Tag: Bernadette Meaden

Antisocial personality and lack of conscientiousness is correlated with bogus anti-welfare research


Many of us presented extensive and comprehensive rational criticism of Adam Perkin’s book The Welfare Trait, in which Perkins claims to present “scientific proof” that the social security system is creating a generation of work-resistant personalities; that “generous” welfare means that more children are born into disadvantaged households.

According to Perkins, the combination of these two effects means that the welfare state itself is directly increasing, in the long-run, the number of individuals whose personality is leading them to be workshy. He uses these propositions to attempt to add credibility to his lazy, New Right and untenable claim that cutting welfare even further is necessary to prevent poor people from having more children than wealthier people, who are described by Perkins as having solid citizen traits. His work contains many assumptions and prejudices, fundamental methodological flaws, basic logical and mathematical errors, the unconscientious misuse of other researcher’s work, and he dismally fails to support his dismal central proposals and dismal conclusions.

I’m still wondering how studies of mice running around on a wheel can possibly tell us anything about human behaviour, as last time I checked, mice hadn’t evolved to create a welfare state, and had no idea about the complexities concerning the division of labour in capitalist societies. Or power relationships for that matter. Still, there’s nothing like a cage to emphasise exploitative relationships, a life of performance instead of meaning, and the joys of repetitive, pointless tasks that permit only dreams of escape and freedom.

Perkins doesn’t reserve his disdain for people who need social security to mere subtext, his choice of terms and phrases throughout his discourse have an eye-wateringly crude blatancy that simply drips a superficial sense of smug superiority, whilst also inadvertently betraying his own deeper sense of inadequacy. This was also evident in some of his dialogue with critics of his work.

Some of the best criticisms I saw include those of social scientist Andy Fugard, from the University College London (UCL), Jonathan Portes from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, economist Michael O’Connor, international political economist Richard Murphy, fellow blogger and commentator Johnny Void, profilic writer on Bad Science, Ben Goldacre, The Equality Trust, Bernadette Meaden from the Ekklesia think tank, writer and Guardian journalist Dawn Foster, amongst many others.

My own critique was written after I saw the Adam Smith Institute’s original gushing endorsement of Perkins’s spectacularly misanthropic book. I had some discussion with Richard Murphy about it at the time. However, , who wrote the glowing review of The Welfare Trait without actually reading it critically, has since added this to his article:

With many thanks to @AnitaBellows12 for spotting the addition. Sabisky’s page on the ASI has since been deleted.

The Adam Smith Institute has been the impetus behind Conservative policy agendas and was the primary intellectual drive behind the privatisation of state-owned industries during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, and alongside the Centre for Policy Studies and Institute of Economic Affairs, advanced a neoliberal approach towards public policy on privatisation, taxation, education, and healthcare, and have advocated the replacement of much of the welfare state by private insurance schemes.

That the Institute originally seized upon Perkins’s offensive, prejudiced narrative – a blunt eugenic treatise and toxic brand of psychopolitical New Right antiwelfarism and pseudoscientific neuroliberalism – doesn’t come as a surprise. However, such an embarrassing climbdown in the face of well presented and overwhelming evidence that The Welfare Trait is utter nonsense on stilts leaves us wondering just how much psychopolitical rubbish the think tank have previously got away with peddling.

As Johnny Void points out:“It would take another book to point out all the errors, bias and misuse of evidence in The Welfare Trait which reads more like a fervent conspiracy theory than a piece of academic research.  It is genuinely astonishing, to the point of suspicion, that it received peer review and was published at all.  What is not so surprising is the jubilant reaction of right wing pundits who declared their nasty little prejudices finally proved.”

Perkins misuses the cover and credibility of science to blame the casualities of politically designed socioeconomic systems for their own circumstances and problems and to justify an existing social power and wealth hierarchy. It’s no coincidence that eugenicists like Perkins and their wealthy supporters also share a mutual antipathy for political progressivism, trade unionism, collectivism, notions of altruism and of co-operation and class struggle. Now that is profoundly antisocial.

Perkins likes to discuss at some length other people’s alleged traits and personalities, many of which he makes up as he goes along, such as “solid citizen traits” and “employment-resistant personality”. But perhaps he should pay a little more attention to research into the established dark triad, which is a group of three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. And look a little closer to home:

The thing is, I’m only being a little tongue in cheek here. Perkins does not like to be challenged, that quickly became very apparent. I think Perkins’s “analysis” highlights only to well the scale of problems that researchers who lack a genuine work ethic, any degree of conscientiousness, any degree of value-neutrality, methodological credibility, philosophical integrity and academic fluency present us with.

While Perkins’s book conveniently fits with Conservative small state ideology, psychopolitical behaviourist narratives, and “culture of dependency” rhetoric, there has never been evidence to support any of the claims that the welfare state creates social problems or psychological pathologies. Historically, such claims tend to reflect partisan interests and establish dominant moral agendas aimed at culturally isolating social groups, discrediting and spoiling their identities, micromanaging dissent, and then such discourses are used in simply justifying crass inqualities and hierarchies of human worth that have been politically defined and established.

We must also challenge the rise of eugenic ideology, again.

Eugenics and its stable mate, social Darwinism, has always placed different classes and races in hierarchies and arrayed them in terms of socially constructed notions of “inferiority” and “superiority.” Charles Murray’s controversial and thoroughly debunked work The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life presents another example of a discredited right-wing ideological architect, funded by the New Right, who was then used to prop up an authoritarian Conservative antiwelfarist dogma that was also paraded as “science.”

Murray had considerable influence on the New Right Thatcher and Reagan governments. Critics were often dismissed, on the basis that they were identified with “censorious political correctness,” which of course is simply a right-wing attempt to close down genuine debate and stifle criticism. The Bell Curve was part of a wider campaign to justify inequality, racism, sexism, and provided a key theme in Conservative arguments for antiwelfarism and anti-immigration policies.

I’m experiencing a distinct sense of déjà vu.



Adam Perkins, Conservative narratives and neuroliberalism

Essentialising marginalised groups and using stigmatising personality constructs to justify dismantling social security is not “science”, it’s psychopolitics

Criticisms of Adam Perkins and ‘The Welfare Trait’ – Psychology Brief

Adam Perkins: ‘Welfare dependency can be bred out’ – Dawn Foster, The Guardian

A comment on the use of results from “Does welfare reform affect fertility? Evidence from the UK”, Journal of Population Economics, in Adam Perkins’ book, The Welfare Trait – Mike Brewer

The Welfare Trait – Bernadette Meaden

It’s absurd to tie being ‘workless’ to doing no work. Just ask a mother  – Ben Chu, The Independent

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.




If even the DWP isn’t Disability Confident, how will a million disabled people get jobs? – Bernadette Meaden

Nobody would expect a person who suffers blackouts to drive a bus or bin waggon once they had thought through the potentially devastating consequences. But political, cultural, psychological and financial coercion is being used to force sick and disabled people to work – the government continues to cut welfare, which was calculated originally to cover only the costs of meeting basic needs.

Cruel sanctions and strict, inflexible, often unreasonable behavioural conditions are being imposed on lifeline benefit receipt, adversely affecting some of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens; unemployed and disabled people are being stigmatised by the government and the media – all of this is done with an utterly callous disregard of a person’s capacity to work, and importantly, the availabilty of appropriate and suitable employment opportunities, and this can often have tragic consequences.

Modern employment practices, which have an increasingly strong focus on attendance micromanagement, present yet another barrier for disabled people who want to work.

The following is taken from an excellent article which was posted on Bernadette Meaden’s blog, on January 16, 2016.

The numbers of disabled people in ‘absolute poverty’ (unable to meet their basic needs) has risen steeply following welfare reforms. Yet in his most recent party conference speech Iain Duncan Smith said to disabled people, “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.”

The recent case  of a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) employee sacked for taking time off for illness illustrates a truth that the government does not acknowledge. Modern employment practices often appear to be incompatible with its aim of getting sick and disabled people off disability benefits and into work.

In this particular case it was reported that after working at the DWP for thirty four years, Ms Powell, who has a disability, fell foul of its sickness absence procedure, whereby formal action is taken against employees after eight days absence, or four spells of absence within a 12-month period.

‘Health problems meant that Ms Powell was frequently off sick. As some of her absences were related to a disability, her trigger point was adjusted from the usual eight to 12 days. However, Ms Powell later went over her allotted 12 days’ absence by a few days, and she was dismissed.’

A year earlier, a DWP whistleblower had revealed :

“Attendance management continues to get more draconian and sackings have become a regular occurrence: a recent guideline instructed managers to consider dismissal for staff off work for longer than 28 days regardless of the reason.”

So despite its own Disability Confident campaign, which calls on employers to “help improve employment opportunities for disabled people and retain disabled people and those with long term health conditions in your business”, the DWP itself seems unable to provide employment for people who may have long or frequent spells of illness. This would suggest that if you have, say, a long term fluctuating health condition, or a disability that requires frequent hospital appointments, you will find it very difficult to keep a job at the DWP.

Of course the DWP is not alone in this. We know that in some workplaces the pressure to attend even when very ill is overwhelming. At the Sports Direct warehouse, for instance, it was reported that over a two year period, 76 calls for an ambulance had been made, with 36 cases classed as ‘life-threatening’ including strokes, convulsions and breathing problems. One woman gave birth in the toilets, and employees said they were too frightened to take time off when they were ill, in case they lost their job. The employment agency that supplied staff to the warehouse had a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy, where a strike could include being off sick, or taking ‘excessive or long toilet breaks’. Very few people with a long term health condition would find it possible to keep their job in these circumstances. 

The reality is that in a fiercely competitive economy and austerity-driven government departments, there is very little room for anyone who has a long term health problem. Perhaps somebody in the government should do a little experiment. Try applying for jobs and declaring a long-term illness or disability which may require regular absences. See how easy it is to get a job.

You can read the rest of Bernadette’s excellent article here.

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

Benefit cuts may not be as popular as we’re led to believe – Bernadette Meaden

IDS_nIn 2013, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that public attitudes towards welfare have “hardened.” Similarly, the British Social Attitudes Survey report concluded that public support for government spending on social security benefits has declined markedly over the last decade, and that people are also more sceptical about whether benefit recipients deserve the support they get. Seems that people forget that the majority of people claiming benefits have worked previously and paid for their own provision through the national insurance and tax systems.

However, the way questions in surveys are framed often influences the responses by introducing bias, which affects the validity and reliability of research findings.

Furthermore, simply adding detail, such as using examples that include real groups of people in survey questions may elicit a different set of responses.  Re-humanising groups claiming benefits tends to prompt sympathetic responses. As it is, the current government and much of the media tend to dehumanise those claiming any form of welfare support quite purposefully.

Of course the media has and continues to play a major role in defining public perceptions about welfare, but the media are conveying what are ultimately political justification narratives for the Tory notion of an “efficient” small state and their aim to dismantle our post-war settlement.


This excellent article is by Bernadette Meaden, originally posted on the Ekklesia site:

We are constantly being told that the British public has swallowed the ‘scroungers and skivers’ rhetoric about benefit claimants, and is broadly in favour of welfare cuts. Any politician who opposes these cuts is widely portrayed as unrealistic and unelectable. But what if that is not true, and the public’s attitude is actually far less harsh than the Westminster bubble would have us believe?

A poll carried out by YouGov in the two days after the recent Budget makes interesting reading, with some valuable lessons, and encouragement, for all who oppose the welfare cuts.

When asked a rather leading question about benefit claimants in general, and the total amount spent on benefits, 45% of respondents agreed with the statement that benefits are ‘Too high – the amount of money people can claim in benefits is too much, it’s too expensive and unfair on taxpayers.”

So far, so Daily Mail. But when asked to think about specific groups of benefit claimants, i.e. to think of real people not statistics, attitudes changed significantly.

Listing different groups of benefit recipients, respondents were asked if too much money was spent on them, or not enough. For disabled people, 46% felt that too little was spent, whilst only 9% felt that too much was spent on them. 28% felt that the amount was about right.

The figures were roughly the same for people in work on low pay, and for pensioners who have only a state pension. The group which received the least sympathy was ‘better off retired people’, whilst the views on what people who are out of work receive was almost evenly split – there was certainly no majority for the view that they get too much.

Taking the cuts in general, 38% of people thought that benefit cuts had gone too far, whilst only 24% thought they had not gone far enough. So there is no real appetite for further cuts. We should also bear in mind that the poll was conducted on the two days immediately after the Budget, when the media was trumpeting George Osborne’s claims about a new National Living Wage. As people discover the reality, that this is no more than a small rise in the minimum wage and comes with a large cut to tax credits, it seems likely that the percentage who feel cuts have gone too far may rise significantly.
Those who responded to the survey were probably also not fully aware of the drastic cut to Employment and Support Allowance which will see people in the Work Related Activity Group (who aren’t fit for work) losing around £30 per week. If this is spelled out, it seems highly likely that based on this survey, a clear majority of the public would oppose it.

The poll should also provide food for thought to politicians who feel they have to constantly defer to the business community in order to be electable. Asked about how to address low pay, a clear majority of respondents wanted government to get tough with employers, choosing the statement, ‘It is better for government to use the law to force companies to pay low paid workers a better wage, even if this leads to higher unemployment.’

This poll should encourage all who are campaigning to defend the welfare state and oppose cuts to the incomes of the poorest people. Despite the hyperbolic headlines and the poverty porn, British people still want to see the poor, the disabled and the elderly guaranteed a decent standard of living. They may have absorbed some of the propaganda about ‘out of control’ welfare spending, but if we can show that to be false, and continue to highlight what benefit cuts mean in terms of real people rather than statistics, we should be able to build a groundswell of opinion in defence of the welfare state.


See also:

Why we can’t afford not to have a welfare state

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

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone