Yes, we do talk about the family

A black and white picture of two white women, an elderly, white-haired one with glasses wearing a large necklace with large beads hanging from it, and a younger one with dark hair standing behind her but bending down to look at her from the side.

Why won’t Remainers talk about family? (Giles Fraser, Unherd)

In this article the Anglican clergyman talks about how modern British society has palmed off the duty of caring for its elderly on to paid workers and relies chiefly on imported labour, particularly from eastern Europe, to do it. Care chiefs and pro-EU politicians have warned of a care crisis as these staff leave or are unable to get visas to come here at the same time as the number of people needing elderly care is predicted to double. Fraser dismisses this as “Remain-inspired end-of-the-world fearmongering” and says that freedom of movement has enabled young people to cut ties with their families, to go and work wherever the work is or wherever the pay or the lifestyle is best. “All this,” he says, “is a philosophy that could not have been better designed to spread misery and unhappiness”:

This is what happens when that much over praised value of social mobility becomes the way we think about dealing with social inequality. Social mobility is very much a young person’s value, of course. Get on. Get out of your community. Find a job anywhere you please. Undo the ties that bind you. The world is your oyster.

This is the philosophy that preaches freedom of movement, the Remainers’ golden cow. And it is this same philosophy that encourages bright working-class children to leave their communities to become rootless Rōnin, loyal to nothing but the capitalist dream of individual acquisition and self-advancement.

He starts with an anecdote about a woman who rang a doctors’ surgery because her elderly father had soiled himself. The doctor, allegedly, asked her if she had children and if so, had she ever called the doctor because their nappy needed changing? She had no answer to that. He heard this from his friend who is a GP. I really wonder how many people ring doctors’ surgeries and get to speak to a doctor over the phone, especially about a problem such as this. In reality, you would speak to a receptionist, and they are more likely to just say “sorry, we can’t provide that service” and refer them to social services if she needs someone to care for her father. But Fraser tells us that it’s our duty to look after our elderly parents rather than to “subcontract” it. “It is the daughter of the elderly gentleman that should be wiping his bottom.” I don’t know if he just meant daughters but that is what lots of people have taken away. (More: Frances Coppola.)

Fraser may not have noticed, but sometimes there are reasons why someone might not be able to be their elderly parents’ sole carer and sometimes good reasons why they might not want to. Maybe they were abused, exposed to harm or neglected by the parent as children and found themselves living with their parents as adults; maybe they spent their childhood caring for another relative and never got a break; maybe the elderly parent has dementia and is impossible to live with. Maybe the adult child is disabled and cannot do the job on their own, or maybe they have other children or other relatives to look after, perhaps including a disabled one. Caring for an elderly relative can be more taxing than caring for a baby because babies are small and light and elderly people are full adult size (and if male, usually bigger than their daughters) and need lifting, which many people do not have the training to do properly. It is not a good thing if the social care system is suddenly deprived of thousands of workers.

He assumes that it is freedom of movement that drains young people out of small towns, leaving them to “become ghost towns of hopelessness”. However, young people do not have to go elsewhere in Europe to get away from such places and before industries and then such facilities as youth clubs and even libraries were destroyed to satisfy the demands of ideology, union-busting and cost-cutting, most of the young people stayed in their home towns as they had no reason to leave. The minority who got university placements always left. Fraser supports a no-deal Brexit and believes that this will shock us back to looking after our families as he thinks we did in the past, a past which, he told us on Twitter this morning, was “better; much better”. Well, it was better if you were white, not disabled and had the good fortune to be part of a happy family. If you weren’t all of these things, it was likely to have been miserable: divorce was difficult, spousal abuse was widely tolerated and marital rape deemed legal, people turned a blind eye to child abuse and disabled children spent most or all of their childhoods in institutions and for some disabled people it was their whole lives. That’s right; we didn’t always look after our families in the days before capitalism, Thatcher and the EEC.

Bobby Sutliff’s cover of Richard Thompson’s
Small Town Romance (could not find the original).

And the irony is in the headline: the claim that Remainers never think of the family. Well, we do, because the immigration regime since the days of the Coalition is notorious for splitting up families because the British spouse does not have the required income, and if we leave the EU, the same will apply to British/European couples who are already facing uncertainty about whether they will be able to stay together or easily visit each other’s countries. Maybe Fraser thinks that this is also a good thing, because people will have to find partners among the people they know rather than, say, people they find though the Internet; but that actually is not possible for many people because their home community is dysfunctional in some way or because everyone knows the rumours about that went around about you when you were at school (the song Small Town Romance by Richard Thompson springs to mind), so if the Internet offers a chance of a relationship or a marriage that is free from the baggage of the past, surely it can only be a good thing.

It used to be said that Tories loved the family so much, one was not enough for them. It’s a long time since we heard any Tory preach about family values; people might just point out that they only care about families if they’re the right sort, preferably rich and white. It’s sad that today, a churchman that was thought to be reasonable and compassionate has started demanding that we narrow people’s horizons and restrict their opportunities to find not only work and prosperity but also love and family life.

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