Tag: bystander apathy

Brendan Mason’s brutal murder reflects the darkest consequence of bias motivated behaviour.

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Brendan Mason, who was brutally murdered by two young men he thought were his friends.
Picture courtesy of the Leicester Mercury

Warning: this article was very distressing to write, and is likely to be very upsetting to read.

Two men who filmed themselves savagely beating a young man with learning difficulties and taunting him, telling him to “smile for the camera”, have been sentenced by Leicester crown court to life imprisonment for his murder. 

In the early hours of 5 July last year, Joshua Hack, aged 21, and Keith Lowe, 22, lured Brendan Mason, a 23 year old man with learning difficulties, to a park, where they said they wanted to spend time with him. Mason believed the two men to be his friends.

When the three of them arrived at the park, Hack and Lowe hung Mason from a tree. They took turns hitting him while the other held him down for several hours, cruelly laughing and taunting him. 

Mason was beaten unconscious, the two young men stripped him naked and threw his body in a pond, leaving him for dead in Abbey Park, Leicester. He was found by park groundsmen at 7.40 am naked, unconscious and bleeding and was airlifted to Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry. 

Medics discovered Mason had 99 separate injuries to his head and body, including brain injury, five broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He died from his injuries later that day.

Hack previously admitted murder. However, Lowe denied it.  However, he was forced to change his plea four days into his trial, after police produced video as evidence of what he did, which he had tried to delete from his phone. 

The court heard the attack had been planned the night before and that Hack and Lowe misinterpreted his behaviour towards a girl at a party. Prosecutor Miranda Moore QC said: “They were describing Brendan as a paedophile and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mason’s learning difficulties led to a bias in how his ordinary social interactions were perceived.  

She added that police had recovered a “‘trophy’ picture of Lowe standing behind the naked and beaten Brendan, who is sitting cross-legged on the floor”.

A second video, lasting 53 seconds, was deliberately filmed on the mobile phone for others to see. The police managed to retrieve it from cloud storage, showing Lowe taking a direct part in the beating. Lowe had attempted to delete the footage from his phone.

 Moore said: “The audio that goes with it makes that clear.”

The court heard that in the second video, Lowe says: “Brendan. Look at him. Told you whatever he’d done to you, I’d do worse to him, told you that. Move your hand away from your face. Move your hand away from your face now.”

 Moore told the court:

“Officers were able to see the video on the Cloud, showing an unfortunate scene.

It shows Brendan’s battered and naked body with Lowe landing blows.

It was being made for a third party to show them what happened to Brendan.”

The court was also presented with Facebook messages the pair were sending each other while they were in the park with Mason prior to the attack. They used the Facebook messages to plan the attack. Mason who had trusted the two men, believing they were his friends, had no idea to what was about to take place.

At 2:46am, Hack sent Lowe a message saying: “Just hit him and we can both ****off when he’s K’ Od.  Just do it dude.” 

Lowe replied: “Shall we do it because he’s f**ked me off with the lies.”

The court heard how Mason died from inflicted, brutal and unsurvivable brain injuries.

 Mason’s family said in a statement:

“It is not right how two evil people can do such a horrific thing and leave a massive hole in our lives that will never be filled again.

Brendan was a lovely young man and he was so happy. He had numerous learning difficulties and very poor vision.

Even though Brendan had numerous learning difficulties and was very easily led by others, he always knew right from wrong.

The police have been a big part of our life for the past seven months; they have been amazing, but there will never be closure for us.”

Sentencing the two men to life in prison, Judge Michael Chambers said: “You [Lowe and Hack] subjected him [Mason] to a brutal and sustained attack in which you caused him great pain and humiliation.

Brendan Mason was only 23 with his life before him. You subjected him to a merciless attack with extreme violence.

He was sadly a vulnerable young man with learning difficulties. He was kicked mercilessly while naked. The video found was a chilling and deeply disturbing recording of Brendan naked, being kicked repeatedly to the head.

He’s even told to remove his hands from his face so you can kick him. You subjected him to a brutal and sustained attack of extreme violence. You caused him great pain and humiliation.

This was a planned attack, during which you filmed each other assaulting him and you revelled in what you had done, bragging to others. You stripped him naked and left him unconscious. He died later that day.”

The judge added that Hack had lied in his first interview with the police and had even gone with friends to lay flowers at the scene where Mason’s body was found. He said Lowe had bleached his bloodstained trousers, washed his hooded top and hidden his blood-spattered shoes in a bid to cover his tracks.

Senior investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Mick Graham said after the trial: “Brendan was known to the defendants and considered them as friends, and they lured him to the park with the full intention of hurting him. Brendan was subjected to a vicious, sustained attack which was filmed by his attackers on their phones. He was left naked and alone in the park having been brutally beaten.”

Hack and Lowe were caught on CCTV footage casually walking into a McDonald’s after they had stripped, hung and then beaten Mason into unconsciousness, seriously and fatally injuring him, and leaving him for dead. Lowe had kept Mason’s mobile phone which he and his then girlfriend were using in the following days.

The growth of prejudice, discrimination and hate crime: Allport’s ladder

Gordon Allport studied the psychological, social, economic and political processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to violence, hate crime and eventually, if the process continues to unfold without restraint, to genocide. In his landmark exploration of how the Holocaust happened, Allport describes psychological and socio-political processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he provides insight into how the unthinkable becomes socially and psychologically acceptable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards “others” that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

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

Economic recession, uncertainty and authoritarian or totalitarian political systems contribute to shaping the social conditions that trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice. The Conservatives are authoritarians, and prejudice towards vulnerable and socially protected minority groups is almost a cardinal Conservative trait.

Conservatives and the right more generally tend to view the social world hierarchically and are more likely than others to hold prejudices toward low-status groups. This is especially true of people who want their own group to dominate and be superior to other groups – a characteristic known as social dominance orientation. (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). 

Neoliberalism, as an overarching political-economic project of the New Right, establishes and maintains social hierarchies and the strong competitive individualism embedded in neoliberal ideology sets up conflict over resources between social groups, undermining social cooperation and solidarity. 

As inequality has grown in the UK, poverty has also invariably increased, which has caused fear and resentment towards intentional, politically constructed scapegoats and outgroups. 

The nature of prejudice

Prejudice, which is based on unjustified generalisations about groups of people, is reductive, it obscures the complexity of the human experience because the person with prejudices oversimplifies the diversity of life found in a single society or throughout the world.  The rise in prejudice and discrimination in the UK is because of right wing ideology and mythology, designed purposefully to divert the public from the fact that they are being systematically dispossessed of their wealth by a minority, and to maintain the legitimacy (and growing wealth) of those perpetrators in power.

The media is far from objective, benign and politically neutral, in fact we have handful of offshore billionaires that have, along with the government, subverted democracy and established a cultural hegemony. This self-appointed elite are telling you that some human lives are worthless, whilst investing in their own, quite literally, at all cost to our society.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reprimanded some British media outlets, particularly tabloid newspapers, for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

In their report, the ECRI said hate speech was a serious problem in the UK. It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The Sun, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and sparked a scathing response from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the same newspaper’s debunked claim over “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”

“ECRI urges the media to take stock of the importance of responsible reporting, not only to avoid perpetuating prejudice and biased information, but also to avoid harm to targeted persons or vulnerable groups,” the report concluded.

It also named David Cameron and Nigel Farage as among the British politicians and institutions accused of fuelling rising xenophobia in the UK as debate continues to rage over Brexit, the refugee crisis and terrorism.

It found a “number of areas of concern” over intolerant political discourse and hate speech, as well as violent racial and religious attacks.

The media is being used by and large as a right-wing outlet for political techniques of persuasion, our culture has been saturated with a pathological persuasion to hate others. And prejudice tends to multitask, it doesn’t prefer one social group. It grows.

We live in a society where more than one in two disabled people have experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace, according to research by the disability charity Scope.

The survey of 1,009 disabled UK adults during August 2016 reveals 53% have been bullied or harassed at work because of their disability.

We have a government that does not observe the basic rights of disabled people. Furthermore, the Conservatives have systematically contravened the human rights of disabled persons. This is a government that uses gaslighting to avoid dialogue and democratic accountability regarding the consequences of their draconian, discriminatory  and illegal policies. Techniques of neutralisation used by the government include the manipulative use of language that is designed to mislead, for example, using the word “help” and support” to describe punitive policies and harsh cuts to lifeline support for disabled people.

The stereotypical mainstream media portrayals of people with disability and medical conditions as “shirkers” and “fakes”, with a significant increase in articles focusing on disability benefit and fraud has impacted negatively on people’s views and perceptions of  disability related benefits, leading to perceptual bias. This was a tactical political move to de-empathise the public,  preempting any objection and backlash to the brutal cuts the Conservatives applied to disabled people’s lifeline social security.

There are political and economic constraints imposed on this group of people by a highly discriminatory government. This sends out a message to the public – that disabled people have fewer rights than other citizens; that disabled people are not experts of their own condition or experiences and need the state to “incentivise” them to “overcome” their disabilities, and institutionalised discrimination, and that it is okay to direct prejudice at disabled people as they are somehow “less” than other citizens. 

Policies are systemised, intentional political actions and reflect how the government thinks society ought to be. The majority of austerity cuts have been directed at those with disabilities. The recent removal of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) work related activity component; the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund; the purposeful reduction in those people deemed eligible for ESA using an amended and harsher work capability assessment; the reduction in those deemed eligible for Personal Independent Payment and subsequent access to the motability scheme, may be regarded as punitive measures aimed at an “undeserving” group. Such policies have systematically stigmatised, outgrouped and ultimately, contributed to the cultural dehumanisation of disabled people.

The discriminatory cuts have caused ill people to feel desperate and worthless by depriving them of the practical means to live, and have become another means of promoting an ideology defined by exclusion and inequality. Many people with medical conditions have died as a consequence of not being able to meet their basic needs, people with mental distress and illness have been pushed over the precipice, and have taken their own lives.

There has been a 213 per cent rise in hate crimes against disabled people, with figures rising 40% per year from 2015. Lee Irving was brutally murdered in June, 2015. Irving had severe learning difficulties. He was bullied and tortured over several days at a house in Newcastle. When he died from his terrible injuries, his tormentors dumped his body on a footpath. Wheatley’s mother, Julie Mills, his then girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and his accomplice Barry Imray, 35, who also has learning difficulties, did nothing to protect Irving. They were bystanders Wheatley’s mother, Julie Mills, 52, his then girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and his accomplice Barry Imray, 35, who also has learning difficulties, did nothing to protect Irving. They were passive bystanders.

The justification narrative for the last two government’s targeted austerity policies, and the policies themselves have entailed negative role modelling which has influenced the attitudes and behaviours of the public. Hate crimes are bias motivated behaviours.

The major contributing factor to the increase in hate crime is the collective bias, attitudes and behaviours of the current government, which has perpetuated, permitted and endorsed prejudices against social groups, with a largely complicit media amplifying these prejudices. Their policies embed a punitive approach towards the poorest social groups. This in turn means that those administering the policies, such as staff at the department for work and pensions and job centres, for example, are also bound by punitive, authoritarian behaviours directed at a targeted group. 

As authority figures and role models, the government’s behaviour establishes a framework of acceptability. Parliamentary debates are conducted with a clear basis of one-upmanship and aggression rather than being founded on rational exchange. Indeed, Cameron openly sneered at rationality and didn’t engage in a democratic dialogue, instead he employed the tactics of a bully: denial, scapegoating, vilification, attempts at discrediting, smearing and character assassinations. This behaviour in turn gives wider society permission and approval to do the same.

Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from “approved” enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. The scapegoater’s target always experiences a terrible sense of being personally edited and re-written, with the inadequacies of the perpetrator inserted into public accounts of their character, isolation, ostracism, exclusion and sometimes, expulsion and elimination. The sense of isolation is often heightened by other people’s reluctance to become involved in challenging bullies, usually because of a bystander’s own discomfort and fear of reprisal. 

The consequences of bystander apathy

Hate crime directed at disabled people has steadily risen over the past five years, and is now at the highest level it’s ever been since records began. That’s the kind of society we have become. 

Prejudice and discrimination cause inequality, which in turn causes more prejudice and discrimination. It requires the linguistic downgrading of human life, it requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it has now become normalised, familiar and all-pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives. It has started to erode the natural inhibitions that prevent us from inflicting harm on other human beings.

Perpetrators have become increasingly confident in the “validity” of their prejudice, the public are being systematically desensitised and indoctrinated. Mocking, negative stereotypes and negative images become a part of our everyday culture and language: hate speech is normalised, discriminatory policies and practices flourish, hate crimes – bias motivated behaviours – are permitted.

Because we have allowed this process to unfold, as a society. 

The Holocaust is the most thoroughly documented example of the extreme cruelty, savagery and hideousness of dehumanisation. It’s a little too easy to imagine that the Third Reich was an aberration. We can take the easy option and dismiss the Holocaust as a very unusual phenomenon – a mass insanity instigated by a small group of deranged ideologues who conspired to seize political power and exercise their monstrously evil will.

It’s comforting to imagine that these were uniquely cruel and savage people. However, one of the most disturbing discoveries about how the Holocaust happened is not that all of the Nazis were madmen and monsters. It’s that they were mostly ordinary human beings, in a society of ordinary citizens like you and I. 

 

Related

Another bias motivated murder – Who killed Jo Cox?

Conservatives, cruelty and the collective unconscious: behind the cellar door

 



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A view from the Overton window: through the looking glass darkly

 

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“The UK is a divided country” is a phrase being bandied around a lot, especially in the aftermath of the referendum, and it is of course true. We are divided. We have politically constructed categories of scapegoats, outgroups, uncertainty, disempowerment, low wages, our public services are being dismantled, and we are witnessing massive inequality and growing poverty. The recipe for anomie. Many people feel despair and are fearful of the future.

We have a nation of oppressed people wanting to see others oppressed. The real oppressors, however, are getting a free ride on the back of their own purposefully divisive and diversionary tactics. Dominant narratives and neoliberal ideology – smoke and mirrors; reductive soundbites, dodgy statistics and carefully constructed, cunning fact-proof screens. And yes, the media, directed by the government, have played a significant part in trying to shape what we see and think about, manipulating public opinion. Most of the Tories wanted to leave the EU, Cameron wasn’t typical of his party.

I don’t blame the Scottish people for wanting their independence one bit, particularly from this side of the EU referendum. But that means we will shrivel a little more. England, the husk.

But a divided country hasn’t happened just because of these things. Some of the irrational statements I have heard over the last few years include commentary about how some traditional Labour voters feel the party “let them down” and no longer reflect their interests. Well, I do hope the Tories do better for you, then. Because they’re clearly SO much better at reflecting working-class interests – the new “party of the workers” they mocked. Yet Conservatism in a nutshell is all about reducing worker’s rights and reducing pay so that private companies can make big profits from a cheap and desperate reserve army of labor. And if you reduce welfare provision and make receipt of benefits highly conditional – provision that’s already paid for by working people –  the subsequent rising level of desperation drives many to increasingly insecure jobs for much less pay in order to simply survive.

The “all the same” lie was always a Right-wing expediency, it’s about disempowering and fragmenting the Left. It worked. The Narxists got very narked, with their sense of alienation, and their peculiar brand of exclusive socialism (they are “real” socialists apparently). Yet Miliband had denounced Blairism, and would have given us a fair and progressive tax system. Not good enough, some of you said, but then some people are never happy, so with impeccable knee-jerked fallibility, you helped the Tories back in Office. Again.

Chomsky once said that sometimes, the best we can do is vote for the least damaging option. That at least would have marked the beginning, not the end, of campaigning for social justice and pushing for a socialist agenda.

Meanwhile, all of those genuine traditional socialist values of solidarity and cooperation, community and mutual aid, internationalism, equality and diversity, social justice, worker’s rights, trade unionism, well the Right-wing in Office are smashing those from our common vocabulary. And deporting them. The Tories in power, not the Labour party in opposition. But the government can only do that with OUR consent. So we must take some responsibility for that.

Now we had a further Left Labour leader, but of course for some, he ain’t good enough. The media push an elite agenda, and divert attention from the real problems that are being created by a Conservative government’s policies, and irrationally, the opposition party is hated whilst the Government get on with fucking over ordinary people, the economy and the country. Democracy is steadily being dismantled. Public funds are being stolen and redistributed to the very wealthy and powerful. Public services are being destroyed. Some people are dying because of Tory policies. Meanwhile people bicker amongst themselves and irrationally blame each other, the opposition party and vulnerable social groups. Prejudice grows. People are being permitted to hate. Their prejudice is fed and endorsed by the Establishment. Discrimination happens. Violence begins. People get killed. More people will get killed. Many remain indifferent. But sooner or later, they must take responsibility for that.

If you have ever wondered how fascist or totalitarian regimes manage to gain power, and to commit atrocities, apparently with public consent, well take a close look at the psychosocial processes involved, read Gordon Allport’s work on the growth of prejudice, where that can lead, then look more closely at what is unfolding here in the UK, stage by stage. It’s hidden in plain view, advancing by almost inscrutable degrees. But once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Most Right-wing political systems, from Conservatism to Fascism, succeed to some extent by fostering a strong anti-intellectual prejudice amongst populations. It serves two key purposes. It discourages people from thinking critically and expressing themselves independently, and it discredits those who do (even before they do) by establishing a cultural normative default that serves to alienate people who challenge established narratives, and invites derision and accusations of being “out of touch with real lives and everyday experiences.”  But those “telling it like it is” often aren’t, quite. Seems to me that people’s hearts and minds are becoming directed, focused increasingly by an external, political and economic, narrow and rigid agenda. 

Why are we divided? Some people blame the government and media for their corrosive rhetoric, some say Tory social Darwinist, supremicist ideology and policies that have influenced the nation and pushed people further to the Right are to blame. Some people blame the general public’s stupidity and gullibility. Some people blame “patronising” and “arrogant” academics and all things intellectual. Some people blame the EU. Some people blame the Labour party. A few people have even blamed me. Some people blame the wealthy. Some people blame our faulty decision-making through rubbish cognitive processes that apparently need “nudging.” Some people blame the poor, or single parents, unemployed people, immigrants, sick and disabled people.

“I take full responsibility for this” said hardly anyone, ever.

I blame those people who choose to opt out of collective responsibility-taking and participatory democracy. Oh yes, democracy is not something you HAVE, it’s something you DO. To be divided as a nation requires social groups to want to oppress other groups, and for bystanders to permit that to happen – you have to participate in the process, even if that participation is just as a bystander who says and does nothing or as a person who is prejudiced at a gut and knee-jerk level. 

We really do have to take some responsibility for that.

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Picture courtesy of Dave Sid Poole


Some poignant reflection on what it is to be a socialist

Socialists have always tended to be internationalists. Whereas nationalists believe that the world is divided primarily into different nationalities, geopolitical zones, socialists consider social class to be the primary divide. For socialists, class struggle, not national identity, is the driving force of history. And capitalism creates an international working class that must fight back, united and cooperatively against an international capitalist class.

People who have a nationalist inclination, who view the social world parochially and hierarchically, are more likely than others to hold prejudices toward low-status groups. This is especially true of people who want their own group to dominate and be superior to other groups – a characteristic known in social psychology as “social dominance orientation.” It isn’t only the elite that hold this perspective, either.

But economic and social challenges such as inequality and social injustice will never be addressed by simply drawing a new set of geographical borders.

Any group claiming dominance over another – including the “working class” – is displaying social dominance orientation. The oppressed can be oppressive, too.

It is time to recognise those artificially constructed divisions and unite, for we have nothing left to lose but our chains.

“So comrades come rally
And the last fight let us face”.

The verses of the Internationale were written on 30 June, 1871, in the immediate aftermath of the brutal crushing of the Paris Commune during La Semaine sanglante (“The Bloody Week”). The policies and outcome of the Commune had a significant influence on the ideas of Karl Marx, of course.

The author, Eugène Pottier, was hiding in fear of his life. The lyrics were intended to convey the historical experience of an important workers’ struggle to a worldwide audience. For Pottier, liberty, equality and fraternity meant the promise of a society in which poor people, like himself, had justice.

The Internationale has long been the anthem of the labor’ movement throughout the world. Its power to move people has survived the repression of fascism, the cruel parody that was Stalinism and free market capitalism. Those who sing it need know nothing about it’s history to feel a strong sense of international unity. The Internationale is simultaneously about history, political argument and is a powerful rallying statement. Pottier established a reputation as the workers’ poet. It earned him a seat on the Communal Council representing the 2nd arrondissement.

The sheer power of Pottier’s Internationale lies in the fact that he was able to encapsulate his personal experience of specific events and express them in universal terms. And that identification and recognition is socialism in action.

The Second International (now known as the “Socialist International”) adopted it as its official anthem. The title arises from the First International, which was an alliance of socialist parties formed by Marx and Engels that held a congress in 1864. The author of the anthem’s lyrics, Pottier, attended this congress.

 The Internationale has been translated into many languages, it is a left-wing anthem, and is celebrated by socialists, communists, anarchists, democratic socialists, and some social democrats.

The original French refrain of the song is C’est la lutte finale / Groupons-nous et demain / L’Internationale / Sera le genre humain.

That translates as:

This is the final struggle

 Let us group together and tomorrow

 The Internationale

 Will be the human race.

Right now, that makes me feel like weeping in sorrow.

Related

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

Don’t believe everything you think: cognitive dissonance

Inverted totalitarianism. Oh dear

The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 


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Poverty and Patrimony – the Evil Legacy of the Tories.

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If we look back through history, we see that in any period of time when persecution and punishment of the poor, and destruction of the integral bonds of our society reflects the dominant paradigm, that paradigm is scripted by harsh, shrill ideologues and economic liberals. The Poor Law of 1834 is a very good historical example. That also was also about “making work pay”, by ensuring, through the principle of less eligibility, that those without a job were far more miserable and had much less than the lowest paid worker.

Owen Jones recently claimed that: “The political right is the inevitable, rational product of an unequal society”. I disagree. Unequal society is and always has been the rational product of Conservative Governments.

If Toryism is simply about rationalising from the relative isolation of a privileged background, and a belief that “hard work” means prosperity – those old mythological meritocratic principles – then how is it so that unemployment and poverty grows and extends under EVERY Tory Government? And why would such rationalisation include persecution and punishment of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society? And such WILFUL denial of their suffering, and even death, because of Tory policies?

And since when did the aristocracy work hard for their own wealth? Self-reliance, from a Tory perspective is only for those who have no money. Making work payis one of the biggest and most malicious lies the current Tory-led Government have told, to justify raiding our tax-funded welfare provision and using it to provide handouts to the very wealthy – £107, 000 EACH PER YEAR in the form of a tax cut for millionaires. The Conservatives claim that it is “unfair” that people on benefits are “better off” than those in workBut the benefit cuts are having a dire impact on workers as well. Wages have decreased in value and are now at an all time low, while the cost of living has risen steeply. Making work pay for whom?

That calculated lie isn’t a product of “rationalisation” from Tory upbringing and background: we are not simply products of our life experiences, because we have intentionality and a degree of free will to shape those experiences and relate to others. It is therefore wilful greed, theft and deliberately inflicted punishment on the most vulnerable. It is the destruction of a once civilised society that represented ideals which were from the very best of us as a species – altruism, mutual aid, cooperation, compassion and empathy.

Human rights enshrined these ideals and human qualities. Our welfare, social support programs  and National Health Service embedded these ideals. Sixty years of human social evolution and progress is being unraveled wilfuly and deliberately by the Tories. If that isn’t evil, then I don’t know what is.

Poverty is not simply about being on a low income and going without – it is also to do with being denied health, justice, education, adequate housing and social activities, as well as basic autonomy, self-esteem and a sense of identity.

It is about being marginalised and excluded from society. It’s also about stigmatisation and minoritization. This part of the process is blatantly deliberate and wilful. It is undertaken by the wealthy and politically powerful. To justify the calculated impoverishment of others for the gain of a few. It’s what David Harveydescribes  as a process of accumulation by dispossession: predatory policies are used to centralise wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth and assets.  

I wonder how we should characterise the socioeconomic period we have seen ushered in by the Tory-led Coalition? It’s one that will certainly change the life course and character of more than one generation. It will leave an indelible imprint on so very many. It has already plunged many communities into a despair not seen for many decades, and my fear is that ultimately it is likely to warp our politics, culture and the character of our society for many years to come. It is change propelled by loss for the majority of people. It isn’t simply a material loss, it’s so much worse.

Shocking Key findings from the Poverty and Social Exclusion Project, in The Impoverishment of the UK report, reveals that:

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

For me, the grim figures and statistics understate the magnitude of the real crisis, though they do provide us with some quantitative proof of the catastrophic loss, and the wilful destruction of our civilised public services and civilising social support mechanisms. But it’s the qualitative changes that I am considering, too. I think that the collective psyche has changed as a result the new political authoritarianism that goes hand in hand with neoliberal policies, incremental impoverishment and micro-management of the population, ethical relativism and moral impoverishment, political scandal and lies, distortions of language and contortions of rationale, and a subversion of democracy that we are going through. Sorry, being subjected to

And we’re different as a result.Yet somehow we have let all of this this happen. The term bystander apathy refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses.

There are two major factors that contribute to the bystander effect. First, the presence of other people creates a diffusion of responsibility. Because there are other observers, individuals do not feel as much pressure to take action, since the responsibility to take action is thought to be shared among all of those present. So who will step forward?

The second reason is we seem to have the need to behave in socially normative, “acceptable” ways. When other observers fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate.

But who defines “socially normative”? The media? Our parents? Social institutions? Isn’t that ultimately down to us?  Don’t we have a capacity for making choices, don’t we have a degree of free will and intentionality, each of us?  So who will take some responsibility?

I don’t believe in the simplistic “economic entropy” model that we have been provided with as a means of explanation for the draconian social policies we are currently witnessing. The Coalition continue to deny that alternatives to austerity are viable. But we know that austerity is damaging our economy, and it is simply a front for an enormous wealth transfer from the taxpayer to private interests, and the very wealthy. The case for austerity is not even convincing: it hasn’t worked. It has not reduced borrowing. The Government borrowing is likely to come out at £120bn this year, exactly where it’s been for the previous two years. The Coalition has borrowed more in three years than the previous Government borrowed in thirteen.

Surveys and lab experiments show that, for better or worse, Schadenfreude is a powerful psychological force: at any fixed level of income, people are somehow happier when the income of others is reduced. However, that Schadenfreude becomes more apparent generally in those with the greatest power and wealth. This is a fundamental quality that the Tory-led Coalition have both fueled and drawn on to justify their crass redistribution of our public wealth to private bank accounts. Whilst they repress our most positive human qualities: caring, cooperation and altruism. Well…they try.

But it’s a terrible fact that whilst those who don’t experience empathy, such as psychopaths, can’t generally learn to, those who can may be switched off. Dehumanising language and dehumanising metaphors, narratives that emphasise prejudice and construct the other and political outgrouping can all serve to de-empathise the general public. As Wittgenstein once said, the limits of my language are the limits of my world. 

Social qualities are so rarely acknowledged by Tories because the implications counter the dominant narrative of meritocracy, competition, free markets, hierarchies, outgroups and legitimated authority figures. The view exemplified by Ayn Rand, that any kind of altruism is actually bad is found at the core of Conservative ideology, and manifests in their social Darwinist policies. She argued that thinking about the needs of others is an enemy of freedom, strength and self-expression. Whose freedom, strength and self-expression does Rands’ recommendations of competitive individualism and individual selfishness suppress? Oh yes, the most vulnerable and poor. Hello America.

The real catastrophe is that we have collectively allowed the associations between people, society and politics to become unravelled. We are truly alienated from decision-making about how our society is, and should be. But we opted out. We let go of our responsibility to each other. Research shows that some 70% of the public supports the welfare cuts. That includes many labour party supporters.

Tory rhetoric has succeeded in creating and justifying monetary apartheid. But this is the reality of the situation: poverty is now more acutely absolute, and becoming more widespread because of an enormous wealth transfer from the taxpayer to private interests, and a bogus ideological austerity programme, presented as a fait accompli. But how do you sell such a thing to civil society? How are the Tory-led Government getting away with such blatant theft and lies?

The battle is being won by the calculated use of techniques of persuasion. Disability hate crime is up by 25% after the Government’s attacks on disabled people needing to claim benefits. The government insinuated that they are all committing benefit fraud, that these are people pretending to be ill to avoid work. Negative day-to-day reporting, with political endorsement and open support from malevolent individuals such as Mark Hoban and Iain Duncan Smith, constantly portrays people with a disability and those facing unemployment as a burden or drain on society.

This method of constructing “Otherness” by the politically powerful colluding in dominant social narrative, commonly via the mainstream media, is a recognised method of social exclusion, minorization and marginalisation. Constructing “Other” social identities involves highlighting difference, rather than acknowledging our common, shared human qualities, characteristics and needs, and typically involves the demonisation and dehumanisation of specific groups, which further justifies political attempts to “civilise” and exploit these “inferior” others. It is a method of propaganda that is commonly employed by authoritarian Governments to justify atrocities such as ethnic cleansing.

A recent TUC study in the UK revealed people’s perceptions about the scale of the welfare bill and welfare fraud were entirely unrelated to the reality. This method of crass negative labelling, demonisation and scapegoating clearly works, as attempts to justify the dismantling of our social security and support for the vulnerable. That is an outrage.

The same type of dehumanising rhetoric that the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust, ultimately. And for those itching to cry 

This deliberately misleading rhetoric concerning those who have to seek support from the welfare state, such as the contrived contrast between “strivers” and “shirkers”, underpinned by the anachronistic, discredited notions of “deserving” and “undeserving” –  and other similar, not so subliminal betrayals spilt into legislative cruelty, of an underlying brand of authoritarian and elitist egoism –  is undermining that trust and, with it, one of the key foundations of our society. We have welfare to protect the poorest; those with least power, to ensure that no-one has to live in absolute poverty. Well, at least we did.

Now we have a Government that regards public funding for our welfare provision as their very own reward pot, disposable income for the already wealthy. Whilst the poorest people in our society have seen their only safety net (self funded via taxes) snatched away by this vicious, misanthropic brood of schadenfreuders. 

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Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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

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

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

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

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

Over the past five years:

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

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

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

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

At the low paid end of salaried work there are a cohort of workers trapped in a cycle of very poorly paid, low – skilled work, zero hour contracts, with few, if any, employee rights. They tend to work for a few months here and there, in work is often seasonal. There is no opportunity for saving money or hope of better employment prospects. This group of workers tend to live hand to mouth from one pay day to the next, so have no opportunity to build a reserve when the contract ends, there is nothing in reserve.

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

Welfare support is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. All developed countries have such support for the vulnerable, and the less developed ones are striving to establish their own. Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations. In the UK, the poorest people not only pay taxes, they also pay the highest taxes.

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

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

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

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

Child poverty is calculated in relation to median incomes – the average income earned by people in the UK. If incomes drop, so does the number of children deemed to be in poverty, even though – in fact – more families are struggling to make ends meet with less money to do so.

This is why the Department for Work and Pensions has been able to sound an announcement that child poverty in “workless” families (which translates from Tory propaganda-speak to “victims of the Government- induced recession”) has dropped, even though we can all see that this is nonsense. As average incomes drop, the amount received by  families not in work – taken as an average of what’s left – appears to rise, even though, as we know, the increase is not even keeping up with inflation any more.

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

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

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

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

And of course the Department for Work and Pensions ludicrously continue to blame the previous Administration. We know, however, that the research here shows starkly that poverty has risen under this Government, and we are now seeing cases of childhood malnutrition, such as scurvy. The breakfast clubs established under the previous Labour Government, as a part of the Extending Schools program and Every Child Matters Bill often provided crucial meals, particularly  for children who relied on school provision  – in fact, for one in four of all UK children, school dinners are their only source of hot food. Malnutrition is rising and schools see children coming in hungry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is because of the changes this Government is making. And we are allowing them to do so. Unless we can form a coalition with other social groups in our society, we are unlikely to influence or  produce enduring, positive political change.

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

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

For most of us. The millionaires, however, are celebrating a rise in their already lofty standard of living. That’s not mentioned in the JRF report, so I thought I would mention it. Just so you know where our money is going, why poverty is rising and where the real ‘culture of entitlement’ label belongs: with the rich.

Further reading: 

Chris Mould, a former NHS chief executive, now the director of food bank charity the Trussell Trust, is scathing about how the state can coldly impose benefit penalties on vulnerable individuals while “knowing that no one will actually die of starvation because someone else – the voluntary sector – is looking after them”. In some ways, Trussell may be regarded as embodying the government’s “big society”, by Cameron, but Mould himself is a member of the Labour party – A question of responsibility 

Food poverty ‘puts UK’s international human rights obligations in danger

“A DWP spokesperson said: “Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the universal credit simplifying the complex myriad of benefits and making 3 million people better off.”

That comment left me dumbfounded. How can welfare CUTS  (not “reforms”) improve the lives of some of the poorest families?  Once again we see the enormous chasm between Government rhetoric and stark, terrible reality. The conservatives’ idea of “helping” people who are struggling is to take money from them,to  punish and stigmatise and to deny and negate the subsequent devastating experiences of their poor victims. Tory gaslighting.

It is grossly irresponsible and hateful that journalists and politicians collude in this manner to create a climate that engenders hatred, hostility and abuse towards people for whom life is already so difficult. This would be true at any time, but especially at a time of such uncertainty, when people are fearful of the future and looking for others to blame for their misfortune.

Many people have ended their lives. Many people have died because of the deliberate, sustained attack from our Government on them both psychologically and materially, via what ought to be unacceptable, untenable and  socially unconscionable policies. People are going without food. People are becoming homeless.

And this is because of the changes this Government is making. And we are allowing them to do so. Unless we can form a coalition with other social groups in our society, we are unlikely to influence or produce enduring, positive political change.

Iain Duncan Smith’s most shocking statistical lie yet: Child poverty 
The demonisation of the disabled is a chilling sign of the times
Constructing the Other
Holocaust and Genocide Studies: Visualising Otherness
Why tackling poverty is crucial in achieving a truly tolerant society
According to the Tories, economic terrorism is the new humanism.The Conservative-led government IS evil, Owen Jones – even if its supporters aren’t
Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant memes