INSPIRATIONS: PETER TOWNSEND (1928-2009)

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Peter Townsend was the founding Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex and he has been an inspiration for many, including me. I first read his study of care of the elderly – The Last Refuge – as a student in the mid 1960’s. His book was enormously influential at the time. I was later to have the privilege of teaching with him.  Most famously he developed the idea of relative poverty and he lived to see it being widely accepted and applied  in many countries across the world.

But it has now been rejected by the current coalition government, who have returned us to the old language of the disreputable poor: the skivers and the scroungers , ideas we thought had been laid to rest. This government has displayed a dire form of anti-humanity which has distressed large numbers of people. If it returns to power, it plans to take it even further with even deeper currently unspecified cuts into welfare of between £11-30 billion pounds.   I sigh with disbelief and horror. It would be cruel and nasty government. Poor Peter would turn in his grave at the horrors being perpetrated  and the loss of much of his life’s work.

Let’s recall the final words of his book, The Last Refuge (1959):

We look back with horror at some of the cruelties perpetrated in the 1860’s, just as our descendants, a hundred years hence, will look back with horror at some of the cruelties we perpetrate today. Possibly the ultimate test of the quality of a free, democratic and prosperous society is to be found in the standards of freedom,  democracy and prosperity enjoyed by its weakest member.

I am already starting to feel the horror!

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