadvantaged. An interesting statistic – the top 1% of earners are responsible for 50% of the greenhouse gases that are killing our planet. Apart from the private jets and yachts, their conspicuous consumption is responsible for the output of those countries where the goods are manufactured. Jersey is home to many of those one percenters so our impact on climate change is greater than we think.

Will a change of government in the UK lead the way to a fairer system that might influence our own politics? With progressives in key ministerial posts there is cause for optimism.

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