Inspired by the recent Guardian piece which featured views on freedom and liberty and ahead of the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in York, it seems timely to reflect on the Liberal Democrat core values of freedom and liberty.
Liberal Left has previously voiced concernabout the direction of Coalition policies (such as Housing Benefit reform, the bedroom tax and restrictions on Legal Aid) and in particular their impact on the most disadvantaged. Liberal Left believes that more recent policies and rhetoric similarly display a worrying trend which infringes individual and collective liberties.
The press recently reported a leaked document from the Department for Work and Pensions highlighting plans to charge people who wish to appeal social security decisions. The proportion of successful appeals is around 58%; the numbers of successful appeals against Atos decisions to deny Employment and Support Allowance are around 40%.
There are other worrying examples.
The Ministry of Justice reforms resulting in payment for some employment tribunals will particularly damage non-union members and especially women (given pay inequality) bringing action against rogue employers.
Then there was the gagging law which lacks teeth to expose politicians who profit from lobbying activities, while at the same time restricting the campaigning activities of institutions in civil society.
The rise of food banks is a worrying trend which eminent social policy scholar Michael Hill has said should be regarded with anger and with horror. The Government continues to deny the link between their welfare reforms and the rise in the use of food banks, despite growing evidence to the contrary and the fact that people have to be referred by organisations to foodbanks through demonstration of hardship. It is hard to believe that, given what social policy scholarship knows about stigma, people would use food banks if there was any other option.
The recent clamp-down by police on student protests and more fundamentally the right to protest on some University campuses is a further worrying trend. While not directly linked to Government policy perhaps, such protests can be linked to the changes to tuition fees and the wider environment of marketisation in higher education. The student movement has historically been a powerful force for challenging the state.
These examples may appear wide-ranging but they also constitute a concerning trend in restricting the rights of individuals to challenge their employers, or importantly to challenge the state when it fails its citizens. Such rights are fundamental to liberty and to realising a free, open and fair society. We are right to challenge the state when it removes the social safety net from under us, our families and our fellow citizens.
Liberal Left has previously argued that the Coalition welfare reforms infringe the Liberal Democrat Constitution, which states that no one should be enslaved by poverty. It is hard to comprehend that individual and collective freedom and liberty can be a reality when families both in and out of work are struggling to meet fundamental human needs of having a secure home and being able to feed their children. This suggests that Beveridges giants of want, squalor and disease which we once thought slayed are very much alive and well. Equally worrying are the ongoing attempts by the Coalition to restrict citizens rights to challenge the state. This is something about which Liberal Democrats should be gravely concerned.