Tag: #Cameron

Transparency International slams Cameron on corruption: “UK must get its own house in order”

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Image courtesy of Steve Bell

In 2014, I wrote a lengthy article called A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves, and in it, I discussed the many facets of Conservative corruption. I also highlighted that Transparency International have flagged up many areas of concern in their report: A mid-term assessment of the UK Coalition Government’s record on tackling corruption.

Here is a list of the main causes for concern from 2014, many of which we have reported also:

  • There is no coordinated strategy or action plan to combat corruption in the UK. Data on corruption are not currently collected or are subsumed with other data such as fraud.
  • There is no strategic plan or clear channels of accountability; this is symptomatic of the lack of coordination surrounding Whitehall’s anti-corruption efforts.
  • Resources available to the institutions responsible for fighting corruption have been significantly reduced by the Government. Notably, the Serious Fraud Office’s budget has been cut from £51 million in 2008-9 to £33m in 2012-13. Its budget is expected to fall further to £29m by 2014-15.
  • The Government is seeking to amend the Freedom of Information Act to make it easier for authorities to refuse requests on cost grounds.
  • This Government is threatening to reduce the access of civil society and others to use judicial review mechanisms.
  • Legal Aid is being cut extensively, this is likely to deny access to justice to individuals and groups who are victims of corruption.
  • The Government’s Localism Act abolished the Audit Commission, which in addition to overseeing and commissioning audit for local government and other bodies like the NHS, had statutory functions for investigating financial management and value for money. There was insufficient public discussion and consultation on the decision to abolish the Audit Commission and to debate and discuss the alternatives to it.
  • The Leveson enquiry and associated criminal investigations revealed a disturbing picture of the cosy relationship between politicians and the media, the bribing of police officers by journalists and the lack of will to hold the media accountable even when laws had clearly been broken.
  • Concentration of media ownership remains a significant corruption risk. The Government has thus far failed to implement the Leveson reforms or any alternative.
  • Labour’s Bribery Act has succeeded in encouraging many private companies to implement adequate procedures to combat corruption. However the Coalition has reduced resources for investigation and prosecution.
  • The “Generals for hire scandal” in October 2012 suggests that the current system of controls and oversight of movement between the Government and the private sector is insufficient. There have been too many similar scandals. In July 2012 the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) recommended that Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA) be replaced by a new, statutory, Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. This recommendation has been ignored by the Government.
  • The Government has failed to address the problems with Tory political party funding.
  • Cash-for-access scandals indicate that donations to the government are a major source of vulnerability to corruption. Current funding rules lead to a lack of public trust in political parties. 42% of voters believe that donations of over £100,000 are designed to gain access and influence over the Tory party.
  • It has been estimated that billions of pounds of dirty money is laundered into and through the UK each year. Currently the UK and its Overseas Dependent Territories and Crown Dependencies do not require companies to declare who the ultimate beneficial ownership are of companies and trusts. Action taken against the facilitators and enablers of corruption is inadequate, for example, the lawyers, bankers and accountants that handle corrupt transactions.

Now, Tom Pride writes that the anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, has issued a warning that Cameron must do more to combat corruption. 

You can read the the full statement here.

Read Tom Pride’s full article on Pride’s Purge.

 

Pride's Purge

In an extraordinary statement, anti-corruption organisation Transparency International has told David Cameron he must do more to combat corruption in his own country.

The strong warning comes on the same day Cameron hosted a summit of international leaders focusing on combating corruption.

Transparency International openly derides the UK’s credentials on corruption, slamming UK companies for “overseas bribery“, the City of London for “laundering corrupt assets” as well as “dirty money” in the UK’s property market and “political corruption scandals” at home.

You can read the the full statement here.

The mainstream press in the UK is unlikely to report this, so please share. Thanks:

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Infantilizing the nation – an insight into Conservative ‘paternalism’

                                               hqdefault                                                 Young Bullers

 

Paternalist parenting classes? Heaven forbid

The Prime Minister claims that every family needs help in improving behaviour and discipline. Ironically, this is from a politician who claims to despise the “nanny state”. He much prefers the Bullingdon brand of paternalist interference in people’s everyday lives. Cameron is also recommending “parenting classes” for all, which is understandable given his own strong instincts as a parent. He left his own child in a pub, after all.

Of course Cameron feels that it’s other people that need parenting and discipline. After all, this is a man who spent his early adulthood involved in bizarre initiation rituals, patriarchal debauchery, recklessly banqueting, getting drunk, trashing college rooms and pubs, listening to Supertramp and smoking pot with James Delingpole and vandalising restaurants. In 2013, it was reported that members of the Bullingdon Club were required to burn a £50 note in front of a beggar as part of an “initiation ceremony”. How encouraging to see the elite showing responsibility, compassion, a concern for social justice and cohesion, equality and alleviating poverty, at an early age.

Now that’s a real deviant subculture.

The draconian sentences handed down to the rioters in 2011, advocated by Cameron –  like the 23-year-old student with no previous convictions who was jailed for the maximum permitted six months after pleading guilty to stealing bottles of water worth £3.50 from Lidl in Brixton, for example –  shows only too well that he believes there is one rule for the Oxford elite and another for the rest of the society. Punishment is a central component of the social order and a means by which social order is produced and maintained.

Actually, defining others as deviant is, too. It’s a Conservative means of enhancing social power and status differentials by degrading the rule-breaker’s status and power.

Cameron’s response to the riots reflects a characteristically Bullingdon conservative disdain: an authoritarian, strict and oppressive approach towards perceived, labelled and stigmatised subordinates. Conservatives have always seen the social world as being organised in terms of hierarchies of worth. Smashing up a pub or restaurant and causing 10k worth of damage is no problem if you can cough up the costs on the spot to keep your thuggish behaviour private, hidden away from the scrutiny of the legal system and the public. Money talks and bullshit struts.

The Conservatives inform us that it is bad parents that cause poverty, opting for a rhetoric of authoritarian populism, creating cardboard monsters, manufacturing folk devils and moral outrage for the tabloids, making excuses for the consequences of their own prejudiced and damaging policy-making.

The establishment is a kind of Moebius strip of finger-pointing, arrogant, moralising privileged and feckless bullies passing the buck. And importantly, these wayward boys and girls always get their own way. They can’t democratically govern the country; they lack the social skills, motivation, developmental and emotional capacity to actually engage in any genuine and democratic dialogue with ordinary people, so they rule. Conservatives have always prefered the simplicity of a socio-economic system defined by inherited social ranks.

Cameron says that the government’s Life Chances Strategy – an “initiative to target tackle child poverty” – will include a plan for “significantly expanding parenting provision”. It will also recommend ways to “incentivise” all parents to take up the offer of classes. The hope is, presumably, that if the middle class take Cameron up on his offer of state parenting instructions, the process of social norming will provide the foundation of state-defined “correct behaviours” for the insubordinate working classes, who are perpetually caught up, according to the Tories, in a pathological cycle of something or other, and therefore need state therapy from elitist antipodean role models to set them straight and put them in their place. It’s the new behaviourism: do as we say, but not what we do.

It seems that poverty is to be addressed with nothing more than a paternalist brand of cheap psychopolitics. The government won’t be dipping their hands into the treasury, which is what’s needed. Instead they prefer to employ shabby techniques of persuasion aimed at indoctrinating a Conservative world-view and enforcing conformity as a replacement for genuinely needs-led and evidence-based policies.

At no point does Cameron mention any commitment to improving people’s standard of living, or ensuring that families have a basic level of income in order to meet their fundamental needs, such as food, fuel and shelter – because struggling to meet basic material needs are the main barriers for people experiencing poverty. It’s sobering to consider that the Tory obsession with the work ethic, embodied in their mantra “making work pay”, is nothing more than a meaningless glittering generality, that purposefully diverts attention from elitist policy-making, and subsequent growing poverty and inequality.

Around half of those who are in poverty and of working age live in a household where at least one person works. The steady drop in real wages since 2010, according to the Office for National Statistics, is the longest for 50 years.

Furthermore, since 2010, the decline in UK wage levels has been amongst the very worst in Europe. The fall in earnings under the Coalition is the biggest in any parliament since 1880, according to analysis by the House of Commons Library, and at a time when the cost of living has spiralled upwards.

Ah, and Cameron uttered that inane managementspeak word again – “incentivise”. It never bodes well when Conservatives use that word. It means he has been listening to the psychobabbling of the Nudge Unit, again. Welfare sanctions, which are the punitive withdrawal of lifeline benefits from people who need to claim welfare support to meet their basic needs are claimed to “incentivise” people to find a job, despite empirical evidence to the contrary, and the cuts to child tax credit, limiting support to just two children, are based on the charming and archaic eugenicist idea that poor people ought to be “incentivised” to have fewer children.

Rich people are apparently “incentivised” by large cash carrots, but poor people just get the brutal, merciless stick. What a classic example of flagrant Conservative ideological incoherence.

Psychopolitical paternalism doesn’t address poverty, it is simply a way of apportioning blame, of abdicating political responsibility and ensuring that poor people accept the Conservative and neoliberal decree that they somehow deserve to be poor.

Cameron claims that:

“Families are the best anti-poverty measure ever invented. They are a welfare, education and counselling system all wrapped up into one. Children in families that break apart are more than twice as likely to experience poverty as those whose families stay together. That’s why strengthening families is at the heart of our agenda.”

The announcement from Cameron was welcomed by Relate, whose chief executive, Chris Sherwood, said:

“Relationship support can help to reduce family breakdown, which is a key driver of poverty and can result in poor outcomes for children.”

Actually, family breakdown is quite often a consequence of poverty, not a cause of it. Back in 2010, Fergus Drake, director of UK programmes with Save the Children expressed an unease that many of us felt, regarding the Conservative’s feckless drive to offload the responsibility for poverty onto poor people, who are casualities of the consequences of neoliberalism, which extends discriminatory economic policies. He said:

“We would say poverty causes family breakdown rather than vice versa. If you are worried about putting food on the table, or being able to turn on the heater so you can have a hot bath, the stress that causes to a relationship can make things really difficult.”

Poverty isn’t caused by family breakdown, it’s caused by discriminatory policies and social insititutions that extend and perpetuate inequality. We are now the most unequal country in the European Union, and even more unequal than the US. If Cameron really wanted to address childhood poverty, he would ensure that people have enough to meet their basic needs, instead of steadily withdrawing welfare support and cutting public services. He should end the class-contingent austerity that his government have imposed on only the poorest people.

Tim Nichols, of the Child Poverty Action Group, agrees that the Conservatives should be careful not to confuse causes and consequences. He says:

“We don’t think that this is robust strategy. Tackling child poverty can’t be done without more redistribution.”

Cameron is talking ideologically-driven nonsense, reflecting traditional Tory prejudices. This government has become obsessed with moralising about and manipulating individual agency, which is increasingly seen as being to blame for high levels of poverty and social exclusion in the UK, which are created entirely by callous, discriminatory political policies. Political gaslighting does not help people out of poverty.

People are poor because they don’t have enough money to meet their needs. That is what Cameron needs to acknowledge and address.

Parenting and elitist-authoritarian ideology

Cameron’s paternalist-authoritarian turn was evident back in 2010, when he said that:

“Discipline is the foundation of a good education. Headteachers need to decide on exclusions.”

Most people that have worked in either formal or informal education settings are very aware that using punishment and threats is very counterproductive. Making young people suffer in order to change their future behaviour can often elicit temporary compliance, but this strategy is highly unlikely to lead to conversion or to help children become ethical, responsible decision makers in the long term. Punishments don’t involve any engagement of deliberative processes.

Punishment, even if referred to euphemistically as “consequences,” tends to generate oppositional behaviours, anger and defiance.  Furthermore, it models the use of power rather than reason and damages the important trust-based relationship between adult and child.

Authoritarian models of parenting are emotionally and physically traumatising. There’s an Old Testament brand of harshness in conservative authoritarian approaches to human behaviours.

Authoritarian parents often have prejudices based on wealth and what may be defined as “achievement”, gender, class and race. They tend to be highly competitive, lacking warmth and empathy. They teach their children to compete at all costs, and to win by whatever means. Most authoritarians are behaviourists, with a preference for punishments rather than rewards to control others.

Authoritarians tend to advocate corporal punishment, they see freedom as chaotic, they can’t tolerate ambiguity or recognise the complexities and subtleties of human conduct, and they tend to advocate capital punishment.

Because authoritarian parents expect absolute obedience, children raised in such settings are typically very good at following rules.

However, they often lack self-discipline. Children raised by authoritarian parents are not encouraged to explore and act independently, so they never really learn how to set their own limits and personal standards.

Whilst developmental experts agree that rules, boundaries and consistency are important for children to have, most believe that authoritarian parenting is too punitive and lacks the warmth, unconditional love, safety, trust and nurturing that children need.

Of course public schools also foster authoritarianism and elitism. Boarding school: the trauma of the ‘privileged’ child by Joy Schaverien explores the emotional deprivation and abuse that many experience as a result of public school culture. Psychotherapist Nick Duffell (2000) wrote a book based on workshops he has conducted over ten years with adults who attended boarding schools as children. He has identified many lasting pathological psychological patterns common in those he calls Boarding school survivors.

In his recent work: Wounded Leaders: the Psychohistory of British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion, Nick says:

“A cherished national character ideal, eschewing vulnerability and practising a normalised covert hostility based on bullying in the dorm adversely affects even those who did not have the privilege of such an education. It leaves Britain in the social and emotional dark ages, led by “the boys in the men that run things.

This specific culture of elitism, protected by financial interests and the “It never did me any harm” syndrome, means that Britain is unlikely to foster the kind of leadership necessary in our world of increasing complexity, which needs a communal mindset and cooperative global solutions. But worse, new scientific evidence shows that this hyper-rational training leaves its devotees trapped within the confines of an inflexible mind, beset with functional defects, presented here as the Entitled Brain.”

It’s a sobering thought that so many boarding school survivors – psychologically and emotionally damaged individuals – are involved in running the country and determining the terms and conditions of our lives.

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Research finds strong correlation between Work Capability Assessment and suicide

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In England between 2010 and 2013, just over one million recipients of the main out-of-work disability benefit, Employment Support Allowance (ESA) had their eligibility reassessed using a new stringent functional (as opposed to medical) checklist – the Work Capability Assessment.

Doctors, disability rights organisations, mental health chaities and individual campaigners, such as myself, have raised concerns that this has had an adverse effect on the mental health of claimants, but there have been no population level studies exploring the health effects of this or similar policies, until now.

Research, conducted by B Barr, D Taylor-Robinson, D Stuckler, R Loopstra, A Reeves, and M Whitehead, has established a link between the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and suicide. The research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (which is peer-reviewed,) and carried out by social scientists from a variety of backgrounds, from the universities of Oxford and Liverpool, scrutinised the rates of mental health issues and suicide in different local authorities in England.

The study found that the authorities with a greater number of people undergoing WCAs also have more people reporting mental health problems, more people being prescribed antidepressants, and more people taking their own lives. The research found that every 10,000 assessments led to around six suicides.

For comparison in terms of statistical significance, isotretinoin, an acne medication which was notoriously linked to suicides, is associated with around four extra deaths per 10,000 treatments.

The researchers estimate that for every 10,000 people reassessed, you would expect to see an additional six suicides (95% confidence interval (CI) 2 to 9), an extra 2,700 reports of mental health problems (95% CI 548 to 4,840) and 7,020 extra antidepressants prescriptions (95% CI 3,930 to 10,100). By convention, 95% certainty is considered high enough for researchers to draw conclusions that can be generalised from samples to populations.

There have been more than 1 million assessments since the WCA was introduced, which suggests that there may be more than 600 people who have taken their own lives who would otherwise have not. The researchers say: “Our study provides evidence that the policy in England of reassessing the eligibility of benefit recipients using the WCA may have unintended but serious consequences for population mental health.”

There have been earlier claims and evidence that the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) reforms have led to deaths. However, the DWP has persistently refused to release data which would make it possible to assess whether the death rate for people found fit for work is higher than would be expected.

Both the assessment and appeals process itself, which is widely reported to be stressful, and the financial hardship that occurs when people are denied disability benefits, could result in negative health effects. There is good evidence that loss of income, particularly for people already on low incomes, increases the risk of common mental health problems.

People undergoing a WCA are likely to be particularly vulnerable to the adverse mental health consequences of this policy because a very high proportion have a pre-existing mental health problem. Furthermore, those with physical chronic illness are more prone to mental health problems such as reactive depression, and sometimes, forms of depression that are associated with the illness itself.

The research included efforts to rule out other possible causes of suicide – to eliminate potential confounding variables and bias – for example, there is no similar effect found in people over 65, who are not subject to the WCA – and so the results suggest that the link between the WCA and suicide is not due to “confounding” factors, but is most likely causal.

The Department for Work and Pensions has rejected the study’s findings. A spokesperson said in a statement: “This report is wholly misleading, and the authors themselves caution that no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.” 

However, the DWP have no grounds for their own claim whatsoever. Whilst correlation isn’t quite the same thing as cause and effect, it often strongly hints at a causal link, and as such, warrants further investigation. It certainly ought to raise concern from the DWP and ministers, regarding the negative impact of policy on many of the UK’s most vulnerable citizens.

The association with the WCA and its adverse effects is, after all, more clearly defined than the one between the drug isotretinoin and suicide, and the drug was withdrawn in the US and some European Member States.

In the UK, it is now (as of November last year) prescribed only under strict monitoring conditions, and patients are provided with warnings about the possibility of adverse psychiatric effects. No such warning and monitoring exists regarding the possible adverse psychiatric effects of the WCA. In fact the government have stifled both enquiry into a causal link and discussion of even the possibility there may be such a causal link, despite being presented with much evidence of a strongly indicated correlative association.

Dr Benjamin Barr, one of the researchers from Liverpool University, said that a causal link was likely: “Whilst we cannot prove from our analysis that this is causal, there are various reasons why this is a likely explanation,” he said.

He agreed that a study looking specifically at people who had undergone a WCA would be more precise, but added that the DWP has not released that information.

Dr Barr said: “If the DWP has data on this they should make it openly available to independent analysis.” He added that the DWP has so far chosen not to run a trial of its own into a link between WCAs and suicides.

The researchers found that those local areas where a greater proportion of the population were exposed to the reassessment process experienced a greater increase in three adverse mental health outcomes – suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing.

These associations were independent of baseline conditions in the areas, including baseline prevalence of benefit receipt, long-term time trends in these outcomes, economic trends and other characteristics associated with risk of mental ill-health. These increases followed – rather than preceded – the reassessment process.

The report concluded that the study results have important implications for policy. The WCA and reassessment policy was introduced without prior evidence of its potential impact or any plans to evaluate its effects. Given that doctors and other health professional have professional and statutory duties to protect and promote the health of patients and the public, this evidence that the process is potentially harming the recipients of these assessments raises serious ethical issues for those involved.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has also said the research was of “high quality”, adding that it called into question the wisdom of the Government’s reforms.

Last year, coroner Mary Hassell told the DWP she had concluded that the “trigger” for Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide was his fit for work assessment.

“During the course of the inquest, the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concerns. In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken,” she wrote in the document, known as a Prevention of Future Deaths or regulation 28 report.

At the inquest, Hassell said O’Sullivan had been suffering from long-term anxiety and depression, “but the intense anxiety which triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions [benefits agency] as being fit for work and his view of the likely consequences of that”.

The inquest heard that the DWP assessing doctor, a former orthopaedic surgeon, did not factor in the views of any of the three doctors treating O’Sullivan. The coroner said O’Sullivan was never asked about suicidal thoughts, despite writing them down in a DWP questionnaire.

Previously, the loss or reduction of benefits has been cited by coroners as a factor in deaths and suicides of claimants.

The DWP have so far failed to respond coherently, other than with a denial of a “causal” link.

You can read the full research report here.

It’s not the only time that Conservative austerity policies have been implicated in causing harm to citizens. Nor is it the only time that Conservatives have responded with utter indifference to the disproportionately negative impact of their policies on the poorest people. 

A study from Durham University, which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concluded that as a result of unnecessary recession, unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, Margaret Thatcher’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of wellbeing.

The research shows that there was a massive increase in income inequality under Baroness Thatcher – the richest 0.01 per cent of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and UK poverty rates went up from 6.7 per cent in 1975 to 12 per cent in 1985. Suicides increased.

Co-author Professor Clare Bambra from the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University, commented: “Our paper shows the importance of politics and of the decisions of governments and politicians in driving health inequalities and population health. Advancements in public health will be limited if governments continue to pursue neoliberal economic policies – such as the current welfare state cuts being carried out under the guise of austerity.”

David Cameron’s government has gone much further than Thatcher ever did in cutting essential support and services for protected social groups, such as sick and disabled people, and poorer citizens.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Tories and equality? Don’t make me laugh

gret deceitThe government have claimed to be “committed to supporting the most vulnerable” and ensuring “everyone contributes to reducing the deficit, and where those with the most contribute the most.”

Cameron claimed that he intends to devote much of his time in office to “an all-out assault on poverty”, in his speech to the Conservative Party conferencehe also said he wanted to tackle “deep social problems” and “boost social mobility” and remarkably, to “finish the fight for real equality.” 

I can’t help wondering with trepidation what “real equality” actually means to the government.

So, do the Tories walk the talk? Let’s have a look at their track record. Let’s judge prudently, by deeds not words.

Here’s a list of Conservative-led policies from their last term in office:-

The following cuts, amongst others, came into force in April 2013, affecting the poorest citizens:

  • 1 April – Housing benefit cut, including the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’
  • 1 April – Council tax benefit cut
  • 1 April – Legal Aid savagely cut
  • 6 April – Tax credit and child benefit cut
  • 7 April – Maternity and paternity pay cut
  • 8 April – 1% cap on the rise of in working-age benefits (for the next three years)
  • 8 April – Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment (PIP)
  • 15 April – Cap on the total amount of benefit working-age people can receive 
  • Independent Living Fund for disabled people – scrapped
  • Access To Work grant for disabled people – cut

Here are some of the Tory “incentives” for the wealthy:

  • Rising wealth – 50 richest people from this region increased their wealth by £3.46 billion last year to a record £28.5 billion.
  • Falling taxes – top rate of tax cut from 50% to 45% for those earning over £150,000 a year. This is 1% of the population who earn 13% of the income. The wealthiest had a tax cut of £170, ooo each per year.
  • No mansion tax and caps on council tax mean that the highest value properties are taxed proportionately less than average houses. Meanwhile, those previously exempt from council tax claiming social security now have to pay due to reductions in their benefit.
  • Benefited most from Quantitative Easing (QE) – the Bank of England say that as 50% of households have little or no financial assets, almost all the financial benefit of QE was for the wealthiest 50% of households, with the wealthiest 10% taking the lions share
  • Tax free living – extremely wealthy individuals can access tax avoidance schemes which contribute to the £25bn of tax which is avoided every year, as profits are shifted offshore to join the estimated £13 trillion of assets siphoned off from our economy.

As a consequence of the highly discriminatory and blatantly class-contingent Tory policies, inequality in the UK has risen to the highest level amongst all EU countries, and tops even the US – the fatherland of neoliberalism.

Rampant socio-economic inequality apparently is the new Tory “real equality”.

The rise in the need for food banks in the UK, amongst both the working and non-working poor over the past five years and the return of absolute poverty, not seen since before the advent of the welfare state in this country, makes a mockery of government claims that it supports the most vulnerable. 

Income tax receipts to the Treasury have fallen because those able to pay the most are being steadily exempted from responsibility, and wages for many of poorer citizens have fallen, whilst the cost of living has risen significantly over this past five years.

The ideologically motivated transfer of funds from the poorest half of the country to the more affluent has not contributed to deficit reduction. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the cumulative impact of Tory tax and welfare changes, from out-of-work and in-work benefits to council tax support, to the cut in the top rate of income tax and an increase in tax-free personal allowances, has been extremely regressive and detrimental to the poorest.

The revenue gains from the tax changes and benefit cuts were offset by the cost of tax reductions, particularly the increase in the income tax personal allowance, benefitting the wealthiest.

The Treasury response to this is to single out the poorest yet again for more cuts to “balance the books” – which basically translates as the Conservative “small state” fetish, and deep dislike of the gains we made from the post-war settlement. Yet for a government that claims a non-interventionist stance, it sure does make a lot of interventions. Always on behalf of the privileged class, with policies benefitting only the wealthy minority.

How can Conservatives believe that poor people are motivated to work harder by taking money from them, yet also apparently believe that wealthy people are motivated by giving them more money?

Conservatives regard unemployment and disability as some kind of personal deficit on the part of those who are, in reality, simply casualties of bad political decision-making and subsequent policy-shaped socio-economic circumstances.

The Tory answer to policy-imposed structural constraints is to blame the individual and impose punitive measures to bring about “behavioural change.”

Hang on, don’t we elect governments to meet public needs, not to “change behaviours” of citizens to suit government needs?

This is not about “free markets”, “human nature” or the Tory’s new pet “behavioural science.” It’s policy-making founded entirely on traditional Tory prejudices.

Thanks to The Centre for Welfare Reform for the graphic

Related

There is no such thing as a ‘one nation’ Tory: they always create two nations

Conservatism in a nutshell

Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom”

Fabian Commission condemns Cameron’s indifference to growing food poverty

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Poverty, and particularly child poverty, is increasing. Welfare cuts, austerity measures and low wages have pushed hundreds of thousands, including more than 300,000 children, below the poverty line since 2012, despite Tory claims to the contrary, according to the New Policy Institute (NPI) thinktank, who undertook a study after the government refused to bring forward the publication of official data which would have shown the impact on poverty figures of the major welfare reforms introduced in 2013, and enabled the coalition’s record to be properly scrutinised before the election.

The Fabian Society has accused the Government of lacking a strategy to combat food poverty and said proposed tax-credit cuts could become an even bigger driver of poverty and food insecurity than low wages. A year-long independent food and poverty commission by the Fabian Society found the Government lacks any strategy for addressing hunger in the UK, making a mockery of the prime minster’s party conference pledge to lead “an all-out assault on poverty” earlier this month.

The Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty has brought together experts, as well as those experiencing poverty, to look at the roles of government, civil society and the food industry in increasing the availability and accessibility of sustainable, nutritious food.

The final report of the Fabian Commmission on Food and Poverty is due to be launched later today.

The Commission is chaired by Geoff Tansey, a renowned writer, consultant and Trustee of the Food Ethics Council. The Commission also includes leading representatives from across civil society, trade unions, academia and the food industry.

Food is becoming more and more expensive, and falling real incomes make healthy, nutritious diets less affordable. Yet food plays a wider role in society than nutrition. We use it to celebrate family events, milestones, rites of passage, festivals, to socialise with, and to express ourselves. Food poverty also means that people often experience social exclusion as well as hunger.

Yet only last week, David Cameron insisted at Prime Minister’s Questions: “I do not want anyone in our country to have to rely on food banks.”

Whilst the chair of the commission, Geoff Tansey, acknowledged Cameron’s comments, he said: “But for food – people’s most basic need – he currently has no means of achieving this aim and no plan to deliver a reduction in food banks, let alone tackle the other links between food and poverty.

“The commission has even found that the Government has no count of the number of people who currently lack secure access to nutritious, affordable food.”

A recent NHS statistics release show that 7,366 people were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition between August 2014 and July this year, compared with 4,883 cases in the same period from 2010 to 2011 – a rise of more than 50 per cent in just four years. Cases of other diseases rife in the Victorian era including scurvy (an illness arising through a lack of vitamin C), scarlet fever, cholera and whooping cough have also increased since 2010.

Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, which runs a nationwide network of foodbanks, said they saw “tens of thousands of people who have been going hungry, missing meals and cutting back on the quality of the food they buy”. 

“We meet families from across the UK struggling to put enough food on the table and, at the extreme end, you get people who are malnourished,” he said. “We often see parents who are going without food so that they can feed their children, and these parents often struggle to afford enough nutritious food for their children, too. We don’t think anyone should have to go hungry in the UK, which is why we’re working to engage the public, other charities and politicians across parties to find solutions to the underlying causes of food poverty.”

The Mirror revealed on Monday how food bank volunteers will feed hundreds more hungry children this week:  Children from deprived families will go without free school meals during half term, leaving their hard-up parents unable to afford an additional meal every day.

The desperate reliance on food banks was one of the problems investigated by the panel, during its fact-finding tour interviewing food producers, charities and those living on the breadline.

Mr Tansey has warned it was “not enough to ensure people don’t go hungry. Food banks are just the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem.

“We need to make sure no-one lives in fear of not being able to feed themselves or their family, and to break the bigger links between food and poverty and their effect on people’s health, the environment and working conditions.”

The Fabian Society wants an end to food banks by 2020. Its report also calls for a tax on sugary drinks to see if the higher price cuts demand for unhealthy food, appointing a minister charged with eliminating household food insecurity and launching “food access plans” so people find it easier to buy “affordable, nutritious food”.

The commission’s report says: “We need to recognise that food banks and charitable food providers are not solutions to household food insecurity, they are symptoms of society’s failure to ensure everybody is sustainably well-fed.”

The report also notes that many people who are too poor to afford food do not use food banks for fear of the stigma of being labelled.

The report comes just two months after the children’s commissioner issued a report warning that the government’s continued austerity programme, especially the welfare reforms, does not conform to the standards of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.

Sanctions are founded on Tory psychobabble. You can’t “incentivise” people by starving them

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The fact that there is now such an extensive gap between Conservative rhetoric, the claims being made and reality makes the task of critical analysis difficult.

But the most striking thing isn’t just the disorientating gap between rhetoric and reality: it is also the gap between the bland vocabulary used and the references, meanings and implications of what is actually being said.

Lying, saying one thing and doing another, creating a charade to project one false reality when something else is going on, is very damaging: it leaves people experiencing such deception deeply disorientated, doubting their own memory, perception and sanity.

To cover their tracks and gloss over the gaping holes in their logic, the Tories employ mystification techniques, the prime function of which is to maintain the status quo. Marx used the concept of mystification to mean a plausible misrepresentation of what is going on (process) or what is being done (praxis) in the service of the interests of one socioeconomic class (the exploiters) over or against another class (the exploited). By representing forms of exploitation as forms of benevolence, the exploiters confuse and disarm the exploited.

The Conservatives also use Orwellian-styled language – semantic shifts – and construct incongruent, dissonance-inducing narratives to misdirect us, and to mask the aims and consequences of their policies.  For example, the words “fair”, “support” and the phrase “making work pay” have shifted to become simple socio-linguistic codifications for very regressive punitive measures such as cuts to social security support. 

The semantics are also stratified. People who are unaffected by austerity policies will probably take the bland vocabulary at face value. Cameron said:

“The British people are decent, sensible, reasonable, and they just want a government that supports the vulnerable.”

However, the “vulnerable” know a very different reality to the one substituted and described on their behalf. People who are adversely affected by Conservative policy will regard the bland vocabulary as bewildering, deceitful, frightening – especially because of its incongruence with reality – and most likely, as very threatening. Such rhetoric is designed to hide intention, but it is also designed to deliberately invalidate people’s own experiences of Tory policies and ultimately, the consequences of an imposed Tory ideology.

Not that there can be any mistaking the threats aimed at sick and disabled people from Duncan Smith in his Conference speech. He said:

“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.”

Of course the Work and Pensions secretary employed a traditionally Tory simplistic, divisive rhetoric that conveniently sections the population into “deserving” tax payers and “undeserving” non-tax paying citizens, to justify his balefully misanthropic attitude towards the latter group, as usual. However, the majority of sick and disabled people have worked and have contributed tax. 

Tory claims are incongruent with reality, evidence, academic frameworks and commonly accepted wisdom.

As Dr Simon Duffy, from the Centre for Welfare Reform points out, the poor not only pay taxes they also pay the highest taxes.  For example, the poorest 10% of households pay 47% of their income in tax. This is a higher percentage than any other group. We tend to 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.

Mr Duncan Smith said that many sick and disabled people “wanted to work” and that the Government should give them “support” to find jobs and make sure the welfare system encouraged them to get jobs.

Ah, he means the “making work pay,” approach, which is the Tory super-retro approach to policy-making, based on the 1834 Poor Law principle of less eligibility again.  The reality is that sick and disabled people are being coerced by the state into taking any very poorly paid work, regardless of whether or not they can work, and to translate the rhetoric further, Duncan Smith is telling us that the government will ensure the conditions of claiming social security are so dismal and brutal that no-one can survive it.

Cameron also claims that the Conservatives are the “party for workers”, and of course lamblasted Labour. Again. Yet it was the Labour party that introduced tax credits to ensure low paid workers had a decent standard of living, and this government are not only withdrawing that support, we are also witnessing wages drop lower than all of the other G20 countries, since 2010, the International Labour Organisation reliably informs us.

This fall not only led to a tight squeeze on living standards (the cost of living has rapidly increased), it also led to a shortfall in treasury income in the form of tax revenues. But all of this is pretty standard form for Conservative governments, and shouldn’t come as any surpise, given their history and ideological foundation. We see recession, lower standards of living, wages being driven down and poorer working conditions under very single Tory government. Thatcher did the same, for example.

And Cameron’s promise during his address to the Conservative party conference that “an all-out assault on poverty” would be at the centre of his second term is contradicted by a sturdy research report from the Resolution Foundation that reveals planned welfare cuts will lead to an increase of 200,000 working households living in poverty by 2020.

Duncan Smith also criticised what he claimed was Labour’s “something for nothing culture” which was of course a very supportive and fair, reasonably redistributive system. He also dismissed and scorned the protests against his policies, which his party’s conference has been subject to. But demonstration and protest is a mechanism of democracy for letting a government know that their policies are having adverse consequences.

Many of the disabled protesters at the conference are being hounded, hurt and persecuted by this government and actually, we are fighting for our lives. But clearly this is not a government that listens, nor is it one that likes democratic dialogue and accountability.

In his teeth-grindingly vindictive and blindly arrogant speech, Duncan Smith also criticised the old Employment Support Allowance benefit for signing people off work when they were judged by doctors as too sick to work. He claimed that Labour treated disabled people as “passive victims.” I’m wondering what part of professional judgements that a person is too sick to work this lunatic and small-state fetishist finds so difficult to grasp. Duncan Smith is a confabulating zealot who drives a dogmatic steam-roller over people and their experiences until they take some Tory neo-feudalist deferential, flat-earth shape that he thinks they should be.

Let’s not forget that this government have actually cut support for disabled people who want to work. The Access To Work funding has been severely cut, this is a fund that helps people and employers to cover the extra living costs arising due to disabilities that might present barriers to work. The Independent Living fund was also cruelly scrapped by this Government, which also has a huge impact on those trying their best to lead independent and dignified lives.

By “support to get jobs”, what Duncan Smith actually means is no support at all. He means more workfare – free labor for Tory donors – and more sanctions – the removal of people’s lifeline social security. He also means that good ole’ totalitarian dictum of “behaviour change,” a phrase that the Tories are bandying about a lot, these days.  Ask not what the government can do for you.

And what about the very frail and elderly people needing support?

The public care sector has been cut by a third this past 5 years, yet people are still aging and living longer, so demand for the services has risen. We know that private residential care homes notoriously put profit over care standards, as yet there’s not been an equivalent local authority scandal, but cuts and gross underfunding mean care workers are stretched beyond limit, and there aren’t enough funds to run an adequate home care service. It’s mostly the very frail and elderly who need this service. And it’s those vulnerable citizens that are being increasingly left without adequate care, and certainly not care of a sufficient standard to maintain their dignity.

These are citizens that have paid into a social security system that was established for “cradle to the grave” support if it was needed. This government has so wickedly betrayed them. That’s hardly making a lifetime of work and contribution “pay”.

The knock-on effect is that many people without adequate care end up stranded in hospital, taking up beds and resources, through no fault of their own, and as we know, the health service is also desperately struggling to provide adequate service because of Tory cuts.

Tory policy is all about social engineering using justification narratives founded on an insensate, draconian ideological and semantic unobtainium equivalent. It’s clear that this government lacks the experience and understanding necessary for the proper use of psychological terms. The content of their smug and vindictive justification narratives and stapled-together, alienating and psychopathic rhetoric deviates markedly from even basic common sense and good judgement.

The Tories reduce long debated, complex ideas to surprisingly spiteful platitudes, and hand us back dogmas gift wrapped in aggrandized certitude.

They bandy about insidiously bland, psychobabble words like “incentivise” in the context of coercive state actions – such as the ideas for welfare increased conditionality and brutal operant conditioning based sanctions.

I sent an Freedom of Information request (FOI) to the Department of Work and Pensions asking about the sanction figures from 2010 to present day, and I also asked how sanctions can possibly “incentivise” or “help” people into work,  what psychological/academic/theoretical framework the claim is premised on and what research evidence supports this claim, after I pointed out Maslow’s motivation theory based on a hierarchy of needs – accepted conventional wisdom is that you can’t fulfil higher level psycho-social needs without first fulfiling the fundamental biological ones.

If people are reduced to struggling to meet basic survival needs, then they can’t be “incentivised” to do anything else. And even very stupid people know that if you remove people’s means to eat, keep warm and shelter, they will probably die. It’s worth remembering that originally, benefits were calculated to meet only these basic survival needs. That’s why welfare is called a social “safety net”.

No response from the Department of Work and Pensions yet.

maslow-5Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

There can be no justification whatsoever for removing that crucial safety net, and certainly not as a political punishment for people falling on hard times – that may happen to anyone through no fault of their own.

No matter what vocabulary is used to dress this up and attempt to justify the removal of people’s lifeline benefits, such treatment of citizens by an allegedly democratic, first-world government is unacceptable, despicable, cruel: it’s an act of violence that cannot fail to cause harm and distress, it traps people into absolute poverty and it is particularly reprehensible because it jeopardises people’s lives.

And what kind of government does that?

This is an excerpt, taken from a much longer article about the Tory Conference.
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Related

Sanctions misery for tens of thousands of families this Christmas

If the Tories don’t like being compared to the Nazis, then they need to stop behaving like despots.

Government under fire for massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions from Commons Select Committee

A tale of two suicides and a very undemocratic, inconsistent government

Rising ESA sanctions: punishing sick and disabled people for being sick and disabled

Benefit sanctions are not fair and are not helping people into work

292533_330073053728896_1536469241_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for the illustrations

A brief history of social security and the reintroduction of eugenics by stealth

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Introduction

Our welfare state arose as a social security safety net – founded on an assurance that as a civilised and democratic society we value the well-being and health of every citizen.

There was a cross-party political consensus that such provision was in the best interests of the nation as a whole at a time when we were collectively spirited enough to ensure that no one should be homeless or starving in modern Britain.

As such, welfare is a fundamental part of the UK’s development –  our progress – the basic idea of improving people’s lives was at the heart of the welfare state and more broadly, it reflects the evolution of European democratic and rights-based societies.

Now the UK “social security” system is anything but. It has regressed to reflect the philosophy underpinning the 1834 Poor Law, to  become a system of punishments aimed at the poorest and most marginalised social groups. The Poor Law principle of less eligibility – which served as a deterrence to poor people claiming poor relief is embodied in the Conservative claim of Making work pay: benefits have been reduced to make the lowest paid, insecure employment a more appealing option than claiming benefits.

Unemployed people have absolutely no bargaining power or choice regarding their work conditions and pay. They are coerced by the state to apply for any work available. This also negatively impacts on collective bargaining more widely, the creation of a desperate reserve army of labor serves to drive wages down further. (See: Conservatism in a nutshell.)

The draconian benefit sanctions are about depriving people of their lifeline benefits because they have allegedly failed to comply in some way with increasingly stringent welfare conditionality – which is aimed at enforcing compliance, “behaviour change” and achieving reductions in welfare expenditure rather than supporting people claiming benefits and helping them to find work.

Removing a person’s means of meeting basic survival needs presents significant barriers to that person finding work. If we can’t meet our basic needs, we cannot be motivated or “incentivised” to do anything but struggle for survival.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

 

Such a political aim of “behaviour change” is founded entirely on assumptions and moral judgements about why people are unemployed or underpaid. And of course serious concerns have arisen because sanctions have tended to be extremely discriminatory. Young people, women with childcare responsibilities, people with learning disabilities, people with mental illnesses and disabled people are particularly vulnerable as a consequence of the rigid conditionality criteria.

Frankly, such an approach to welfare seems to be cruelly designed to exclude those people who need support the most. Not only does the current government fail to recognise socio-economic causes of poverty, poor wages, underemployment and unemployment because of political decision-making – preferring to blame individuals for economic misfortune – it also fails to recognise the detrimental wider social and economic implications of penalising poor people for the conservative engineering of a steeply hierarchical society.

As a government that values social inequality, and regards it as necessary for economic growth, insolvency and poverty for some is intrinsic to the Conservative ideological script and drives policy decisions, yet the Tories insist that individuals shape their own economic misfortunes.

Worse, the Conservatives are prepared to leave people without a basic means of support – one that the public have paid for themselves.

Austerity – which is aimed at the poorest members of society – has served to increase inequality, and since the Tory welfare “reforms,” we have seen a re-emergence of absolute poverty. Up until recently, our welfare system ensured that everyone could meet their basic survival needs. That no longer is the case.

A brief history of welfare

A welfare state is founded on the idea that  government plays a key role in ensuring the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and both political and social responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for well-being.

It was recognised that people experienced periods of economic difficulty because of structural constraints such as unemployment and recession, through no fault of their own. It was also recognised that poor health and disability may happen to anyone through no fault of their own.

The welfare state arose in the UK during the post-war period, and following the Great Depression, for numerous reasons, most of these were informed by research carried out into the causes of poverty, its effects on individuals and more broadly, on the UK economy. There were also political reasons for the Conservatives and Liberals supporting the poorer citizens – the newly enfranchised working class.

Charles Booth in London and Sebohm Rowntree in York carried out the first serious studies of poverty and its causes. They both discovered that the causes were casual labour, low pay, unemployment, illness and old age – not laziness, fecklessness, drunkenness and gambling, as previously assumed. The poverty studies raised awareness of the extent of poverty in Britain and the myriad social problems it caused.

The Boer war of 1899-1902 highlighted the general poor state of health of the nation. One out of every three volunteers failed the army medical due to malnutrition, other illnesses due to poor diet and very poor living conditions. The military informed the government at the time of the shockingly poor physical condition of many of those conscripted.

It was realised that the effects of poverty were potentially damaging to  the whole of society. Health problems and infectious disease – rife in the overcrowded slums – could affect rich and poor alike. It was recognised that the economy suffered if large numbers of people were too poor to buy goods and social problems such as exploitation, debt, crime, prostitution and drunkenness were a direct result of poverty, and not the cause of it.

The discovery of  widespread poor health as a consequence of poverty raised concerns about Britain’s future ability to compete with new industrial nations such as Germany and the USA. National efficiency would only increase if the health and welfare of the population improved.

The growth of the Labour Party and Trade Unionism presented a threat to the Liberals and the Conservatives. The new working class voters were turning to these organizations to improve their lives. The traditionally laissez-faire Liberals recognised this and supported the idea of government help for the working class.

Back to the present: welfare is no longer about welfare

The current Conservative government has taken a distinctly behaviourist turn – a form of psychopolitics which essentially reduces explanations of poverty to the personal – blaming poor people for poverty and unemployed people for unemployment, formulating policies that are about making people change their behaviour, based on a simplistic “cause and effect” approach. The government nudges and we are expected to comply. Increasing the use of benefit sanctions is one policy consequence of this psychopolitical approach.

Of course this brand of psychopolitics is all about the government assuming the fallibility of the population and the infallibility of the government when it comes to decision-making and behaviours.

Although Cameron claims that “Nudge” draws on a “paternalistic libertarian” philosophy, any government that acts upon a population, by reducing liberties, choices and by imposing behavioural modification without public consent – expecting people to change their behaviours and choices unwittingly to fit with what the state deems “right,” rather than reflecting public needs via democratic engagement and a genuine dialogue, is actually authoritarian.

As I’ve said elsewhere, welfare has been redefined: it is pre-occupied with assumptions about and modification and monitoring of the behaviour and character of recipients, rather than with the alleviation of poverty and ensuring economic and social well-being.

Eugenics by stealth

Further intention of directing behavioural change is at the heart of policies that restrict welfare support such as tax credits to two children. The Conservatives have recently announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families. Whilst this might not go as far as imposing limits on the birth of children for poor people, it does effectively amount to a two-child policy.

A two-child policy is defined as a government-imposed limit of two children allowed per family or the payment of government subsidies only to the first two children.

Of course this is justified using a Conservative ideologically driven scapegoating narrative of the feckless family, misbehaving and caught up in a self-imposed culture of dependence on welfare.

This restriction in support for children of larger families, however, significantly impacts on the autonomy of families, and their freedom to make decisions about their family life. Benefit rules purposefully aimed at reducing family size rarely come without repercussions.

It’s worth remembering that David Cameron ruled out cuts to tax credits before the election when asked during interviews. Tax credit rates weren’t actually cut in the recent Budget—although they were frozen and so will likely lose some of their value over the next four years because of inflation.

Some elements were scrapped, and of course some entitlements were restricted. But either way a pre-election promise not to cut child tax credits sits very uneasily with what was announced in the budget.

Iain Duncan Smith said last year 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 Tories’ underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socio-economic policies.

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.

The tax child credit policy of restricting support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming benefits year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive deficits.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a study that debunked  the notion of a “culture of worklessness” in 2012.  I’ve argued with others more recently that there are methodological weaknesses underlying the Conservative’s regressive positivist/behaviourist theories, especially a failure to scientifically test the permanence or otherwise of an underclass status, and a failure to distinguish between the impact of “personal inadequacy” and socio-economic misfortune.

Back in the 1970s, following his remarks on the cycle of deprivation, Keith Joseph established a large-scale research programme devoted to testing its validity. One of the main findings of the research was that there is no simple continuity of social problems between generations of the sort required for his thesis. At least half of the children born into disadvantaged homes do not repeat the pattern of disadvantage in the next generation.

Despite the fact that continuity of deprivation across generations is by no means inevitable – the theory is not supported by empirical research – the idea of the cycle of “worklessness” has become “common sense.” Clearly, common perceptions of the causes of poverty are (being) misinformed. The individual behaviourist theory of poverty predicts that the same group of people remain in poverty. This doesn’t happen.

However, the structural theory predicts that different people are in poverty over time (and further, that we need to alter the economic structure to make things better). Longitudinal surveys show that impoverished people are not the same people every year. In other words, people move in and out of poverty: it’s a revolving door, as predicted by structural explanations of poverty.

Many families are in work when they plan their children. Job loss, an accident or illness causing disability, can happen to anyone at any time. It’s hardly fair to stigmatise and penalise larger families for events that are outside of their control.

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 choosing to have more than two children, which will have negative repercussions for all family members.

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 to continue having babies as they wish, whilst aiming to curtail the poor by disincentivisingbreeding” of the “underclass.” 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.

Eugenics arose from the social Darwinism and laissez-faire economics of the late 19th century, which emphasised competitive individualism, a “survival of the wealthiest” 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 totalitarian tendencies, for that matter, any time soon.

But 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.

Conservatives are not known for valuing diversity, it has to be said.

Implications of the welfare “reforms”: Human rights

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

  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.

A recent assessment report by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider its deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans 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’ plan to cut £12bn more from the benefits budget. There are now 4.1m children living in absolute poverty – 500,000 more than there were when David Cameron came to power.

It’s noted in the 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

The Nordic social democratic model of welfare

Finally, it’s worth noting, as sociologist Lane Kenworthy has pointed out, that the Nordic welfare experience of the modern social democratic model can:

“promote economic security, expand opportunity, and ensure rising living standards for all . . . while facilitating freedom, flexibility and market dynamism.”

Nordic welfare models include support for a universalist welfare state which is aimed specifically at enhancing individual autonomy, promoting social mobility and ensuring the universal provision of basic human rights, as well as for stabilizing the economy, alongside a commitment to free trade.

The Nordic model is distinguished from other types of welfare states by its emphasis on maximizing labor force participation, promoting gender equality, egalitarian and extensive benefit levels and the large magnitude of income redistribution.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted that there is higher social mobility in the Scandinavian countries than in the United States, and argues that Scandinavia is now the land of opportunity that the United States once was. The Nordics cluster at the top of league tables of everything from economic competitiveness to social health to happiness.

They have avoided both southern Europe’s economic sclerosis and America’s extreme inequality. Development theorists have taken to calling successful modernisation “getting to Denmark”.

The Nordics demonstrate very well that it is possible to combine competitive capitalism with a large state: they employ 30% of their workforce in the public sector, compared with an OECD average of 15%. The main lesson to learn from the Nordics is not ideological but practical.

The state is popular not because it is big but because it works. A Norwegian pays tax more willingly than a Californian because he or she has access to decent schools, support when times are difficult and free health care as a result.

Norway ranks among the richest countries in the world. GDP per capita is among the highest in the world.

Norway regards welfare services not as social costs but as fundamental social investment for open innovation and growth.

Innovation should not be an opportunity for a few only. It should be democratised and distributed in order to tackle the causes of growing inequality.

Inequality hampers economic growth.

We can’t afford not to have a welfare state.

See also:

Children’s Commissioner warns that UK is now in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Human rights are the bedrock of democracy, which the Tories have imperiled.

Welfare reforms break UN convention

Welfare reforms, food banks, malnutrition and the return of Victorian diseases are not coincidental, Mr Cameron

The government refuse to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of welfare “reforms”. Again.

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame. Part 3 – the Tories want to repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone