t’s very easy for those, like us, who make policy recommendations to fall into abstract thinking. To forget that policy decisions have a direct impact on people’s lives. Often a dramatic impact.
This was brought home by a recent story in The Guardian about Jerome Rogers. The short version of the story goes as follows.
Rogers was a motorbike courier participating in the precarious lifestyle offered by the gig economy. He received two traffic fines for minor infractions – fines driven by local authorities’ desperation to raise money in an age of austerity and central government budget cuts.
When he failed to pay his fines, the local authority handed his case over to debt collectors. Interest charges soon escalated to a point where he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to pay his fines. The debt collectors sent in the bailiffs who confiscated his motorbike. Robbed of any way to make a living, the twenty-year old Rogers took his own life.
There are two lessons to be learned from this tragic story.
The fist is that austerity kills. It also maims and ruins lives. None of this appears in the clean spreadsheets put together by economists. In Greece, at the height of the austerity drive imposed on the Greek people by the Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, suicide rates soared. Those who tried to talk about the human cost of these policies were silenced. Yanis Varoufakis, who encouraged the Greek government not to comply, was summarily fired.
The second is the inhumanity of the relentless bureaucratic machine. Once Jerome Rogers was caught in the system, nothing could stop its destructiveness.
The wheels were put in motion. Everyone in the chain did their job. They performed according to their targets and performance objectives. Nobody was there to see the impact on human lives. The remorselessly destructive, inhuman machine could not be stopped.
Rogers’ crimes? Being in a bus lane a few minutes before restrictions stopped. And making an illegal right turn. For that he lost first his livelihood and then his life.
It is tempting to blame the debt collection company. But the rot starts with central government and then Camden Council – a Labour controlled council to boot – and the realities of the gig economy that we are enabling. It’s pointless to blame individuals in the chain. They are merely cogs in the monstrous bureaucratic machine that we have built.
Is this really the sort of society we want to live in?
I personally found this episode shocking. Not just of itself, but because it made me wonder how many other lives are being ruined or lost in similar ways. Crushed under the steamroller of the bureaucratic state in an age of seemingly never-ending austerity.
The BBC is, apparently, set to launch a drama about this tragic turn of events. If this episode shocks you as much as it shocks me, please share this blog as widely as you can.
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