Category: Psychology

British Psychological Society reafirms its opposition to welfare sanctions

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The UK’s leading professional associations for psychological therapies have reaffirmed their opposition to welfare sanctions.

The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council, British Psychological Society and UK Council for Psychotherapy between them represent more than 110,000 psychologists, counsellors, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists who practise psychotherapy and counselling.

In a joint response to the recent report of the Welfare Conditionality project, the organisations say:

“Our key concerns remain that not only is there no clear evidence that welfare sanctions are effective, but that they can have negative effects on a range of outcomes including mental health.

“We continue to call on the Government to address these concerns, investigate how the jobcentre systems and requirements may themselves be exacerbating mental health problems and consider suspending the use of sanctions subject to the outcomes of an independent review.”

The organisations reaffirmed the clear position against welfare sanctions that they took in a 2016 joint response.

Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard the British Psychological Society’s acting director of policy said:

“We are delighted to sign this joint statement. The Society has seen increasing evidence that benefit sanctions undermine people’s health and wellbeing, and that people with multiple and complex needs are disproportionately subject to them.”

I’ve written a lot of critical articles over the last few years about the government’s controversial welfare policies. The Conservatives claim that welfare sanctions “incentivise” people to look for work. However, the authoritarian application of a behaviourist idea – that punishment somehow motivates people to “change their behaviour” – especially when such punishment involves the cruel and barbaric removal of people’s means of meeting their most fundamental survival needs – food, fuel and shelter – contradicts conventional wisdom and flies in the face of a substantial body of empirical evidence.

Making provision for meeting fundamental human needs so rigidly conditional is an atrociously brutal act. There is simply no justification for a government in a very wealthy democracy to behave in such an inhumane manner. 

Social security is a safety net that most people have contributed towards. It came into being to ensure that no citizen would face absolute poverty – hunger and destitution – when they experience hardships, in a civilised and civilising democracy.

Punitive welfare sanctions are an extremely regressive policy. It was widely recognised during the 1940s that absolute poverty reduces citizens’ motivation and prevents us from fulfilling our potential at an individual level and as a society. 

Click here to read the Society’s recent comment on benefit sanctions.

Click here to read the statement from the five organisations. 

I wrote about the extensive study of  welfare conditionality here: Research shows that Tory ‘hostile environment’ of welfare sanctions doesn’t help people to find work.

Related

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder

Psychologists Against Austerity: mental health experts issue a rallying call against coalition policies 

The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

Psychologists Against Austerity: mobilising psychology for social change

The politics of punishment and blame: in-work conditionality

Disabled people are sanctioned more than other people, accordingto research

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions

G4S are employing Cognitive Behavioural Therapists to deliver “get to work therapy”

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

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

Sanctions can’t possibly “incentivise” people to work. Here’s why

 


 

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McMindfulness: Buddhism as sold to you by neoliberals – Peter Doran

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Peter Doran, Queen’s University Belfast

Mindfulness is big business, worth in excess of US$1.0 billion in the US alone and linked – somewhat paradoxically – to an expanding range of must have products. These include downloadable apps (1300 at the last count), books to read or colour in, and online courses. Mindfulness practice and training is now part of a global wellness industry worth trillions of dollars.

Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhist meditation teachings and encourages the quiet observation of habituated thought patterns and emotions. The aim is to interrupt what can be an unhealthy tendency to over-identify with and stress out about these transient contents of the mind. By doing so, those who practice mindfulness can come to dwell in what is often described as a more “spacious” and liberating awareness. They are freed from seemingly automatic tendencies (such as anxiety about status, appearances, future prospects, our productivity) that are exploited by advertisers and other institutions in order to shape our behaviour. In its original Buddhist settings, mindfulness is inseparable from the ethical life.

The rapid rise and mainstreaming of what was once regarded as the preserve of a 1960s counterculture associated with a rejection of materialist values might seem surprising. But it is no accident that these practices of meditation and mindfulness have become so widespread. Neoliberalism and the associated rise of the “attention economy” are signs of our consumerist and enterprising times. Corporations and dominant institutions thrive by capturing and directing our time and attention, both of which appear to be in ever-shorter supply.

The attention economy

The celebrated French activist philosopher and psychotherapist Félix Guattari observed some time ago that contemporary capitalism had begun to determine who we think we are. The power of corporate media, advertising, video games, Hollywood and the rise of social media condition how we present and think about ourselves. And in turn, our visions of ourselves participate in the production of all other commodities.

As we have come to identify with our lives as consumers, our lives have been reduced to an infinite series of choices and transactions. At the same time, our relationships with a once flourishing biodiversity – both natural and cultural – atrophy and recede behind a series of screens, preserved only as televisual spectacle to salve our blighted collective sense of unease.

So there is a great deal at stake for companies competing to commodify and colonise our attention. We are no longer mere consumers captured by chance by skillful marketing. We have become subjects and products formed in the interplay of algorithms, technology and newly minted corporate tools that mine our relationships, tastes, moods and intimate preferences. These are then fed back into the system in a perfect loop on platforms developed by Facebook, Apple, Netflix and a host of others now busily turning our attention into a tradeable commodity.

But as our enclosure in this “attention economy” accelerates, our vulnerability to addiction, loneliness, depression and alienation is entrenched. The more we buy into a disenchanted world bereft of complexity, care and meaning, nature and other people appear to retreat behind a series of screens.

Screen life.
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McMindfulness

Meanwhile mindfulness, a practice with its roots in Buddhism, has mushroomed in popularity. This may seem odd. But the popular, secular variety of “mindfulness” – or “McMindfulness”, as it has been dubbed – can appear to offer a tailored, therapeutic response to many of the features of contemporary neoliberalism and the demands of the attention economy.

Indeed mindfulness-based practices are merging with the neoliberal logic of “self care”. They seem to be consistent with the imperative that we increasingly take responsibility for our own individual fates as they are set adrift from community. This is a logic that has become pervasive across our public and private institutions, where “self regulation” in pursuit of resilience is the new watchword. Adapt – or perish.

And so mindfulness is being sold as a respite from hyper-consumerism, or as support for our struggle to comply with pressures to enhance productivity in the workplace. It is being used, for example, as a form of self-discipline in the service of enhanced productivity in corporate and institutional settings. Equally, the practice is being deployed by institutions to help mitigate consequences at heightened moments of distress such as when staff are being prepared to adapt to news of their imminent redundancy.

Back to Buddhism?

So called secular therapeutic mindfulness practices, then, can operate on the same register as neoliberalism and the “attention economy”. That’s why the philosopher Slavoj Žižek once described Buddhism as the perfect supplement for a consumerist society. Žižek was only half right. The real problem is the selective appropriation of Buddhist practices, stripped of their ethical and philosophical insights. As a result, mindfulness practices are too often presented and taught without adequate acknowledgement of the power structures that are themselves an important source of our distress.

Buddhist scholarship differentiates between “right mindfulness” and “wrong mindfulness”. Mindfulness must be practised with attention to the operation of power and context if it is to generate useful and liberating insights. It is irreducible to exclusively personal or individual experience. Rather, it must be practised as a gateway to an ethics of care and community – the “mindful commons”. As the philosopher of care, María Puig de la Bellacasa, reminds us, all knowledge is situated: knowing and thinking are inconceivable without attention to relations. These including relations of power, which can bear down on and move through our bodies, minds and places, influencing the way we think.

The ConversationStripped of its ethical and contextual roots, mindfulness-based practices borrowed from Buddhist and Zen lineages risk shoring up the very sources of suffering from which the Buddha set out to liberate himself and others. But practised correctly, mindfulness – aligned with and informed by acknowledgement of powerful institutional sources of suffering – can be a pathway to critical engagement and resistance.

Peter Doran, Lecturer in Law, Queen’s University Belfast

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Work as a health outcome, making work pay and other Conservative myths and magical thinking

Originally I wrote much of this in a very long article about Unum’s involvement in the government’s Work, Health and disability Green Paper, earlier this year. Sometimes, though, some points get lost in the volume of other issues raised, so I thought I would make sure these particular issues have more visibility in this shorter article.

There is plenty of evidence that indicates government policy is not founded on empirical evidence, but rather, it is ideologically framed, and often founded on deceitful contrivance. A Department for Work and Pensions research document published back in 2011 – Routes onto Employment and Support Allowance said that if people believed that work was good for them, they were less likely to claim or stay on disability benefits.

So a political decision was made that people should be “encouraged” to believe that work was “good” for their health. There is no empirical basis for the belief, and the purpose of encouraging it is simply to cut the numbers of disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by “helping” them into work.

Another government document from 2014 – Psychological Wellbeing and Work – says: We know that being in work is good for wellbeing and that mental health problems are an increasing issue for the nation and so the Minister for Welfare Reform and the Minister for Care and Support jointly sought to expand the evidence base on common mental health problems.  

A number of Government programmes assess and support those with mental health difficulties to work, but it is internationally recognised that the evidence base for successful interventions is limited. 

The Contestable Policy Fund gives ministers alternative avenues to explore new thinking and strategies that offer cross-Government benefits. This report was commissioned through this route.” 

And: “Within the time and resources available for this study the research team did not undertake extensive assessment of the quality of the evidence base (eg assessing the research design and methodology of previous studies)”

The government have gone on to declare with authoritarian flourish that they now want to reinforce their proposal that “work is a health outcome.” Last year, a report by the Mental Health Task Force and chaired by Mind’s Paul Farmer, recommended that employment should be recognised as a “health outcome”.  I’m just wondering how people with, say, personality disorders, or psychosis are suddenly going to overcome the nature of their condition and successfully hold down a job for a minimum of six months.

Mind those logical gaps… 

This has raised immediate concerns regarding the extent to which people will be pushed into work they are not able or ready to do, or into bad quality, low paid and inappropriate work that is harmful to them, under the misguided notion that any work will be good for them in the long run.

The idea of the state persuading medical professionals to “sing from the same [political] hymn sheet”, by promoting work outcomes in health care settings is more than a little  Orwellian.

Gaslighting narrative has become common political practice. Sick and disabled people who have their lifeline support cut are being “supported” into work. People who are too ill to work are said to have “fallen out of employment”and “parked on benefits”, as if these are not rational decisions made by competent people who know that they cannot work any longer, and that quite often, to continue doing so would place themselves and/or others at risk.

Benefits are paid for by people when they work as a social security, for in case they encounter difficult times. People tend to claim what they need, rather than becoming “parked” on benefits.

The idea that work will somehow set us free from illness is a very dangerous one.

Conservative narratives are comprised of glib, intentionally misleading, disdainful and patronising language from an utterly ruthless elite running the country into the ground, leaving such an unkind and uncaring society for the next generation, with nothing left of the “from the cradle to the grave” provision that previous generations have relied on. 

Sick notes have been renamed “fit notes” and disability benefit is now “employment and support allowance”, emphasising the linguistic behaviourism and ultimate priorities of a “small state” neoliberal government. 

Work is the only route out of poverty. If you can’t work, that’s just too bad.

Some people’s work is undoubtedly a source of wellbeing and provides a sense of purpose and security. That is not the same thing as being “good for health”.

For a government to use data regarding opinion rather than empirical evidence to claim that work is “good” for health indicates a ruthless mercenary approach to fulfill their broader aim of dismantling social security and to uphold their ideological commitment to supply-side policy.

From the first document“The belief that work improves health also positively influenced work entry rates; as such, encouraging people in this belief may also play a role in promoting return to work.”

The aim of the research was to “examine the characteristics of ESA claimants and to explore their employment trajectories over a period of approximately 18 months in order to provide information about the flow of claimants onto and off ESA.”

The document also says: “Work entry rates were highest among claimants whose claim was closed or withdrawn suggesting that recovery from short-term health conditions is a key trigger to moving into employment among this group.”

“The highest employment entry rates were among people flowing onto ESA from non-manual occupations. In comparison, only nine per cent of people from non-work backgrounds who were allowed ESA had returned to work by the time of the follow-up survey. People least likely to have moved into employment were from non-work backgrounds with a fragmented longer-term work history. Avoiding long-term unemployment and inactivity, especially among younger age groups, should, therefore, be a policy priority. ” 

“Given the importance of health status in influencing a return to work, measures to facilitate access to treatment, and prevent deterioration in health and the development of secondary conditions are likely to improve return to work rates”

Rather than make a link between manual work, lack of reasonable adjustments in the work place and the impact this may have on longer term ill-health, the government chose instead to promote the cost-cutting and unverified, irrational belief that work is a “health” outcome. Furthermore, the research does conclude that health status itself is the greatest determinant in whether or not people return to work. That means that those not in work are not recovered and have longer term health problems that tend not to get better.

The fact that government policy papers lack coherence, consistent logic and rationale is very troubling, because it indicates plainly that government policy is being driven by assumption, prejudice and ideology.

The government mantra “making work pay” was nothing to do with improving falling or stagnating wages and job insecurity, or poor working conditions. It was all about making sure that the conditions attached to social security eligibility are so punitive and wretched that only those people who are absolutely desperate will put themselves through the harshly punitive and stigmatising claim and conditionality process.

“Making work pay” is really all about making social security appear unsustainable and untenable. It’s about a governments’ priorities and choices expressed in Orwellian soundbites. It’s about a “business friendly” government that will always make sure your employer makes a hefty profit at your expense. It’s about the introduction of ordeals in order to deter people from claiming the welfare support that they paid for, for when they need it. It’s ultimately about dismantling the gains of our post-war settlement. It’s about the neoliberal small state and Conservative dogma. 

Work does not “cure” ill health. To mislead people in such a way is not only atrocious political expediency, it’s actually downright dangerous.

As neoliberals, the Conservatives 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 economic outcomes are politically stigmatised and outgrouped. 

The political de-professionalisation of medicine, medical science and specialisms (consider, for example, the implications of permitting job coaches to update patient medical files), the merging of health and employment services and the recent absurd declaration that work is a clinical “health” outcome, are all carefully calculated strategies that serve as an ideological prop and add to the justification rhetoric regarding the intentional political process of dismantling publicly funded state provision, and the subsequent stealthy privatisation of Social Security and the National Health Service. 

De-medicalising illness is also a part of that process:

“Behavioural approaches try to extinguish observed illness behaviour by withdrawal of negative reinforcements such as medication, sympathetic attention, rest, and release from duties, and to encourage healthy behaviour by positive reinforcement: ‘operant-conditioning’ using strong feedback on progress.” Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton in Concepts of rehabilitation for the management of common health problems. The Corporate Medical Group, Department for Work and Pensions, UK. 

This is the dangerous, irrational, savage and neoliberal mindset behind the cuts to disability support. Medication, rest, release from duties, sympathetic understanding – remedies to illness – are being redefined as “perverse incentives” for “sickness behaviours”, yet the symptoms of an illness necessarily precede the prescription of medication, the Orwellian (and political rather than medical) “fit note” and exemption from work duties.

Notions of “rehabilitation” and medicine are being redefined as behaviour modification: here it is proposed that operant conditioning in the form of negative reinforcement, which the authors seem to have confused with punishment, will “cure” ill health. Imagine trying to sell the bordering-on-psychopathic idea that medicine provides perverse incentives which encourage “sickness behaviours” in patients to doctors, preventing them from recovering in a timely manner so they can promptly return to work.

I’m sure that oncologists everywhere will be relieved to see that their cancer patients simply needed to be told to pull themselves together, and that what they need is a stiff talking to, instead of the soft options entailing mollycoddling, chemotherapy and surgery. 

This is the same kind of thinking that lies behind the broader welfare sanctions, which are state punishments entailing the cruel removal of lifeline income for “non-compliance” in narrowly and rigidly defined “job seeking behaviours.” Sanctions are also described as a “behavioural incentive” to “help” and “encourage”people into work. People who are ill, it is proposed, should be sanctioned, too, which would entail having their lifeline basic health care and money for meeting their basic needs removed. 

Many qualitative accounts from first hand witnesses, extensive research and empirical evidence has repeatedly demonstrated that welfare sanctions make it less likely that people will find employment: taking essential support from people with very limited resources profoundly demotivates, distresses and harms people, rather than “incentivising” them to find work. (See also: Benefits sanctions: a policy based on zeal, not evidence and The Nudge Unit’s u-turn on benefit sanctions indicates the need for even more lucrative nudge interventions, say nudge theorists.)

The darker meaning of David Cameron’s comments about “ending a culture of entitlement” back in 2010 has become clearer. He wasn’t only talking about perceived attitudes and referencing erroneous, unverified and unfounded notions of “welfare dependency”: his party’s aim was and still is about reducing public expectations of a supportive and rights-based relationship with the publicly funded state – one that has evolved from the post-war settlement to ensure that everyone in the UK can meet their basic human needs. It’s no coincidence that we have witnessed the savage reduction of social security and rationing within our national health care systems since 2010.

This government is serious threat to all of those institutions and public services that contribute to make us a civilised society. In 2017, I should not have to say that poor and ill people cannot be simply punished, bullied, harassed (or “nudged”) out of being poor or ill. As politically inconvenient as poverty and disability are, no amount of authoritarian state gaslighting, abuse, bullying and harassment will “cure” those of us afflicted with either. 

The government’s new behavioural medicine is rather old news, sociologists abandoned the sick role concept decades ago

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Behavioural medicine was significantly influenced by American sociologist Talcott Parsons’ The Social System,1951and his work regarding the sick role, which he analysed in a framework of citizen’s roles, social obligations, reciprocities and behaviours within a wider capitalist society, with an analysis of rights and obligations during sick leave.

From this perspective, which is an essentially socially conservative one, the sick role is considered to be sanctioned deviancewhich disturbs the function of society and the moral economy . (It’s worth comparing that the government are currently focused on economic function, enhancing the supply side of the labour market and the moral economy within a neoliberal framework.)

Behavioural medicine more generally arose from a view of illness and sick role behaviours as characteristics of individuals, and these concepts were imported from Functionalist sociological and sociopsychological theories.

However, perhaps it should be pointed out that there is a distinction between the academic social science disciplines, which include competing and critical perspectives of conflict and power, for example, and the recent technocratic “behavioural insights” approach to public policy, which is a monologue that doesn’t recognise the need for citizens’ democratic consent to behavioural change, nor does it recognise controversy or include critical analysis. It serves as prop for neoliberalism, conflating citizen’s needs and interests with narrow, politically defined economic outcomes. 

We have a government that has regularly misused concepts from psychology and sociology, distorting them to fit a distinct framework of ideology, and justification narratives for draconian policies. Parsons’ work has generally been defined as sociological functionalism, and functionalism tends to embody very conservative ideas. From this perspective, sick people are not productive members of society; therefore this deviation from the norm must be policed. This, according to Parsons, is the role of the medical profession.

More recently we have witnessed the rapid extension of this role to include extensive State policing of sick and disabled people.

It seems many of the so-called psychosocial model advocates have ignored the rise of  chronic illnesses and the pathologisation of everyday behaviours in health promotion. Parson’s sick role came to be seen as a negative referent (Shilling, 2002: 625) rather than as a useful interpretative tool. Parsons’ starting point is his understanding of illness as deviance.

Illness is the breakdown of the general “capacity for the effective performance of valued tasks” (Parsons, 1964: 262). Losing this capacity disrupts “loyalty” to particular social commitments in specific contexts such as the workplace.

Theories of the social construction of disability also provide an example of the cultural meaning of certain health conditions. The roots of this anti-essentialist approach are found in Stigma by sociologist Erving Goffman (1963), in which he highlights the social meaning physical impairment comes to acquire via social interactions.

The social model of disability tends to conceptually distinguish impairment (the attribute) from disability (the social experience and meaning of impairment). Disability cannot be reduced to a mere biological problem located in an individual’s body (Barnes, Mercer, and Shakespeare, 1999).

Rather than a “personal tragedy” that should be fixed to conform to medically determined standards of “normality” (Zola, 1982), disability becomes politicised. The issues we then need to confront are about the obstacles that may limit the opportunities for individuals with impairments, and about how those social barriers may be removed.

From a social constructionist perspective, emphasis is placed on how certain illnesses come to have cultural meanings that are not reducible to or determined by biology, and these cultural meanings further burden the afflicted (as opposed to burdening “the tax payer” , the health services, those with profit seeking motives, or the state.)

So to clarify, it is wider society and governments that need a shift in disabling attitudes, perceptions and behaviours, not disabled people.

The insights that arose from the social construction of disability approach are embodied in policies, which include the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which included an employers’ duty to ensure reasonable adjustments/adaptations; the more recent Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, which provides an important tool for disabled people to use to challenge discrimination, violations to their human rights and unacceptable treatment.

In contrast, Parsons invokes a social contract (an idea which Cameron ran with when he described the “big society” with increased citizen responsibility) in which society’s “gift of life” is repaid by continued contributions and conformity to (apparently unchanging, non-progressive) social expectations.

For Parsons, this is more than just a matter of symbolic interaction, it has far more concrete, material implications: “honour” (deserving) and “shame” (undeserving) which accompany conformity and deviance, have consequences for the allocation of resources, for notions of citizenship, civil rights and social status.

Parsons, like the contemporary Conservatives, never managed to accommodate and reflect social change, suffering and distress, poverty, deprivation and conflict in his functionalist perspective. His view of citizens as oversocialised and subjugated in normative conformity was an essentially Conservative one. Furthermore, his systems theory was heavily positivistic, anti-voluntaristic and profoundly dehumanising. His mechanistic and unilinear evolutionary theory reads like an instruction manual for the neoliberal state.

Parsons thought that social practices should be seen in terms of their function in maintaining order and social structure. You can see why his core ideas would appeal to Conservative neoliberals and rogue multinational companies. Conservatives have always been very attached to tautological explanations (insofar that they tend to present circular arguments.

One question raised in this functional approach is how do we determine what is functional and what is not, and for whom each of these activities and institutions are functional. If there is no method to sort functional from non-functional aspects of society, the functional model is tautological – without any explanatory power to why any activity is regarded as “functional.” The causes are simply explained in terms of perceived effects, and conversely, the effects are explained in terms of perceived causes). 

Because of the highly gendered division of labour in the 1950s, the body in Parsons’ sick role is a male one, defined as controlled by a rational, purposive mind and oriented by it towards an income-generating performance. For Parsons, most illness could be considered to be psychosomatic.

This “mind over matter” dogma is not benign; there are billions of pounds and dollars at stake for the global insurance industry, which is set to profit massively to the detriment of sick and disabled people. And billions to be saved and redistributed to big business and to fund tax cuts for the wealthy from our increasingly rationed and rapidly disappearing social security and NHS.

The eulogised psychosocial approach is evident throughout the highly publicised UK PACE Trial on treatment regimes that entail Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and graded exercise. By curious coincidence, that trial was also significantly about de-medicalising illnesses. Another curious coincidence is that Mansel Aylward – who co-authored the document I cited earlier – sat on the PACE Trial steering group. 

From 1996 to April 2005 Aylward was Chief Medical Adviser, Medical Director and Chief Scientist of the UK Department for Work and Pensions and Chief Medical Adviser and Head of Profession at the Veteran’s Agency, Ministry of Defence. He was on the board of the Benefits Agency Medical Service in the 1990s.

He was involved in the establishment of the Work Capability Assessment test. When he left the department he headed the UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research, at Cardiff University,

Aylward has been heaviliy criticized for providing unwarranted academic credibility to the biopsychosocial model (with a heavy  emphasis on the “psychological” element) which became both the basis and justification for the Conservative government’s disability support cuts.

The government seem to have convinced themselves that for the poorest citizens, illness is all in the mind. Disability that entails additional needs and costs is really all about people simply conforming to roles, normative expectations, and academically constructed stereotypes.

For example, a contemporary interpretation of Parsons’ functionalist perspective of the sick role: “Diagnosis elicits the belief the patient has a serious disease, leading to symptom focusing that becomes self-validating and self-reinforcing and that renders worse outcomes, a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if the label is a biomedical one like ME. Diagnosis leads to transgression into the sick role, the act of becoming a patient even if complaints do not call for it, the development of an illness identity and the experience of victimization”. Simon Wessely and Marcus S.J. Huibers: The act of diagnosis: pros and cons of labelling chronic fatigue syndrome. Psychological Medicine 2006: 36

In 1993, Mansel Aylward invited psychiatrist Simon Wessely to give a presentation on his biopsychosocial approach to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome before the then Minister for Social Security. Wessely claimed:As regards benefits:- it is important to avoid anything that suggests that disability is permanent, progressive or unchanging. Benefits can often make patients worse.” 

Benefits can often make patients worse.” Ensuring that people can meet their basic survival needs is apparently a bad thing. Have you ever heard such utter nonsense?

It’s much more likely that patients who become more severely ill require welfare support. Despite there being no empirical evidence whatsoever for Wessely’s claims, the Minister for Social Security was looking to cut spending, so self-styled “experts” like Wessely and Aylward were more useful to an expedient government than rigorous research, empirical evidence and common decency.

I think it would be true to say that without social security, many people who are disabled because of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and other chronic illnesses that cause disability would experience MUCH worse symptoms,  and many would undoubtedly die without lifeline support to enable them to meet the cost of their basic survival needs. 

And actually, that is precisely what is happening in the 6th wealthiest, so-called democratic nation in the world. 

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What I don’t understand about Conservatism

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I don’t understand Conservatism or the lack of rationale of its supporters.

As an ideology, it lacks coherence and scope. Conservative policies lack an empirical evidence base.

It doesn’t take very much critical scrutiny to understand that it is purely ideology (as opposed to socioeconomic needs) and traditional class-based prejudices and moralising that drive Tory legislation. Conservative rhetoric seems so random and inconsistent to me. We have an extremely regressive and authoritarian government with something of a feudal vision, that clearly has no problem with disregarding and contravening the human rights of some social groups – especially those groups that are deemed “protected”.

The Conservatives have no problem dismantling the progressive social gains of our post-war settlement (for example, legal aid, social housing, the NHS, the welfare state). The same government wants to bring back the ancient and barbaric ritual of fox hunting, yet it has the cheek to claim its opposition will “take us back to the seventies”.  Mind you, they say that about every Labour leader at every general election.

I was recently chatting with a political social psychologist about my lack of understanding about the Conservative’s profoundly antisocial and antidemocatic worldview. He told me that Conservatives have a very different moral worldview to those on the left, based on authority and discipline, (which is why they always tend towards a punitive authoritarianism in power) that lacks the notion of human dignity. As such, they are likely to experience a lower “disgust” response to human rights abuses.

There is a continuing debate on whether cognitive or emotional mechanisms underlie moral judgments, or whether emotional mechanisms actually shape cognitive ones. Recent studies have illustrated that emotions – particularly disgust – play a prominent role in moral reasoning. It seems to have a particularly strong influence on our judgments in the social andpolitical domains, too. We can feel disgust for immoral actions, for people, or for entire social groups. 

Presenting some social groups as “disgusting” by the creation of stereotypes and the use of stigmatising rhetoric can also be used intentionally to create social divisions by manipulating social prejudices. Others find the political act of dehumanising others disgusting. 

Social stigma messages bear certain recognisable attributes: they provide cues to categorize and distinguish people, and to demarcated groups as a discrete social entity; they imply a responsibility and blame for receiving placement within this demarcated outgroup and an associated “moral peril”, and this distinguished group is then associated to physical, social and economic peril.

Stigma messages evoke a variety of emotions – fear, anger and disgust – that motivate people to adopt relevant or related social attitudes. Stigma attitudes encourage the sharing of stigma messages with others in a network, which may, subsequently, bond ingroup members whilst further alienating the outgroup.

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Media portrayals of disabled people that preempted public sympathy for those most affected by the punitive Conservative welfare “reforms” – a Conservative euphemism for disproportionately targeted and devastating austerity cuts. Political rhetoric framed the cuts in terms of “incentives” to “encourage” sick and disabled people into work, implying that they are simply “workshy” rather than unable to work, and making out that they are an economic burden on “the tax payer”.

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My own observations are that Conservatives are rather more moralising than moral. They create folk devils, and use the media to generate public disgust and disdain to fuel moral panics and maintain  social outgroups. You can always predict where the next round of austerity cuts will be targeted by the group that is being demonised in the media, and by the othering rhetoric of ministers – usually it’s a variation on the “scrounger/striver” dichotomy and the “burden on the tax payer” narrative. 

The Conservatives also reconstruct the world hierarchically – Conservative policies quite clearly generate and sustain inequality. I don’t understand why anyone would think that some lives are more important and worth more than others, but Conservatives really do.

Conservatives also have a strong need to keep a tight control of the world around them, they seem to fear change and make sense of social reality via taxonomies, categories and counts. As a defense mechanism, it’s really rather anally retentive.

They think that inequality is the “natural order” of things, based on notions of “deserving” and “undeserving”, so inevitably, they think some people’s lives are worth less than others. They don’t seperate wealth, power and status from rights, unfortunately, and miss the whole point of universal human rights frameworks. For the New Right neoliberals, the only rights that matter are property rights and the liberty to compete for resources and wealth. However, human rights are all about holding the wealthy and powerful to account, to prevent abuses of power.

Surely any government that has such a blatant disregard for the rights of some citizens is a serious cause for concern in a wealthy, so-called first world democracy. Democracy by its very nature is, after all, supposed to be inclusive.

You can discern a lot about people by looking at their attitude and behaviour towards animals, because that indicates how they will regard and treat people with little power. Killing animals for “sport” is something I find loathsome and abhorrent. I don’t understand why anyone would or could be so cruel.

The Dark Triad

Inflicting acts of intentional animal torture and cruelty is quite often associated with antisocial personality disorders. In particular, it is associated with a triad of specific characteristics of personality – Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy (the malevolent Dark Triad). A 2013 study carried out by Dr. Phillip Kavanagh and his colleagues examined the relationship between the three Dark Triad personality traits and attitudes towards animal abuse and self-reported acts of animal cruelty. The study found that the psychopathy trait especially was related to intentionally hurting or torturing animals, and was also a composite measure of all three Dark Triad traits.

So how does animal cruelty link with how a person regards and treats other people?

I’m not going to argue here that all Conservatives are psychopaths. However, I am going to explore values, behaviours, traits, attitudes and worldviews using a framework of psychology.

So, what makes a Conservative a Conservative?

Some researchers have linked personality traits with political ideology. For example, Robert (Bob) Altemeyer’s right wing authoritarianism (RWA) construct emphasises submission, obedience, conventionalism, and aggression as a result of social learning (Altemeyer, 1998), conformist personality, and danger-themed worldviews. 

An additional authoritarian variable, social dominance orientation (SDO; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994), found endorsement of intergroup hierarchies and inequalities resulting from a “tough-minded personality” that prefers inequality among social groups, lacks empathy and holds competitive, individualist worldviews (Duckitt, 2005). 

Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is negatively correlated with empathy, tolerance, communality, and altruism. As I said, Consevatives tend to be quite antisocial.

Some people much prefer wide social inequalities. SDO is conceptualised as a measure of individual differences in levels of group-based discrimination; that is, it is a measure of a person’s preference for status-ranking and hierarchy within society and domination over what are perceived as lower-status outgroups. And animals, whose lives are seen as unimportant and disposable.

See Mass contempt for cruel, unscientific badger culling ignored and:


So Conservatives tend to show a predisposition toward anti-egalitarianism within and between social groups. High scores of SDO predict stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice. SDO also correlates with forms of right wing authoritarianism.

These characteristics and differences may be framed in a theory of basic human values.  

Emotional disgust plays an important role in our ethical outlook more generally. We find certain types of unethical actions disgusting, and this operates to keep us from engaging in them and makes us express disapproval of them. But according to research, psychopaths have extremely high thresholds for disgust. Of course, psychopaths fail to recognise even the most universal social obligations and norms.

Much of the way people make sense of the world is through emotion. It informs our “gut” decisions, it forges and sustains our connections to people and places, our sense of belonging and purpose. It is almost impossible to imagine life without feelings – until you come across a psychopath.

However, psychopaths often cover up their emotional coldness and moral deficit with an above average level of ever-ready charisma and engaging charm. That’s how psychopaths gain power over others and manipulate them ruthlessly, as a means to their own ends. They have a glib and superficial, but usually plausible and cunning charm that obscures their lack of empathy, principles and remorse.  

Psychopaths don’t tend to be socially awkward. They are often of better-than-average intelligence. They do not express true remorse, genuine emotion or a desire to change. Though they are often experts at telling people what they want to hear. 

Social dominance orientation is a personality trait which predicts social and political attitudes, and is a widely used social psychological scale. SDO as a measurable individual difference arose from social dominance theory. Individuals who score high in SDO desire to maintain and, in many cases, increase the differences between social statuses of different groups, as well as individual group members. Typically, they are controlling, manipulative, competitive, aggressive, dominating, tough, and unempathic, uncaring power-seekers.

People scoring high in SDO also prefer strongly hierarchical group orientations. Often, people who score high in SDO have strongly held beliefs in forms of social Darwinism. It has also been found that men are generally higher than women in SDO measures.

Studies have found that SDO has a strong positive relationship with authoritarian, sexist and racist beliefs. With right wing authoritarianism (RWA), it contributes to different forms of prejudice; SDO correlates to higher prejudice against socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, RWA correlates to higher prejudice against threatening groups, while both are associated with increases in prejudice for “dissident” groups. 

SDO is linked with callous affect (which is to be found on the psychopathy sub-scale) – the “polar opposite” of empathy. Research also strongly suggests that those scoring high on SDO proactively avoid scenarios that could prompt them to be more empathetic or tender-minded. This avoidance also decreases concern for the welfare of others.  

SDO also has a direct effect on generalized prejudice, as lack of empathy makes one unable to put oneself in another other person’s shoes, which is also a predictor of prejudice and antidemocratic views. Extensive research has provided evidence that a high social dominance orientation is strongly correlated with Conservative political views, and opposition to policy programmes and policies that aim to promote equality. SDO is also positively and significantly correlated with Dark Triad variables. 

Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy correlated with immigrant threat perceptions and increased prejudice. 

I have a theory that while psychopaths simply lack the capacity for empathy, and can’t learn it, empaths can become desensitised, and unlearn concern for the welfare of others – they can be switched off. Research also suggests this is true. Democratic societies tend to be lower in SDO measures. That’s genuinely democratic societies, which requires the inclusion of all social groups, not just politically defined ingroups. 

Political interventions can shift compassionate left wing people temporarily to the political right. And notably, none of them seem to have anything substantive to do with policy, or with the widely understood political and ideological differences between the left and right. 

Here is a list of five things that can switch off left wing liberals, courtesy of Chris Mooney, an American science and political journalist: 

Distraction. Several studies have shown that “cognitive load” – in other words, requiring people to do something that consumes most or all of their attention, like listening to a piece of music and noting how many tones come before each change in pitch – produces a conservative political shift.

In one study, for instance, left wing and conservative subjects were asked whether government health care should be extended to a hypothetical group of AIDS victims who were responsible for their own fates (they’d contracted the disease while knowing the risks, and having unprotected sex anyway).  

Those on the left of the political spectrum, who were not under load – not distracted – wanted to help such people, despite the fact that they were personally responsible for their plight. But  the left wingers under load were much more like conservatives, appearing to reason using the just world fallacy: that this group of AIDS victims had “gotten what they deserved”. (Cognitive load did not appear to change the view of conservatives in the study.) 

Drunkenness. Alcohol intoxication is not unlike cognitive load, in that it cuts down the capacity for in-depth, nuanced thinking, and privileges economical, quick responses. Sure enough, in a recent study of 85 bar patrons, blood alcohol content was related to increased political conservatism for left wingers and conservatives alike. 

The drinkers still knew whether they were left leaning or conservative, of course. But when asked how much they agreed with a variety of statements of political principles – like, “Production and trade should be free of government interference”—higher blood alcohol content was associated with giving more conservative answers.

Time Pressure. In another study reported in the same paper, participants were asked how much they endorsed a variety of politically tinged words, like “authority” and “civil rights.” In one study condition, they had to see the term and respond to it in about 1.5 seconds; in the other condition, they had 4 seconds to do so. This made a political difference: subjects under time pressure were more likely to endorse conservative terms. 

Cleanliness/Purity. In another fascinating study, subjects who were asked political questions near a hand sanitizer, or asked to use a hand wipe before responding, also showed a rightward shift. In this case, political conservatism was being tied not to distraction, but rather, to disgust sensitivity – an emotional response to preserve bodily purity. 

Fear. After 9/11, public support for President George W. Bush also immediately swelled. In fact, a study showed that Bush’s approval ratings increased whenever terror alert levels were issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the phenomenon of “liberal hawks” who wanted to attack Iraq was much remarked upon. Why is that? 

The answer seems to involve the amygdala, a region of the emotional brain that conditions our life-preserving responses to danger. Its activity seems to have political implications: When we’re deeply afraid, tough and decisive leaders are more appealing to us. So are militaristic and absolute responses, like going to war and the death penalty; things like civil liberties, meanwhile, matter less to us. 

It is unlikely that all of the phenomena discussed above involve the same cognitive mechanism. For instance, disgust sensitivity is probably operating through a different part of the brain than fear sensitivity. Still, priming people to feel either fear or disgust in this context (the need for “cleanliness”) seems to favor political conservatism, and of course, may be manipulated in favour of politically conservative candidates. 

What all of this suggests in conclusion: Maybe we’ve been thinking about political ideology in very much the wrong way. It seems to be at least partly rooted in things deeper and more primal than the policy issues of the day, and how we individually reason that we ought to handle them. And this can be very easily manipulated. 

Moreover, it is striking that the research literature does not, at least at present, contain such a plethora of ways to bring about a temporary left wing shift – to make conservatives move left. Instead, what these cases seem to reveal are some inherent conservative political advantages, especially at times of deep fear, uncertainty, and stress. (And we’ve seen some of those recently.)

Aristotle famously wrote that “man is by nature a political animal.” Perhaps it’s about time that we pay more attention to what the word “nature” here really means. 

However, the more that a society encourages citizens to cooperate and feel concern for the welfare of others, the lower the SDO is in that culture. High levels of national income and empowerment of women are also associated with low national SDO, whereas more traditional societies with lower income, patriarchal organisation and more closed institutional systems are associated with a higher SDO.  

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. 

Rhetoric that draws on dehumanising language may be used to desensitise citizens to the welfare of others, as previously discussed. The media is sometimes used to amplify demogogues – leaders who gain popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the public, by appealing directly to the emotions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned debate and decorum. Demagogues quite often overturn established customs of political conduct and democracy, and have no empathy for those outgroups that they direct the public’s manipulated prejudices towards. 

The rise of the of the Conservative demagogue and the return of political incorrectness 

As a political idiom, Conservatism seems unlikely to spawn demagogues. However, the rise of the neoliberal New Right marked a radical break with tradition for the Conservatives. 

Demagogues often advocate immediate, forceful action to address a “national crisis” (corresponding with a danger-themed worldview) while accusing moderate and thoughtful opponents of “weakness” or “disloyalty”. Or even “economic incompetence”. Demagogues are skilled at turning power deriving from popular support into a force that undermines the very freedoms and rule of law that democracies are made to protect. 

The most fundamental technique of all demagogues is scapegoating: blaming an ingroup’s problems on an outgroup, usually of a different socioeconomic class, ethnicity or religion. For example, the Conservatives exploited a global economic crisis to begin dismantling the welfare state, unforgivably stigmatising and outgrouping disabled people and others claiming lifeline social security, and targeting them with an extremely disproportionate and punitive burden of austerity cuts, using the media to amplify their construction of folk devils to stir up public moral panic

People who need welfare support were portrayed as “scroungers” and “frauds” (regardless of the fact that this is largely untrue) to desensitise the public regarding the often devastating impacts of the subsequent draconian policy programme. 

Demagogues have often encouraged their supporters to violently intimidate opponents, both to solidify loyalty among their supporters and to discourage or physically prevent people from speaking out or voting against them.

Image result for crush the saboteursMost demagogues make a show of appearing to be down-to-Earth, ordinary citizens just like the people whose votes they seek.

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                      Who are they trying to kid?

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Ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality are the tools that legitimise discrimination. To work, ideologies appear as self-apparent truths, while those that promote them appeal to emotions and prejudice. The use of slogans as a vehicle for emotive messaging is also common among demagogues. 

Like “Taking our country back” , “Are you thinking what we’re thinking” and other political straplines that indicate clearly that the “Big Society” isn’t so big on equality and diversity. However, as history ought to have taught us, nationalist demagogues don’t simply target the group that you may dislike. They move on to other social groups – usually scapegoating those with the least power to divert you from the damage that those with the most power are inflicting on our society.  

Even “Strong and stable leadership”, trotted out over and over, amidst the fourth wave of feminist activism, is coming from a party that is notoriously resistant to structural change through positive discrimination schemes. There is lots of evidence that self declared “strong leaders” (rather than democratic ones) are usually not, and can cause a lot of damage, politically and in the workplace.

“Strong leadership” most often entails the promotion of a compelling vision by such leaders of a totalistic nature; individual consideration, expressed in a “recruitment system” designed to activate a process analogous to conversion; and the promotion of a culture characterized by conformity and the penalising of dissent. This is a feature of neoliberalism rarely discussed: it’s incompatible with democracy and human rights. 

Pinochet promised “strong leadership and economic stability”, following his coup d’état and subsequent neoliberal experiment, aided and abetted by the Chicago boys. Both Pinochet’s Chile and Hitler’s Germany highlight the dangers of self proclaimed “strong leaders” with a liking for positivism, technocratic “solutions” and a disregard for democracy and human rights. Neoliberalism requires an authoritarian government to impose it, as it invariably leads to the repression of the majority of people, and the “economic freedom” of a small, privileged group.

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Demagogues often seem to be incoherent and glib, but it is because they tailor their public messaging to meet the perceptions and attitudes of a variety of groups, aiming at as wide an audience as possible, hoping to appeal to everyone.

However, those peddling right wing “populist” think narratives generally commit intellectual malpractice, as the foundation of their superficial anti-elitism is founded on yet more social oppression, hierarchies, supremicist reasoning, prejudice and constructed categories of social scapegoats. It’s little more than a flimsy sales pitch for more elitism. And welfare chauvinism.  

Many demagogues also focus on the exploitation of national “crises” to push through controversial policies while citizens are too emotionally and physically distracted by disasters, upheavals or wars to mount an effective resistance. Neoliberalism is the ultimate form of such “disaster capitalism”. 

I don’t level the terms “authoritarian”, “demagogue” and “populist” arbitrarily against politicians I don’t like: these are categories that have been academically established following vigorous research, quite independently of my own views. 

Right wing demagogues tend to present a tax paying, beleaguered white middle class of economic “producers,” encouraging them to see themselves as being inexorably squeezed by parasitic groups above and below.

The rage is whipped up and directed upwards against a caricature of the conspiratorial “faceless bureaucrats,” “banksters” and “plutocrats” – rather than challenging an unfair economic system run on behalf of the privileged and powerful wealthy and corporate interests. The attacks and oppression generated by such populist white rage, however, is most painfully felt by those that are scapegoated with perceived lower socioeconomic status and historically. this has always been immigrants, refugees, and other traditionally marginalized groups, such as disabled people, lone parents and those out of work. 

Meanwhile the media is used as a political tool to erect fact proof screens around fundamental truths.

To divert opposition to this process, we have a manufactured and confusing era of “fake news” and “post truth” that suits state agendas. We have extensive state surveilance, and “behaviour change” programmes, which include the online presence of covert astroturfers and psychological operations teams attempting to infiltrate, manipulate, warp and control online discourse and public perception, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

The Conservative’s behaviour change agenda is also embedded in public policies that target in particular those who are the casualties of government economic policies, to imply blame in order to stigmatise and punish people, while systematically withdrawing our social security support and public services, and withdrawing the means of redress and remedy – legal aid has gone. Yet the Conservatives know that without equal access to justice, ordinary people simply cease to be free.

The rise of right wing political populists threatens democracy worldwide, says a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) released earlier this month. 

Trump and other populist leaders work from a similar propaganda crib sheet that supports bigotry, prejudice and discrimination; scapegoats immigrants and refugees for economic problems; encourages people to give up their rights in favour of authoritarian rule as a defense against perceived “outside threats”; and foments division between demographics, the report states.

HRW executive director Kenneth Roth says: “The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights. Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism. They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.”

Roth cited Trump’s campaign promises to curtail women’s and minority rights, deport millions of immigrants, use torture against detainees, and crack down on freedom of the press, as examples of “the politics of intolerance.”

Roth goes on to say: “We forget at our peril the demagogues of the past: the fascists, communists, and their ilk who claimed privileged insight into the majority’s interest but ended up crushing the individual. When populists treat rights as obstacles to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda.”

He also noted parallel campaigns in Europe that used xenophobia and nationalism to encourage people to vote away their rights, with Brexit being one of the most prominent outcomes.

He’s right. This kind of nationalist and anti-European rhetoric endangers not only economic prosperity, but also democracy. 

Political incorrectness is still incorrect

Back in 2000, Hugo Young wrote an article in the Guardian entitled Enoch Powell was expelled for this kind of demagoguery. Quoting William Hague, he says: “Labour has made this country a soft touch for the organised asylum racketeers who are flooding the country with bogus asylum seekers.” 

“That translates: asylum is ipso facto a racket, aliens are taking over Britain, every one of them is a fraudster until proved otherwise. All that’s missing is the Tiber flowing with blood.

“For we’ve been here before. The only difference between Enoch Powell’s philippic in 1968 against the migrant masses whose numbers were destroying the British nation, and Mr Hague’s demagogic caricature of asylum in 2000, is that whereas Powell was expelled from the shadow cabinet for saying what he said, today’s shadow cabinet has made his political strategy their own.

“Ann Widdecombe, Hague’s blustering ally in this matter, finds it perfectly respectable to list each of the mild pro-immigrant measures Labour has taken since 1997 as part of her anti-asylum indictment, without ever referring to the causes of the increased demand. As far as the Tory party is concerned, the Kosovo war never happened and Balkan, let alone Somali or Rwandan or Nigerian or Colombian, tragedies do not exist – though Rhodesia looks like being an exception.

“A screen of respectability sometimes covers Mr Hague’s own words. There are references to the need to protect “genuine” asylum-seekers from the rest. But here is authentic bogusness, the genuine bogus article, addressed to a party which in its present incarnation shows no interest in asylum-seekers of any kind, the genuine any more than the deceiving.

“Any such refinement would complicate the political message, now delivered into the local elections, that the Tories alone can be relied on to take a harsh line against the flooding influx of racketeering aliens.”

It’s possible to identify an emergent right wing populist theme right here. And an overall strategy for creating scapegoats. I can’t help but wonder how many of those ordinary people who felt that Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech “spoke to them” would feel the same resonance with what he wrote about hospital waiting lists in his book Medicine and Politics:

“It might (!) be thought macabre to observe that if people are on a waiting list long enough, they will die—usually from some cause other than that for which they joined the queue. Short of dying, however, they frequently get bored or better, and vanish.”

Nobody really knows if Powell has ever tried to make a joke, but if he has that passage was not it. It was written, with much more in the same heartless vein, by a man who was once Minister of Health. 

During a meeting with parents of babies that had been born with severe deformities caused by the morning sickness drug thalidomide, he was remarkably unsympathetic to the victims, refusing to meet any with affected babies. He simply said that “anyone who took so much as an aspirin put himself at risk.”

Powell had an unrepentant contempt for popular opinion, despite his apparent rapport with supporters of “ethnic nationalism” and a dark void where his empathy should have been. The Thatcher era Conservatives, fueled the rise far right groups such as the National Front. Cameron’s government fueled the rise of UKIP. It suits their purpose in creating social division and diversion. As for Powell, well he was simply an unrepentant, ruthlessly ambitious capitalist politician.

Powell also refused to launch a public inquiry into the Thalidomide scandal, resisted calls to issue a warning against any left-over thalidomide pills that might remain in people’s medicine cabinets (as US President John F. Kennedy had done), and said “I hope you’re not going to sue the Government…. No one can sue the Government.”

Since Powell, there has always been an easily identifiable racial minority for the Tories to blame for all working class problems and frustrations usually created by the Conservatives.

Many of the socially liberal democratic gains made in the form of our post-war sttlement for the UK citizenry are being dismantled by the Conservatives, and they show no shame in using a “them and us” rhetoric to achieve it. That is, each time they have created a convenient “them” to point to. 

And that’s the thing about fascism and demagoguery. It grows. Fascists don’t just target and punish social groups that you may not like. They add to their repertoire all the time. First it may be “foreigners”, next it may be disabled people and those without jobs, then the elderly.

A fascist is a fascist, regardless of who you are and how safe from prejudice you think you may be. The truth is that no-one who is an ordinary citizen is safe. Prejudice multitasks. The growth of social prejudice, originating from nationalism, has historically led some societies to commit the most terrible and inhumane acts.

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In light of this discussion, I don’t understand Conservatism one bit. I can’t understand why it has persisted. The Conservatives, from Thatcher onwards, have remained disciples of the anec­dotal dictator who thought that the way to eradicate pov­erty in Chile was to kill poor people by slow starvation, and “disappear” his many opponents.

I don’t understand ordinary people who support the Conservatives, because their “long term economic plan” has to be enforced by an authoritarian government. It will entail an incremental closing down of trade union activity, the loss of even basic citizens rights, the prohibition of all political activities and all forms of free expression, including on the internet, which the Conservatives intend to regulate and control.

It will entail the constant division and reduction of our society into further “us and them” categories. It will require the use of cultivated widespread public fear and anxiety as a constant diversion to the growing inequalities, human rights abuses and mass poverty that the government intend to inflict on the UK via the neoliberal policy programme.

I don’t understand how anyone can fail to see that state oppression – repression for the majorities and “economic freedom” for a minority of privileged groups – are two sides of the same Conservative coin drawn from a neoliberal currency. I don’t understand why people cannot see this unfolding now.

I don’t understand why the penny hasn’t yet dropped.


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Psychologists Against Austerity: mobilising psychology for social change

Source: PSYCHOLOGISTS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

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Psychologists Against Austerity are changing our name to reflect the full range of work that we do. We’re now Psychologists for Social Change!

Psychologists for Social Change is a network of applied psychologists, academics, therapists, psychology graduates and others who are interested in applying psychology to policy and political action.  We believe that people’s social, political and material contexts are central to their experiences as individuals.  We aim to encourage more psychologists to draw on our shared experience and knowledge to engage in public and policy debates.

The group started in 2014, when members of the London Community Psychology Network came together to address growing concerns about austerity policies. This lead to a number of meetings in London, and a workshop at the Community Psychology Section Festival. This lead to the development of the briefing paper on the Psychological Impact of Austerity. The briefing paper was launched at the House of Lords in March 2015, followed swifly by our first Week of Action. 

Since then, we have spread through the country with a number of local groups, and many more events, actions and publications.

Our central aims have remained the same since those first early meetings. They are: 

Mobilising Psychologists

One of our central missions has always been to encourage more psychologists to become involed in political and social action. To this end we have developed training for Clinical Psychology Trainees, spoken at conferences, and provided supervision for policy placements. 

Mobilising Psychological Knowledge

We also aim to disseminate psychological knowledge and research in ways that are relevant to current policy concerns. We understand that one of the resources that psychologists have is an understanding of communication and persuasion. This was the impetus for our briefing papers on the Psychological Impact of Austerity and Improving Discussion on Inequality.

Influencing Public and Policy Debates

Drawing on both these resources, of people and knowledge, we aim to move psychologically informed discussion into the public sphere. This has included examining specific policies for their psychological impact, as well as responding to specific policy announcements and media reports.

Campaigns and Actions

Psychologists Against Austerity (PAA) is an ongoing campaign highlighting the costs to mental health of austerity policies. This focusses both on the breadth and depth of cuts to public services and the austerity narrative which has been used to justify these cuts. 

As applied psychologists in the UK we believe it is our public and professional duty to be speaking out against the further implementation of austerity policies. From professional experience and our knowledge of empirical psychological evidence, we know that cuts have been toxic for people’s wellbeing and mental health.

Recent scientific evidence continues to demonstrate links between austerity policies and the nation’s worsening mental health and increasing mental health inequalities.

Responding to this, this campaign aims to mobilise psychologists and psychological knowledge to make a case against further austerity policies.

Publications 

Please visit the Psychologists for social change site for more details.

You can read and download Psychologists Against Austerity: mobilising psychology for social change, published as free content in Critical and Radical Social Work, Volume 4, Number 3, November 2016, pp. 409-413(5) here

Join your local group

Click through the ‘groups’ menu on here to find the group meeting nearest to you. 

If you don’t see a group near you, and you want to start one, click here.

You can also subscribe to our mailing list here.

 

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A bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment, say UK’s top psychologists

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Last month, the following letter was sent to the Independent, titled The DWP must see that a bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment:

“We, the UK’s leading bodies representing psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and counsellors, call on the Government to immediately suspend the benefits sanctions system. It fails to get people back to work and damages their mental health.

Findings from the National Audit Office (NAO) show limited evidence that the sanctions system actually works, or is cost effective.

But, even more worrying, we see evidence from NHS Health Scotland, the Centre for Welfare Conditionality hosted by the University of York, and others, which links sanctions to destitution, disempowerment, and increased rates of mental health problems. This is also emphasised in the recent Public Accounts Committee report, which states that the unexplained variations in the use of benefits sanctions are unacceptable and must be addressed.

Vulnerable people with multiple and complex needs, in particular, are disproportionately affected by the increased use of sanctions.

Therefore, we call on the Government to suspend the benefits sanctions regime and undertake an independent review of its impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

But suspending the sanctions system alone is not enough. We believe the Government also has to change its focus from making unemployment less attractive, to making employment more attractive – which means a wholesale review of the back to work system.

We want to see a range of policy changes to promote mental health and wellbeing. These include increased mental health awareness training for Jobcentre staff – and reform of the work capability assessment (WCA), which may be psychologically damaging, and lacks clear evidence of reliability or effectiveness.

We urge the Government to rethink the Jobcentre’s role from not only increasing employment, but also ensuring the quality of that employment, given that bad jobs can be more damaging to mental health than unemployment.

This should be backed up with the development of statutory support for creating psychologically healthy workplaces.

These policies would begin to take us towards a welfare and employment system that promotes mental health and wellbeing, rather than one that undermines and damages it.

Professor Peter Kinderman, President, British Psychological Society (BPS)

Martin Pollecoff, Chair, UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)

Dr Andrew Reeves, Chair, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

Helen Morgan, Chair, British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC)

Steve Flatt, Trustee, British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)”

“Making work pay” for whom?

pie wealth

It’s a draconian, crude behaviourist and armchair technocratic government that would claim to “make work pay” by decreasing social security support for the poorest members of society, rather than raising wages to meet the rising costs of living. This approach was justified by claims that poor people became “dependent” on benefits because the welfare state provides “perverse incentives” for people seeking employment. However, there is no empirical evidence of these claims. Keith Joseph, a leading New Right advocate of the welfare dependency theories, set out to try and establish evidence dependency during the Thatcher era, and failed. Both Thatcher and Joseph wanted to extend Victorian bourgeois values of thrift, self-reliance and charity among all classes.

Such an approach has benefitted no-one but wealthy employers motivated by a profit incentive, as people who are out of work or claiming disability related benefits have become increasingly desperate. These imposed conditions have created a reserve army of labour, which has subsequently served to devalue labour, and drive wages down. We now witness high levels of in-work poverty, too. The Victorian Poor Law principle of less eligibility had the same consequences, and also “made work pay.” It’s shameful that in 2017, the government still believe that it is somehow effective and appropriate to punish people into not being poor. Especially when the government’s own policies are constructing inequality and poverty.

Last week I wrote about the Samaritans report: Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour, which strongly links socioeconomic disadvantage and inequality with psychological distress and suicidal behaviours. The report reiterates that 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.

Research has consistently found that in countries with a generous social safety net, poor employment (low pay, poor conditions, job insecurity short-term contracts), rather than unemployment, has the biggest detrimental impact on mental health. This is particularly true of neoliberal states with minimal and means tested welfare regimes. It seems health and wellbeing are contingent on the degree to which individuals, or families, can uphold a socially acceptable standard of living independently of market participation, and on the kind of social stratification  (socioeconomic hierarchies indicating levels of inequality) is fostered by social policies.

Furthermore, despite the government’s rhetoric on welfare “dependency”, and the alleged need for removing the “perverse incentives” from the social security system by imposing a harsh conditionality framework and a compliance regime – using punitive sanctions – and work capability assessments designed to preclude eligibility to disability benefits, research shows that generous social security regimes make people more likely to want to work, not less.

The government’s welfare “reforms” have already invited scathing international criticism because they have disproportionately targeted cuts at those with the least income. Furthermore, the government have systematically violated the human rights of those with mental and physical disabilities. In a highly critical UN report last year, following a lengthy inquiry, it says: “States parties should find an adequate balance between providing an adequate level of income security for persons with disabilities through social security schemes and supporting their labour inclusion. The two sets of measures should be seen as complementary rather than contradictory.”

However, the UK government have continued to conflate social justice and inclusion with punitive policies and cuts, aimed at coercing disabled people towards narrow employment outcomes that preferably bypass any form of genuine support and the social security system completely. 

See – UN’s highly critical report confirms UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people.

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Kitty.

 


 

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Protest at the 10th annual New Savoy conference – Mental Wealth Alliance

 

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        Map of venue here 

Find out more about the Mental Wealth Alliance and the background to this New Savoy action here

Source: the free psychotherapy network

“As the links between mental health and DWP benefits policies have developed (see this Government catalogue of Work and Health reports between 2005 and 2014 – https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/health-work-and-wellbeing-evidence-and-research ) so has the link between Psy Professional bodies and the DWP.

New Savoy has welcomed this marriage of workfare and IAPT/psychological well-being support. See their statement on welfare reform here – http://www.newsavoypartnership.org/joint-pledge-on-welfare.htm 

For several years New Savoy invited DWP and DoH ministers to open their conferences (e.g. Lord Freud and Norman Lamb).

The Kitty Jones blog is very informative on the developing use of psychological coercion within the workfare system (e.g. https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/the-government-plan-to-nudge-sick-and-disabled-people-into-work/) as is the Friedli and Stearn paper – http://mh.bmj.com/content/41/1/40.full

It was in the spring of 2015, when Osborne’s budget proposed co-locating IAPT workers in Jobcentres, that a number of Alliance and PCSR therapists contacted MH activist groups like the Mental Health Resistance Network and DPAC to see if we could work together to oppose the use of psychological therapy to get people off benefits and back to work.

The issue for us, of course, was the abuse of therapeutic ethics and practice through its application to support the goals and culture of DWP workfare – a policy direction based on political ideology, not clinical need.

We see a shared cause between MH claimants on the receiving end of these policies and the unethical and demeaning working conditions of practitioners/workers providing the services. On the latter, see for example – https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2016/feb/17/were-not-surprised-half-our-psychologist-colleagues-are-depressed

The Mental Wealth Alliance (formerly MW Foundation) was born out of subsequent meetings between MH activists, professionals and welfare campaigners. It is an umbrella for 18 organisations concerned with MH, therapy and welfare:

Mental Health Resistance Network; Disabled People Against Cuts; Recovery in the Bin; Boycott Workfare; The Survivors Trust; Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy; College of Psychoanalysts; Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility; Psychologists Against Austerity; Free Psychotherapy Network; Psychotherapists and Counsellors Union; Critical Mental Health Nurses’ Network; Social Work Action Network (Mental Health Charter); National Unemployed Workers Combine; Merseyside County Association of Trades Union Councils; Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network; National Health Action Party; Making Waves

In April 2015 the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy organised a Guardian letter signed by over 400 psy professionals on the consequences for people’s mental health of the Governments austerity cuts, and in particular the plans to expand the use of therapists to ‘encourage’ MH benefits claimants into work – https://freepsychotherapynetwork.com/mwa-response-to-the-psy-professional-bodies-statement-on-benefit-sanctions-and-mental-health-301116/

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/17/austerity-and-a-malign-benefits-regime-are-profoundly-damaging-mental-health

At the same time, the MWA began an exchange of letters with the five main psy professional organisations, expressing  our outrage at their support for and participation in DWP workfare programmes. The latest contribution from MWA to this exchange is the response to their statement on sanctions which can be found here – https://freepsychotherapynetwork.com/mwa-response-to-the-psy-professional-bodies-statement-on-benefit-sanctions-and-mental-health-301116/.    

The earlier exchanges can be found here – https://allianceblogs.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/mwf_letters_2/ 

The only organisation that has responded to our request to meet and talk about the issues is BABCP who we met in November last year, shortly before the recent statement on sanctions.

Members of the MWA have campaigned together against the co-location of IAPT, psychological support services in Jobcentres in June 2015 – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jun/26/mental-health-protest-clinic-jobcentre-streatham 

The locating of DWP work counsellors in GP practices in March 2016 – http://islingtonnow.co.uk/2016/03/07/putting-job-advisers-in-doctors-surgeries-will-harm-patients-say-protesters/

New Savoy partnership July 2016 – http://dpac.uk.net/2016/06/protest-against-work-cure-therapy-5th-july-london/ and video here –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBbXK1Ac7W0 

Here is the double sided leaflet we gave out to attendees of the conference. Very relevant to the March protest – https://freepsychotherapynetwork.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/notinournamenothingaboutus-final.pdf

Associates of MWA helped organise a lobby at the BPS annual conference this January – https://freepsychotherapynetwork.com/united-against-welfare-cuts-against-reform-report-from-the-lobby-of-the-british-psychological-society-conference-18th-january-2017/

We have held two major conferences – in Bermondsey and Liverpool – on welfare reform and psycho-compulsion. Reports here – https://allianceblogs.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/welfare-coercion-conference-report-part-1/  and here – http://socialworkfuture.org/campaigns-events/529-mh-and-welfare-reform-conference-report

We have participated in the Free Psychotherapy Network’s conference and the Psychologists and the Benefits System conference in Manchester – http://www.walkthetalk2015.org/news/psychologists-and-benefits-system.”

My contribution to the latter is here – https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/welfare-conditional-citizenship-and-the-neuroliberal-state-conference-presentation/

Read more here – Some background to the MWA and the New Savoy demo and lobby Wednesday 15th March 2017