Category: Inequality

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

1450041_569755536427312_1698223275_n
Public spending in food stores fell for the first time on record in July this year, putting the UK recovery in doubt. Such a worrying, unprecedented record fall in food sales indicates that many consumers evidently have yet to feel the benefit of the so-called recovery.

The price of food was 0.2% higher than a year ago. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) started collecting the data for food sales in 1989The volume of food sales was also down last month, by 1.5% on an annualised basis.

There was also a marked fall in petrol consumption, and the only prominent area of growth was in spending that entailed use of mail order catalogues, and at market stalls, as people use credit to buy essential items and shop around for cheap alternatives and bargains.

Food manufacturing is the UK’s single largest manufacturing sector. The food and drink supply chain is a major part of the UK economy, accounting for 7% of GDP, employing over 3.7 million people, and generating at least £80 billion per year,  according to data from the Cabinet Office. There was an increase in the food sector (excluding agriculture) from 2000-2009 in Britain; the whole UK economy increased by 47% during the same period.

The Office for National Statistics has put the recent decline down to “prolonged discounting and price wars”.

However, crucially, the quantity of food bought in food stores also decreased by 1.5 per cent year-on-year in July.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that repressed, stagnant wages and RISING living costs are going to result in reduced sale volumes. Survation’s research in March this year 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.

What we need to ask is why none of the mainstream media articles, or the ONS account, duly reporting the drop in food sales, have bothered to link this with the substantial increase in reported cases of malnutrition and related illnesses across the UK. It’s not as if this correlation is a particularly large inferential leap, after all.

It stands to reason that if people cannot afford food, they won’t be able to buy it. Furthermore, that consumers were not actually considered as a part of the ONS and media assessment is frankly strange, to say the least, with emphasis being placed solely on deterministic market competition criteria, and hardly a skim over any analysis of the social-political conditions that have undoubtedly contributed to the significant drop in food sales.

Food banks provide food aid to people in acute need, usually following referral by health or social care professionals, such as social workers, doctors, health visitors, and organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and Jobcentre Plus. The Department for Work and Pensions has acknowledged that there is internal guidance to staff on signposting to food banks and a recent Freedom of Information request reported in The Guardian, revealed a “high level process” to be observed by jobcentre staff for referring claimants who say that they are suffering hardship and need food.

The role of Jobcentre Plus in referring people to food banks was described by Mark Hoban, Minister of State for Employment at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as follows in December 2012: “The DWP, through Jobcentre Plus, operates a foodbank referral service. This is a simple signposting process which builds on the Jobcentre Plus standard practice of holding, locally, the details of organisations to which we signpost claimants who tell us they are in financial difficulty. Jobcentre Plus will only signpost claimants when they can offer no more help.”

Jobcentre Plus have been “signposting” people to food banks nationally since September 2011. Circumstances where a Jobcentre might make a referral to a food bank include:

  •  where a Crisis Loan or Short Term Benefit Advance had been refused;
  •  where a change in circumstances had affected a person’s entitlement to benefit, or reduced the amount they receive;
  •  where payment of benefit had been delayed (e.g. because a claim was still being
    assessed, or DWP was awaiting information to enable a decision on a claim).

The original version of the Jobcentre Plus referral form included boxes to tick to indicate the reason for the referral. However, the report in the Guardian on 6 September 2013 highlighted that the DWP had suddenly “unilaterally redesigned the food bank vouchers it issues to clients” – the three boxes on the previous form which had enabled JobCentre Plus “to indicate why they referred the person: because of benefit delay, benefit change, or refusal of crisis loan … have been removed from the new version of the form. The vouchers no longer tell the [Trussell] trust why the person has been referred”.

As Patrick Butler astutely observed, this has the effect of removing data that helps highlight why impoverishment caused by welfare “reform” has become one of the biggest single drivers of people turning to food banks. The Government needs political cover for lying ministers such as Freud and McVey, who like to pretend food banks have nothing to do with austerity and welfare reform; but the DWP sends its impoverished customers in droves to them anyway.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others indicates quite clearly that:

  • Some of the increase in the number of people using food banks is
    caused by unemployment, increasing levels of underemployment,
    low and falling income, and rising food and fuel prices. The
    National Minimum Wage and benefits levels need to rise in line
    with inflation, in order to ensure that families retain the ability to
    live with dignity and can afford to feed and clothe themselves and
    stay warm.
  • More alarmingly, up to half of all people turning to food banks
    are doing so as a direct result of having benefit payments delayed,
    reduced, or withdrawn altogether. Figures gathered by the Trussell
    Trust show that changes to the benefit system are the most common reasons for people using food banks;these include changes to crisis loan eligibility rules, delays in payments, Jobseeker’s Allowance ,sanctions and sickness benefit
    reassessments.
  • There is very clear evidence that the benefit sanctions regime is leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale.

Furthermore, in November last year, in a letter to the British Medical Journal, a group of doctors and senior academics from the Medical Research Council and two leading universities said that the effect of Government austerity policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food needed to be “urgently” monitored.

There was a significant surge in the number of people requiring emergency food aid, a decrease in the amount of calories consumed by British families, and a doubling of the number of malnutrition cases seen at English hospitals, which represents “all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventative action,” they wrote.

Despite mounting evidence for a growing food poverty crisis in the UK, Tory ministers continue to maintain the lie that there is “no robust evidence” of a link between their sweeping welfare “reforms” and a rise in the use of food banks. However, publication of research into the phenomenon, commissioned by the Government itself, was delayed, amid speculation that the findings may prove embarrassing for the Government.

“Because the Government delayed the publication of research it commissioned into the rise of emergency food aid in the UK, we can only speculate that the cause is related to the rising cost of living and increasingly austere welfare reforms,” the public health experts wrote. It is very evident that the welfare state is “failing to provide a robust last line of defence against hunger.”

The authors of the letter, who include Dr David Taylor-Robinson and Professor Margaret Whitehead of Liverpool University’s Department of Public Health, say that malnutrition can have a devastating, long-lasting impact on health, particularly amongst children.

Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, the largest national food bank provider, said that one in three of the 350,000 people who required food bank  support at the Trussell Trust centres alone this year were children. It is estimated that by 2013, at least 500,000 people were reliant on food aid.

Access to adequate food is the most basic of human needs and rights. The right to food is protected under international human rights and humanitarian law and the correlative state obligations are equally well-established under international law. This right is recognised in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, and is enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11).

Olivier De Schutter (a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) recently pointed to increases in the number of food banks in developed countries  such as the UK as an indicator that Governments are “in danger of failing in their duty to protect citizens under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” (IESCR), which states that all citizens should have access to adequate diet without having to compromise other basic needs.

Whilst the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims that the benefits system provides a “safety net for essentials such as food”, the evidence increasingly does not support this claim. In fact, there is substantial and ever-mounting evidence that the inadequacies of the welfare safety net are now directly driving the growth of hunger and reliance on charitable food handouts.

The BBC reported the “‘Shocking increase’ in Employment Support Allowance (ESA) sickness benefit sanctions” on August 13th, within the first three months of 2014, there were 15,955 sanctions on ESA claimants, compared with 3,574 in the same period last year. I reported about the impact of sanctions in February, 2014, and I reported the substantial increase in ESA sanctions May 2014, along with the Benefits and Work site, amongst other “non-mainstream” writers. It’s incredible that the BBC, with relatively vast resources to hand hasn’t bothered researching and reporting this issue until now.

Perhaps this explains the BBC’s endorsement of the Government welfare “reforms” and their complicity with the persecution of sick and disabled people: James Purnell – one  of the chief architects of the current government’s “reforms”  (Gordon Brown had previously rebuffed Purnell’s proposals, and Purnell resigned as a consequence), is the BBC’s Director of Strategy & Digital which “brings together Communications, Future Media, Marketing, Policy, Research and Development and Strategy”. So, Mr Purnell is on the Executive Board, which, I am sure, contributes to the BBC’s current degree of “impartiality”, especially evident in attempts to defer delivery of politically damning news, or in their other quest to purposefully deliver politically motivated factual detours.

There is currently no established government measure of food poverty. A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research defined households who have to spend more than 10% of their annual income on food as being in food poverty.

The Food Ethics Council states that food poverty means that an individual or household isn’t able to obtain healthy, nutritious food – they have to eat what they can afford or find, not what they choose to.

If people can’t meet basic survival needs, then that is defined as absolute poverty. We haven’t seen absolute poverty in the UK since before the inception of the welfare state. Until  now.

“Food banks open across the country, teachers report children coming to school hungry; advice services and local authorities prepare for the risks attached to welfare reform. There is evidence of a rising number of people sleeping rough, and destitution is reported with increasing frequency.” Julia Unwin, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2013.

“In households which cannot afford an adequate diet for their children, 93% have at least one adult who “skimps” on their own food to try to protect the children. Half a million children are not adequately fed in the UK today, not as a result of negligence but due to a lack of money.” Poverty and Social Exclusion UK. 2013.

We know that the imposed limitations on welfare processes and procedures have been found to be impacting on the growing demand for food banks. Decision-making around sanctions has been found to be particularly problematic from the perspective of food banks, where decisions were seen as unfair and/or arbitrary. Similarly, errors made in declaring people on Employment Support Allowance fit for work were also highlighted, by research undertaken by the Sheffield University Political Economy Research Institute.

More generally, “ineffective administration” of lifeline welfare payments is also seen to be an important driver of need, where people’s payments are delayed or stopped and they are left with no or heavily reduced income. Tory policy changes to the length of time sanctions run for (from 2 weeks to 3 years) is “significantly problematic”, given the  enormous implications for financial insecurity. And resultant absolute poverty.

Basic incomes are being reduced, making it much more difficult for people to make ends meet. In addition, “reforms” – which is the Orwellian Tory word for severe cuts – impacting on food poverty include the cap to benefit payments, the Bedroom Tax, and the loss of full Council Tax exemption for many benefit claimants.

No-one should be hungry, without food in this Country. That there are people living in a politically imposed state of absolute poverty is unacceptable in the UK, the world’s sixth largest economy (and the third largest in Europe). This was once a civilised first-world country that cared for and supported vulnerable citizens. After all, we have paid for our own welfare provision, and we did so in the recognition that absolutely anyone can lose their job, become ill or have an accident that results in disability. This is a Government that very clearly does not reflect the needs of the majority of citizens.

It is also unacceptable in a so-called liberal democracy that we have a Government that has persistently denied the terrible consequences of their own policies, despite  overwhelming evidence that the welfare “reforms” are causing people, harm, distress and sometimes, death. Furthermore, this is a Government that has systematically employed methods to effectively hide the evidence of the harm caused to others as a consequence of their devastating, draconian “reforms” from the public. This clearly demonstrates an intention to deceive, and an intention to continue causing people harm.

In English criminal law, intention is one of the types of mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”) that, when accompanied by an actus reus (“guilty act”), constitutes a crime. It’s difficult to envisage that anyone in the UK would fail to understand that any act that prevents people from accessing food, and the means of meeting other basic survival needs, such as shelter, will cause them harm.

This is a Government that knows exactly what it is doing.

1459720_569627496440116_902730897_n
Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent artwork

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

1390648_548165358586330_1740107407_n
The coalition will leave more debt than all Labour governments since 1900. The current government is now responsible for £517 billion of the trillion-plus-pound UK public debt, compared to £472 billion accrued during the 33 years Labour led the country since the turn of the twentieth century.

And the figures look even worse when you adjust for inflation. When you do that, the Coalition’s share jumps to nearly half of the total debt.

But the Coalition don’t meet any public needs, they simply serve the wants of a powerful, wealthy elite. Labour invested in public services, the Tories have bled them dry. So, what have they done with the money? Because the public have seen only austerity cuts. And the most vulnerable citizens bear the brunt of the cuts.

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.

While total numbers remain low, the 22 cases last year compare with just 4 in 2009/10, the statistics show.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, Public Health England’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said the total number of notifications of scarlet fever this year has already reached 12,580 cases – the highest since 1970.

Cases of measles in hospital rose, from 160 to 205 cases, with a small rise in admissions for whooping cough, from 285 to 289 cases over the five years examined.

The figures on malnutrition follow a series of scandals of care of the elderly, with doctors, remarkably, forced to prescribe patients with drinking water or put them on drips to make sure they do not become severely dehydrated.

Charities have warned that too many patients are being found to be malnourished after being admitted to hospitals from care homes, as well as from their own homes.

However, Labour have said the figures a national scandal.

Luciana Berger MP, Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, said: “This shouldn’t be happening in 21st century Britain and the Government’s response is hopelessly complacent.

“People are living under greater pressure and struggling with the cost of living”.

“Hundreds of thousands are forced to turn to food banks and sadly it’s unsurprising people are eating less, and eating less healthily too”.

“David Cameron needs to listen to what the experts are saying and tackle the cost of living crisis that is driving people into food poverty.”

Cases of malnutrition have been steadily increasing since the 2010 general election.

In 2009/10 there were 3,899 hospital admissions for this, in 2010/11 there were 4,660, in 2011/12 there were 5,396 then in 2012/13 this had risen again to 5,594.

People unable to feed themselves adequately needing hospital admission saw a significant rise to 6,686,  where malnutrition was the primary or secondary diagnosis during 2013/14.This is a rise of 71 per cent from 3,899 in the year up to April 2010.

Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust which runs a nationwide network of food banks, said: “This shows increases in diseases related to poverty and that’s alarming.

“Our food banks see tens of thousands of people who have been going hungry, missing meals and cutting back on the quality of the food they buy.

“We know quite a large proportion of the population are struggling to get nutritious food on the table. And at the extreme end of that you get people who are malnourished”.

“We don’t believe anyone should have to go hungry in the UK”.

“The scale of the increases we’re seeing must be further investigated to find out why this is happening”.

Scurvy is a disease associated with pirates stuck at sea for long periods – has increased by 31 per cent in England since 2010. This is caused by a lack of vitamin C and is usually due to an inadequate diet without enough fresh fruit and vegetables.

Figures from January this year from the NHS indicate that there were 833 hospital admissions for children suffering from Rickets – a condition which is caused by a lack of Vitamin D, from 2012-13. Ten years ago, the figure was just 190.

The disease, which causes softening of the bones and permanent deformities, was common in 19th century Britain but was almost eradicated by improvements in nutrition. The body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun, but it’s clear that adequate diet plays an important role, too, since the decline of Rickets happened at a time when we saw an improvement in the diets of the nation as a whole.

It is thought that malnutrition is the main cause, children are most at risk if their diet doesn’t include sufficient levels of vitamin D.

Low incomes, unemployment and benefit delays have combined to trigger increased demand for food banks among the UK’s poorest families, according to a report commissioned by the government and released earlier this year,

The report directly contradicts the claim from a government minister that the rise in the use of food banks is linked to the fact that there are now more of them. It says people turn to charity food as a last resort following a crisis such as the loss of a job, or problems accessing social security benefits, or through benefit sanctions.

The review emerged as the government comes under pressure from church leaders and charities to address increasing prevalence of food poverty caused by welfare cuts. The End Hunger Fast campaign called for a national day of fasting on 4 April to highlight the issue.

The report was written by  food policy experts from the University of Warwick, and it was passed to ministers in June 2013 but had remained undisclosed until February 2014, creating reasonable speculation that the government suppressed its findings.

Examining the effect of welfare changes on food bank use was not a specific part of its remit, and the report is understood to have undergone a number of revisions since early summer, ordered by the Department for Food and Agriculture and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The researchers found that a combination of rising food prices, ever-shrinking incomes, low pay, increasing personal debt, and benefit payment problems meant an increasing number of families could not afford to buy sufficient food.

In a letter to the British Medical Journal, a group of doctors and senior academics from the Medical Research Council and two leading universities said that the effect of Government policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food needed to be “urgently” monitored.

The group of academics and professionals said that the surge in the number of people requiring emergency food aid, a decrease in the amount of calories consumed by British families, and a doubling of the number of malnutrition cases seen at English hospitals represent “all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventative action”.

The health specialists also said:“Access to an adequate food supply is the most basic of human needs and rights”.

The authors of the letter, who include Dr David Taylor-Robinson and Professor Margaret Whitehead of Liverpool University’s Department of Public Health, say that they have serious concerns that malnutrition can have a long-lasting impact on health, particularly among children.

Tory ministers have repeatedly insisted that there is no “robust link” between the welfare reforms and rising food bank use, whilst welfare minister Lord Freud claimed the rise in food bank use was because there were more food banks and because the food was free.

It ought to be noted, not least by the government, that people may only access food banks when they are referred by a professional agency, such as social services, the DWP or a Doctor. In particular, vouchers for emergency food parcels tend to be given by benefits officials.

In all but exceptional cases, Trussell Trust food banks will only issue a food parcel to someone with a voucher from an accredited agency. Claimants are limited to emergency aid on three occasions only. This indicates that need, rather than availability, is the key reason for the increased use of food banks since 2010.

Together with the pressure created by rising prices and falling wages, there has been a marked increase in demand for emergency food aid since the welfare reforms came into effect. And this is affecting both people in and out of work.

More than half of people who have visited a food bank since April were referred because of social security problems.

The Government claimed the rapid increase in malnutrition cases “could be partly due to better diagnosis”.

I don’t imagine that it’s likely that Doctors have suddenly become better at diagnosis since 2010.

I do, however, think there is much scope for improvement in the capacity of Tory ministers for understanding correlation, basic cause and effect and simple connections.

However, Tory skills in mendacity, creating diversions and ad hominem are second to none.

 

See also:

Poverty

 An email to authoritarian Tory MPs Charlie Elphicke, Priti Patel and Conor Burns

Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

430835_148211001996623_1337599952_n (1)

Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone 

 

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

999622_566748676727998_1599547969_n (1)

Political outgrouping

Over the past four years, we have witnessed the political right using rhetoric that has increasingly transformed a global economic crisis into an apparently ethno-political one, and this also extends to include the general scapegoating and vilification of other groups and communities that have historically been the victims of prejudice and social exclusion: the poorest, unemployed and disabled people. These far-right rhetorical flourishes define and portray the putative “outsider” as an economic threat. This is then used to justify active political exclusion of the constitutive Other.

The poorest have been politically disenfranchised. Politically directed and constructed cultural and social boundaries, exclusionary discourses and practices create and define strangers who are further stigmatised and reduced by labels of “economic freerider.”  Groups are politically redefined and reduced to a basic, standard right wing category: “a burden on the state”. In Zygmunt Bauman’s analysis of the Holocaust, the Jews became “strangers” par excellence in Europe, the Final Solution was an extreme example of the attempts made by societies to excise the (politically defined) uncomfortable and indeterminate elements existing within them. Here in the UK, it’s evident that many citizens now feel like strangers in their own communities – they have become politically alienated. 

Definitions of citizenship and associated privileges have been reformulated and restricted here in the UK, and the current Conservative neoliberal framework of intensifying an aggressive competitive individualism is further motivated by far-right reforms that embed socioeconomic Darwinism.

This has provided opportunity for UKIP to become established as a populist part of the mainstream political conversation, the Tory rhetoric, founded on social divisions and established hierarchy, has created a space for UKIP’s subversive “insurgency”.

UKIP has an extremist appeal that is based entirely on fear-mongering, and attempts to shape and perpetuate fears, resentment and hatreds, social group phobias and deliberate attempts at further undermining social cohesion. UKIP try to make this extremely divisive approach somehow “respectable”, (by the frequent use of phrases such as “we say what many think”, “we speak our minds” and “it’s not racist to be worried about too many people coming here,” which are used to attempt to normalise and justify what are actually very objectionable, prejudice-laden opinions, for example) whilst offering nothing at all that might improve our living conditions and quality of life.

UKIP is also manipulating an anti-politics and anti-establishment public mood. This is not just about gaining electoral success but in shifting the terms of debate. Farage admits that UKIP’s effect on the Tories is “psychological not numerical”. His success in this encourages the further right Tory backbenchers, encourages the populist strategies of Lynton Crosby, as it forces political and media focus on right-wing concerns, like welfare and immigration. Public moral boundaries are being pushed.   

UKIP utilises, amplifies and perpetuates an increasingly poisonous climate of distrust and cynicism. UKIP manipulate public views and in particular, they perpetuate a myth that politicians of all colours are an out of touch elite that is far removed from, and largely unconcerned with, the everyday struggles of “ordinary people.” But the category of “ordinary people” is an ever-shrinking one, from this perspective.

UKIP make the mistake of portraying the entire political class as pampered elitistswhich is grossly inaccurate. Whilst it’s true that the Conservative party most certainly can claim aristocratic membership, the same isn’t true of the Labour party. Furthermore, Farage, an ex-Tory public school boy (and Miliband attended a comprehensive school), an ex-stockbroker, with offshore tax havens and an inclination for far-right policy is hardly likely to be “in touch” with the man and woman on the Clapham omnibus.

Although UKIP suffers from a chronic, persistent failure to appeal to three key groups of voters – women (because of the chauvinistic and anti-feminist views of UKIP members and politicians); young people (who find the party almost farcically out of touch with their own world-view) and ethnic minorities (because of its strident and emotive language about immigration). UKIP does represent something of a “blue-collar revolt”- its electoral base is “old, male, working class, white and less educated,” say academics Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford.

Anti-intellectual prejudice is a strong undercurrent amongst UKIP’s supporters. Anti-intellectualism is a dominant feature of far-right politics – especially those entailing authoritarianism, fascism and Nazism.

 10403497_472514972893769_324031577992330978_n
Anti-intellectualism and inverted snobbery from the patriotic nationalist and racist Britain First site on Facebook

Parochialisation

The Conservatives have parochialised both explanations of and responses to the global economic crisis. Parochialism entails neglect of the interests of identified “outsiders”, and this kind of isolationist tendency has also provided a political platform for nationalism. Parochialism tends to support inter-group hostilities, and it tends to lead to violations of human rightsParochialism directly opposes a fundamental set of principles that constitute these rights: namely that all humans beings are of equal worth, and that human rights are universally applicable – they apply to everyone.

The alternative perspective is social Darwinism, which is used to justify a hierarchy of entitlement to rights. Modern eugenics was rooted in the Social Darwinism of the late 19th century, with all its metaphors of fitness, competition, and rationalisations of inequality. For progressives, eugenics was a branch of the drive for social improvement or perfection that many reformers of the day thought might be achieved through the deployment of science to “good” social ends. Eugenics, of course, drew appreciable support from Conservatives, concerned to “prevent” the “proliferation” of lower income groups and save on the cost of providing support for them.

The progressives progressed. They ceased to believe that progress was about advancing the human race by physical “improvement” – that kind of supremacist view was a product of its time – context bound by a cumulatively catastrophic zeitgeist. Progressives liberated themselves from the superficial characteristics and taxonomic ranking of human beings – the emphasis on “what” we are – and began to cherish “who” we are, delving into our human potential and celebrating our diversity as much as our individual equal worth.

Although eugenics programmes are usually associated with Nazi Germany, they could, and did, happen everywhere. They focused on manipulating heredity or breeding to produce politically defined “better” people and on eliminating those considered biologically inferior. In the 1920s and 1930s, eugenic sterilisation laws were passed in 24 of the American states, in Canada, and in Sweden. Here in the UKMalthus saw overpopulation as the cause of misery and poverty, which was an element of the social Darwinism that contributed to the devaluing of human life due to its stress on the struggle for existence and competition for resources. 

Eugenic doctrines were criticised increasingly during the inter-war years, on scientific grounds and for their blatant class and racial bias, and were attacked widely when a eugenics narrative and role in the holocaust was revealedHuman rights evolved in response to the Holocaust, to ensure that race genocide doesn’t happen again. And to the growth of fascism. Human rights are premised on the belief that all human lives are of equal value. That is why those rights apply to everyone, that was the whole point of them, and to exclude people on whatever basis from enjoying those rights is to stray onto a very dangerous slippery slope in terms of recognising the equal worth of other human beings. Again.

The concept of adaptation remains, and allows the right to claim that the rich and powerful are better adapted to the social and economic climate of the time, and the concept of natural selection perpetuates the supremacist argument that it is natural, normal, and proper for the “strong” to thrive at the expense of the weak. Strength, however, is conflated with wealth.

British and American imperialists employed the language of social Darwinism to promote and justify Anglo-Saxon expansion and domination of other peoples. Such different personalities as Machiavelli, Sir Francis Bacon, Ludwig Gumplowicz, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini, each reasoning on different grounds, nevertheless arrived at similar conclusions. Imperialism to them is part of the natural struggle for survival. Those endowed with “superior” qualities are “destined” to rule all others. Imperialism has been morally excused as the means of liberating peoples from tyrannical rule or of bringing them the benefits of a “superior” way of life. Imperialism is all about human aggressiveness and greed, the search for security, drive for power and prestige and nationalist emotions, amongst other things.

Nationalism is anti-progressive. It’s a paradigm of competitive individualism that further undermines principles of cooperation, equality and social cohesion. It’s also a recognisable symptom of the rise of fascism. The UKIP brand of Parish pump politics nurtures fear, spite and vilifies people on the basis of one of our most wonderful assets: our human diversity.

Ordinary people did not caused the financial crisis. The real culprits are sat untouched in mansions, making even more money from the “austerity” imposed on the poorest and some of the most vulnerable members of society, whilst too many comply with misdirected blame of their oppressed brothers and sisters, rather than a political elite that have deliberately engineered a prolonged recession in the UK. Conservative governments always do. Our current social hardships have been created by this government’s policies and not powerless immigrants, disabled people or the unemployed. These are people whose lives are being broken by an elite.

The answer to our problems isn’t making the rest of the world go away, it isn’t bigotry and “national pride” – we surely learned those are not tenable answers from the terrible consequences of Nazism.

Dividing people by using blame and prejudice only weakens our opposition to oppression.

UKIP, however, have capitalised on the current government’s lack of clear, open and honest debate about why the UK has become more unequal and anomic (anomie – a sociological concept – is the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community resulting in fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values. This has been heightened by a significant discrepancy between Conservative ideology – rhetorical values commonly professed – and what is real, actual and achievable in our everyday life).

UKIP have exercised a crass manipulation of the existentially destabilised: many people are confused and anxious about where they belong, where their country is heading, and why the current government won’t do anything about it. Of course Farage denies vigorously that in giving these anxieties a directed voice they are merely acting as outlets for prejudice and faux protest votes. But prejudice, protest and a politics of fear is nevertheless UKIP’s leitmotif.

And farce. Like the UKIP councillor blamed the recent floods on the Government’s decision to legalise gay marriage. David Silvester said the Prime Minister had acted “arrogantly against the Gospel,” and God had punished the Thames Valley as a result. And John Sullivan, a UKIP candidate, explained that physical exercise in schools can “prevent homosexuality”.

Farage says he represents such “ordinary people”. As I stated earlier, he is an ex-Tory, a public school-educated former banker and stockbroker, whose policies will help him and his kind, maintaining the status quo, whilst presenting a fake challenge to the establishment. He set up a trust fund in an offshore tax haven, in a bid to avoid paying thousands of pounds in tax money. So UKIP are a “protest vote” for pretty much more of the same.

Farage claims he is the voice of “common sense”, whilst having allegiance with every kind of homophobic, wild conspiracy theorist, misogynist, racist, chauvinist , classist, peevish, vindictive and resentful inadequate. The only sense he and his followers seem to have in common is a fear of anyone who is not like them.

Farage disowned the entire 2010 UKIP manifesto – and not in the transparent manner of an honest politician admitting to past mistakes. Instead, he pretended he knew nothing of his party’s promises for a dress code for taxi drivers and a state-enforced repainting of the nation’s trains in traditional colours. Imagine if anyone else in public life said that a document they had put their name to, and claimed ownership of, was “drivel” and tried to avoid awkward questions by pretending that it had never been read. 

“Our traditional values have been undermined. Children are taught to be ashamed of our past. Multiculturalism has split our society. Political correctness is stifling free speech”, states the UKIP manifesto. Their “Pocket Guide to Immigration” promises to “end support for multiculturalism and promote one, common British culture”. After attracting some negative publicity, it has disappeared from here, but an archived version can be seen here.

Conformity, prejudice and language

Bigots quite often seem to use the freedom of speech plea to justify their prejudice. They say they have a right to express their thoughts. But speech is an intentional ACT. Hate speech is intended to do harm – it’s used purposefully to intimidate and exclude vulnerable groups. Hate speech does not “democratise” speech, it tends to monopolise it. Nor is it  based on reason, critical thinking or open to debate. Bigotry is a crass parody of opinion and free speech. Bigots are conformists – they tend not to have independent thoughts. Prejudice and Groupthink are longstanding bedfellows.

Being inequitable, petty or prejudiced isn’t “telling it like it is” – a claim which is an increasingly common tactic for the right, and particularly UKIP – it’s just being inequitable, petty or prejudiced.  And some things are not worth saying. Really. We may well have an equal right to express an opinion, but not all opinions are of equal worth. And UKIP do frequently dally with hate speech. Hate speech generally is any speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of e.g. race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. 

In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. Critics have argued that the term “hate speech” is a contemporary example of Newspeak, used to silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented in order to appear politically correct

This term was adopted by US Conservatives as a pejorative term for all manner of attempts to promote multiculturalism and identity politics, particularly, attempts to introduce new terms that sought to leave behind discriminatory baggage attached to older ones, and conversely, to try to make older ones taboo.

“Political correctness” arose originally from attempts at making language more culturally inclusive. Critics of political correctness show a curious blindness when it comes to examples of conservative correctness. Most often, the case is entirely ignored or censorship of the left is justified as a positive virtue. Perhaps the key argument supporting this form of linguistic and conceptual inclusion is that we still need it, unfortunately. We have a right-wing Logocracy, creating pseudo-reality by prejudicial narratives and words. We are witnessing that narrative being embedded in extremely oppressive policies and in the justification rhetoric.

The negative impacts of hate speech cannot be mitigated by the responses of third-party observers, as hate speech aims at two goals. Firstly, it is an attempt to tell bigots that they are not alone. It validates and reinforces prejudice.

The second purpose of hate speech is to intimidate a targeted minority, leading them to question whether their dignity and social status is secure. In many cases, such intimidation is successful. Furthermore, hate speech is a gateway to harassment and violence. (See Allport’s scale of prejudice, which shows clearly how the Nazis used “freedom of speech” to incite hatred and then to incite genocide.)

As Allport’s scale indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subtle expressions of prejudice. The dignity, worth and equality of every individual is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings.

Article 20(2) of the ICCPR requires states to prohibit hate speech. Hate speech is prohibited by international and national laws, not because it is offensive, but rather, because it amounts to the intentional degradation and repression of groups that have been historically oppressed.

The most effective way to diffuse prejudice is an early preventative approach via dialogue: education and debate. Our schools, media and public figures have a vital part to play in positive role-modelling, in challenging bigotry, encouraging social solidarity, respect for diversity and in helping to promote understanding and empathy with others.

Hate speech categories are NOT about “disagreement” or even offence. Hate speech doesn’t invite debate. It’s about using speech to intentionally oppress others. It escalates when permitted, into harassment and violence. We learn this from history, and formulated human rights as a consequence. UKIP would have us unlearn the lessons of the Holocaust so that people can say “I’m not being  racist, but…” or “It’s not wrong to say immigrants should be sent home…” and so on.

There are recognisable effects of Social Norms and conformity on Prejudice: Minard (1952) investigated how social norms influence prejudice and discrimination. The behaviour of black and white miners in a town in the southern United States was observed, both above and below ground.

Results: Below ground, where the social norm was friendly behaviour towards work colleagues, 80 of the white miners were friendly towards the black miners. Above ground, where the social norm was prejudiced behaviour by whites to blacks, this dropped to 20.

Conclusion: The white miners were conforming to different norms above and below ground. Whether or not prejudice is shown depends on the social context within which behaviour takes place. See also Milgram experiment on conformity – Milgram showed that people tend to conform in groups and defer to authority even when it means behaving immorally. It’s very depressing reading, but it’s important to recognise the role of conformity and obedience in the genocides we’ve witnessed, and Allport’s work is also important here too. Asch came up with more optimistic results, showing that an objection from just one person could change the behaviour of the whole group.

And that’s our responsibility, surely.

UKIP are not simply a collective of classist, sexist, xenophobes and homophobes: they are omniphobes. Political rhetoric has been reduced to simplistic, crude dichotomies which provoke arguments instead of rational debate, the populist themes trade on fear, and fear provokes strongly emotive responses. You can’t reason with those, they don’t lend themselves well to rational discourse.

I am appalled and horrified at the public stage that UKIP have gained, at how the right generally have pushed back our boundaries of decency and are cultivating prejudice and fear towards politically constructed Others, which share common themes with Nazi ideology, and worse, some people don’t see these terrifying connections. The increasing class of the poorest and most vulnerable people are being turned into outsiders by both the Conservatives and UKIP. And that is NOT okay.

Farage demands that “We want our country back.” So do I. But my vision is very different to the shrunken patriotic neo-imperialism of Farage. No one hates his own country more that the resentful nationalist – and how they complain that “things ain’t what they used to be”.

My country is multicultural, rich and diverse, it is one that has learned from history and evolved. It is founded on progress and civil rights movements, past battles of the oppressed fought and won – our hard-earned freedoms to be who we are without fear.

We have a government that reduces benefits so that poorly paid workers can feel a little better about being so poorly paid. It’s a government that is all about lowering standards, and crucially, our expectations, and our regard of each other. So much mean spirited resentment has been kindled and perpetuated by the Coalition amongst the oppressed, aimed at the oppressed.

I recognise political themes of oppression and repression, and it is NOT okay. How can anyone think it is?

This governments’ schadenfreude – motivation for the vindictive policies that we’ve seen this past 4 years, which target the most vulnerable citizens most of all – is debated. Some people believe that the policies are a consequence of a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the wealthy rather than being malicious acts. But the Tories laughed on hearing the accounts of suffering of the poor because of the bedroom tax and the food banks in parliament, for all to see.

But entertaining the idea for a moment that the inflicted suffering isn’t a motivation but a consequence, well that would make the Government at the very least indifferent, callous and unremorseful, since they show a supreme lack of concern for the plight of those least able to defend themselves against injustice and inflicted poverty. Either way, I know evil when I see it, and this government ARE evil. The shock and anger at the recognition that all of those principles and beliefs we held dear – such as justice, fairness, democracy, freedom, Government accountability, equality (at least in terms of the worth of each life), institutionalised philanthropy – all trodden under foot by the social Darwinist aristocratic elite in just 4 years. And the faith we each had in those collective ideals undermined by the constant perpetuation of divisive propaganda tactics from the right.

Dividing people by using blame and prejudice only weakens our opposition to oppression.

We must each take some responsibility and work to put right the terrible mistakes and inhumane acts that we’ve allowed to be written into our collective history. Our starting point must be founded on an egalitarian doctrine that maintains that all humans are equal in fundamental worth and social status. We have to learn and evolve. If we remain silent and indifferent, that makes us nothing more than complicit bystanders.

68196_116423458427191_5364492_n

Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

We can forgive children who are afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when men and women are afraid of the light.

 

Related

DEFINING FEATURES OF FASCISM AND AUTHORITARIANISM 

Nigel Farage schooldays letter reveals concerns over fascism

Techniques of neutralisation: Cameron says keep calm and carry on climbing Allport’s ladder

Winston McKenzie, organiser for UKIP, Croydon, defending normalisation and legitimisation of racism and racist language in the UKRadio 4 PM, discussion with Sunny Singh; Friday May 23rd, 2014.

Remarkable linguistic bullying from McKenzie and a Godwin’s law type of approach to the word ‘racism’, which UKIP seem to have adopted to shut down critical debate about racism.

Racism and other forms of prejudice are normalised almost inscrutably, in stages as Allport’s ladder demonstrated all too well as an explanation of how the Holocaust happened. Allport describes social processes, and how the unthinkable becomes acceptable, by a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.  

The prejudice happens on a symbolic level first – language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of phrases like ‘immigrants “swamping” our shores’ in the media, as part of political rhetoric and so on. Racists very seldom own up to being racists. They also quite often employ linguistic bullying strategies that makes challenging them very difficult. But as history has taught us, we must challenge them.

 

 

Multiple Cuts for the Poorest Families and Conservative catechisms

1957929_293215800829475_303676825_o
Policy documents are often a useful source for understanding how language and imagery contribute to the construction of society’s assumptions, values and beliefs. They also demonstrate the privileging and “packaging” of a particular ideology. The government’s 2010 Green paper, 21st Century Welfare, and the White Paper, Universal Credit: Welfare that Works, are both good examples of how such documents are instrumental in constructing a discourse about social security that attempts to justify a deepening of Thatcher’s brand of neoliberalisation.

The documents marginalise the structural causes of persistent and inevitable unemployment and of poverty due to government policy by attempting to linguistically transform these causes into individual pathologies of benefit “dependency” and “worklessness.”  The conservative response to conservative creations and definitions is a raft of policy measures that are about punitive conditionality and removal of lifeline benefits.

The documents indicate a clear conflation of ideas about (a) simplification of the benefits system, (b) work “incentives” and (c) conditionality and sanctions, that has led many to conclude that the welfare “reforms” amount to an attack on the unemployed, sick and disabled at a time when they are least able to do anything about it. Conservative ideology has been disgracefully portrayed as offering new and innovative “solutions” to address Britain’s supposedly broken society, and as a means of offering restoration of “traditional values” and economic competitiveness. These are, of course, Tory catechisms.

Such Conservative ideological codifications have been translated as high unemployment, an increasingly higher cost of living, increasing and deepening poverty, growing social inequalities and punitive “welfare” cuts. These social events are not a consequence of Tory economic strategy: they ARE the Conservative economic strategy. Tories always create recession – Thatcher did, Major did in the early 90s, (see also Black Wednesday), and Cameron has managed a triple-dip recession. Their economic policies don’t ameliorate the consequences of their economic policies.

It’s a curiosity. Conservatives don’t seem to realise we re-translated their catechisms a long time ago. We know this is a socio-economic and cultural war being waged on the majority of citizens. Tory ideology – it’s a doctrinal manual giving basic instruction, usually by rote or repetition. We spotted a couple of centuries back that Conservatives don’t govern and serve: they rule. They are simply aristocratic remnants of the feudal era. As Andrew Dickie said:

These new “garagiste/card-sharping/rent-seeking” baronage know the price of everything and the value of nothing, and their only skills are those of rip-off and plunder, and are a universe away from the real economy and real wealth creation, which will be the task of the serfs – as it always was.” 

But they’ve been losing this war for a couple of hundred years. More than any other group of people, Conservatives are apparently oblivious to their own ideological history, and those who don’t know their history are doomed to… inflict it. (See That Tory revolution and the rise of neofeudalism.)

Recessions are terrible for ordinary people. They create enormous misery by throwing people out of work and out of their homes. How can a political ideology remain so silent about how to address human needs and alleviate suffering? Even worse, how can a political ideology result in recession and human suffering? And then deepen it? The answer is it enormously benefits a handful of conservative wealthy people.

Recession creates an “incentive” for private companies to exploit a desperate, oppressed and (deliberately) impoverished reserve army of labour. It also “justifies” the Tory ideological drive to dismantle the socialist state provisions and services established in the 1940s. The welfare post-war settlement comprised of essential safeguards to protect the vulnerable from the worst ravages of capitalism, along with a cross-party consensus on Keynesian economics. Those safeguards were fought for – we owe SO very much –  our current freedoms – to Chartism, Trade Union pressure, and the sacrifice of thousands of ordinary people in two World Wars – without those, the old feudal set-up would never have changed. But the current conservative-led government has destroyed so much of the foundations of that freedom.

The Tories “care” for the well-being of the general public in the same way that McDonalds care for cattle. 

1.75 million households in Great Britain have seen their incomes cut in the last three years as a result of benefit reforms, according to a new report by Oxfam and the New Policy Institute. We have witnessed the return of absolute poverty this past four years – the welfare state had seen an end to such severe deprivation. Until now.

The report – Multiple Cuts for the Poorest Families – delivers a warning that wide-ranging cuts are changing the shape of welfare support at a time when the rising cost of living is making it extremely difficult for families to meet their basic needs. As a result, disabled people, carers, job seekers and single parents are being pushed ever deeper into poverty.

Since last April, 400,000 households have been pushed further into poverty by cuts to housing benefit and/or council tax support – households affected by both of these cuts typically lose around £18 per week. These are costs they were previously deemed too poor to pay. Benefits were calculated originally to ensure people could meet basic living needs – food and fuel costs. This was amount was calculated on the assumption that full housing costs were also covered by benefit, and that people claiming benefit were exempt from rates/council tax. Of these affected families, 480,000 are seeing their benefits being cut twice as they are affected by more than one of the changes.

Whether a family is affected and by how much varies, based on a range
of factors which are largely out of the control of the individual. They
depend on council tax band, the cost of local housing, family size,
property size and of course, “appropriate” housing availability. But the changes apply irrespective of income.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam Chief Executive, said:

This is the latest evidence of a perfect storm blowing massive holes in the safety net which is supposed to stop people falling further into poverty. We are already seeing people turning to food banks and struggling with rent, council tax, childcare and travel costs to job centres.  At a time when the five richest families in the UK have the same wealth as the bottom 20 percent of the population it is unacceptable that the poorest are paying such a heavy price.”

Oxfam is calling on the Government to determine what the absolute minimum level of support should be for households in different circumstances. It must be high enough to mean that those reliant upon it are not forced to go without. People must be able to meet their survival needs. This is supposed to be a “civilised” first world liberal democracy, isn’t it?

When someone is struggling to meet their basic needs, it’s almost impossible to be motivated to do anything else, even if it’s the solution to their problem. And no amount of deplorable cruelty, such as the Tory “new conditionality” and “incentives” – the terrible and target-driven benefit sanction regime, which entails the withholding of lifeline benefits of the very poorest for up to three years, for example – will change that.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good reference point for discussion about the obstacles many people in poverty face when trying to provide for their families, in addition to themselves. But whether you recognise Maslow’s framework or not, individuals and families on low-income need to be safe, secure in a home or adequate shelter, financially stable, and possess basic emotional and physical health.

Classic

The lower the needs in the hierarchy, the more fundamental they are to survival and the more a person will tend to abandon the higher needs in order to pay attention to sufficiently meeting the lower needs.

Conservative policies seem to be designed to distract people from their “higher” needs and potential by threatening their lower, basic survival needs. This restricts growth and development in human beings, destroys human potential and so stifles social evolution. And no amount of dishonest rhetoric will ever justify this intentionally inflicted suffering on a population from a government. 

537138_298121333590735_348384495_n (1)
Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant pictures

See also:

 Welfare cuts make people feel ‘more secure’.

Techniques of neutralisation

The new new poor law

Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man

10001887913_f8b7888cbe_o
The Tories are not “paying down the debt” as claimed. They are “raising more money for the rich”

Austerity is not being imposed by the Coalition to achieve an economic result. Austerity IS the economic result. In the wake of the global banking crisis, the Tories, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, have opportunistically delivered ideologically driven cuts and mass privatisation.

We also know that the government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) laid bare an important truth – that any semblance of economic recovery is despite the Coalition and not because of them. Yet the Tories have continued to claim that austerity is “working”. The Chairman of the OBR, Robert Chote said:

“Looking over the forecast as a whole – net trade makes very little contribution and government spending cuts will act as a drag.

The OBR state that any slight economic recovery is in no way because of Osborne and Tory policy, but simply due to the wider global recovery from the global crash. 

The government has drastically cut its spending on everything – including the NHS, and welfare in spite of their ludicrous claims to the contrary, this means that the government has consistently damaged the prospect of any economic recovery. This also demonstrates clearly that Coalition policy is driven by their own ideology rather than a genuine problem-solving approach to the economy. Yes, I know I’ve said all of this before – and so have others – but it’s so important to keep on exposing this Tory lie.

However, I believe that Conservatives really do have a conviction that the “big state” has stymied our society: that the “socialist relic” – our NHS and our Social Security system, which supports the casualties of Tory free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know that the competitive, market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

Coalition rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. If the Coalition must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

Inequality is a fundamental element of the same meritocracy script that neoliberals so often pull from the top pockets of their bespoke suits. It’s the big contradiction in the smug, vehement meritocrat’s competitive individualism narrative. This is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such fundamentally competitive economic dogmas to manifest, there are always winners and losers. It’s hardly “fair”, therefore, to leave the casualties of competition facing destitution and starvation, with a hefty, cruel and patronising barrage of calculated psychopolicical scapegoating, politically-directed cultural blamestorming, and a coercive, pathologising and punitive behaviourist approach to the casualities of inbuilt, systemic, inevitable and pre-designated sentences of economic exclusion and poverty.

And that’s before we consider the fact that whenever there is a Conservative-led government, there is no such thing as a “free market”: in reality, all markets are rigged to serve elites.

Political theorist Francis Fukuyama, announced in 1992 that the great ideological battles between “east and west” were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed. He was dubbed the “court philosopher of global capitalism” by John Gray. In his book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama wrote:

“At the end of history, it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society…..What we are witnessing, is not just the end of the cold war, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

I always saw Fukuyama as an ardent champion of ultra-neoliberalism, and he disguised his neo-conservatism behind apparently benign virtue words and phrases (as part of a propaganda technique called Glittering Generalities), such as “Man’s universal right to freedom.” 

He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand – “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit Social Darwinist notions long held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives, and as we know, that’s rigged. Tory ideology does not ever have a utilitarian outcome.

Fukuyama’s ideas have been absorbed culturally, and serve to naturalise the dominance of the Right, and stifle the rationale for critical debate.

Like Marx, Fukuyama drew to some extent on the ideas of Hegel – who defined history as a linear procession of “epochs” – technological progress and the progressive, cumulative resolution of conflict allowed humans to advance from tribal to feudal to industrial society. Fukuyama was determined to send us on an epic detour – Marx informed us the journey ended with communism, but Fukuyama has diverted us to another destination.

I agree with Fukuyama on one point: since the French Revolution, democracy has repeatedly proven to be the fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives. However we haven’t witnessed the “triumph of liberal democracy” at all: in the UK, we are seeing the imposition of rampant, unchecked neoliberalism coupled with an unyielding, authoritarian-styled social conservatism, with the safety net of democracy removed.

Fukuyama’s declaration manufactures an impression of global consensus politics but I believe this is far from the truth. I don’t believe this can possibly be the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution. It doesn’t reflect any global and historical learning or progress.

Jacques Derrida (Specters of Marx (1993) ) said that Fukuyama – and the quick celebrity of his book – is but one symptom of the wider anxiety to ensure the “death of Marx”. He goes on to say:

“For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth.”

Fukuyama’s work is a celebration of neoliberal hegemony and a neo-conservative endorsement of it. It’s an important work to discuss simply because it has been so widely and tacitly accepted, and because of that, some of the implicit, taken-for-granted assumptions and ramifications need to be made explicit.

I don’t think conviction politics is dead, as claimed by Cameron – he has said that he doesn’t “do isms”, that politics is doing “what works”, “working together in the National interest” and “getting the job done”. But we know he isn’t working to promote a national interest, only an elite one. Cameron may have superficially smoothed recognisable “isms” from Tory ideology, but Nick Clegg has most certainly taken the politics out of politics, and added to the the impression that old polarities no longer pertain –  that all the main parties have shifted to the right.

However, the authoritarian Right’s domination of the ideological landscape, the Liberal Democrat’s complete lack of any partisan engagement and their readiness to compromise with their once political opponents has certainly contributed to popular disaffection with mainstream politics, and a sense of betrayal.

It’s ironic that many of those on the left who mistake divisiveness for a lack of political choice have forgotten the degree of consensus politics between 1945 and 1979, when Labour achieved so much, and manifested what many deem “real” socialist ideals. The Conservatives at that time largely agreed the need for certain basic government policies and changes in government responsibility in the decades after World War II, from which we emerged economically exhausted.

The welfare state, the national health service (NHS), and widespread nationalisation of industry happened at a time of high national debt, because the recommendations of the Beveridge Report were adopted by the Liberal Party, to some extent by the Conservative Party, and then most expansively, by the Labour Party.

It was Thatcher’s government that challenged the then accepted orthodoxy of Keynesian economics – that a fall in national income and rising unemployment should be countered by increased government expenditure to stimulate the economy. There was increasing divergence of economic opinion between the Labour and the Tories, ending the consensus of the previous decades. Thatcher’s policies rested on a strongly free-market monetarist platform aiming to curb inflation by controlling the UK’s money supply, cut government spending, and privatise industry, consensus became an unpopular word.

The Thatcher era also saw a massive under-investment in infrastructure. Inequality increased. The winners included much of the corporate sector and the City, and the losers were much of the public sector and manufacturing. Conservatism: same as it ever was.

Those on the “Narxist” left who claim that there is a consensus – and that the Blair government continued with the tenets of Thatcherism need to take a close look at Blair’s policies, and the important achievements that were underpinned with clear ethical socialist principles: strong themes of equality, human rights, anti-discrimination legislation, and strong programmess of support for the poorest, sick and disabled and most vulnerable citizens. Not bad going for a party that Narxists lazily dubbed “Tory-lite”.

Narxism is founded on simplistic, sloganised references to Marxist orthodoxy, and the claim to “real socialism.” Many Narxists claim that all other political parties are “the same.”

The Narxist “all the samers” tend to think at an unsophisticated populist level, drawing heavily on a frustratingly narrow lexicon of blinding glittering generalities, soundbites and slogans. But we need to analyse and pay heed to what matters and what defines a political party: policies and their impact. Despite New Labour’s shortcomings, if we are truly to learn anything of value and evolve into an effective opposition, presenting alternatives to the Conservative neoliberal doxa, we must also examine the positives: a balanced and even-handed analysis. We won’t progress by fostering further divisions along the longstanding “real socialist”, “left” and “moderate” faultlines.

It’s very clear that it is the Coalition who are continuing Thatcher’s legacy. We know this from the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) report, which was encouraged and commissioned by Thatcher and Howe in 1982, which shows a radical, politically toxic plan to dismantle the welfare state, to introduce education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education, to freeze welfare benefits and to introduce an insurance-based health service, ending free health care provision of the NHS. One of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, he is now one of Cameron’s advisors.

New Labour had 13 years to fulfil Thatcher’s legacy – and did not. However, in four short years, the Coalition have gone a considerable way in making manifest Thatcher’s ideological directives. To do this has required the quiet editing and removal of Labour’s policies – such as key elements of Labour’s Equality Act .

The imposed austerity is facilitated by the fact that we have moved away from the equality and rights based society that we were under the last Labour government to become a society based on authoritarianism  and the market-based distribution of power. The only recognisable continuity is between Thatcher’s plans and Cameron’s policies. The intervening Labour government gave us some respite from the cold and brutal minarchism of the Tories.

There was never a greater need for partisan politics. The media, which is most certainly being managed by the authoritarian Tory-led government creates an illusory political “centre ground” – and a manufactured consensus – that does not exist.

Careful scrutiny and comparison of policies indicates this clearly. Yet much propaganda in the media and Tory rhetoric rests on techniques of neutralisation – a deliberately employed psychological method used to direct people to turn off “inner protests”, blur distinctions: it’s a mechanism often used to silence the inclination we have to follow established moral obligations, social norms, as well as recognise our own values and principles. And it’s also used to disguise intentions. Therefore, it’s important to examine political deeds rather than words: policy, and not narratives.

My own partisanship is to fundamental values, moral obligations  and principles, and is certainly none-negotiable. Those include equality, human rights, recognising diversity, justice and fairness, mutual aid, support and cooperation, collective responsibility, amongst others, and the bedrock of all of these values and principles is, of course, democracy.

Democracy exists partly to ensure that the powerful are accountable to the vulnerable. The far-right Coalition have blocked that crucial exchange, and they despise the welfare state, which provides the vulnerable protection from the powerful. They despise human rights.

Conservatives claim that such protection causes vulnerability, yet history has consistently taught us otherwise. The Coalition’s policies are expressions of contempt for the lessons of over a century of social history and administration.

The clocks stopped when the Tories took Office, now we are losing a decade a day.

382035_141704259313964_676863845_n
Thank you to Robert Livingstone for the pictures. More here

Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

377683_445086432227557_1770724824_n (1)

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

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

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

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

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

Over the past five years:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three things to remember when politicians talk about tax:

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

(Information taken from here)

Office for National Statistics logo 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted

Who Really Benefits from Welfare?

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

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

1017174_500690710000462_512008904_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant artwork