It seems like a fair point. Why are we getting so upset about refugees from ‘away’ when we’ve got our own homeless people, our own families in poverty depending on food banks, our own vulnerable, suffering people? Why divert resources when we can’t look after our own?
It’s a clever card to play, and it’s worth looking at the people playing it and casting your mind back a bit. Are these people volunteering in food banks? Are these people below the poverty line themselves? Are these people you’ve ever seen raise a hand to help another human being? I notice that the answer seems to be ‘no’. The people keenest to say we should look after our own first, have been reliably not doing that for some time now.
What this does, and is designed to do, is have us wondering about the various merits of people. Who deserves our help? Who is most vulnerable, most in need, most deserving? And of course the more time we spend arguing with each other over whether person A is more or less deserving than person B, the more time we spend talking each other into the idea that maybe these people aren’t very deserving at all. Right wing agenda success achieved!
It’s about judging people. It’s about looking at need, and finding reasons to say ‘no’. It’s about the idea that there’s a hierarchy of need based on worthiness, not on vulnerability. All people need warmth, shelter, food, clean water and physical safety. All people. Some people are less able to provide that for themselves than others. If we have to choose, need should be the priority. That and whether we can do something. You might as well do what you can rather than fretting that you should have gone out and found someone worse off to help. Deal with what’s in front of you.
There are people who would like us to choose. It supports the story that resources are scarce. We can’t house our own people so we can’t house refugees. Bollocks. Shelter reckons there are about ten empty homes for every homeless family in the UK. We’ve got money for weapons, for MP pay rises, for a nuclear submarine we can never use and a vanity rail project so that people can get out of London a wee bit faster. We don’t mind epic tax dodging by big business, and we subsidise inadequate wages out of the state purse to make life easier for business. It is a lie that we don’t have the resources. We do have the resources. What we don’t have is the will to distribute those resources even slightly fairly, or to deploy them based on need.
Help whoever you can help. In whatever way makes sense to you.