EVEN when the government of the day pursues an agenda inimical to your political beliefs there’s still an expectation of human decency.

You might revile austerity and harsher immigration laws but you still expect those who’ll be adversely affected by them to be treated humanely and with a basic level of respect as the state begins the process of social eviction.

This week it was difficult to detect dignity or decency in those images of English children’s food parcels circulating on social media. The disabled mother who posted them had expected the contents to last 10 school days and represent around £30 worth of food. What she received amounted to about £5. 

For those in the UK Government who had initially been reluctant to offer this small consideration the collected food items would barely qualify as a starter to their main meal.

When Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist in 1838 he might have expected that poor British children wouldn’t still be forced to beg nearly two centuries later. The politicians duly expressed horror when confronted with the reality of this and insisted the pictured food parcels did not conform to their laid-down standards. Someone at Whitehall, though, must have signed off on these.

Those sad little packages were a metaphor representing the inevitable outcome when market forces are introduced into public service provision. 

It creates a tension between two irreconcilable forces: the need to make a profit and satisfy shareholders and the requirement to meet basic human needs with dignity and respect. This is not to say that the outcomes are always wretched: simply that when pressure is applied there will only ever be one winner.

Similar outcomes have resulted in other sectors where basic compassion flees in the face of the demands of brute capital and bureaucratic efficiency. 

When Serco won the contract to house asylum-seekers I’m sure they didn’t set out to strip these people of what remained of their human dignity by locking them out of their temporary accommodation. But when all you’re required to do is apply an arbitrary set of regulations which views people not as human beings but as units of cost then the concept of human dignity is quickly abandoned.

At other times it’s not the idea of mercy which gets lost where market forces gather to chisel a margin from public need but the notion of restraint. 

As executives begin to realise that they’re operating in a Wild West environment with no degree of public accountability greed subverts all other considerations.

Three years ago this weekend, the multinational construction and facilities management services company Carillion finally collapsed with debts running into billions. 

Long before it expired it was known to have been treating the UK public construction sector in the same way as the contestants on Dale Winton’s Supermarket Sweep: grab as much as you can, as quickly as you can. For some Carillion directors and executives the consequences of exposure seemed to evaporate when set against the prospect of personal enrichment. 

The full extent of the malfeasance that led to Carillion’s collapse was chronicled last year in a book by the Scottish journalist and author Bob Wylie.

Bandit Capitalism: Carillion and the Corruption of the British State is an outstanding treatise on how capitalism, when loosened from the constraints of decency, acts as a cancer within the souls of those who worship it. 

Mr Wylie’s work deserves to stand alongside Ian Fraser’s Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank that Broke Britain as one of the most important books of the last decade.

In it we discover how thousands of jobs and hundreds of small businesses in the Carillion supply chain were destroyed as they waited for billions in outstanding payments that would never arrive.

While racking up losses of £7bn, directors and senior executives awarded themselves millions in salaries and bonuses and left the pension fund barren despite telling the Parliamentary Inquiry that this was one of their main priorities.

The chief executive, Richard Howson and the finance chief, Richard Adam cared about pensions alright: their own. During their tenure their gold-plated pension pots were swollen by a joint quantum of almost £2m.

Along with a reasonable expectation of decency when the free market is permitted to operate in this area the public place their trust in the Government and its agencies to monitor their activities on our behalf.

The Carillion crash, though, exposed their failures too. The auditors and government-appointed regulators, for reasons that they’ve never been asked to explain, were all looking in other directions. 

On these occasions Conservative ministers and their glove-puppets in the right-wing prints simply sit tight and wait for a new national convulsion to occur or the opportunity to contrive outrage at any signs of clear and present Socialism.

Happily for them, in the years since Carillion went down we’ve had Brexit, coronavirus and the replacement of a proper leader of the UK Labour Party with an impostor.

This week, eight former directors of Carillion are facing calls to be banned from boardrooms. The money they all made from the Carillion enterprise, though, will inoculate them from the effects of any such censure.

What is needed instead is a full public inquiry leading to a fundamental change in how we restrain the worst excesses of capitalism in the British state. Right now, the country is being run by a man who resisted demands for bankers’ bonuses to be curtailed following the 2008/09 financial crash.

He runs a cabinet which hands multi-million pound PPE contracts to firms with no expertise and owned by those who have donated money to the party cause.

To coincide with the third anniversary of Carillion the leader of the Labour Party is writing columns for the house publication of the UK Conservative Party. This is set to be the way of it in the UK for the foreseeable future. 

Coming soon in Scotland, though, will be an opportunity to leave this gangster state behind.