This website doesn’t normally host theatre reviews, and I know that I have none of the skills or experience to be a critic. But last week I went to see All Our Children by Stephen Unwin (full disclosure, he is my brother). It’s a moving play and it’s brilliantly acted. It describes a particularly hideous episode in the horror of the holocaust, focussing on the Nazi murder of disabled young people. Of course the audience was rapt with attention.
But what I hadn’t expected was such a profound exposition of what seems to me to be one of the biggest – unspoken – social policy dilemma of our times. By using the horror of the past, the play forces us to think seriously about what we really think about people who are never going to make an economic contribution. Those of us who grapple with public policy dilemmas would never dream of using the harsh rhetoric of the Nazi administrator, but in our pursuit of supposed fairness, and our obligation to make spending decisions transparent and apparently equitable, we regularly witness decisions that ascribe differential value to human life. When the zealous Nazi administrator contrasts the vast expense of maintaining severely disabled children, with the good that could be done for so many other children, it was hard not to think of the agonising commissioning decisions taken daily in local authorities. And this is not only about austerity, or recent policy. The need to allocate money to support, ‘the few, not the many’, in a reversal of the current Labour party campaign slogan, is a daily decision, and one which we need to talk about. Otherwise, those who don’t contribute economically are seen as objects of pity, and discretionary generosity, not fellow citizens with intrinsic value as human beings.