Conservative or Labour? What will 2009 bring for UK social justice?

By | November 8, 2009

Social justice norms vary from government to government, decade to decade, and generation to generation. What was unacceptable in one generation becomes acceptable, what was forbidden becomes permitted, and what was frowned upon becomes welcomed.

That’s how society works, I guess. But it makes it hard to figure out what constitutes social justice when the parameters seem always to be in flux. In Europe, we tend to have a more generous social distribution system that helps citizens in trouble: healthcare, unemployment, sickness, and disability.

In the US, this is often cast as Socialism by the right-wing neanderthals who think goverment should be limited to defense and policing only. In such a system, social justice is radically defined as something very limited, outwith the scope of government to fix, and a tax on those who ‘earned’ their wealth by ‘hardwork’.

In Europe, it’s rare for politicians to espouse such radical views as most of the mainstream parties consider social justice part of the European framework of government. Even in Britain, we’ve accepted the importance of Human Rights, the role of equity in health care and education, and made big changes in our government under the Labor government of the past ten years.

One is only reminded of how difficult things used to be under the previous Conservative government up until 1997 to get decent health care, unemployment benefits, and disability benefits, even for those who deserved them. But the change of government in 1997 brought with it a sea change in social justice as the British people threw out a conservative government that was increasingly at odds with its voters.

Almost immediately afterwards, putting in a disability appeal could mean a different decision than just months before. I know that happened to at least one person who was partially blind and incapacitated for years prior to 1997.

So in the upcoming election in 2009, I’m now wondering what this will mean: another change in our social norms (return of the Conservatives) or a continuation on the current path (return of New Labour).