Pain and privilege

The Guardian is in trouble this week for an editorial about David Cameron in which it suggested that while the death of his son was tragic, Cameron’s pain was somewhat reduced by his privilege.

The editorial, now removed, suggested that Cameron’s experience of the NHS would have been considerably worse “had he been forced to wrestle with the understaffed and overmanned hospitals of much of England, or had he been trying to get the system to look after a dying parent”.

Callous? Undoubtedly. But it’s true. As a rich man Cameron has been protected from some of the stress other parents have to go through. Losing a child is horrific, and no amount of money can cushion the horror. But what money can do, what money does do, is cushion you from the cruelties and stresses that poor people face when they’re caring for terminally ill children or grieving their loss.

Here’s an example of that, on a much less dramatic scale. My son is currently in the Children’s Hospital in Glasgow (no need to write in; he’s okay now after a scary week). Because I’m a self-employed media type with a supportive family I don’t have to worry about work: I can survive the loss of income from a week-plus of hospital days and nights, and I don’t have a boss or the DWP breathing down my neck. I drive, so I don’t have to navigate public transport to and from the hospital or shell out for taxis because buses don’t run near where I live. And because I’m not estranged from Adam’s mum neither of us is having to navigate this as a single parent.

I don’t have Cameron’s money or connections, but I have it much easier than many of the other parents of children in the same ward, and of the families of the adults in the main hospital it’s connected to.

And the wider point of the editorial is true too. Cameron has suffered, but his government has made many people suffer more – people who don’t have his money, people who aren’t insulated from the wider consequences of caring for sick family.

I don’t doubt Cameron suffered a horrific loss, or that he grieves any less than any other bereaved parent. But most parents aren’t in a position where they can help lessen the suffering of others. Cameron was.

And yet.

Cameron’s government introduced austerity programmes that have been linked to the deaths of 120,000 people, primarily due to the reduction in the number of nurses.

It didn’t start but it has certainly contributed to the worsening of the NHS, especially in England, especially in adult care.

And the Brexit car crash Cameron instigated is a disaster for the NHS. If no-deal goes ahead, we face a shortage of life-saving medicine; the government is secretly stockpiling extra body bags (and here in Scotland our government is doing the same).

The Spectator – no link, because Spectator – criticises the Guardian and says of Cameron:

The knowledge of pain breeds an empathy deeper and more enduring than political fashion.

Where is the evidence of that in Cameron’s case?


On Twitter, Jess Moxham talks about Cameron’s book and how the personal does not appear to have influenced the political.

After coming to power Cameron began a programme of austerity which saw the steady reduction of all services for disabled children. My son was born in 2009. Our experience of parenting him has aligned with the reality of austerity, and for us it has meant less of everything.

I have never (like him) had a social worker come round and talk to me about the help that is available. We no longer have access to the kind of respite stays at a hospice that he describes. There are longer waiting lists for equipment and therapies. There are fewer therapists.

This is nothing to do with Cameron’s grief, which is personal and painful and not my business, but everything to do with his experience of looking after a disabled child.

I find it hard to understand how he can recognise the importance of the care and support his son and his family received without acknowledging that those resources are no longer available.

…Cameron was in a position of power and he ensured that all of the families with disabled children that came after his got less than his family got.