The latest deranged suggestion from UKIP members, doing the rounds online is that unemployed people should not be allowed to vote. It’s an idea that needs dismantling to show just how dangerous and idiotic it is. We need wiser and more inclusive politics.
Who counts as unemployed? Is it those who collect a benefit, or those who do not have a job? Many students of voting age are not yet employed. Is a woman on maternity leave employed? How about someone caring for a sick relative (they save the NHS a fortune every year)? Do we count retired people as working? What about those whose income involves no work – those who are independently wealthy or who have investments but no day job. Is a low paid self-employed person working, or not working? What about someone who does vital work, unpaid, for a charity? What about the ill and disabled? Do we want a system where someone could work twenty years, lose their job through no fault of their own, and then not be entitled to vote?
Then we can consider who pays tax, because anyone who is economically active pays VAT. Most of us pay National Insurance as well, and many people who are not employed are paying council tax. To say that one form of tax is a valid contribution but the others are not, is very suspect logic. Working immigrants do pay income tax and do not get to vote in all elections (EU citizens can vote in some). If UKIP want to link voting to income tax, what are they going to do with all the non-UK citizens who pay?
I’ve read a bit of history, and there are reasons some of our ancestors fought hard and long to get universal adult suffrage for citizens. If you do not have a vote, politicians generally won’t bother with you. Your needs and issues are irrelevant to them. Basic human rights are not upheld when the right to vote is taken away.
Taking votes away from people is about punishing those people someone with power does not like, and it is totally at odds with democracy. Once upon a time you had to have a certain amount of land in order to have a vote. Most people had no say and few rights. Go back to feudalism and you get the ’it’s your Count that votes’ system, and no rights for peasants. Radical, working class ancestors fought long and hard to get a voice, and rights. One of the most important rights we have won is the right to have a value that is not based solely on economics. A person whose worth is purely economic, is little more than a slave, no matter how much you can sell them for.
Democracy has its flaws, and we certainly haven’t perfected it yet. That said, the spread of democracy is one of the great achievements of the last century. Democracy is our best defence against tyranny. Democracy is our best route to getting and keeping rights and basic dignity. Either we all have that, or none of us do. Any of us could lose our jobs tomorrow. A system that strips us of rights if we aren’t getting paid, threatens everyone in it. We all deserve better than that. We must have the security of knowing we are entitled to speak, no matter what. We must have the security of knowing that all politicians must consider all of our needs if they want a shot at being elected. Above all, we need politicians who genuinely care about democracy and who care about the common good.