Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to Westminster for an afternoon of Sanctuary in Parliament. This is not an ironic play on words but an afternoon for Cities of Sanctuary across the country to come together and talk about the sterling work that is being done and to talk to MPs about the gruelling and inhumane legislation that surrounds our asylum system. There is gruelling and inhumane legislation that surrounds many systems that targets those seeking help in this country but yesterday was about the asylum system. Currently, we are the only country in Europe that has ridiculous rules about not allowing people to work when they come to this country. Apart from being demeaning and cruel it is also incredibly inefficient. There lies a determined workforce of, often, hardworking professionals sitting idle and being isolated from any community. People are given £36.50 a week to live on (50% of the current income support allowance) when actually all people want to do is work, be part of the community and crack on with life. After 12 months, if a person’s claim has not yet been processed then certain professions (ballet dancer being one of them) can apply to work, during which time their qualification has often become outdated. It makes no sense.
What is it that makes a person feel that they are part of society? Part of a tribe? I believe that it is a person’s ability and opportunity to be able to contribute to the society that they are a part of, or wish to be a part of. This can apply to someone coming to this country as much as someone who as lived their whole life in the same place. If you are not able to contribute then it is almost impossible to feel that you are a part of anything. There are often wails of protest rising from the pages of certain media that people do not integrate. How can a person integrate if they are being isolated? Maybe that is the whole point. This government has said that allowing opportunities for work will act as a draw factor, encouraging people to come here. Well, wouldn’t want that now would we and we can see how well it is working out at the moment (descends into dripping sarcasm). There are reams of research to disprove this notion and it has been dismissed by anyone and everyone except for those sitting pretty in the house of commons. It didn’t actually seem like a house of commons to me by the way, it was dripping with money but that’s a whole other discussion.
As I was sat there amongst all this alien grandeur, it made me think about tribes. It also made me think that if someone was going into that building every day it would be almost impossible to be able to connect with the ‘real’ world. It is so far removed from the worlds that they are meant to be representing that it comes almost as no surprise that there is a complete disconnect. It made me think about all the laws and legislation that are cooked up within those buildings that have no connection with the people that they are designed for. How easy it must be easy to dismiss the lives of so many.
I remember when I was younger and Thatcher said ‘There is no such thing as community,’ and I remember the cold chill that it sent through me and how terrifying that was. More recently, Teresa May said ‘Those people that think they are citizens of the world, are citizens of nowhere,’ and that same chill returned. I have never thought of myself of being of one nationality, ever. I don’t know if that’s unusual but it has never occurred to me to be ‘belonging’ to one small bit of the world. The planet is not that big and we all walk upon, it belongs to us all and to be told that you are a citizen of nowhere leaves a bit of a gaping hole. What these kind of words do is to encourage tribal thinking. When you get people thinking that they belong to a tribe, a territory, then you get them defending their tribe and keeping other people out. Tribal thinking encourages small minds, small thinking, stupidity and that way you get people frightened and then you have control over them. It’s not very complicated but it seems to be working a treat. Swathes of tribal idiots are rising up across Europe declaring their patch of land to be their own and ‘We want our country back.’ I wasn’t aware that anyone had ever nicked it in the first place.
On the plus side, there were also MPs there who were stoically fighting the corner of the most vulnerable and reminding people that they work for us, not the other way round. There were those who are genuinely there to make a difference and use their voice for the greater good and this is thoroughly soul restoring. There are MPs who work their socks off against all the odds and I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes at this time. It’s frustrating enough being on the outside looking in and I think I’d end up getting locked up in the tower if I had to face the likes of Amber Rudd on a daily basis. In the middle of it all is also the House of Lords, so often denigrated for being out of touch and being a bunch of crusty old wealthy people. In fact, they are often the ones batting furiously on the side of the most vulnerable and time and time again having their voices ignored. Throughout history, it has often been their tenacity that has changed the lives of the more vulnerable. Lord Shaftesbury stopped children being shoved up chimneys. Lord Dubs, although the government has back-pedalled spectacularly, has changed the lives of some unaccompanied minors in Europe. This year the Lords have been campaigning against period poverty, getting free sanitary products to girls in schools. Revoflippinlutionary…
So, although this government would like us all to be thinking like tribal small people and batting anyone away who is vaguely brown and foreign in a non acceptable foreign way, there are also people out there who think big. Thinking tribal is not a gift that we want to leave for our children. They need to know that all people are welcomed as they would want to be welcomed. They need to know that they are part of an enormous great big tribe which is the world, our great big glorious world to which we all belong.