Category: Sociology

The link between Trade Unionism and equality

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In an article I wrote earlier this year – Conservatism in a nutshell – I outlined some basic themes of New Right Conservative ideology. I said:

Conservatives don’t like social spending or welfare – our safety net. That’s because when you’re unemployed and desperate, companies can pay you whatever they feel like – which is inevitably next to nothing. You see, the Tories want you in a position to work for next to nothing or starve, so their business buddies can focus on feeding their profits, which is their only priority. Cheap-labour conservatives don’t like the minimum wage, or other improvements in wages and working conditions. These policies undo all of their efforts to keep you desperate. They don’t like European Union labour laws and directives either, for the same reason.

Conservatives prioritise handing out our money to their big business partners, no matter what it costs us as a society. For example, a spending breakdown reveals how NHS funding has flowed to private firms, much of that money has gone to companies with corrupt ties to the Tories, whilst health care is being rationed, care standards have plummeted, services are cut, and by the end of the next financial year, health service workers will have had their pay capped for six years, prompting fully justified strike action.

Following the tide of sleaze and corruption allegations, Cameron “dealt” with with parliamentary influence-peddling by introducing the Gagging Act, which is primarily a blatant attack on trade unions (which are the most democratic part of the political funding system) and Labour Party funding, giving the Tories powers to police union membership lists, to make strike action very difficult and to cut union spending in election campaigns.

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. And there are many other examples of this government removing mechanisms of transparency, accountability and safeguards to rights and democracy.

We have witnessed a dramatic increase in levels of economic inequality this past four years, reflected in the fact that income differences between top earners and those on the lowest wages are now higher than at any time since records began. The UK now ranks as one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, even more unequal than the US, home of the founding fathers of neoliberalism. Our current levels of inequality have far exceeded the point at which campaigners need any further proof to show how socially corrosive and life-limiting the subsequent deepening poverty is.

Despite the legislative framework of Labour’s Equality Act, passed in 2010, there is a growing gender-based pay gap, continued abuse of agency workers, the problem of the two-tier work force and the contracting out of public servicesStrong trade unions improve public services, too.

Speaking at a press conference on the first day of the 2014 TUC Congress, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The key message of this year’s congress is Britain needs a pay rise and I also expect many of the debates on the floor to focus on the importance of the coming general election for people at work.

Today, I want to highlight the threat posed by the Conservative Party’s promised manifesto proposals on strike ballots.

Because these proposals are designed to make unions weaker. And if unions become weaker, then the chances of people winning a pay rise, improving living standards and tackling inequality in Britain today will become a good deal harder.

The Conservative Party is not just proposing a few more bureaucratic obstacles that will make life a bit more difficult for trade unions.

Taken together, they would effectively ban strikes by the back door. And, on top of that, they would open up elected union leaders to increased surveillance by the state.

They are not just an attack on fundamental liberties. They will act to lower living standards for the majority of working people – whether or not they are union members.”

One half of the British population owns 9% of household wealth whilst the other half owns 91% of the wealth; and the five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the poorest 20% of the entire population.

Conservatives are always obsessed with “economic growth”, but we know from history that economic expansion in itself does not promote equality: it is the types of employment, the rules and structure of the economy and policies that matter most. Conservative governments always create high levels of inequality.  Furthermore, they rarely manage to bring about the economic growth they promise. But recession due to reduced public spending is an inbuilt feature of neoliberalism, as we witnessed during the Thatcher era.

Inequality hinders growth in another important way: it fuels social conflict. However, social diversity has no negative impact on economic growth, despite what those on the blame-mongering Right would try and have us believe. It is economic policies that shape inequalities, not minority groups: they are the casualities of inequality not its creators.

Economic inequality is also about discrimination. Black and ethnic minority workers are disadvantaged in finding employment. Dismissal of pregnant workers is a widespread practice. Last year, the wage gap between men and women’s earnings increased and the progress previously made towards equal pay has been reversed.

Cameron’s government has mobilised resentment and fear on the part of relatively privileged social groups in relation to other subordinate or putatively threatening groups of politically defined Others – immigrants, unemployed people, disabled people, unionised workers, single mothers and so on.

Social inequalities and hierarchies are defended by Conservatives and secured in several ways. The defence of power, wealth and property, when threatened, tends to be micro-managed via rigid authoritarianism, through systems of mobilised prejudice and through free-market policies (the predictable effects of which are to transfer wealth upwards). All Conservative politics pivot on a fundamental commitment – the defence of privilege, status, and thus sustaining social inequality.

But it is only by shifting money from the high-hoarding rich to the high-spending rest of us, and not the other way around, that investment and growth may be stimulated and sustainable.

The Office of Budgetary Responsibility forecasts that the Coalition are facing a £17BILLION blackhole after the low pay  that their own policies have strongly encouraged have caused a slump in tax payments to the treasury.

It is very clear that austerity is not an economic necessity, but rather, it is an ideological preference, used as a justification for “shrinking the State” whilst defending power, wealth and privilege.

The Coalition have introduced trade union laws which inhibit trade union recruitment, activity and collective bargaining. Employment rights are being removed, at a time when policies have reduced access to unfair dismissal protection and access to employment tribunals.

Trade unions are most effective when all workers are represented and therefore trade unionism encourages social inclusion. Collective bargaining and representational support will not work in the long term if some workers have substantially less to gain from the process than others.

For this reason, trade unions and the Labour Party have worked at eliminating sex, race and other forms of discrimination in the workplace. This has taken time, given how deeply ingrained inequalities have been in our society. We know that where trade unions are active, employers are more likely to have equal opportunities policies.

But for proper support of economic equality, trade unions need legal protection for their activities so they may operate freely and build effective social solidarity and promote egalitarianism.  Trade unions seek increased participation by working people in the decisions that influence their lives and a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth. That is the antithesis of Conservatism.

Freedom to speak out against injustice, to campaign for economic equality and to work together through trade unions are underpinned by rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It’s no surprise that Cameron has pledged to exit the ECHR and to scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act.

To tackle economic inequality and build a fairer society, it is essential that trade-unions can operate freely and that collective bargaining is renewed. The impoverishment and exploitation of any one group of workers is a threat to the well-being and livelihood of everyone.

Building a future economy where the benefits of work and profit are shared requires legal reform in support of effective trade unions.

Lydia Hayes and Tonia Novitz from the Centre For Labour and Social Studies have written  the following proposals, designed to change public policy, so that trade unions are better able to represent their members, by  simplifying the statutory procedure for trade union recognition, and putting in place arrangements for sector-wide collective bargaining:

1. Introduce a legal framework through which trade unions can freely organise and engage in collective action to build economic equality.

2. Amend trade union recognition legislation so that all workers who choose to join a union can be represented in collective bargaining and other workplace matters.

3. Ensure the law provides for sectoral bargaining which can set minimum terms and conditions across an industry or a service sector.

4. Defend human rights which protect the functioning of trade unions (including rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association).

5. Give trade unions access to workers and workplaces, so that they can advise on the benefits of membership and collective bargaining.

6. Enable workers to have access to information about trade unions at their workplace so that they can make an informed choice and easily join a trade union if they want to.

None of this will happen during the current government’s term, because Conservatism is in diametric opposition to trade unionism, equality, human rights and egalitarianism.

Related
The Institute of employment Rights

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the graphics.

 


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Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich, Human Rights and infrahumanisation

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The European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force on 3 September 1953, guarantees a range of political rights and freedoms of the individual against interference by the State. The Convention came about as an international response to the horrors of World War Two, and the Holocaust.

Before the incorporation of the Convention, people in the United Kingdom could only complain of unlawful interference with their Convention rights by lodging a petition with the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg. That all changed on 2 October 2000 when Labour’s Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, allowing UK citizens to sue public bodies for violations of their Convention rights in domestic courts.

David Cameron wants to scrap the Human Rights Act and has pledged to leave the European Convention. Human Rights are the bedrock of any democracy. He also wants to scrap consultations, impact assessments, audits, judicial reviews: all essential safeguards for citizens and mechanisms of democracy. 

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.

How policies are justified is increasingly being detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of propaganda to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

A clear example of an ideologically-driven policy is the Welfare “Reform” Act, which is founded on a stigmatising, Othering narrative: benefit recipients are portrayed as the enemy that battles against fairness and responsibility. The mythological economic “free-rider,” a “burden on the state.” The “reforms” left people in receipt of lifeline benefits much worse off than they were, the word reform has been used as a euphemism for cuts.

Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions  (DWP) has launched a new propaganda scapegoating  advertising campaign encouraging people to phone a hotline if they suspect somebody they know is fraudulently claiming benefits.

I’m sure that serious fraudulent claimants inform their friends and neighbours of their every activity, including holidays, sleeping arrangements, moments of intimacy and all of their benefit payment details, all the time, so that makes sense…

Mark Harper said: “Those who cheat the system need to know we will use everything in our power to stop them stealing money from hardworking taxpayers.”  

Yet we know that there isn’t a real distinction between benefit claimants and hard-working taxpayers, as the Tories would have us believe. Many people on benefits are also in work, but are not paid a sufficient wage to live on. Most people claiming benefits, including disabled people, have worked and contributed income tax previously.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the poorest citizens, including people claiming benefits, pay proportionally more indirect taxes than the wealthiest citizens, such as VAT. The strivers/skivers rhetoric is simply a divert, divide and scapegoating strategy. Growing social inequality generates a political necessity for prejudices.

The real cost of out-of-work benefits is over-estimated in relation to the welfare bill for pensions and in-work benefits such as tax credits and housing benefit, obscuring the increasing role that the British state plays in subsidising the scandalously low wages paid by increasingly exploitative employers, in order to meet a minimum standard of living for the hardworking.

The hardworking taxpayer myth is founded on a false dichotomy, since it is estimated that around 70% of households claim benefits of one kind or another at some point in their lives. In the current climate of poor pay, poor working conditions, job insecurity, and high living costs, the myth of an all pervasive welfare-dependent something for nothing culture is being used to foster prejudice and resentment towards those unfortunate enough to be out of work. It also serves to bolster right-wing justification narratives that are entirely ideologically driven, which are aimed at dismantling the welfare state, while concurrently undermining public support for it.

As the Huff Post’s Asa Bennett points out, there are much bigger costs to the taxpayer that the government are reluctant to discuss.

For example, the tax gap, charting the estimated amount of taxes unpaid thanks to evasion, avoidance, error and criminality, soared to £34 billion, according to HM Revenue and Customs. This equates to £1 in every £15 owed in taxes not being collected last year.

The National Audit Office found that the Department for Work and Pensions had made £1.4 billion in declared benefit overpayments, an increase of nearly 6%.

Meanwhile, the DWP estimate that between £7.5 billion and £12.3 billion of the six main benefits it administered were left unclaimed in 2009/2010. On top of that. HMRC suggest that several billion pounds more is most in unclaimed tax credits, with childless families missing out on £2.3 billion worth. That’s a grand total of 22.1 billion that ordinary taxpayers aren’t claiming, even though they are entitled to do so. 

Iain Duncan Smith’s Department have wasted an estimated total of £6,221,875,000.00 of taxpayers’ money on the implementation of Universal Credit and private company contracts, amongst other things. (See We can reduce the Welfare Budget by billions: simply get rid of Iain Duncan Smith ). 

Duncan Smith’s claims that his policies are about fairness and saving taxpayers’ money, simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. 

The policies are entirely ideologically-driven. We have a government that uses words like workshy to describe vulnerable social groups. This is a government that is intentionally scapegoating poor, unemployed, disabled people and migrants. One Tory councillor called for the extermination of gypsies, more than one Tory MP has called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people. A conservative deputy mayor said, unforgivably, that the “best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.”

These weren’t “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Tories believe these comments are acceptable, and we need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms” and research the consequences of austerity for the most economically vulnerable citizens – those with the “least broad shoulders” –  to understand that these comments reflect how conservatives think.

This is a government that is using public prejudice to justify massive socio-economic inequalities and their own policies that are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinist survival of the fittest neoliberal “small state” principles.

The Tory creation of socio-economic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Tories’ welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision.

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of paternalistic libertarianism) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision and public services.

The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of constructing deviant welfare stereotypes and in engaging prejudice and generating moral outrage from the public:

“If working people ever get to discover where their tax money really ends up, at a time when they find it tough enough to feed their own families, let alone those of workshy scroungers, then that’ll be the end of the line for our welfare state gravy train.” James Delingpole 2014

Delingpole conveniently fails to mention that a majority of people needing lifeline welfare support are actually in work. He also fails to mention that while this government were imposing austerity on the poorest citizens, the wealthiest got generous handouts from the Treasury, in the form of tax breaks – hundreds of thousands of pounds each per year. 

Poverty cannot be explained away by reference to simple narratives of the workshy scrounger as Delingpole claims, no matter how much he would like to apply such simplistic, blunt, stigmatising, dehumanising labels that originated from the Nazis (see arbeitssheu.)

This past four years we have witnessed an extraordinary breakdown of the public/private divide, and a phenomenological intrusion on the part of the state and media into the lives of the poorest members of society. (For example, see: The right-wing moral hobby horse: thrift and self-help, but only for the poor. ) Many people feel obliged to offer endless advice on thrift and self help aimed at persuading poor people to “manage” their poverty better.

Hannah Arendt wrote extensively about totalitarian regimes, in particular Nazism and Stalinism, which she distinguishes from Italian Fascism, because Hitler and Stalin sought to eliminate all restraints upon the power of the State and furthermore, they sought to dominate and control every aspect of everyone’s life. There are parallels here, especially when one considers the continued attempts at dismantling democratic processes and safeguards since the Coalition took office. Many policies are aimed at ‘incentivising’ certain behaviours and perceptions of citizens, using psychology to align them with political and defined economic goals. Citizens are increasingly seen by government as a means to an end.

Further parallels may be found here: Defining features of Fascism and Authoritarianism

Between February 1933 and the start of World War Two, Nazi Germany underwent an economic “recovery” according to the government. Rather like the “recovery” that Osborne and Cameron are currently claiming, which isn’t apparent to most citizens.

This economic miracle, sold to the people of Germany, entailed a huge reduction in unemployment. However, the main reason for this was fear – anyone who was found guilty of being “workshy” (arbeitssheucould then be condemned to the concentration camps that were situated throughout Germany. Hitler frequently referred to the economic miracle, whilst people previously employed in what was the professional class were made to undertake manual labour on the autobahns. People didn’t refuse the downgraded status and pay, or complain, lest they became Arbeitsscheu Reich compulsory labor camp prisoners, and awarded a black triangle badge for their perceived mental inferiority and Otherness.

Behaviour can be controlled by manipulating fear, using a pattern of deprivation. Benefit sanctions, for example, leave “workshy”people without the means to meet their basic survival needs and are applied for periods of weeks or months and up to a maximum of 3 years.

That the government of a so-called first world liberal democracy is so frankly inflicting such grotesquely cruel punishments on some of our most vulnerable citizens is truly horrific. It’s also terrifying that the media and the British public are complicit in this: they fail to recognise that the Social Darwinism inherent in Tory ideological grammar is being communicated through discourses and policies embodying crude behaviour modification techniques and an implicit eugenic subtext .

There were various rationales for the Nazi Aktion T4 programme, which include eugenics, Social Darwinism, racial and mental “hygiene”, cost effectiveness and the welfare budget.

The Aktion T4 programme used the term euthanasia as bureaucratic cover and in the minimal public relations efforts to invest what was essentially eugenics. It is clear that none of the killing was done to alleviate pain or suffering on the part of the victims. Rather, the evidence, including faked death certificates, deception of the victims and of the victims’ families, and widespread use of cremation, indicates the killing was done solely according to the socio-political aims and ideology of the perpetrators. The Nazis believed that the German people needed to be “cleansed” of the so-called racial enemies, but the Aktion T4 programme also included people with disabilities, the poor and the workshy.  

Although many were gassed using carbon monoxide or killed by lethal injection, many more of these people deemed “life unworthy of life” were simply starved to death.

The Holodomor – “extermination by hunger” –  was Joseph Stalin’s intentionaly inflicted famine, designed to destroy  people in the Ukraine seeking independence from his rule. As a result, an estimated 7,000,000 people starved to death. The attitude of the Stalinist regime in 1932–33 was that many of those starving to death were “counterrevolutionaries”idlers” or “thieves” who “fully deserved their fate”. In 2008, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that recognised the Holodomor as a crime against humanity.

Implementing policies that lead to members of vulnerable social groups starving, which is an INTENTIONAL political act, however, is not currently included in the UN Treaty definition of genocide. Nor are disabled people amongst the categories of groups protected by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of  Genocide.

While I am very aware that we need take care not to trivialise the terrible events of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany by making casual comparisons, there are some clear and important parallels on a socio-political level and a psycho-social one, that I feel are crucially important to recognise.

Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

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

Economic recession, uncertainty and political systems on the authoritarian -> totalitarian spectrum contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice.

In the UK, the media is certainly being used by the right-wing as an outlet for blatant political propaganda, and much of it is manifested as a pathological persuasion to hate others. The Coalition clearly have strong authoritarian tendencies, and that is most evident in their anti-democratic and behaviourist approach to policy, human rights, equality, social inclusion and processes of government accountability.

Vulnerable groups are those which our established principles of social justice demand we intervene to help, support and protect. However, the Coalition’s rhetoric is aimed at a deliberate identification of citizens as having inferior behaviour. The poorest citizens are presented as a problem group because of their individual faulty characteristics, and this is intentionally diverting attention from  wider socio-economic and political causes of vulnerability. Individual subjects experiencing hardships have been placed beyond state protection and are now the objects of policies that embody behaviourism, and pathologising, punitive and coercive elements of social control. Vulnerable people are no longer regarded as human subjects, the state is acting upon them, not for or on behalf of them.

People are still debating if Stalin’s Holodomor conforms to a legal definition of genocide, no-one doubts that Hitler’s gas chambers do, though Hitler also killed thousands by starvation.

Our own government have formulated and implemented policies that punish unemployed people for being “workshy” – for failing to meet the never-ending benefit conditionality requirements which entails the use of negative incentives, coercion and behaviour modification to “support” a person into  work –  by withdrawing their lifeline benefit. We also know that sanction targets have led to many people losing lifeline benefits for incoherent and grossly unfair reasons that have nothing to do with an unwillingness to cooperate or work.

Since benefits were originally calculated to meet basic living requirements – food, fuel and shelter – it’s  inconceivable that the government haven’t already considered the consequences of removing people’s means of meeting these fundamental survival needs. Of course, the Tory claim that this draconian measure is to incentivise people to “find work” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when we consider that there isn’t enough work for everyone, and certainly not enough work around that pays an adequate amount to actually survive on.

Furthermore, the Tories “incentivise” the  wealthy by rewarding them with more money (such as the £107,000  tax break that was handed out to each millionaire every year from our own taxes by Osborne). It flies in the face of our conventional and established wisdom that reducing people to starvation and desperation will somehow motivate people to do anything other than to try and survive. (See Maslow’s Hierarchy, and two tragic accounts of the consequences of imposed sanctions.)

Tory austerity is all about ideology – the dehumanisation of the poor, and the destruction of public services and provisions – state infrastructure – and nothing to do with the state of the economy. It’s also about cutting money from the poorest and handing it to the wealthiest. Many economists agree that austerity is damaging to the economy.

There has been a media complicity with irrational and increasingly punitive Tory policies. But why are the public so compliant?

Decades of  research findings in sociology and psychology inform us that as soon as a group can be defined as an outgroup, people will start to view them differently. The very act of demarcating groups begins a process of ostracisation.

As well as the political and social definitions of others, there also exists deeper, largely unconscious beliefs that may have even more profound and insidious effects. These are related to whether people claiming benefits are even felt to be truly, properly human in the same way that “we” are.

This is called infrahumanisation. Infra means “below”, as in below or less than fully human. The term was coined by a researcher at the University of Louvain called Jacque-Philippe Leyens to distinguish this form of dehumanisation from the more extreme kind associated with genocide.

However, I don’t regard one form of dehumanisation as being discrete from another, since studies show consistently that it tends to escalate when social prejudice increases. It’s a process involving accumulation.

According to infrahumanisation theory, the denial of uniquely human emotions to the outgroup is reflective of a tacit belief that they are less human than the ingroup.

Poor people, homeless people, drug addicts and welfare claimants are the frequently outgrouped. It is these most stigmatised groups that people have the most trouble imagining having the same uniquely human qualities as the rest of us. This removes the “infrahumanised” group from the bonds, moral protection and obligations of our community, because outgrouping de-empathises us.

This would explain why some people attempt to justify the cuts, which clearly fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable. This is probably  why fighting the austerity cuts is much more difficult than simply fighting myths and political propaganda. I think the government are very aware of the infrahumanisation tendency amongst social groups and are manipulating it, because growing social inequality generates a political necessity for social prejudices to use as justification narratives.

During a debate in the House of Lords, Freud described the changing number of disabled people likely to receive the employment and support allowance as a bulge of, effectively, stock”. After an outraged response, this was actually transcribed by Hansard as “stopped”, rendering the sentence meaningless.  He is not the only person in the Department for Work and Pensions who uses this term. The  website describes disabled people entering the government’s work programme for between three and six months as 3/6Mth stock.

This infrahumanised stock are a source of profit for the companies running the programme. The Department’s delivery plan recommends using  credit reference agency data to cleanse the stock of fraud and error.

The linguistic downgrading of human life requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it is becoming familiar and pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives.

Until someone like Freud or Mellins pushes our boundaries of decency a little too far. Then we suddenly see it, and wonder how such prejudiced and discriminatory comments could be deemed acceptable and how anyone could possibly think they would get away with such blatantly offensive rhetoric without being challenged. It’s because they have got away with less blatantly offensive comments previously: it’s just that they pushed more gently and so we didn’t see.

It’s also the case that the government distorts people’s perceptions of the  aims of their policies by using techniques of neutralisation. An example of this method of normalising prejudice is the use of the words “incentivise” and “help” in the context of benefit sanctions, which as we know are intentionally extremely punitive, and people have died as a consequence of having their lifeline benefit withdrawn.

As Allport’s scale of prejudice indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subliminal expressions of prejudice and subtle dehumanisation, which escalate. Germany didn’t wake up one morning to find Hitler had arranged the murder of millions of people. It happened, as many knew it would, and was happening whilst they knew about it. And many opposed it, too.

The dignity and equal worth of every human being is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings.

As a so-called civilised society, so should we.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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

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The Conservatives have deliberately created socio-economic conditions of austerity to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poorest. They have created cultural scripts that justify their policies, which also serve to alienate and demonise politically constructed categories of the other. Individuals in the most vulnerable social groups, as a consequence, experience feelings of being out-grouped, estrangement from their community and society, experience an outsider status and antagonism and aggression from other ingroups.

It’s recognised in social psychology that people define themselves to a large degree in terms of social groupings and generally, it seems people have a tendency to denigrate others who don’t fit into those groups, with a little prompting.

Others who share our particular qualities are identified as our “ingroup,” and those who do not are our “outgroup.” The Conservatives are basically manipulating an inclination we seem to have towards prejudice, in order to foster and extend social divisions and undermine social cohesion, by creating artificial categories of outgroups. The calculated “striver versus scrounger” rhetoric is one example of this.

Yet as humans we also possess a need to belong, and to be accepted by others. Conformity is one recognisable response of people managing feelings of rejection, of not belonging and of not being accepted. Division and isolation tends to foster obedience.

Alienation (isolation between groups also leads to engulfment within them, and some loss of identity) is the fundamental condition for inter-group conflict. The Asch conformity experiments were a series of laboratory experiments in the 1950s that demonstrated the significant degree to which an individual’s own opinions are influenced by those of a majority group.

Milgram demonstrated that conformity can take precedence over one’s own moral values and principles, and that authority figures and small-scale interactions within wider group behaviour can create significant barriers to individual autonomy.

Divide, diffuse, demoralise and divert certainly seems to be the current political strategy of governance.

However, although it is difficult to resist the majority opinion if each of us is isolated, follow-ups to the Asch experiment also showed that the number of dissenting voices among experimental subjects made a difference to the results – and that just one voice can make a difference amongst many, liberating others from the conformity and obedience tendencies.

Techniques of neutralisation are a linguistic and psychological method employed by people to develop a special set of justifications for their behaviour when such behaviour violates social norms and collective morality.

Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal values, and to switch off their own “inner protests”, providing them with the freedom to commit deviant acts. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they may employ techniques of neutralisation to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.

It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government and that the Tories systematically attempt to distort meanings, to minimise the impact of what they are doing.

For example, when they habitually use the word “reform” euphemistically, what they are referring to is an act that entails the removal of financial support. “Help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to punish, to compel “behaviour change” (self-reliance without support from the state) and to remove further lifeline support from the group being threatened with Conservative “support”.  

However, when people don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs – which is what welfare was designed to cover, originally (to meet the costs of food, fuel and shelter only) – they struggle and cannot meet higher level psychosocial ones. If people are left without the means to meet the costs of fulfilling their basic needs for long, they will die.

For example, the claim that the bedroom tax is “helping” people into work” or helping child poverty” – when research  shows that 96% of those affected by the bedroom tax can NOT downsize due to a lack of available homes in their area – is a completely outrageous lie. People can’t move as there is a housing crisis, which is due to a lack of affordable homes and appropriately sized accommodation.

How can policies that further impoverish the poorest citizens ever help them to find work or alleviate child poverty, as the government claims? It’s an astonishing lie.

This means that most people have to find extra rent costs from benefits that were calculated to meet only the costs of basic survival needs such as food and fuel, and furthermore, were calculated with the assumption that people on benefits also received full housing costs via housing benefit.

At a time when the cost of living has risen so steeply, and the value of benefits has actually decreased to the point where this essential support is nowmanifestly inadequateaccording to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, it’s inconceivable to regard the bedroom tax as anything other than grossly punitive to the most the poorest, disabled people and some of the most vulnerable citizens.

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by David Matza  and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s.  Matza and Sykes were working on ideas about juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following methods by which, they believed, delinquents/deviants justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez identified these methods used at a sociopolitical level in Nazi Germany to justify” the Holocaust:

  • Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control. For example, the frequently cited statement that the perpetrator was “only carrying out orders from above.”
  • Denial of injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage. For example, under the Nazi regime this took the form of special language which hid or disguised what was actually being done, euphemisms in which killing became “special treatment,” “cleansing”and many other similar examples.
  • Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. For example, The Nazis ensured it was widely believed that Jews were involved in a conspiracy to enslave the whole world, so that killing them was self-defence. Although a fabrication, many Germans appeared to have believed it to be true.
  • Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, or are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. For example, claims made by the German government and the media that the other countries that were condemning the Nazis were historically guilty of worse crimes, such as the treatment of blacks and Native Americans in the United States and the treatment of native peoples in the French, British and Spanish colonies.
  • Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the greater good, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a friend/social group/nation. For example, German perpetrators of genocide thought of themselves as patriots, nobly carrying out their duty.Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez added to those techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. Dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Allport’s work, explaining how prejudice arises.

Any one of these six techniques can serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice, aggression and murder. To the extent that they are all implemented together, as they were under the Nazi regime, to that extent a whole society can seemingly forget its moral values and laws , in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, hatred and murder.

Our own government have deliberately manufactured and perpetuated misconceptions about disabled people via their rhetoric, intentional, strategic lies and manipulated statistics.

With the support of a conformist media, the coalition have officialised prejudice, scapegoating, vilification and alienation of already marginalised social groups, hatred – and they have given their permission for people to perpetrate hate crimes by their own negative role modelling.

Disability hate crime in 2011 was at its highest level since records began. Last year, it was also found that victims of disability hate crime are being let down by the criminal justice system and attacks are not being properly recorded, according to a report by three official inspectorates.

Recently, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been reprimanded for series of rule breaches in which official statistics were used inaccurately, inappropriately, or to “spin” stories about benefit claimants in the media.

The Commons Work and Pensions committee cites examples where the UK Statistics Authority criticised the use of DWP statistics, including by the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, and Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

The Committee stated that the government was warned as early as 2011 to take more care over the way it presented information on benefits statistics to the media. Ministers had replied then by saying they had a “robust” system in place to ensure no abuses took place. But this was clearly a lie.

The committee notes, in a published report into DWP performance, that problems still remained and that the UK Statistical Authority had reprimanded the department a number of times in 2013 for the way it used welfare statistics.

The Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee report also highlights how government use of statistics are not being used objectively to shed light on policy implementation, they are being used instead to prop up misconceptions and established preconceptions. Anne McGuire said:

“The DWP ministers and its press office have been found guilty yet again of trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes by its failure to be clear what exactly the statistics show.”

The DWP used its “new figures” to persuade two right-wing newspapers to run stories claiming that the rise in DLA claimants proved the need for reform.

The Sun newspaper claimed the number of DLA claimants on “handouts” was “soaring” at the rate of “one every ten minutes”, and that ministers believed the figures “proved they are right to scrap DLA from April” and replace it with the “tough” new PIP.

The Daily Mail claimed that a new DLA claimant was “signing on” every nine minutes, and that “the rush to secure the state payout is thought to be because its replacement will have tougher eligibility tests”. The article says:

“The cost to the taxpayer is now £13billion a year. An astonishing seven out of ten claimants – 71 per cent – have been offered the benefit for life without any checks to see if they still need it, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Rise: A new applicant is signing on to claim DLA every nine minutes, the latest figures show

The Daily Mail trivialising disability and illness. The caption reads – “Rise: A new applicant is signing on to claim DLA every nine minutes, the latest figures show”


“From April, DLA will gradually be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is being introduced in an attempt to cut the nation’s benefits bill.”

Note the divisive dichotomy: tax payers are apparently a discrete group of people, portrayed as carrying the financial burden of this social group. However, both DLA and PIP are also classed as in-work support. Many disabled people claiming these benefits do so in order to remain independent and to support them in work. Both benefits were designed to meet the additional living costs that disabled people face because of their disability, to help them remain independent, and are not means tested.

A recent British Social Attitudes survey showed that the Tory austerity cuts may well have become aligned with public opinion, as views have hardened towards perceived “benefits scroungers”. This was a politically calculated outcome, and is used as a self-perpetuating justification for the government’s punitive policies that target the most vulnerable social groups.

It was both individual and collective behaviours that contributed to the Holocaust. Allport’s studies helped us to understand that severe, targeted, personally destructive scapegoating and bullying was a major part in the incremented stages of public acceptance of the unacceptable.

There are some thematic parallels between the social processes and history leading up to the Holocaust and the bigotry, prejudice and targeted bullying we are witnessing in our own society.

What really worries me is how it’s become everyday and almost ordinary to us. And how we fail to link micro and macro level prejudices and behaviours. Ordinary people become easily invested in the values of a morally bankrupt status quo and may participate in terrible behaviours that are seemingly unthinkable in civilised society. History has taught us that.

Perpetrators – in this case our own government – typically require assistance to manipulate the opinions of others, usually to portray their target as the miscreant. Allport’s Scale is a measure of the manifestation of prejudice in a society.

Gordon Allport is a psychologist who researched how the Holocaust happened. There are identifiable ideological parallels here. They are clear and real:

Stage 1. Antilocution. This is when speech is in terms of negative stereotypes and negative images. This is also called hate speech. It sets the stage for more severe outlets for prejudice. When a government does this, it is giving the public permission to hate others.

Stage 2. Avoidance: Members of the majority group actively avoid people in a minority group. No direct harm may be intended, but harm is done through isolation, and this may include also other forms of social exclusion.

Stage 3. Discrimination: Minority group is discriminated against by denying them opportunities and services and so putting prejudice into action. Behaviours have the specific goal of harming the minority group by preventing them from achieving goals, getting education or jobs, etc. The majority group harms the minority.

Stage 4. Physical Attack: The majority group may vandalize, burn or destroy minority group property and carry out violent attacks on individuals or groups. Physical harm is done to members of the minority group. Examples are lynchings of blacks, pogroms against Jews in Europe and British Loyalists in the 1700s. Incidents of hate crime against disabled people has risen massively since the Tories took office.

Final stage 5. Extermination: The majority group seeks extermination or removal of the minority group. They attempt to eliminate either the entire or a large fraction of a group of people (e.g., Indian Wars to remove Native Americans, lynchings of African-Americans, Final Solution to the “Jewish Question” in Nazi Germany, the Rwandan Genocide, and ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War). When people deliberately or unthinkingly side with abusers to facilitate the destruction of a targeted victim/group, they play institutional roles very similar to the bureaucrats of the Nazi regime.

There are not just victim/target and perpetrator roles, bystanders play a key role in enabling perpetrators, too. Bystanders are not guilty of simply looking the other way. They are complicit in the abuse; often they are among the key enablers leading to the final elimination of the target. And whether that’s on the level of social groups that are being targeted, or individuals, it’s all part of the same methodology and ideology.

We know that the Asch experiment is related closely to the Stanford Prison and Milgram experiments, in that it tries to show how perfectly normal human beings can be pressured into atypical and irrational  behaviour by authority figures, or by the consensus of opinion around them. Asch’s paradigm indicates that having social support is an important tool in combating conformity. Techniques of neutralisation may serve to help people (including the government) to rationalise acts of prejudice and violence.

However, these experiments lack a degree of ecological credibility – in that they do not necessarily relate to real-life situations, though they undoubtedly reveal something of our human tendencies.

We must challenge our own government’s attempts to normalise prejudice. One voice can make a difference amongst many. Social norms are the unwritten rules that govern social behaviour. These are customary standards for behaviour that are widely shared by members of a culture.

We know that it is possible for an articulate and vocal minority to stem the normative influence of a larger majority. It’s up to each of us to have a responsible role in meta-scripting or re-scripting those norms.

Wittgenstein once said: “The limits of my language are the limits of my  world.”

Words are powerful. As well as describing, signifying, explaining, persuading, interpreting, deceiving and so on, they may also issue commands and instructions. We “spell” words. Spelling may also be described as “words or a formula purported to have magickal powers.”

With words, both spoken and unspoken, we can shape and re-shape the universe. We can create. Einstein changed the meaning of the word “mass” and transformed Newton’s universe of structures to become his own – one of events. It’s a different universe.

We can oppress, liberate or transform with a few intentional words. The choice is ours.

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Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man

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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.

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Thank you to Robert Livingstone for the pictures. More here

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

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

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

Part one

The axis of marginalisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Gove has written:

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

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

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

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

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

I usually prefer to describe them as “authoritarian”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona Weir, Gingerbread’s chief executive, said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Equality impact assessments: the current legal position in UK

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

  •  Processes should be in place to help ensure that :

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

  •  Equality Impact Assessments: show impact on protected

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

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

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

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

TUC Briefing: The Gender Impact of the Cuts

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

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

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

Women’s Aid – The Survivor’s Handbook

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

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his superb art work

Austerity is a con, the Tories are authoritarians and they conflated the fact-value distinction.

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One of the first things I realised as an undergraduate is that social “sciences” aren’t. My very first essay was on the topic of the “scientific” basis of sociology and its methodology, and my reading took me deep into the labyrinth of history and philosophy of science. I concluded that science itself isn’t as “scientific” as we are led to believe, let alone a discipline that aims at the study of inter-subjectively constructed human behaviours in a social context. I’ve been attempting to rescue anyone that has succumbed to the mythical, positivist, fraudulent chimera called “objectivity” ever since.

As a critical interpretivist, I believe that social reality is not “out there” waiting to be discovered: we are constructing and reconstructing it meaningfully. However, politically, there’s been a marked shift away from understanding the lived experiences of real people in context: a systematic dehumanisation. The Tories have depopulated social policy. This is a characteristic of authoritarianism, and other hallmarks include stigmatisation of social groups, moral disengagement, moral exclusion, impunity, and a societal “bystander apathy”. (See also Allport’s ladder, which is a measure of the manifestation of prejudice and discrimination in a Society. It’s also an explanation of the stages of genocide, and how the Holocaust happened.)

And before anyone invokes Reductio ad Hitlerum or Godwin’s Law, I will point out in advance that it would be unreasonable where such a comparison is appropriate and reasonable, as it is in this case. (For example, in discussions of the dangers involved in eugenics, persecution and stigmatisation of any social group, or tolerance of racist and nationalist political parties, and propaganda campaigns used to promote and justify any of these). In such a context, the dismissal of someone’s proposition on this basis becomes its own form of association fallacy and Ad Hominem attack.

Upwards and onwards then.

Authoritarian legitimacy is often based on emotional appeal, especially the identification of the regime as a “necessary evil” to combat easily recognisable societal problems, such as economic crises.

Authoritarian regimes commonly emerge in times of political, economic, or social instability, and because of this, especially during the initial period of authoritarian rule, such Governments may have broad public support. Many citizens won’t immediately recognise authoritarianism, especially in formerly liberal and democratic countries. In the UK, there  has been an incremental process of un-democratising, permeated by a wide variety of deliberative practices which have added to the problem of recognising it for what it is.

Authoritarian leaders typically prefer and encourage a population that is uninformed and apathetic about politics, with no desire to participate in the political process. Authoritarian Governments often work via propaganda to cultivate such public attitudes, by fostering a sense of a deep divide between social groups, society and Government, they tend to generate prejudice between social groups, and repress expressions of dissent, using media control, law amendments or quietly editing existing laws.

Many of us are unaware of the sheer extent to which this is going on. George Lakoff, researcher and cognitive linguist, said: “Conservatives have set up an incredible infrastructure. It’s a vast, unseen communication system and it’s very effective. This has been pointed out over and over to progressives and few seem to recognise the danger. They think it’s just propaganda and so they ignore it.” cognitive linguist. Lakoff is right. The deep and hidden state that the government have created is founded on nudge, ‘strategic communications’, data analytics and psychographic profiling. It includes the use of military grade psyops, aimed at changing people’s perceptions and decision making., with the ultimate aim of maintaining the status quo. This has profoundly perverted our democracy.

Whenever I listen to the Tories in Parliamentary debate, I’m reminded of the fact/value distinction – the alleged difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be). Facts are one sort of thing, values another sort of thing, and the former never determine the latter. That’s the idea, anyway. But it isn’t considered to be very clear-cut when it comes to the “social sciences” such as politics and economics (although I would go further and propose that it’s not so clear-cut in the physical sciences, either. (Please see footnote).

The fact/value dichotomy was associated with the doctrine of logical positivism, that arose out of a supreme attempt at concept control. Beginning in the eighteenth century, some of the Enlightenment thinkers had declared that values (such as moral obligations) could not be derived from facts.

The verification principle, which is at the heart of the logical positivist doctrine, is a form of vigorous scientific anti-realism – restricting science to (empirically verifiable) observable aspects of nature. Inductive reasoning makes broad generalisations from specific observations. Such observations can be used to make “probability guesses” based on deductive reasoning.

This applies to many theoretical claims, including the beginning of time, gravity, the existence of matter (one of which is the Big Bang Theory), quantum events, the age of the Universe, the age of the Earth, the origin of the Moon, and the occurrence of other magical events in the past.

But the verification principle is itself unverifiable.

Values are involved in the very identification or determination of what is “fact”. As Einstein once said: “the theory tells you what you may observe.” 

Similarly, in social research, the area of study is intentionally selected. There are problems related to the connection between observation and interpretation also. Perhaps every observation is an interpretation, since “facts” are seen through a lens of perceptions, pre-conceptions and ideology. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation choose to study poverty. Cynical Iain Duncan Smith simply changes the definition of it.

Tory values. How else can we explain the flagrantes et virulentes Tory political rhetoric manifested in media-wide chanting for the blood and souls of the poor for the sake of “austerity”? There are no “facts” that can ever justify the persecution of a social group.

All of the knowledge and understanding we possess, whether of “facts”, values, or anything else, is contained within our consciousness, as structured by intentionality.  There isn’t an “objective”, mind-independent yardstick – we cannot step outside our consciousness to compare our ideas with anything else “out there” (please see footnote). We cannot experience our consciousness independently of intentionality, and we do have a degree of free-will and moral agency.

This means we have to face our morality, take responsibility for our ethical decisions and own our value-judgements. Rather than disguise them as “facts”, as the pseudo-positivist Tories frequently do.

It’s truly remarkable that Tories loudly attribute the capacity for moral agency to people claiming benefits, for example, formulating sanctions and “assessments” to both shape and question the morality of the poor constantly, yet stand outside of any obligation to morality themselves. It’s always someone else’s responsibility, never theirs.

Any claim to value-freedom in decision-making does not and cannot exempt us from moral responsibility, or justify moral indifference.

The consciousness of each of person is situated, rather than existing independently. A situation is an intentional act (or action) taken in social contexts as we experience them. Our understanding of our situation is embedded in conversational language. We are continually engaged in dialogues with other persons – “discourse”. Dialogue and narrative are how we make sense of the world.

It strikes me that in politics it all comes down to language. Those who can shape a controversial issue in the terms they prefer have the advantage in shaping public opinion. It’s called “framing”. Such concept control is a way of rigging the debate: You must talk about this controversial issue using our categories, terms, and definitions.

As a result, those who have the power to declare the terms of discourse have the power to determine the outcome of the debate, and furthermore, they have the power to determine what is accepted as “true or false”.

Really, for the Tories, it’s nothing more than linguistic bullying. You only need listen to Prime Minister’s Questions to understand this. For the Tories, both facts and values are irrelevant, despite their fake claims to fake empirical statistical data, all that matters is their ideological narrative. As a Society, we really need to pay much more attention to detail.

And we really need to challenge more. In terms of evidence, the Tories have not provided any verification that any of their policies work. There’s a growing body of rich qualitative data that reliably and consistently informs us that those policies do not work as claimed by the Tory-led Coalition, and the sheer volume of those accounts also informs us that this data is both credible and valid. So why are the Government so determined to ignore it?

Value-laden observation: their “theory” tells them what they may observe.

I’m not particularly au fait with economic theory, I just about grasp the differences between Keynes and Hayek, but I do know that after the British depression of the 1920s, Hayek promoted the idea that private investment, rather than Government spending, would promote sustainable growth. However, Keynes proposed that the Government’s job is to increase its own spending to offset the decline in public spending – that is by running a deficit to whatever extent necessary. To cut Government spending is a completely damaging policy in an economic slump. Keynes’s message was: you cannot cut your way out of a slump; you have to grow your way out. Eighty years on and the Tories have still not fully learned the lesson. Well, they probably have, but the fact is they simply don’t care enough to apply it.

I do understand ideology, and the case for austerity is not founded on economic principles, but rests entirely on social conservative ideology, with their wide embrace of neoliberalist principles.

The repetition of a lie ad nauseum is based on the idea Goebbels had – that repeated lies will somehow convince people that they are true. Cameron was busted when he repeatedly told the lie “We are paying down the debt.” Despite being rumbled, the Coalition have stuck with this lie doggedly. The bonus of the lie is that it may be used (and has been, repeatedly) to undermine the Opposition’s economic credibility, and the Tories particularly delight in the lie that it’s all Labour’s fault because they “overspent” as it further justifies austerity measures and starving public services of Government funding, with our paid taxes, as well as stripping our welfare provision and public services away.

Big labour boy

The Tories have carefully planned these measures for a long time, and attacks on our human rights and public services can be seen in plans and policies of previous Tory administrations. Such attacks on the most marginalised and vulnerable citizens and the undermining and steady destruction of social programs and services that may offer any support are an integral part of Tory ideological grammar.

A leading British academic concludes that the last Labour Government has been tarnished by spin and propaganda, while the US treasury secretary follows Gordon Brown’s lead. Jack Lew, the relatively new US treasury secretary, wrote recently in the Financial Times: “While long-term fiscal policy requires tough decisions, we knew we could not cut our way to prosperity”.

 in today’s Guardian says “Lew has now taken up the baton from Gordon Brown when it comes to politicians who understand the nature of the huge deficiency of demand in the world economy. People go on about the need for supply-side policies, but the fact is that there is no shortage of supply, but of demand, which continues to be constrained by the vogue for totally unnecessary and hugely destructive policies of austerity”.

Keegan quotes the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, who is a widely respected in the profession, from  the Oxford Review of Economic Policy. It covers the economic record of the 1997-2010 Labour Government in considerable and balanced detail: “The line that the Labour government was responsible for leaving a disastrous fiscal position which requires great national sacrifice to put right is pure spin”.

The austerity movement has damaged recovery from the economic depression, whilst it has also caused a crisis worldwide through its imposition upon many nations. The foundation research that was used to justify the austerity movement came from two Harvard Professors: Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.  A University of Massachusetts student Thomas Herndon found that their work was filled with mathematical errors in their research spreadsheets.

Their spreadsheets were their “proofs” that economic austerity promotes economic recovery and were used to “verify” this theory. The powers that be have imposed this fundamentally flawed doctrine, and the ill-effects fall squarely upon 99% of the people, leaving the wealthiest unscathed.Thriving, actually.

It’s is both infuriating and horrific to witness the sheer suffering and destruction that follows in the wake of these now debunked theories. The unemployment in Europe  has reached record high levels high levels, Countries like Greece and Spain have widespread rioting in the streets and a new neo Nazi movement is gaining popularity throughout Europe.

The cost in human suffering is incalculable, but those fatuous academic asses supporting austerity are not concerned with people, they are concerned with their reputations and salaries, and with catering for the powerful wealthy. Their theories, rather than being based on informed facts, the result of real research and learning experiences, are NOT science: they are nothing more than by-products of overweening egotism in tandem with uncaring self interest. Such highly prized Tory values.

It gets worse. Huffington Post contributor: Mark Gongloff wrote this article : “Austerity Fanatics Won’t Let Mere Economics Stop Them From Thinking They’re Winning”, in it he writes: Like Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who hid on an island in the Philippines for 30 years refusing to believe Japan had lost World War II, austerity fanatics are never going to admit their failure. Instead, they are going to keep pushing the policies that are making millions of people in Europe miserable”.

Another example of their denial is a piece by Michael Rosen of the American Enterprise Institute, a Conservative think tank, entitled Austerity And Its Discontents”. He declares that, far from being shamed by the recent discovery of errors in influential research by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, austerity fans have recently gained “the upper hand in the global argument over austerity”.

We really do need to shout down the public’s passive acceptance of grotesque inequality, social injustice, political justifications for intentionally inflicted and growing poverty and the steady removal of our civil rights. This is now the propaganda of a so-called liberal democracy.

Sure, many news articles circumvent the conspicuous propaganda of pernicious sophist, Conservative policies – manifestations of their socioeconomic Darwinist neoliberalist orthodoxy – which really makes the media complicit in such propaganda: diversions are a silent endorsement, after all.

The column of truth has holes in it, no matter which newspaper you read now.

There is a very conspicuous absence of counter agitprop, let alone any semblance of the grim truth. There is no representation of those with alternative principles, values and norms, the ones that challenge, with the potential to trigger much needed cultural changes. Public attitudes are being micromanaged. Whatever happened to counter-culture? There’s no Beat Generation, only a ‘being beat’ one. And we, the blogging Bohemians, and other underground dissenters, seceded from the conventionalities of an increasingly right wing public.  

The wealthy one percent have their own problems, just not on par with ours. The ‘poor me’ rich have to face a modicum f Government regulation, taxes and those darned pesky workers who want fair wages and decent working conditions. The political solution has been to bring many of the 99% to a level slightly above starvation.

This ensures that they will work for any amount that helps them put some food on the table, to meet their basic survival needs. It necessitates that social welfare and support programs be destroyed so the plebs will have no choice but to seek shelter from material devastation at some exploitative, low paying job that keeps them just above subsistence. This adds to the profits of the 1%. The steady erosion of workers rights also a lowers the value of labour further, because there is now a large and pretty desperate, disposable reserve army of labour.

The pay and bonuses of bankers and the tax cuts for the very wealthiest have sunk our country into obscene levels of inequality. When banks receive money, they invest over 90% in assets like property, that does nothing for the economy. The rich benefit as the value of their assets rises, so 12% of the population now own half the country’s wealth.

Wide gaps in income levels, human rights violations, political corruption and authoritarianism. These conditions tend to happen together. Despite the emphasis and value that authoritarian regimes place on social conformity, and a reliance on passive mass acceptance, rather than popular support, history shows us that it cannot be maintained by repressive and coercive strategies.

In Britain, the minority are exceptionally well-housed, have gold-plated pensions, fine art, fine food, luxury yachts, a big say and shrinking taxes. Many of the rest of the population are fighting to survive. There is a chasm opening between them and the majority of society who are mostly in debt, suffering severely reduced welfare and tax benefits, unable to afford a home, increasingly forced to relocate away from their community, breaking kith and kinship bonds and ways of life, routines and many are being forced to travel for hours in order to pick up menial work for the rich to profit from.

Those in a run-down area lucky enough to own a flat pay eight times as much council tax proportionally as the very rich. That beggars belief, but its a social fact, one of many grim facts we are now facing, manifested directly from Tory class prejudice.

Edwardian levels of inequality led to the Great Depression. Austerity measures under Chancellor Hindenburg contributed to the rise of Nazism. The drop in household income in Japan between 1929 and 1931 led to a wave of assassinations of Government officials and bankers. Social policies after World War 2 turned the tables and brought peace, with inequality steadily dropping in Britain until recently. But inequality is now returning to pre-war levels.

In response to the atrocities committed during the War, the International Community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual. Ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951, those human rights originally established in the Universal Declaration have been steadily eroded since the Coalition gained Office. There’s a clear link between high levels of inequality and failure of Government’s to recognise human rights, and to implement them in policies.

Authoritarians view the rights of the individual, (including those considered to be human rights by the international community), as subject to the needs of the Government. Of course in democracies, Government’s are elected to represent and serve the needs of the population. Democracy is not only about elections. It is also about distributive and social justice.

The quality of the democratic process, including transparent and accountable Government and equality before the law, is critical. Façade democracy occurs when liberalisation measures are kept under tight rein by elites who fail to generate political inclusion. See Corporate power has turned Britain into a corrupt state  and also Huge gap between rich and poor in Britain is the same as Nigeria and worse than Ethiopia, UN report reveals.

In the UK, democracy is very clearly faltering. It’s time to be very worried.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant illustrations.


Footnote

My academic background is in sociology, history and philosophy of science, social policy and social psychology. I tend towards critical (Marxist) Phenomenology when it comes to ontology and epistemology:  defining “social reality”. Experience is “evidence”.  Existence is fact, which precedes essence.

Max Weber’s principle of Verstehen  is a critical approach in all social sciences, and we can see the consequences of its absence in the cold, pseudo-positivist approach of the Coalition in the UK. Their policies clearly demonstrate that they lack the capacity to understand, or meaningfully “walk a mile in the shoes of another”. The Coalition treat the population of the UK as objects and not human subjects of their policies.

My own starting point is that regardless of any claim to value-freedom in social science, we cannot abdicate moral responsibility, and cannot justify moral indifference. We see this positive approach exemplified in our laws, human rights and democratic process. We are also seeing an erosion of this tendency to a globalisation of values, and inclusion of a recognition and account of the full range of human experiences in policy making. Indeed our policy has become an instrument of social exclusion and increasing minoritization.

We are being reduced to little more than economic statements here in the UK. We have a Government that tends to describe vulnerable social groups in terms of costs to the State, and responsibility is attributed to these social groups via media and State rhetoric, whilst those decision-makers actually responsible for the state of the economy have been exempted, legally and morally, and are hidden behind complex and diversionary scapegoating propaganda campaigns.

Sartre once said that oppressors oppress themselves as well as those they oppress. Freedom and autonomy are also reciprocal, and it’s only when we truly recognise our own liberty that we may necessarily acknowledge that of others. Conservatism has always been associated with a capacity to inhibit and control, and never liberate. We need to take responsibility for the Government that we have. In fact we must.

With regard to the philosophical issues raised regarding the physical sciences, to clarify, I believe that there is a mind-independent “reality”, that exists beyond the full grasp of our perception and conception of it: in this respect I am a transcendental realist. My point is that how we choose to perceive reality is very much our own business, and demonstrating a correspondence with reality and our description of it is very problematic. Wittgenstein once said that any attempt to demonstrate such correspondence by theory leads to an infinite regress of descriptions of descriptions of descriptions…

Although it’s fallible, the scientific method is pretty much all we have in terms of validation. My own sidestep criterion for the problems raised with methodology is to recognise the role that values play in determining “facts”, and take responsibility for those values. Identify and declare your interest in an area of research. Although we may have difficulty in proving something to be an ultimate truth, we may at least explore issues and give an increasingly coherent account of them. See Coherence theory of truth
 

It’s not possible to do full justice to the debate about objectivity and relativism, deduction and induction here, so I’ve posted a couple of links for anyone interested in pursuing it further:

These are reasonable starting points: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Social Science. 

Update:

Beastrabban has written an analysis of this article: Kittysjones on the Philosophical and Methodological Errors in the Tories’ Austerity Myth

 


 

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