Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Ask the Experts: Why David Cameron Should Ignore the Royal College and Meet My Friend

"Quick! Somebody stop that man! He's going to get drunk!"
Two headlines have caught my eye today, both coming from The Telegraph. One concerns David Cameron's decision to follow the advice of the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians who have called for a minimum price for cheap booze to be implemented.

The second headline that caught my eye was the stunning news that a third of all unemployed Britons have convictions.

Let's deal with the first article first. First, since when was the UK Government's policies dictated to it by the same health experts that condone and promote the killing of nascent life in the womb as 'abortion care'? Who elected these 'experts'?

Second, it is pretty obvious to glean from the article that this has little to do with concern for the nation's health (though its cost is a factor) and far more to do with what is now known as 'anti-social behaviour'. Cheap booze needs to be made more expensive so that anti-social poor people cannot afford it. David Cameron has a problem in Britain and the problem is sin and poor sinners. Now we have discovered what kind of a Christian David Cameron is. He's a modern day puritan. The likelihood is, however, that the cost of fine wines, good brandy, champagne or whatever it is our beloved parliamentarians drink, will remain mysteriously static.

Third, it seems almost providential that these two articles should surface on the same day on the same Telegraph web page because it is obvious that the two are linked. Why, for example, are so many men and women drinking Skol Super all day, begging for money for it after their benefits have dried up and not out looking for work? The answer is that many of them have convictions so there is no point in looking for work because nobody will employ them. Once men and women receive convictions, any company that runs a Criminal Records Bureau check (and a heck of a lot of companies do exactly that) will not even send a letter of reply to those applicants with convictions. After prison, many of them in for drink or drug related offenses or 'anti-social behaviour' offenses, emerge with no hope of employment because they have convictions. To be blunt, for many men and women, life on the inside is kinder than life on the outside.

So allow me, please, to give readers an example. It just so happens that I have a friend who lives in a hostel in Brighton. Let's call him JE. JE is something of an enigma. The other day I saw him on London Road with a can of beer in his hand late at night talking to a stuffed reindeer toy. He is currently quite heartbroken because a relationship failed.

He always has a can of cheap strong booze in his hand. I don't know how he gets the money, he just does. There's a lot of lending on the street. Raising the cost of the cheap strong booze won't change JE's behaviour. Cigarettes go up every year and it has never stopped me smoking no matter how poor I have been either. JE is seen by the authorities as a huge social menace and a problem and the truth is that JE is really quite irritating and is regularly 'anti-social' in his conduct even though he has a 'heart of gold'. He has a way of begging that makes you want to punch his lights out and often people do. He had an horrendous childhood, abandoned by parents, most likely abused and ended up in prison probably quite early in life. He is now on an ASBO which means he cannot beg. He is banned from 3/4 of Brighton's city centre. There are parts of Brighton on which he is allowed to walk on the right side of the road but not the left. He resides in a really quite awful little hostel room ran by the Council from which he has been evicted several times. The only time I have ever seen JE relatively at peace and relatively happy is when I have visited him in prison.

The question is why? Well, when JE is in prison he has a purpose in life. He gets three meals a day, he cooks, he cleans, he gets cooking qualifications, he gets cleaning qualifications.  Many ex-cons have NVQs coming out of their ears. They want to work, they want to be able to provide for themselves, but the problem is that qualifications and experience do not obtain for you employment in the outside world once the outside world knows that you have a record as long as your arm. Even one conviction is usually enough for an employer to ignore you.

JE is about to go into rehab (again), so he tells me and then he'll be given residence in a 'dry hostel'. However, what JE needs is real support. Obviously, I pray and work for JE's Salvation, but the truth of the matter is that JE needs concrete and practical help in order for his life to improve.  Once you have talked to JE and got past the fact that he is pissed a great deal of the time, and therefore, at times rather obnoxious and unpleasant, JE will likely tell you that he gets pissed all of the time because there is nothing for him to do. He sees no purpose to his life. He has no hope for the future. His self-destructive and societally destructive behaviour is related to the fact that he believes that 'nobody would care if I died tomorrow'. Obviously, one replies by telling him that both Heaven and people on Earth would care, but all JE perceives is that his existence is pointless and meaningless. The man doesn't give a damn if he dies tomorrow because life for him is crushing and all he can do is wander the streets all day, at least, those streets on which he is permitted to walk.

To be honest, JE turned up at my door the other day and I refused to see him because his head was bleeding. I told him I'd call an ambulance for him, it sounded like he needed one and to 'get his arse to hospital'. I'm not Florence Nightingale or, indeed, sadly, Blessed Mother Teresa and I'm not having drunkards turning up at my flat as if they've arrived at Accident and Emergency. I've got neighbours, you know. He keeps telling me that he's recently been running out in front of cars and buses because he has given up on life because he is heartbroken because of a girl. He's also recently taken to cutting himself with a penknife since the relationship ended. The truth, however, is that JE gave up on life a long time ago for reasons known to him alone. I know that a girl isn't going to save him. I know that I can't save him. I know that Jesus Christ alone can save JE, but I also know that JE is the real expert on the issue of JE. He has more knowledge of his own situation that do the DWP, the BMA or the RCP and certainly more than DC.

But where does this leave JE? The truth is that if JE did his detox, did AA, and knew that at the end of it was real support and the possibility of a job as a cook, the job for which he has qualifications and which he enjoys, his detox might be a lot more successful. There is no real possibility of that and so the likelihood is that he will not take his detox too seriously. That is why even though JE's public vices are his responsibility, he is justified in blaming society for his situation also because society will never give JE a reason to get up in the morning and stay sober. I've heard alcoholics say that you sometimes have to hit 'rock-bottom' before changing your life and getting back on the wagon. Well, what do you say to someone who doesn't much care anymore how deep the bottom is and discovers that if you have a drill you can just keep going down and that there is no bottom?

Now, you may say, 'Well only God can help JE' and you'd be right, but it is still true that society will never give JE a job even if he gets clean. You would also have to ask why if only God can help people then why not let's cut all the funding to the drug rehabilitation centres altogether and leave everything to God. Ultimately, JE behaves as one excluded because he is excluded. This is 'broken Britain' and David Cameron thinks he is the man to fix it. We Catholics, however, know that the answer for JE is Jesus Christ, but, and I'm sure St Anthony of Padua would agree, the answer for David Cameron, too, and for all who desire JE's salvation and happiness, is Jesus Christ. I have tried some of JE's cooking, by the way, and he is, in all honesty, a mighty fine chef. The Gospel, as well as inspiring us to lead others to Salvation, should lead us to desire that human beings be allowed to fulfill their potential and use their talents.

What today's two Telegraph articles reveal is that within the fabric of British society, for the released prisoner, convict or offender, here in the United Kingdom we may not believe in redemption, but we do still retain a firm belief, or perhaps 'conviction', in everlasting punishment.  Parliamentarians, on the other hand, can drink as much as they like and be as anti-social as they like with utter impunity.


shadowlands said...

This is beautiful writing Lawrence. You have great empathy and understanding for the marginalised.

I wish you were the Prime Minister. Go to London now!!

I so identified with the bit you said about people needing a goal or hope of some kind, in order to keep picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, or even allowing someone else to bother. Unless you have sensed failure over and over and over, it is easy to judge people when things are going well.

I wish I had millions to direct for the Lord's purposes(not own, I wouldn't trust myself to stay spiritually hungry enough).
I have a roof. Not secure, always under review and one gets older each day with these worries.

I will pray for your friend. It will make me forget my own fears and worries for a while, stop being self seeking for a minute or two at least.

I do draw hope sometimes from Our Lady's words to Bernadette "I cannot promise you happiness in this world, only in the next" and that Jesus won't push us past our own strength. What you describe happening in your friend's life sounds like a slow crucifixion in a way. Who knows, in heaven he may be exalted through this humility he has had to endure whilst on this planet. The last becoming first.

We see so little this side, but your words have given me a glimpse tonight. I was feeling very sorry for myself. I feel quite hopeful now, that God has a purpose in all this seeming tragedy.

God bless you and your friend.

Catholic Social Researcher said...

Your arguments fall short of the facts I fear. CRB checks are only used after someone has been offered a job, they cannot be used for screening applicants and they cannot be undertaken without someone's knowledge since an informed consent form needs to be signed beforehand.

Neither are CRB checks undertaken routinely so a company cannot have CRB checks done for all employees. Good reason (ie contact with children or vulnerable adults) would need to be ascertained before a CRB check can be made a requirement for any job. There are 2 types of CRB checks, standard and enhanced. Only an enhanced check would show up all convictions. A standard check would only list unspent convictions (excluding all convictions for a sexual offence or those involving children which can - but not necessarilly dependent on the court's recommendation - be listed even if spent. Alleged convictions even without actual conviction may also be included in an enhanced check if there is good reason.

Other convictions are covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and only need be declared within the time limits specified. Applicants routinely have to complete a RoO declaration as part of their job application and you have probably done this yourself.

The reasons that people with criminal convictions not having employment would therefore appear more complex than you suggest, and can't therefore simply be blamed on CRB checks. There seems to be an association - rather than linear causation - at play here. It maybe, for example, be that people with convictions are more likely to take work within the black market and therefore are technically unemployed for official recording purposes etc etc.

The Bones said...

Ah, Catholic Social Researcher, I see. You are suggesting that when convicted persons get to that box where it says:

'Tick this box if you have any previous convictions, cautions etc'

...that they should lie?

You are suggesting that ex-cons lie on their application forms.


Frederick Oakeley said...

The main reason he should ignore minimum pricing is that it won't work. It merely disproportionately affects the poor, penalises the moderate drinker, and makes the food fascists feel smug. Putting that knowing superior smile on the faces of the medical establishment is not a suitable job for a Prime Minister.

Catholics Social Researcher said...

I am not suggesting anyone lie, the 'box' only asks that you declare non spent convictions as outlined in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. The law is quite clear and the 'box' contains additional information stating what need or need not be declared.

The Bones said...

I would have thought that if one has a criminal conviction that section asks that you declare it including, actually, even cautions received. Even cautions appear on a CRB, by the way, if it is enhanced. Did you read the Guardian article?

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