A Beginner’s Guide to #Ethics in UK Public Life



Every so often, the UK government finds itself mired in scandals of sleaze and corruption. At present, we have a return of allegations that the UK Parliament is ‘home’ to a ‘ring’ of high-profile child sex abusers; there are lingering allegations of continued expenses fraud; and today both the Guardian and Huff Post report that the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee into Standards in Public Life  is saying “MPs should be required to undergo an induction course to teach them about the seven principles of public life that are meant to promote openness and honesty.”

For those unfamiliar with the Seven Principles of Public Life, you can find more information here.


So why are ethics so  important? From the perspective of a member of a presently socially-exiled social class, this is one HUGE reason as far as I am concerned:

Tories discuss stripping benefits claimants who refuse treatment for depression

We can be grateful to Dr. Sarah Wollaston, former GP now Conservative MP for Totnes, Brixham and the South Hams, – who clearly does understand the role of ethics in public life – to provide the appropriate professional response to the above.

FireShot Screen Capture #006 - 'Twitter _ drwollastonmp_ Presumably this complete tosh ___' - twitter_com_drwollastonmp_status_488078746042519552

She elaborates on the issue of ethics in this report.


So given that the UK has existing standards of behaviour for public and elected officials, how is it possible that the Department of Work & Pensions floats ideas in the press that are clearly and plainly professionally unethical? Well, perhaps this might explain it:


A report by the committee pointed to reports that fewer than one in five of those elected for the first time in 2010 attended even one induction session, and one on dealing with ethical dilemmas was cancelled when too few signed up….

It said it understood that the issue was “delicate” as many elected representatives saw being taught ethics as “impugning their integrity and their common sense”…





What we can be certain of, at this juncture, is that the ‘common-sense’ and ‘integrity’ of many present incumbents of public office in Westminster leaves a great deal to be desired, and this is a cross-party problem likely to be best resolved by a cross-party solution.


I believe that the casual breaching of ethics in public life by many of our parliamentarians lies at the heart of the social problems currently being created by the same. Whilst we have – as a country – tried to address this problem in the past, our attempts have clearly been unsuccessful because here we are again. The question in my mind is how do we manage the problem now?


As with any other ‘disciplinary’ problem, it is important to restate the standards likely to be applied. The Seven Standards of Public Life have been around for a while now but I wonder whether their importance has been framed correctly for our recalcitrant MP’s?

This is the frame I would use were I to be writing/delivering a training course on the topic. In addition to the reminder that those with public responsibilities are answerable to the public, I’d echo the Committee on Public Standards’ warning that those who fail to adhere to these are likely to find themselves deselected or recalled at best, or jailed at worst. Election or appointment to parliament does not come with a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card and failings in our personal public responsibility may well be punishable by the courts. In addition, those reluctant to apply the Seven Standards to their own behaviour could find themselves embarrassed by other public servants refusing to comply with orders they regard as unlawful.


Ceasar Chavez


Whilst I am certain the models used above are imperfect, they still provide a sound-enough foundation of the ethical principles that inform all professionals, whilst allowing for variations depending upon the exigencies of individual professions. When we start to see cross-professional ethical violations in matters of public political life (as with the DWP’s ‘forced therapy’ proposal which violated the ethics of both GP’s and mental health professionals), those of us who understand the issue’s importance need to ask ourselves what we intend to do about it.


Ethical violations are harmful to the point of criminality and beyond, wherever they may occur. When such violations are occurring in public life, the harm to the public will be extensive. As someone who could be personally affected by a DWP ‘forced therapy’ requirement, I have my own personal response to the Ministers of that department (past, present and future):

Forward Planning and

Atos and the Day of Judgment

Whilst the above were prepared for an impending WCA, the principles remain virtually unchanged because my response was designed to confront existing ethical violations within the DWP.  In addition, I’ve contacted and briefed my own MP on the matter because, in my own understanding of applying these principles, when we are faced with clear evidence of ethical violations, we must respond forcefully and vigorously to both correct and prevent them because they are always harmful to vulnerable others. I’m lucky my MP understands this; just as all those benefits recipients experiencing depression are fortunate to have a former GP in the House who understands ethics and abides by the Seven Standards, regardless of political hue.


This blog is for all those who want to understand the ethics involved and why they are so vital to public life, up to and including all those MP’s who missed out on their induction to public standard ethics after 2010. Perhaps those readers who think these are standards worth applying to our contemporary public life might bring them to the attention of their own MP’s. Any who persist in their failure to respect these standards, erroneously believing that ‘it doesn’t apply to me’, will still be measured by them, if not by their peers then certainly by their constituents. We don’t want them to complain they weren’t warned!


It really is time we all remembered how we are supposed to behave when faced with those whose behaviour is unethical.


What will you do?





4 responses »

  1. Pingback: A Beginner's Guide to #Ethics in UK Public Life...

  2. Pingback: A Beginner’s Guide to #Ethics in UK Publi...

  3. Ethics and compassion are not the same thing.

    The Tories and Liberals (now called Lib Dems) did exactly the same in the 19th Century with the Workhouse that killed 5 million, the forced asylum and the New Poor Law, that treated the poor, sick, disabled and old as criminal for being poor.

    The bourgeoisie have never understood the poor. The elite have never understood the people they rule. Throughout history in the UK.

    The Pension Bill has hit the disabled / sick, both physical and mental, losing ever more benefits or never gaining them.
    Even worse is to come with the Flat Rate Pension that leaves a great many women, and a lot of the poorest men, with no state pension for life, that is food and fuel money.

    Benefits are paid 97 per cent to the working poor and poor pensioners, with only 3 per cent on the unemployed (source Dame Anne Begg, Chairwoman House of Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions).

    There is no compassion in a nation where foreign news service tell the truth that starvation has risen around 70 per cent since 2010, to the working poor as well as unemployed. This confirmed many times by what many doctors have said in The Lancet for England and Wales.

    Poor pensioners short of a pension from 2013 (women born from 1953 and men from 1951) are amongst the working poor (state pension payable if remain in work or choose to retire).

    Mental health issues are caused by the fear of penniless starvation caused by benefit delays, benefit sanctions for the least thing (in fact some whistleblowers say that staff are disciplined for not sanctioning enough people to nil food money) and benefits lost or never gained.

    We know the Bedroom Tax causes depression that brings about suicide from one of the main reasons of suicide that is hopeless debt.

    As autopsy of those sanctioned off benefit have found the stomach of the victim to be entirely empty of food and their house with little food in it, then starvation is beginning to be forensically proved.

    Food banks give only 3 vouchers in a year, but only to those on benefit. No benefit, no voucher.

    But the UK is the only nation in Europe that does not have council-run free cafes providing free cooked meals and hot drinks to the working poor, poor pensioners as well as the unemployed, 7 days a week.

    The government does not subsidise Fareshare, the supplier of food banks, but only in throwing away surplus food to profit making private companies to use as fuel for energy from waste.

    As you know it takes a thin person about 5 weeks to starve to death, a man with muscle tone or men or women more portly less. This is due to be the waiting time before receipt of benefit.

    The working poor, either employees or low income self employed or zero hour contracts, are the bulk of the people on benefits being cut. Half of people over 50 are within the working poor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s