Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

I've explained previously that our reason for leaving Frigiliana was mainly to do with my health, especially the herniated disc and partial collapse of a vertebra at the base of my spine (disc L5/S1, vertebra L4 for the technically minded), which meant that most of the village was no longer accessible to me. Even so this reason meant that we were able to avoid Brexit-related anxieties; a 12% drop in the value of the pound against the euro effectively our state pensions meant that effectively the value was reduced by six weeks per year. We avoided other possible adverse consequences. Staying with pensions for a moment, as an EU member the UK is required to increase the pensions of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU in line with increases to UK-resident pensioners. Outside the EU the government would be free to freeze those pensions at their current level; with austerity still the watchword, why would we not expect them to take advantage of that change? We went to Spain as retired people and have not worked in Spain, so the Spanish state is under no obligation to pay us a pension.
My health needs are now quite complex; I have an inactive thyroid so have to take thyroxin every day; I have T2 diabetes which requires a daily dose of metformin; I had a very mild TIA three years ago so must now take anticoagulants and vasodilators; I am in the fifth year of remission following radiotherapy for advanced prostate cancer, so am at risk of cancer returning in some form or another. So what? Well, as an EU member state the UK must make a monthly payment on my behalf to cover any treatment I need by the Spanish health services. As a third country it would no longer have that obligation and I could not afford either to pay for treatment out of my own pocket or to pay the premiums necessary for private health insurance - also I would no longer have the benefits of an EHIC. Of course the official UK attitude was "Don't worry. We'll sort all those things out." Well sixteen months later they still haven't done so; why would I believe them any longer?
Of course in June last year we returned to the UK and so these things don't need to concern us on our own behalf. One worry less.
But increasingly I find myself asking what kind of country I have returned to. There's the physical stuff to get used to obviously, like the variability and unpredictability of the weather; that's just a question of time. More disturbing to me is the general tone of debate and disagreement. Throughout the sixty odd years before I went off to Spain people disagreed on many subjects. But so far as I recall, there was a high degree of politeness and tolerance in these differences. Now though there is a level of hostility and aggression expressed towards anyone who does not accept the speaker's/writer's point of view without question. Holders of contrary opinions are too often insulted and stereotyped - do-gooders, lefties, fascists, snowflakes, gobshites are among the more mild labels, but twat, cunt and similar are also commonly bandied about.
So far as people presenting themselves at the UK border no distinction is made between refugees fleeing war zones (They could have found somewhere nearer home), economic migrants looking to a better future for themselves and their families (which after all is what took many Brits off to the various outposts of the Empire), people coming  to study at our universities, and seasonal workers doing essential agricultural or hospitality work which cannot be fully met by the available home-grown workers. All are lumped together as 'immigrants', the adjective 'illegal' implied if not expressed explicitly. This is problematic for me; my maternal great grandfather fled the famine in Ireland to start again from Angel Meadow in Manchester, the area described by Engels as 'the classic slum'. My paternal grandfather grew up on a farm in Shropshire but then moved to Manchester where he was able to benefit from the growth of the Industrial Revolution, so I'm from immigrant stock, though that apparently is 'not the same thing'.
When I was a magistrate many of my colleagues were Jews whose families had perished in the Holocaust, and several others were born and brought up in Britain to fathers who had answered the desperate call of post-war British governments for workers from the Indian sub-continent to keep the cotton and woollen mills operating. Good people, all of them and just as British as myself.
And the past seems to have come back with a vengeance. In my childhood, in Manchester and Liverpool and other port cities, dockers queued meekly at the dock gates in the hope of being chosen for a day's work. Now the zero hours contract is in vogue among many employers in too many industries; 'contract' is an obscenity; these people are casual day labourers to be used or not according to the whim of the employer.
There's so much more sticking in my craw, but that's enough for today.

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