Under Scrutiny: Imagine if the same expectations of "responsibility" underpinning Paula Bennet's new "social obligations" policy were applied to members of the upper-middle-class as well as Domestic Purposes Beneficiaries.
THE OFFICERS of the Social Obligations and Responsibilities Unit knocked on Charlotte’s front door as she was preparing breakfast. She always tried to send her children off to school with something hot and nutritious – not always successfully. Justin and Katherine were both teenagers and did not appear to believe in eating anything at all. Most mornings they simply opened the refrigerator, grabbed the orange juice, took a swig, and then, offering their mother a desultory wave, disappeared for the rest of the day. Charlotte would be left with more French toast, pancakes and scrambled eggs than she could possibly eat. Usually she ended up scraping most of it into the re-cycling bin.
In fact, she was just on the point of throwing out her offspring’s untouched breakfasts when the SORU came a-knocking.
“Mrs Robinson?” The young woman who spoke was thin and angular with a set of teeth that appeared to have been borrowed from a horse. Her colleague, as round as she was straight, wore rimless glasses and resembled an extremely well-fed and intelligent domestic cat.
“That’s me!” Charlotte replied brightly. “Can I help you?”
“By authority of the Social Obligations and Responsibilities Act (2015)”, droned the young woman, reading from a small card, “I am empowered to conduct a mandatory interview and inspection of the domicile of you, Mrs Charlotte Elizabeth Robinson. Failure to fully co-operate with officers performing their duties under the Act is a criminal offense punishable by a $25,000 fine or six months imprisonment, or both. Do you understand?”
The young woman pushed past Charlotte and began inspecting the large, well-appointed property room by room, making notes on a digital clipboard.
“What’s this all about?” Charlotte asked the young woman’s rotund sidekick.
“Complaints have been laid about your excessive energy consumption, your failure to conserve and recycle, your unsound childrearing practices, alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity – we’re here to help.”
“Now just a minute!” Charlotte snapped. “I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, but these accusations are outrageous. Who the hell told you all this?”
“I’m afraid I cannot tell you that”, the young man said primly, “the identity of complainants is privileged.”
The young woman strode into the kitchen and spotted the duo of as yet unscraped breakfast plates.
“Are we to understand that you were about to throw this food away, Mrs Robinson?”
“I was, yes.” Charlotte murmured, carefully examining the toes of her slippers.
“And are we to further understand that you have allowed your children to depart for their classes without an adequate breakfast?”
Charlotte nodded as the young woman tapped away furiously on her digital clipboard.
The young woman flicked the screen with her fingers and reviewed her notes.
“In this private dwelling I have detected five flat-screen televisions and four personal computers – a number well above the recommended maximum quantity of domestic electronic devices. In your bedside table, Mrs Robinson, there are a large number of prescription drugs – prima facie evidence of an unhealthy dependence on mood-altering medication. In your recycling bin there are a ridiculously large number of wine and gin bottles – prima facie evidence of a serious alcohol addiction. And, as my colleague noted upon entering the property, there is a large sports utility vehicle parked, in blatant contravention of the new regulations on automotive maximums, in your excessively large garage.”
“We’re selling the SUV”, Charlotte protested.
The young woman shot her a disbelieving glance.
“Our complainants also report that your children have been seen imbibing alcopops illegally in the local park, and that your daughter, though under the age of consent, has been engaging in lascivious behaviour with the 18 year old son of one of your neighbours.”
“For God’s sake!” wailed Charlotte, “They’re teenagers!”
“Under the Social Obligations and Responsibilities Act (2015) Mrs Robinson, you have a duty to raise your children according to the generally accepted social norms. Simply because you are a member of the upper-middle-class you are not exempted from those responsibilities and obligations.”
“In fact,” purred the corpulent young man, “it could be argued that the enjoyment of such obvious privileges carries with it an even greater obligation to behave responsibly. People like yourself should take care to offer the less fortunate members of society – beneficiaries for example – a positive role model.”
“Which brings us to the affair you’re currently conducting with Mr Benjamin Braddock.” The young woman touched her keypad and an extremely embarrassing image flashed up on the screen. “Does this sort of behaviour reflect a proper understanding of a wife and mother’s social obligations and responsibilities, Mrs Robinson?”
Charlotte blushed bright red.
“I will be recommending to my superiors that your husband’s taxes be doubled, Mrs Robinson. You’ll be attending drug rehabilitation and parenting classes. Your children will receive counselling. The SUV will, of course, be confiscated.”
This short-story was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 24 July 2012.