Category: Austerity

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame – part 2

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)
Social security came about precisely because we evolved to recognise a need for a social safety net to protect citizens when they encountered economic difficulties, because we learned last century that we are all potentially vulnerable, and that this isn’t anything to do with a person’s characteristics – ordinary people are not to blame for socio-economic circumstances, or for becoming ill and disabled. Unemployment, accident and illness can happen to anyone.

In 1992, Peter Lilley, the somewhat salacious Tory department of social security secretary said he had “got a little list” of people to stereotype as scroungers. Lilley amused the Conservative Party conference with a plan to “close down the something for nothing society”, delivered in the form of a parody of the Lord High Executioner’slittle listsong from The Mikado  by Gilbert and Sullivan:

“I’ve got a little list / Of benefit offenders who I’ll soon be rooting out / And who never would be missed / They never would be missed. / There’s those who make up bogus claims / In half a dozen names / And councillors who draw the dole / To run left-wing campaigns / They never would be missed / They never would be missed. / There’s young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue / And dads who won’t support the kids / of ladies they have … kissed / And I haven’t even mentioned all those sponging socialists / I’ve got them on my list / And there’s none of them be missed / There’s none of them be missed….”

I remember that subsequently, Spitting Image  portrayed Lilley as a commandant at a Nazi concentration camp and commentator Mark Lawson of The Independent said that if Lilley remained as Secretary of State for Social Security, it would be “equivalent to Mary Whitehouse becoming madam of a brothel.”

The social groups who featured on that hate list are some of the poorest and most disempowered in our society: lone parents, mental health service users, refugees and asylum seekers, the unemployed, and young and homeless people. They have few, if any advocates in parliament on the right, and apparently, few votes are to be lost by attacking them.

Such are the Tory prejudiced, divisive and self-serving attacks on welfare and the purposely devalued social groups it supports. This punitive approach to welfare reform generally has the opposite effect to that promised by Tories such as Lilley, creating additional bureaucratic costs and waste, and setting one group against another. This is a deliberate undermining of social cohesion, cooperation and collective responsibility. It isolates many, who by common consent need support. This approach is also designed to deter those people with legitimate entitlement to support, and to justify an unnecessary and inappropriate harassment, stigmatising and denigrating those it should be helping.

Welfare is the provision of a minimal level of well-being and social support for all citizens. In other words, it was conceived to alleviate absolute poverty and meet basic survival needs. This is based on a model of human developmental psychology focusing on the recognised stages of growth in humans, and is founded on the central idea that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual may be motivated to fulfil any other needs and betterment. As a minimal condition for making choices and being responsible, people must have all of their basic physiological needs met. For example, a homeless person’s job choices might be constrained by the lack of an address for correspondence or even a place to take a shower. Understanding such humanist concepts was central to the development equality policies and human rights.

The welfare state expands on these concepts to include services such as universal healthcare. In most developed countries welfare is provided by the government. Benefits are based on a compulsory supra-governmental insurance contribution system, the National Insurance system in the UK was established in 1911.

The Beveridge Report in 1942, essentially recommended a national, compulsory, flat rate insurance scheme which would combine health care, unemployment and retirement benefits. After its victory in the United Kingdom general election, 1945 the Labour Party pledged to eradicate the five Giant Evils, and undertook policy measures to provide universal support for the people of the United Kingdom “from the cradle to the grave.”

Social Security policy resulted in the development of what was considered to be a state responsibility towards its citizens, and a citizen responsibility towards each other. Welfare is a social protection that is necessary. There was also an embedded doctrine of fostering equity in the policy.

In addition to the central services of education, health, unemployment and sickness allowances, the welfare state also involved increasing redistributive taxation, increasing regulation of industry, food, and housing, better safety regulations, weights and measures controls. The principle of health care “free at the point of use” became a pivotal idea of the welfare state, which later Conservative governments, who were critical of this, were unable to reverse. Prescription charges were introduced by the Conservative Government in 1952.

The Welfare State period lasted from around 1945 until the Thatcher government began to privatise public institutions in the 1980s, although some features remain today, including compulsory National Insurance contributions, and the provision of old age pensions. It was Conservative governments that introduced constraints to eligibility for benefits via means testing.

The Labour Party won a clear victory in 1945 based on their programme of building provision for citizens with the Welfare State. However, since the 1980s the Conservative government had begun to reduce provisions in England: for example, free eye tests for all were stopped and prescription charges for drugs have constantly risen since they were first introduced by the Conservatives in 1951.

During the Thatcher era, the English High Tory journalist T. E. Utley, wrote that the welfare state was “an arrangement under which we all largely cease to be responsible for our own behaviour and in return become responsible for everyone else’s.” However, even people who erroneously believe that the present welfare system is corrosive to individual responsibility accept the urgency of preventing hunger and destitution. Yet the Tories have persisted with their pre-Victorian rhetoric of the “undeserving, idle poor.”

There is a moral as well as a logical absurdity in this Conservative claim, tied up with notions of citizenship. It’s a continual contradiction of principle within Conservative ideology that small state logic applies to the most vulnerable, who are left to the worst ravages of “market forces” without state protection, but such laissez faire principles don’t extend to the wealthy. Conservatives systematically fail to correct market failures in the interests of the public, but they do intervene to protect the interests of the minority of wealthy citizens. Similarly, replacing state run public services with profit incentivised private providers is an intervention. These partisan interferences distort the “market mechanism,” contrary to Tory claims.

As Ed Miliband noted, when Cameron declared We are raising more money for the rich:

“David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.’

‘But they also seem to believe that the only way to make you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.”

So “market forces” are adjusted and fixed to benefit the wealthy and penalise the poor.

The sociologist T.H. Marshall wrote in 1965, “it is generally agreed that… the overall responsibility for the welfare of the citizens must remain with the state.” Marshall’s own concept of “social citizenship” – which put forward a new model of citizenship based on economic and social (as well as political) rights – was characteristic of this collective approach to social welfare after 1945. There was a clear and optimistic sense of rebuilding a better Britain.

It’s worth noting that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights recognises socio-economic human rights, such as the right to educationright to housingright to adequate standard of livingright to health and the right to science and culture. Economic, social and cultural rights are recognised and protected in several international and regional human rights instruments. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is the primary international legal source of economic, social and cultural rights. All member states have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights of the public and are expected to take “progressive action” towards their fulfilment. The current government have made it clear that they hold such rights in high contempt, and in terms of socio-economic policy, they are driven by an extremely regressive rather than progressive ideology.

The social citizenship model remained unchallenged until the emergence of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative Party leader (1975) and then Prime Minister (1979). Thatcherism promised low taxes, less state intervention, and lower levels of public spending, Thatcher introduced cuts in spending on housing and stricter eligibility rules for benefits. This was the Conservative beginning of the end of collective provision.

The Tories have steadily eroded our provision for the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens – our collective safety net, and their rhetoric is about erasing our evolved, civilised collective approach from our social memory. We are being steadily de-civilised, our historical, collective learning and social history is being re-written, and the Tories would have us turn into a society of dog eat dog psychopaths if they get their way.

The Tories have a cynical view of human nature, and presume people will always act out of self-interest, and whilst they may well avoid disappointment, Conservatives will never understand people by assuming that is all that motivates them. History has demonstrated that when human beings are given the chance to meet their fundamental needs and express themselves fully, they are, by nature, interested in the well-being of society and all its members.

I don’t believe that we have limited ability in terms of human endeavour to achieve positive change. Conservatives see the traditional order as enduring and sacred: a trust to be passed from generation to generation. They see the hierarchy that they always engineer as the result of “natural merit.” To be a Tory is to believe this “natural order” of things.

Survival of the wealthiest

Yet Conservative ideology directs an openly hierarchical society and promotes social inequalities, both materially and in terms of social esteem. Tories believe that a “good” society is one where people would simply accept their place. And that is wherever the Tories place them – “The rich man at his castle, the poor man at his gate.”

There are strong links between the right wing idea of “competitive individualism,” laissez faire capitalism, Social Darwinism, eugenics, nationalism and fascism/authoritarianism. Social Darwinists generally argue that the “strong” should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease.

Most of these views emphasise competition between individuals in a laissez-faire capitalism context; but similar concepts have motivated ideas of eugenics, racism, imperialism fascism, Nazism and struggle between national or racial groups. Eugenics is state interference in the engineering of the “survival of the fittest (wealthiest)”. That is happening here in the UK, with Tory policies like the welfare “reforms”, which are extremely punitive towards sick and disabled citizens in particular – all too often denying them the means of meeting basic survival needs. The Tories think that wealth is a measure of virtue, and that poor people deserve poverty.

Welfare isn’t simply a matter of societal rights but also a matter of life and death. People are dying, and are being made homeless, we are seeing a massive increase in food poverty, malnutrition and people are committing suicide because they are so desperate. Yet the Tories continue to present the victim-blame script. It’s a script that is used almost always to reinforce white supremacist and patriarchal power structures.

And it’s a script that plays off a weakness of our Western worldview, our inclination to assign negative moral value to those who suffer – what psychologists call thejust world fallacy .”

It is often said that you can judge a society on how it treats its weaker members, and in that respect the current government have failed so many. What kind of society is it that allows over a million young people to struggle on the dole, stifling their potential and their creativity, instead of spending the money on helping them to find meaningful work – and then blames them?

What kind of society allows a government to re-brand unemployment and poverty as personal failure, when we know that this government’s policies have caused unemployment to rise, just like every other Tory government. Thatcher at least admitted she had intentionally created high unemployment to keep inflation low, however, that “strategy” failed and we had high inflation and high unemployment. Conservative governments always create a large, disposable army of labour, which they like to keep as desperate as possible to drive down wages, working conditions and to stultify collective bargaining.

Raising unemployment is an extremely effective way of reducing the strength of the working classes, and what is being engineered in Marxist terms is a crisis of capitalism which creates a reserve army of labour and has allowed Tory donors – the capitalist class – to make very high profits.

What kind of society allows sick and disabled people to be harassed – where they are called in for crude, tick-box tests to prove that they are “really” ill or disabled, one where that “assessment” is designed purposefully to remove their lifeline benefits, one where most are found “fit for work” with many dying a few weeks or months later? And when people succeed in appealing wrongful decisions, they are almost immediately sent for a reassessment?

This is happening here in the UK. The Tory welfare “reforms” are extremely punitive towards people who can’t find work and sick and disabled citizens, all too often denying them the means to meet basic survival needs. We urgently need to overturn this by forcefully challenging the Tory myths that poison any attempts at progressive change. Human suffering, loss of dignity and death may have many facets, but all of them are equally unforgiving, and when imposed by humans on fellow humans, all are equally unforgivable. 

Some Tory benefit myths addressed:

Mythbuster: Tall tales about welfare reform – Red pepper
Voters ‘brainwashed by Tory welfare myths’, shows new poll – The Independent
Welfare Myth Number One – Benefits Are Expensive – Dr Simon Duffy
Who really benefits from welfare – Dr Simon Duffy
Where the cuts are targeted – Dr Simon Duffy
The myth of the “welfare scrounger” – The New Statesman

1902872_299005260250529_1922060527_n
Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

The just world fallacy

1459165_266124213538634_1461740450_n
The Tories now deem anything that criticises them as “abusive”. Ordinary campaigners are labelled “extremists” and pointing out flaws, errors and consequences of Tory policy is called “scaremongering”.

Language and psychology are a powerful tool, because this kind of use “pre-programs” and sets the terms of any discussion or debate. It also informs you what you may think, or at least what you need to circumnavigate first in order to state your own account or present your case. This isn’t simply name-calling or propaganda: it’s a deplorable and tyrannical silencing technique.

The government have gathered together a Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – it is a part of the Cabinet Office – which is comprised of both behavioural psychologists and economists, who apply positivist (pseudo) psychological techniques to social policy. The approach is not much different to the techniques of persuasion used in the shady end of the advertising industry.  They produce positive psychology courses which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are using to ensure participants find satisfaction with their lot; the DWP are also using psychological referral with claims being reconsidered on a mandatory basis by civil servant “decision makers”, as punishment for non-compliance with the new regimes of welfare conditionality for which people claiming out of work benefits are subject.

Positive psychology courses, and the use of psychological referral as punishment for non-compliance with the new regimes of welfare conditionality applied to people claiming out of work benefits are example of the (mis)application of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT is all about making a person responsible for their own thoughts and how they perceive events and experiences and can sometimes be used to empower people. But used in this context, it’s a political means to push an ideological agenda, entailing the “responsibilisation” of poverty, with claimants being blamed for not having a job or for being ill and/or disabled.

However, responding with anger, sadness and despair is normal to many events and circumstances, and to deny that in any way is actually grotesque, cruel and horrendously abusive – it’s a technique called gaslighting – a method of psychological abuse that is usually associated with psychopathic perpetrators.

Gaslighting techniques may range from a simple denial by abusers that abusive incidents have occurred, to events and accounts staged by the abusers with the intention of disorienting the targets (or “victims”.)

The government is preempting any reflection on widening social inequality and injustice by using these types of behavioural modification techniques on the poor, holding them entirely responsible for the government’s economic failures and the consequences of  class contingent policies.

Sanctions are applied to “remedy” various “defects” of individual behaviour, character and attitude. Poor people are being coerced into workfare and complicity using bogus psychology and bluntly applied behavioural modification techniques.

Poor people are punished for being poor, whilst wealthy people are rewarded for being wealthy. Not only on a material level, but on a level of socially and politically attributed esteem, worth and value.

We know from research undertaken by sociologists, psychologists and economists over the past century that being poor is bad for mental wellbeing and health. The government is choosing to ignore this and adding to that problem substantially by stripping people of their basic dignity and autonomy.

The application of behavioural science is even more damaging than the hateful propaganda and media portrayals, although both despicable methods of control work together to inflict psychological damage on more than one level. “Positive psychology” and propaganda serve to invalidate individual experiences, distress and pain and to appropriate blame for circumstances that lie entirely outside of an individual’s control and responsibility.

Social psychologists such as Melvin Lerner followed on from Milgam’s work in exploring social conformity and obedience, seeking to answer the questions of how regimes that cause cruelty and suffering maintain popular support, and how people come to accept social norms and laws that produce misery and suffering.

The just-world” fallacy is the cognitive bias (assumption) that a person’s actions always bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, so that all honourable actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions are eventually punished.

The fallacy is that this implies (often unintentionally) the existence of cosmic justice, stability, or order, and also serves to rationalise people’s misfortune on the grounds that they deserve it. It is an unfounded, persistent and comforting belief that the world is somehow fundamentally fair, without the need for our own moral agency and responsibility.

The fallacy appears in the English language in various figures of speech that imply guaranteed negative reprisal, such as: “You got what was coming to you,” “What goes around comes around,” and “You reap what you sow.” This tacit assumption is rarely scrutinised, and goes some way to explain why innocent victims are blamed for their misfortune.

The Government divides people into deserving and undeserving categories – the “strivers” and “scroungers” rhetoric is an example of how the government are drawing on such fallacious tacit assumptions – that utilises an inbuilt bias of some observers to blame victims for their suffering – to justify social oppression and inequality that they have engineered via policy.

The poorest are expected to be endlessly resilient and resourceful, people claiming social security are having their lifeline benefits stripped away and are being forced into a struggle to meet their basic survival needs. This punitive approach can never work to “incentivise” or motivate in such circumstances, because we know that when people struggle to meet basic survival needs they are too pre-occupied to be motivated to meet other less pressing needs.

Maslow identifies this in his account of the human hierarchy of needs, and many motivational studies bear this out. This makes the phrase trotted out by the Tories: “helping people into work” to justify sanctions and workfare not only utterly terrifying, but also inane.

Unemployment is NOT caused by “psychological barriers” or “character flaws”. It is caused by feckless and reckless governments failing to invest in growth projects. It’s not about personal “employability”, it’s about neoliberal economics, labour market conditions, political policies and subsequent socio-structural problems.

Public policy is not a playground for the amateur and potentially dangerous application of brainwashing techniques via the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or “nudge unit”. This is NOT being nasty in a nice way: it is being nasty in a nasty way; it’s utterly callous.

The rise of psychological coercion, “positive affect as coercive strategy”, and the recruitment of economic psychologists for designing the purpose of  monitoring, modifying and punishing people who claim social security benefits raises important ethical questions about psychological authority. Psychology is being used as a prop for neoliberal ideology.

We ought to be very concerned about the professional silence so far regarding this adoption of a such a psychocratic, neo-behavourist approach to social control and an imposed conformity by this government.

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)

Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone 

Related reading:

AFTER FORCED-PSYCHOMETRIC-TEST DEBACLE, NOW JOBCENTRES OFFER ONLINE CBT – Skywalker

The Right Wing Moral Hobby Horse:Thrift and Self Help, But Only For The Poor

From Psycho-Linguistics to the Politics of Psychopathy. Part 1: Propaganda.

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

Whistle While You Work (For Nothing): Positive Affect as Coercive Strategy – The Case of Workfare by Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn (A must read)

 


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

DonatenowButton

welfare reforms and the language of flowers: the Tory gender agenda

994596_517805604955639_608589568_n

In all places, then, and in all seasons,
Flowers expand their light and soul-like wings,
Teaching us, by most persuasive reasons,
How akin they are to human things.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Flowers from Voices Of the Night

Ring-a-ring-a-roses,
A pocket full of posies;
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down – Traditional

Part one

The axis of marginalisation

George Bernard Shaw immortalised the Victorian East End flower girls in Eliza Doolittle, in his play “Pygmalion.” The play is a sharp lampoon of the rigid British class system of the day and must also be read as a commentary on women’s striving for independence. The play was subsequently adapted numerous times, most notably as the highly romanticised musical “My Fair Lady” (and the film, starring Audrey Hepburn). But there was a historical reality behind Shaw’s fiction that was far less glamorous, he edited out genuine representation of so many miserable lives filled with a constant, dehumanising, gnawing ache of absolute poverty and oppression.

Assumptions about women’s roles have historically shaped public policy. And they still do. Historically the Victorian era was a time of many contradictions, such as the widespread cultivation of an outward appearance of dignity, a strict social code of conduct and prudish sexual restraint together, with the prevalence of social phenomena such as prostitution and child labour. Hardly surprising that an affluence of social movements arose from attempts to improve the prevailing harsh living conditions for so many under a rigid class system.

The Victorian era was founded on optimistic Modernist notions of progress, but it ought to serve as a historical lesson in the social evils of Elitism, the Victoran Era saw great expansion of wealth and  power that was  not shared or “trickled down” in the slightest. But it seems we never learn. Victorian Britain was a land of laissez-faire capitalism and self-reliance. Government regulation was minimal and welfare was left mostly to charity.

At the same time that explicit erotica was beginning to appear in newspapers, emotions and sexual feelings were expressed by means of cryptological communications through the use or arrangement of flowers. “Talking bouquets” called “nosegays” or “tussie-mussies” were used to send coded messages to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings that could not be spoken out loud in Victorian society.

The language of flowers was used by women to speak for women at a time when women often were discouraged from speaking for themselves in society. In the UK, (and the US) the language of flowers was a popular phenomenon and was traditionally associated with Victorian womanhood ideals for women to be pious, pure, domestic, and submissive to their husbands.

When a woman married, she had no independent legal status. She had no right to any money (earned or inherited), she could not make a will or buy property, she had no claim to her children, she had to move with her husband wherever he went. If her husband died, he could name the mother as the guardian, but he did not have to do so.

During Victoria’s reign, Britain was also ruled by an aristocratic elite that excluded democrats, radicals, and workers. The Government was not fully representative, since in 1832, only 20 percent of the population could fulfil the property qualifications to vote.

The Victorian era is almost synonymous with the ideology of “great men” – “outstanding” male individuals, whose features and life stories fill the National Portrait Gallery (founded 1856) and the patriarchal Dictionary of National Biography (launched 1882) while their exploits were hymned in key texts like Thomas Carlyle’s Heroes and Hero Worship (1841) and Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help (1859).

Throughout the era, “masculine” values of action, courage and endeavour supported military campaigns and commercial expansion. Women were allotted a subsidiary role, with patience and self-sacrifice the prime feminine virtues, and central to their domestic roles. Motherhood was idealised, alongside virginal innocence, but women were subject to pervasive denigration.

Towards the end of the century, strident misogyny was still strong in both popular fiction and academic writing – but as loudly as female inferiority was declared immutable, women everywhere began to demonstrating otherwise, challenging the axis of patriarchy, and the architects of their marginalisation.

Patterns of patriarchal authority were reinforced by social philosophers like Auguste Comte, Arthur Schopenhauer, Herbert Spencer, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and John Ruskin, this developed into a mid-century doctrine of “separate spheres” –  men were figured as competitors in the amoral, economic realm while women were positioned as either decorative trophies or spiritual guardians of men’s immortal souls.

From the 1860s, social construction of the the Darwinian theory of “survival of the fittest” (a phrase coined by sociologist, Herbert Spencer, not Darwin) added a pseudo-scientific dimension which placed men higher on the evolutionary ladder. This theory of evolutionary ethics is an attempt to derive morality from “biological laws”, and is based on the general doctrine of evolution connected to Darwin.  Malthus’ Essay on Population (1766-1834) was another significant influence on Victorian attitudes.

The mid-century was notable for its moral panic over prostitution, which developed – despite a “permissive” interval in the 1860s – into demands for male chastity outside marriage. At the end of the era, a socially shocking topic was that of the virginal bride (and her innocent offspring) infected with syphilis by a sexually experienced husband. But during the Victorian era, the concept of pater familias, meaning the husband as head of the household and moral leader of his family, was firmly entrenched in British culture.

It was women that were perceived as unclean and this perception was worsened through the First Contagious Diseases Prevention Act in 1864. Women suspected of being unclean were subjected to an involuntary genital examination. Refusal was punishable by imprisonment; diagnosis with an illness was punishable by involuntary confinement to hospital until perceived as cured.

The disease prevention law was only ever applied to women, which became the primary rallying point for activists who argued that the law was both ineffective and inherently unfair to women. The examinations were inexpertly performed by male police, women could be suspected based on little or no evidence, and the exams were painful and humiliating. After two extensions of the law in 1866 and 1869 the unjust acts were finally repealed in 1886.

Bringing together political and personal demands for equality, the slogan: “Votes for Women, Chastity for Men” was coined. Feminist ideas spread among the educated female middle classes,  and the women’s suffrage movement gained momentum in the last years of the Victorian Era.

In addition to losing money and material goods to their husbands, Victorian wives became property to their husbands, giving them rights over their bodies and what their bodies produced; children, sex and domestic labour. Marriage abrogates a women’s right to consent to sexual intercourse with her husband, giving him ownership. Their mutual matrimonial consent therefore became a contract of surrendered autonomy for women.

While husbands quite often participated in affairs with other women, wives endured infidelity as they had no rights to divorce on these grounds and their divorce was considered to be a social taboo. Even following divorce, a husband had complete legal control over any income earned by his wife; women were not allowed to open banking accounts.

The context for such oppression was set around a century and a half ago, a few years before Queen Victoria ascended the throne, a Royal Commission of Parliament proposed a major reform of the Poor Law. The bastardy clauses of the New Poor Law of 1834 outlined that “women bear financial responsibilities for out-of-wedlock pregnancies.” In 1834 women were made legally and financially supportive of their illegitimate children.

It was a Conservative and Liberal project – largely influenced by Thomas Robert Malthus and disseminated by the 1834 Poor Law Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws and such novelists as Harriet Martineau – asserting that poverty arose from overpopulation and that women more so than men were responsible for determining demographic growth. (Yes, really).

Single mothers and their out-of-wedlock children represented the worst violators of independence and individualism, and the centuries-old welfare provisions offered them among the worst obstacles to a free market.

Radical critics perceived in the bastardy clauses a challenge to traditional notions of protecting society’s weak and of allowing the working class the “right” to receive parish and charitable aid. Furthermore, critics recognised that the sexual double standard inherent in the new clauses revealed the ideology of Liberalism: the Liberal system magnified rather than minimised the advantages enjoyed by society’s enfranchised and the disadvantages experienced by society’s weakest members.

The Commissions report, presented in March 1834, was largely the work of two of the Commissioners, Nassau Senior and Edwin Chadwick. The report took the outline that poverty was essentially caused by the indigence of individuals rather than economic and social conditions. Paupers claimed relief regardless of his merits: large families got most, which encouraged improvident marriages; women claimed relief for bastards, which encouraged immorality; labourers had no incentive to work; employers kept wages artificially low as workers were subsidised from the poor rate. (Aha, the Daily Mail and déjà vu)

The New Poor Law of 1834 was based on the “principle of less eligibility,” which stipulated that the condition of the “able-bodied pauper” on relief  be less “eligible” – that is, less desirable, less favourable – than the condition of the independent labourer. “Less-eligibility” meant not only that the pauper receive less by way of relief than the labourer did from his wages but also that he receive it in such a way (in the workhouse, for example) as to make pauperism less respectable than work – to stigmatise it. Thus the labourer would be discouraged from lapsing into a state of “dependency” and the pauper would be encouraged to work.

The Poor Law “made work pay”, in other words.

Did I hear a collective, weary sigh, heavily laden with a strong sense of déjà vu? The parallels to be drawn here are no coincidence.

540695_532291630173703_1425159679_n (1)

Part two

The Tory motto: the more things change, the more they stay the same

The Victorian era has made a deep impact upon Tory thinking, which had always tended towards nostalgia and tradition. Margaret Thatcher said that during the 1800s:

Not only did our country become great internationally, also so much advance was made in this country … As our people prospered so they used their independence and initiative to prosper others, not compulsion by the state.

There she makes an inference to the twin peaks of callous laissez-faire and the mythical “trickle down” effect. Yet history taught us only too well that both ideas were inextricably linked with an unforgivable and catastrophic increase in destitution, poverty and suffering for so many, for the purpose of extending profit for a few.

Writing in the 1840s, Engels observed that Manchester was a source of immense profit for a few capitalists. Yet none of this significantly improved the lives of those who created this wealth. Engels documents the medical and scientific reports that show how human life was stunted and deformed by the repetitive, back breaking work in The Condition Of The Working Class In England. Constantly in his text, we find Engels raging at those responsible for the wretched lives of the workers. He observed the horror of death by starvation, mass alienation, gross exploitation and unbearable, unremitting poverty.

The great Victorian empire was built whilst the completely unconscientious, harsh and punitive attitude of the Government further impoverished and caused so much distress to a great many. It was a Government that created poverty and also made it dishonourable to be poor.

Whilst Britain became great, much of the population lived in squalid, disease-ridden and overcrowded slums, and endured the most appalling living conditions. Many poor families lived crammed in single-room accommodations without sanitation and proper ventilation.

That’s unless they were unlucky enough to become absolutely destitute and face the horrors of the workhouse. It was a country of startling contrasts. New building and affluent development went hand in hand with so many people living in the worst conditions imaginable.

Michael Gove has written:

For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies … I don’t think there has been a better time in our history”  in “Alas, I was born far too late for my inner era.

A better time for what, precisely? Child labour, desperation? Prostitution? Low life expectancy, disease, illiteracy, workhouses? Or was it the deferential protestant work ethic reserved only for the poor, the pre-destiny of the aristocracy, and “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate”?

In a speech to the CBI, George Osborne argued that both parties in the coalition had revitalised themselves by revisiting their 19th-century roots. When Liberal Democrat David Laws gave his first speech to the Commons as the secretary to the Treasury, Tory MP Edward Leigh said: “I welcome the return to the Treasury of stern, unbending Gladstonian Liberalism”, and  Laws recognised the comparison to the Liberal prime minister,and said:

I hope that this is not only Gladstonian Liberalism, but liberalism tinged with the social liberalism about which my party is so passionate.

The Coalition may certainly be described as “stern and unbending,” if one is feeling mild and generous.

I usually prefer to describe them as “authoritarian”.

We know that the 19th-century Conservative party would have lost the election had it not been rescued by Benjamin Disraeli, a “one nation” Tory who won working-class votes only because he recognised the need and demand for essential social reform. Laissez-faire, competitive individualism and social Darwinism gave way to an interventionist, collectivist and more egalitarian paradigm. And there’s something that this Government have completely missed: the welfare state arose precisely because of the social problems and dire living conditions created in the 19th century.

The 19th century also saw the beginnings of the Labour Party. By pushing against the oppression of the conservative Victorian period, and by demanding reform, they built the welfare state and the public services that the current Government is now so intent on dismantling.

During the Victorian era, oppression of women was embedded deeply in psychic, political and cultural processes. It’s quite easy to see how some feminists came to attribute the characteristics of violence and hierarchical authoritarianism to men.

However, whatever claims we make as truths of our biological “natures”, the is/ought distinction highlights our (degree of) autonomy and emphasises our moral responsibilities and choices regarding social organisation, also. In this respect, debating the fundamentals of sex-based attributes and gender stereotypes is futile, because we have ethical and social obligations that transcend bickering about “biological facts.” The traditional binary opposition between “equality”and “difference” is a damaging one, especially in assessing the debate in terms of social rights and needs.

The welfare reforms present a particular challenge to the financial security and autonomy of women. The “reforms” have been strongly influenced by (a particular form of) economic modelling, and do not take into account the lived experiences or the impact of the cuts on those targeted. Conservative ideology also informs the reforms and the Government uses out-of-date model of households and concern about “dependency” on state, not within families.

The form of modelling depopulates social policy, dehumanises people, and indicates that the Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects. We therefore need to ask whose needs the “reforms” are fulfilling.

Our welfare system has brought the UK a high degree of social and income equality. Economists, it seems, disagree on the effect that inequality has on economic growth, however. Some argue that it promotes growth, others insist that it’s a barrier, but very tellingly, most would like to live in a country with a high degree of income equality as one of the main indicators for a high score on the human-development index.

In developed Liberal democracies, the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for an acceptable quality of life.

The welfare state is funded through redistributionist taxation. Such taxation usually includes a larger income tax for people with higher incomes, called a progressive tax. This helps to reduce the income gap between the rich and poor.

The UK Government’s welfare “reform” programme represents the greatest change to benefits biggest changes to welfare since its inception. These changes will impact the most vulnerable in our society. In particular, women rely on state support to a greater extent than men and will be disproportionately affected by benefit cuts.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith (who didn’t manage to lead his party to an election due to losing a motion of no confidence) is largely responsible for this blitzkreig of apparent moral rigour, a right wing permutation of “social justice” rhetoric and harsh Victorian orthodoxy.

The Government asserts that its welfare “reform” strategy is aimed at breaking the cycle of “worklessness” and dependency on the welfare system in the UK’s poorest families. Poor Law rhetoric. There’s no such thing as “worklessness,” it’s simply a blame apportioning word, made up by the Tories to hide the fact that they have destroyed the employment market, as they always do.

The strategy fails to explicitly acknowledge the link between women’s poverty and child poverty, it fails to provide the supports needed in terms of flexible childcare and flexible working that women with children need in order to work, and it sets the “blame” for poverty squarely at the feet of the UK’s most disadvantaged families, stigmatising them further and pushing them deeper into poverty as an ideologically-driven means of “freeing” them from poverty.

The “reforms” (cuts) consist of 39 individual changes to welfare payments, eligibility, sanctions and timescales for payment and are intended to save the exchequer around £18 billion. How remarkable that the Department of Work and Pensions claim that such cuts to welfare spending will “reduce poverty.

There’s nothing quite so diabolical as the shock of the abysmally expected: the brisk and brazen Tory lie, so grotesquely untrue. Such reckless rhetoric permeates Government placations for the “reforms”. The “reforms” were hammered through despite widespread protest, and when the House of Lords said “no“, the Tories deployed a rarely used  and ancient parliamentary device, claimed “financial privilege” asserting that only the Commons had the right to make decisions on bills that have large financial implications.

Determined to get their own way, despite the fact no-one welcomed their policy, the Tories took the rare jackbooted, authoritarian step to direct peers they have no constitutional right to challenge the Commons’ decisions further. Under these circumstances, what could possibly go right?

Recently the Government effectively abolished the Child Support Agency. Very quietly. With immediate effect it is replaced, in part, by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). This will cover new arrangements for separated and divorced families where two or more ­children are involved – and will ultimately cover all separated families.

Closure of around one million existing cases starts next year. At which point, if families want to join the new CMS, they need to reapply, start from scratch and pay an initial £20 fee.

The most controversial measure is the introduction of charging for use of the service, which is being held back until 2014. Parents will be encouraged to bypass the CMS altogether and make their own arrangements.

The Government’s own analysis shows that one in 11 – 100,000 – families will drop out of the system entirely and stop getting maintenance for their children rather than go through the stress of ­reapplying.

Gingerbread, an organisation that campaigns for lone parent families have already pointed out that in such tough financial times, any missed payments could have a serious impact on children.

Whilst the Government claim that “encouraging parents to agree terms” regarding supporting children is a positive move, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if such negotiations came with ease, then couples with children wouldn’t separate in the first place, surely.

There is already provision in the law for encouraging divorcing  parents to reach an “agreement of terms”. There will usually be a family court adviser from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to support with parents via mediation, including reaching agreements about child maintenance.

And what of those relationships that have been abusive – where one partner has fled domestic violence, for example?

According to Home Office figures, 1.2 million women reported that they experienced domestic abuse last year in the UK, including half a million victims of sexual assault.

Traumatised women who have just left violent partners, and whose children are distressed, have little respite from the Government imposed obligation to attend “work-focussed interviews” as a condition of getting money to live on. When claimants miss Jobcentre appointments and “work-focussed interviews”, they are sanctioned and lose their benefit, and the Housing Benefit which pays for a refuge place stops too.

Citizens Advice has reported a substantial increase in the number of people telling advisers they are victims. Their figures reveal that 13,500 people – 80% of them women – reported domestic violence to Citizens Advice last year.

There were 3,300 reported incidents between October and December 2012, an 11% increase on the same period the previous year. More than 30% of women have suffered domestic violence.

Convictions for domestic violence rose to 74% of prosecutions in the year leading up to  to March – not far behind the average for other violent crime and up from 60% in 2005-6. At the same time the rape conviction rate was 63.2%, up from 62.5% last year. Ten years ago rape conviction rates were not recorded by the CPS.There is a hidden epidemic of abuse undermining decades of progress in the women’s liberation movement.

Obtaining legal assistance for cases of domestic violence is now much more difficult that it was last year. The legal aid budget is being cut by £350 million a year. With 57% of recipients of legal aid being women, thousands will find themselves without the means to get representation. It has been estimated that 54% of women suffering from domestic violence would not qualify for legal aid. That is unacceptable.

The Everywoman Safe Everywhere Commission, chaired by former Labour MP Vera Baird, says:

Just as there is now overwhelming evidence that women have borne the brunt of the economic recession so too it is clear the services designed to keep them safe are now under threat too.

The Commission found services offering help and ­counselling to abused wives and girlfriends have had their funding cut by 31% since May 2010. As a result women’s refuges are facing closure or having to cut services. There is also a real fear that cuts to housing benefit mean many will not be able to claim help towards staying in a refuge. 

Research by Shelter and Cambridge University suggests that the reforms will in fact cost more in terms of the extra strain on local authorities, such as homeless accommodation services, and the National Health Service.

Income Support, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit for lone parents will be reduced and lone parents will now face new sanctions if they do not find work promptly. They will only receive Income Support if their children are less than 5 years old. Lone parents whose children are older than 5 will have to apply for Job Seekers Allowance and find work regardless of local childcare opportunities.

Such difficult barriers to navigate ordinarily, but for someone enduring the trauma of abuse and fear, it is even more unacceptable to impose such punitive measureson such avery vulnerable social group.

Victims of domestic violence must now show medical evidence before they can qualify for legal aid in family cases. Women and children living with domestic violence may have to visit more than 13 different agencies to get the help they need. For some women the energy and resilience required to persevere and navigate complex services are understandably lacking.

Added problems are that many women are very afraid that their children may be taken into care, that they will be judged as poor parents; bad mothers. And they are right to be afraid.

I have heard professionals talk about women “choosing” to let a violent man back into the family home and expressing their opinion that her relationship with the violent man is obviously more important to her than her relationship with her children.

Yet their reality can be so very extreme and difficult to comprehend because of the utter desperation that these circumstances create – women have absolutely no choice when they have a knife at their throat, or the real and believable threat that the house will be set on fire and the children killed if she doesn’t allow her partner back in.

The risk of letting a violent partner back into the family home, even though this will mean facing daily violence and abuse and the possibility of your children being taken into care is less of a risk than not letting a violent partner back into the home. And we hear, almost on a weekly basis that “distraught” fathers/ husbands have killed or attempted to kill their partners and/or children.

Women also know from painful and bitter experience that the police, the courts, the women’s refuge, social services, the probation service cannot protect her or her children from a man who is determined, obsessive and relentless. Women who are killed by their partners or former partners almost always tell someone “he is going to kill me.” And how has that become normal, within our society?

Our response to domestic abuse, as professionals, as a society and as individual human beings is difficult to understand. We react strongly to reports of war crimes, of torture and institutional abuse and yet we tolerate the long term, unrelenting abuse of women and children in their own homes and blame and punish women when they cannot protect themselves or their children. And the Tory-led welfare processes further narrow the options for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

Refuges for women are reporting that their very existence is under threat from drastic changes to the UK’s welfare system. Without these vital services, more women will be at continued risk of abuse – or worse.

The housing benefit on which refuges depend is the lifeblood of the national network of services that keep women and children safe. But this vital source of income is now at risk. Many of refuges do not meet the official definition of “supported exempt accommodation,” which means that a lot of the women needing support will fall foul of the benefit cap rolled out in July.

This will be particularly damaging for women who pay two rents – one for the refuge they are living in temporarily, and the other for the home they have fled.

Women who move on from refuges and resettle in areas of high rent may also be plunged into debt as a result of the cap. Those who accumulate rent arrears may face eviction and be left with an impossible dilemma either to sleep rough or return to their violent partner.

The new universal credit scheme presents further problems for lone parents. Under this system, all benefit payments will go directly to one member of a couple. In cases of domestic violence, this could give perpetrators command of household income, further enabling them to control and isolate their partners.

One of the most devastating impacts of welfare reform has been the abolition of community care grants and crisis loans. These are two of the most crucial resources for women and children trying to rebuild their lives following abuse. For women moving to new, safe homes, these benefits enabled them to buy items such as beds and refrigerators. The local schemes that have been set up to replace them are underfunded and poorly managed, often providing food bank vouchers instead of cash.

One woman recently supported didn’t even have enough money to buy beds for her two small children. Another woman was delighted to secure a new home in a safe area, but was refused funding for furniture by her local scheme. When a refuge worker applied to children’s services on her behalf, their response was to offer to take her children into care. Is this really the kind of empowerment we must expect for victims of domestic violence who are struggling to forge new lives?

Local authorities are under enormous pressure to limit spending, and their response has been to prioritise funding for residents with a “local connection.” This move is deeply concerning, since women fleeing domestic violence frequently move great distances in search of safety.

One resident recently secured new housing in a different local authority from the refuge she had been staying in, but was refused funding assistance because she had did not qualify as a local resident.

The sum total of consequences of these new welfare processes is bleak. They are narrowing options for women and children experiencing domestic violence and threatening the survival of vital services like refuges.

Local and central Government must ensure that victims of domestic violence do not fall through the gaps in these reforms. Local authorities must train their staff in the complex dynamics and risks of abuse, so that every woman who needs support to rebuild her life is given professional, sensitive consideration, not subjected to a box-ticking exercise. Central government must ensure that refuges are included in the definition of supported exempt accommodation. This will help to protect funding for the network of safe houses that keep women and children safe across the country.

Domestic violence is a national problem. It is a problem that kills an average of two women every week. It is increasing, and we must not risk the reforms inflating this horrific statistic even further.

Gingerbread, the charity representing single parents, has campaigned against the “disproportionate” effects of the benefit cap on single parents who are not working. Families with a single parent make up three-quarters of those losing money in trials of the coalition’s £500-a-week benefit cap, new Government figures show.

Pilot schemes in four London areas discovered that 74% of people affected by the cap in its first few months were lone parents living with their children.

The effect on single parents in these areas has been found to be bigger than the national picture predicted in the Department for Work and Pensions’ impact assessment. It’s unfair that lone parents and their children should bear the brunt of the Government’s failure to address the underlying cause of housing benefit rises: the shortage of affordable housing and the greed of private landlords.

Fiona Weir, Gingerbread’s chief executive, said:

Thousands of young children from single-parent families will face deeper poverty, or the upheaval of having to move away from their family networks and communities as a result of this poorly conceived benefit cap.”

The Government has denied that its cap is aimed at forcing lone parents with young children to go back to work of course. Mark Hoban argued that the scheme is simply “designed to strengthen work incentives and create ‘fairness’ between those in work and those out of it”.

So Hoban and the Tories think that “fairness” is to impoverish lone parents and their children. The punitive approach to poverty didn’t work during the last century, it simply stripped the unfortunate of their dignity, and diverted people, for a while, from recognising the real cause of poverty. It isn’t about individual inadequacies: the poor do not cause poverty, but rather, Governments do via their policy and economic decision-making. Owen Jones recently claimed that “the political right is the inevitable, rational product of an unequal society”.

I disagree. Unequal society is and always has been the rational product of Conservative Governments. History shows this to be true. Tory ideology is built upon a very traditional feudal vision of a “grand scheme of things,” which is extremely and sharply hierarchical.

There are currently only 146 female MPs, out of a total 650 members of parliament. The Tories have only 48 female MPs and 256 male ones. To say that women are under-represented in parliament would be a gross understatement.

In an article titled “Gender Inequality and Gender Differences in Authoritarianism” by Mark J. Brandt and P.J. Henry, it is recognised that there is a direct correlation between the rates of gender inequality and the levels of authoritarian ideas in the male and female populations.

It was found that in countries with less gender equality where individualism was encouraged and men occupied the dominant societal roles, women were more likely to support traits such as obedience which would allow them to survive in an authoritarian environment, and less likely to encourage ideas such as independence and imagination.

In countries with higher levels of gender equality, men held more authoritarian views. It is believed that this occurs due to the stigma attached to individuals who question the cultural norms set by the dominant individuals and establishments in an authoritarian society, as a way to prevent the psychological stress caused by the active ostracising of the stigmatised individuals.

The private sphere is the part of our social life in which individuals enjoy a degree of authority, unhampered by interventions from Governmental or other institutions. Examples of the private sphere are our family, relationships and our home.

There has been an increasing intrusion by Government into the private domain, (the bedroom tax is a good example of this, since it affects our family sleeping arrangements and significantly reduces the choice of home we are permitted to live in) whilst at the same time, our participation in the public domain of  work, business, politics and ideas is being repressed, and we are once again being contained in the private domestic sphere.

The enforcement of the public/private divide was a significant feature of the Victorian Era, too. This divide reflects gendered spaces of men and women. The mantra of second wave feminism, “the personal is political,” signifies the first attempt to break down the gendered division between the private sphere attributed to women and the public sphere and freedoms of men.

In the course of history, women’s voices have been silenced in the public arena. We must therefore contest majoritarian conceptions of the public sphere, once again, that underpin traditional notions of gendered spaces, whilst we also vindicate a robust private sphere that protects minorities from quasi-majoritarian political assault.

For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies … I don’t think there has been a better time in our history” – Michael Gove

God preserve us from the rigidly conservative and traditional inner fantasies that have spilled over into the policies of these lunatics, who have no regard, clearly, for human dignity, human rights and the equality of esteem and worth of all citizens.

Once again we see the most vulnerable bear the brunt of the ideologically-driven austerity measures. Welcome back to Victorian patriarchy. This Government refuse to listen, even worse, they go to great lengths to silence us, and they have not been reasonable.

But calm down dears, perhaps Cameron would be more responsive to a nice posy.
1st jan 2009


Equality impact assessments: the current legal position in UK

Government must show due regard, when developing new policies/processes, to their impact on race, disability and gender; Equality Act 2010 (April 2011) adds new categories

  •  Processes should be in place to help ensure that :

– strategies/policies/services are free from discrimination;
– departments comply with equalities legislation;
– due regard is given to equality in decision making etc.; +
– opportunities for promoting equality are identified

  •  Equality Impact Assessments: show impact on protected

– groups (including women) of proposed policy changes, to
– ensure that policies do what is intended and for everybody.

Coalition budget faces legal challenge from Fawcett Society over claims women will bear brunt of cuts

The Fawcett Society’s immediate response to the Chancellor’s 2013 Budget Statement

Government strategy – Preparing for the future, tackling the past -Child Maintenance – Arrears and Compliance Strategy 2012 – 2017

TUC Briefing: The Gender Impact of the Cuts

For help and advice about the  CSA changes: gingerbread.org.uk .

If you are experiencing domestic violence, the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline is: 0808 2000 247

Advice on domestic violence and Legal Aid eligibility – Rights of Women

Women’s Aid – The Survivor’s Handbook

Darren Hill: U.K Welfare Reform and the Youth Contract.

547145_195460507271672_1145852710_n
Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his superb art work

Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

377683_445086432227557_1770724824_n (1)

The minimum cost of living has soared by a quarter – 25% – since the start of the economic downturn, according to a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which details the true inflationary pressures facing low income households. The research finds families are facing an “unprecedented erosion of household living standards” thanks to rapid inflation and flat-lining wages.

Cuts to benefits and tax credits have exacerbated the problem over the past 12 months, according to the report. Now we are seeing the hard evidence that the Coalition’s “reforms” are pushing employed people in low paid work and unemployed people into absolute poverty, as our welfare system is no longer meeting basic living needs, and Government policy has distorted the original purpose of our social security, using rhetoric about costs to “the tax payer”, whilst carefully excluding the fact from their monologue that most benefit recipients are also tax payers.

A frightening consideration is that this report doesn’t include the latest round of benefit cuts – the very worst of them to date – that were implemented in April of this year. The report was produced prior to then, covering the period up to April, but doesn’t include it.

A quarter of households in the UK already fell short of the income required to reach an adequate standard of living – for them a 25% increase in costs intensifies the everyday struggle to make ends meet. The price of food and goods we need for an acceptable living standard has risen far faster than average inflation. This has combined with low pay increases to create a widening gap between income and needs.

The freeze in child benefit, the decision to uprate tax credits by just 1% and the increase in the cost of essentials faster than inflation mean that a working couples with children an  working lone parents will lose out, making a mockery of the Coalition’s claim of “making work pay”.

Over the past five years:

• Childcare costs have risen over twice as fast as inflation at 37%.
• Rent in social housing has gone up by 26%.
• Food costs have increased by 24%.
• Energy costs are 39% more.
• Public transport is up by 30%.

Some further shocking Key findings from the Poverty and Social Exclusion Project – The Impoverishment of the UK report reveals that:

• Over 30 million people (almost half the population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity.
• Almost 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions.
• Roughly 14 million cannot afford one or more essential household goods.
• Almost 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities considered necessary by the majority of the population.
• About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing.
• Around 4 million children and adults are not properly fed by today’s standards.
• Almost 4 million children go without at least two of the things they need;
• Around 2.5 million children live in homes that are damp.
• Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.

Since 2010, wages have been rising more slowly than prices, and over the past 12 months, incomes have been further eroded by cuts to benefits and tax credits. Ministers argue that the raising of the personal tax allowance to £10, 000 for low income households will help, however, the report says its effect is cancelled out by cuts and rising living costs.

I would add that for many who are low paid, and the increasing numbers of part-time workers, this political gesturing is meaningless. The policy only benefits those who earn enough to pay tax. Most of this group are affected by the benefit cuts – many have to claim housing benefit and council tax benefit, and they are therefore likely to be affected by the bedroom tax and the poll tax-styled reductions to benefits under the Localism Bill, to compound matters.

It has to be said that the greatest percentage change in net income from the personal tax free allowance of £10,000 is seen by those on the upper end of the income scale – not, as is often claimed, low earners. This does explain the policy. Increasing the personal allowance serves to increase the gap between the those on the lowest incomes and those on  middle range incomes, resulting in low income households falling further into poverty.

At the low paid end of salaried work there are a cohort of workers trapped in a cycle of very poorly paid, low – skilled work, zero hour contracts, with few, if any, employee rights. They tend to work for a few months here and there, in work that is often seasonal. There is no opportunity for saving money or hope of better employment prospects.

This group of workers tend to live hand to mouth from one pay day to the next, so have no opportunity to build a reserve when the contract ends, there is nothing in reserve.

The net result is that it is increasingly very difficult for low-to-middle income families to balance the weekly budget. There is now a widening gulf between public expectations of a minimum decent living standard and their ability to earn enough to meet it. I would add that the gap between low and middle income families is widening, and will continue to do so because of the impact of policies that have recently been implemented.

Welfare support is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. All developed countries have such support for the vulnerable, and the less developed ones are striving to establish their own. Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations. Most of us have paid for our own welfare.

It’s a common rhetorical trick for politicians is to talk about “looking after the tax payer.” However the reality is that they are often only really concerned with particular tax payers – the electoral groups that determine the outcomes of elections – often people on middle-incomes. They talk as if tax payers are some hard-pressed group who are burdened by the poor and that the rest of us don’t pay taxes.

But the reality is that there are many different taxes (the Institute of Fiscal Studies counted at least 25). Also the poorest people don’t just pay tax, they often pay the most tax. Not just indirect taxes, like VAT, but also income tax and council tax. Many other taxes are hidden from view in duties or other background taxes like Employer’s National Insurance.

Most assume that the rich pay a much higher rate of tax than the poor. After all the income tax system is meant to place progressively higher burdens on people with higher incomes. However, when you look at the rates of tax paid by each household it is very surprising.

The highest rate of tax, that is the share of income lost in tax, is paid by the poorest 10% of households (or families). The poorest 10% of families pay 45% of their income in tax. The other 90% of families pay quite a similar rates of tax, varying between 31% and 35%.

The three things to remember when politicians talk about tax:

1. Tax payers are not a special class of people – we are all tax payers.
2. Tax payers are not burdened by the poor – the poor are actually super tax payers.
3. Tax cuts come in many different shapes and sizes – not everybody benefits equally. The wealthiest profit the most.

(Information taken from here)

Office for National Statistics logo 

Statisticians hold two basic definitions of poverty – relative poverty is a measure which looks at those well below the median average of income (60% of income) – who are excluded from participating in what society generally regards as normal activities. This kind of poverty is relative to the rest of society, and is the type that we have seen and measured since the welfare state came into being.

Absolute poverty refers to a level of poverty beyond the ability to afford the essentials which we need simply to live and survive. People in absolute poverty cannot afford some of the basic requirements that are essential for survival. It is horrifying that this is now the fastest growing type of poverty in Britain, according to research bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  When the IFS produced its report on growing child poverty, David Cameron’s callous, calculated  and unflinching reaction was to question the figures, rather than accept the consequences of his Government policies on citizens.

And it IS calculated and deliberate legislative spite. The Government’s own impact assessment has demonstrated that the 1% uprating in the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Act will have a disproportionate effect on the poorest. Families with children will be particularly hard hit, pushing a further 200,000 children into poverty. In addition, those with low to middle earnings and single-earner households will be caught by the 1% limit on tax credit rates. These new cuts come on top of the cumulative impact of previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts which have already meant the equivalent to a loss of around 38% of net income for the poorest tenth of households and only 5% for the richest tenth.

According to a TUC report, average wages have dropped by 7.5 per cent since the Coalition came into office. This has a direct impact on child poverty statistics, which the government has conveniently ignored in its latest, Iain Duncan Smith-endorsed, child poverty figures.

Child poverty is calculated in relation to median incomes – the average income earned by people in the UK.

If incomes drop, so does the number of children deemed to be in poverty, even though – in fact – more families are struggling to make ends meet with less money to do so.

This is why the Department for Work and Pensions has been able to sound an announcement that child poverty in “workless” families (which translates from Tory propaganda-speak to “victims of the Government- induced recession”) has dropped, even though we can all see that this is nonsense.

As average incomes drop, the amount received by  families not in work – taken as an average of what’s left – appears to rise, even though, as we know, the increase is not even keeping up with inflation any more.

Liam Byrne said: “The Institute of Fiscal Studies report shows that the price of ministers’ failure on child poverty isn’t just a million more children growing up poor – it’s a gigantic £35 billion bill for the tax payer. It’s not just a moral failure, but an economic disaster.”

“Ministers should be doing everything they can for struggling families but instead they are slashing working families’ tax credits whilst handing a massive tax cut to the richest people in the country. That tells you all you need to know about this Government’s priorities.”

And – “Not only is there a cost attached to rising levels of child poverty but the trend is illegal. Left unabated child poverty will reach 24% in 2020, compared with the goal of 10% written in law.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the welfare and pensions secretary, has publicly questioned whether poverty targets are useful – arguing that “feckless” parents only spend money on themselves. The spirits of Samuel Smiles, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, they of the workhouse mentality, speak clearly in booming voices through Iain Duncan Smith from across the centuries.

And of course the Department for Work and Pensions ludicrously continue to blame the previous Administration. We know, however, that the research here shows starkly that poverty has risen under this Government, and we are now seeing cases of childhood malnutrition, such as scurvy.

The breakfast clubs established under the previous Labour Government, as a part of the Extending Schools program and Every Child Matters Bill often provided crucial meals, particularly  for children who relied on school provision  – in fact, for one in four of all UK children, school dinners are their only source of hot food. Malnutrition is rising and schools see children coming in hungry.

The previous Government recognised the importance of adequate nutrition and saw  the link between low educational attainment, behavioural difficulties and hunger in school. The breakfast club provision also helped parents on low incomes in other ways, for example, the free childcare that these wrap-around services provided is essential to support them to keep on working.

There are further issues worth a mention from Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review, that are not in the report. They are worth a mention not least because they tell you all you need to know about the Coalition. They speak volumes about Tory-led intention, malice and despicable aims. They expose the lie once again that the Tories “support” the most vulnerable citizens.

I’m very concerned about Osborne’s plans to set a cap on benefits spending. This cap will include disability benefits, but exclude spending on the state pension. Disabled people have already faced over £9 billion of cuts to benefits they rely on, with at least 600,000 fewer expected to qualify for the new Personal Independence Payment, which is replacing disability living allowance, and over 400,000 facing cuts to their housing benefit through the bedroom tax. Disabled people of working age have borne the brunt of cuts, and the Government is once again targeting those who can least afford to lose out.

By including “Disability Benefits” in the cap, the Government have signalled clearly that they fully intend severing any remaining link between social security and need. We are hurtling toward a system that is about eradicating the cost of any social need. But taxation hasn’t stopped, however, public services and provisions are shrinking.

Barely a month now passes without one of David Cameron’s ministers being rebuked for some act of statistical chicanery (or, indeed, the Prime Minister himself). And it’s not just the number crunchers at the UK Statistics Authority who are concerned. An alliance of 11 churches, including the Methodist Church, the Quakers and the Church of Scotland, has written to Cameron demanding “an apology on behalf of the Government for misrepresenting the poor.”

Many people have ended their lives. Many people have died because of the sustained attack from our Government on them both psychologically and materially, via what ought to be unacceptable, untenable and   socially unconscionable policies. People are going without food. People are becoming homeless. There are people now living in caves around Stockport The UK is the world’s six largest economy, yet 1 in 5 of the UK population live below the official poverty line, this means that they experience life as a daily struggle for survival.

And this is because of the changes this Government is making. And we are allowing them to do so. Unless we can form a coalition with other social groups in our society, we are unlikely to influence or produce enduring, positive political change. But that will only happen once others realise that they are not exempt from the devastating changes, or the long term consequences of them. It’s down to us to ensure that the public are informed, since the maintream media have abdicated that responsibility.

The author of the Joseph Rountree Foundation report, Donald Hirsch, says the cumulative effect is historically significant:

From this April, for the first time since the 1930s, benefits are being cut in real terms by not being linked to inflation. This combined with falling real wages means that the next election is likely to be the first since 1931 when living standards are lower than at the last one.”

Further reading:

Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted

Who Really Benefits from Welfare?

  • The system make little difference to the incomes of the poorest
  • People in poverty pay the highest rates of tax
  • It is hardest for the poorest to earn, save and be a family
  • Most money actually goes to the better-off.

    (This article was taken from a longer piece of work: Poverty and Patrimony – the Evil Legacy of the Tories.)

1017174_500690710000462_512008904_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant artwork

Follow the Money: Tory ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor

310024_618087491552293_1852914423_n

Here is yet another great Tory lie exposed – “Making work pay”. This Government have raided our tax-funded welfare provision and used it to provide handouts to the very wealthy – £107, 000 EACH PER YEAR in the form of a tax cut for millionaires. The Conservatives claim that it is “unfair” that people on benefits are “better off” than those in work. But the benefit cuts are having a dire impact on workers as well.

People in work, especially those who are paid low wages, often claim benefits. Housing benefit, tax credit and council tax benefit are examples of benefits that are paid to people with jobs. Indeed the number of working people claiming housing benefit has risen by 86 percent in three years, which debunks another Tory myth that benefits are payable only to the “feckless” unemployed.

By portraying housing benefit as a payment for “the shirkers”, not “the strivers”, Cameron and Osborne aim to convince the public that their draconian, unprecedented welfare “reforms” are justified. 60 percent of people visiting food banks last year were in work. But unemployment benefits are just 13 percent of the national average earnings. What Cameron’s Government have done is created extreme hardship for many of those in work, and further severe hardship for those who are unemployed.

“Making work pay” is a big lie that has benefited no-one but the very wealthy, and the reduction in both the value and the amount of welfare support for unemployed individuals has come at a time when we are witnessing steady reductions in worker’s rightsand worryingly, the Tory-led Government is stepping up its attack on employment health and safety regulations. And the unions.

Last week, on the 25th April 2013, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill was granted royal assent, bringing into law the Government’s widely unpopular proposals to scrap employers’ 114-year-old liability for their staff’s health and safety in the workplace. This steady erosion of our fundamental and hard-earned rights in the workplace is linked to the steady erosion of the basic human rights of the poorest citizens. The Government have liberated wealthy private companies of any moral or legal responsibilities, so that they can simply generate vast profits by exploiting workers who have increasingly fewer means of redress.

There is also a growing reserve army of labour that may be exploited via the workfare schemes. This will mean that unscrupulous, greedy, profit-driven employers will increasingly replace paid workers with unpaid ones that are forced to work for their benefits or face losing them. This is a politically enforced programme of reducing the population’s expectations regarding choice, opportunities, rights, and quality of life.

A recent proposal from our “caring Conservatives” is that new in-work claimants should be required to attend an initial interview at a Job Centre “where a conditionality regime should be set up to ensure the individual is doing all they can to increase their hours and earnings”.

Claimants “should then be forced to attend a quarterly meeting to be reminded of their “responsibility” to try to increase their earnings”, with sanctions applied for failing to attend. This may well be the next stage of the welfare “reforms”, incorporating a punitive approach to those in work on low hours or low pay, as well as those unfortunate enough to be out of work.

There is absolutely no evidence, sense or logic behind the Tory claim that cutting welfare will “make work pay”. Well, unless we are referring to the greedy employers that will benefit and profit from the welfare “reforms” and reduction in worker’s pay level and rights. This is about gross exploitation and profiteering at any cost to human lives.

“Making work pay” is an entirely ideologically-driven, dogmatic, absurd and reductionist Conservative superficial soundbite. There is certainly an essence of all that is Tory in the word “peremptory”. There is also many a Tory donor in private business that wants to see more profit and a more abject workforce.

The real “culture of entitlement” is not to be found among poor citizens, those who are unemployed, sick and disabled citzens, as this Government would have you believe. As a matter of fact, most amongst this politically demarcated social group have paid tax and paid for the provision that they ought to be able to rely on when they/we have need of it, it’s ours, after all. The real culture of entitlement emanates from the very wealthy, and is well-fed and sustained by an aristocratic and authoritarian Government.

Every time we have periods of high unemployment, growing inequalities, substantial increases in poverty, and loss of protective rights, there is a Conservative administration behind this wilful destruction of people’s lives, and the unravelling of many years of essential social progress and civilised development that spans more than one century in ontogeny and maturation.

The Conservatives lied about our “generous welfare”. It wasn’t and it certainly isn’t now. Coming at the same time that severe cuts to tax credits and benefits are set to make an estimated 11.5 million households poorer, the Chancellor was accused by Britain’s largest union, Unite, of conducting class war on the poor while giving handouts to the rich.

The following cuts came into force in April 2013:

  • 1 April – Housing benefit cut, including the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’
  • 1 April – Council tax benefit cut
  • 1 April – Legal Aid savagely cut
  • 6 April – Tax credit and child benefit cut
  • 7 April – Maternity and paternity pay cut
  • 8 April – 1% cap on the rise of in working-age benefits (for the next three years)
  • 8 April – Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment (PIP)
  • 15 April – Cap on the total amount of benefit working-age people can receive

    922829_509977429064049_604527973_n

In addition, wages have not risen in real terms since 2003 and there are further fears that the Government is trying to pressurise the Low Pay Commission into cutting the national minimum wage from its present £6.19 per hour. At a time when the cost of living has risen so steeply, the Government has also increased VAT.

Commenting, general secretary Len McCluskey of Unite said: “Millionaires will be raising a glass of champagne to George Osborne this weekend as he slashes the incomes of people struggling to get by to give handouts to the rich.”

“But ordinary people – taxpayers – will be furious that George Osborne has chosen to give away £1 billion to the super-rich while their fuel and food costs rise and wages are falling”.

“His party knows no shame. They are trying to claim that their tax cuts benefit ordinary people but this is another lie – the truth is that while those earning over £1 million per year will be an average £100,000 better off, low income families will be around £900 worse off.”

“This is not the way to recover our failing economy.  Creating real jobs and paying decent wages, including a one pound increase on the minimum wage, will bring down the benefits bill and get people spending again.”

“Instead of getting on with the job he ought to be doing, like sorting out the problems he has caused to our economy, Osborne prefers to encourage hatred and demonise the poor, both in and out of work, in an ideological attack on our welfare state.”

Ed Miliband said: “David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.

But they also seem to believe that the only way to make you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.”

Bravo Ed, a very well spotted contradiction regarding Cameron’s claims about how “incentives” work. Apparently, the rich are a different kind of human from the majority of human beings.

Here are some of the Tory “incentives” for the wealthy:

  • Rising wealth – 50 richest people from this region increased their wealth by £3.46 billion last year to a record £28.5 billion.
  • Falling taxes – top rate of tax cut from 50% to 45% for those earning over £150,000 a year. This is 1% of the population who earn 13% of the income.
  • No mansion tax and caps on council tax mean that the highest value properties are taxed proportionately less than average houses.
  • Benefited most from Quantitative Easing (QE) – the Bank of England say that as 50% of households have little or no financial assets, almost all the financial benefit of QE was for the wealthiest 50% of households, with the wealthiest 10% taking the lions share
  • Tax free living – extremely wealthy individuals can access tax avoidance schemes which contribute to the £25bn of tax which is avoided every year, as profits are shifted offshore to join the estimated £13 trillion of assets siphoned off from our economy.

It’s plain to see that Cameron rewards his wealthy friends, and has a clear elitist agenda, while he funds his friends and sponsors by stealing money from the taxpayer, by stripping welfare provision and public services down to bare bones.

A simple truth is that poverty happens because some people are very, very rich. That happens ultimately because of Government policies that create, sustain and extend inequalities. The very wealthy are becoming wealthier, the poorest are becoming poorer. This is a consequence of  “vulture capitalism”, designed by the opportunism and greed of a few, it is instituted, facilitated and directed by the Tory-led  Coalition.  

Welfare provision was paid for by the public, via tax and NI contributions. It is not a “handout.” It is not the Governments money to cut. That is our provision, paid for by us to support us if and when we need it. It’s the same with the National Health Service. Public services and provisions do not and never did belong to the Government to sell off, to make a profit from, and to strip bare as they have done

Low wages and low benefit levels, rising unemployment and a high cost of living are major causes of poverty. (“worklessness” is a made-up word to imply that the consequences of Government policies are somehow the fault of the victims of this traditional Tory harshness. It’s a psychological and linguistic attack on the poorest, disabled people and the most vulnerable citizens – blaming the unemployed for unemployment, and the poor for poverty.)

Those are a direct consequence of Coalition policies. The Coalition take money from those who need it most to give away to those who need it least. That causes poverty, and cannot fail to create growing inequality. The Coalition are creating more poverty via the class-contingent consequences of policies.

It’s time to debunk the great myth of meritocracy. Wealth has got nothing whatsoever to do with “striving” and hard work. If it were so simple, then most of the poor would be billionaires by now. 

This week it was reported that one school liaison officer told how a parent came to her pleading for help because her children were suffering from SCURVY – a potentially fatal condition caused by a severe Vitamin C deficiency. It’s an illness linked with malnutrition and poverty, and has seldom been seen in this Country for most of this century, due to improvements in medical knowledge, and the development of adequate welfare provision – that had eliminated absolute poverty in Britain. Until now. It’s increasing again.

We now have pre-Victorian Health and Safety laws in the workplace. We have Victorian malnutrition and illnesses such as scurvy and rickets. Malnutrition has resurfaced because of the re-appearance of absolute poverty – something that was eradicated because of our effective, essential welfare program, until now. We have a punitive Poor Law approach to “supporting” the poorest instead of welfare provision. These ideas and subsequent harsh and punitive policies were a dark part of our history, and now they have been resurrected by the Tories to be a part of our future. It’s social regression.

We have recession and austerity, entirely manufactured, based on ideology and not because of any economic necessity. Austerity does not include and affect the very privileged. Indeed they have benefited immensely from the politically engineered economic situation.  We have a society that has been lulled into forgetting equality, decency and fairness. We have a lying authoritarian Government that created a crisis for many to make profiteering opportunities for a few.

The New Poor Law of 1834 was based on the “principle of less eligibility,” which stipulated that the condition of the “able-bodied pauper” on relief be less “eligible” – that is, less desirable, less favourable – than the condition of the independent labourer. “Less-eligibility” meant not only that the pauper receive less by way of relief than the labourer did from his wages but also that he receive it in such a way (in the workhouse, for example) as to make pauperism less respectable than work – to stigmatise it. Thus the labourer would be discouraged from lapsing into a state of “dependency” and the pauper would be encouraged to work.

The Poor Law “made work pay”, in other words.

The clocks stopped the moment that the Tories took Office. Now their policies mean that we are losing a decade a day.

544840_330826693653532_892366209_n

208082_397796890289845_858870070_n (1)

 Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Further reading:

Conservatism in a nutshell

Families £900 Per Year Worse Off After Benefit And Tax Changes, Says Labour’s Ed Balls

Labour exposes Osborne’s tax cut for bankers

A catalogue of failure and broken promises-Catherine Mckinnell MP’s verdict on George Osborne’s autumn statement

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame 

“We are raising more money for the rich” – an analysis 

 



I  don’t make any money from my work. But you can help if you like by making a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton

What you need to know about Atos assessments.

A-demonstration-against-A-011

Courageous whistleblower, Scottish nurse and ex-Atos employee, Joyce Drummond, who recently made a heartfelt apology to Atos assessment victims, has submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament Select Committee on Welfare Reform.

Joyce forwarded some of her notes to me, containing this information about Atos assessments. We had some dialogue about the content. I have edited where needed, organised the notes and added some information to the text. I’ve included the contents from Joyce’s notes in full. Both Joyce and I share this information in the hope that people going through Atos assessments will find it helpful.

Joyce told me: 

“I knew nothing about Atos when I joined, and left as soon as I realised that there was no way to fight from the inside.  I stated at my interview for the job that I believed in social inclusion and social justice.

I went for 4 weeks training in England. The training did not prepare me for what I was expected to do in real life.

The forms that are completed prior to assessment, I have recently found out, are opened by Royal Mail Staff. They are then sent for “scrutiny” where nurses decide whether or not a face to face assessment is required. I was not involved in this and do not know what criteria are used.  

 It is made clear throughout training and working that we are not nurses – we are disability analysts.  Also, we do not carry out “medical assessments” – we carry out “functional assessments”. We did not even need a diagnosis to carry out assessments. I had reservations around consent, as we were expected to assess patients – sorry, we didn’t have patients, we had ‘claimants’ – who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or other substances. 

We were also consistently told that we did not make benefit decisions. The final decision was made by a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision maker with no medical qualification. If our assessment was overturned at appeal we never knew about it. There was no accountability for assessments overruled.”

Please note that assessment starts on the day of your appointment with the Health Care Professional (HCP) reading the form you completed when you applied for benefit. Remember that every single question you are asked is designed to justify ending your claim for ESA and passing you as “fit for work”. That is what Atos are contracted to do by the Government.  This is not a genuine medical assessment, but rather, an opportunity for the DWP to take away the financial support that you are entitled to.

Things that are noted at this stage are:

  • Did you complete the form yourself?
  • Is the handwriting legible?
  • Are the contents coherent?

These observations are already used in assessing your hand function, vision, your cognitive state and concentration.

Further observations made:

  • Do the things you have written ‘add up’?
  • Does your medication support your diagnosis?
  • What tests you have had to confirm diagnosis? For example a diagnosis of sciatica is not accepted unless diagnosed by MRI scan.
  • Do you have supporting medical evidence from your GP or consultants? If you do, it shows that you are able to organise getting this information

Joyce observes:

“This is also a hidden cost to the NHS. I believe that if ATOS request information there is a charge levied by GP’s. However claimants are expected to source medical evidence themselves. It uses valuable NHS time for medical staff to write supporting statements. 

There were no hidden cameras, at least in Glasgow, to watch people arriving for assessment or sitting in waiting room. This may not be true in other areas.”

When the HCP has read your form they input some data into the computer system. The assessment properly begins when they call your name in the waiting room.

At this point the HCP assesses:

  • Did you hear your name being called?
  • Did you rise from your chair unaided, did the chair have support arms or not?
  • Were you accompanied? – assessing your ability to go out alone
  • Were you reading a paper while waiting? – assessing your concentration
  • Did you walk to the assessment room unaided, did you use any aids correctly? Did you navigate any obstacles safely? – assessing sight.

The HCP will shake your hand on introduction – assessing your handshake, noting if are you trembling, sweating – signs of anxiety. The HCP carefully scrutinises everything you do and say. The HCP will often ask on way to waiting room:

  • How long you’ve been waiting – assessing ability to sit, physically, and appraising your mental state
  • How you got to the appointment – assessing ability to drive or use public transport

Formal assessment begins by listing medical conditions/complaints. For each complaint you will be asked:

  • How long have you had it, have you seen a specialist?
  • Have you had any tests, what treatments have you had?
  • What’s your current treatment? Have you had any other specialist input e.g. physiotherapy, CPN?

The HCP will use lack of specialist input/ hospital admissions to justify assessing your condition as ‘less severe’. Medications will be listed and it will be noted if they are prescribed or bought. Dates will be checked on boxes to assess compliance with dosage and treatment regime. Any allergies or side-effects should be noted.

  • A brief note is made of how you feel each condition affects your life
  • A brief social history will be taken – who you live with, if have you stairs in your house or steps outside your house
  • Employment history taken – asking when you last worked, what you work entailed, and the reason for leaving employment.

Your typical day – this is the part of the assessment where how you function on a day to day basis is used to justify the HCP decisions. Anything you say here is what is most likely to be used to justify you failing your assessment and being passed as “fit for work”. Along side this, the HCP records their observations.

Starting with your sleep pattern, questions are asked around your ability to function. This will include:

  • Lower limb problems – ability to mobilise to shops, around the house, drive, use public transport, dress, shower
  • Upper limb – ability to wash, dress, cook, shop, complete ESA form
  • Vision – did you manage to navigate safely to assessment room
  • Hearing – did you hear your name being called in waiting room
  • Speech – could the HCP understand you at assessment
  • Continence – do you describe incontinence NOT ‘CONTROLLED’ by pads, medication. Do you mention its effects on your life when describing your typical day
  • Consciousness – Do you suffer seizures – with loss of continence, possible injury, witnessed, or uncontrolled diabetes
  • HCP observations include – how far did you walk to examination room, did you remove your coat independently, did you handle medications without difficulty, did you bend to pick up your handbag.

Formal examination consists of simple movements to assess limited function. Things the HCP also looks at:

  • Are you well presented, hair done, wearing make-up, eyebrows waxed
  • Do you have any pets – this can be linked with ability to bend to feed and walk
  • Do you look after someone else – as a parent or carer- if you do, this will be taken as evidence of functioning
  • Any training, voluntary work, socialising – this will be used as evidence of functioning
  • Do you watch TV – this may be used as evidence of being able to sit unaided or as evidence o being able to concentrate
  • If you wear jewelry it will be assumed you have sufficient dexterity to open and close the clasps on chains and so on

This is not a comprehensive list, but it gives you an idea of how seemingly innocent questions are used to justify HCP decisions to pass you as “fit for work.” For example, “Do you watch soaps on TV?” is translated as “Can sit unaided for at least half an hour” on the report.

Mental Health:

  • Learning tasks – Can you use a phone, computer, washing machine
  • Hazards – Can you safely make tea, if claiming accident, there must have been some emergency services involvement, e.g. fire service. Near miss accidents do not count

Personal Actions:

  • Can you wash, dress, gather evidence for assessment
  • Do you manage bills

Further observations made by the HCP – appearance and presentation:

  • Coping with assessment interview – any abnormal thoughts, hallucinations, confusion
  • Coping with change – ability to attend assessment, attend GP or hospital appointments, shopping and socialising

More HCP observations:

  • Appearance, eye contact, rapport, any signs/symptoms that are abnormal mood/thoughts/perceptions. Any suicidal thoughts
  • Coping with social engagement/appropriateness of behaviour – any inappropriate behaviour must have involved police to be considered significant
  • Ability to attend assessment, engage with assessor, behave appropriately

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, merely some examples.

Further information: 

At present to qualify for ESA you need to score 15 points, unless the Exceptional Circumstances Regulations apply to you. The 15 points can be from a combination of scores from physical and mental health descriptors.

To qualify for the Support Group you must score 15 points in one section. As long as you are claiming income-based ESA then your award can be renewed at each assessment, if you gain 15 points.

You may also qualify without meeting the 15 points criterion, even if you don’t score any points, because of Exceptional Circumstances (Regulation 29 and Regulation 35, (or 25 and 31 for Universal Credit – see link at the foot of article) if there would be a substantial risk to your mental or physical health if you were found not to have limited capability for work. Regulation 29 is about exceptional circumstances for being assessed as having limited capability for work (Work Related Activity Group), and Regulation 35 is about being assessed as having limited capability for work-related activity (Support Group).

Special cases – exemptions from assessment include those people having: terminal illness, intravenous chemotherapy treatment and those considered a danger to self or others if found fit to work.

Contribution-based ESA lasts for one year only, unless you are in the support group. After one year in the work-related activity group, you may only get income-based ESA if your household income is below a certain threshold. It makes no difference how long you have previously paid National Insurance.

Joyce told me:

“For clarity, as far as I know in the real world, doctors carry out medical assessments, nurses carry out nursing assessments and physios carry out physiotherapy assessments. In the world of Atos, people from each of these separate professions are employed as disability analysts, carrying out functional assessments.

Nurses are employable for these posts if they have been qualified for at least 3 years, are registered to practice with the NMC, and have basic computer skills.

My interview consisted of:

  • Face to face interview with medical director and nurse team leader.
  • A written paper assessing a scenario, in my case someone with back pain
  • A 10 minute basic computer test

“In order to be approved as a disability analyst I had to complete 4 weeks of Atos disability training, reach a certain standard of assessment reports – as decided by audit of all cases seen (I don’t know what criteria was) and was finally approval to carry out Work Capability Assessments (WCA) from the Secretary for Work and Pensions.

In my opinion the money given to Atos and spent on tribunals should be given to NHS GPs. They are best placed to make assessments regarding patients’ work capability. They have access to all medical reports, knowledge of past history, specialist input and they know their patients. My concern would be about what criteria the DWP would impose on GPs risking the doctor/patient relationship. GPs already assess patients for “fit notes”, which have to be submitted to DWP during assessment phase of ESA.

While I worked at Atos, sessional medical staff were being paid £40 per assessment, as far as I am aware. I have no idea of wages of permanent medical staff. Nurses were on a salary, which, based on 10 assessments a day (Atos target), equalled around £10 per assessment. These are approximate figures but may give a clue as to why Atos are employing nurses rather than doctors.”

Appendix

Most Atos HCPs are not doctors, they are usually nurses or occupational therapists. There are some conditions that will mean you need to be assessed by a qualified specialist nurse, or a doctor and you can ask for this.

List of conditions judged suitable for assessment by neuro trained nurses/any health care profession:

Prolapsed intervertebral disc
Lumbar nerve root compression
Sciatica
Slipped disc
Lumbar spondylosis
Lumbar spondylolisthesis
Lumbar spondylolysis
Cauda equina syndrome
Spinal stenosis
Peripheral neuropathy
Neuropathy
Drop foot
Meralgia paraesthetica
Cervical spondylosis
Cervical nerve root compression
Cervicalgia
Nerve entrapment syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Trapped nerve
Paraesthesia
Tingling
Numbness
Brachial plexus injury
Polyneuropathy
Dizziness
Vertigo
Essential Tremor
VWF
Alzheimers

List of conditions judged by the DWP and Atos Healthcare as suitable only for assessment by doctors:

Stroke
Head injury with neuro sequelae
Brain haemorrhage/Sub Arachnoid Haemorrhage
Brain tumour
Acoustic Neuroma
Multiple Sclerosis
Motor Neurone Disease
Parkinson’s disease
TIAs
Bulbar Palsy
Myasthenia Gravis
Muscular Dystrophy
Guillain-Barre Syndrome
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Syringomyelia
Neurofibromatosis
Spina bifida
Polio
Fits (secondary to brain tumour)
Learning difficulties (with physical problems)
Nystagmus Myelitis
Bells Palsy
Trigeminal Neuralgia
Paraplegia
Quadriplegia
Huntington’s Chorea
Huntington’s Disease

Further information:

Special exemptions from the 15 points criteria: The New Regulation 25
Useful updated information about Regulations 25 & 31: Exceptional Circumstances and Universal Credit.
Exceptional Circumstances:
Employment and Support Regulation 31

Employment and Support Allowance: 2013 Regulations in full
The Amendments to ESA Regulations: as laid before Parliament
Clause 99 and important changes to the appeal process: Clause 99, Catch 22 – The ESA Mandatory Second Revision and Appeals
Questions you may be asked at assessment: dwpexamination forum 
How to deal with Benefits medical examinations: A Useful Guide to Benefit Claimants when up against ATOS Doctors
More support and helpful advice here: How to deal with Benefits medical examinations

Essential information for ESA claims, assessments and appeals

Previous related articles: 

Joyce’s campaign:  The Daily Record 
Joyce Drummond and Sue Jones:  After Atos

Further reading:

Targets in Atos contract

7 out of 8 targeted to lose ESA

Amnesty condemns erosion of human rights of disabled in UK

Whistleblower says Atos Work Capability Assessments are unfair

377683_445086432227557_1770724824_n (1)

Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent artwork. Many thanks to Joyce for the information she has provided, and for her courage and integrity, which is so strongly evident in her outstanding campaign work.


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

DonatenowButton