Category: Inequality

The neoliberal ideologues lost their fig leaf and so now turn to shoot the messengers

Yet another remarkable Conservative-led backlash against Oxfam’s annual report on global inequality ahead of the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos was started almost as soon as the charity issued the press release.  The report says that just 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. Inequality has widened over last year, with some 82% of the entire world’s money going to just 1% of the population. 

The report says it is “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. It called on world leaders to turn rhetoric about inequality into policies to tackle tax evasion and boost the pay of workers. 

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy, but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.”

Oxfam has made changes to its wealth calculations as a result of new data from the bank Credit Suisse. Under the revised figures, 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, compared with 61 people last year and 380 in 2009. At the time of last year’s reportOxfam said that eight billionaires held the same wealth as half of the world’s population.

The wealth of billionaires had risen by 13% a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015, with the increase of $762bn (the equivalent of £550bn) in 2017  – enough to end extreme poverty seven times over.

The charity also said nine out of ten of the world’s 2,043 dollar billionaires were men.

Goldring went on to say: “For work to be a genuine route out of poverty we need to ensure that ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions, and that women are not discriminated against. If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we – and they – should be willing to pay.”

An Oxfam survey of 70,000 people in 10 countries, including the UK, showed widespread public support for action to tackle inequality. Nearly two-thirds of people – 72% in the UK – said they want the government to urgently address the income gap between rich and poor in their country.  

The New Right and neoliberals subsequently have advocated policies that aided the accumulation of profits and wealth in fewer hands with the argument that it would promote investment, thereby creating more jobs and more prosperity for all. As neoliberal policies were implemented around the world inequalities in wealth and income increased, there were health inequalities and poverty increased, contradicting neoliberal theories that by increasing the wealth at the top, everyone would become more affluent. Public funds were simply funnelled away into private hands. (See: the Paradise Papers, for example, and A few words about trickle down economics).

Furthermore, it’s become increasingly apparent that neoliberalism, as a totalising free-market ideology, is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and human rights frameworks.

The socioeconomic changes pushed through by the New Right in the US and the UK in the 80s removed constraints on bankers, made finance more important at the expense of manufacturing and reduced the power of unions, making it difficult for employees to secure as big a share of the national economic wealth as they had in previous decades.

The flipside of rising corporate profits and higher rewards for the top 1% of earners was stagnating wages for ordinary citizens against a backdrop of rapidly rising living costs, and of course, a subsequent higher propensity to get into debt.

Let’s not forget that the main factors behind the global economic crisis were ill-conceived and ideologically motivated fiscal and monetary policies, which were aided and abetted by inadequate regulation and a variety of other neoliberal policy ‘mistakes’. We subesequently learned that squeezing the oligarchs – those whose behaviours were responsible for the Great Recession – is seldom the strategy of choice among free market governments. Instead, they look to the less powerful – ordinary citizens – to carry the consequences and burdens of the greed and reckless risk-taking of the financiers. Government’s can’t stay tough on erstwhile cronies, after all.

The oligarchs use their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed. Responsibility and blame for the recession and the failure of neoliberalism has been re-written: it’s because of the ‘culture of entitlement’, it’s because of the opposition’s previous ‘spendthrift’ policies; ‘it’s because of poor people’s sub-optimal, faulty behaviours’ and ‘cognitive biases’; it’s because of ‘scrounging’ welfare claimants; it’s down to disabled people who are ‘parked’ on welfare; it’s because of immigration which drains our resources: it’s down to ‘inefficient’ public services; it’s because of the ‘bloated’ state. It’s because of anything but what it actually was because of. 

The pre-bust rising delinquencies in US subprime mortgages have all but been forgiven and forgotten. The political solution to catastrophically failing neoliberalism has simply been the application of more aggressive neoliberal policies.

Of course, in a society that celebrates the idea of self interest, greed and accumulating money, it’s easy to infer that the interests of the financial sector are the same as the interests of the country. 

Meanwhile, in the UK, when people were asked what a typical British chief executive earned in comparison with an unskilled worker, people guessed 33 times as much. When asked what the ideal ratio should be, they said 7:1. Oxfam said that FTSE 100 bosses earned on average 120 times more than the average employee.

Goldring said it was time to rethink a global economy in which there was excessive corporate influence on policymaking, erosion of workers’ rights and a relentless drive to minimise costs in order to maximise returns to investors. He is absolutely right. In the wake of the Paradise Papers, the catastrophic collapse of Carillion, which further exposes the neoliberal privatisation ‘efficiency’ myths, the wake of scandals from the likes of G4S, Atos and Maximus,  and Virgin Care. (See also: Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.). 

Payments to private finance companies where Carillion have a stake, 2017-18 to 2048-49

It’s unsurprising that the neoliberal ideologues are out in force, outraged as their hegemony is crumbling and their fig leaf has been removed. Astroturfing aggressively in an attempt to stigmatise knowledge that is an empirically inconvenience to neoliberal ideologues. The culprits are easily identified because they use the same crib sheet, with comments that are identical almost word for word.

The effects of inequality are not confined to the poor. A growing body of research shows that inequality damages the economy and the social fabric of the whole of society.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said last year: “Research at the IMF and elsewhere makes it clear that persistent lack of inclusion—defined as broadly shared benefits and opportunities for economic growth—can fray social cohesion and undermine the sustainability of growth itself.” And development experts point out that inequality compromises poverty reduction.

The IMF also say “While some inequality is inevitable in a market-based economic system, excessive inequality can erode social cohesion, lead to political polarization, and ultimately, lower economic growth.” In the Fiscal Monitor, the IMF discussed how fiscal policies can help achieve redistributive objectives.

The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), a think tank insisting since the 1950s that free market have an important role in solving economic and social problems, have spearheaded what can best be described as an aggressive right wing and neoliberal astroturfing campaign on Twitter. It’s because they know neoliberal dogma has run out of road. Manic privatisation, small state extremism, austerity and a profit over human need philosophy have shoved and abandoned us in an economic cul-de-sac.

The IEA are braying in response to Oxfam’s modest call for a fairer, progressive tax system and a more inclusive form of capitalism : “Yet again Oxfam gets it wrong on inequality and poverty, “ says Mark Littlewood, for example, who defends the neoliberal go-to trickle down approach, arguing for growing the overall size of the pie instead of quibbling about how it is sliced. He also says: “Higher minimum wages would also likely lead to disappearing jobs, harming the very people Oxfam intend to help.”

trickle-down-theory-the-less-than-elegant-metaphor-that-if-one-11938559

The origins of trickle-down theory: poor people are expected to live on a diet of horse sh*t.

Yet the growth of low paid and insecure employment under neoliberalism has placed an increasing burden on our rapidly shrinking public services and in particular, such exploitative thinking, which places profit over the needs and rights of workers, has placed a drain on our welfare system, with the highest proportion of costs – most benefits – being paid to people in low paid work.

Littlewood fails to make the link between inequality and growing poverty. You’d think that if this approach worked, we would have seen evidence of it over the years since the Thatcher era. Instead, we have witnessed growing inequality and the return of absolute poverty – which is when people cannot meet the costs to fulfil their basic survival needs, such as for fuel, food and shelter. 

The worlds’ wealth and power is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, undermining democracy in the process. On the IEA site, Kate Andrews also tries to completely separate inequality from poverty, but fails miserably in her justification of inequality of the grounds of meritocratic dogma. She intentionally overlooks the dynamics of the triangular relationship between distribution, poverty and economic growth. Poverty can be reduced through increases in income, through changes in the distribution of income, or through a combination of both. 

Accumulation by dispossession –  the consequences of privatisation and commodification of public assets, transferring property and wealth from public to private ownership – has been among the most widely criticised and disputed aspects of neoliberalism. It was originally observed and outlined by David Harvey, who says that neoliberal policies in many western nations, from the 1970s to the present day, has resulted in an accumulation and centralisation of wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth, public services, resources, power and land.

This process of accumulation by dispossession intimately ties growing inequality with increasing poverty, especially in an age of neoliberal austerity, a programme which has targeted the poorest citizens disproportionately.

Increasing the income of poor citizens contributes to the expansion of the economy. Andrews also intentionally disregards the fact that almost everyone pays National Insurance and tax, and that poor people tend to pay proportionally more of their income in tax than very wealthy citizens. That’s if wealthy citizens choose to pay any tax  at all – it’s become increasingly optional, politically, to tax the rich. It’s become increasingly apparent over the last decade that the real economic free-riders are the very wealthy and privileged, not the poorest citizens. Poverty and inequality isn’t ordained by the laws of either economics or physics. It’s the result of hegemonic decision-making, and rigidly institutionalised class advantage and disadvantage.  

This is why big players such as the World Bank, United Nations, World Economic Forum, OECD and IMF have gone about setting twin goals and outlining recommendations that policy needs to simultaneously tackle poverty and inequality in rich as well as poor countries.

I’m just wondering if the Twitter trolls and astroturfers have yet ridiculously accused these institutions and organisations of being ‘Corbynites’ , ‘Marxists’ and of joining or supporting Momentum, as they did Oxfam.

oxfam

The condition that people who champion social justice and object to inequality and poverty must be poor and oppressed, otherwise their proposition must be invalid is a peculiarly right wing one, based on a form of faulty narcissistic reasoning. 

By attempting to shift the debate away from the policy changes that have caused inequality, neoliberals are simply trying to legitimate it without the merit of open and rational scrutiny.

One of the primary characteristics of this type of reasoning is an exaggerated sense of entitlement and resentfulness and outrage of other peoples’. These protagonists are the ultimate meritocrats, just as long as they can define who ‘deserves’ what and who does not. Despite the steadfast ethical values such neoliberal champions loudly profess, they are moral relativists in that what they adamantly deem immoral for others is somehow acceptable for themselves. Furthermore, they are also overly sensitive to any perceived slight, challenge or criticism, regardless of how legitimate it may be. Market competition is one thing, pluralism and a healthy competition of ideas is apparently quite another. 

It’s very telling that any call for a degree of social justice and for protecting the poorest citizens against the worst ravages of capitalism is now dismissed by the right wing free market ideologues as ‘radical’. It betrays their utter indifference to the plight of the inevitable and innocent casualties of the catastrophically failing neoliberal experiment, imposed, regardless of the consequences, from the 1980s to date.

It isn’t possible to discuss growing global poverty without reference to its root causes and that invariably involves some reference to government priorities and policies. In a democracy, scrutiny of the impact of political decision-making and policies on citizens ought to be seen as a fundamental priority, rather than being simply increasingly indolently dismissed by authoritarians as ‘radical’ and ‘marxist’. 

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Grenfell, inequality and the Conservatives’ bonfire of red tape

Residents were trapped "screaming for their lives" as flames raged through a 27-storey tower block in Notting Hill in the early hours today

The Grenfell Tower fire reflects a colossal betrayal of working class people’s trust by the state. The Conservatives have emphasised “economic growth” at the expense of citizen’s welfare in their policies since taking office in 2010. This is a government that has rewarded the propertied class and punished the renting class (by inflicting policies such as the bedroom tax, and the welfare cap, for example). It’s a government that values and supports profiteering landlords, who have lobbied against essential safeguarding regulation, and one that has also imposed massive local authority budget cuts. 

It’s estimated that there are more than 700 tower blocks in London. These range from the brand new luxury apartments to the post-war council-owned buildings which were seen as a convenient cure to problems caused by the crumbling and unsanitary 19th Century slums.

Around 8% of Londoners now live in tower blocks. Some of the flats are bought for millions; others are relatively low-cost social housing, rented from a local council at a fraction of the private rate. Grenfell Tower itself was designed in 1967, building started in 1972 and finished in 1974.

Originally built as municipal housing as part of the slum clearances of the 1960s, it had 120 one and two-bedroom flats over 20 of its 24 storeys, and was renovated in 2016.

Grenfell House is in a neighbourhood ranked among the most deprived 10% in England.

The BBC’s Bethan Bell says

“Just two miles away – or four stops along the Circle/Hammersmith and City line – is 3 Merchant Square, a 21-storey tower that is part of a new development around Paddington Basin. The contemporary block was finished in 2016 and holds 60 apartments over 15 storeys.

It’s a different world. The penthouse apartment was sold for £7.5m. One-bedroom flats are at least £1m.

Surrounded by restaurants and bars, workers and residents can lounge on deckchairs on a newly-built floating park. Lunchtime yoga sessions are held and there’s a luxury fitness club.

There’s an enormous fountain and a bridge created by renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick, a nursery and winter garden.

But nice though these peripheries undoubtedly are, they don’t keep people safe from fire. For that, we must have a look at the specifications of the apartments in the tower. 

Once you get past the sales brochure description of 3 Merchant Square’s walnut cutlery drawer inserts and integral wine coolers, the adjustable mood lighting and heated bathroom walls, you come to the fire safety details: Every flat has not only ceiling mounted smoke detectors but sprinklers.

The International Fire Sprinkler Association (IFSA) says that automatic fire sprinkler systems are the single most effective fire protection measure available, and are able to make up for a wide range of other fire protection deficiencies.

There has never been a multiple loss of life from a fire developing in a building protected by a properly designed, installed and maintained fire sprinkler system. While fire sprinkler systems have been required in new high-rise residential buildings in England since 2007, it is not compulsory to retrofit them into existing buildings. So Grenfell Tower had none.”

It’s a tale of two cities.

The former chief fire officer Ronnie King, honorary secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue – which had recommended fitting sprinklers to buildings to save lives – has said the regulations “badly need updating” and “three successive ministers have not done it”.

“My own thinking is there was the red tape challenge and they don’t really want to put regulation on to businesses, adding a burden.

“It’s one of those that if you bring in a new regulation, you have got to give three up to get it.” 

This echoes my own comments yesterday

In 2012, David Cameron vowed to “cut back on the health and safety legislation “monster”, and to “kill off the health and safety culture for good.” The Conservatives’ Cutting Red Tape programme allows Business to tell Government how it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector.” The Tories boast these “big successes” in getting rid of “unnecessary bureaucracy”: 

  • Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge
  • Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards
  • £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%
  • Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job. 

Among others.  

Apparently, “Cutting Red Tape wants to work with business, for business.” I don’t see any balanced democratic representation and reflection of public needs. Back in 2015, business Secretary Vince Cable and Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced that “better enforcement of regulation” is saving business more than £40 million every year. What that phrase actually means is not “better enforcement” – it’s deregulation. The Tories are masters of Doublespeak. 

The Focus on Enforcement review programme, which asks companies to identify poor “enforcement practices” that “hold them back”, has benefited around one million businesses and boosted growth in 9 vital sectors of the economy from coastal developments to childcare. And building. 

This “builds on government action to scrap or reform regulatory rules which has saved firms some £10 billion over this parliament.” It has also undermined health and safety legislation, consideration of which has a direct impact on the welfare of public. Conservative ideology prioritises private profit over human needs. New Right neoliberalism is all about privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and a “small state” commitment entailing reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.

The problem is that the government regards regulations as an inconvenience – as raising unnecessary obstacles to free market economics – business, growth, competition and “innovation”, while disregarding the fact that regulations actually serve important social objectives. 

The Conservatives have long argued that “red tape” impedes freedom and “damages productivity”. They have glibly assured us that the UK would be a better place with a lot of deregulation and fewer bureacratic “barriers” to business. The 2010-15 Tory Health and Safety “reforms” (that word is always a Conservative euphemism for cuts) have been motivated, for example, by a belief that: “good health and safety is important, but the burden of excessive health and safety rules and regulations on business had become too great and a damaging compensation culture was stifling innovation and growth. We want to protect people in the workplace while reducing the burden of unnecessary health and safety rules and regulations on businesses.”

The “red tape” that the Conservatives regard with such disdain consists of laws that provide essential public protections and rights that prioritise citizen’s lives. The freedoms being protected by this government are those of the rich to exploit the poor, of corporations to exploit employees and the public, of landlords to exploit their tenants and, to nick a sentence from George Monbiot, of industry to use the planet as its dustbin.

2012 report by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) concluded that fire sprinklers could be retrofitted with tenants in place at a cost of about £1,150 a flat. Since the 24-storey Grenfell Tower contained 120 flats, it would have worked out at £138,000. That’s significantly less than the £2.6m spent on the cosmetic cladding and replacement windows

Architect and fire expert Sam Webb said: “We are still wrapping post-war high-rise buildings in highly flammable materials and leaving them without sprinkler systems installed, then being surprised when they burn down.

I really don’t think the building industry understands how fire behaves in buildings and how dangerous it can be. The government’s mania for deregulation means our current safety standards just aren’t good enough.”

Some of these issues were raised in a report following a fatal fire at a tower block in 2009 in Camberwell, in which six people were killed.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, said his predecessor in the role had accepted the report’s recommendations and put them into action.

He said: “The coroner did not recommend new planning regulations. The coroner recommended a change in the guidance. There is a lot of information out there and it is right that it is independently looked at by a judge-led inquiry.” 

When asked whether the government would retrofit sprinkler systems to tower blocks, he said: “I don’t think we can immediately jump to the conclusion that sprinklers is the issue here. We will do whatever it takes.”

An associate pastor of Notting Hill Community Church, Danny Vance, says “the poor are constantly neglected” in the city.

He said: “The disparity between rich and poor in this city is disgusting. This would not have happened to the £5m flats around the corner” [from the Grenfell tower].

Theresa May has announced a £5 million emergency fund for the survivors of the Grenfell inferno, amid angry protests over the government’s lack of appropriate reaction to the tragedy, and what survivors see as the slow emergence of information with regard to loved ones and friends who are still missing.

It’s worth considering that the Conservatives consistently spend close to the £19m general election spending limit on their campaigns. In comparison with the funding offered to people and their families who have lost loved ones and friends, their homes, and all of their belongings, it highlights a problem with our democracy. It is one of political priority. Much more money is spent by the Conservatives on staying in power than it is on pressing social need, reflecting the somewhat corrupt priorities of this government. 

The Labour party have said that the £5 million isn’t enough. It really isn’t. 

Grenfell Tower stands as a dreadful symbol of the failings of austerity for which the Conservatives are culpable. It’s an emblem of the intentional Conservative attacks on our poorer citizens. Tory MPs have sneeringly  rejected housing regulation; they implemented cuts to councils responsible for retro-fitting fire suppressants; they disregarded the coroner’s instructions after the 2009 Lakanal House tragedy; and plan to opt out of EU safety regulations. Conservative Kensington and Chelsea council have regularly blocked its ears to tenants’ well-founded anxieties

For many, the blackened husk of Grenfell Tower is a terrible and tragic monument to inequality. It stands as an awful accusation. It should not be the case that society’s most disadvantaged citizens suffer most from the mistakes of the powerful. The state should protect and value citizens’ lives – each life has equal worth, it is equally precious – and not remain indifferent to people who complain that their home is potentially a death trap, neglecting their fundamental concerns and needs. We live in a society where our government values property rights over more fundamental human rights. It’s a democracy for property-owners, but not for tenants.

Danny Dorling has highlighted that black and minority ethnic people in social housing are disproportionately housed in flats, to the extent that most black children in London and Birmingham are housed above the sixth floor. This is not to do with a shortage of housing, but is a reflection of the fact that not only are ethnic minorities more likely to be working-class by wage and occupation, but they experience discrimination – tacitly or blatantly – when allocated housing. Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs are absolutely right to call for the use of empty homes in Kensington to rehouse locally those made homeless, and experiencing such devastating losses, by the fire. 

We live in a society where it’s become normal and somehow acceptable that the privileged class can buy their safety, their security, rights and their legal representation, while many working class people and those citizens who are vulnerable have none of these. 

Grenfell Tower is a charred and bitter testament to how our poorest citizens are placed at risk because we live in a society that values unfettered private profiteering, no matter what the cost to ordinary people, and the superficial and appearance over what really matters – people’s lives. The deadly cladding was added as cheaply as possible to improve the view for others, while the sprinklers, working alarm and fire extinguishers that would have saved lives were omitted. 

Emergency services personnel on top of Grenfell Tower in west London after the fire 
Related

Grenfell is a horrific consequence of a Conservative ‘leaner and more efficient state’

The Conservatives are forced to end austerity because they face a turning tide and electoral extinction

London protests as they happened: Demonstrators demand justice for Grenfell victims after day of fury and sorrow

 


 

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EHRC report highlights unacceptable political discrimination against disabled people

 

Untitled

Discrimination on the grounds of disability was made illegal 20 years ago when Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Further legislative progress was made with the Human Rights Act (2008) and the Equality Act (2010). So discrimination can’t happen now. Right?

Wrong.

Disabled people are not being treated as being equal with other citizens and continue to be denied the respect, dignity, opportunities, an acceptable standard of living and other acceptable outcomes that non-disabled people take for granted.

The government claim that the economy has recovered from the effects of the global recession, but that recovery is not one that is shared equally to include everyone. If the economy is doing as well as the government claims, why are disabled people still facing austerity cuts to their lifeline support, while wealthy citizens are handed out substantial tax cuts? 

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, targeting disabled people, who are much more likely to be living in poverty than other citizens, is absolutely inexcusable. However, the neoliberal right justify their rigid small state, pro-privatisation, deregulation, mythological meritocracy, low tax, high VAT and antiwelfare ideology with folklore economics. “Paying down the debt” has become an almost farcical bare-faced and parroted Conservative lie. 

proper-blond

The neoliberal small state “big society”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report is the most comprehensive analysis on how (or if) the rights of disabled people are observed and protected in Great Britain. The most recent report says that changes to benefit rules have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people’s right to live independently.

According to the report, titled Disability report: Being disabled in Britainwhich was published on Monday, the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people. (See also: Disabled students fear for their future as independence payments cut).

Fewer than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults – and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010-11.

Food poverty has affected 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64, compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people.

David Isaac, Chair of the Commission, commenting on the damning new state of the nation report into life for disabled people, said: “Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”

The research, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement.

This includes: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and welfare “reforms” (cuts) significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.

The Commission has also highlighted these issues to the United Nations, for their forthcoming examination of how the UK measures up to the international standards on the rights of disabled people (the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – CRPD).

The United Nations (UN) has already determined that the UK government has systematically violated the rights of disabled people. The highly critical report, which was published in Geneva last December also concluded that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been detrimentally affected by the Conservative’s austerity programme.

The range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including extremely controversial changes such as the bedroom tax, and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets have disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

The UN’s 22-page report condemned the radical and largely unmonitored welfare cuts and benefit caps, and social care cuts introduced as a major part of the Conservative’s austerity programme – the government claimed these cuts would make the welfare system “fairer and reduce benefit fraud.” The UN found no evidence of benefit fraud or fairness.

However, the government have simply dismissed the UN’s fully evidenced report, which included the first-hand accounts of many of those disabled people affected by Conservative austerity, disability campaigners, researchers and advocacy organisations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report reveals:

  • In England, the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least  5 A*-C GCSEs is three times lower than for non-disabled children (20.0% and 64.2% respectively). Disabled children are also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded.
  • The qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower. 
  • More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived. 
  • Social security “reforms” have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. Families in the UK with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families.
  • Across the UK, 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty.
  • Disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased. Disabled people in Britain were also less likely to own their own home. 
  • Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they’re less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
  • There is an urgent need for prisons to monitor and report on prisoner mental health. Prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions compared with the general population, and 70% of prisoners who died from self-inflicted means between 2012 and 2014 had an identified mental health condition. 
  • Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales. The number of detentions in hospitals increased from 46,600 in 2009 to 2010 to 63,622 in 2016. 
  • Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice. Across GB, there has been a 54% drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination following the introduction of fees in July 2013. 
  • More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with mental health conditions and those with physical disabilities the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed. 
  • The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all.

David Isaac continued: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind and that some people – in particular those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – experience even greater barriers.

“We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.

“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

The report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people; and improve existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people.

It contains 75 recommendations to the UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. The main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee will take place in August 2017, and the Commission will work with the other UK equality and human rights commissions and disabled people and their organisations to help make the recommendations a reality.

Further to this activity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is engaged in a range of ongoing work aimed improving the lives of disabled people, including legally enforcing the Equality Act, improving access to public services, housing and transport, analysing the impact of welfare reforms, and influencing new legislation.

In light of the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (work-related activity group) and the recent re-writing of PIP regulations to save money for the Treasury from disabled people’s support, while at the same time the government chose to hand out tax cuts to millionaires, it is inevitable that the situation for disabled people will only get worse.

These additional cuts have happened since the UN published the report about the systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights, to which the government have responded with utter contempt.

Human rights, inclusion and equality are the bedrock of a democratic society. We know from experience over the last six years that we can not depend on this government to observe any of these prerequisite obligations. 

Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, said: “It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day-in-day out. 

“But government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people. 

“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed. If the government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.

“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards.  We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track. We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.” 

Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Much of today’s report puts hard numbers on what we hear every day from people with muscle-wasting conditions about the extreme difficulties in finding a job, a safe place to live and accessing the opportunities many of us take for granted. 

“The government has to respond positively and urgently to the severity of today’s findings, not least in calling a halt to the damaging aspects of benefits reforms, but they are not the only people responsible for making society accessible to all. 

“Employers can be more proactive about making their workplaces and their recruitment policies more open to disabled people. Local councillors can increase their accessible housing targets. And we can collectively check our own attitudes to make sure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has better news to report in 20 years’ time. This alarming report is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.” 

Let’s not pussyfoot around the deliberate socioeconomic exclusion of disabled people. It’s absolutely unacceptable that in a very wealthy so-called democratic state, disabled people still face so many disadvantages as a direct consequence of discriminatory government policies, across so many different areas of their lives compared to non-disabled people.  

The Conservative’s policies since 2012 that have doggedly aimed at cutting disabled people’s support have been preempted by an outgrouping rhetoric and an all-pervasive political scapegoating media campaign designed, to stir up resentment and desensitise the public to the consequences of policies which discriminate against disabled people. Such actions are a damning indictment of the political intention behind those policies. 

We now have a social security system that is the stuff of dystopian novels about totalitarian bureaucracy. Rather than providing support, welfare has been redesigned by the Conservatives to focus on compliance with unreasonable “behavioural” conditionality (which assumes that poverty is a “lifestyle choice, as opposed to the inevitable consequence of neoliberalism and policies which serve to engineer growing social inequality) and extremely punitive sanctions, rather than supporting people back into appropriate work. 

Stopping or threatening to stop someone’s lifeline support when they are too unwell to work is unforgivably cruel, inappropriate and completely ineffective at helping anyone into employment.

In fact, we know that sanctions will make it almost impossible for someone to find employment. Withdrawing lifefline support as a punishment is likely to create desperation and absolute poverty. The impact of poverty is greater, and often devastating on those people who are ill and disabled. If people cannot meet their basic living needs, they cannot possibly meet higher level psychosocial ones. 

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Sanctions cause unacceptable harm to people who are disabled and ill, and sometimes, sanctions kill people

It is not acceptable that a government in the UK continues to formulate regressive and punitive policies aimed at cutting support for disabled people, which create vulnerability, loss of independence and dignity, distress, psychological and physical damage, and is putting people’s lives at risk.

It is shameful and it needs to be halted.

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

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IAPT is value-laden, non-prefigurative, non-dialogic, antidemocratic and reflects a political agenda

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Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation and inclusion. It represents the redistribution of power that enables marginalised citizens, presently excluded from the political and economic processes, to be purposefully included in the future.

The government’s Work and Health Programme, due to be rolled out this autumn, involves a plan to integrate health and employment services, aligning the outcome frameworks of health services, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), Jobcentre Plus and the Work Programme.

But the government’s aim to prompt public services and commissioned providers to “speak with one voice” is founded on traditional Conservative prejudices about people who need support. This proposed multi-agency approach is reductive, rather than being about formulating expansive, coherent, comprehensive and importantly, responsive mental health provision.

What’s on offer is psychopolitics, not therapy. It’s about (re)defining the experience and reality of a marginalised social group to justify dismantling public services (especially welfare). In linking receipt of welfare with health services and state therapy, with the single politically intended outcome of employment, the government is purposefully conflating citizens’ widely varied needs with economic outcomes and diktats, which will isolate people from traditionally non-partisan networks of unconditional support, such as the health service, social services, community services and mental health services.

Services “speaking with one voice” will invariably make accessing support conditional, and further isolate marginalised social groups. It will damage trust between people needing support and professionals who are meant to deliver essential public services, rather than simply extending government dogma, prejudices and discrimination. And meeting ideologically designed targets.

As neoliberals, the Conservatives see the state as a means to reshape social institutions and social relationships hierarchically, based on a model of a competitive market place. This requires a highly invasive power and mechanisms of persuasion, manifested in an authoritarian turn. Public interests are conflated with narrow economic outcomes. Public behaviours are politically micromanaged and modified. Social groups that don’t conform to ideologically defined economic outcomes and politically defined norms are stigmatised and outgrouped. 

Othering and outgrouping have become common political practices, it seems.

The Work and Health Programme is a welfare-to-work programme for people with disabilities, mental health problems and for long-term unemployed people, due to be rolled out in the autumn. In the recent Work, Health and Disability green paper, the government mentioned new mandatory “health and work conversations” in which work coaches will use “specially designed techniques” to “help” those people in the ESA Support Group – those assessed by their own doctors and the state as being unlikely to work in the near future – “identify their health and work goals, draw out their strengths, make realistic plans, and build resilience and motivation.” 

Apparently these “conversations” were “co-designed” by the Behavioural Insights Team.

Democracy is based on a process of dialogue between the public and government, ensuring that the public are represented: that governments are responsive, shaping policies that address identified social needs.

However, policies increasingly reflect a behaviourist turn. They are no longer about reflecting citizens’ needs: they are increasingly about telling some citizens how to be. This has some profound implications for democracy.

Neoliberal policies increasingly extend behaviour modification techniques that aim to quantifiably change the perceptions and behaviours of citizens, aligning them with narrow neoliberal outcomes through rewards or “consequences.” Rewards, such as tax cuts, are aimed at the wealthiest, whereas the most vulnerable citizens who are the poorest are simply presented with imposed cuts to their lifeline support as an “incentive” to not be poor. Taking money from the poorest is apparently “for their own good”.   

Defining human agency and rationality in terms of economic outcomes is extremely problematic. And dehumanising. Despite the alleged value-neutrality of behavioural economic theory and CBT, both have become invariably biased towards the status quo rather than progressive change and social justice.

Behavoural economics theory has permited policy-makers to indulge ideological impulses whilst presenting them as “objective science.” From a libertarian paternalist perspective, the problems of neoliberalism don’t lie in the market, or in growing inequality and poverty: neoliberalism isn’t flawed, nor are governments – we are. Governments and behavioural economists don’t make mistakes – only citizens do. No-one is nudging the nudgers. It’s assumed that their decision-making is infallible and they have no whopping cognitive biases of their own. 

“There’s no reason to think that markets always drive people to what’s good for them.” Richard Thaler.

There’s no reason whatsoever to think that markets are good for people at all. Let’s not confuse economics with psychology, or competitive individualism and economic Darwinism with collectivism and mutual aid. Behavioural economics may offer us titbit theories explaining individual consumer’s decision making, but it’s been rather unreliable in explaining socioeconomic and political contexts and complex systems such as financial crises, and of course behavioual economists don’t feel the same pressing need to explore the decision making and “cognitive bias” of the handful of people who cause those.

It wasn’t those with mental health problems currently claiming social security. They do much less damage to the economy, in fact IAPT means vulture capitalist private companies like G4S and trusts like Southern Care can turn a profit offering “support”. 

The current emphasis on quantitative methodology and standardisation has led to an overwhelming focus on measurement in IAPT settings. Mental health services are now dominated by IAPT, which focuses exclusively on “evidence-based” and short-term interventions for clients with particular diagnoses – mostly anxiety disorders and depression. Most workers in IAPT services offer CBT, often by minimally trained psychological wellbeing practitioners offering “low-intensity” interventions over few sessions.

Verificationism and standardisation leads to a focus on measurement in IAPT settings. CBT mutes the causes of distress, which do not reside “within” the individual: they are intersubjectively constructed, with cultural, socioeconomic and political dimensions. Furthermore, there is little room left for authentic dialogue – qualitative accounts of client’s experiences are not accommodated. In this context, CBT is authoritarian, rather than being prefigurative and genuinely dialogic.

Under the government’s plans, therapists from the IAPT programme are to support jobcentre staff to assess and treat claimants, who may be referred to online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) courses. 

We must question the ethics of linking receipt of welfare with “state therapy,” which, upon closer scrutiny, is not therapy at all. Linked to such a narrow outcome – getting a job – it amounts to little more than a blunt behaviour modification programme. The fact that the Conservatives have planned to make receipt of benefits contingent on participation in “treatment” also worryingly takes away the fundamental right of consent.

CBT facilitates the identification of “negative thinking patterns” and associated “problematic behaviours” and “challenges” them. This approach is at first glance a problem-solving approach, however, it’s of course premised on the assumption that interpreting situations “negatively” is a bad thing, and that thinking positively about bad events is beneficial.

The onus is on the individual to adapt by perceiving their circumstances in a stoical and purely “rational” way. 

So we need to ask what are the circumstances that we expect people to accept stoically. Socioeconomic inequality? Precarity? Absolute poverty? Sanctions? Work fare? Being forced to accept very poorly paid work, abysmal working conditions and no security? The loss of social support, public services and essential safety nets? Starvation and destitution?  

It’s all very well challenging people’s thoughts but for whom is CBT being used. For what purpose? It seems to me that this is about coercing those people on the wrong side of draconian government policy to accommodate that; to mute negative responses to negative situations. CBT in this context is not based on a genuinely liberational approach, nor is it based on democratic dialogue. It’s about modifying and controlling behaviour, particularly when it’s aimed at such narrow, politically defined and specific economic outcomes, which extend and perpetuate inequality. In this context, CBT becomes state “therapy” used only as an ideological prop for neoliberalism.

CBT tends to generate oversimplifications of the causes human distress. It’s not about helping people make better choices, it’s about coercing people to make the choices that policymakers want them to make. Those “choices” are based on enforced conformity to the ideological commitments of policymakers.

It’s assumed that the causes of unemployment are personal and attitudinal rather than sociopolitical or because of health barriers, and that particular assumption authorises intrusive state interventions that encode a Conservative moral framework, which places responsibility on the individual, who is characterised as “faulty” in some way. The deeply flawed political/economic system that entrenches inequality isn’t challenged at all: its victims are discredited and stigmatised instead.

Yet historically (and empirically), it has been widely accepted that poverty significantly increases the risk of mental health problems and can be both a causal factor and a consequence of mental ill health. Mental health is shaped by the wide-ranging characteristics and circumstances (including inequalities) of the social, economic and physical environments in which people live. Successfully supporting the mental health and wellbeing of people living in poverty, and reducing the number of people with mental health problems experiencing poverty, requires engagement with this complexity.

There is also widely held assumption that working is good for mental health, and that being in employment indicates mental wellbeing. It’s well-established that poverty is strongly linked with a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with a mental illness. That does not mean working is therefore somehow “good” for mental health. Encouraging people to work should entail genuine support, it shouldn’t entail taking away their lifeline income as punishment “incentive” if they can’t work.

An adequate level of social security to meet people’s basic survival needs is not mutually exclusive from encouraging people to find a suitable job.

It’s worth noting that research indicates in countries with an adequate social safety net, poor employment (low pay, short-term contracts), rather than “worklessness”, has the biggest detrimental impact on mental health. 

CBT does not address the socioeconomic and political context. It permits society to look the other way, whilst the government continue to present mental illness as an individual weakness or vulnerability, and a consequence of “worklessness” rather than a fairly predictable result of living a distressing, stigmatised, excluded existence and material deprivation in an increasingly unequal society.

Inequality and poverty arise because of ideology and policy-formulated socioeconomic circumstances, but the government have transformed established explanations into a project of constructing behavioural and cognitive problems as “medical diagnoses” for politically created socioeconomic problems. Austerity targets the poorest disproportionately for cuts to income and essential services, it’s one ideologically-driven political decision taken amongst alternative, effective and more humane choices.

Both nudge and CBT are being used to prop up austerity and reflect neoliberal managementspeak at its very worst. Neoliberal policies are causing profound damage, harm and distress to those they were never actually designed to “help”. Let’s not permit techniques of neutralisation: the use of rhetoric to obscure the real intention behind policies. It’s nothing less than political gaslighting.

The government’s profound antiwelfarist rhetoric indicates that there’s no genuine intention to support those people with mental health problems and others in need, despite their semantic thrifts and diversions.

Policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, all citizen’s accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter. 

However, in the UK, the way that policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from the aims and consequences of their ideologically driven and increasingly dehumanising policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs. 

For people with mental health problems, policies are being formulated to act upon them as if they are objects, rather than autonomous human subjects. Such a dehumanising approach has contributed significantly to a wider process of social outgrouping, increasing stigmatisation and ultimately, to further socioeconomic and mental health inequalities.

It’s the government that need to change their behaviour.

It’s us that need to make a stand against hegemonic neoliberal discourse and injustice.

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This article was written for a zine to mark the protest at the 10th annual New Savoy conference on 15 March in London #newsavoy2017. You can read the zine, with other people’s excellent contributions, here.

Also, see: New Savoy Protest against psycho-compulsion of MH claimants – 15th March 2017.

You can read about the background to the Mental Wealth Alliance and the New Savoy demo and lobby here.

You can watch the video here from Let Me Look TV: Protest at the 10th Annual New Savoy Conference 15 March 2017.

Please share.

Related

The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

The importance of citizen’s qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

A critique of the ‘Origins of Happiness’ study

A critique of Conservative notions of social research

Research finds damaging mental health discrimination ‘built into’ Work Capability Assessment. Again.

The Conservative approach to social research – that way madness lies


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

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.

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Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour – report from Samaritans

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As Samaritans release a report ahead of Wednesday’s Budget linking inequality with a higher risk of suicide, the charity is calling on the government, businesses, industry and sector leaders to be aware of the risks of suicide and to direct support to those with unstable employment, insecure housing, low income or in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.

The report, Dying from Inequality, produced in conjunction with leading researchers and academics, is far-reaching and highlights clear areas of risk to communities and individuals, including the closure and downsizing of businesses, those in manual, low-skilled employment, those facing unmanageable debt and those with poor housing conditions.

In today’s press release, Samaritans’ CEO Ruth Sutherland says, “Suicide is an inequality issue that we have known about for some time, this report says that’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s got to change. Most importantly this report sets out, for the first time, what needs to happen to save lives. Addressing inequality would remove the barriers to help and support where they are needed most and reduce the need for that support in the first place. Government, public services, employers, service providers, communities, family and friends all have a role in making sure help is relevant and accessible when it matters most.

“Everyone can feel overwhelmed at times in their life. People at risk of suicide may have employers, or they may seek help at job centres, or go to their GP. They may come into contact with national and local government agencies, perhaps on a daily basis. So, in the light of this report we are asking key people and organisations from across society, for example those working in housing, in businesses, medical staff, job centre managers, to all take action to make sure their service, their organisation, their community is doing all it can to promote mental health and prevent the tragedy of suicide. 

Samaritans has already started addressing the inequalities driving people to suicide, by making its helpline number free to call, by calling on Government for more frontline staff to be trained in suicide prevention in England and by campaigning for local authorities to have effective suicide prevention plans in place. Now, in response to the findings of this report, the next steps will involve instigating working groups, in different sectors, bringing together businesses and charities who can influence in the areas highlighted, in order to tackle this issue in a collaborative, systematic and effective way to ensure that fewer people die by suicide.”

Sutherland continues: “Each suicide statistic is a person. The employee on a zero hour’s contract is somebody’s parent or child. A person at risk of losing their home may be a sibling or a friend. And each one of them will leave others devastated, and potentially more disadvantaged too, if they take their own life. This is a call for us as individuals to care more and for organisations that can make a difference, to do so.”

She went on to say: “Living in poverty shouldn’t mean losing your life. Going through difficult times like losing your job or being in debt shouldn’t mean not wanting to live. But that is what’s happening in the UK and Ireland today. Suicide is killing the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people, devastating families and communities.”

Some key points from the report summary:

There is no single reason why people take their own lives. Suicide is a complex and multi-faceted behaviour, resulting from a wide range of psychological, social, economic and cultural risk factors which interact and increase an individual’s level of risk.

Socioeconomic disadvantage is a key risk factor for suicidal behaviour.

Socioeconomic disadvantage or living in an area of socioeconomic deprivation increases the risk of suicidal behaviour.

The research evidence was considered at three levels: societal, community and individual: 

Societal: political, economic and social policies related to, for example, economic change, employment, social support and the labour market; stigmatised attitudes towards people on the basis of their socioeconomic standing or their suicidal behaviour.

Community: the local economic, social, cultural and physical environment, including, for example, geographical location, job opportunities, service availability and accessibility, and home ownership.

Individual: demographic characteristics, such as gender and age; socioeconomic position, including occupational social class and type of employment; mental health; and health-related behaviours.

Suicide risk increases during periods of economic recession, particularly when recessions are associated with a steep rise in unemployment, and this risk remains high when crises end, especially for individuals whose economic circumstances do not improve. Countries with higher levels of per capita spending on active labour market programmes, and which have more generous unemployment benefits, experience lower recession-related rises in suicides.

During the most recent recession (2008-09), there was a 0.54% increase in suicides for every 1% increase in indebtedness across 20 EU countries, including the UK and Ireland. Social and employment protection for the most vulnerable in society, and labour market programmes to help unemployed people find work, can reduce suicidal behaviour by reducing both the real and perceived risks of job insecurity and by increasing protective factors, such as social contact. In order to be effective, however, programmes must be meaningful to participants and felt to be non-stigmatising.

There is a strong association between area-level deprivation and suicidal behaviour: as area-level deprivation increases, so does suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are two to three times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to the most affluent.

Admissions to hospital following self-harm are two times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to the most affluent. Multiple and large employer closures resulting in unemployment can increase stress in a local community, break down social connections and increase feelings of hopelessness and depression, all of which are recognised risk factors for suicidal behaviour.  

While the economic situation and policy approaches vary across the nations in which Samaritans operates, the link between socioeconomic disadvantage and increased risk of suicide is evident in all these nations. It is therefore essential that we understand why this link exists. We all need to address this inequality issue which is resulting in the tragic loss of lives.

Features of socioeconomic disadvantage include low income, unmanageable debt, poor housing conditions, lack of educational qualifications, unemployment and living in a socioeconomically deprived area. Individual Individuals experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage and adverse experiences, such as unemployment and unmanageable debt, are at increased risk of suicidal behaviour, particularly during periods of economic recession.

The risk of suicidal behaviour is increased among those experiencing job insecurity and downsizing or those engaged in non-traditional work situations, such as part-time, irregular and short-term contracts with various employers. The experience of being declared bankrupt, losing one’s home or not being able to repay debts to family and friends is not only stressful but can also feel humiliating. This can lead to an increased risk of suicidal behaviour.

The risk of suicidal behaviour increases when an individual faces negative life events, such as adversity, relationship breakdown, social isolation, or experiences stigma, emotional distress or poor mental health.

Socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals are more likely to experience ongoing stress and negative life events, thus increasing their risk of suicidal behaviour. In the UK, socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals are less likely to seek help for mental health problems than the more affluent, and are less likely to be referred to specialist mental health services following self-harm by GPs located in deprived areas.

Different welfare states have been shown to have different effects on social and health inequalities. High quality public service provision leads to a more cohesive society than policies based on means-testing which may generate social divisions. Given the link between inequalities and suicidal behaviour, labour market policy design can help improve wellbeing and reduce the risk of suicide.

Employment

Evidence on the association between working conditions, debt and suicide suggests that increased, involuntary part-time work, job insecurity and workplace downsizing are important risk factors for suicidal behaviour. It is not only unemployed people who are at increased risk. Employees who keep their jobs during a workplace downsizing may experience job insecurity and negative relationships with their peers, as well as stress from an increased workload. People who are self-employed can also be affected if demand for their business decreases. 

Unemployment benefits

Generous unemployment benefits and other types of social protection can reduce the risk of suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates tend to increase in countries which implement significant budget cuts, which was evident during the 2008-09 recession in some EU countries (Karanikolos et al., 2013). Unemployment benefits compensate for some of the income loss experienced from involuntary unemployment. Depending on the level of benefits, they should help ease financial worries that may lead to suicidal behaviour. However, means-tested benefits may actually contribute to suicidal behaviour, if recipients feel stigmatised, leading to feelings of shame, worthlessness, a loss of status, and a deterioration of mental health.

Employment protection

Strong employment protection should reduce real and perceived risks around job insecurity and unemployment, resulting in a positive impact on mental health. In contrast, weak employment protection is likely to increase real and perceived insecurity, and could lead to precarious forms of employment, such as temporary or zero-hours contracts, with adverse effects on mental health.

Inexperienced workers with low skills are particularly vulnerable in such contexts, since they are most likely to be on contracts which are less well protected and more precarious. The risk of mental health problems is increased among those engaged in non-traditional work situations, such as part-time, irregular and short-term contracts with various employers, especially where there is little or no choice, as well as for those experiencing job insecurity and downsizing. Suicidal behaviour can be reduced amongst the most vulnerable in society through social and employment protection and labour market programmes. This will reduce the real and perceived risks of job insecurity and reduce stigma of unemployment.

Recommendations:

Individuals, communities and wider society can all play a part in reducing the risk of suicidal behaviour. Governments need to take a lead by placing a stronger emphasis on suicide prevention as an inequality issue.

National suicide prevention strategies need to target efforts towards the most vulnerable people and places, in order to reduce geographical inequalities in suicide. Effective cross-governmental approaches are required, with mental health services improved and protected.

Suicide prevention needs to be a government priority in welfare, education, housing and employment policies. Workplaces should have in place a suicide prevention plan, and provide better psychological support to all employees, especially those experiencing job insecurity or those affected by downsizing.

Poverty and debt need to be destigmatised so that individuals feel valued and able to access support without fear of being judged. Every local area should have a suicide prevention plan in place. This should include the development and maintenance of services that provide support to individuals experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.

Staff and volunteers in services accessed by socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals or groups should receive specialist training in recognising, understanding and responding to individuals who are in distress and may be suicidal (even if they do not say they are feeling suicidal). People bereaved or affected by suicidal behaviour, and therefore at higher risk of suicide themselves, should be offered tailored psychological, practical and financial support particularly in disadvantaged communities.

It is well understood that adverse individual or family circumstances, such as relationship breakdown, unemployment or debt, can result in a higher risk of suicidal behaviour (Gunnell & Chang 2016). What is less well known is the potential impact of the place where people live (neighbourhood, city, region) on the likelihood of suicidal behaviour.

The public health evidence is clear: as area-level deprivation increases, so does suicidal behaviour. For both men and women, those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour; and every increase in area-level affluence results in a reduction in the risk of suicidal behaviour.

The health of people in a neighbourhood, town, region or country is the product of the demographic, behavioural, socioeconomic and other characteristics of the people who live there. Compositional factors that are likely to increase the risk of suicidal behaviour in areas of socioeconomic deprivation include (O’Reilly et al., 2008; Lorant et al., 2005): experiencing multiple negative life events, such as poor health, unemployment, poor living conditions feeling powerless, stigmatised, disrespected, social disconnectedness, such as social isolation, poor social support other features of social exclusion, such as poverty, and poor educational attainment.

People living in the most deprived areas are more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are two to three times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to the most affluent, and rates of hospitalised self-harm are also twice as high. Neighbourhoods that are the most deprived have worse health than those that are less deprived and this association follows a gradient: for each increase in deprivation, there is a decrease in health. Additional support for those living in deprived areas is needed to reduce geographical inequalities in health and the risk of suicidal behaviour.

Experiences of childhood adversity, negative life events, and the cumulative effects of stress are associated with feelings of entrapment and hopelessness and increase the risk of suicidal behaviour, especially among those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Stressful life events and childhood adversity

Exposure to negative life events, particularly those involving loss, such as bereavement or a relationship breakdown, heightens the risk of suicidal behaviour. Socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals are more likely to experience such negative life events, and therefore more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour. Experiencing childhood adversity increases the likelihood that individuals will become socioeconomically disadvantaged in later life.

For example, unemployment is more likely among those who have adverse childhood experiences, particularly men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. Stress response and allostatic load Ongoing exposure to stress and adversity may gradually reduce an individual’s biological stress regulation resources, leading to a cumulative physiological toll known as “allostatic load” (Seeman et al., 2010).

Socioeconomic disadvantage itself is a stressor linked to increased allostatic load, but it may also influence allostatic load indirectly by increasing the likelihood of individuals experiencing childhood adversity and other stressful life events. Increased allostatic load brought about by the chronic and acute stresses associated with socioeconomic disadvantage may contribute to suicidal behaviour.

Socioeconomic disadvantage, from a psychological perspective, makes a major contribution to the occurrence of suicidal behaviour.

 

You can read the full summary report here

The full version of the report will be available on 10th March

 


 

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. 

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Brendan Mason’s brutal murder reflects the darkest consequence of bias motivated behaviour.

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Brendan Mason, who was brutally murdered by two young men he thought were his friends.
Picture courtesy of the Leicester Mercury

Warning: this article was very distressing to write, and is likely to be very upsetting to read.

Two men who filmed themselves savagely beating a young man with learning difficulties and taunting him, telling him to “smile for the camera”, have been sentenced by Leicester crown court to life imprisonment for his murder. 

In the early hours of 5 July last year, Joshua Hack, aged 21, and Keith Lowe, 22, lured Brendan Mason, a 23 year old man with learning difficulties, to a park, where they said they wanted to spend time with him. Mason believed the two men to be his friends.

When the three of them arrived at the park, Hack and Lowe hung Mason from a tree. They took turns hitting him while the other held him down for several hours, cruelly laughing and taunting him. 

Mason was beaten unconscious, the two young men stripped him naked and threw his body in a pond, leaving him for dead in Abbey Park, Leicester. He was found by park groundsmen at 7.40 am naked, unconscious and bleeding and was airlifted to Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry. 

Medics discovered Mason had 99 separate injuries to his head and body, including brain injury, five broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He died from his injuries later that day.

Hack previously admitted murder. However, Lowe denied it.  However, he was forced to change his plea four days into his trial, after police produced video as evidence of what he did, which he had tried to delete from his phone. 

The court heard the attack had been planned the night before and that Hack and Lowe misinterpreted his behaviour towards a girl at a party. Prosecutor Miranda Moore QC said: “They were describing Brendan as a paedophile and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mason’s learning difficulties led to a bias in how his ordinary social interactions were perceived.  

She added that police had recovered a “‘trophy’ picture of Lowe standing behind the naked and beaten Brendan, who is sitting cross-legged on the floor”.

A second video, lasting 53 seconds, was deliberately filmed on the mobile phone for others to see. The police managed to retrieve it from cloud storage, showing Lowe taking a direct part in the beating. Lowe had attempted to delete the footage from his phone.

 Moore said: “The audio that goes with it makes that clear.”

The court heard that in the second video, Lowe says: “Brendan. Look at him. Told you whatever he’d done to you, I’d do worse to him, told you that. Move your hand away from your face. Move your hand away from your face now.”

 Moore told the court:

“Officers were able to see the video on the Cloud, showing an unfortunate scene.

It shows Brendan’s battered and naked body with Lowe landing blows.

It was being made for a third party to show them what happened to Brendan.”

The court was also presented with Facebook messages the pair were sending each other while they were in the park with Mason prior to the attack. They used the Facebook messages to plan the attack. Mason who had trusted the two men, believing they were his friends, had no idea to what was about to take place.

At 2:46am, Hack sent Lowe a message saying: “Just hit him and we can both ****off when he’s K’ Od.  Just do it dude.” 

Lowe replied: “Shall we do it because he’s f**ked me off with the lies.”

The court heard how Mason died from inflicted, brutal and unsurvivable brain injuries.

 Mason’s family said in a statement:

“It is not right how two evil people can do such a horrific thing and leave a massive hole in our lives that will never be filled again.

Brendan was a lovely young man and he was so happy. He had numerous learning difficulties and very poor vision.

Even though Brendan had numerous learning difficulties and was very easily led by others, he always knew right from wrong.

The police have been a big part of our life for the past seven months; they have been amazing, but there will never be closure for us.”

Sentencing the two men to life in prison, Judge Michael Chambers said: “You [Lowe and Hack] subjected him [Mason] to a brutal and sustained attack in which you caused him great pain and humiliation.

Brendan Mason was only 23 with his life before him. You subjected him to a merciless attack with extreme violence.

He was sadly a vulnerable young man with learning difficulties. He was kicked mercilessly while naked. The video found was a chilling and deeply disturbing recording of Brendan naked, being kicked repeatedly to the head.

He’s even told to remove his hands from his face so you can kick him. You subjected him to a brutal and sustained attack of extreme violence. You caused him great pain and humiliation.

This was a planned attack, during which you filmed each other assaulting him and you revelled in what you had done, bragging to others. You stripped him naked and left him unconscious. He died later that day.”

The judge added that Hack had lied in his first interview with the police and had even gone with friends to lay flowers at the scene where Mason’s body was found. He said Lowe had bleached his bloodstained trousers, washed his hooded top and hidden his blood-spattered shoes in a bid to cover his tracks.

Senior investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Mick Graham said after the trial: “Brendan was known to the defendants and considered them as friends, and they lured him to the park with the full intention of hurting him. Brendan was subjected to a vicious, sustained attack which was filmed by his attackers on their phones. He was left naked and alone in the park having been brutally beaten.”

Hack and Lowe were caught on CCTV footage casually walking into a McDonald’s after they had stripped, hung and then beaten Mason into unconsciousness, seriously and fatally injuring him, and leaving him for dead. Lowe had kept Mason’s mobile phone which he and his then girlfriend were using in the following days.

The growth of prejudice, discrimination and hate crime: Allport’s ladder

Gordon Allport studied the psychological, social, economic and political processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to violence, hate crime and eventually, if the process continues to unfold without restraint, to genocide. In his landmark exploration of how the Holocaust happened, Allport describes psychological and socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he provides insight into how the unthinkable becomes socially and psychologically acceptable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards “others” that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as an “enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, genocide.

Economic recession, uncertainty and authoritarian or totalitarian political systems contribute to shaping the social conditions that trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice. The Conservatives are authoritarians, and prejudice towards vulnerable and socially protected minority groups is almost a cardinal Conservative trait.

Conservatives and the right more generally tend to view the social world hierarchically and are more likely than others to hold prejudices toward low-status groups. This is especially true of people who want their own group to dominate and be superior to other groups – a characteristic known as social dominance orientation. (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). 

Neoliberalism, as an overarching political-economic project of the New Right, establishes and maintains social hierarchies and the strong competitive individualism embedded in neoliberal ideology sets up conflict over resources between social groups, undermining social cooperation and solidarity. 

As inequality has grown in the UK, poverty has also invariably increased, which has caused fear and resentment towards intentional, politically constructed scapegoats and outgroups. 

The nature of prejudice

Prejudice, which is based on unjustified generalisations about groups of people, is reductive, it obscures the complexity of the human experience because the person with prejudices oversimplifies the diversity of life found in a single society or throughout the world.  The rise in prejudice and discrimination in the UK is because of right wing ideology and mythology, designed purposefully to divert the public from the fact that they are being systematically dispossessed of their wealth by a minority, and to maintain the legitimacy (and growing wealth) of those perpetrators in power.

The media is far from objective, benign and politically neutral, in fact we have handful of offshore billionaires that have, along with the government, subverted democracy and established a cultural hegemony. This self-appointed elite are telling you that some human lives are worthless, whilst investing in their own, quite literally, at all cost to our society.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reprimanded some British media outlets, particularly tabloid newspapers, for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

In their report, the ECRI said hate speech was a serious problem in the UK. It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The Sun, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and sparked a scathing response from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the same newspaper’s debunked claim over “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”

“ECRI urges the media to take stock of the importance of responsible reporting, not only to avoid perpetuating prejudice and biased information, but also to avoid harm to targeted persons or vulnerable groups,” the report concluded.

It also named David Cameron and Nigel Farage as among the British politicians and institutions accused of fuelling rising xenophobia in the UK as debate continues to rage over Brexit, the refugee crisis and terrorism.

It found a “number of areas of concern” over intolerant political discourse and hate speech, as well as violent racial and religious attacks.

The media is being used by and large as a right-wing outlet for political techniques of persuasion, our culture has been saturated with a pathological persuasion to hate others. And prejudice tends to multitask, it doesn’t prefer one social group. It grows.

We live in a society where more than one in two disabled people have experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace, according to research by the disability charity Scope.

The survey of 1,009 disabled UK adults during August 2016 reveals 53% have been bullied or harassed at work because of their disability.

We have a government that does not observe the basic rights of disabled people. Furthermore, the Conservatives have systematically contravened the human rights of disabled persons. This is a government that uses gaslighting to avoid dialogue and democratic accountability regarding the consequences of their draconian, discriminatory  and illegal policies. Techniques of neutralisation used by the government include the manipulative use of language that is designed to mislead, for example, using the word “help” and support” to describe punitive policies and harsh cuts to lifeline support for disabled people.

The stereotypical mainstream media portrayals of people with disability and medical conditions as “shirkers” and “fakes”, with a significant increase in articles focusing on disability benefit and fraud has impacted negatively on people’s views and perceptions of  disability related benefits, leading to perceptual bias. This was a tactical political move to de-empathise the public,  preempting any objection and backlash to the brutal cuts the Conservatives applied to disabled people’s lifeline social security.

There are political and economic constraints imposed on this group of people by a highly discriminatory government. This sends out a message to the public – that disabled people have fewer rights than other citizens; that disabled people are not experts of their own condition or experiences and need the state to “incentivise” them to “overcome” their disabilities, and institutionalised discrimination, and that it is okay to direct prejudice at disabled people as they are somehow “less” than other citizens. 

Policies are systemised, intentional political actions and reflect how the government thinks society ought to be. The majority of austerity cuts have been directed at those with disabilities. The recent removal of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) work related activity component; the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund; the purposeful reduction in those people deemed eligible for ESA using an amended and harsher work capability assessment; the reduction in those deemed eligible for Personal Independent Payment and subsequent access to the motability scheme, may be regarded as punitive measures aimed at an “undeserving” group. Such policies have systematically stigmatised, outgrouped and ultimately, contributed to the cultural dehumanisation of disabled people.

The discriminatory cuts have caused ill people to feel desperate and worthless by depriving them of the practical means to live, and have become another means of promoting an ideology defined by exclusion and inequality. Many people with medical conditions have died as a consequence of not being able to meet their basic needs, people with mental distress and illness have been pushed over the precipice, and have taken their own lives.

There has been a 213 per cent rise in hate crimes against disabled people, with figures rising 40% per year from 2015. Lee Irving was brutally murdered in June, 2015. Irving had severe learning difficulties. He was bullied and tortured over several days at a house in Newcastle. When he died from his terrible injuries, his tormentors dumped his body on a footpath. Wheatley’s mother, Julie Mills, his then girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and his accomplice Barry Imray, 35, who also has learning difficulties, did nothing to protect Irving. They were bystanders Wheatley’s mother, Julie Mills, 52, his then girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and his accomplice Barry Imray, 35, who also has learning difficulties, did nothing to protect Irving. They were passive bystanders.

The justification narrative for the last two government’s targeted austerity policies, and the policies themselves have entailed negative role modelling which has influenced the attitudes and behaviours of the public. Hate crimes are bias motivated behaviours.

The major contributing factor to the increase in hate crime is the collective bias, attitudes and behaviours of the current government, which has perpetuated, permitted and endorsed prejudices against social groups, with a largely complicit media amplifying these prejudices. Their policies embed a punitive approach towards the poorest social groups. This in turn means that those administering the policies, such as staff at the department for work and pensions and job centres, for example, are also bound by punitive, authoritarian behaviours directed at a targeted group. 

As authority figures and role models, the government’s behaviour establishes a framework of acceptability. Parliamentary debates are conducted with a clear basis of one-upmanship and aggression rather than being founded on rational exchange. Indeed, Cameron openly sneered at rationality and didn’t engage in a democratic dialogue, instead he employed the tactics of a bully: denial, scapegoating, vilification, attempts at discrediting, smearing and character assassinations. This behaviour in turn gives wider society permission and approval to do the same.

Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from “approved” enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. The scapegoater’s target always experiences a terrible sense of being personally edited and re-written, with the inadequacies of the perpetrator inserted into public accounts of their character, isolation, ostracism, exclusion and sometimes, expulsion and elimination. The sense of isolation is often heightened by other people’s reluctance to become involved in challenging bullies, usually because of a bystander’s own discomfort and fear of reprisal. 

The consequences of bystander apathy

Hate crime directed at disabled people has steadily risen over the past five years, and is now at the highest level it’s ever been since records began. That’s the kind of society we have become. 

Prejudice and discrimination cause inequality, which in turn causes more prejudice and discrimination. It requires the linguistic downgrading of human life, it requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it has now become normalised, familiar and all-pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives. It has started to erode the natural inhibitions that prevent us from inflicting harm on other human beings.

Perpetrators have become increasingly confident in the “validity” of their prejudice, the public are being systematically desensitised and indoctrinated. Mocking, negative stereotypes and negative images become a part of our everyday culture and language: hate speech is normalised, discriminatory policies and practices flourish, hate crimes – bias motivated behaviours – are permitted.

Because we have allowed this process to unfold, as a society. 

The Holocaust is the most thoroughly documented example of the extreme cruelty, savagery and hideousness of dehumanisation. It’s a little too easy to imagine that the Third Reich was an aberration. We can take the easy option and dismiss the Holocaust as a very unusual phenomenon – a mass insanity instigated by a small group of deranged ideologues who conspired to seize political power and exercise their monstrously evil will.

It’s comforting to imagine that these were uniquely cruel and savage people. However, one of the most disturbing discoveries about how the Holocaust happened is not that all of the Nazis were madmen and monsters. It’s that they were mostly ordinary human beings, in a society of ordinary citizens like you and I. 

 

Related

Another bias motivated murder – Who killed Jo Cox?

Conservatives, cruelty and the collective unconscious: behind the cellar door

 



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Select Committee says governance code for large companies with social impact is crucial, following inquiry into collapse of BHS

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Philip Green

The Work and Pensions Committee have called for new duty on company directors to have regard to pension schemes and for Insolvency Service reports to be published in the public interest. 

On 28 April last year the Committee launched its joint inquiry into the collapse of British Home Stores (BHS) and the origins of its huge pension scheme deficit. BHS was a private company but the effects of its collapse spanned widely: not least to its thousands of employees and pensioners.

The three month inquiry examined corporate governance in Sir Philip Green’s companies, which are privately held and ultimately owned offshore by Lady Green. It found a near-complete absence of the constructive challenge that is the hallmark of good corporate governance. Green, a “dominant personality”, ran his companies as a personal empire with boards taking decisions with reference to a shared understanding of his wishes rather than the interests of each individual company.

An extraordinary and scandalous tale unfolded in which the greedy main players took lavish rewards at the expense of the employees and pensioners of the company. Inter-company loans and property deals, related-party transactions and the hurried disposal of BHS to a wholly unsuitable buyer all proceeded with woefully inadequate checks and balances. The poor corporate governance in Green’s companies was epitomised by the complacent performance of Lord Grabiner, a director of several of the Green empire subsidiaries.

In July last year, MPs catalogued a litany of failures culminating in an “at any cost” disposal of the company and pension deficit to a wholly unsuitable “chancer”. In their inquiry report about BHS, the Work and Pensions and Business and Innovations and Skills Committees concluded that Green chose to rush through the offloading of a beleaguered high street institution, which was losing money and encumbered with a massive pension fund deficit, to a buyer who he was clearly aware was “manifestly unsuitable”, with Green forced to finance the sale himself.

Though the ownership of Dominic Chappell and his associates was “incompetent and self-serving”, the ultimate fate of the company was sealed on the day it was sold. Advisers were paraded by both sides as an “expensive badge of legitimacy for people who would otherwise be bereft of credibility” while the Taveta group directors (owned by Green’s billionaire wife, Tina Green) failed to provide a semblance of independent oversight or challenge in a corporate group run as a personal fiefdom by a single dominant individual.

MPs heard hours of oral testimony and considered thousands of pages of written evidence in the inquiry, which began when BHS crashed into administration just 13 months after the ill-advised and under-funded sale to Chappell. The Committees said that the evidence at times resembled a “circular firing squad”, with a series of key witnesses appearing to believe they could absolve themselves of responsibility by blaming others. Green himself “adopted a scattergun approach”, liberally firing blame to all angles except his own.

The unacceptable face of capitalism

The report documents the systematic plunder of BHS at the cost of the 11,000 jobs and 20,000 people’s pensions now at risk.  Green, Chappell and the respective directors, advisers and hangers-on who all got rich or richer are all culpable, with the losers being the ordinary employees and pensioners.

The Committees said this is “the unacceptable face of capitalism” and that the story of BHS begs much wider questions about the gaps in company law and pension regulation that must be addressed. The two Committees turned to those question in subsequent inquiry hearings.

The headline figures that Green bought BHS for £200 million and sold it 14 years later for £1 cannot disguise the true picture. He did not invest in the company and then “unfortunately” failed to make it succeed. Green systematically extracted hundreds of millions of pounds from BHS, paying very little tax and fantastically enriching himself and his family, leaving the company and its pension fund weakened to the point of the inevitable collapse of both. Lady Green is still being paid tens of millions of pounds of tax free repayments on the loan that was engineered to sell BHS from one Green family business to another, and will be for some years to come.

A moral duty to act on the pension schemes

  • When Green bought BHS the pension schemes were in surplus. As these schemes declined into substantial and unsustainable deficit he and his directors repeatedly resisted requests from trustees for higher contributions. Such contributions were not charitable donations: they were the means of the employer meeting its obligations for deferred pay. Green had a responsibility to be aware of the growth of the deficit and he was aware of it. That there is a massive deficit is ultimately his responsibility.
  • The Committees say Green must act now to find a resolution for the BHS pensioners, a “moral duty” which will undoubtedly require him to make a large financial contribution. Green’s failure until now to resolve the pension fund’s problems contributed substantially to the demise of BHS, along with chronic under-investment and the systematic extraction of hundreds of millions of pounds from the increasingly ailing company.
  • The Arcadia board cited a variety of explanations for pausing Project Thor, ranging from Christmas to the Scottish independence referendum and instability in Ukraine. In fact, the primary reason was Green’s resistance to TPR’s moral hazard requests. He did not wish to respond to requests for information regarding historic dividends, management charges, sale and leaseback arrangements, inter-company loans and the use of BHS shares or assets as collateral for company purchases. At best this demonstrated a lack of willingness to act to secure the pension fund’s future.

Incredible wealth followed by retail demise

  • In his early years of ownership, Green cut costs, sold assets and paid substantial dividends offshore to the ultimate benefit of his wife.  The so-called “King of the High Street” failed to invest sufficiently in stores or reinvent the business to beat the prevailing high street competition. The Committees found “little to support the reputation for retail business acumen for which he received his knighthood” and say “we don’t doubt that Green had some affection for BHS – to an extent it created him. Now it could also bring him down” 
  • Green’s family accrued incredible wealth during the early, profitable years of BHS ownership. Over the duration of their tenure, significantly more money left the company than was invested in it. There is no evidence of improved turnover, market share, or major increase in investment that might be expected from a leading retailer. BHS was involved in a number of transactions with a complex web of companies, many registered offshore: whether BHS benefited financially from these transactions is far from clear. What is clear is that the Green family did.
  • The report documents the ways Green was able to boost BHS’s profitability in the short-term while ultimately fatally undermining its ability to survive. The early years improvement in BHS’s profitability appears to have been achieved primarily through cost-cutting measures and squeezing suppliers. Crucially, BHS’s turnover remained flat through much of Green’s tenure and declined in the latter years. Green initially cut costs but he did not grow the business.
  • One mechanism of (tax-lite) cash extraction to other Green family companies was through the sale of property: in 2001, BHS Group sold ten BHS stores for £106 million to Carmen Properties Ltd – a Jersey-registered company owned ultimately owned by Lady Green – as part of a sale-and-leaseback arrangement. BHS Ltd then paid rent to Carmen for the use of these properties. They were ultimately sold back to BHS as part of the sale to RAL for only £70m (with the proceeds of the sale going to Lady Green as the sole beneficial owner) but, over the lifetime of the sale-and-leaseback arrangement, rent of £153 million was paid by BHS to Carmen.

Egregious failures of corporate governance

  • Green’s rush to drive through the sale of BHS – “a chain that had become a financial millstone and threatened his reputation” – was the culmination of a sorry litany of failures of corporate governance and greed.  Regulatory concerns were circumvented, advisers were heavily incentivised to progress the deal. Dominic Chappell, his friends and associates were enticed by the personal rewards on offer without taking any personal risks. The Committees published for the first time with their report the Due Diligence reports produced by Olswang (and associated RAL Board minutes), which show their advice against the purchase and express concern that RAL were reliant on Green making good his unwritten assurances. (RAL= Retail Acquisitions Ltd.)
  • The complacent performance of Lord Grabiner as the non-executive Chairman of the Taveta group boards represented the apogee of weak corporate governance. It was his responsibility to provide independent challenge and oversight. Instead he was content to provide a veneer of establishment credibility to the group while happily disengaging from the key decisions he had a responsibility to scrutinise. For this deplorable performance he received a considerable salary. It is permissible in law for a director to delegate certain functions to other persons, but if a director allows himself to be dominated, or manipulated by one of their number, he may have gone beyond the boundaries of what is proper. He could be found to be in breach of duty and subject to disqualification. All directors of Taveta and RAL have serious questions to answer about their performance in those roles.
  • Green faced a considerable challenge in finding a credible buyer for a business that was consistently losing money and had a pension scheme with a large and growing deficit. It was clear that Chappell’s team were out of their depth, woefully short of the requisite experience and expertise, notably lacking the credible senior retailer Green once insisted on. They brought no new money to the deal, took no personal risk, could offer no equity and had no means of raising funds on a sustainable basis. Ultimately, Chappell and RAL failed all of Sir Philip’s nominal tests for a buyer. They were manifestly unsuitable owners of BHS. It is inconceivable that someone with Green’s experience seriously considered otherwise.

Collapse under incompetent and self-serving RAL

  • The report documents the true numbers behind the sale. The board of Taveta Investments Ltd was presented, two weeks after the event, with a rosy picture, while the reality was very different. The balance sheet included cash for immediate liabilities, property deals that took many months to materialise, funds that went to RAL never to return and equity that was a loan on punitive terms. It was patently obvious that there was not enough cash in BHS to give it a realistic chance of even medium term survival.
  • RAL’s failures include some blame for the pension scheme, which they accepted responsibility for with a “negligent and cavalier disregard for the risks and potential consequences”, negligence which “continued into their incompetent and self-serving ownership of the company”. In putting his “home team” first, Chappell and his fellow directors were personally enriched as BHS failed around them. Two directors jumped ship on the day that RAL acquired the business with personal financial rewards that it would take many BHS employees decades to  earn. The others continued to profit handsomely from their positions without fulfilling their requisite responsibilities.
  • In effect, Chappell “had his hands in the till”. His description of £2.6 million that he personally took, in addition to an outstanding £1.5 million family loan, as a “drip” in the ocean is an insult to the employees and pensioners of BHS that he let down.

Chairs’ comments

 Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:

“One person, and one person alone, is really responsible for the BHS disaster. While Sir Philip Green signposted blame to every known player, the final responsibility for up to 11,000 job losses and a gigantic pension fund hole is his. His reputation as the king of retail lies in the ruins of BHS. His family took out of BHS and Arcadia a fortune beyond the dreams of avarice, and he’s still to make good his boast of ‘fixing’ the pension fund. What kind of man is it who can count his fortune in billions but does not know what decent behaviour is?”

Iain Wright MP, Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, said:

“BHS’s demise has created many losers, particularly the 11,000 staff facing the loss of their jobs and the 20,000 pensioners facing significant reductions to their pensions. The actions of people in this sorry and tragic saga have left a stain on the reputation of business which reputable and honourable people in enterprise and commerce will find appalling. The sale of BHS in March 2015 is crucial to its eventual collapse a year later. The sale of BHS to a consortium led by a twice-bankrupt chancer with no retail experience should never have gone ahead; and this was obvious at the time. The reason it did, however, was Sir Philip Green. He was determined to get the deal done, no matter that the buyer could not deliver what BHS needed. There was a complete failure of corporate governance, with Sir Philip bulldozing the sale through, without proper oversight or challenge from his weak and impotent board.

While BHS staff face uncertain job prospects and pensioners worry about their future entitlements, it’s clear that a large cast of directors, advisers, and hangers-on enriched themselves off the back of BHS, including Dominic Chappell and his fellow RAL directors. Chappell took no risk and put no money into the venture and yet gained huge rewards as BHS crumbled around him. His failure is bad enough but that he effectively had his hands in the till is an insult to the employees and pensioners of BHS that he let down so badly.”

In response to the Government’s consultation on corporate reform, the Work and Pensions Committee’s most recent report says that the corporate governance and reporting requirements for public listed companies should be extended to private companies that have an important social impact: large private companies and those with over 5,000 defined benefit pension scheme members.

It also says that company directors should have a new duty to pension fund trustees, as the representatives of pension scheme members, in addition to those stakeholders they are already obliged to have regard to. Allied to the more substantial recommendations on pension law and regulation in its December 2016 Report, the Committee concluded these changes would reduce the chance of another company collapsing in the manner of BHS.

The key themes that emerged during the inquiry included:

  • lamentable corporate governance in what was a large private company
  • a paucity of publicly available information about the state of the company and its pension fund
  • the absence of a voice in the running of the company for those who relied on its success for the security of their pension saving.

Committee recommendations

Holding company directors to account

  • Public listed companies are required to comply with the Financial Reporting Council Corporate Governance Code and its reporting requirements or publicly explain why they are not. This is a proportionate approach for companies of social importance. Transparency about governance arrangements, performance and risk can better equip stakeholders to hold company directors to account. Wider awareness of the state of the BHS pension schemes may have pressured Sir Philip Green into taking more reparative action, sooner.

Large companies should be subject to the Financial Reporting Council Corporate Governance Code

  • Private companies that are large, as defined by Government, or have over 5,000 defined benefit pension scheme members, should be made subject to the the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) Corporate Governance Code on a comply or explain basis. The report includes a table of the top 30 largest private companies in the UK, with many household names like John Lewis, Clarks, Matalan, Virgin Atlantic, River Island, Pret a Manger – and the Arcadia Group – that would fall under the parameters of this recommendation. Many well-governed large private companies already follow best practice on transparency.

Include pension scheme trustees in section 172 of Companies Act

  • Pension scheme trustees should be added to section 172(1) of the Companies Act 2006. The list of stakeholders company directors must have regard to – and report on the exercise of their duties to – does not include defined benefit pension scheme beneficiaries or the trustees who must act in their interests. Incomes of pensioners in retirement are reliant on the sustained success of the sponsoring company but they are at particular risk of being neglected in corporate decision making as no one makes the case for former employees. The inclusion of pension scheme trustees in section 172 might increase the chances both that directors would take into account the interests of current and future pensioners in carrying out their duties, and that those who have failed to do so will be held accountable in the courts.

Publication of Insolvency Service investigation reports

Publication of correspondence with Arcadia

The Committee publishes with the report a series of correspondence with Ian Grabiner, Arcadia Chief Executive, and the Arcadia Group pension trust, charting its efforts to get information about the group’s pension schemes into the public domain. Arcadia’s pension schemes are over £200 million in deficit, but all parties have refused to provide information regarding the 2013 valuation and recovery plan, or the levels of employer contributions.

Chair’s comment

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“For a company with a big social and economic footprint like BHS it is simply not enough to be accountable to shareholders – particularly when one shareholder owns most of the stock. The sorry tale of its sale and collapse, putting 11,000 people out of work and leaving a pension fund £571million in the red, with 20,000 pensioners facing an uncertain financial future, was a result of gross failures of corporate governance. Would the story have played out the same way if its directors had to be open about the financial decisions they were making for its future? The finances and leadership of a company with so many people depending on it should be open to scrutiny.

We have already expressed our grave concerns about corporate governance in the Green empire, and we know the Arcadia pension fund is also now in substantial deficit. We have been pressing Arcadia’s directors and pension trustees for detailed information on their schemes but very little is published and neither the company nor the trustees – who unlike the BHS schemes do not have an independent Chair – will tell us. Does Sir Philip not want us to know that he was being relatively generous to the Arcadia schemes while the BHS schemes floundered and the company headed inexorably for insolvency? Was he neglecting both? It can’t be right that basic information like the schedule of employer contributions and the length of the recovery plan is not in the public domain. If it goes under then levy-payers and pensioners foot the bill.”

You can read the full consultation response on corporate governance reform from the Work and Pensions Committee here.

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You can watch Philip Green present evidence on the collapse of BHS to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Work and Pensions Committee, Wednesday 15 June 2016 here:  https://goo.gl/eeUggP

Related

In 2010, UK Uncut’s spokesman, Daniel Garvin, said: “Philip Green is a tax avoider, and yet is regarded by David Cameron as an appropriate man to advise the government on austerity. His missing millions need to be reclaimed and invested into public services not into his wife’s bank account.”  See: Philip Green to be target of corporate tax avoidance protest The Guardian.


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The still face paradigm, the just world fallacy, inequality and the decline of empathy

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UNICEF’s reports have consistently put the UK at the bottom of the child well-being league table. See also: UNICEF criticises UK’s failure to tackle child inequality as gap grows.

pie-wealthSource: The Equality Trust 

The still face paradigm and inequality

Before Christmas I read an excellent and insightful article by Michael Bader called The Decline of Empathy and the Appeal of Right-Wing Politics, which was about Edward Tronick’s Still Face experiment in part. Tronick is an American developmental psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. His studies illuminate the importance of trusting relationships and consistent human responses in children’s development and learning.

Tronick’s experimental design was very simple: mothers were asked to play as they usually would with their six-month-old infants. The mothers were then instructed to suddenly blank their face: to make their facial expression flat and neutral – completely “still”  – and to do so for three minutes, regardless of her baby’s activity.  Mothers were then told to resume normal play. The design came to be called the “still face paradigm.

The study demonstrated that when the connection between an infant and caregiver is broken, the infant tries to re-engage the caregiver, and then, if there is no response, the infant withdraws – first physically and then emotionally. Recent studies have found that four-month-old infants, when re-exposed to the “Still Face” two weeks after the first time, show rapid physiological changes that were not present when they were exposed to it the first time.

Tronick said: “It speaks to the incredible emotional capacities [of] the infant — to pick up on the fact that the mother’s not reacting emotionally the way she normally does. The baby has not only this ability to process what’s [happening], but [also] the capacity to respond in a really appropriate way — that is, they try to get the mother’s attention, and then when they fail, they give up, with a sense of their own helplessness. They may be angry and then they become sad.”

Tronick also emphasised the impact of parenting practices embedded in the sociocultural and ecological environment of the infant.

Bader’s inspiring article draws on Tronick’s experimental findings, which he then applies to citizen’s life experiences in the US, in the face of dehumanising encounters with bureacracy, increasingly depopulated policies and a profoundly alienating sociopolitical system. He goes on to discuss how “the pain of the “still face” in American society is present all around us.”

He says: “People feel it while waiting for hours on the phone for technical support, or dealing with endless menus while on hold with the phone or cable company, or waiting to get through to their own personal physician. They feel it in schools with large class sizes and rote teaching aimed only at helping students pass tests.  

They feel it when crumbling infrastructure makes commuting to work an endless claustrophobic nightmare.  And, too often, they feel it when interacting with government agencies that hold sway over important areas of their lives, such as social services […] and city planning departments, or a Department of Motor Vehicles.  Like Tronick’s babies, citizens who look to corporations and government for help, for a feeling of being recognized and important, are too often on a fool’s errand, seeking recognition and a reciprocity that is largely absent. 

This problem is greatly exaggerated by the profoundly corrosive effects of social and economic inequality. Under condition of inequality, the vulnerability of those seeking empathy is dramatically ramped up, leading to various forms of physical and psychological breakdowns. In a classic epidemiological study [The Spirit Level] by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, researchers found a strong correlation between the degree of inequality in a country (or a state, for that matter) and such problems as rates of imprisonment, violence, teenage pregnancies, obesity rates, mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and addiction, lower literacy scores, and a wide range of poor health outcomes, including reduced life expectancy. 

Wilkinson and Pickett’s key finding is that it is the inequality itself, and not the overall wealth of a society that is the key factor in creating these various pathologies.  Poorer places with more equality do better than wealthy ones marked by gross inequality.

Inequality makes people feel insecure, preoccupied with their relative status and standing, and vulnerable to the judgment of others, and it creates a greater degree of social distance between people that deprives them of opportunities for intimate and healing experiences of recognition and empathy.”

The still face of the neoliberal state

It’s impossible to fail to recognise the parallels with citizen’s experiences here in Britain. We have ideological and socioeconomic commonality with the US, especially as both the UK and US are neoliberal states. Neoliberalism is an ongoing, totalising ideological and political-economic project of a resurgent political right that gained ascendancy in the US under Ronald Reagan and in the UK under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.   

Bader says: “As a metaphor for adult life in contemporary society, the “still face” paradigm—the helplessness intrinsic to it and the breakdown of empathy that lies at its foundation—aptly describes the experience of many people as they interact with the most important institutions in their lives, including government.

And, as with Tronick’s babies and their mothers, when our social milieu is indifferent to our needs and inattentive to our suffering, widespread damage is done to our psyches, causing distress, anger, and hopelessness.  Such inattention and neglect lead to anxiety about our status and value, and a breakdown of trust in others.”

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I agree that the growing inequalities we are witnessing in western neoliberal “democracies” create profound psychological trauma and ontological insecurity. Humans are fundamentally social beings. We thrive best when we have a social rationale which tends towards the promotion of cooperative and collective creativity. This was perhaps expressed best in our civilised, progressive institutions and civilising practices, facilitated by the social gains and economic organisation that arose from the post-war settlement.  

Those gains are now being systematically dismantled. Our culture has been saturated with conceptual schema that demand we remain committed to an socioeconomic Darwinism, a kind of economic enclosure: a neoliberal competitive individualist obsession with our private, inner experiences, the pursuit of economic self-interest, and ultimately, this embellishes our separability from other human beings. It alienates us. 

Neoliberalism scripts social interactions that are founded on indifference to others, tending to be dehumanising, adversarial and hierarchical in nature, rather than social and cooperative. Neoliberalism is the antithesis of the responsive, animated human face; of collectivism, mutual support, universalism, cooperation and democracy. Neoliberalism has transformed our former liberal democracy into an authoritarian “still faced” state that values production, competition and profit above all else; including citizens’ lives, experiences, freedoms, well-being, democratic inclusion and social conditions that support all of this.  

Citizens are seen and are being politically redefined in isolation from the broader political, economic, sociocultural and reciprocal contexts that invariably influence and shape individual experiences, meanings, motivations, behaviours and attitudes, causing a problematic duality between context and cognition. This also places responsibility on citizens for circumstances which lie outside of their control, such as the socioeconomic consequences of political decision-making, whilst at the same time, the state is steadily abdicating responsibility for the basic welfare of ordinary citizens. 

Geographer David Harvey describes neoliberalism as a process of accumulation by dispossession: predatory policies are used to centralise wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth and assets.  

Neoliberals see the state as a means to reshape social institutions and social relationships based on the model of a competitive market place. This requires a highly invasive power and mechanisms of persuasion, manifested in an authoritarian turn. Public interests are conflated with narrow economic outcomes. Public behaviours are politically micromanaged. Social groups that don’t conform to ideologically defined outcomes are stigmatised and outgrouped.  

Stigma is a political and cultural attack on people’s identities. It’s used to discredit, and as justification for excluding some groups from economic and political consideration, refusing them full democratic citizenship. 

Stigma is being used politically to justify the systematic withdrawal of support and public services for the poorest – the casualties of a system founded on competition for allegedly scarce wealth and resources. Competition inevitably means there are winners and losers. Stigma is profoundly oppressive. It is used as a propaganda mechanism to draw the public into collaboration with the state, to justify punitive and discriminatory policies and to align citizen “interests” with rigid neoliberal outcomes. Inclusion, human rights, equality and democracy are not compatible with neoliberalism. 

Othering and outgrouping have become common political practices, and are now culturally embedded. 

This serves to desensitise the public to the circumstances of marginalised social groups. Outgroups serve to de-empathise society and dehumanise stigmatised others

This political and cultural process legitimises neoliberal “small state” policies, such as the systematic withdrawal of state support for those adversely affected by neoliberalism, and it also justifies inequality. By stigmatising the poorest citizens, a “default setting” is established regarding how the public ought to perceive and behave towards politically demarcated outgroups. That default setting is indifference to the plight of others. 

Authors of The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, say “The truth is that human beings have deep-seated psychological responses to inequality and social hierarchy. The tendency to equate outward wealth with inner worth means that inequality colours our social perceptions. It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to and treat each other.”

Neoliberalism and the myth of meritocracy

How does inequality and social injustice become acceptable? And why do we, as a society, permit the political construction of scapegoats and outgroups? 

Neoliberalism is premised on the assumption that the market place can somehow replace the state as the ultimate arbiter of cultural logic and value. Relationships between people are mediated by the depersonalising market place.

It is fundamentally Hobbesian in character, neoliberalism privatises citizen’s experiences, who are valued for their economic productivity and are therefore only responsible for themselves.

Bader says: “The failure of our institutions to empathize with the plight of the middle and working classes, to recognize their sacrifice and reward their hard work is traumatic. It is the same type of trauma that children experience when their caretakers are preoccupied or rejecting. The trauma erodes trust. It overwhelms systems that people have developed to deal with stress and creates psychological suffering and illness.” 

He goes on to tell us how our social brains seek a collective experience – of “we” rather than “I” – and often do so by creating a fantasy of an “us” versus “them” that we can devalue and fight.

Tribalism draws on our need for sociability and interconnectedness but it can also be used to pervert it. Rejected by government, employers and wider society, some citizens then go on to reject and demean others. It’s a coping strategy: they are trying to cope with the pain, powerlessness, and lack of empathy that they experience in their social lives.

And we must we also recognise the play of hidden ideologies and the influence of dog whistle and wedge issue politicking. This is a state tactic which manipulates our fundamental human need for a sense of belonging. It’s also about the creation of scapegoats and diversion from the real problem: neoliberalism, authoritarianism and the inequality and increasing precarity that this extends and perpetuates. Hierarchical thinking is embedded in neoliberal and authoritarian ideologies.

Neoliberalism also extends a myth that citizens are autonomous and free to make choices. However, this ignores the well-researched reality that those without resources have few or no choices. 

Neoliberalism is an ideology that manufactures consent to inequalities by offering the myth of meritocracy: the false promise that everyone will eventually benefit by working hard to earn merit, status and wealth. However, it isn’t logically possible for equal opportunities to exist in a highly unequal society. 

This myth undermines the principles of social and economic rights and discredits solidarity, collective responsibility and contravenes our human need for belonging. Success, according to the meritocrats, is shaped by your IQ and individual talents, hard work and personal effort. Yet at least a third of those touting this myth are millionaires who simply inherited their wealth.   

The ideology of meritocracy conceals the fact that class privileges are institutionalised, and are reinforced through the education system, for example. The UNICEF report, Fairness for Children, emphasised the importance of a strong welfare system in reducing inequality – and carried a strong suggestion that the UK Government should reconsider its cuts to benefits. In June last year, following its investigation, the United Nations committee on the rights of the child called on ministers to act regarding austerity, the benefit cap and tax credit cuts, which are undermining children’s rights to an adequate standard of living. The government were also urged to do more to ensure children’s rights to adequate health, housing and education are met, too. 

The government, however, have claimed that welfare cuts reduce poverty by “incentivising” people to work. Meanwhile, over half of those families queuing at food banks are in work, and nearly two thirds of children in poverty live in working families. “Making work pay” is nothing more than a Conservative euphemism for the incremental dismantling of the welfare state, which they intend to continue, regardless of the social consequences. 

Neoliberalism is sustained by ideologues employed by governments, in think tanks, PR companies and as individual consultants, that invent technical justifications for small state neoliberal policies on the grounds of: “efficiencies”, savings, democracy, economic growth, and more recently “fairness” and “social justice.” The latter two especially are founded on the myth of meritocracy, in this context. 

In any competitive system, there are invariably a few “winners” and many more “losers”.  The system itself creates the conditions which mean that many people “lose”. It has nothing to do with the IQ, character or qualities of those people. Competition is adversarial – it’s defined as a situation in which two or more people or groups are fighting to get something which not everyone can have

The Nudge Unit is one example of a technocratic think tank that promotes the myth of meritocracy, which is embedded in the Cabinet Office. The neoliberal Reform think tank and the Adam Smith Institution are others. There is a raft of contemporary academics who are also fueling ideological justifications of neoliberal policies – the likes of Adam Perkins, Richard Layard, Mansel Aylward and Simon Wessley, for example, each in their respective academic fields have each presented “studies” that endorse “small state” antiwelfarism and enforce notions of personal responsibility and competitive individualism. Public interests are steadily being aligned with economic outcomes, driven by private interests. 

Status and rewards in society do not go “naturally” to those who are best “performers” or those who “earn” their privilege: the hierarchy of wealth and power is being purposefully shaped by the state.

Stigma and the just world fallacy

Sociologist Imogen Tyler at Lancaster University, says “[…] the centrality of stigma in producing economic and social inequalities has been obscured ‘because bodies of research pertaining to specific stigmatized statuses have generally developed in separate domains’ (Hatzenbuehler, 2013). In short, stigma is widely accepted to be a major factor in determining life chances, yet research on stigma is fragmented across academic disciplines.”

Tyler’s ongoing work – The Stigma Doctrine, is focused on policy design and implementation, ‘The Stigma Doctrine’ aims to develop a new theoretical account of the ways in which neoliberal modes of government operate not only by capitalizing upon ‘shocks’ but through the production and mediation of stigma.” 

Her explicit focus is on “stigmatization as a central dimension of neoliberal state-crafting.” The project is focussing in particular on welfare “reform”, the neoliberal de/recomposition of class, poverty, work and dis/abilities.

At a basic level, stigma is seen as a mark of disgrace associated with particular circumstances, qualities, or persons. However, it has a fundamental normative dimension, which is culturally and historically specific. 

We tend to make assumptions about people, based on what their circumstances or characteristics are. Central to these assumptions lies a basic moral dichotomy founded on the binary notions of “deserving” and “undeserving”. 

Everyone has heard “what goes around comes around” before, or maybe you’ve seen a person “get what was coming to them” and thought, “that’s karma for you.” These are all shades of the just world fallacy. But in reality, we don’t always “reap what we sow.”

In social psychology, the just world hypothesis is the tendency to attribute consequences to – or expect consequences as the result of – a universal force that restores moral balance. This belief generally implies the existence of destiny, cosmic justice, or divine providence. 

It is very common in fiction for the villains to lose and the virtuous folk to win. It is a reflection of how we would like to see the world – just and fair. In psychology the tendency to believe that this is how the real world actually works is a known cognitive error: the just world is a fallacy. 

Many people have a strong desire or need to believe that the world is an orderly, predictable, and fair place, where people simply get what they deserve. Such a belief plays an important role in our lives – in order to plan our lives or achieve our goals we need to assume that our actions will have predictable consequences. 

Moreover, when we encounter evidence suggesting that the world is not just, we either act to restore justice by helping victims or we persuade ourselves that no injustice has occurred.  We comfort ourselves with the idea that the person without a job is simply lazy, the homeless person is irresponsible, and the ill person made the “wrong” lifestyle choices. These attitudes are continually reinforced in the ubiquitous fairy tales, fables, popular fiction, comics, TV, the mainstream media, current political rhetoric and other morality tales of our culture, including the great myth of meritocracy, embedded in neoliberal narrative, in which “good” is always rewarded and “evil” punished. Only it isn’t.

Deep down, we all would probably like to believe hard work and virtue will lead to success, and laziness, evil and manipulation will lead to ruin, quite often we simply edit the world to match those expectations. 

The normalisation of socioeconomic hierarchy: a nod to Milgram

Social psychologist, Melvin Lerner documents people’s eagerness to convince themselves that beneficiaries deserve their benefits and victims their suffering. In a 1965 study, Lerner reported that subjects who were told that a fellow student had won a cash prize in a lottery tended to believe that the student worked harder than another student who lost the lottery. Lerner observed that when one of two men was chosen at random to receive a reward for a task, that somehow caused him to be more favourably evaluated by observers, even when the observers had been informed that the recipient of the reward was chosen at random. (Lerner, M. J., & Miller, D. T. (1978). Just world research and the attribution process: Looking back and ahead. Psychological Bulletin, 85(5), 1030–1051).

Existing social psychological theories, including cognitive dissonance, do not fully explain these phenomena. In another study a year later, Lerner and a colleague recorded a simulated “learning” experiment in which it appeared that the “participants” were subjected to electric shocks. Lerner found that subjects who observed the videotapes tended to form much lower opinions of these “victimised” participants when there was no possibility of the victim finding relief from the ordeal, or when the victim took on the role of “martyr” by voluntarily remaining in the experiment despite the apparent unpleasantness of the experience.

Lerner concluded that “the sight of an innocent person suffering without possibility of reward or compensation motivated people to devalue the attractiveness of the victim in order to bring about a more appropriate fit between her fate and her character.”

If the belief in a just world simply resulted in humans feeling more comfortable with the universe, its uncertainties and our own precarity, it would not be a matter of great concern for human rights activists, ethicists or social scientists. But Lerner’s just world hypothesis, if correct, has significant social implications. The belief in a just world may well seriously undermine a commitment to social justice.

So, the just world fallacy is founded on a massive misconception: that we always get what we “deserve”. We like to think that people who are not doing well in their lives must have done something to deserve it. Yet we also know that the beneficiaries of good fortune often do nothing to earn it, and people doing harmful deeds often get away with their actions without consequences.

Lerner’s research extended, to some extent, on Stanley Milgram‘s research on social conformity and obedience. Lerner was curious as to how regimes that cause cruelty and suffering manage to maintain popular support, and how people come to accept social norms and laws that produce misery and suffering.

Lerner’s direction of inquiry was influenced by his frequent witnessing of the tendency of observers to blame victims for their suffering, particularly during his clinical training as a psychologist, when he observed treatment of mentally ill persons by the health care practitioners with whom he worked. Though he knew them to be basically kind, educated people, they often blamed patients for the patients’ own suffering. Lerner also describes his surprise at hearing his students derogate disadvantaged people, believing that poor people somehow caused their own poverty, whilst being seemingly oblivious to the social, political and economic (structural) forces that contribute significantly to poverty. 

Zick Rubin of Harvard University and Letitia Anne Peplau of the UCLA conducted surveys to examine the characteristics of people with strong beliefs in a just world. They found that people who have a strong tendency to believe in a just world also tend to be more religious, more authoritarian, more Conservative, more likely to admire political leaders and existing social institutions, and more likely to have negative attitudes and and hold prejudices toward underprivileged groups. To a lesser but nonetheless significant degree, the believers in a just world tend to “feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.”

It’s ironic that the belief in a just world may take the place of a genuine commitment to justice. For some people, it is simply easier to assume that forces beyond their control mete out justice. When that occurs, the result may be the abdication of personal responsibility, acquiescence in the face of suffering and misfortune, and indifference towards injustice

In the murky waters of real life, evil people often prosper whilst harming others, and quite often never face justice and retribution.

Social reality isn’t founded on some intrinsic and fair principle or quality of the universe. Social justice is something that we must construct and re-construct our selves. In the same way, democracy isn’t something we “have”, it is something we must do.

As a society, we make our own “karma”. We participate in, shape and distribute social justice. That affects those around us. We do need to think about what kind of world we live in, how we ought to live and how that affects our families, friends, neighbours and strangers. A measure of civilisation may be observed in how we behave towards those people we don’t know.

In our society, over the past 6 years, some (previously protected) social groups have become politically defined strangers and economic exiles. If you think that’s okay, it’s worth bearing in mind that sooner or later, someone you know well, perhaps one of your loved ones, will be affected by this ongoing process.

When one group are targeted with injustice and inequality, it affects everyone, and other groups soon follow. Historically, we learned that tyrants don’t stick with targeting and persecuting the group you don’t like. You don’t get a choice ultimately. Prejudice tends to multitask very well, and tyrants remain tyrants no matter who you are.

Wilkinson and Pickett’s research on the harmful effects of economic inequality is a challenge for us to ensure that redistribution is the main focus of our political programme. Their research very clearly shows us that if we work towards greater equality, we can ameliorate a wide range of human suffering. Because neoliberal ideology ultimately disconnects us from each other, we really must work hard to seek common ground with the people on the other side of what American sociologist, Arlie Hochschild, calls the “empathy wall” to reach out, communicate to them that “we not only feel their pain, but we share it, and that, in the end, we are all in this together.”

Hochschild’s work has often described the various ways in which we each  becomes a “shock absorber” of larger social, economic and political forces.  She explores the “deep story” of American citizens – a metaphorical expression of the emotions they live by. She recognised that the people she studied may not vote in favour of their economic self-interest, but they often voted for what they felt was their emotional self-interest as members of a group which feels marginalised, scorned and betrayed by the establishment. This sense of betrayal was utilised by the right, who readily draw on and manipulate the role of emotion in politics.

How much more of the current political-economic just world narrative will people permit to remain largely unchallenged before we all say “enough”?

In democracies, Government’s are elected to represent and serve the needs of the population. Democracy is not only about elections. It is also about distributive and social justice. The quality of the democratic process, including transparent and accountable Government and equality before the law, is crucial to social organisation, yet it seems the moment we become distracted, less attentive and permit inequality to fundamentally divide our society, the essential details and defining features of democracy seem to melt into air. 

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, all citizen’s accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

However, in the UK, the way that policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly depopulated; detached from public interests and needs.

Democracy is not something we have: it’s something we have to DO.

My hope for 2017 is that enough of us will recognise that democratic participation is essential, and that injustice directed against one is injustice ultimately directed against all. 

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All the best for the new year. 

In solidarity.

Related  

The Decline of Empathy and the Appeal of Right-Wing Politics – Michael Bader

Who Believes in a Just World? –  Zick Rubin and Letitia Anne Peplau 

The Stigma Project – Imogen Tyler

The Spirit Level authors: why society is more unequal than ever – Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

The importance of citizen’s qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

 


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Numbers of cases of malnutrition continue to soar in the UK

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The Office of National Statistics (ONS) have released figures that show 391 people died from malnutrition in 2015. There were 746 hospital admissions for malnutrition in just 12 months. The statistics also show two people in the UK are admitted to hospital with the condition every day in what campaigners have called a “national scandal.” 

Health minister Nicola Blackwood confirmed the numbers in a written answer in Parliament.

More than six people a month perish from starvation in England, which is one of the richest nations in the world.  The UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, provided more than a million three-day food packages over the past year, including 415,866 to children.What is worrying is that people may only have this support for a maximum of three days and have to be referred by a professional, such as a doctor or social worker.

Chairman Chris Mould said: It’s a scandal that people living in the sixth largest economy in the world are going hungry, which is why we’re working to engage the public, other charities and politicians from all parties to find solutions to the underlying causes of food poverty.

Our food banks support many thousands of people in various states of hunger.

Some people have been missing meals for days at a time; others have been unable to afford certain food groups or have sacrificed quality for long periods of time to keep costs down.

This, no doubt, has a negative effect on their health – and for people at the extreme end of the scale it will lead to malnutrition.

Every day we meet families across the UK who are struggling to put enough nutritious food on the table and hear from parents who go without food so their children have enough to eat.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “We now have record numbers of people in work and wages rising faster than inflation. 

But we need to go further, which is why we’ve committed to increase the National Living Wage, we’re taking the lowest paid out of income tax and our welfare reforms are ensuring it always pays to work.”

However it seems that “making work pay” is a euphemism for punishing those out of work or those in part-time or low-paid work with absolute poverty. In December 2015, I wrote about research from the Child Poverty Action Group, Oxfam, Church of England and the Trussell Trust which found that failures in the social safety net itself are most often the trigger for food bank referrals.

The report said that while money is tight for many reasons, including bereavement, relationship breakdown, illness or job loss, issues such as sanctions, delays in benefits decisions or payments or being declared “fit for work” led people to turn to food banks for support.

  • Around a third of foodbank users in the sample were waiting for a decision on their benefits – and struggling in the meantime
  • Between 20 and 30% more had their household benefits reduced or stopped because of a sanction

Other factors included loss of income due to the “bedroom tax” or the benefit cap. For between half and two-thirds of the people included in this research, the immediate income crisis was linked to the operation of the benefits system (with problems including waiting for benefit payments, sanctions, or reduction in disability benefits) or tax credit payments.

Amongst this group of people are many that are actually in low-paid work, claiming top-up benefits. The remaining number of people needing support from food banks to meet their most basic need are certainly in work, making a complete mockery of the Department for Work and Pension’s statement.

The research used 40 in-depth interviews with food bank users, data from over 900 users at three food banks around the country, and detailed analysis of nearly 200 clients accessing one food bank in Tower Hamlets. Another academic study said the government’s welfare reformsincluding benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax, are a central factor in the explosion in the numbers of impoverished people turning to charity food banks

The study, part of a three-year investigation into emergency food provision, was carried out by Hannah Lambie-Mumford, a Sheffield University researcher who co-authored a recently published government report into the extent of food aid in the UK.

That report concluded there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear causal link between welfare reform and food bank demand in the UK. This is because the government has refused to make that information available by ensuring the reason for food bank referrals are no longer recorded. But Lambie-Mumford’s study says the rise in demand for charity food is a clear signal “of the inadequacy of both social security provision and the processes by which it is delivered”.

In 2015, more than 2,000 cases of patients with malnutrition were recorded by 43 hospital trusts in a single year.

There were 193 “episodes” of malnutrition in 12 months at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust alone, according to new figures.

Freedom of Information (FOI) figures show a rise of 259 between the 43 trusts compared with three years previously.

With the more recent introduction of more stringent in-work conditionality, including the extension of sanctions to those in part-time and low-paid work, the Conservative’s coercive psychopolitical approach to poverty will invariably make it even more difficult for many more to meet their basic survival needs.

At the same time, in 2014,  Community Links published a study called Just about Surviving which revealed that far from encouraging people on benefits to move into work, the draconian welfare cuts have pushed many further from employment. The report said that the state has reduced welfare support to the point where it barely enables people to survive.

Overwhelmingly, the reforms have made people “feel insecure and vulnerable to even small fluctuations in their small income or circumstance; continuing to erode their resilience.”

Furthermore, by forcing people into stressful situations where day-to-day survival becomes a pressing priority, the “reforms” (that are, in reality, simply cuts to people’s benefits), which were hailed by the Conservatives as a system of help and incentives – to “nudge” people into changing their behaviour so that they try harder to find work – are in fact eroding people’s motivation. In other words, the reforms have deincentivised and hindered people looking for employment, achieving the very opposite to the intent claimed by the Tories, to justify their draconian policies.

The report states that people are caught between trying to escape welfare reform through poor employment alternatives and feeling trapped in poverty. They move in and out of low paid work and are extremely susceptible to financial shocks and unprepared for the future.

In 2014, Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Ben Phillips, said: “Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet.”

“It’s deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline.”

Diseases associated with malnutrition, which were very common in the Victorian era in the UK, became rare with the advent of our welfare state and universal healthcare, but they are now making a reappearance because of the rise of numbers of people living in absolute poverty.

NHS statistics indicate that the number of cases of gout and scarlet fever have almost doubled within five years, with a rise in other illnesses such as scurvy, cholera, whooping cough and general malnutrition. People are more susceptible to infectious illness if they are under-nourished.

In 2013/14, more than 86,000 hospital admissions involved patients who were diagnosed with gout – an increase of 78 per cent in five years, and of 16 per cent on the year before. Causes of gout include a lack of vitamin C in the diet of people who are susceptible.

The figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show a 71 per cent increase in hospital admissions among patients suffering from malnutrition – from 3,900 admissions in 2009-10 to 6,690 admissions in 2013-14.

Cases of scarlet fever admitted to hospital doubled, from 403 to 845, while the number of hospital patients found to be suffering from scurvy also rose, with 72 cases in 2009/10 rising to 94 cases last year.

The figures also show a steep rise in cases diagnosed with cholera, a water-borne disease which was extremely prevalent in the 19th century, causing nearly 40,000 deaths.

The new in-work conditionality regime may eventually apply to around one million more people.

The quantity of food being bought in food stores is also decreasing. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that repressed, stagnant wages and RISING living costs will result in reduced sale volumes. Survation’s research in March 2014 indicates that only four out of every ten of UK workers believe that the country’s economy is recovering.

But we know that the bulk of the Tory austerity cuts were aimed at those least able to afford any cut to their income.

We really must challenge the Conservative’s use of words such as “encourage” and “support” and generally deceptive language use in the context of what are, after all, extremely punitive, coercive  policies. The government intends to continue formulating policies which will punish sick and disabled people, unemployed people, the poorest paid, and part-time workers.

Meanwhile, the collective bargaining traditionally afforded us by trade unions has been systematically undermined by successive Conservative governments, showing clearly how the social risks of the labour market are being personalised and redefined as being solely the economic responsibility of individuals rather than the government and profit-driven big business employers.

 

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Related

Welfare sanctions cannot possibly incentivise people to work

The Coalition are creating poverty via their policies

Welfare sanctions make vulnerable reliant on food banks, says YMCA

Study finds Need For Food Banks IS Caused By Welfare Cuts

It’s absolute poverty, not “market competition” that has led to a drop in food sales.

Welfare reforms, food banks, malnutrition and the return of Victorian diseases are not coincidental, Mr Cameron

The politics of punishment and blame: in-work conditionality

 

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A view from the Overton window: through the looking glass darkly

 

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“The UK is a divided country” is a phrase being bandied around a lot, especially in the aftermath of the referendum, and it is of course true. We are divided. We have politically constructed categories of scapegoats, outgroups, uncertainty, disempowerment, low wages, our public services are being dismantled, and we are witnessing massive inequality and growing poverty. The recipe for anomie. Many people feel despair and are fearful of the future.

We have a nation of oppressed people wanting to see others oppressed. The real oppressors, however, are getting a free ride on the back of their own purposefully divisive and diversionary tactics. Dominant narratives and neoliberal ideology – smoke and mirrors; reductive soundbites, dodgy statistics and carefully constructed, cunning fact-proof screens. And yes, the media, directed by the government, have played a significant part in trying to shape what we see and think about, manipulating public opinion. Most of the Tories wanted to leave the EU, Cameron wasn’t typical of his party.

I don’t blame the Scottish people for wanting their independence one bit, particularly from this side of the EU referendum. But that means we will shrivel a little more. England, the husk.

But a divided country hasn’t happened just because of these things. Some of the irrational statements I have heard over the last few years include commentary about how some traditional Labour voters feel the party “let them down” and no longer reflect their interests. Well, I do hope the Tories do better for you, then. Because they’re clearly SO much better at reflecting working-class interests – the new “party of the workers” they mocked. Yet Conservatism in a nutshell is all about reducing worker’s rights and reducing pay so that private companies can make big profits from a cheap and desperate reserve army of labor. And if you reduce welfare provision and make receipt of benefits highly conditional – provision that’s already paid for by working people –  the subsequent rising level of desperation drives many to increasingly insecure jobs for much less pay in order to simply survive.

The “all the same” lie was always a Right-wing expediency, it’s about disempowering and fragmenting the Left. It worked. The Narxists got very narked, with their sense of alienation, and their peculiar brand of exclusive socialism (they are “real” socialists apparently). Yet Miliband had denounced Blairism, and would have given us a fair and progressive tax system. Not good enough, some of you said, but then some people are never happy, so with impeccable knee-jerked fallibility, you helped the Tories back in Office. Again.

Chomsky once said that sometimes, the best we can do is vote for the least damaging option. That at least would have marked the beginning, not the end, of campaigning for social justice and pushing for a socialist agenda.

Meanwhile, all of those genuine traditional socialist values of solidarity and cooperation, community and mutual aid, internationalism, equality and diversity, social justice, worker’s rights, trade unionism, well the Right-wing in Office are smashing those from our common vocabulary. And deporting them. The Tories in power, not the Labour party in opposition. But the government can only do that with OUR consent. So we must take some responsibility for that.

Now we had a further Left Labour leader, but of course for some, he ain’t good enough. The media push an elite agenda, and divert attention from the real problems that are being created by a Conservative government’s policies, and irrationally, the opposition party is hated whilst the Government get on with fucking over ordinary people, the economy and the country. Democracy is steadily being dismantled. Public funds are being stolen and redistributed to the very wealthy and powerful. Public services are being destroyed. Some people are dying because of Tory policies. Meanwhile people bicker amongst themselves and irrationally blame each other, the opposition party and vulnerable social groups. Prejudice grows. People are being permitted to hate. Their prejudice is fed and endorsed by the Establishment. Discrimination happens. Violence begins. People get killed. More people will get killed. Many remain indifferent. But sooner or later, they must take responsibility for that.

If you have ever wondered how fascist or totalitarian regimes manage to gain power, and to commit atrocities, apparently with public consent, well take a close look at the psychosocial processes involved, read Gordon Allport’s work on the growth of prejudice, where that can lead, then look more closely at what is unfolding here in the UK, stage by stage. It’s hidden in plain view, advancing by almost inscrutable degrees. But once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Most Right-wing political systems, from Conservatism to Fascism, succeed to some extent by fostering a strong anti-intellectual prejudice amongst populations. It serves two key purposes. It discourages people from thinking critically and expressing themselves independently, and it discredits those who do (even before they do) by establishing a cultural normative default that serves to alienate people who challenge established narratives, and invites derision and accusations of being “out of touch with real lives and everyday experiences.”  But those “telling it like it is” often aren’t, quite. Seems to me that people’s hearts and minds are becoming directed, focused increasingly by an external, political and economic, narrow and rigid agenda. 

Why are we divided? Some people blame the government and media for their corrosive rhetoric, some say Tory social Darwinist, supremicist ideology and policies that have influenced the nation and pushed people further to the Right are to blame. Some people blame the general public’s stupidity and gullibility. Some people blame “patronising” and “arrogant” academics and all things intellectual. Some people blame the EU. Some people blame the Labour party. A few people have even blamed me. Some people blame the wealthy. Some people blame our faulty decision-making through rubbish cognitive processes that apparently need “nudging.” Some people blame the poor, or single parents, unemployed people, immigrants, sick and disabled people.

“I take full responsibility for this” said hardly anyone, ever.

I blame those people who choose to opt out of collective responsibility-taking and participatory democracy. Oh yes, democracy is not something you HAVE, it’s something you DO. To be divided as a nation requires social groups to want to oppress other groups, and for bystanders to permit that to happen – you have to participate in the process, even if that participation is just as a bystander who says and does nothing or as a person who is prejudiced at a gut and knee-jerk level. 

We really do have to take some responsibility for that.

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Picture courtesy of Dave Sid Poole


Some poignant reflection on what it is to be a socialist

Socialists have always tended to be internationalists. Whereas nationalists believe that the world is divided primarily into different nationalities, geopolitical zones, socialists consider social class to be the primary divide. For socialists, class struggle, not national identity, is the driving force of history. And capitalism creates an international working class that must fight back, united and cooperatively against an international capitalist class.

People who have a nationalist inclination, who view the social world parochially and hierarchically, are more likely than others to hold prejudices toward low-status groups. This is especially true of people who want their own group to dominate and be superior to other groups – a characteristic known in social psychology as “social dominance orientation.” It isn’t only the elite that hold this perspective, either.

But economic and social challenges such as inequality and social injustice will never be addressed by simply drawing a new set of geographical borders.

Any group claiming dominance over another – including the “working class” – is displaying social dominance orientation. The oppressed can be oppressive, too.

It is time to recognise those artificially constructed divisions and unite, for we have nothing left to lose but our chains.

“So comrades come rally
And the last fight let us face”.

The verses of the Internationale were written on 30 June, 1871, in the immediate aftermath of the brutal crushing of the Paris Commune during La Semaine sanglante (“The Bloody Week”). The policies and outcome of the Commune had a significant influence on the ideas of Karl Marx, of course.

The author, Eugène Pottier, was hiding in fear of his life. The lyrics were intended to convey the historical experience of an important workers’ struggle to a worldwide audience. For Pottier, liberty, equality and fraternity meant the promise of a society in which poor people, like himself, had justice.

The Internationale has long been the anthem of the labor’ movement throughout the world. Its power to move people has survived the repression of fascism, the cruel parody that was Stalinism and free market capitalism. Those who sing it need know nothing about it’s history to feel a strong sense of international unity. The Internationale is simultaneously about history, political argument and is a powerful rallying statement. Pottier established a reputation as the workers’ poet. It earned him a seat on the Communal Council representing the 2nd arrondissement.

The sheer power of Pottier’s Internationale lies in the fact that he was able to encapsulate his personal experience of specific events and express them in universal terms. And that identification and recognition is socialism in action.

The Second International (now known as the “Socialist International”) adopted it as its official anthem. The title arises from the First International, which was an alliance of socialist parties formed by Marx and Engels that held a congress in 1864. The author of the anthem’s lyrics, Pottier, attended this congress.

 The Internationale has been translated into many languages, it is a left-wing anthem, and is celebrated by socialists, communists, anarchists, democratic socialists, and some social democrats.

The original French refrain of the song is C’est la lutte finale / Groupons-nous et demain / L’Internationale / Sera le genre humain.

That translates as:

This is the final struggle

 Let us group together and tomorrow

 The Internationale

 Will be the human race.

Right now, that makes me feel like weeping in sorrow.

Related

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

Don’t believe everything you think: cognitive dissonance

Inverted totalitarianism. Oh dear

The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 


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