AT the heart of any system of benefits in a progressive democracy is what you might call the compassionate option. This acknowledges that while your chosen welfare apparatus may be flawed and untidy it operates with the best of intentions. That is: to ensure as far as possible that those most in need of help will receive it.

Underpinning it will be a presumption of honesty and an acceptance that many people have started their lives two goals down and have struggled to make up the deficit. It will appreciate too that others who have made a wrong turning in life or who have been afflicted by ill health or the sickness of a dependant also deserve the means to access a degree of quality in their living arrangements.

In a compassionate society any presumption of goodwill must also acknowledge that flawed human nature will see others attempt to access benefits fraudulently or, at the very least, by exaggerating jeopardy and need. The trick is to operate a system which doesn’t punish the many in genuine need in an attempt to thwart the relatively few cheats. The same principle is present in our justice system and in our methods of taxation. We know that many people guilty of crime walk free every day from our courts because of a technical discrepancy or simply because a jury of lay people with an incomplete knowledge of the law have been convinced by the wrong argument. Our response to this isn’t to raise the threshold of proof of innocence so that we can jail more people but simply to maintain faith in a flawed system that we still believe gets it right more often than not.

Our tax system operates on the basis of personal morality and responsibility. We know that many of our richest people and most profitable corporations successfully hide the extent of their wealth but most of us respond not by withholding our own liabilities but by continuing to meet them in the knowledge that they help to provide the physical infrastructure that keeps our society moving. It is simply the right thing to do and maintains an unwritten social contract between the government and the governed that proceeds on a basis of trust.

The Tories’ introduction of Universal Credit and the manner in which they have urged the Department of Work and Pensions to implement it has wrecked this social contract. Where its heart ought to be there is a gaping vacuum where all sense of morality and human compassion withers and dies. It presumes that benefit claimants are undeserving of it. By implementing delays in payments it operates a spirit of reprisal that effectively says: “We’ve been soft touches for too long and your days of exploiting this are over, sunshine.” It is impervious to the misery and hardship that a delay in benefits can cause among those in genuine need.

Tories are wretchedly sanguine about those who have taken their own lives because DWP officials have insisted they return to work despite debilitating physical or mental infirmity. Never having encountered anything remotely akin to the social challenges experienced in those communities most affected they insist that this is the unfortunate collateral damage of a hard but necessary policy. They view the proliferation of food banks which has followed Universal Credit as cheerful manifestations of human kindness and community spirit which show Britain at its best. They happily pose for pictures beside them so that these can appear in election leaflets to show the wilfully ignorant that they care.

This feeds an ancient Tory lie that has unfortunately found credence in certain working class communities which remain in thrall to royalty, military adventure and British isolation. This says that they aren’t really benefits at all but hand-outs that encourage the workshy and the indolent. The truth of course is that they are neither benefits nor hand-outs but social dividends. They are drawn down from a policy that those many of us who have been blessed with good health and full employment will rarely need but are happy to donate to those less fortunate. They are an investment that previous generations of working people made to provide for those of their descendants who might one day fall between the cracks.

Those generations were promised that their sacrifices in the great war against fascism would be rewarded with homes and jobs fit for heroes. Well, we know how that turned out. The homes were dutifully built and then quietly stolen in the great Thatcher council house buy-back swindle and the jobs rapidly decreased in worth and sustainability as we were fed the lie that the trade unions were the real “enemy within”. Never tell me that the benefits of today have not all been bought by another generation who paid for it with their lives only to be sold the lie that their children would live in a better world in return. Instead they saw Margaret Thatcher dismantle their industries and communities and sell off national assets to line the pockets of speculators and hedge fund managers. And when her acolytes inevitably drove the UK economy onto the rocks in 2008 they indulged the perpetrators with tax breaks and punished the victims with Universal Credit.

Yesterday’s outbreak of humanity by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd in scrapping plans to make the two-child limit retrospective is nothing of the sort. This was driven by political expediency and by the impending economic chaos of Brexit which was making some Tory backbenchers jittery. As Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP who has campaigned heroically on this issue said: “The two-child cap is still deeply problematic. It is already affecting 400,000 children who will not be helped by this announcement and it has been condemned by Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty.”

A policy which seeks to dehumanise and to penalise poor people for daring to build a family is social engineering of the most sinister kind designed to maintain the supremacy of the few. It is a manifestation of the wickedness that rules the heart of the Tories and it should be resisted by all means available and by all men and women of goodwill.