Tag: #exploitation

Research shows austerity results in ‘social murder’

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Dr Chris Grover, who heads Lancaster University’s Sociology Department says that austerity can be understood as a form of structural violence – a violence that is built into society and is expressed in unequal power and unequal life chances, as it is deepens inequalities and injustices, and creates even more poverty.

The article, Violent proletarianisation: social murder, the reserve army of labour and social security ‘austerity’ in Britain, suggests that as a result of the violence of austerity working class people face harm to their physical and mental wellbeing, and, in some instances, are ‘socially murdered’.

Dr Grover calls on the Government for change and action. He cites the consequences of austerity in the social security system – severe cuts to benefits and the ‘ratcheting up’ of conditions attached to benefits as constituting ‘social murder.’ 

He refers to the process as ‘violent proletarianisation’ (the idea that violent austerity is aimed at forcing people to do [low] paid work, rather than being supported by social security).

“To address violent proletarianisation what is required is not the tweaking of existing policies but fundamental change that removes the economic need for people to work for the lowest wages that employers can get away with paying,” says Dr Grover, echoing what many of us have also observed and commented on.

Published on 19 December in the journal, Critical Social Policy, Dr Grover gives examples of where social security austerity has led to a range of harms:

  •  an additional six suicides for every 10,000 work capability assessments done; 
  •  increasing number of people Britain dying of malnutrition 
  •  increasing numbers of homeless people dying on the streets or in hostels

The article rationalises that austerity, the difficult economic conditions created by Government by cutting back on public spending, has brought cuts and damaging changes to social security policy meaning Britain has fallen victim to a brutal approach to forcing people to undertake low paid work.

This is something that many of us have also observed.

“The violence takes two forms,” says Dr Grover. “First it involves further economic hardship of already income-poor people.

“It causes social inequalities and injustices in the short term and, in the longer term.

“Second, the poverty that violent proletarianisation creates is both known and avoidable.”

Dr Grover adds that only by fundamentally rethinking current social security policy can change that protects the poorest people be made.

The article examines socioeconomic inequality and injustice, discussing the way it is used to force the commodification of labour power, and a consequential creation of ‘diswelfares ‘that are known and avoidable.

By keeping citizens poor, and without the means of meeting their most fundamental needs, the state creates a desperate reserve army of labour, which is open to exploitation by employers. Conditional welfare also coerces citizens into accepting any work available, regardless of how poor the conditions and wage levels are. There is no means of bargaining for job security, better working conditions or pay, since people claiming social security cannot refuse a job offer, without facing financial sanctions, and subsequently, destitution.

The author suggests that violent proletarianisation is a contradictory process, one that helps constitute the working class, but in a way that socially murders some of its reserve army [of labour] members.

Just as ‘the market’ allocates wealth and resources, it has also come to allocate life and death.

Grover takes his  inspiration from Friedrich Engels’s account of the social murder committed by British capitalists to assess the contemporary impact of conservative economic policy, which they define as policies designed to maximize the accumulation of profit while socialising the associated risks and costs. Conservative neoliberals claim that if their policy prescription is followed, it will produce broad-based economic benefits including more rapid growth, higher incomes, less illness, and, even, more democracy.

The Lancaster university research contrasts the myths of Conservative economic policy with the reality. What Conservative economic policy has actually accomplished is a redistribution of wealth and power away from the vast majority of the population to private companies and their owners. The effects of these policies on citizens and workers have been politically determined economic instability, unemployment, poverty and widening inequality, resulting in suffering, harm and a rise in premature mortalities.

Social murder is a phrase used by Engels in his 1845 work The Condition of the Working-Class in England whereby “the class which at present holds social and political control” (the bourgeoisie) “places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death.”

Social murder was explicitly committed by the political and social elite against the poorest in society. Although Engels’ work was originally written with regard to the English city of Manchester in the Victorian era, the term has been used by other left-wing politicians such as John McDonnell in the 21st century to describe the impacts of Conservative economic policy (neoliberalism), as well as being linked with events such as the Grenfell Tower fire. The victims of Grenfell Tower didn’t just die. Austerity, outsourcing and deregulation killed them – just as the conditions of Victorian Manchester killed the poorest citizens then.

Engels said:  “When society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual.” 

Over 170 years later, Britain remains a country that murders its poor. When four separate government ministers are warned that Grenfell and other high rises are a serious fire risk, then an inferno isn’t unfortunate. It is inevitable. It is social murder.

The acts that culminated in the deaths were licensed by those in public office, or private sector authority, who had decided the lives of poor people mattered less than the profits of the rich. This is a logic that’s still very evident today. 

The past decade of austerity has been one of political violence: of people losing their lifeline income for not being disabled ‘enough’, of families evicted from their homes for having more than two children or a bedroom that the state deems surplus to requirements.

These are tales of private suffering and immense misery, of a person or a household  plunged into stress, anxiety, depression or worse.

Aditya Chakrabortty concluded last year, in his well-observed article about the Grenfell tragedy: “Class warfare is passed off as book-keeping. Accountability is tossed aside for “commercial confidentiality”, while profiteering is dressed up as economic dynamism. One courtesy we should pay the victims of Grenfell is to drop the glossy-brochure euphemisms. Let’s get clear what happened to them: an act of social murder, straight out of Victorian times.”

You can read the research report in full, without the paywall, here: Violent proletarianisation: Social murder, the reserve army of labour and social security ‘austerity’ in Britain

 


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Soul-breaking government scheme to provide ‘expert’ employment ‘support’ to young people in schools

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The so-called ‘small state’ government have pledged to intrude schools to place ‘demand-led, Jobcentre Plus staff to supplement careers guidance and help schools deliver their statutory duty to provide high-quality, independent and impartial careers advice.’

See government press release: Jobcentre Plus support rolled out to schools.

Isn’t all existing careers advice impartial?

Ah, I see that impartial now means: ‘to inform independent choice,’ according to the newly introduced Careers and Enterprise Company, who will work with Jobcentre Plus staff ‘to ensure schools receive a coherent and aligned offer.’

Aligned to what? 

The needs of local businesses and the neoliberal labour market and not the needs of young people.

To inform independent choice. That’s a bit like saying “If you do everything I say, you will be truly free to make your own choices.  

The Tories are experts in linguistic behaviourism, telling lies and social control freakery, but not very much else.

Impartial. It’s another one of those Tory definitions that mean something else completely. Like helping or supporting people into work, which actually means a crude type of punitive behaviourism  – the imposition of  punitive financial sanctions if you don’t do exactly what you are told, and actually, quite often, even if you do. I’ve never understood how starvation and destitution can ever help or incentivise anyone to find a job, especially when experience and empirical evidence tells us otherwise. The welfare state has been weaponised against the people it was designed to support: a penultimate, vindictive Tory tactic before they completely dismantle it once and for all.

In 2015, the government’s Earn or Learn taskforce announced a new 3-week programme to give young jobseekers an ‘unprecedented level of support that will help them find work within 6 months.’  Personally, I shudder at the very thought of the Tories supporting my own children. I don’t want them anywhere near young people more generally. Regressive and Orwellian Tory ‘support’ has killed adults. There is no conceivable way that this bunch of tyrants can ever be trusted with our children’s future.

From 2017, the new programme will offer ‘an intensive curriculum’ involving practicing job applications and interview techniques as well as extensive job searches, and is expected to take 71 hours over the first 3 weeks of the claim. Welcome to the ultimate libertarian paternalist’s dystopic ‘education’ programme.

This ‘expert employment support to young people’ has been launched by two utterly inept, lying, dogmatic Conservatives with a history of formulating extremely nasty, punitive approaches to state defined ‘welfare and wellbeing’ – Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel.

Someone should put them straight: education includes the opportunity to attend college and university. Curiously, the Conservative brand of ‘impartial’ career advice seems to be all about big business ‘leading the way’ by instilling the protestant work ethic in our children. Life and learning is about working for people who make profits. That is the order of the world. 

Children from the age of twelve are to be coached to undertake ‘work experience.’ To clarify, that’s work fare – stacking shelves at Poundland or sweeping floors at your local McDonald‘s, for no pay.

It’s difficult to see what kind of educational process such a Conservative ‘curriculum’ entails, although it does include a sequence of instruction: a barely concealed hidden curriculum which reinforces existing social inequalities by ‘educating’ students according to their class, promoting the acceptance of a social pre-destiny of exploitation without promoting rational and reflective consideration.

A veritable pedagogy of the oppressed.

Duncan Smith babbles:

This scheme is fundamentally about social mobility and social justice – ensuring we give all young people the best chance to get on in life.

Someone should tell this idiot that social justice is all about the fair and just relationship between the individual and society. This is measured by the distribution of wealth, resources, opportunities, freedoms for personal activity and social privileges. It is about removing barriers to social mobility, the creation of social safety nets and economic justice. There is no mention of work fare for adults and children, exploitation, corporate profits and Tory donors in any standard definition of social justice anywhere.

Steve Bell cartoon

It’s not as if the Conservatives have historically shown the slightest interest in and recognition of realising human potential. That’s far too progressive and would require the capacity for democratic dialogue instead of paternalist preaching and lofty class-contingent, traditionally prejudiced, moralising. The Tories have always prefered a steeply hierarchical world, comprised of ascribed social status.

What the Conservatives plan is a blatant programme of indoctrination and political micromanagement to ensure that young people learn their place and accept a future of exploitative, low paid, insecure jobs, without the prospect of real opportunities or the chance to go to university. It’s more psychoregulation and authoritarian politics and has nothing to do with genuine needs-led or evidence-based policy.

And it’s to be delivered in our schools: transforming them from Ideological State Apparatuses – ideologies have the function of masking the exploitative arrangements on which class societies are based – into unmasked Repressive State Apparatuses. Hidden in plain view.

Authoritarianism tends to become more visible and frankly expressed over time.

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I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Work: for what it’s worth

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I’ve yet to see a decent challenge to the Tory proposition that citizenship and rights can be determined by, and ought to be conditional, on how hard-working a person is. Of course the definition of “hard-working” is narrowly restricted to categories of paid employment. People working for nothing on workfare programs aren’t considered to have any value at all. They are simply left to fall down into the vortex created by neoliberal logical gaps.

The Conservatives have always had a pathological need to create social systems comprised of ranks and categories, it’s a fundamental feature of their collective ontological insecurity and fits in very well with the key features and demands of neoliberalism.

It’s complete and utter nonsense. Dogma

People’s worth isn’t measured in terms of their contribution to the increasingly private wealth of businesses, or what they can do for an employer. Or their participation in an increasingly enclosed neoliberal economy. Human worth is universal, regardless of whether or not we work to make someone else rich.

Nor is entrepreneurship the pinnacle of human achievement.

Behave.

If work was so rewarding, there wouldn’t be any resentment directed at people who aren’t working. Workers would be content with their lot, rather than regarding others with envy, sneaking suspicion and vilifying those people trying to simply survive on the meagre benefits that most of them contributed towards via taxes. The establishment and the media would have no public complicity in their perpetual scapegoating, outgrouping and socially divisive programmes. We can always expect a particularly controversial, targeted and damaging policy from the Tories when we see the sudden appearance in the media of a new category of folk devils. It’s intentional, strategic, calculated and scapegoating is presented as a justification narrative for yet another battle against another marginalised group in the establishment’s broader class war.

The truth is that the majority of people don’t find work rewarding at all, and for many, having a paid job isn’t a way out of poverty. Labourers are deeply envious of the perceived freedom of those they feel don’t have to toil. The Conservatives know this and have virtually culturally criminalised being unemployed. This said, if you end up in prison, at least you can rely on being fed, whereas if you are claiming jobseekers allowance or sickness and disability benefits, there’s a substantial risk of being arbitrarily sanctioned, suddenly leaving you without the means of buying food and meeting other basic survival needs.

Effective collective bargaining can only happen if people have the right to refuse jobs that are exploitative. Workfare has taken that right away. Welfare conditionality has taken that right away. 

As welfare provision shrinks, an increasingly desperate reserve army of disposable labour becomes easier to exploit; work choices shrink, wages are driven down, job insecurity grows and working conditions worsen. It’s the cast-iron law of Conservatism. As I’ve pointed out before, the Poor Law of 1834 worked in the same way: the enshrined principle of less eligibility, which meant that conditions in workhouses had to be much worse than conditions available to those in the lowest paid work outside so that there was a deterrence to claiming support. In reality this meant that an individual had to be completely destitute in order to quality for poor relief.  The Tory mantra “making work pay” is based on the same ideology as the less eligibility principle. It was always a front for the neoliberal New Right imperative to dismantle welfare support and compete in a race to the bottom through the various descending layers and facets of absolute poverty. Whilst employers ascend and profit.

We decided, agreed and ratified that each human life has equal worth at an international level after the consequences of hierarchical thinking culminated in the atrocities of World War Two. Hitler thought that some people were worth more than others. All despots do. However, we progressed, we learned. We evolved. We formulated Human Rights as a coherent and collective response.

But it’s a lesson the Tories clearly have forgotten. Or chose not to learn. Our society is more unequal and steeply hierarchical than ever, inequalities are greater here than anywhere else in Europe, and including the USA. That’s a direct result of Tory policy, weighted towards handouts to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Despite our human rights and equality legislations.

But the blame doesn’t entirely belong to the Tories. The next time you look down on your neighbours for being sick, disabled, mentally ill, unemployed or for being from a different ethnic background, remember where that sort of collective thinking takes us as a society. If you don’t believe me, go away and read Gordon Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice, have a look at Allport’s Ladder, and compare to where we are now, in the UK, in the 21st Century.

As a society, we need to learn from history. Progress. Evolve.But we are regressing instead. Human Rights are fundamentally incompatible with neoliberalism.

Allport wrote about how the Holocaust happened. Public acceptance of eugenic thinking happens incrementally; rational and moral boundaries are pushed, bit by bit, almost imperceptibly, until the unacceptable becomes acceptable. And prejudice multi-tasks. Hitler killed the sick, disabled, the poor and “workshy” first.

That psychosocial and political process is happening here, unfolding in stages day by day, week by week, year by year: the media are a large part of the ideological mechanism; a state apparatus used to push against our rational and moral boundaries. And this mechanism is being used to de-empathise us, to make us less sympathetic to the plight of politically defined others. And to regard them as having less worth than ourselves. Neoliberalism creates steep hierarchies of power and wealth, it isn’t generous to most people. 

My message here is about the equal worth of all human beings. Who we are is a universal, and not the same as “what” we are or the labels we may acquire because of our superficial characteristics. Those things are artificial and culturally relative. We all share the same basic needs, fears and hopes, we share archetypal dreams and nightmares. To paraphrase RD Laing:

All in each, each in all, all distinctions are mind; of mind, in mind, by mind. No distinctions, no mind to distinguish.

All lives equally precious.

Our worth can never be measured out in meagre pounds and pennies.

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But they don’t and they never will.

Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for the image.

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder

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The current government has made the welfare system increasingly conditional on the grounds that “permissive” welfare policies have led to welfare “dependency.” Strict behavioural requirements and punishments in the form of sanctions are an integral part of the Conservative ideological pseudo-moralisation of welfare, and their  “reforms” aimed at making claiming benefits much less attractive than taking a low paid, insecure, exploitative job.

Welfare has been redefined: it is preoccupied with assumptions about and modification of the behaviour and character of recipients rather than with the alleviation of poverty and ensuring economic and social wellbeing.

The stigmatisation of people needing benefits is designed purposefully to displace public sympathy for the poor, and to generate moral outrage, which is then used to further justify the steady dismantling of the welfare state.

But the problems of austerity and the economy were not caused by people claiming welfare, or by any other powerless, scapegoated, marginalised group for that matter, such as migrants. The problems have arisen because of social conservatism and neoliberalism. The victims of this government’s policies and decision-making are being portrayed as miscreants – as perpetrators of the social problems caused by the government’s decisions, rather than as the casualities.

And actually, that a recognisable bullying tactic known as projection, (the vehicle for projection is blame, criticism and allegation), as is scapegoating.

The 2015 budget included plans to provide online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to 40,000 claimants and people on the Fit for Work programme, as well as putting therapists in more than 350 job centres.

I wrote an article in March about the government plans to make the receipt of social security benefits conditional on undergoing “state therapy.” I raised concern about ethical issues – such as consent, the inappropriateness of using behaviour modification as a form of “therapy,” and I criticised the proposed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) programme on methodological and theoretical grounds, as well as considering wider implications.

I’ve written at length about the coercive and punitive nature of the conservative psychopolicy interventions, underpinning the welfare “reforms,” and giving rise to increased welfare “conditionality” and negative sanctions.

In particular, I’ve focussed on the influence of the Cabinet’s Behavioural Insights Team or “nudge unit” and “the application of behavioural science and psychology to public policy. (See: The nudge that knocked down democracy, The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting, and Despotic paternalism and punishing the poor. Can this really be England? )

I was pleased to see that the BBC reported a summary of the research findings of Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn, which was supported by the Wellcome Trust. The report – Positive affect as coercive strategy: conditionality, activation and the role of psychology in UK government workfare programmes reflects many of the concerns raised by other professionals. I strongly recommend you read it. (See: Psychologists Against Austerity: mental health experts issue a rallying call against coalition policies.)

The BBC summarised from the report that benefit claimants are being forced to take part in “positive thinking” courses in an effort to “change their personalities.” Those people claiming benefits that do not exhibit a “positive” outlook must undergo “reprogramming” or face having their benefits cut. This is humiliating for job seekers and does not help them find suitable work.

New benefit claimants are interviewed to find out whether they have a “psychological resistance” to work, with those deemed “less mentally fit” given more “intensive coaching.”

And unpaid work placements are increasingly judged on psychological results, such as improved motivation and confidence, rather than whether they have led to a job.

The co-author of the report, Lynne Friedli, describes such programmes, very aptly, as “Orwellian.” She says:

“Claimants’ ‘attitude to work’ is becoming a basis for deciding who is entitled to social security – it is no longer what you must do to get a job, but how you have to think and feel.

“This makes the government’s proposal to locate psychologists in job centres particularly worrying.

“By repackaging unemployment as a psychological problem, attention is diverted from the realities of the UK job market and any subsequent insecurities and inequalities it produces.”

Friedli also criticised the way psychologists were being co-opted as “government enforcers” and called on professional bodies to denounce the practice.

Quite rightly so. It’s our socio-economic system, and the ideologues who shape it that present the problems, not the groups of people forced to live in it as its casualities – the “collateral damage” of neoliberalism and social conservatism.

“I don’t think anything can justify forced psychological coercion. If people want to go on training courses that should be entirely voluntary,” Lynne told BBC News.

She also questioned the aim of the motivational courses and welfare-to-work placements, which felt like “evangelical” self-help seminars.

“Do we really want a world where the only kind of person considered employable is a ‘happy clappy’, hyper-confident person with high self-esteem?

“That is a very a narrow set of characteristics. There is also a role in the workplace for the ‘eeyore’ type.”

Absolutely. Frankly, I would rather have health and safety programmes that are designed by a pessimist, capable of thinking of the worst case scenario, for example, than by a jolly, positively biased, state-coerced optimist.

I would also prefer pessimistic appraisal of social policies. That way, we may actually have impact assessments carried out regarding the consequences of Conservative policies, instead of glib, increasingly Orwellian political assurances that are on the other, more scenic, illusory side across the chasm from social realities.

Although pessimism and depression are considered to be affective disorders, in a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of the brain, depressed patients were shown to be more accurate in their causal attributions of positive and negative social events, and in self assessments, and assessment of their own performance of tasks, than non-depressed participants, who demonstrated a positive bias.

As a former community-based psychosocial practitioner who saw the merits and value of a liberationist model, the question that needs to be asked is: for whose benefit is CBT being used, and for what purpose? Seems to me that this is about helping those people on the wrong side of punitive government policy to accommodate that, and to mute negative responses to negative situations.

The socially dispossessed are being coerced by the state, part of that process is the internalisation of the negative images of themselves created and propagated by their oppressors.

CBT is not based on a genuinely liberational approach, nor is it based on any sort of democratic dialogue. It’s all about modifying and controlling behaviour, particularly when it’s aimed at such a narrow, politically defined and specific outcome.

The problem that we need to confront is politically designed and perpertuated social injustice, rather than the responses and behaviour of excluded, stigmatised individuals in politically oppressed, marginalised social groups.

CBT is founded on blunt oversimplifications of what causes human distress – for example, in this case it is assumed that the causes of unemployment are psychological rather than socio-political, and that assumption authorises intrusive state interventions that encode a Conservative moral framework which places responsibility on the individual, who is characterised as “faulty.”

However, democracy is based on a process of dialogue between the public and government, ensuring that the public are represented: that governments are responsive, shaping policies that address identified social needs. Conservative policies are quite clearly no longer about reflecting citizen’s needs: they are increasingly about telling us how to be.

As I have said elsewhere, as well as aiming at shaping behaviour, the psycho-political messages being disseminated are all-pervasive, entirely ideological and not remotely rational: they reflect and are shaping an anti-welfarism that sits with Conservative agendas for neoliberal welfare “reform”, austerity policies, the small State (minarchism) and also legitimises them. (I’ve written at length elsewhere about the fact that austerity isn’t an economic necessity, but rather, it’s a Tory ideological preference.) The Conservatives are traditional, they are creatures of habit, rather than being responsive and rational.

Conservative narratives, amplified via the media, have framed our reality, stifled alternatives, and justified Tory policies that extend psychological coercion including through workfare; benefit sanctions; in stigmatising the behaviour and experiences of poor citizens and they endorse the loss of autonomy for citizens who were disempowered to begin with.

Many of the current ideas behind “reforming” welfare come from the Behavioural Insights  Team – the Nudge Unit at the heart of the Cabinet. Nudge theory has made Tory ideology, with its totalitarian tendencies, seem credible, and the Behavioural Insights Team have condoned, justified and supported punitive, authoritarian policies, with bogus claims about “objectivity” and by using discredited pseudoscience. Those policies have contravened the human rights of women, children and disabled people, to date.

Nudge-based policy is hardly in our “best interests,” then.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Despotic paternalism and punishing the poor. Can this really be England?

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Framing the game

Earlier this year, David Cameron defended his welfare “reforms”, claiming that: “Labour has infantilised benefit claimants”, and he argued it was “not big-hearted” to leave people claiming sickness allowances when “they could be incentivised to get treatment for alcohol dependence or obesity.”

I should not need to point out that despite the bizarre attempt at stigmatising sick and disabled people with such a loaded, moralising and media agenda-setting comment from our PM, the majority of people claiming sickness benefits are neither dependent on alcohol nor are they claiming because they are obese. This said, I think that alcohol dependence and obesity are illnesses that ought to be treated with compassion instead of moralising. But the general public on the whole do not hold this view. Cameron knows that. In fact Cameron has contributed to the scapegoating of social groups, outgrouping and public division significantly over the past five years

I claim sickness benefit simply because I have a life-threatening illness called lupus. There is no cure, and no-one may imply I am ill because of “life-style choices”. However, people using alcohol often have underlying mental distress, and drinking alcohol is pretty much a social norm. Poverty often means that people are forced to buy the cheapest food, which is the least healthy option. Some illnesses and disabilities cause mobility problems, and some treatments cause weight gain. So it cannot be assumed that alcohol dependence and obesity are simply about “making wrong choices” after all. 

I have to say that it IS “big-hearted” to leave me claiming benefits, Mr Cameron, because I am no longer fit for work. Indeed I was forced to take my case to tribunal after your government tried to “kindly” incentivise me to abandon my legitimate claim for sickness benefit, and the tribunal panel decided that if I were return to my profession(s) (social work and previously, youth and community work – with young people at risk of offending,) that would, though no fault of my own, place me in situations that are an unacceptable risk to my health and safety, and of course would also place others – vulnerable young people – at risk. Which is why I claimed sickness benefit in the first place – because I am too ill to work.

Libertarian paternalism isn’t “fatherly”

Mr Cameron, however, thinks he knows better and continues to insist that it is is everyone’s best interests to work. I can assure him that isn’t the case. So can many others with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

Back in 2013, Esther McVey defended the increased use of welfare conditionality and benefit sanctions in front of the work and pensions committee by infantilising claimants and playing the behaviourist paternalistic libertarian nudge card. She said: “What does a teacher do in a school? A teacher would tell you off or give you lines or whatever it is, detentions, but at the same time they are wanting your best interests at heart.”

“They are teaching you, they are educating you but at the same time they will also have the ability to sanction you.”

Since when did the state become comparable with a strict, punitive, authoritarian headmaster at a remedial school called “we know what’s best for you” in this so-called first-world liberal democracy?  That is not democracy at all: it’s despotic paternalism.

One of the cruellest myths of inequality is that some people are poor because they lack the capability to be anything else. Meritocracy is a lie. It is used to justify the obscene privileges and power at the top of our steep social hierarchy and the cruel exclusion and crushing, humiliating deprivation at the bottom. No-one seems to want to contemplate that people are poor because some people are very very rich, and if the very rich have a little less, the poor could have a little more.

Neoliberalism is a socioeconomic system founded entirely on competition. This means that people have to compete for resources and opportunities, including jobs. Inevitably such as system generates “winners” and “losers”. Poverty has got nothing to do with personal “choices”; the system itself creates inequalities.

Deserving and undeserving: the rich deserve more money, the poor deserve punishment

At least one third of those people with the most wealth have inherited it. It’s a manifestation of prejudice that poor people are seen as “less deserving”, based on “ability” and on vulgar assumptions regarding people’s personal qualities and character. In fact the media, mostly talking to itself,  in judging “the undeserving”  has given a veneer of moral authority to an ancient Conservative prejudice. It’s very evident in policies. The austerity cuts don’t apply to the fabulously lucky wealthy. Whilst the poorest citizens have seen their welfare cut and wages decrease, as the cost of living spirals upwards, millionaires were handed a tax break of £107, 000 each per year.

Surely our stratified social system of starkly divided wealth, resources, power, privilege and access is punishment enough for poor people.

As Ed Miliband pointed out: “David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.

But they also seem to believe that the only way to make you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.”  So Tory “incentives” are punitive, but only if you are poor. Wealth, apparently, is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Tories create “scroungers” and “skivers”

As I’ve commented elsewhere, it’s truly remarkable that whenever we have a Conservative government, we suddenly witness media coverage of an unprecedented rise in the numbers of poor people who suddenly seem to develop a considerable range of baffling personal ineptitudes and immediately dysfunctional lives.

We see a proliferation of  “skivers” and “scroungers”, an uprising of “fecklessness”, a whole sneaky “culture of entitlement”, “drug addicts”, a riot of general all-round bad sorts, and apparently, the numbers of poor people who suddenly can’t cook a nutritious meal has climbed dramatically, too. We are told that starvation is not because of a lack of money and access to food, but rather, it’s because people don’t know how to budget and cook.

That’s odd, because I always thought that poverty is a consequence of the way society is organised and how resources are allocated through government policies.

That’s a fundamental truth that we seem to be losing sight of, because of the current poverty of state responsibility and the politics of blame.

However, the current government has made the welfare system increasingly conditional on the grounds that “permissive” welfare policies have led to welfare “dependency”.  Strict behavioural requirements and punishments in the form of sanctions were an integral part of the conservative moralisation of welfare, and their  “reforms” aimed to make claiming benefits less attractive than taking a low paid, insecure job.

Sanctions simply worsen the position of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens. Creating desperation by removing people’s means of basic survival forces them into low paid, insecure work and exerts a further downward pressure on conditions of employement and wages. It commodifies the reserve army of labor, which is strictly in the interests of exploitative, profit-driven plutocrats.

Can this really be England? 

Cruel Brittania. A man with heart problems was sanctioned because he had a heart attack during a disability benefits assessment and so failed to complete the assessment. A lone mother was sanctioned because she was a little late for a jobcentre  interview, as her four year old daughter needed the toilet.

A man with diabetes was sanctioned because he missed an appointment due to illness, he died penniless, starving, without electricity and alone as a consequence. His electricity card was out of credit, which meant that the fridge where he should have kept his insulin chilled was not working. Three weeks after his benefits were stopped he died from diabetic ketoacidosis – because he could not take his insulin. Here are 11 more irrational, unfair, purely punitive applications of sanctions.

How can removing the basic means of survival for the poorest people in our society possibly incentivise them, “help them into work” or be considered to be remotely “fair”?

There are targets set for imposing benefit sanctions. Jobcentre managers routinely put pressure on staff to sanction people’s benefits, according to their union. Failure to impose “enough” sanctions is said to result in staff being “subject to performance reviews” or losing pay.  “Success” as an employee at the jobcentre is certainly not about helping people to get a job but rather, it’s about tricking them out of the money they need to meet their basic needs. Such as food, fuel and shelter. Welfare is no longer a safety net: it is an institutionalisation of systematic state punishment of our poorest citizens.

Angela Neville worked as an adviser in Braintree jobcentre, Essex, for four years and she has written a play with two collaborators, her friends Angela Howard and Jackie Howard, both of whom have helped advocate for unemployed people who were threatened with benefit sanctions by jobcentre staff.

One central motivation behind the play was how “morally compromising” the job had become. In one scene an adviser tells her mother that it’s like “getting brownie points” for cruelty. When Neville herself became redundant in 2013, she was warned about being sanctioned for supposedly being five minutes late to a jobcentre interview.

There was a strong feeling among the playwrights that the tendencies in wider society and the media to stigmatise and vilify benefits claimants needed to be challenged and refuted. The play opens with a scene where “nosey neighbours” spot someone on sickness benefit in the street and assume they must be skiving instead of working.

This perspective is one shared widely amongst disabled people, groups, organisations and charities that advocate for and support disabled people, and is evidenced by the rapid rise of disability-related hate crime since 2010, reaching the highest level since records began by 2012. The UK government is currently the first to face a high-level international inquiry, initiated by the United Nations Committee because of “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people.

That ought to be a source of shame for the both the government and the public, especially considering that this country was once considered a beacon of human rights, we are (supposedly) a first-world liberal democracy, and a very wealthy nation, yet our government behave like tyrants towards the most vulnerable citizens of the UK. And the public have endorsed this.

“This play is about getting people to bloody think about stuff. Use their brains. Sometimes I think, crikey, we are turning into a really mean, spying on our neighbour, type of society,” Angela said.

The title of the play, Can This be England? is an allusion to the disbelief that Angela Neville and many of us feel at how people on benefits are being treated. And she describes the play, in which she also acts, as a “dramatic consciousness-raising exercise”. The idea behind this production is that the play may be performed very simply, with minimum rehearsal. Scripts are carried throughout and few props are used.

It can take place in any room of a suitable size, and there is no need for stage lighting. The script is freely available to all who wish to use it for performances to raise awareness (non-commercial purposes). Click HERE to download a PDF file. If you find it useful please e-mail any feedback to Angela Neville at the Show and Tell Theatre Company.

Psychopolitics

Welfare has become increasingly redefined: it is now pre-occupied with assumptions about and modification of the behaviour and character of recipients rather than with the alleviation of poverty and ensuring economic and social well-being. The stigmatisation of people needing benefits is designed purposefully to displace public sympathy for the poor, and to generate moral outrage, which is then used to further justify the steady dismantling of the welfare state.

Framed by ideological concerns, the welfare “reforms” reflect an abandonment of concern for disadvantage and the meeting of human needs as ends in themselves. We have witnessed an extremely punitive system emerge, under the Tories, at a time when jobs are becoming increasingly characterised by insecurity and poor pay. Last year, two-thirds of people who found work took jobs for less than the living wage (£7.85 an hour nationally, £9.15 in London), according to the annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

There are as many people in work that are now in poverty as there are out of work, partly due to a vast increase in insecure work on zero-hours contracts, or in part-time or low-paid self-employment. Poverty-level wages have been exacerbated by the number of people reliant on privately rented accommodation and unable to get social housing, the report said. Evictions of tenants by private landlords outnumber mortgage repossessions and are the most common cause of homelessness. The rapidly rising cost of living – price rises for food, energy and transport – have so many people on low pay struggling to make ends meet.

But pay for people on what were comfortable incomes previously is now outstripped by inflation, leaving many more struggling with rising prices. Public spending has decreased, having a knock-on effect on the economy.

Economic Darwinism doesn’t promote growth

Last year, I wrote about the study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who found what most of us already knew: that income inequality actually stifles economic growth in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, whilst the redistribution of wealth via taxes and benefits encourages growth.

The report from the OECD, a leading global think tank, shows basically that what creates and reverses growth is the exact opposite of what the current right-wing government are telling us, highlighting the rational basis and fundamental truth of Ed Miliband’s comments in his speech – that the Tory austerity cuts are purely ideologically driven, and not about managing the economy at all.

There is a dimension of vindictiveness in the Tory claim that cutting people’s lifeline benefits will somehow “make work pay”, once you see past the Orwellian unlogic of the statement, and recognise the extent of waged poverty in the UK. Making work pay would rationally need to involve a rise in wages, surely, but that has not happened.

To understand this, it is important to grasp the elitist socio-economic priorities that are embedded in Conservative ideology, which I’ve outlined previously in Conservatism in a nutshell. The whole idea beneath the Orwellian doublespeak is comparable with the punitive Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 – in particular, we can see a clear parallel with the 1834 “less eligibility principle” and the Tory notion of “making work pay” which I’ve previously discussed in The New New Poor Law.

The parallels are underpinned by a shift from macro-level socio-economic explanations of poverty and state responsibility to micro-level punitive, moral psychologising, scapegoating, and the abdication of state (and public) responsibility.

Policies provide a conceptual frame of reference, which tend to shape public attitudes, they are also deeply symbolic gestures that convey subliminal messages. The Conservative war on welfare and the NHS further devalues the worth of human life, turning the needy into a disposable state commodity, a coerced, desperate reserve army of cheap labour.

It also conveys the message that to care about the survival and well-being of others is futile; it pathologises collectivism, cooperation and altruism. This is a government that operates entirely by generating fear and division, on a social, economic and cultural level, but also, increasingly intrusively, within phenomenological, psychological and psychic dimensions too.

How did the poor become such an easy enemy of the state, and how can the public believe the dominant narrative that pathologises the victim, and fail to recognise the irrational, circular argument of benefit sanctions, when the conservatives’ reasoning is that the application of sanctions demonstrates the moral ineptitude of the individual – but it merely acts to justify poverty and inequality.

The perverse logic runs as follows: welfare for the poorest citizens – those who require collective responses to poverty – can only retain public support by threatening to, and by actually making the poorest even poorer. Is this really welfare?

No, not any more.

How can welfare ever be about some politically manufactured, apocryphal and malevolent desire for retribution, based on pseudo-moralising about the poor and demoralised, and a concern for the spiteful, perverted, mean-spirited sense of satisfaction for the better off, at the expense of the material and biological well-being of those in need: the poorest and most vulnerable citizens?

Conservative rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. If the Conservatives must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for many others.

Democracy exists partly to ensure that the powerful are accountable to the vulnerable. The Conservatives have blocked that crucial exchange, they despise the welfare state, which provides the vulnerable with protection from  exploitation by the powerful.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, the wide recognition that unbridled capitalism causes casualties is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such competitive economic dogmas to manifest, there is inevitably going to be winners and losers. That is the nature of competitive individualism, and along with crass inequality, it’s an implicit, undeniable and fundamental part of the meritocracy script.

Poverty is created by government policies that reflect a pursuit of free market ideals;  by the imposition of neoliberal economic policies – the sort of policies that ensure taxes cuts for the wealthy, banish fiscal and other business regulations, shred the social safety net, and erode social cohesion and stability, whilst directing the media and population to chant the diversionary mantra of self-reliance and individual responsibility.

Poverty intrudes on people’s lives, it dominates attention and constantly commands that our biologically-driven priorities are met, it reduces cognitive resources, it demotivates, it overwhelms, it reduces experience of the world to one of material paramountcy which cannot be transcended, it stifles human potential.

Need is NOT greed, regardless of the malicious justification narratives in the media and spiteful political rhetoric from the champions of social Darwinism and the Randian self-serving free market. Meeting basic survival imperatives – food, warmth and shelter – is a fundamental prerequisite for life. If the means for meeting these basic survival needs is taken away, then people will die. Surely even the most cold, callous, psychopathic and dogmatic defenders of the status quo can manage to work that one out.

Punishing poor people with more poverty is savage, obscene, barbaric, brutal, and can NEVER work to “incentivise” people to not be poor, nor can it change the pathological idiom that shapes and imposes such unfortunate, unforgiving and unforgivable circumstances on those with the least in the first place.

430835_148211001996623_1337599952_n (1)With thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes

Conservatism in a nutshell

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It’s not enough to challenge Tory ideology. We also have to dismantle the Orwellian semantic shifts. We have to defeat the Tory propaganda machine that lies, persuades and lulls people with slogans, empty glittering generalities and glib catch-phrases.

You’ve heard those slogans – “less government”, “personal responsibility”, “hard-working families”, “making work pay” and lots of flag waving. These are shorthand messages to the public that are thrifty with the truth, codifications for an entire world-view. But ever such a shabby, ruthless and paltry one.

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The clue is in the name: the word “Tory” derives from the Middle Irish word tóraidhe, which means outlaw, robber or brigand, from the Irish word tóir, meaning “pursuit”, since outlaws were “pursued men”. It was originally used to refer to an Irish outlaw and later applied to Confederates or Royalists in arms. The term was originally one of abuse.

The Tories live by plundering. They steal your taxes, your public services, your state provision and your labour, in order to raise more money for the rich.

It’s a dystopic world of corporate fiefdom. I heard a very smart person from the States once sum up the Tories neatly with the phrase “cheap-labour conservatism”. How very apt. It fits so well. It makes sense of such a lot.

Basically, the larger the labour supply, the cheaper it is. The more desperately you need a job, the less you tend to demand for your wages to be fair, and the more power those big business Tory buddies have over you. This is what the Tories actually mean by “making work pay” – it’s either rationed out peanuts or starvation. But for big business, your work pays them handsomely in fat profits.

The Tories engineer this same socioeconomic situation every time they are in office. Think back to the Thatcher era, she did it, Major did it – it’s a manufactured recession and a large reserve army of cheap labour every time. ALWAYS the same with the Tories. Because it suits their “business friendly” agenda.

That’s another Tory slogan that means corporate greed, profit before people and Tory donations – see the Beecroft Report, for example, written by a British “venture capitalist” that has donated more than £500,000 to the Conservative Party. The overdogs write policies to make sure that we remain the underdogs. Fat profts are all that matter to the vulture capitalists.

Beecroft is currently Chairman of Dawn Capital. The release in May 2012, of the long awaited Beecroft Report in the UK caused considerable controversy because it recommended that the government should “cut red tape” in order to make the hiring and firing of employees easier and cheaper.

The report claimed this would help to ‘boost’ the economy although no evidence for this was provided. It’s hard to imagine how increasing job insecurity would encourage workers to spend their money. It does, however, help boost profits for venture  vulture capitalists, and the government-commissioned report strips workers of their rights.

As the TUC said at the time, the ideas have taken the UK back towards Victorian era working conditions and standards. Conservatives don’t like social spending or welfare – our safety net. The safety net we funded. That’s because when you’re unemployed and desperate, companies can pay you whatever they feel like – which is inevitably next to nothing. 

You see, the Tories want you in a position to work for next to nothing or starve, so their business buddies can focus on feeding their profits, which is their only priority.

Cheap-labour conservatives don’t like the minimum wage, or other improvements in wages and working conditions. These policies undo all of their efforts to keep you desperate. They don’t like European Union labour laws and directives either, for the same reason.

Cheap-labour conservatives don’t like unions, because when we unite, organise and collectively bargain, wages go up and living standards rise. Working conditions improve. That’s why workers unionise. Seems workers don’t like being desperate.

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But businesses don’t like to pay out money. They like to hoard it. Cheap-labour conservatives constantly bray about “morality”, “virtue”, “respect for authority”, “hard work”, “responsibility” and other such vaguely defined values. This is only so that they can blame you for being desperate due to your own “immorality”, “lack of values”, “lack of character” , “idleness” and “poor life-choices.” 

It’s also so that they can justify their “business friendly” workfare schemes to further exploit the reserve army of labour and keep us desperate, unpaid and in our place.

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Cheap-labour conservatives encourage racism, misogyny, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. That’s because bigotry among wage earners distracts them, and keeps them from recognising their common interests as wage earners. Divide and rule was invented by cheap labour-conservatives. To keep labour cheap.

An ugly truth is that cheap-labour conservatives don’t like working people. They don’t like working class opportunities and prosperity, and the reason for this is very simple. Lords have a harder time kicking us around when we aren’t desperate, hungry and in fear of destitution.

Once we understand this about the cheap-labour conservatives, the real motivation for their policies makes perfect sense. Cheap-labour conservatives, the neo-feudalist fools, believe in social hierarchy and limited privilege, so the only prosperity they want to permit is limited to them and their elite class.

They want to see absolutely nothing that benefits us whatsoever. And even better if we fight amongst ourselves for scraps. Divide and rule. The Tory mantra “making work pay” is an argument for RAISING WAGES, not cutting benefits, talk about the rationally illiterate …. But then cheap-labour conservatives hope that those affected will take comfort in the fact that if your wages are not enough to meet the cost of living, at least those without a job are much worse off.

The Tory “race to the bottom” is hidden in plain view, and after five years of austerity, Osborne is forced to concede that the new welfare cuts leave £9bn of the deficit reductions promised by the Chancellor unaccounted for. The cuts are PURELY ideological. Tories: dangerous with the economy, dangerous for society.

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“Less government” is another defining right-wing slogan. It’s also all about cheap labour. Referenced by the slogan is the whole conservative set of assumptions about the nature of the “free market” and government’s role in that market. However, we pay for government. We pay for protective state services. It is not the government’s money to hand out to millionaires, it is ours. 

The slogan “less government” permitted the conservatives’ cunning transformation of a crisis caused by banks into a crisis of public spending. It was a huge triumph of Tory dogma over the facts. And of course, our public services are being sold off to private companies. A few people are quietly making megabucks while the rest of us are told to “live within our means.”

And anyone would think, to hear the Tories talk, that the “free-market” isn’t rigged to benefit the wealthy. There’s no such thing as an “invisible hand” , unless you count the iron fist of the authoritarian state, getting on with getting their own way. The bedroom tax, welfare cuts, public service cuts, cutting inheritance tax and handing out tax breaks to the wealthy are, after all, examples of state interventions, and not “market forces”, which the Tories always use as a front to suck the life out of entire communities and to keep people desperate.

The whole “public sector/private sector” distinction is an invention of the cheap-labour conservatives. They say that the “private sector” exists outside and independently of the “public sector”. The public sector, according to cheap-labour ideology, can only “interfere” with the “private sector”, and that such “interference” is “inefficient”, “costly” and “unprincipled”.

Using this ideology, the cheap-labour ideologue paints him/her self as a defender of “freedom” against “big government tyranny,” while all the time, the conservatives are extending an extreme, oppressive authoritarianism.They have to because no ordinary person who knows what they’re up to actually wants their policies. And in fact, the whole idea that the “private sector” is independent of the public sector is totally bogus, because “the market” is created by public laws, public institutions and public infrastructure. 

But the cheap-labour conservative isn’t really interested in “freedom”. What they want is the privatised tyranny of industrial and financial serfdom, the main characteristic of which is – you guessed it – cheap labour.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone 


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