Tag: Benefit Cap

The government’s eugenic policy is forcing some women to abort wanted pregnancies

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The prejudice and stereotypes that fuelled eugenic thinking during the last century. In the UK, the Conservatives’ policies reflect this regressive and authoritarian approach to a class-based ‘population control’. 

In 2015 I wrote an article that expressed my grave concerns about the Conservatives’ welfare cuts. I discussed the Conservatives’ announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families, in what amounts to a two-child policy. Welfare rules with such a clearly defined eugenic basis, purposefully aimed at reducing the family size of some social groups – in this case the poorest citizens – rarely come without serious repercussions.

Iain Duncan Smith said in 2014 that limiting child benefit to the first two children in a family is “well worth considering” and “could save a significant amount of money.” The idea was being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could alienate parents.

Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:

“I think it’s well worth looking at,” he said. “It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.”

Firstly, this is a clear indication of the government’s underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the erroneous underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making, labour market conditions, ideologically driven socioeconomic policies and politically imposed structural constraints.

Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without.

Moreover, a policy aimed at restricting support available for families where parents are either unemployed or in low paid work is effectively a class contingent policy.

I also wrote: Limiting financial support to two children may also have consequences regarding the number of abortions. Abortion should never be an outcome of reductive state policy. By limiting choices available to people already in situations of limited choice – either an increase of poverty for existing children or an abortion – then women may feel they have no choice but to opt for the latter.

That is not a free choice, because the state is inflicting a punishment by withdrawing support for those citizens who have more than two children, which will have negative repercussions for all family members. Furthermore, abortion as an outcome of state policy rather than personal choice is a deeply traumatic experience, as accounts from those who have experienced such coercion have testified. Although dressed up in the terminology of  behavioural economics, if the state limits choices for some social groups, that is a discriminatory, coercive form of behaviourism. Removing support for a third child is also discriminatory.

UK poverty charity Turn2Us recently submitted written evidence to the Work and Pensions select committee, regarding the ongoing inquiry into the impact of the Benefit Cap.

The charity’s report discusses worrying trends reported by their helpline over the last year: “The most worrying trend that is emerging is pregnant women asking the call handler to undertake a benefit check to ascertain what they would be entitled to if they continue with the pregnancy, citing that the outcome will help them to decide whether they continue with the pregnancy or terminate it.” 

Those women who have abortions from choice are very often not prepared emotionally to deal with the aftermath, finding themselves experiencing unexpected grief, anger and depression. 

Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS) is a group of psychological symptoms that include guilt, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, a desire to avoid children or pregnant women, and traumatic flashbacks to the abortion itself.

Women considering abortion and those who feel they have no other choice have a right to know about the possible emotional and psychological risks of their choice. One of the biggest risk factors for the development of PAS arises when the abortion is forced, or chosen under pressure. Research suggests women commonly feel pressured into abortion, either by other people or by circumstances. And sometimes, by the state.

Many people choose to have children when they are in favorable circumstances. However, employment has become increasingly precarious over the last decade, and wages have been depressed and stagnated. The cost of living has also risen, leaving many in hardship. A large number of citizens move in and out of work, as opportunity permits. The Conservatives say that “work is the route out of poverty”, and claim employment is at an “all time high”, yet this has not helped people out of poverty at all. The ‘gig economy’ has simply made opportunities to secure, well paid employment much scarcer.

The two-child policy treats some children as somehow less deserving of support intended to meet their basic needs, purely because of the order of their birth. 

Abortion should be freely chosen, it should never be an outcome of state policy in a so-called civilised democracy.

Yesterday I read about ‘Sally’ (not her real name) and the heartbreaking choice she was forced to make. She says she could not bear for family and friends to know what she has been through, so she wished to remain anonymous. Sally and her partner discovered, almost halfway through her pregnancy, that the government no longer pays child tax credit and the child element of universal credit for more than two children. The rule applies to babies born after April 6, 2017 and it’s been widely condemned by human rights and women’s rights organisations, religious leaders and child poverty campaigners.

Last month the charity mentioned earlier – Turn2us – which helps people to navigate access to social security benefits, tweeted that they have seen a “worrying trend” of pregnant women contacting them with questions about the social security benefits they are entitled to and saying they may have to terminate their pregnancies as a result of the savage cuts.

Sally’s extremely distressing experience adds evidence to this account. She and her partner already have two children; sons aged 4 and 5. She’s currently receiving universal credit after being found fit for work following 12 years of claiming employment and support allowance, as she suffers from PTSD.

She explains that she doesn’t live with her partner as they can’t afford to live together. She goes on to say: “[The pregnancy] wasn’t planned as such but it wasn’t avoided.

“We were happy to have another child if it happened and we had discussed after the last one was born that we would be very happy to have another child.”

Sally explained her partner is looking for work, but is finding it very difficult to find suitable employment.

“He is currently studying to be a personal trainer so he can earn money to support us.”

Knowing that money would be tight but trusting in her partner’s future earning potential and the safety net of the social security safety net, Sally began to buy items for the baby and booked herself in for a scan.

It was her third successful pregnancy so she knew what to expect and was delighted when she began to feel kicks and movement.

Then she says that she heard news that changed everything. “I was four months along and planning what other things we would need to buy for this baby, and then my friend said any child born after 2017, you will not be able to get any extra money for.

Sally replied “that cannot possibly be true.”

But sadly it is. Sally and her partner were then forced to make a decision they would never have contemplated otherwise. “We are barely surviving now,” says Sally.

“I have two sons but I’ve been denied the chance to have a daughter” – [because of] the callous policy that forces women across the country to choose between their unborn child and being able to look after their existing ones.” 

Many people in work rely on tax credits or Universal Credit to support their families because their earnings are too low to meet the cost of living. Even if Sally’s partner found employment, they would still be unable to claim additional support for another child.

Sally told the Mirror that following her termination, she came around from the anaesthetic crying.

She had been fully sedated while the doctors terminated her four-month pregnancy, a pregnancy she says she had desperately wanted to continue. Sally says “It wasn’t planned, but it was very wanted.”

“I was crying when wheeled me in. They kept asking ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ and I couldn’t even answer, I just had to nod my head.” She goes on to say “I think it’s something I will never forgive myself for.”

“I knew we couldn’t do it to the children already born and we couldn’t do it to the unborn child.” Sally added.

“We thought we could make it work somehow but, honestly, even if we both got a job and 85% of our childcare paid for we still could not afford childcare let alone food.”

Cancelling a scan and midwife appointments, Sally instead booked herself in for a termination. At four months gone that could no longer be a swift appointment, she needed a general anaesthetic and an operation.

I cried at every appointment regarding the termination and I woke up crying from the operation as well,” she said.

I think it’s something I will never forgive myself for. I know I should have prevented it from happening in the first place. My partner was devastated but he tried not to show any emotion because I was so upset.

“He also couldn’t come with me as he had to look after our children so I went alone.”

As the couple prepared to end the pregnancy they tried to find a way to make it work.

“Even on the day he kept saying: ‘Are we sure we should do this? There must be some way that we can keep it.’”

In desperation, they even discussed whether her partner should earn money in less legitimate ways. “He was ready to turn back to crime to support us,” admitted Sally. “But I said if he is in jail how can I cope alone with 3 kids and no money?”

It’s left Sally questioning whether politicians have any regard or respect for her children, and what kind of system leaves her with no choice but to abort a wanted pregnancy or rely on crime to get by.

I feel guilty, ashamed, angry. The Government does not value my right to a family at all or my family, I’m being penalised for being born poor.

I have two sons but I’ve been denied the chance to have a daughter unless we live in complete and utter poverty. I’m disgusted by the Government; I think a two-child limit is sick and disgusting.”

No-one should ever be placed in such a terrible and distressing situation in a wealthy, so-called civilised society. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has described the two-child limit as “ensur[ing] that the benefits system is fair to those who pay for it, as well as those who benefit from it, ensuring those on benefits face the same financial choices around the number of children they can afford as those supporting themselves through work”.

Everyone pays for the welfare system. People move in and out of work and contribute when they earn. Many people affected by the two-child policy are actually in work. Wages have been depressed and have stagnated, while the cost of living has risen. It’s a myth that there is a discrete class of people that pays tax and another that does not. People who need lifeline welfare support also pay taxes. Many in work are not paid enough to support themselves and therefore rely on support. The problems that needs to be addressed are insecure employment and low pay, but instead the government is punishing citizens for the hardships caused by their own policies

It is grossly inhumane and unfair to punish those citizens and their children affected by circumstances that are constrained because of political and socioeconomic conditions. 

This is a point that completely disregards the fact that 70% of those claiming tax credits are in work, according to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). And it ignores the desperation of women like Sally, forced to abort pregnancies they want to keep.

Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at abortion provider thBritish Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), says: “Financial pressures, job or housing insecurity are often among key reasons for women deciding to end an unwanted pregnancy.

“But the third child benefit cap is more than that because it penalises those already in the most challenging financial circumstances – and as anti-poverty campaigners have noted, it breaks what has been a fundamental link between need and the provision of support, and also discriminates against children simply because of the order they were born in.

“As a charity that has spent the last five decades counselling pregnant women, we know that women don’t decide to continue with pregnancies because they think they could make a bit of money doing so – £7.60 per day to be precise, when it comes to child tax credit for poorer families,” Clare said.

“They do so because that child is wanted and would be a much-loved addition to their family.”  

Moreover, this rule implies that women can always control their fertility when in fact they don’t even have an automatic right to abortion if their contraception lets them down.

“Contraception frequently fails women,” said Clare. “More than half of women we see for advice about unplanned pregnancy were using contraception when they conceived, including many women using the effective hormonal methods.

“We have seen cuts to contraceptive services and one reason BPAS campaigned so hard last year to bring the price of emergency contraception down was because we feared some women were simply being priced out of protection when their regular method failed.

“Ministers speak about people having to make ‘choices’ about the number of children in their families. It is important to note that women in the UK still do not have the right to choose abortion – it can only be provided if two doctors agree that she meets certain criteria and the abortion takes places in specific licensed premises, unlike any other medical procedure.”

Pritie Billimoria, head of communications at Turn2us, said: “A third child is worth no more or no less than a first or second born.

“No parent can see into the future. Parents may be able to comfortably support a third child today but may be a bereavement, divorce or redundancy away from needing state help. We need to see children protected from growing up in poverty in the UK and that means scrapping this limit.”

Parents may become ill or have an accident that leaves them disabled and unable to work, too. It is immoral to punish people and their children for circumstances that are very often outside of their control. 

The policy also been roundly criticised by religious leaders: 60 Church of England bishops joined the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain to call for the policy to be scrapped. Many childrens’ charities, human rights and equality campaigners have also condemned the policy.

The Government has removed benefits from children who simply have no say in being born or in the number of existing children in their families and the results are already showing.

CPAG estimates that more than 250,000 children will be pushed into poverty as a result of this measure by the end of the decade, representing a 10% increase in child poverty. Meanwhile a similar number of children already living in poverty will fall deeper into poverty.

A Government spokesperson said: “This policy ensures fairness between claimants and those who support themselves solely through work. We’ve always been clear the right exceptions are in place and consulted widely on them.” 

Note the word “solely”. This policy applies to low paid families, too. Yet no family would choose to be poorly paid for their work. This is a punishment for the sins and profit incentive of exploitative employers, and as such, it is profoundly unfair and unjust.

Clare Murphy goes on to say “We see abortion as a fundamental part of women’s healthcare and something which should be a genuine matter of choice – no woman should be left in the position of undergoing abortion because she simply would not be able to put food on the plate or clothes on the back of a new baby. 

As I wrote in 2015, many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements. 

If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits?  It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born. 

And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to. 

Restriction on welfare support for children will directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority freedom to continue having children as they wish, while aiming to curtail the poorest citizens by ‘disincentivising’ them from having larger families, by using financial punishment. It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, and it openly discriminates against the children of large families. 

People who are in favour of eugenics believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups. The government’s notion of “behavioural change” is clearly aimed at limiting the population of working class citizens. 

Eugenics arose from the social Darwinism and laissez-faire economics of the late 19th century, which emphasised competitive individualism, a “survival of the fittest” philosophy and sociopolitical rationalisations of inequality.

Eugenics is now considered to be extremely unethical and it was criticised and condemned widely when its role in justification narratives of the Holocaust was revealed. 

But that doesn’t mean it has gone away. It’s hardly likely that a government of a so-called first world liberal democracy – and fully signed up member of the European Convention on Human Rights and a signatory also to the United Nations Universal Declaration – will publicly declare their support of eugenics, or their authoritarian tendencies, for that matter, any time soon.

Any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable” and formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are overtly expressed as “eugenics” or not.

Human rights and the implications of the Conservatives’ two-child policy 

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory, states:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2.  Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

An assessment report by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider imposing the deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans at the time to repeal the Human Rights Act.

The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present to the United Nations.

Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.

England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:

“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”

Another worry is the impact of changes to welfare, and ministers’ decision to cut  £12bn more from the benefits budget. As of 2015, there were 4.1m children living in absolute poverty – 500,000 more than there were when David Cameron came to power. Earlier this year, the government’s own figures showed that the number of children in poverty across the UK had surged by 100,000 in just one a year, prompting calls for ministers to urgently review cuts to child welfare. Government statistics published on in January  show 4.1 million children are now living in relative poverty after household costs, compared with four million the previous year, accounting for more than 30 per cent of children in the country. The Government’s statistics are likely to understate the problem, too.

It’s noted in the commissioner’s report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention – the best interests of the child are paramount:

“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:

Article 1

For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

Article 2

1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Article 3

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 4

States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.

Article 5

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 26

1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.

2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.

Here are the rest of the Convention Articles.

 

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article then you can contact Turn2us for benefits advice and support, or BPAS for pregnancy advice and support, including help to end a pregnancy if that’s what you decide.

 


 

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Judicial review rules benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against lone parents

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The  Conservatives have been dealt a blow by a high court judgement today, which ruled that the government’s highly controversial benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against lone parents with young children. The imposing of a benefit cap on tens of thousands of lone parents with children under the age of two is not only unlawful, it has has resulted in “real damage” to the families affected, the high court has ruled.

The judicial review challenge brought by four lone parent families, concerned the reduced benefit cap introduced by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. The revised benefit cap drastically reduced housing benefits, leaving lone parent families across the country unable to afford basic life necessities to care for their children.

Mr Justice Collins has ruled that the application of the revised benefit cap to lone parents with children under two amounts to unlawful discrimination and that “real damage” is being caused to the claimants and families like theirs across the country.

The flagship welfare policy meant that there is a cap on total benefits, at either £23,000 a year in London, or £20,000 for the rest of the UK. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had said that people were exempt from the cap if they work at least 16 hours per week – which the claimants said discriminated against lone parents with children under the age of two.

The benefit cap, which limits the total amount households can receive in benefits to £20,000 a year, or £23,000 in Greater London, was claimed to be  an “incentive” to “support” unemployed people to move into work. In reality, it has hindered people who want to prepare for work, demotivating them because they are struggling financially to meet their basic needs. Implying that taking support away from people – making cuts – is somehow “support” is a particularly ludicrous Conservative claim.

Mr Justice Collins said in his judgment that the policy visited “real misery to no good purpose” on lone parents with very young children who were subject to the cap despite there being no “official” requirement for them to find work. However, even for those citizens who are required by the state to seek work, it is still very difficult to justify cutting those people’s support, too, since welfare was designed to meet only basic needs.

Lone parents with children under two do not qualify for free childcare and so would find it difficult and often impossible to juggle working the minimum 16 hours a week required to evade the cap while finding means to care for the child. 

He said: “The evidence shows that the cap is capable of real damage to individuals such as the claimants. They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement.”

Most lone parents with children aged under two were not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and it was “obvious” that it would exacerbate poverty. “Real misery is being caused to no good purpose.

He continued by stating that: “Most lone parents with children under two are not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and, since they will depend on DHP (Discretionary Housing Payments), they will remain benefit households.”

Cutting people’s lifeline support causes extreme hardship and harm

Campaigners have argued that the benefit cap is a powerful driver of poverty and destitutionOfficial estimates published earlier this year show 50,000 low-income families caring for an estimated 126,000 children were at risk of serious financial hardship after being trapped by the lower benefit cap.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting on behalf of the families, said: “The benefit cap has had a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable lone parent families and children across the country. Single mothers like my clients have been forced into homelessness and reliance on food banks as a result of the benefit cap.

“Thousands of children have been forced into poverty, which has severe long-term effects on their health and wellbeing.” 

She added: “We are pleased that today’s decision will relieve my clients – and other lone parent families around the country – from the unfair impacts of austerity measures which have prevented them from being able to provide basic necessities for their children.” 

The Conservatives have said they intend to appeal the decision. The DWP has been given leave to appeal against the ruling. A spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the decision and intend to appeal. Work is the best way to raise living standards, and many parents with young children are employed.”

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group charity, said: “In exposing the absurdity and cruelty of the benefit cap, we hope this case is the beginning of the end for this nasty policy. It is a policy that punishes the vulnerable for being vulnerable and even fails on its own terms.”

In 2015, although the Supreme Court found that the original cap was lawful, a majority found that it breached the rights of children. Despite evidence of the impact upon child poverty and amidst calls to review the way the benefit cap works, the benefit cap was lowered again in November 2016. The new annual limit was reduced significantly, with lower rates for households outside of London. Previously, London seem to bear the brunt of the policy but the revised cap is now affecting thousands of households across the country.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of civil servants’ union the PCS, said the benefit cap should be scrapped.

He said: “As the union that represents DWP staff, we opposed the benefit cap from the outset because we knew it was cruel and unnecessary, and would drive families into poverty and homelessness.

“We welcome the judge’s ruling and comments about the misery being caused ‘to no good purpose’, and we now call on the Government not just to tweak the cap but to scrap it entirely.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the ruling as a “further demonstration of the failure of this government’s austerity agenda”.

“It is failing in its own terms, it’s failing our communities, and it’s failing the most vulnerable in our country – including the victims of domestic violence and those facing homelessness,” he said.

“Labour has stood against the benefit cap, its discrimination against parents with children and the government’s cruel austerity programme. 

He called on the Government not to appeal the decision, and to “end this discrimination against parents and children”. 

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about comparative research at an international level, which has undermined the government claim that the UK welfare state encourages “widespread cultures of dependency” and presents unemployed people with “perverse incentives”.

The study, which links welfare generosity and active labour market policies with increased employment commitment, was published in 2015. It has demonstrated that people are more likely to look for work if they live in a country where welfare provision is generous and relatively unconditional. Empirically, the research includes more recent data from a larger number of European countries than previous studies. 

The research also compared employment motivation in specific sub-sections of communities across countries: ethnic minorities, people in poor health, non-employed people and women, and adds depth to previous studies. It has been concluded that comprehensive welfare provision is increasingly seen as a productive force in society (Bonoli, 2012), that stimulates employment commitment (Esser, 2005) and supports individual inclusion and participation in society and the labour market, particularly among disadvantaged groups. 

The researchers found that the more a country paid to unemployed and disabled people, and invested in employment schemes, the more its population were likely to agree with the statement, whether employed or not. 

The research findings challenge the Conservative’s neoliberal ideology, antiwelfare narratives regarding so-called “perverse incentives”, their highly controversial and stigmatising “scrounger” rhetoric and the brutal welfare cuts, implemented in stages since 2012. 

Welfare was originally intended to cover only basic needs: it allows families to pay rent, buy food, keep warm and simply keep going. When families get less money because of the Benefit Cap, the government’s own research shows that large numbers of people go into debt, end up with rent arrears, and can’t afford adequate food. Through no fault of their own. When people are struggling and can’t meet their basic needs, surviving becomes their overwhelming priority. This demotivates people, and means that it is almost impossible for them to meet their higher level psychosocial needs. Such as the need to look for work.

The government’s draconian welfare policies are founded on a “small state” neoliberal ideology, traditional Conservative class-based prejudices and a mean spirited, punitive approach to public needs.

Lies, damn lies and sadistics. The Tories have introduced sanctions which affect people in work who are low paid or work part-time. People have to prove that they are trying to “progress in work”. Once upon a time, we had a strong trade union movement for collective bargaining. Nowadays, when employers exploit workers, paying them a pittance, the employee is punished by the government.

 


 

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Report on the UK Government’s failing human rights record submitted to UN

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coalition of 175 civil society organisations has raised grave concern about the impact of the government’s welfare “reforms” and living standards in the UK, hate crimes, mental health, deteriorating prison conditions, stop and search powers and the Conservative’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, among other issues. The organisations include Age UK, Just Fair, Inclusion (London and Scotland), the TUC, Unicef UK, Rights Watch, The Law Centres Network, Mind, the Mental Health Foundation and Stonewall. 

The coalition contributed to a report which calls on the United Nations (UN) to recognise the evidence from the wide range of civil society groups and to ensure the UK Government, and the devolved administrations, are accountable for taking appropriate action and measures to redress many raised human rights concerns. The report authors caution that a high proportion of the 132 recommendations from the last United Nations hearings in 2012 have not been implemented.

The British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) announced the launch of the Joint Civil Society Report, on the 22 September. It was submitted to the United Nations in Geneva last Thursday as part of the Universal Periodic Review of the UK. 

The report was produced as part of Human Rights Check UK project, which has been assessing human rights changes since the UK was last reviewed by the UN in 2012. BIHR have engaged with over 175 organisations across England, Scotland and Wales through both a call for evidence and by hosting a series of events across Great Britain. These groups range from local community advocacy groups to large national organisations, working on issues such as health, age related issues, children’s issues, justice, education, welfare and many others.

Many of the issues and concerns raised in this report of 84 pages have been under-reported in the mainstream media.

The human rights framework in the UK is being eroded

A key theme throughout the evidence received are serious concerns regarding the proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act. Civil society organisations were worried that a new Bill of Rights would offer weaker human rights protections, particularly impacting the most vulnerable members of society.

The report says repeal of the act would be a “denigration of international human rights law.” It also says in the submission: “The UK’s retrogressive debates are already negatively influencing other countries. There is increasing concern that the UK’s political rhetoric will, if not checked, threaten the coherence and credibility of the post-second world war human rights settlement.”

The report also says: The rhetoric in national media and among senior officials often repeatedly misrepresents and misreports judicial cases, “blaming” human rights laws for situations/decisions which are about other laws or are only partially about human rights (often centring on groups considered “unpopular” or “undeserving”). When the Human Rights Act has positively supported people, this is rarely discussed.

It is vital that the UK Government guarantees it will build upon the Human Rights Act, rather than amending or repealing it via a new bill of rights. Refusal to give such a guarantee should be recognised as an indication that there is a significant risk of the human rights framework in the UK being eroded.”

These are all concerns that I have raised myself over the last two years, along with many other campaigners.

Other key issues raised were related to growing poverty and inequality across the UK as a result of welfare “reforms” and austerity measures. The report reflects the damaging impact that Conservative policies are having on a number of human rights issues, including access to justice, children and women’s rights and the right to an adequate standard of living. These are problems and themes which many of us have been campaigning and writing about for the last four or five years.

Social security no longer alleviates poverty and homelessness

Many concerns were raised about the impact of the welfare cuts, growing poverty and an inadequate standard of living in the UK. The report said that recent policy and legislative changes have seen a regression in standards of living and the welfare system’s ability to tackle poverty, homelessness and unemployment. Many organisations reported that this is having a negative impact on marginalised social groups, among which are some of our most vulnerable citizens. 

For example, the abolition of disability premiums may result in 100,000 disabled children losing up to £28 a week. Changes to personal allowances will leave single parents with severe disability needs with £73 less a week. There was recognition of the discriminatory impact of the bedroom tax on disabled adults and children, carers, domestic violence victims, separated parents and others.

The benefit cap disproportionately impacts on single parents, children and BME groups. The Supreme Court ruled that the cap violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child  (UNCRC) but did not overturn the policy. The UK Government has further reduced the cap to £20,000 per annum for households outside of London and £23,000 for those within Greater London through the Welfare Reform Work Act 2016, affecting 92,000 more households.

The report also said that benefit sanctions have significantly increased and that evidence strongly suggests links to rising destitution and food bank use. Many people have received sanctions in “error”. The authors pointed out that there is no empirical evidence that sanctioning is in any way effective in “getting people back to work”. 

It was also noted that the government claim to have introduced a National Living Wage in 2016, to increase minimum wage to over £9 per hour by 2020. This does not apply to those under 25. Rates are not set in accordance with recommendations from the Living Wage Foundation.

Further concerns raised are freezes to working-age benefits for four years from April 2017, the removal of the Child Tax Credit entitlement for third or subsequent children born after 6 April,  repeal of the Child Poverty Act 2010. Although the Government will publish child poverty data, there are no longer statutory targets or a duty to report.

The report authors also acknowledged that there been an unprecedented rise in the use of food banks, and several submissions directly related this to welfare cuts and austerity measures. One million people were provided with 3 days of emergency food in 2015/16. 

It was noted that the Parliamentary committee recently (2015) assessed the impact of the Equality Act 2010 on disability discrimination, concluding it was unsatisfactory. Particular issues raised in evidence submissions include: the significant and disproportionate impact of welfare cuts on disabled people, e.g. Work Capability Assessments have seen many disabled people incorrectly assessed as fit for work; concerns about the portrayal of disabled people as “benefit scroungers”, perpetuated by some sections of the media and political leaders, and new tribunal fees being a disincentive to bringing discrimination cases forward. 

There was also widespread concern expressed that cuts to legal aid have impacted on the most disadvantaged groups in society, deterring potentially successful legal cases and challenges, and removing sources of advice and support. There is a disproportionate impact on women, children, BME communities, disabled people and people living in poverty.

Among the recommendations made:-

The UK government should:

  •  Monitor and review the impact of welfare reforms on living standards, increased poverty and food insecurity, and work to break the link between welfare support and poverty
  •  Pause and review its sanctioning policy, ensuring no person is pushed in to destitution
  •  Abolish the spare room subsidy since it causes destitution and has not served its purpose
  •  Reconsider changes to child poverty policy and ensure no child is living  in poverty
  •  Create a living wage that accurately reflects the cost of living within the UK

Among other human rights failings, the report highlights the fact that race is the most commonly recorded motivation (82%) for hate crimes in England and Wales and that the Brexit vote coincided with a surge in such offences. It links reports on the government’s policy of creating a “hostile environment” for migrants with discrimination against those from minority communities. It’s true that political and media rhetoric about migration is loaded with dehumanising metaphors.

Mental health service funding cuts and government policies are having negative impacts on vulnerable people

Evidence submitted highlighted a number of serious issues, including:

  • The underfunding of mental health services, resulting in just 25% of people receiving help.
  • In England, funding for mental health trusts has dropped in real terms by 8.25% since 2010.
  • Shortfalls in services have resulted in the police responding to people in crisis. In 2014-15, in England and Wales, the police picked up 23,128 people in mental health crisis and 4,537 were taken to a police cell because there was no other safe place available (although this is down from the previous year).
  •  Patients being placed in units far away from their home and support networks as a result of closing in-patient units. In 2015-16, 5,411 patients were sent ‘out of area’.
  •  The disparity across the UK in accessing talking therapies. In 2014-15, 33% of people in England waited longer than 28 days to start treatment following referral and 7% longer than 90 days. In Wales, data shows 57% of people waited over three months for an assessment and their first session.
  •  Concern that legal protections for people with mental capacity issues are not sufficient, including that the Mental Capacity Act and the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards in England and Wales are no longer fit for purpose (the Law Commission is reviewing both) and that the Adults with Incapacity Act in Scotland is not compatible with human rights standards.

Trade Unions and charities have been systematically disempowered

Serious concern was expressed that recent legislation has introduced unjustified, disproportionate and discriminatory restrictions on trade unions activities. The Trade Union Act 2016 sets statutory thresholds and substantial new legal hurdles which unions must overcome to take lawful industrial action in defence of their jobs, livelihoods, wages and working conditions.

The “Lobbying Act” has created additional layers of regulation for charities and Trade Unions, already subject to rules on political activities. The Lobbying Act’s chilling effect has been reported across jurisdictions. Research found 63% of charity respondents said the Act will make it harder to achieve their charitable objectives.

The recent Hodgson Review concluded that the Act did not strike the right balance. The UK Government has yet to respond to the report’s recommendations.  CSOs are also critical of UK Government proposals to introduce an “anti-advocacy clause”, restricting organisations that receive public money from lobbying Government.

There are concerns about flawed research underpinning the proposal and its impact on civil society organisations (CSOs) being able to amplify community voices with the State. This has implications for democracy.

The Trade Union Act 2016 sets statutory thresholds and substantial new legal hurdles which unions must overcome to take lawful industrial action in defence of their jobs, livelihoods and working conditions.

There is widespread concern about the impact of the UK referendum to leave the European Union on human rights. Whilst the Human Rights Act is separate from the EU, a number of other rights-based standards emanate from the EU, including equality and employment law standards. 

Stephen Bowen, the chief executive of BIHR, said: “The UK government needs to listen, not just to the United Nations but to the voices of the huge range of organisations closer to home that have shared their serious concern. They are troubled the government is taking the UK towards further isolationism and disregarding the United Nations, worsening the situation with welfare and legal aid cuts, and wanting to scrap the Human Rights Act, weakening its accountability for our rights at home as well as internationally.”

The report was launched on 22 September at Westminster, with contributions from Sir Nicolas Bratza (Chair of BIHR, and former president of the European Court of Human Rights), David Isaac CBE (Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission), the Rt Hon. Harriet Harman QC MP (Chair of the Joint Committee of Human Rights) and BIHR deputy director, Sanchita Hosali.

Harriet Harman, welcomed the report for its breadth and depth, and said she would be raising the issues explained with the Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, when she appears at the JCHR next month. Harriet spoke about how the UK level government debates on human rights were leading to a corrosion of rights domestically, and undermining the core principle of universalism. 

She spoke of how the UK needs to recognise and celebrate, not disparage, international accountability, whether that be at the UN or the European Court of Human Rights. Yet the contrast between what the UK Government says domestically versus what is said at the UN can be like “hearing two different administrations.”

Director, Stephen Bowen, conveyed whole-hearted thanks to the 175+ organisations that have helped shape BIHR’s report, to root it in the very real and pressing issues many people in the UK face in ensuring their universal human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. The breadth and depth of organisations involved is a testament to how significant human rights are in the UK.

 

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The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative character divination

“This is a round up.”

The song is about a world where citizens are deeply suspicious of one another, where fear of the Other is politically instigated and nurtured, social conformity, discrimination, exclusion and prejudice reign supreme. It’s about a society blindly climbing Allport’s ladder.

 

“Of the forehead, when the forehead is perfectly perpendicular, from the hair to the eyebrows, it denotes an utter deficiency of understanding.” Johann Kaspar Lavater, phrenologist (1741–1801).

 

Back in the nineteenth century, phrenology was the preferred “science” of personality and character divination. The growth in popularity of “scientific” lectures as entertainment also helped spread phrenology to the masses. It was very popular among the middle and working classes, not least because of its simplified principles and wide range of social applications that were supportive of the liberal laissez faire individualism inherent in the dominant Victorian world view. It justified the status quo. Even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert invited the charlatan George Combe to feel the bumps and “read” the heads of their children.

During the early 20th century, there was a revival of interest in phrenology, partly because of studies of evolution, criminology and anthropology (pursued by Cesare Lombroso). Some people with political causes used phrenology as a justification narrative for European superiority over other “lesser” races. By comparing skulls of different ethnic groups it supposedly allowed for ranking of races from least to most evolved.

It’s now largely regarded as an obsolete and curious amalgamation of primitive neuroanatomy, colonialist supremicism with a dash of moral philosophy. However, during the 1930s Belgian colonial authorities in Rwanda used phrenology to explain the so-called superiority of Tutsis over Hutus. More recently in 2007, the US State of Michigan included phrenology (and palm reading) in a list of personal services subject to sales tax. 

Any system of belief that rests on the classification of physical characteristics is almost always used to justify prejudices, social stratifying and the ranking of human worth. It highlights what we are at the expense of the more important who we are. It profoundly dehumanises and alienates us.

Though the saying “you need your bumps feeling” has lived on, may the pseudoscience of phrenology rest in pieces. 

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Phrenology is dead: long live the new moralising pseudoscience

The Conservatives have simplified the art of personality and character divination. They have set up a new economic department of the mind called the Behavioural Insights Unit. This fits with the age old Conservative motif of a “broken Britain”and their obsessive fear of social “decay and disorder.” Apparently, we are always on the point of moral collapse, as a society. And apparently, it isn’t the government’s decision-making that is problematic: poor people are entirely responsible for the poor state of our country. Those who have the very least are to blame. That’s why they need such targeted austerity policies, to ensure they have even less. We can’t have the poor being rewarded with not being poor, that’s just bad for big business.

Under every Conservative government, we suddenly see the proliferation of bad sorts; cognitively biased and morally incompetent people making the wrong choices everywhere and generally being inept, non-resilient and deficient characters. The way to diagnose these problems of character, according to the government, is to establish whether or not someone is “hard working”. This is usually determined by the casting of chicken bones, and a quick look at someone’s bank balance. If it lies offshore, you are generally considered a jolly good sort.

If you need to claim social security, be it in-work or out-of-work support, then you are most definitely a “wrong sort”; a faulty person and therefore in need of some state treatment to put you right, just to ensure that your behaviours are optimal and aligned with politically defined neoliberal outcomes. Apparently, poor people are the new “criminal types.” The only cure, according to the government, is to make poor people even poorer, by a variety of methods, including a thorough, coercive nudging: a “remedial” income sanctioning and increased conditionality to eligibility for support; benefit cuts; increasing welfare caps and a systematic dismantling of the welfare state more generally,

Oh, and regular shaming, outgrouping, stigmatising and scapegoating in the meanstream media and political rhetoric, designed to create folk devils and moral panic.

The new benefit cap: a policy designed by the neoliberal rune casters

The regressive benefit cap will save a paltry amount of money in the short term. In the long term it will cost our health and social services many millions. It’s misleading of the government to claim that it will save the “tax payers” money, since most people needing to claim social security have worked and paid taxes too. VAT is also a tax, and last time I checked, people needing support because they lost their job or became sick or injured are not exempt from paying taxes. In fact the poorest families pay the highest proportion of their income in tax

We forget that people in poverty pay taxes because we forget how many different ways we are taxed:

  • VAT
  • Duties
  • Income tax
  • National Insurance
  • Council tax
  • Licences
  • Social care charges, and many others taxes
  • Bedroom tax

Of course there’s a stark contrast in the way the state coerces the poorest citizens into behaving “responsibly”, carrying the full burden of austerity, while there is an abject failure to rein in executive pay, or to tax the Conservative party paymasters, and recover the billions lost in revenue to the Treasury through tax havens.

Poor people get the bargain basement package of behavioural incentives – which is all stick and no carrots – whereas the wealthy get the deluxe kit, with no stick and plenty of financial rewards. 

Nearly a quarter of a million children from poor families will be hit by the extended household benefit cap due to be introduced this autumn, according to the government’s latest analysis of the impact of the policy. It will see an average of £60 a week taken out of the incomes of affected households that are already poor, pushing them even deeper into poverty. About 61% of those affected will be female lone parents.

The cap will damage the life chances of hundreds of thousands of children, and force already poor families to drastically cut back on the amount they spend on essential items to meet basic needs, such as food, fuel and clothing. Originally benefit rates were calculated to meet basic survival needs – covering the costs of food, fuel and shelter only. 

The new cap unjustifiably restricts the total amount an individual household can receive in benefits to £23,000 a year in London (£442 a week) and £20,000 in the rest of the UK (£385 a week). It replaces the existing cap level of £26,000. All of this support is dependent on whether or not you comply with the very complex conditionality criteria. The support can be withdrawn suddenly, in the form of a sanction, for any number of reasons, and quite often, because your benefit advisor simply has targets to reach in order to let you know that nothing at all may be taken for granted: eating, feeding your children, sleeping indoors and keeping warm in particular.  

The government claims the cap incentivises people to search for work, and says that 23,000 affected households have taken a job since the introduction of the first cap in 2013. However, the government uses “off flow” as a measurement of employment, which is unreliable, as studies have indicated many claimants simply vanish from record.

Worryingly, an audit in January this year found that the whereabouts of 1.5 million people leaving the welfare records each year is “a mystery.” The authors also raise concern that the wellbeing of at least a third of those who have been sanctioned “is anybody’s guess.” It’s not the first time these concerns have been raised.

It emerged in 2014, during an inquiry which was instigated by the parliamentary Work and Pensions Select Committee, that research conducted by Professor David Stuckler shows more than 500,000 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants have disappeared from unemployment statistics, without finding work, since the sanctions regime was toughened in October, 2012.

This means that in August 2014, the claimant count – which is used to gauge unemployment – is likely to be very much higher than the 970,000 figure that the government is claiming, if those who have been sanctioned are included.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said: “The benefit cap restored fairness to the system by ending the days of limitless benefit claims and provides a clear incentive to move into work.”

However, firstly, social security is based on a national insurance contribution principle, and was already fair. Most people have worked and contributed to their own provision. Secondly, people in work are also poor. Those on low pay who need to claim additional support are also being sanctioned for “non-compliance”. In fact  much of our welfare spending goes towards supporting those people in work on low wages. We spend most on pensions, a large amount on in-work benefits and relatively little provision is for those out of work. The DWP don’t half chat some rubbish. A fair system would entail the government ensuring that employers pay adequate wages that cover rising living costs, instead of permitting employers to profit from our welfare state.

In a deregulated labour market, poorly paid workers are now held individually and entirely responsible for how much they earn, how many hours they work, and generally “progressing in work”. If they don’t “progress”, then what used to be an issue for trade unions and collective bargaining is now an issue addressed by punitive social security law, authoritarian welfare “advisors” and financial penalties.  

You can see where the incremental increases in the benefit cap are leading the public. The justifications and line of reasoning presented by the Conservatives are leading us down a cul-de-sac of rationale, where the welfare state is completely dismantled, and the reason given will be that this ensures “everyone works”, regardless of labour market conditions and the availability of reasonable quality and secure jobs that pay enough to support people, meeting their basic needs sufficiently to lift them out of poverty.

If these measures are intended to force people into work, this government’s self-defeating, never-ending austerity policy is hardly the ideal economic climate for job creation and growth, and where are the affordable social homes for the growing ranks of low paid workers in precarious financial situations because of increasing job insecurity and zero hour contracts? The gig economy is a political fig leaf.

An official evaluation of the cap by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 2014 found the “large majority” of capped claimants did not respond by moving into work, and a DWP-backed study in Oxford published in June found that cutting benefit entitlements made it less likely that unemployed people would get a job. Not that we didn’t already know this. If people cannot meet their basic needs, then they simply struggle to survive and cannot be “incentivised” to meet higher level psychosocial needs. The government need to read about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and the Minnesota starvation experiment. (See Welfare sanctions can’t possibly “incentivise” people to work .)

Joanna Kennedy, chief executive of the charity Z2K, said: “Our experience helping those affected by the original cap shows that many of those families will have to reduce even further the amount they spend on feeding and clothing their children, and heating their home to avoid falling into rent arrears and facing eviction and homelessness.”

As Patrick Butler points out in the Guardian, the government have already been ordered to exempt carers from the cap after a judge ruled last year that it unlawfully discriminated against disabled people by capping benefits for relatives who cared for them full time. Ministers had argued that carers who looked after family members for upwards of 35 hours a week should be treated as unemployed.

A previous court ruling found that the benefit cap breached the UK’s obligations on international children’s rights because the draconian cuts to household income it produced left families unable to meet their basic needs. This is the fifth wealthiest nation in the world, and supposedly a first world liberal democracy.

The deputy president of the supreme court, Lady Hale, said in her judgment: “Claimants affected by the cap will, by definition, not receive the sums of money which the state deems necessary for them adequately to house, feed, clothe and warm themselves and their children.

As Stephen Preece from Welfare Weekly pointed out yesterday, the word vulnerable suggests that people are weak, when in fact they are only made vulnerable through the actions or inaction of those around them, including (and especially) the government. I agree. To label people as vulnerable displaces responsibility from government and diverts us from the reality and nature of the punitive policies aimed at poor citizens – this is political oppression. 

Ideological justification narratives and pseudoscience

I waded through the government document Welfare Reform and Work Act: Impact Assessment for the benefit cap. Basically the government use inane nudge language and their central aim is to “incentivise behavioural change” throughout the assessment. But they then claim that they can’t predict or accurately measure that. It is very difficult to measure psychobabble accurately though, it has to be said.

There are a lot of techniques of neutralisation and euphemisms peppered throughout the document. For example, taking money away from the poorest citizens is variously described as: “achieving fairness for taxpayers” (as previously stated, people claiming benefits have usually worked: they have and continue to pay taxes); “ensures there is a reasonable safety net of support for the most vulnerable” (by cutting it away further).and “strengthening work incentives”. 

For those alleged free riders claiming support because they fell on hard times, “doing the right thing” and “moving into work” is deemed to be the ultimate aim of the cap, regardless of whether or not the work is secure, appropriate, with adequate levels of pay to lift people out of poverty. Work, in other words, will set us free.

I also took the time and trouble to read the studies that the government cited as “evidence” to support their pseudoscientific claims. The government misquoted and misapplied the research they used, too. They made claims that were NOT substantiated by the scant research referenced. And there are many more studies that completely refute the outrageous and ideologically premised government claims made in this document. 

For example, Freud makes the claims that: “Children in households where neither parent is in work are much more likely to have challenging behaviour at age 5 than children in households where both parents are in paid employment. Growing up in a workless household is associated with poorer academic attainment and a higher risk of being not in education, employment and training (NEET) in late adolescence.”

The study cited was Barnes, M. et al. (2012) Intergenerational Transmission of Worklessness: Evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study and Longitudinal Study of Young People in England. Department for Education research report 234. It says:

“Though it must be stated that much of the association between parental worklessness and these outcomes was attributable to these other risk factors facing workless families. Parental worklessness had no independent effect on a number of other outcomes, such as children’s wellbeing (not being happy at school, being bullied and bullying other children), feelings of lack of control, becoming a teen parent, and risky behaviour. This evidence provides limited support for a policy agenda targeted only at getting parents back into work. ”

It is poverty, not “worklessness” that creates poor social outcomes. That is why around half of the people queuing at food banks are those in work. The biggest proportion of welfare support paid out is in-work benefits.

Freud also states that: “A lower cap recognises that many hard working families earn less than median earnings – a lower cap provides a strong work incentive.”

Actually, raising wages in line with the cost of living would be a far better incentive, instead of punishing unemployed people for the failings of a Conservative government that always oversees an increasingly desperate reserve army of labour, and ever-falling wages. 

Perhaps one of the most outrageous claims made in the document is that the cap is consistent with “UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” Those sick and disabled people in the ESA work-related activity group are not protected from the cap. The government is currently being investigated by the UN for “gross and systematic” abuses of the human rights of disabled people, because of the previous welfare “reforms” (a euphemism for cuts).

This is an authoritarian government that is coercing people into any low paid and insecure work, regardless of how suitable it is. It’s about dismantling the welfare state, bit by bit. It is about ensuring people are desperate so that people’s right to turn down jobs that are unsuitable, thus reducing any kind of scope for collective bargaining to improve working conditions and pay, is removed. It’s also about bullying people into doing what the government wants then to do, removing autonomy and choices. That isn’t “incentivising”, it’s plain and brutal state coercion. All bullies and tyrants are behaviourists. 

It’s impossible not to feel at least a degree of concern and outrage reading such incoherent, flimsy and glib rubbish from an ideologically-driven government waging a full on class war on the poorest citizens, and then claiming that is somehow “fair” to the “taxpayer”. And it’s noteworthy that there is a harking back to the discredited and prejudiced theories of Keith Joseph – “intergenerational worklessness” – which were debunked by the theorists’ OWN research back in the Thatcher era. It is being paraded as irrefutable fact once again. 

I’m expecting a government phrenology unit to be established soon.

And an announcement that the Department for Work and Pensions is to be renamed the Malleus Maleficarum.

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Court rules that Tory benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against disabled people

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A high court judge has ruled that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare policy unlawfully discriminates against disabled people by failing to exempt their carers from the benefit cap. The ruling is the second this year to criticise the cap. In March, the supreme court found that the cap left people claiming benefits unable to house, feed or clothe their family and was therefore in breach of the UK’s obligations regarding international human rights.

Mr Justice Collins said the government’s decision to apply the cap to full-time carers for adult relatives had created serious financial hardship for them, forcing many to give up caring for loved ones, and had also placed extra costs on the NHS and care services.

The ruling comes after two carers brought the case against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) following serious concerns that the benefit cap would unfairly harm those who care for their disabled children and relatives. The carers were caring for more than 35 hours a week, the judge said that they were effectively in work, even though they were in receipt of benefits, and therefore should be exempt from the cap.

Carers are able to claim about £60 a week if they care for relatives. These claims, however, were to be included in the £500 a week  benefit cap, which was introduced by the government in the belief that so-called “workless” families need to experience financial loss, a decrease in basic security and a severe decline in their standard of living in order to “incentivise” them to try harder to get a job.

On Thursday, the High Court ruled that the government had breached article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Family carers who receive Carer’s Allowance should be exempt from the benefit cap. The High Court ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions had indirectly discriminated disabled people by failing to exempt unpaid carers for disabled family members from the cap.

Collins said: “To describe a household where care was being provided for at least 35 hours a week as ‘workless’ was somewhat offensive. To care for a seriously disabled person is difficult and burdensome and could properly be regarded as work.” 

Campaigners have welcomed the decision, highlighting the damaging effects the cap would have had on carers looking after  adult disabled relatives.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “We are pleased that the court has found the impact on disabled people of losing a family carer had not been properly considered.

“The effect could be profound and the loss of a trusted carer devastating.

“The substantial reduction of income could jeopardise the ability of those affected to continue to care for severely disabled relatives. The court noted that the Secretary of State did not provide any information to Parliament about the effect on disabled people if their family carer were unable to continue.

“The court also held that, rather than saving public money, it would cost considerably more for the care to be provided by local authorities or the NHS.”

Laywers acting for the secretary of state had argued that unpaid carers should be treated as unemployed people who should have to make the same choices as anyone else about whether to work or cut their living costs. But Collins said those providing full-time care could not be in full-time work unless they gave up or cut back significantly on their caring responsibilities.

Unpaid carers made “a huge contribution to society” and “saved the taxpayer the equivalent of £119bn a year,” he said. Were carers forced to give up their role, taxpayer-funded services would have to spend huge amounts providing the care instead.

The judge added that the government should exempt carers because “the cost to public funds if the cap is to be maintained is likely to outweigh to a significant extent the cost of granting the exemption.”

He said: “Nowhere in the impact assessments or in what was put before Parliament was the effect on the disabled of loss of family carers raised. It in my view should have been, since it ought to have been apparent that the impact of a possible loss of a trusted family carer could be profound.

“Reconsideration will I hope be given to whether the present regulatory regime is appropriate, having regard to the hardship it can and does produce.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the court agrees that the benefit cap pursues a legitimate and lawful aim.

The court didn’t actually agree that.

“The Government values the important role of carers in society – and 98% are unaffected by the cap. We are considering the judgment and will respond in due course.”

On Thursday, the following “urgent” bulletin was released from the Department for Work and Pensions:

Judicial Review in the case of R v Secretary of State of the inclusion of Carer’s Allowance in the benefit cap.

1. Today the judgment has been handed down in a judicial review in the case of R v Secretary of State of the inclusion of Carer’s Allowance in the benefit cap.

2. We are pleased that the Court agrees that the benefit cap pursues a legitimate and lawful aim.

3. However the Court has asked us to look again at the indirect impact on those disabled people whose carer is subject to the cap on household benefit payments.

4. We will consider this judgment and set-out our position in due course. We are continuing to apply the benefit cap as now, and there is no change to applying the cap to carers.

 
The bulletin also provides some questions with answers to enable staff to respond to any enquiries they may receive. You can read those here.

The standard responses to many of the anticipated questions are:

 “We are considering the judgment and will set-out our position in due course.”

“The benefit cap continues to apply.”

 Steve Bell cartoon


Austerity Is a Choice, Labour Must Offer Another – Jeremy Corbyn

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Austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity. When the Chancellor rose to his feet at the emergency Budget in July, and when he does so for his Spending Review in October, what is being put forward is an ideologically-driven rolling back of the state.

The analysis published today by the TUC reveals how the Budget gives money to the rich, but takes away from the poor.

jeremy corbyn

This is the Conservative project, dressed up in the post-crisis language of budget deficits and national debt for extra impetus. Inequality doubled under the Thatcher government, and her heirs seem to be doing all they can to ensure that legacy is extended.

The Budget showed austerity is about political choices, not economic necessities. There is money available: the inheritance tax cuts announced in the Budget will lose the exchequer over £2.5billion in revenue between now and 2020. What responsible government committed to closing the deficit would give a tax break that only applies to the richest 4% of households?

The Conservatives are giving away to the very rich in inheritance tax cuts twice as much as reducing the benefit cap will raise by further impoverishing the poorest, and socially cleansing many towns and cities.

Another choice was to cut UK corporation tax to 18%, which at 20% is already the lowest in the G7, lower too than the 25% in China, and half the 40% rate in the United States.

The Treasury estimates that this political choice will see our revenue intake from big business fall by £2.5billion in 2020. That’s nearly twice the amount saved by cutting the tax credits available families with more than two children.

In such circumstances, Labour must be clear: we oppose the Budget, and we oppose austerity. As a group of 40 economists wrote to the Observer a few weeks ago, “opposition to austerity is actually mainstream economics, even backed by the conservative IMF”.

The language of “bringing down the deficit” is non-controversial, it is the method (austerity) that reveals the Chancellor’s agenda as just a cover for the same old Conservative policies: run down public services, slash the welfare state, sell-off public assets and give tax cuts to the wealthiest.

I stood in this race because Labour should not swallow the story that austerity is anything other than a new facade for the same old Conservative plans.

We must close the deficit, but to do so we will make the economy work for all, and create a more equal and prosperous society. Bringing down the deficit on the backs of those on low and average incomes will only mean more debt, more poverty, more insecurity, more anxiety and ultimately more crisis.

We must invest in a more productive economy. Our national infrastructure – energy, housing, transport, digital – is outdated, leaving the UK lagging behind other developed economies. In the Budget, the Chancellor cut back public investment even further.

You cannot cut your way to prosperity. We need to invest in our future. And that takes a strategic state that seeks to shape the economy so that it works for all.

That is the choice for Britain and the choice that Labour must offer.

Jeremy Corbyn is the Labour MP for Islington North and Labour Party leader.

This article was originally published on 7.09.15

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 

Lies, Damn Lies and the Welfare Debate – Emily Thornberry

proper Blond

Originally published in the Huff Post on 13 July, 2015

Next week the Government plans to bring forward a new Bill on welfare reform – the latest salvo in the Tories’ ongoing war of attrition on our welfare state and the principles that underpin it.

Softening up the ground for this next round of cuts, which will go further and deeper than anything we’ve seen so far, was a column written jointly by George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith and published in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago.

The piece, which reads like a greatest hits compilation of clichéd Tory platitudes on welfare spending, was so shot through with errors, misleading implications and flat-out lies that it set the tone for the most ill-informed debate in recent memory.

So in the interest of setting the record straight, I’ve picked out my top eight tall Tory tales (there are many more than eight, but as space is limited I’ve kept myself to the worst offenders) and put them together with the actual facts. Without a willing handmaiden in the Murdoch press empire to help me, I’m relying on you to spread the word:

Lie number one:
“This country accounts for 7% of all welfare spending in the world, although we have just 1% of its population and produce 4% of its GDP.”

Even if you accept that these figures are accurate (and there’s no reason why you should – Osborne and Duncan Smith did not provide a source and I haven’t been able to find one) the implication – that we are spending more than we should because our welfare budget is out of proportion to our share of the global population – is ridiculous because it does not compare like with like.

To say that we spend more on welfare per head than, say, Somalia or Zimbabwe tells you nothing more than the fact that we have an advanced, industrialised economy, a domestic tax base, an established democracy and a modern welfare state, which many countries do not.

A much more valuable comparison would be between the UK and other industrialised democracies, for example within Europe. A comparison with the rest of Europe puts us below the average in terms of welfare spending as a proportion of GDP.

Lie number two:
Under Labour “Britain’s welfare bill was fast becoming completely unsustainable.”

Taking as a measure of “sustainability” the amount we spend on social security as a proportion of GDP (the most widely used measure), welfare spending stayed virtually flat during Labour’s time in office. Between 1998-99 and 2008-09 welfare spending represented on average 10.7% of GDP, never deviating more than 0.2% from this figure in any given year.

When the global financial crisis hit the proportion rose to 13% – a significant rise which nonetheless was neither surprising nor particularly concerning, given the historic tendency for welfare spending to rise during a depressed economy and fall back down to normal levels with the return of economic growth.

It’s also a bit rich for the Tories to preach about an increasing welfare budget when the bulk of social security expenditure in the UK goes to pensioners, an area where the Tories have increased spending, not cut it.

Lie number three:
“Not that any of this debt-fuelled largesse improved lives.”

Maybe not the lives of anybody the authors knew, but the truth is that, largely thanks to the support Labour provided to low-income working families through tax credits (which Osborne is about to gut), child poverty fell by a third under Labour – equivalent to more than a million children lifted out of poverty.

IDS may be busy redefining poverty so he can pretend it doesn’t exist, but I think most people can still understand that poverty is real, that it isn’t a good thing and that a person moving out of poverty would normally consider the change an improvement in their life.

Lie number four:
“The welfare system we inherited in 2010 trapped people in dependency and actively discouraged claimants from seeking work. All too often, those who worked hard and did the right thing were punished – while those who did the wrong thing were rewarded.”

Presumably what the authors mean by “doing the right thing” is working. But despite their best efforts to draw an artificial dividing line between “work” and “welfare”, the reality is that most people of working age who claim some kind of benefit do work. For example, more than two thirds of people claiming tax credits are employed, and tax credits account for around 50% of all spending on working-age welfare. Meanwhile, benefits specifically for people who are out of work, like Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support, make up just 3% of such spending.

The fact of the matter is that when governments fail – as the Tories have done – to tackle the root causes of working peoples’ need for welfare support, like low pay and high rents, the number of working people relying on benefits increases. For example, the proportion of housing benefit claimants who are employed has doubled since the Tories took office in 2010.

Lie number five:
“The new benefit cap of £26,000 a year means that no household can receive more in out-of-work benefits than the average working family earns, a simple matter of fairness.”

The Tories’ cap has nothing to do with fairness, as demonstrated by the fact that their new Bill abolishes the cap’s link with average earnings and gives Ministers carte blanche to lower the cap arbitrarily, at any time and for any reason.

Their cap also takes an across-the-board approach, affecting many more people who aren’t able to work – including people with disabilities, single mothers with young children and people with full-time caring responsibilities for sick or severely disabled relatives – than people who are.

Lie number six:
“We also took action to cap the rise in benefits so it was in line with the incomes of those in work.”

They did no such thing. Since 1980, the main out-of-work benefits have risen in line with prices, rather than earnings. So Jobseeker’s Allowance fell from being worth a fifth of average earnings in 1980 to a tenth in 2010.

Lie number seven:
“In 1980, working age welfare accounted for 8% of all public spending. In 1990, when Margaret Thatcher left office, it was still under 10%. But by 2010 it had risen to nearly 13% of public spending.”

Similar to lie number two, but since the lie is repeated (or, to put it more charitably, the highly selective and misleading half-truth) the truth might as well be repeated too. As noted, welfare reform stayed virtually flat under Labour until a sudden increase was brought about as a result of a recession – just as had happened in the early 1990s under John Major’s Government.

Lie number eight:
“This government was elected with a mandate to implement further savings from the £220 billion welfare budget.”

They most certainly were not. The Tories ran on a manifesto promising £12billion worth of welfare cuts, a figure which no-one took seriously in large part because they failed to specify where the savings would come from.

Happy myth-busting, readers!

Emily Thornberry.

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See also:

The reasons why we can’t afford not to have a welfare state are not ideological: they are practical – A brief history of social security and the reintroduction of eugenics by stealth

The welfare state: from hung, drawn and quartered to Tory privatisation

The budget: from trickle-down to falling down, whilst holding hands with Herbert Spencer.

14533697838_dffcc736f2_o (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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