Tag: gaslighting

Leaked document reveals how government are micromanaging public perceptions of the government’s austerity programme

daniel-kahneman-quote-nudge

Kahneman’s work with Amos Tversky was a key influence on the development of behavioural economics. Kahneman’s friend and colleague, Richard Thaler, built on their body of work, producing the first text about Nudge. Behavioural economics is a form of neoliberal ‘cognitive credentialism’.

It has increasingly informed political justification narratives, favouring the wealthy and powerful, and presenting a case for imposing austerity on the poorest citizens. It is also used to fuel a tenuous, pseudoscientific and neo-technocratic alternative account of the subsequent growth in poverty and inequality, and the political destruction of the UK’s public services.

The Conservative-led coalition instituted the Nudge Unit in 2010. Although now part-privatised, and seemingly wholly unaccountable to the public, it remains a part of the Cabinet office, too. 

A question we really need to ask is who nudges the nudgers?

A leaked dossier, apparently a joint study by the Cabinet Office and Department for Work and Pensions, states: “Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and the belief that [the government is] acting fairly, openly and with integrity.”

The damning document was accidentally exposed by an unnamed person, revealing it in front of Westminster journalists and photographers. The leak highlights the fundamental disconnect between what people are experiencing and what they are being told is happening by the government.

This is a form of testimonial injustice and part of a wider strategy of epistemic authoritarianism.

The document shows part of a study that has highlighted the poor state of the public’s trust in politics, government and the party in power. It then outlines strategies that are part of an attempt to ‘build trust’ and “improve government communications.” This indicates a shameful government that thinks soundbites rather than a much needed positive change in policy direction is an adequate way of running the country. 

It also reflects the utter arrogance of a Conservative government who think that trust is something that may be simply acquired from the public, rather than earned.

The authors named on the document are Laura de Moliere, the Department for Work and Pension’s lead behavioural scientist, and Catherine Hunt, Head of Insight and Evaluation at the Cabinet Office.

The document shows the governments’ planned use of communication strategies to ‘manage’ public perceptions of the government’s behaviours and their policies. However, the Conservative’s draconian austerity programme has resulted in widespread distress, hardship, harm, and has caused citizen deaths. This document basically reveals the Conservative’s emphasis on political slogans, attempts at subliminal manipulation and gaslighting techniques, as a means of simply maintaining their power. Using language to erode people’s shared sense of reality is also a totalitarian technique of control.

The document shows a government with no intention of changing their prejudiced, punitive policies and the subsequent harms and hardships they are inflicting on the poorest citizens. It demonstrates a profoundly undemocratic government with absolutely no intention of listening to the public, or engaging in a democratic dialogue.

“Acting in the public’s interest” has become another empty, meaningless Conservative slogan, repeated ad nauseam, in much the same way as “strong and stable” was, and before that, “we’re all in it together.”

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Poster from Terry Gilliam’s dark, dystopic film Brazil. It’s a satire, about a hidden,  bureaucratic, totalitarian government, which is reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Conservative’s austerity policies have been targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, while at the same time as the savage cuts were being implemented, the chancellor lavished £107,000 each per year in a tax break hand out to millionaires. We have never been “all in it together”. That was a big lie.

Cameron’s slogan preempted the damage that austerity has inflicted on the UK, because it was known in advance that those policies were going to cause harm. The government have responded to raised criticisms and legitimate concerns regarding the consequences of their policies by using a range of techniques of neutralisation.

However, a few cunning and deceitful linguistic strategies and lies are not going to fool people for long. Sooner or later, the empirical evidence catches up and then overtakes the lies. Peoples’ direct experiences of austerity inform them of the truth. Yet the government is trying to tell them that those experiences are not so. Using a form of political gaslighting – calling people who raise legitimate concerns “scaremongers”, for example – reflects the same attitudes and behaviours of despots throughout history.

strong and stable

Fascism ultimately takes on the contours of whatever national and political culture produces it.

This is a government that has a serious problem in recognising any limits to its authority.

The UK’s democracy recession

The leaked paper explains why several ministers and Conservative MPs have appeared to be using the same crib sheet recently, claiming repeatedly that Universal Credit, for example, is “compassionate and fair”, when that description does not in any way match the evidence. It explains the repeated and unbelievably ludicrous claims that the government make about their commitment to “social justice”,  “fairness”, and that they are “competent” and “tackling inequality” in the context of a policy framework underpinned by conscious cruelty. 

The government have hired specialist coaches to instruct them in how to tell lies effectively, using experts in behaviourist communication techniques of manipulation. We have historically regarded states that employ surveillance and monitoring to screen, rank and change citizens’ behaviour by acting upon them without their consent as “totalitarian”. 

A state that misuses psychology and propaganda to impose conformity on a population regards citizens as a means to an end, to fulfil ideological goals: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”.

The Conservatives have adopted the Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda approach to managing public perceptions and beliefs. Like Goebbels, the Conservatives have adapted techniques in commercial advertising to the political sphere, including the use of catchy slogans and subliminal cues. 

Nudge and behavioural economics more generally has added another layer of strategic and creeping authoritarianism aimed at micromanaging  citizens’ perceptions, decision-making and behaviours to align them with government aims. 

This, of course, completely turns democracy on its head, as I have said on many other occasions on this site. 

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The damning leaked document.

It’s truly remarkable that a government who claims it favours a small state has used public funds to build a massive and private propaganda and behaviour modification empire, without any reference to the consent of the governed. The need to control citizens to such a degree indicates an overcentralisation of  political decision making. 

Ian Lavery said: “Austerity has done more than just destroy public trust, it has destroyed lives.

“The Tory party continues to treat being in government as some sort of cynical PR exercise.

“If they recognise that austerity has been a disaster, they should be focusing on bringing it to an end rather than how to spin it.”

Several of us have approached the government for comment.

However, it will probably take a while for the government’s Strategic Communications Service to finish crafting their response.

Here is the document in full, courtesy of the Mirror

The role of communication in rebuilding political trust

November 2018

Catherine Hunt, Cabinet Office & Laura De Moliere, DWP

1. What does this paper deliver?

This paper provides a definition of trust, based on a review of academic, public sector and media industry publications as well as our own research. It identifies the factors that underpin trust, looks at why trust in the institutions of government is falling and sets out how this affects us as communicators. It builds on the conclusions from our previous paper on trust from April 2018 and recommends a strategy for building trust and improving the effectiveness of our communication activity in the future.

2. Summary and recommendations

The main conclusions that can be drawn from this paper are:

An individual citizen’s trust in government (political trust) is based on his or her perceptions of its competence and whether or not is acting in the public (and the individual’s personal) interest, judged by the values that it governs by.

  • Competence is judged by the presence of five specific behaviours: setting out a shared vision for the future; authenticity; taking perspectives; valuing others’ opinions; and transparency.
  • The core trust values that Government should demonstrate are fairness, openness and integrity

Citizens’ political trust and views of whether it is acting competently and in the public interest is influenced by:

  • Specific support for the political administration in power at any given point in time.
  • Diffuse support for the overall system of government and its institutions

Trust in politicians has always been low. However, the global recession in 2008 and subsequent period of austerity triggered a decline in diffuse trust for the system of government in many Western economies, including the UK.

  • Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and belief that it […] acting fairly, openly and with integrity

Rapid social, demographic and technological changes are […]

As diffuse trust in the institutions of government […]

parties is rising. People who support […]

parliament. This is also true for […]

The decline in political trust […]

which will in turn reduc[…]


(The last part was only partially visible in the photo capture.)

One final comment. I have researched and written a lot over the last few years about the very issues that this leak exposes. I’ve been one of the biggest critics of PR and strategic comms, techniques of neutralisation, the political abuse of psyop techniques and psychographic targeting, behavioural economics and the political use of nudge on a largely unaware and non-consenting public.

In other words, I have told you so.

I’ve linked this psychopolitical governance approach with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the government’s use of similar companies during the last election, and the Leave campaign. The Institute for Statecraft and Integrity Initiative exposure reveals yet another dimension of this hidden, dark approach to governance. It indicates a kind of secret police, employed to uphold and enforce the government’s narrative and ideological aims.

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951.

Some voices are eternally relevant.

 

Related

gcs-guide-to-communications-and-behaviour-change1 - Copy
You can read this document here.

You can also read the Civil Service Strategic Communications handbook here

Some of my work:

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

 The government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Exclusive: DWP Admit Using Fake Claimant’s Comments In Benefit Sanctions Leaflet

The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative character divination

Rogue company Unum had a profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper – Politics and Insights

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

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down: mind the Mindspace

The just world fallacy


The DWP left a terminally ill man penniless until after he died

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Jill Fennell and her partner Mark Scholfield. She says: “The benefits system is barbaric and inhumane.” (Image: Jill Fennell/Facebook).

A man who was terminally ill with cancer was forced to spend his final days penniless as he waited for a Universal Credit payment that cruelly arrived the day after he died.

Mark Scholfield was made to endure an eight-week delay for the social security payment before he died, aged just 62, of mouth cancer.

Mark’s partner, Jill Fennell, who was with him for 23 years, said: “When you’ve been given a devastating blow, being told you have terminal cancer, money is the last thing anyone should be worrying about.

“The benefits system is barbaric and inhumane.”

Jill, also 62, said self-employed musician, Mark, was unable to work for two months before he had his diagnosis in February 2017. He was told his condition was terminal, she said, and initially, he was  encouraged to apply for fast-track Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to help him meet the costs of living and pay bills.

However, because he lived in Camberwell, South London, where the government’s controversial flagship failure – Universal Credit – was being rolled out, he was told that he did not qualify for ESA.

Instead he had to apply to Universal Credit (UC). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) often use Credit Reference Agencies to verify the identity citizens making a claim, but Mark had never had credit, and he was told that must visit a Jobcentre with ID.

Jill said that despite his failing health and diagnosis of terminal cancer, Mark was forced by the DWP to go through a health and work assessment over the phone. She  said that she was distraught, and  left “screaming hysterically down the phone”, asking “did they realise he was dying?”

After five weeks Mark received his first payment, which just about covered rent and council tax, but left him with little to live on. But for the next eight weeks he did not receive any more money, and died on July 19, 2017.

It was only after Mark’s death that Jill discovered an ESA payment had been made a day later, as well as a UC payment.

She said: “Mark had needed the money while he was alive to live his final months in some level of comfort and dignity, but he was denied that.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Scholfield’s friends and family.

“While Mr Scholfield was receiving Universal Credit, we are extremely sorry for the delay in his ESA payment which should have been fast-tracked.”

That response is simply unacceptable. Because this kind of glib, standardised apology for an apology is happening far too frequently, it to reflect any shred of sincerity, meaning, reflection or learning on the part of the DWP.  

Linguistic behaviourism: cruelty is compassion, indifference is care

Yesterday, heartless Amber Rudd was accused of shrugging off ‘heartbreaking’ Universal Credit experiences and stories by suggesting they are about only “one or two” people. 

This is a government who tell us with a straight face that inflicting absolute poverty on the poorest citizens is somehow going to make them less poor. This ideological framework is also imposed upon people in low paid work, struggling to meet their basic living costs. So the government slogan “making work pay” is meaningless Orwellian tosh, as is the Conservative’s longstanding ‘culture of dependency’ thesis and ideological justification narrative for inflicting devastating cuts on those who can least manage to get by. 

The Work and Pensions Secretary made the outrageous comments after being confronted by the Mirror about flaws in Universal Credit.

For years many of us have published articles ranging from flaws in the social security system, affecting millions, to struggling readers who’ve been forced to use food banks to survive, as well as administrative ineptitude and bullying that has often had catastrophic consequences. The roll out of Universal Credit has caused hunger, destitution, deaths and suicides, let’s be frank and pay some attention to the empirical evidence, rather than expedient ideological soundbites.  

Amber Rudd told the Mirror: “Some of the criticisms that have come from various publications have been based on one or two particular individuals where the advice hasn’t worked for them.

That statement flies in the face of empirical evidence. On this site alone there are MANY individual accounts of the harms arising as a result of Universal Credit. And to claim the reason for these harms is because “the advice hasn’t worked or them” is a serious and disgusting trivialisation of the psychological distress and trauma, the deaths, suicides, rising numbers of those facing hunger, hardship, and destitution that Universal Credit, combined with such systematic government denial and indifference, is causing.

“But in the vast majority of cases, and I would urge everybody who hasn’t to take the opportunity to speak to work coaches, the sort of support that individuals get is a completely different approach to what they had previously.”

Yes. It’s not actually support. It’s a programme of discipline, coercion and punishment.

It isn’t work coaches who have to live with the consequences of a system that was designed to be an increasingly standardised Conservative hostile environment. The government seem to believe that publicly funded public services should serve as a deterrent to people needing support from the public services they have paid into.

Work coaches don’t have to live with the direct consequences of state policies. What matters most is the accounts of citizens, which tell their raw, first hand experiences of the system, not of those administrating it. But citizens’ voices are being intentionally stifled, edited out and worse, their accounts are being re-written by politically expedient civil servants and government ministers. This presentation of ideological fictions and the use of gaslighting techniques is usually the preserve of totalitarian regimes, it’s not the behaviour one would expect of a democratic government in a so-called liberal society. 

Governments with such limited social intelligence don’t lie very convincingly, but they do tend to be hard faced and tenacious. The real horror is their utter indifference and lack of responsiveness: that they really don’t care. They continue to demand our suspension of belief and dizzying cognitive dissonance. The relationship between citizen and state is one of abuse, founded on gaslighting strategies.

There is very little empirical evidence of the “professionalism, care and compassion” that Rudd claims. Furthermore, the trivialisation and persistent denials of the harm, distress and extreme hardship that is being inflicted on people because of government policies are all utterly unacceptable behaviours from a government minister, reflecting a profound spite within policy design, a profound lack of political accountability and a profound indifference for the consequences of these behaviours on the lives of ordinary people.

Rudd added: “And it is delivered with professionalism and care and compassion.”

Sure. The kind of “professionalism, care and compassion” that leaves a terminally ill man without sufficient support to meet his most basic needs, or that leaves a pregnant mother in extreme hardship, homeless, and resulting in the loss of her unborn child. Or one that pushes people towards suicide.

And former Universal Credit staff reveal call targets and ‘deflection scripts, which means staff having to block or deflect vulnerable claimants, telling them that they would not be paid, or would have to submit a new claim, or have a claim closed for missing a jobcentre appointment, or be sanctioned – a penalty fine for breaching benefit conditions – or go to the food bank.

One whistleblower said that her role often felt adversarial. She said: “It was more about getting the person off the phone, not helping.” That’s a very strange kind of “compassion.”

As researchers have concluded, Universal Credit is a complicated, dysfunctional and punitive’ system that makes people increasingly anxious, distressed, with some of the most vulnerable citizens in the UK being pushed to consider suicide, and it ‘simply doesn’t work.’ (See Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchersfor example).

A devastating National Audit Office report last year about Universal Credit concluded that the DWP was institutionally defensive and prone to dismissing uncomfortable evidence of operational problems. Welfare secretary at the time, Esther McVey, felt the need to make a speech in July in which she promised that where problems arose in future the department would “put our hands up, [and] admit things might not be be going right”.

It’s also clear – in the words of the public accounts committee – that there is a “culture of indifference” within the DWP and wider government.

It’s time that government ministers started to listen to citizens’ voices, to service users – as well as campaigners, researchers, charities and the opposition Parties. And the United Nations – instead of presenting denials that policies are seriously harming people. But there is every indication that they won’t. 

Universal Credit’s malign effects are obvious to anyone who actually looks, and is willing to listen to the voices of those affected by this punitive, mean-spirited and fixated, theory-laden, ideologically driven, miserly provision, that was, at the end of the day, paid for by the very public who are claiming it.

Labour MP Maria Eagle flatly stated that Rudd’s comments are “not true” and are “out of touch”.

She said: “The entire design of the system puts people in debt and the benefit cuts accompanying its introduction have made it far worse.” 

Rudd was questioned by the Mirror after she said yesterday: “Maybe things that were  proposed previously weren’t effective or weren’t compassionate in the way that I want them to be.”

Mirror journalists asked if she could, ‘hand on heart’, say it was “compassionate” to double UC claimants this year, keep the two-child limit and keep the benefit freeze until 2020.

Rudd did not respond to the question, instead replying: “The overall product that is Universal Credit is absolutely compassionate.”

Product? That’s a very odd word to use for lifeline support – the public services that are our social insurance which people have paid into for those times when they need it. 

And using key words from a government strategic comms crib sheet – James Cleverly among others has also opted for the word ‘compassionate’ to describe the welfare ‘reforms’ – does not make those narratives the reality experienced by citizens who need to access support from public services. Saying it does not make it real. This is something the Conservatives seem to have overlooked – that their narratives don’t match people’s realities. That’s the problem with telling lies – the empirical evidence catches up with you sooner or later.

Starving people and leaving them in destitution is not ‘compassionate’. Using a publicly funded public service to deliver punitive and a blunt, coercive, authoritarian behavioural modification programme is not ‘compassionate’. These are the actions and narratives of a government dipping a toe into the realms of totalitarianism.

Rudd claimed that UC needs to be ‘improved’, including to make it fairer to woman, but also said it was a “vital reform delivering a fair and compassionate welfare system”, “by far the most important and crucial reform” and a “force for good”.

Yesterday, the high court concluded that the Universal Credit assessment is illegal. The first judicial review verdict of Universal Credit found that the cutting of severe disability premiums from those who had previously claimed ESA was discriminatory.  How many more legal changes will it take to make the government act with some decency and observe basic laws and human rights?

Rudd went on to claim, somewhat incoherently, that the ‘old system’ was “broken”, “not a utopia that we should return to” and under Labour someone unemployed could receive “£100,000 housing benefit per year.”

The charity Fullfact submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to the DWP in 2012, following the same claims from David Freud, among other Conservative minsters, that people claiming social security support were receiving £100,000 housing benefit per year. The figures in the response showed that over four out of every five Housing Benefit claims are below £100 per week (the equivalent of £5,200 per year) according to the September 2010 figures, while only 70 out of over 4.5 million recipients claimed over £1000 per week, around 0.001% of the total.

Even this is likely to overstate the number claiming £100,000 per year however, as a family would need to claim over £1,900 per week to hit this total. Previous FoI responses from the Department have suggested around five families were awarded this amount.

Ministers and the media repeatedly failed to highlight what is such a small number of the total, and printed screaming and misleading headlines that were inaccurate, without putting this into a wider context. While the evidence suggests that there are a small number of Housing Benefit claims of more than £100,000 per year –  around five – these cases are very much the exception rather than the rule. Focusing exclusively on these outliers without first putting them into context, where over 80% of claims are below £100 per week, has [intentionally] distorted the debate about welfare, aimed at de-empathising the public and providing a justification narrative for cuts.  

Other information drawn from the FoI request found that larger claims tended to come from larger families, and the average household size for people claiming over £40,000 was six. For more details, do check out the numbers in the request itself, which is available here.

People weren’t suffering profound distress, hunger, destitution, suicide ideation and dying because of the ‘old system’.

Perhaps ‘utopias’ are relative. What we are currently witnessing is not “compassionate” or a “force for the good”: it is the dystopic system of an authoritarian state inflicting punishment, discipline and coercion on our most vulnerable citizens.

It’s a state programme that dispossesses citizens, with catastrophic human costs, to fund the tax cuts demanded by a handful of powerful and wealthy vultures, who live lavishly within a culture of entitlement, while the rest of us are increasingly impoverished.

facade-welfare

Amber Rudd claims that Universal Credit is ‘compassionate’. She must have been taking lessons in Doublespeak again.


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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Gaslighting Conservative MP says Universal Credit protest is a ‘political stunt’

A Conservative MP, Simon Clarke, has condemned a protest against Universal Credit in Guisborough, dismissing it as a “political stunt”.

Clarke said the protest will ‘disrupt local businesses’ on one of the busiest days in the run up to Christmas.

Local Labour MPs and unions are holding a march in the town on Saturday. They join thousands of other people, accusing the government of a “callous approach”.

They said the so-called flagship reform – which replaces six existing benefits, and has been introduced across Teesside in recent months – was “causing real poverty and hardship in our communities”.

Redcar and Cleveland Council has written to the Government three times to delay the roll-out until after Christmas, saying that claimants’ waiting five weeks for their first payment would leave families penniless over the Christmas period.

However Clarke, whose Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland is the only Conservative seat on Teesside, claims he has not had a single constituent flag any problems with the system.

Clarke claims: “At the heart of Universal Credit is the principle that work should always pay and those who need support should receive it.” 

“That is what it delivers – bringing an end to the broken culture we inherited from Labour, where the number of households where nobody had ever worked doubled between 1997 and 2010.”

Clarke continued with his myth making: “I have liaised really closely with the brilliant team at Loftus Job Centre in recent weeks. The team there could not have been clearer: they think Universal Credit will help people, they are well trained to deliver it and they are fed up of being demonised by politicians who only want to frighten their clients unnecessarily.”

However, it is very problematic to accept the narratives of administrators and to completely discount the negative experiences and citizen accounts of those Universal Credit is being imposed on. The system is so riddled with design flaws and process faults that it is practically guaranteed to generate mistakes and delays that would push vulnerable benefit claimants into hardship, according to administrative whistleblowers. 

Service centre workers have told the Guardian that glitches and errors in the “cobbled-together” system have commonly led to peoples’ benefit payments being delayed for weeks or wrongly reduced by hundreds of pounds. Mistakes and delays can add on average an extra three weeks to the formal 35-day wait for an initial benefit payment, pushing claimants into debt, rent arrears, and reliance on food banks.

Campaigners warn that the problems may get worse next year when more than 3 million claimants start to be “migrated” to the new system.

One employee said: “The IT system on which Universal Credit is built is so fundamentally broken and poorly designed that it guarantees severe problems with claims.”

He said the system was “overcomplex and prone to errors that affected payments and often proved slow to correct.”

“In practical terms, it is not working the way it was intended and it is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants.”

Bayard Tarpley, who left the Grimsby service centre after two years as a telephony agent, told the Guardian that he had been dealing with distressed claimants every day. “My hope is that by speaking out I can help explain why these processes have such a significant, harmful impact on claimants.”

He gave several examples of where poor system design and practice caused delays and payment errors, including:

  • Staff are not notified when claimants leave messages on their online journal; for example, if they wish to challenge payment errors. As a result, messages sent to officials can go unanswered for days or weeks unless claimants pursue the inquiry by phone.
  • Claimants are discouraged by staff from phoning in to resolve problems or to book a home visit and instead are actively persuaded to go online, using a technique called “deflection”, even when callers insist they are unable to access or use the internet.
  • Callers have often been given wrong or contradictory advice about their entitlements by DWP officials. These include telling severely disabled claimants who are moving on to universal credit from existing benefits that they must undergo a new “fit for work” test to receive full payment.
  • Although the system is equipped to receive scanned documents, claimants instead are told to present paper evidence used to verify their claim, such as medical reports, either at the local job centre or through the post, further slowing down the payment process.
  • Small delays or fluctuations in the timing of employers’ reporting of working claimants’ monthly wages via the real time information system can lead to them being left hundreds of pounds out of pocket through no fault of their own.

Food banks are regarded as a formal backstop for when the system fails, he said. Officials are told to advise those claimants who are in hardship and who do not qualify for cash advances to contact charities or their council for help. However, many councils have closed local welfare provision as a result of central government cuts to funding.

These disclosures add to the mounting concerns over Universal Credit, and provides evidence that the system is not supporting people with even their most basic living costs. Universal Credit roll out is six years behind schedule but will eventually handle £63bn of welfare support going to 8 million people.

Campaigners and researchers say their concerns have been met with a “defensive and insular” approach to managing welfare reform by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). 

The department came under withering fire from a cross-party group of MPs who accused it of a “culture of indifference” after it had repeatedly ignored warnings of basic process errors that led to 70,000 disabled benefit claimants being underpaid an estimated £500m over six years.

The then work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, sought to limit the damage in a speech in which she admitted there were problems with Universal Credit, and promised to listen to campaigners, claimants and frontline staff to find ways to change and improve the system.

If Universal Credit is so ‘helpful’ for citizens, wouldn’t you think that the United Nations would have recognised that this was the case during the recent inquiry? As it is, Philip Alston said that Universal Credit is “entrenching people in poverty” and inflicting “unnecessary misery” on citizens, because of the government’s “radical social re-engineering programe”. 

Alston concluded: “In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.” 

He also warned that the motivation behind the controversial benefit reform was to slash spending, despite finding little evidence that there had been any savings, and that the message to claimants is, “You are alone” and that state assistance is the “last resort”.

Yet Clarke says: “Since roll-out began here last month, not a single constituent has come forward with a problem for me to help with. My staff have all received training if anyone does. No amount of staff training, however, can ensure that people have enough money to meet their basic living costs within a punitive framework that is purposely designed to create a hostile environment to deter people from claiming social security support. 

“But I think people in Guisborough will rightly be unimpressed that their town is being disrupted on one of the busiest shopping days before Christmas by what is frankly a political stunt,” said Clarke, using what is frankly a deplorable gaslighting technique.

I can’t imagine that many people experiencing problems with their Universal Credit claim would find Clarke particularly approachable. He seems to be surrounded by an impervious wall of denial.

Redcar MP Anna Turley has also called for the roll out of Universal Credit to be stopped until flaws in the system are put right. She said that low income families and vulnerable people would be left reliant on food banks and forced into personal debt.

A similar protest, organised by Unite the Union, was held in Redcar last weekend.

Cllr Sue Jeffrey, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said: “I am dismayed at the callous approach being taken by this Government.

“We know that there is likely to be difficulties for many people who are forced to move onto Universal Credit in the month before Christmas.”

The TUC said that the Conservatives “are in denial about the hardship Universal Credit will cause in our area”.

Accusing the accuser: Conservative techniques of neutralisation and perception management

However, it’s an intentional, evidence-vaulting sort of deliberated response – a habitualised, patterned, crib sheet, ‘strategic communication’ (communication tactically aligned with the government’s overall strategy and ideological aims, to enhance its strategic positioning) kind of denial:

Another MP who called for an end to “scaremongering” about Universal Credit last year is Wendy Morton. Speaking in a Commons debate about Universal Credit, she said: “It is this government who are helping people, which is why I am disappointed to have sat through a lot of this debate and heard scaremongering stories from Opposition Members.”

She responded with the sloganised, detached and meaningless comment: Universal Credit “makes work pay and helps people into work” and staff at job centres, who administer the benefit, were “working hard to get it right.” 

In October, during a parliamentary debate, St Austell and Newquay’s MP, Steve Double, claimed that jobcentre staff “love it, and claimants like it” and that “one of the problems is all the scaremongering, primarily from the Labour party.”

The evidence from a wide variety of sources, however, strongly suggests otherwise. 

As Labour MP Liz McInnes said at the time: “If these claims are in fact true, who could possibly object to impact assessments being released? They will no doubt reflect the happiness and joy being spread to Universal Credit claimants in beautiful Cornwall. One would think that the Government would be shouting this marvellous news from the rooftops – if it were true.”

Esther McVey memorably refused to agree to meet with the women so bady affected by Universal Credit that they were forced into sex work to avoid destitution. She coldly asked former Labour minister Frank Field, who raised his concerns, to remind them “there are now record job opportunities” in the UK.

During that particular debate, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood called on the government to stop the  roll-out, adding: “There’s a real danger that hundreds of thousands of people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be pushed into poverty and left at risk of destitution.”

McVey dismissed those concerns as “scaremongering”. And again in March, McVey accused Labour of “scaremongering and misinformation”, saying an extra 50,000 children would benefit under the Universal Credit system, when MPs raised concerns of growing childhood poverty.

In March, at a meeting ,the Conservative Mansfield MP and Hucknall councillor Ben Bradley said, ludicrously, that Labour were “weaponising poor people” and “scaremongering rubbish”.

The government are weaponising social security.

And Labour councillor Michael Payne, who represents Arnold North, quoted parts of a disgraceful blog written by Bradley in which he said people on benefits should have vasectomies

There are many on the Opposition Benches who have expressed legitimate concerns about the catastrophic Universal Credit roll out on behalf of their constituents only to have them passed off as “scaremongering.”

However, the government should not ignore the concerns shared by affected citizens, many outside the House, by the charities and organisations at the forefront of supporting people through such difficult and distressing periods when they don’t have the means to meet even their basic living needs, leaving them extremely vulnerable. 

Last week I wrote about Dan Carden’s letter to Amber Rudd, also asking her to postpone the roll out of Universal Credit in his Liverpool Walton constituency. 

He said: “We have families experiencing poverty on an unprecedented scale and now facing further avoidable hardship in the run up to Christmas. 

“I have now been informed that job centres across Liverpool are advancing payments to my constituents to obtain provisional driving licences for the purposes of identification and then deducting the cost from their benefits.

“Constituents are also having to pay for postal orders, passport photographs and postage, just to obtain provisional licences.”

He explained that the DVLA says there is a five-week wait for provisional licences, and highlighted the delays before the first payments are made when someone is transferred on to Universal Credit.

Carden added: “Continuing with this roll-out will leave many of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool Walton destitute by Christmas and I am therefore asking you to intervene as a matter of urgency.”

The secretary of state for work and pensions, responded despicably and oppressively, as follows:

However, it seems Rudd failed to bother checking her own government’s web site for advice and evidence.

When people apply for Universal Credit, they are asked to verify their identity online via the GOV.Verify service. 

To do so, you need either;

  • A valid UK driving license
  • A valid UK passport.

Of course this creates problems for those without the documents. Their Universal Credit claim cannot go ‘live’ without conforming to the ID verification framework. People generally can’t get an advance because their claim isn’t live. Once they’ve received their new ID document, (takes around 6-8 weeks usually), it’s then a further 5 weeks (at least) until their first Universal Credit payment.

According to the government web site, you can only apply for an advance on your first payment if you have already verified your identity.

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • verify your identity (you do this online when you submit your Universal Credit claim or at your first Jobcentre Plus interview)
  • provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account.)

It seems that the “terrific” job coaches are not applying rules consistently, leading to a post code lottery concerning the verification requirements for claims. 

The Verify framework:

 

The response from Rudd and other ministers has become a deplorable, standardised and authoritarian tactic of repressing legitimate criticism for the Conservatives, however. Other ministers who have habitually used the term ‘scaremonger’ as a gaslighting technique include Sarah Newton and David Gauke among others. 

Traditional Conservative prejudices about poverty: blame the victims

Gordon Henderson the Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey in Kent, has tried to argue that the move to Universal Credit was not responsible for a significant rise in the use of foodbanks.

He said that he had secured information from a local foodbank about claimants who had faced difficulties with Universal Credit, and he claimed he had ‘discovered’ that many of them were “living in a local hostel that provides temporary accommodation for homeless adults” conflating cause with effects as a matter of prejudice, ideological preference and despicable politcal expediency.

He went on that it “soon became obvious that some of them suffered from underlying problems that affected their ability to manage the transition to Universal Credit, and that forced them into using the food bank”, such as “drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, an inability to manage money, or plain fecklessness”.

It’s not possible to ‘manage’ no money, or amounts that are insufficient to meet basic survival needs. 

He added, disgracefully, that making Universal Credit perfect overnight would not “solve their mental health problems” and issues with drugs and alcohol and “would not make them less feckless” and that “they would still have the same problems, whatever benefits system was put in place”. 

He concluded that he was “glad” that such people were “in the minority” and appeared to suggest that those with mental health problems – and seemingly people with learning difficulties – were to blame for their difficulties with Universal Credit, after adding that there were also “some people who have genuine concerns”.

In 2014, Anglican bishops and the new Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster joined the Left to claim that a national crisis had driven half a million people to use food banks.

Deplorable right wing ideologue Simon Heffer said “Government ministers knew that was nonsense. The level of benefits is, they believe, sufficient to feed those who receive them.”

Yet a huge and growing amount of evidence says otherwise.

He continued: “Though Leftists cynically exploit the existence of food banks as proof that a Tory-led government has inflicted terrible hardship on the poor, there is a widespread belief that some people use them because they have chosen to spend their money, instead, on drink, tobacco, slot machines, tattoos or pornography. This leaves little cash to buy food.” Heffer was advocating the use of prepaid cards welfare cards, to restrict what people can spend their money on, to “incentivise them out of dependency and into work”. 

Exposing Conservative mythologies

them-and-us-640x300 (1)

One of the biggest myths that the Conservatives peddle is that of ‘intergenerational dependency on welfare’. However, only 0.3% of households have two generations that have not worked, according to studies of the Labour Force Survey.  The majority of these households included children who had only come out of education within the last five years and in a third of these households, the member of the younger generation had been out of work for less than a year. The Conservative folk devils created from the “longterm undeserving benefit claimant” sponger stereotype is very much exaggerated.  

Detailed research into what ordinary people think should go into a minimum household budget showed that actual out of work benefits are no way near as generous as some politicians would have you believe – and were actually well below the minimum level before the welfare cuts were implemented.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that while pensioners did receive 100% of what people think they need, a single adult of working age received just 40% of the weekly minimum and a couple with two children received just 62% of the weekly minimum. Those amounts have been further reduced because of the welfare caps, Universal Credit, bedroom tax and reductions in Emloyment and Support Allowance (ESA), council tax support, in a context of ever-rising living costs.   

The biggest part of social security spending – 53% – actually goes to pensioners. Overall, out-of-work benefits account for under a quarter of all welfare spending. Even excluding pensioners’ benefits, nearly half of welfare spending goes on benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, which helps disabled people (both in and out of work) with extra costs; Child Benefit and Tax Credits or Universal Credit to working families; and Statutory Maternity Pay. The majority of children and working age adults in poverty in the UK live in working, not “workless” households. 

Cuts to the social security budget are having a huge impact, and will continue to have an even bigger impact on those in work, especially the poorest families. 

Furthermore, the idea that social security spending has increased and is currently out of control is shown to be incorrect as spending in 2011-12 accounted for 10.4% of GDP, lower than an average of 11% in the mid-1980s and 12% in the mid 1990s. 

The commonly held public perceptions of large numbers of long-term social security claimants are incorrect as less than 10% of Job Seekers Allowance claimants claimed for more than one year. Moreover the majority of people claiming social security support are in work.

An interesting Conservative council’s report on Universal Credit: off the crib sheet 

Sedgemoor in Somerset has a Conservative district council.  Last year the council produced a report about the impact of Universal Credit, which was rolled out in 2016 in Somerset. The intention behind the report was to formally present the findings to the Department for Work and Pensions. 

The authors of the report say that although they support Universal Credit, they are concerned about the way in which the system is being rolled out.  They say that Sedgemoor District Council’s experiences mirror those of both Citizens Advice and Digilink, particularly in terms of the level of support required.

However, they also raised concerns around the administration of the scheme and the additional costs to local service providers. They maintain Universal Credit Telephone Records (and a sample of these are attached as Appendix B in the report).

Here is a list of some of the concerns expressed in the report, which contradict the Conservatives’ official line:

Inadequate support for most vulnerable in Society;
 Lack of understanding of the nature and often severity of some customers’ personal circumstances (see case study 6 on the report);
 Delay in receiving first payment and the need to budget carefully (case study 7);
 Rent element of UC not paid in the first instance and clients using the personal element on housing to stay in their homes until the ‘top-up’ is received;
 Additional work with tenants to prevent them going into arrears (and the additional cost of this to service providers);
 Some concerns that the administration of the virtual call centres around the country are failing, for example through providing inadequate answers and explanation, and these cases are being picked up by Citizens Advice and others;
 The policy of the scheme is set centrally and the delivery of the scheme is controlled  nationally, yet solutions on a local level are needed; 
 Specific issues with some customers unable to make an online application due to no computer/internet access or the skills to do so;
 Inadequate funding to support the scheme, e.g. the £6,000 for Digilink sessions;
 Lack of understanding and explanation of the scheme and the frustration this causes (case studies 8 and 9).

Other concerns raised were that the “DWP’s approach encourages all applicants to take responsibility for their own claim, which means that service providers cannot interact with the DWP without the client being present. Unfortunately, this does not take into account that many of the most vulnerable residents are not in a position to fully manage their own claim, for example, if they do not have the technological skills.”

Despite some Conservatives disgracefully attempting to link food bank use with individuals’ “fecklessness”, in the council’s report it says that the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks in Somerset, has reported nationally that benefit delays/changes remain the biggest cause of foodbank use, accounting for 42% of all referrals, up from about a third the previous year. Around 10,000 emergency food parcels were distributed in Somerset in 2015/16. Bridgwater has seen an increase in referrals in the last year.

The government claim that the social security system is designed to target and provide for those who need support. Yet the report above raises concerns that those most in need are not getting the support they need.

However, it is clear that Conservatives generally believe that many people needing support don’t ‘deserve’ it because of traditionally held Conservative prejudices about poor people. These prejudices are plainly evident in their narratives that justify punitive ‘behavioural change’ policies and the creation of a hostile environment to deter members of the public from accessing a public service that most of them have paid for via taxes and national insurance contributions. 


Related

Universal discredit


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Amber Rudd is either telling deplorable lies or she is disgracefully ignorant of her own department’s policies

Image result for amber rudd

People claiming Universal Credit have been told by the Department for Work and Pensions to apply for provisional driving licences to use as a form of ID, with the costs being taken from their benefits, an MP has said. 

Liverpool Walton MP, Dan Carden, called on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to postpone the roll-out of Universal Credit in his constituency until after Christmas and highlighted the issue with people having to pay out for a driving licence as one of many administrative problems with the new system.

In a letter to the secretary of state, Amber Rudd MP, Carden said: “We have families experiencing poverty on an unprecedented scale and now facing further avoidable hardship in the run up to Christmas. 

“I have now been informed that job centres across Liverpool are advancing payments to my constituents to obtain provisional driving licences for the purposes of identification and then deducting the cost from their benefits.

“Constituents are also having to pay for postal orders, passport photographs and postage, just to obtain provisional licences.”

He explained that the DVLA says there is a five-week wait for provisional licences, and highlighted the delays before the first payments are made when someone is transferred on to Universal Credit.

The controversial new benefit is claimed to simplify the system and it is being rolled out in many parts of Liverpool this week. Carden added: “Continuing with this roll-out will leave many of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool Walton destitute by Christmas and I am therefore asking you to intervene as a matter of urgency.”

In response to the letter, a DWP spokeswoman told Sky News: “Having ID is not a requirement for those making a Universal Credit claim but it does make the process easier.

“If customers don’t have any ID we can reimburse the cost if they choose to apply for a passport, driving licence or long birth certificates.”

Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for work and pensions, responded with a denial, as follows:

However, it seems Rudd failed to bother checking her own government’s web site for advice and evidence, which outlines how to claim Universal Credit.

Completely contradicting Rudd’s claims, it says on the government’s site:

Amber rudd lies 1

Amber rudd lies 2

So Rudd is either woefully ignorant of the policies that her own department is implementing, or she is telling lies. Either way, it’s utterly deplorable that she labelled the opposition ‘scaremongers’ for simply raising legitimate concerns about a cruel, unfit for purpose, out of touch policy. 

When people apply for Universal Credit they are asked to verify their identity online via the GOV.Verify service. 

To do so, you need either;

  • A valid UK driving license
  • A valid UK passport.

Of course this creates problems for those without the documents. The Universal Credit claim cannot go ‘live’ without conforming to the ID verification framework. People generally can’t get an advance because their claim isn’t live. Once they’ve received their new ID document, (takes around 6-8 weeks usually), it’s then a further 5 weeks (at least) until their first universal credit payment.

According to the government web site, you can only apply for an advance on your first payment if you have already verified your identity. It says:

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • verify your identity (you do this online when you submit your Universal Credit claim or at your first Jobcentre Plus interview)
  • provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account.)

It seems that the “terrific” job coaches are not applying rules consistently, leading to a post code lottery concerning the verification requirements for claims. 

The Verify framework:

This particular response from Rudd has become a deplorable, standardised and authoritarian tactic of repressing legitimate criticism for the Conservatives, however. Other Tory ministers who have habitually used the term ‘scaremonger’ as a gaslighting technique include Sarah Newton and David Gauke among others. 

Gaslighting is a persistent manipulation and attempted brainwashing technique where the abuser manipulates narratives and/or situations repeatedly in an attempt to trick people into distrusting their own perceptions and experiences. Gaslighting is an insidious form of psychological abuse. It is not the kind of behaviour that one would expect from a government minister in a democratic society.

This kind of being somewhat Conservative with the truth may also be seen as a technique of neutralisation.

These techniques are used to switch off the conscience of both the perpetrator and their audience when someone plans or has already done something that causes distress and  harm to others.

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by David Matza and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following psychological techniques by which, they believed, delinquents justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to justify” the Holocaust:

1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.

2. Denial of harm and injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.

3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. Or they may claim that there isn’t a victim.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, ‘scaremongering’ or they are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. 

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the ‘greater good’, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a social group/nation, or benefits to the economy/ social group/nation.

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez
added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman.

A process of social division, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudice may ultimately result in genocide.

Any one of these six techniques may serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice and aggression to the extent that when they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, discrimination, exclusion of citizens, hatred and ultimately, in genocide.

In accusing citizens and the opposition of ‘scaremongering’, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying  distress; denying the victims and condemning the condemners.

Meanwhile, for many of us, the government’s approach to social security has become cruel, random, controlling; an unremitting, Orwellian trial. However, no amount of gaslighting or authoritarian ministers using techniques of neutralisation will discredit or deter the growing number of witnesses, nor will those authoritarians negate the lived and collective experiences of those of us undergoing the trials within an intentionally created hostile environment.

 


 

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UN Rapporteur gathers evidence of the utter devastation caused by universal credit in Newcastle

UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, at the West End Foodbank in Newcastle

UN Rapporteur, Philip Alston, visited Newcastle. He has said it is not “an acceptable position” for the government to use foodbanks as a social safety net. 

Context

In July I reported that the United Nations extreme poverty and human rights Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, was to make an official visit to the UK. 

Alston is a Professor of Law at New York University, and he works in the field of international law and international human rights law. He has extensive experience as an independent UN human rights expert. He previously chaired the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for eight years (1991-98) and was United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions (2004-10).

His resume can be found here.

Some of the previous destinations for Alston have included Saudi Arabia, China, Ghana and Mauritania. He is currently visiting the UK, the sixth richest country in the world. His visit will focus, in accordance with his mandate, on the inverse relationship between poverty and human rights in the UK. 

Alston is set to spend twelve days in the UK visiting ten places. Yesterday he came to Newcastle. He is tasked with gathering evidence and Newcastle was the first city to introduce universal credit (UC ). The council says central government cuts and rising demand for services mean 60% has been taken from its spending capacity between 2010 and 2020. 

His itinerary is as follows:

alstons itinery

This is the third day of the fact-finding mission across the UK, and Alston met with council bosses in Newcastle and went to the country’s biggest foodbank to see first hand the impact of universal credit and the government’s swingeing cuts to local funding.

Newcastle was once a place of thriving industry, but now, more than a fifth of the city’s 270,000 population live in the most deprived 10% of wards in England and Wales in terms of income, work, education, health, housing and crime. One in five households have no one in them aged over 16 earning money and child poverty is 50% higher than the national average, according to a briefing complied by the council for Alston.

Alston examined the impact of austerity in the city and spoke with struggling residents. During a visit to Newcastle’s West End foodbank, Philip Alston said the foodbank’s users were “under a huge amount of pressure”. Despite the government’s claim that it had lifted hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty and into work, Alston said foodbanks play “a really crucial role… a real safety net so that [people] don’t quite starve”.

He added it was unacceptable, however, and said it should be the government that provides the safety net.

“To the extent that places like this succeed, you risk sending the message that government doesn’t need to play the central role and government can just outsource these things,” he said.

It cannot “just hope that a private community is going to take it up and keep people alive.” 

He added: “People feel that they have all got problems of one kind or another that brings them here, and they have a fairly shared experience in the sense that the funds that they get out of Universal Credit are not sufficient to enable them to cope.

“So the foodbank plays a really crucial role in the sense of providing that extra top up, that real safety net so that they don’t quite starve. That is very important”.  

A sample of citizen accounts outlining their harrowing experiences of universal credit

Among the foodbank users he spoke to were Denise Hunter and her son Michael, from Fenham.

The West End Foodbank in Benwell


The West End Foodbank in Benwell
 (Image courtesy of the Newcastle Chronicle)

The family use the foodbank every Wednesday and said that problems with their universal credit payments had left them struggling to survive, and fearful of the financial cost of doing basic things like boiling a kettle.

Mrs Hunter said:  “I’ve now waited for months and months for universal credit.

“Without these people here, with the free meal and everything, I couldn’t live,” she said.

Her 20-year-old son, Michael, said the controversial benefit, universal credit, had “tipped us over the edge” and said that he regularly goes hungry.

“We’ve been living where we’re to turn the heating on because it eats electric or, if you turn the oven on for cooking and have it on too long, we can’t pay the bill,” he said.

“If it wasn’t for this place I don’t know what would happen.

“If they sorted out universal credit then people would not have to come here. It makes me feel low coming here, like I can’t support my children. Sometimes I do get depressed about that.” 

Her 20-year-old son added that universal credit had “tipped us over the edge” and that he regularly goes hungry. He said “I’m scared to eat sometimes in case we run out of food.”

People on universal credit have to go online to keep their financial lifeline open, but computers need electricity – and with universal credit leaving a £465 monthly budget to stretch across the three people in Michael’s family (about £5 each a day), they can barely afford it on metered electricity. He said “I have to be quick doing my universal credit because I am that scared of losing the electric.” 

John McCorry, West End Foodbank chief executive, said that the true scale of poverty in Newcastle is “hidden” and that universal credit has “undoubtedly” had an impact.

He added: “Our wish is that the people with the power to influence and make decisions take the opportunity to see first hand what the UN delegation has, and perhaps that might shape their thinking about the future.”

Alston said: “I think the work being done here is unbelievably impressive, the people are clearly very dedicated. They have a large number of people coming in on a regular basis and, certainly in the conversations I had, people have expressed great gratitude not just for the food but what impressed me is that they see this as a community centre.

“I think one of the issues in England is the extent to which many of the places in which people used to meet together are being closed down. Places like this end up filling part of the need.”

The West End foodbank feeds about 42,000 people every year and has been giving out about 20% more food than six months ago, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The Hunters’ family’s account was just one of a long list of stark insights into life in absolute poverty delivered by the people of Newcastle to Alston during his trip to uncover what austerity is doing to the people of the UK and “to investigate government efforts to eradicate poverty”.

It is highly likely that Alston will report that the UK government is far from doing enough to meet its obligations. In 1976 the UK ratified the UN covenant on economic, social and cultural rights and in doing so, agreed that policy changes in times of economic crisis must not be discriminatory, must mitigate, not increase, inequalities and that disadvantaged groups of people must not be disproportionately affected.

The government has not honoured that agreement. 

Tracey Whitenstall, a mother of three, said that because of a 10-week delay in getting universal credit payments, she couldn’t afford her son’s bus fare and lunch money and so didn’t send him to school for several weeks as he was preparing for his GSCEs. As a result his grades slipped.

“It was the worst, him missing out on education,” she said, in tears. 

At Citizens Advice in the city centre Alston met Sharon Morton, who hasn’t had hot water or heating for a year. She washes in a way to minimise spending on boiled water. “I wash in what I call a birdbath – a little hot water in a basin and have a spruce down,” she said. 

She added “To keep warm I wrap up in layers and layers. I never thought I would be 48 and in this position.”

Thushara Chandrasiri, who has a disabled right hand said he was told by a disability benefits assessor that he could now work and was refused benefits.

“What I found disgusting was that when I said I had the condition a long time, they said you should be used to it by now,” he said. “Because I am right handed they said ‘you’ve got a left hand, use it’.”

The dehumanisation of DWP decision-making

Alston heard citizens’ accounts about the distress, serious material hardships and frustration of dealing with the universal credit syste. He heard how messages they post on online journals take days to be answered. People explained how an anonymous figure, known only as “the decision maker” was often cited in correspondence, but they never knew who this was. 

That sounds like a weirdly anonymised form of totalitarianism. Like the oprichniki of Ivan the Terrible. It’s a strategy of psychological terrorism and boot-stamping-on-a-human-face-forever type of unaccountability, which belongs in a dystopian novel about a collapsing society and a regime of extremist despots. It reminds me of the Milgram experiment, but with real starvation instead of fake electric shocks as the centrepiece of the study of conformity and obedience to authority. 

Outside of the food bank, which featured in Ken Loach’s film about austerity, I, Daniel Blake, Alston said: “When you have rates of maybe a third of children living in poverty and you have a food bank clientele at a place like this that is growing and growing and growing, you have issues here. Is the situation in the UK as good as it could be?”

The Labour leader of the city council, Nick Forbes, also briefed Alston, expressing his anger at cuts and the “pain and misery” of universal credit.

“We had people coming to us who hadn’t eaten for several days,” he said. “It angers me beyond belief that the government has simply failed to listen to warnings that are supposed to come from a pilot [study].”

In Newcastle, universal credit has caused a huge increase in demand for short-term help to pay rent and electricity, the council says. The council’s emergency housing payments budget – £100,000 in 2012 – is expected to hit £1m this year. The number of people needing emergency money for power is running at a rate 30 times higher than in 2016, before the rollout of UC began in earnest.

Alston drove to North Shields and spoke to residents at the Meadow Well estate, scene of riots in 1991 driven in part by poverty. Things had improved since then, but are getting worse again now, he heard.

Some people have to work five zero-hours jobs to make ends meet, said Phil McGrath, chief executive of the Cedarwood Trust community centre. The trust is encouraging residents to engage in local and national politics to have their voice heard. It is paying off with some people who have never voted turning out at the last general election, he said.

A former colleague of mine, Mike Burgess, who runs the Phoenix Detached Youth Project, told Alston how 18 publicly funded youth workers in the area in 2011 had dwindled to zero today. He described how a young man he worked with was in hospital for months after having a kidney removed. The jobcentre said he had to get back to work or face being sanctioned. He went to work in pain, but his employer realised he was not fit for work.

“There’s no safety net for my lad or people with mental health problems,” he said.

And that is the hidden cost facing many at the sharpest end of austerity in Newcastle.

“In the last two or three weeks we have seen a massive increase in numbers of people with mental health issues and people with breakdown,” said McGrath, blaming benefit sanctions and a lack of social and mental health workers to catch people. “People are just being ground down.”

In response to Alston’s visit the Department for Work and Pensions said, with a gaslighting flourish, that the UK government was “committed to upholding the rule of law and rules-based international systems” and insisted that on an absolute measure of poverty, “a million fewer people and children were living in hardship compared with 2010.”

When a government imposes austerity on the poorest citizens, further reducing the income of people already on the lowest incomes, it isn’t possible that they would somehow become better off.

No matter how many inadequate jobs the government claims it has created.

People in work are experiencing absolute poverty, because wages have stagnated and people are coerced by the state to take any employment available, regardless of conditions, security and wage. By reducing welfare to the point where it no longer meets people’s basic living needs, the government are fulfiling an ideological preference for supply side economics, creating a desperate reserve army of labour, which employers may exploit, which serves to push wages down further.

Now that’s a ‘poverty trap’ and ‘perverse incentives’ in action.

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Concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people in update report to UNCRPD

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Yesterday I wrote an article about the government’s shameful lack of progress on disability rights in the UK. I discussed the details of a new report and the recommendations made by the UK Independent Mechanism update report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This is a summary of some key concerns that I only touched on in my original write up, and it also focuses on one of the important themes that emerged in the report: the potential impact of Brexit on disabled people’s rights. 

The new report and submission to the UNCRPD – UK Independent Mechanism update report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (published October 2018) – provides an independent assessment of the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM) on the “disappointing” lack of progress by the UK governments to implement the UN’s recommendations since August 2017. 

A year on, there is still no comprehensive UK-wide strategy demonstrating how the UK will implement the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. There has also been “continued reluctance” from the UK Government to accept the conclusions of the CRPD Committee’s inquiry report on the impact of the UK Government’s policies on the rights of disabled people. 

Disabled people across the UK continue to face serious regression of their rights to an adequate standard of living and social protection, to live independently and to be included in the community. UKIM has reiterated that the grave and systematic violations identified by the CRPD Committee need to be addressed as a matter of urgency and that the overall approach of the UK Government towards social security protection requires a complete overhaul, so that it is informed by human rights frameworks, standards and principles, to ensure disabled people’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Despite the empirical evidence presented from a variety of researchers and the UN investigation concerning the significantly adverse effect of welfare reform on disabled people’s rights to independent living and to an adequate standard of living and social  security, the UK Government has failed to act on this evidence and to implement the CRPD Committee’s recommendations regarding these rights.

The authors of the report remain seriously concerned about the continued failure of the UK Government to conduct an assessment of the cumulative impact on disabled people  of multiple policy, cuts and law reforms in relation to living standards and social security. 

In the section about prejudice and negative attitudes, the report also cites a shameful example of rhetoric from the government that has potentially reinforced negative attitudes and the stigma surrounding mental health and disability: “This includes the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, stating before a Committee of the UK Parliament: ‘It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.’

Many people understood this statement as indicating that the increase in disabled people in employment is partly responsible for the UK’s decreasing productivity.”

The report also says that employment rates for disabled people have actually risen only very marginally.  

Conservative prejudice is embedded in social security policy and administration

The UKIM report says that government has not taken appropriate measures to combat negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including the government’s own claims that ‘dependency’ on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment. This is important because it shows just how embedded Conservative prejudice is in policies and within our social security administration.

The idea that welfare somehow creates the problems it was designed to alleviate, such as poverty and inequality, has become almost ‘common sense’ and because of that, it’s a narrative that remains largely unchallenged. Yet international research has shown that generous welfare provision leads to more, better quality and sustainable employment. 

Moreover, this ideological position has been used politically as a justification to reduce social security provision so that it is no longer an adequate amount to meet citizens’ basic living needs. The aim is to discredit the welfare system itself, along with those needing its support. The government have long wished to replace the publicly funded social security provision ultimately with mandatory private insurance schemes.

The idea that welfare creates ‘dependency’ and ‘disincentivises’ work has been used as a justification for the introduction of cuts and an extremely punitive regime entailing ‘conditionality’ and sanctions. The governenment have selectively used punitive behavioural modification elements of behavioural economics theory and its discredited behaviourist language of ‘incentives’ to steadily withdraw publicly funded social security provision.

However, most of the public have already contributed to social security, those needing support tend to move in and out of work. Very few people remain out of work on a permanent basis. The Conservatives have created a corrosive and divisive myth that there are two discrete groups in society: tax payers and ‘scroungers’ – a class of economic free riders. This of course is not true, since people claiming welfare support also pay taxes, such as VAT and council tax, and most have already worked and will work again, given the opportunity to do so. For those who are too ill to work, as a so-called civilise society, we should not hesitate to support them.

In the recommendations, the authors say the government should implement broad mass media campaigns, in consultation with organisations representing persons with disabilities, particularly those affected by the welfare reform, to promote them as full rights holders, in accordance with the Convention; and adopt measures to address complaints of harassment and hate crime by persons with disabilities, promptly investigate those allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable and provide fair and appropriate compensation to victims.

As a society we take tend to take human rights for granted. We seldom think about rights because much of the time, there is no need to. It’s not until we directly experience discrimination and oppression that we recognise the value of having a universal human rights framework. Our rights define the relationship between citizen and state, and ensure that there is no abuse of power. However, we no longer have equal access to justice and redress for human rights breaches and discrimination. 

The high demand for advice on disability benefits since the government’s welfare reform means that the almost complete removal of welfare benefits from the scope of legal aid has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people or those with a long-term health condition.

People entitled to disability benefits relied on legal aid to support appeals of incorrect decisions and to provide a valuable check on decision-making concerning eligibility for welfare support. The revisions to the financial eligibility criteria for legal aid have had a disproportionate impact on various groups including disabled people, women, children and migrants. This is because of the restrictions that the government placed on legal aid accessibility with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

There has been a 99% decrease in support provided by the Legal Aid Agency for clients with disability-related welfare benefits issues, compared with pre-LASPO levels, and the total number of such claims has plummeted from 29,801 in 2011/12 to 308 in 2016/17.

The government has failed to ensure access to justice, removing appropriate legal advice and support, including through reasonable and procedural accommodation for disabled people seeking redress and reparation for the violation of their rights, as covered in the  report.

It’s difficult to imagine that this wasn’t a coordinated effort on the part of the government to restrict citizen freedoms, support and access to justice for precisely those who need justice and remedies the most.

Human rights don’t often seem as though they matter, until they do. But by then, it may be too late. 

Concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people

In 2016, I wrote an article about concerns raised regarding the rights of disabled people following Brexit. Earlier this year, I wrote another article about my concerns that the European fundamental rights charter was excluded in the European Union (EU) withdrawal Bill, including protection from eugenic policy.

The result of the EU referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, and forthcoming withdrawal, carries some obvious and very worrying implications for the protection of citizens rights and freedoms in the UK. Historically the UK Conservative government has strongly opposed much of Europe’s social rights agenda.

So it was very concerning that the House of Commons voted down a Labour amendment to ensure that our basic human rights are protected after Brexit, as set out in the European Union Charter. 

The EU Withdrawal Bill threatened to significantly reduce existing human rights protections. It excluded both the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (in its entirety) and the right of action for violations of EU General Principles from domestic law after the UK’s withdrawal. It also handed sweeping powers to ministers to alter legislation without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, placing current rights and equality laws at risk.

Worryingly, Suella Fernandes, who was promoted to the Brexit department earlier this year warned in November last year that transposing the ‘flabby’ charter into British law would give UK citizens additional protections on issues such as “biomedicine, eugenics, personal data and collective bargaining.”

However, the very fact that anyone at all in government objects to retaining these fundamental rights and protections indicates that we do very clearly need them.

It should be inconceivable that a democratic legislature would vote to take away citizens rights. The regressive step means the loss of the Charter goes rights that simply don’t exist in the Human Rights Act or in our common law. Gone is the enforceable right to human dignity. Gone are our rights to data protection, comprehensive protection for the rights of the child, a free-standing right to non-discrimination, protection of a child’s best interests and the right to human dignity, refugee rights, the right to conscientious objection, academic freedom and wide-ranging fair trial rights to name but a few. Then there are the losses of economic and social rights. Gone too, are the right to a private life, freedom of speech, equality provisions and employment rights governing how workers are treated. These are all laws that protect us all from abuses of power. 

A group of more than 20 organisations and human rights legal experts, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, signed an open letter on the importance of the Charter of Fundamental Rights ahead of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill returning to Parliament on 16 January this year. The letter was published in the Observer.

Trevor Tayleur, an associate professor at the University of Law, explained that the charter, although narrower in focus than the Human Rights Act, offers a far more robust defence of fundamental rights.

“At present, the main means of protecting human rights in the UK is the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) ,” he said. “This incorporates the bulk of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the European convention on human rights into UK law and thereby enables individuals to enforce their convention rights in the UK courts. However, there is a significant limitation to the protection afforded by the HRA because it does not override acts of parliament.

“In contrast, the protection afforded by the EU charter of fundamental rights is much stronger because where there is a conflict between basic rights contained in the charter and an act of the Westminster parliament, the charter will prevail over the act.” 

Under the HRA, only an individual who is a “victim” of a rights violation can bring a claim, whereas anyone with “sufficient interest” can apply for judicial review based on the Charter (see this briefing at p 11)

In their report, UKIM say:  “There are fears that the significant uncertainty in relation to Brexit will lead to a further deterioration of disabled people’s rights.

“The lack of a devolved government in Northern Ireland is also a specific concern to that jurisdiction, because it is significantly inhibiting the relevant departments from taking the required steps. Without a clear and coordinated plan for how the UK and devolved governments will address the UN recommendations systematically, the limited steps taken so far are unlikely to be enough to address the concerns raised by the CRPD Committee.”

The report goes on to say: “Following the European Union (EU) referendum in June 2016, there continues to be significant uncertainty regarding the future applicability of  existing human rights protections in the UK that derive from EU law. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was excluded from the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, meaning that from ‘exit day’ it will no longer apply in domestic law. 

“As a result, domestic protections are more vulnerable to repeal. The Charter goes further than the non-discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010 or the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 26 of the Charter, in particular, is a useful interpretive tool to support disabled people’s right to independence and integration and participation in the community. 

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 also leaves human rights protections at risk of being changed through the use of wide-ranging delegated powers. This means that changes to fundamental rights currently protected by EU law can be made by ministers through secondary legislation [statutory instruments, usually reserved for ‘non-controversial policy amendments] without being subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.

The EU is itself a party to the CRPD. Under EU law, international treaties to which the EU is party have a different status than they do under UK law. For example, EU law (unlike UK law) must be interpreted consistently with the CRPD. To ensure there is no regression, and that disabled people in the UK benefit from future progress driven by the CRPD, the UK Government should ensure these protections are incorporated into UK law, for example by giving enhanced status to the CRPD. 

The Conservatives have used secondary legslation to try and quietly push through several very controversial policies over recent years, such as £4bn-worth of cuts to family tax credits, and the removal of maintenance grants from around half a million of the poorest students in England. The changes mainly hit disabled, ethnic minority and older students.

The government have introduced swathes of significant new laws covering everything from fracking to fox hunting and benefit cuts without debate and scrutiny on the floor of the House of Commons. Many of these policies were not included in the Conservatives’ election manifesto and were nodded through by obscure Commons committees without the substance of the change being debated.

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After the House of Lords successfully challenged the tax credit instrument, the Government then proposed limiting peers rights to reject statutory instruments. This would mean if one was rejected by the Lords, the ministers would simply have to retable it and it would pass automatically.  All of this should be seen alongside other Conservative proposals – including limits on freedom of information, changes to constituency boundaries and electoral registration, attempts to choke the opposition of funding within the Trade Union Bill, and the Lobbying Act. 

In light of this repressive pattern of behaviour, you could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve entered the realms of constitutional gerrymandering, with an authoritarian executive waging war on the institutions that hold them to account. With its fear of opposition and loathing of challenge, the government wants to stifle debate, shut down opposition and block proper scruting and democratic accountability. 

It is within this authoritarian political context that many of us have raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled citizens.

I’m always concerned that language use sometimes reinforces prejudices against disabled people by focusing on us as a group as ‘vulnerable’ and as ‘those in need’, as opposed to citizens and rights holders. However, grave and systematic violations of disabled peoples’ human right inevitably increases our vulnerability to further political abuse. 

The Yogyakarta Principles, one of the international human rights instruments use the term “vulnerability” as such potential to abuse and/or social and economic exclusion. Social vulnerability is created through the interaction of social forces and multiple “stressors”, and resolved through social (as opposed to individual) means. 

Social vulnerability is the product of social inequalities. It arises through social, cultural, political and economic processes. 

While some individuals within a socially vulnerable context may break free from the hierarchical order, social vulnerability itself persists because of structural – social, cultural economical and political – influences that continue to reinforce vulnerability. Some campaigners are very critical of the use of the word ‘vulnerability’, because they feel it leads to attitudes and perceptions of disabled people as passive victims

Since 2010, no social group has organised, campaigned and protested more than disabled people. Many of us have lived through harrowing times under this government and the last, when our very existence has become so precarious because of targeted and cruel Conservative policies and disproportionate cuts to our lifeline support. Yet we have remained strong.in our resolve. Despite this, some of our dear friends and comrades  have been tragically lost – they have not survived, yet many of them were very strong in their resolve to challenge discrimination and oppression.

In one of the wealthiest democratic nations on earth, no group of people should have to fight for their survival. Vulnerability is rather more about the potential for some social groups being subjected to political abuse than it is about individual qualities. Disabled people currently  are and have been. This is empirically verified by the report and conclusions drawn from the United Nations inquiry into the grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights here in the UK, by a so-called democratic government. 

The government’s ‘paternalism’ is authoritarian gaslighting

Over recent years, Conservative policies have become increasingly ‘paternalist’, also reflecting the authoritarian turn, in that they are designed to act upon us, to ‘change’ our behaviours through the use of negative reinforcement (‘incentives’), while we are completely excluded from policy design and aims. Our behaviours are being aligned with neoliberal outcomes, conflating our needs and interests with the private financial profit of the powerful. 

As one of the instigators of the United Nations investigation, to which I regularly submitted evidence regarding the government’s systematic violations of the human rights of disabled people, and as a person with disability, I don’t care for being  described by Damian Green as “patronising” or being told that disabled people – the witnesses of the investigation – presented an “outdated view” of disability in the UK. This is a government minister attempting to discredit and re-write our accounts and experiences while ignoring the empirical evidence we have presented. Such actions are profoundly oppressive.

The only opportunity disabled people have been presented with to effectively express our fears, experiences and concerns about increasingly punitive and discriminatory policies, to voice a democratic opinion more generally and to be heard, has been in dialogue with an international human rights organisation, and still this government refuse to hear what we have to say. Nor are we consulted with, democratically included or invited to participate in the executive’s decision-making that directly affects us. As UKIM note: 

“There is a continued lack of action from the UK and devolved governments on the CRPD Committee’s recommendations. This includes setting up systems that will  ensure that disabled people and their organisations are involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of legislation, policy or programmes that affect their lives. It remains unclear how the new Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society will work with disabled people and their organisations, and UKIM, to promote and monitor implementation of UN CRPD. 

“It is particularly concerning that the UN CRPD’s requirement to effectively involve disabled people and their organisations is not specifically reflected in the inter-ministerial group’s terms of reference. Nor do the terms of reference refer to the CRPD or the CRPD Committee’s recommendations.”

Oppression always involves the objectification of those being dominated; all forms of oppression imply the devaluation of the subjectivity and experiences of the oppressed.

This is very evident in the government’s approach to designing policies that act upon us.  The government has consistently failed to actively consult, engage with and include disabled people, our representative organisations and give due consideration to our views in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of any legislation, policy or programme action related to our rights. Furthermore, the current Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton, has refused to meet with disabled people and allied organisations. (See also I’m a disabled person and Sarah Newton is an outrageous, gaslighting liar.)

Last year, Theresia Degener, who leads the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), said the UK Government has “totally neglected” disabled people, during a two day meeting with UK government officials in Geneva.

Degener told them: “Evidence before us now and in our inquiry procedure as published in our 2016 report reveals that social cut policies have led to a human catastrophe in your country, totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in.” 

The Government’s welfare cuts have resulted in “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people – a claim opposed by ministers but supported by UK courts.

For example, Judges have ruled that three of the government’s flagship welfare policies are illegal because of the impact they have on disabled people and single parents. In January 2016, the Court of Appeal declared the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ unlawful because of its consequences for disabled children, as well as victims of domestic violence. 

Sanctions imposed on people who refused to or could not take part in the Department for Work and Pension’s ‘back to work’ schemes were also thrown out by Court of Appeal judges in April 2016. In June 2017 the High Court said the government’s benefit cap is unlawful and causes “real misery for no good purpose”.  This year, a High Court ruling found that the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) policy had discriminated against people with mental health conditions. 

Between 2011 and 2017 the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) underpaid more than £450,000,000 in means-tested benefits, due to its mishandling of the process by which claimants were moved from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance.

When announcing its plans to remedy those underpayments on 14th December 2017, the DWP claimed the law ‘barred’ it from paying claimants any underpayments arising before 21st October 2014. That would have had two serious effects: first, up to £150,000,000 of the underpaid benefit would have been kept by the Government instead of passed to citizens who were deprived of it through no fault of their own; and second, any arrears which were paid to disabled people could after 52 weeks have been treated as ‘capital’, and reduced or stopped their ongoing entitlement to benefit.

In March 2018 the Child Poverty Action Group, acting for one affected claimant, brought judicial review proceedings in R (Smith) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions JR/1249/2018 arguing that the DWP’s position was unlawful. The DWP accepted that it ‘got the law wrong’. The DWP said it will now start making those payments. It was necessary to take legal action against the Government because it said it had no legal power to fully remedy the consequences of a major error it had made in transferring claimants from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance.

Ministers have also accused by the UN of misleading the public about the impact of Government policies by refusing to answer questions and using statistics in an “unclear way.”

Gaslighting.

The CRPD Committee has requested that the State party (the government) disseminate the concluding observations of their inquiry widely, including to non-governmental organisations and organisations of persons with disabilities, and to disabled people themselves and members of their families, in national and minority languages, including sign language, and in accessible formats, including Easy Read, and to make them available on the government website on human rights. 

That hasn’t happened and is unlikely to do so in the future. So please do share this article, The government’s shameful lack of progress on disability rights in the UK – new report update and submission to the UNCRPD Committee, and the UKIM update and shadow report widely.

 

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The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Esther Mcvey forced to apologise for being conservative with the truth

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In my previous article, I discussed the outrageous responses that the Department for Work and Pensions minister and petty tyrant, Sarah Newton presented to Shadow Disabilities Minister Marsha De Cordova, who had once again raised the fact that the United Nations (UN) had found “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights” in the UK.

The Labour MP also said yesterday in parliament: “This government’s policies have created a hostile environment causing grave violations on disabled people.”

Newton responded to these serious and valid concerns by an act of scandalised denial, outrage, vindictiveness, blaming the messengers, telling lies and by using gaslighting tactics.

Gaslighting is an intentional, malicious and hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to manipulate others, creating self-doubt and insecurity. Its aim is to redesign and edit people’s experiences and accounts of reality, replacing them with someone’s own preferred and more convenient version, by persistently altering the perceptions of others, to confuse and disorientate them. Like all abuse, it’s based on the need for power, control, and very often, concealment. It’s far more damaging than simply lying, because it is intended to control, hurt and silence others. It’s a strategy very commonly used by psychopaths, bullies, despots and the Conservatives to ensure they get their own way. 

The government often use doublespeak – language shifts entailing words such as “reform”, “fair”, “support” and “help”- to disguise the horrible impacts of their extraordinarily draconian welfare policies and austerity programme, and to divert public attention. People who object to the harms that Conservative policies cause are told they are “scaremongering”. This is a form of gaslighting. It indicates that the government have no intention of changing their punitive policy approach or remedying the harms and distress they have caused.

The Conservatives have shown very strong tendencies towards socially illiberal and authoritarian attitudes over the past seven years. Furthermore, they aren’t exactly a party that designs policies to bring delight to the majority of ordinary citizens. Ministers regularly use a form of Orwellian Torysplaining and scapegoating to attempt to discredit and invalidate citizens’ experiences of increasing economic hardships and vulnerability  – particularly those of marginalised groups – caused directly by punitive Conservative policies. This is certainly an abuse of political power.

The Conservatives have a long track record of determined authoritarianism and telling lies. See for example A list of official rebukes for Tory lies and Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms.

Today, cabinet minister and creature of habit, Esther McVey was rebuked for telling lies ‘misrepresenting’ the National Audit Office’s (NAO) very critical report on the roll-out of Universal Credit with a series of ‘inaccurate’ claims to MPs. The NAO is the government’s spending watchdog.

The NAO took the highly unusual step after the work and pensions secretary dismissed the catalogue of failings outlined by auditors last month in their report into the government’s flagship welfare programme.

In his open letter to McVey, which is likely to raise questions about her future as a cabinet minister, the Auditor General, Sir Amyas Morse, said that elements of her statement to Parliament on the report were lies “incorrect and unproven.”

He said it was “odd” that McVey told MPs that the NAO did not take into account recent changes in the administration of universal credit, when the report had in fact been “fully agreed” with senior officials at the Department for Work and Pensions only days earlier. 

Sir Amyas added that McVey’s claim that the NAO was concerned that Universal Credit was rolling out too slowly was “not correct”. 

The NAO report concluded that the new system – being gradually introduced to replace a number of benefits – was “not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven”.  

The authors of the report also accused the government of not showing sufficient sensitivity towards some claimants and failing to monitor how many are having problems with the programme, or have suffered hardship.

In his letter, Sir Amyas told McVey: “Our report was fully agreed with senior officials in your Department. It is based on the most accurate and up-to-date information from your Department. Your Department confirmed this to me in writing on Wednesday June 6 and we then reached final agreement on the report on Friday June 8.

“Her assurance, in response to the report, that Universal Credit was working was also “not proven.” 

He continued: “It is odd that by Friday June 15 you felt able to say that the NAO ‘did not take into account the impact of our recent changes’.  

You reiterated these statements on July 2 but we have seen no evidence of such impacts nor fresh information.”

Sir Amyas added: “Your statement on July 2 that the NAO was concerned Universal Credit is currently ‘rolling out too slowly’ and needs to ‘continue at a faster rate’ is also not correct.”

And he told McVey: “Your statement in response to my report, claiming that Universal Credit is working, has not been proven. 

“The Department has not measured how many Universal Credit claimants are having difficulties and hardship. What we do know from the Department’s surveys is that although 83% of claimants responding said they were satisfied with the Department’s customer service, 40% of them said they were experiencing financial difficulties and 25% said they couldn’t make an online claim.

“We also know that 20% of claimants are not paid in full on time and that the Department cannot measure the exact number of additional people in employment as a result of Universal Credit.”

The Auditor General said that he had written to McVey on June 27 asking for a meeting to discuss her comments, and was publishing his open letter “reluctantly” because he had not yet been able to see her. McVey has a history of showing disdain for democractic norms and the protocols and mechanisms of transparency and accountability.

Now the Work and Pensions Secretary is facing calls to resign, after admitting that she had told lies “inadvertently misled” parliament. 

You can hear her full statement here. She doesn’t look appropriately humble, sincere or ashamed, however: 

Related

I’m a disabled person and Sarah Newton is an outrageous, gaslighting liar

 


 

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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I’m a disabled person and Sarah Newton is an outrageous, gaslighting liar

Last year I wrote an article about how the social security system in the UK has been re-structured around “ordeals”, which were introduced by the Conservative government in order to discipline and “disincentivise” citizens from claiming welfare support.  The government’s aim is to ‘deter’ a ‘culture of dependency’ (a debunked myth) by undermining any sense of security people may have of fulfilling their most basic needs.  Welfare support is extremely conditional, precarious and punitive, because it is founded on traditional Conservative prejudices about poor people. 

Ordeals are intrinsic to a system of punishment that the draconian Conservatives claim will “change the behaviours” of underpaid, unemployed and disabled people. By creating a hostile environment, the government are somehow claiming that it’s possible to simply punish people out of having basic needs.  If employment were genuinely ‘the route out of poverty’, as the government claim, why is it that most people who need social security support are in work?

Then there are the additional concerns about how the government treats those citizens who are too ill to work. The Conservatives simply refuse to believe them or their doctors.

Yesterday in parliament, the Shadow Disabilities Minister Marsha De Cordova again raised the fact that the United Nations (UN) had found “grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights” in the UK.

The Labour MP added yesterday in parliament: “This government’s policies have created a hostile environment causing grave violations on disabled people.”

The entire assessment process has established a system marked by assuming disabled people are somehow faking their disability or illness. It’s a case of “remove people’s support first, they can appeal later”. Once they have got through mandatory review and struggling without any income, that is. (To date, two-thirds of appeals are won by claimants. This is despite the legal aid cuts, which mean disabled people appealing their rejectionfor support are denied any legal support in a staggering 99% of cases.)

Outrageously, Newton said it’s “not true” that disabled people face a hostile environment.” She also asked the opposition not to say “things” that they “know are not true”.


Basically Newton was inviting the Labour party to collaborate in gaslighting disabled people, as well as attempting to stifle genuine concerns, democratic dialogue and avoid any democratic accountability whatosever. Absolutely shameful, authoritarian behaviour. 

The United Nations (UN) and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission have already verified the truth of these statements, presented by Labour shadow ministers, disability charities and disabled people. 

However, the Conservatives have a track record of denying empirical findings that don’t match their ideological expectations. They simply deny and dismiss any criticism of their prejudiced and discriminatory policies. Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary at the time of the UN inquiry report, famously claimed that cuts to support for disabled people did “not necessarily mean worse outcomes.” 

If the Conservatives genuinely believed that were true, they wouldn’t have such a problem in ensuring very wealthy people paid a fair amount of tax more generally. Apparently, money matters only to the rich. Cuts to their income must be avoided at all costs. And it does cost some of society’s most marginalised citizens, leaving us vulnerable. 

Those in the work-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) group have already seen their support brutally cut to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. Personal Independent Payment (PIP) was introduced to cut costs, too.

The fact that disabled people are also dying after losing their benefits is continually ignored, often dismissed by the government as ‘anecdotal evidence’, which does not ‘demonstrate a ‘causal link’ between the death and government policy”. 

My own experiences of the Conservatives hostile environment

As a disabled person who has gone through three ESA assessments, and more recently, a PIP assessment, a mandatory review and tribunal, I can verify that the Conservatives’ policies have created a hostile and harmful environment for disabled people. When I went through the ESA assessment in 2011, I was already gravely ill with a severe lupus flare. I was forced to leave a job I loved in 2010.

By then I had worked with the illness as long as I possibly could. I became ill with lupus in 1998. The illness is chronic, progressive and is characterised by periods of acute illness, followed by periods of relative remission. Each flare generally imposes an increasing amount of damage to joints, nerves, tendons, organs and blood cells, as the disease progresses, causing myriad symptoms that vary over time, and from person to person. 

Unbelievably, despite being so ill, I scored zero points at the assessment and the stress of having to fight for a means to live exacerbated my illness. I won an appeal nine months later. In the meantime I was placed on a work programme that I couldn’t possibly undertake. The disability advisor I saw at the job centre told me she could see I was unfit for work.

Just three months following the appeal, I was told I must attend another assessment. By this time I was so poorly that I collapsed at the interview. The Atos doctor told me I should never have been sent for another assessment. I was on chemotherapy treatment at the time, which ought to have exempted me, as should the tribunal outcome just a couple of months previously. The initial Atos report, presented to the court, was clearly about someone else’s life and conditions. The tribunal said that working would place me at unacceptable risk. 

I also ensured the assessment was recorded the second time, so little was my trust of the fairness and rationality of the process. Or the honesty and integrity of Atos’s ‘health care professionals’. At the second assessment, I saw a doctor, who sent me home in a taxi, Atos actually paid for it. He also recommended that I was placed in the Support Group.

It was two years before my treatment stopped the aggressive advance of my illness, which also leaves a wake of progressive damage to bones, joints, tendons, nerves, blood cells, major organs and my immune system – causing further disability. My rheumatologist is sure the severe stress of assessment and appeal, coupled with the financial hardship I experienced, exacerbated my flare. By 2013 I was still very frail, and weighed less than eight stones, despite feeling less acutely ill.

The experience was so distressing for me that I could not face going through a PIP assessment, despite the fact that I needed the additional support. I put off claiming until last year, when I needed aids and appliances in my home just to manage day-to-day tasks like taking a shower and cooking. The occupational therapist from my local council helped me with my claim. By this time I desperately needed the additional support.

The PIP assessment was dehumanising and degrading and the ‘examination’ included movements that left me in a lot of severe pain, reducing my mobility further, substantially. Some of my joints were badly swollen by the evening, following my appointment, including both shoulders and knees. I was asked to do movements I wasn’t familiar with, and it isn’t until you try them that you find you cannot actually bend or reach that way. The movements were also done in quick succession. I was trembling with the effort and complained I was in pain. When I refused to do a squat, I was asked why. I explained that I simply couldn’t do it. I have arthritis in both hips and lower spine, both of my wrists and shoulders won’t take any weight and had I fallen backwards, I risked breaking a wrist, as I also have early onset osteoporosis because of my ilness.

People should not be leaving assessments in a worse condition than when they arrived for them.

I made a formal complaint, but was fobbed off by the person carrying out the investigation, who simply concluded that as he ‘wasn’t in the room at the time’ of the assessment and so could neither verify nor negate my ‘allegations’. It took him four pages to say that.

I was just one point short of an enhanced PIP award. The reasoning on the assessment report for denying me a point for cognitive difficulties was that I had a degree (1996, Master’s in 2007), worked as a social worker (until 2010, when I became too ill to work) and a driving licence in 2003. I have been unable to drive since 2005 because of flicker induced seizures. Clearly the idea that an illness that prevents me from continuing in work, which is also well-known for causing neurological illness, has led to increasing cognitive difficulties since 2009 isn’t acceptable to PIP assessors, who wanted to keep my award as low as possible.

The DWP didn’t even bother writing to let me know the outcome of my mandatory review. Throughout the process, from the first ESA assessment to the last PIP assessment, I was treated as though I was somehow a burden, rather than being supported.

Newton claimed yesterday that the opposition’s comments are “dangerous”and “deter” people who need support from claiming it. What utter tosh. It is government policies that are dangerous, and that have created a series of ordeals in the assessment process, designed to weight the assessments towards permitting the DWP to refuse people support.

I needed PIP in 2011, but my experience of ESA assessment was so devastating that I was deterred from claiming PIP until I was absolutely desperate, last year. I simply could not face risking my health even further with another assessment, unless I absolutely had no choice. That last assessment also caused an exacerbation of my illness and injury to my already damaged joints and tendons. 

How dare Newton tell such hard faced, deplorable lies.

She went on to say: “We have very strong protections for people with disabilities in our country.”

Newton even had the cheek to cite Labour’s Equality Act as a ‘protection’ for disabled people, as if it was the Conservatives who designed this policy. This is the same Act that this government has violated over and over because of their welfare ‘reforms’ and austerity programme.

Those protections were brought about by the last Labour government, which also included the Human Rights Act, as well as Labour signing the UK up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – an international human rights treaty intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

The established human rights and equality frameworks have been methodically ignored by this government, who decided to target disabled people with a significantly disproportionate burden of their ideological austerity programme. The UN found that the Conservatives’ treatment of disabled people gravely and systematically violates our human rights. The evidence gathered by the UN came from disabled people’s accounts (including mine) and those of disability organisations and charities.

This is a government that has systematically marginalised disabled people economically  socially and politically, sidestepping human rights and equality legal frameworks. Apparently the government doesn’t regard democratic accountability to disabled people as particularly important. Instead, ministers simply lie and deny other people’s experiences and accounts. 

Newton also shamefully suggested people losing their motability cars should complain to the Motability charity – not the government. It’s not the charity that are creating a hostile environmen for disabled people, carrying out assessments that are absolutely unfit for purpose. This government simply refuse to accept any responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. History has taught us that such right wing authoritarian governments are very, very dangerous.

How dare this minister deny and dismiss the accounts of disabled people – those directly affected by her government’s draconian policies. How dare she call other people ‘liars’ while she stood there lying in parliament. She seems to have forgotten that disabled people have the same democratic right as other groups to hold a dialogue with the government, but instead we have patronising and vindictive ministers telling us their punitive and authoritarian policies aren’t causing us any harm or distress. We say they are and we are told by this manipulative, gaslighting liar that it is we that are ‘lying’. 

Newton presented us with despicable and manipulative gaslighting tactics used by bullies, psychopaths and despots. When Newton claims that the opposition are telling ‘untruths’, she is also accusing those of us who have suffered because of her governments wretched and punitive policies. She then goes on with hard faced cheek to ‘condemn the condemners’*(see below for outline of techniques of neutralisation):

I honestly ask all members opposite, please do not use this language of hostile environment. It is simply not the case.

“And the very people that need all of our support are put off from seeking it and coming forward.

“Really, I would ask them to stop saying things which they know are not true.”

The Conservatives talk a lot about “evidence-based policy”, but they don’t walk the talk. An overwhelming weight of evidence has highlighted the cruel, draconian effects of the Tories’ social polices to date. The government have simply chosen to deny and ignore it. 

Clearly the government is committed to trying it on by paying people (from their OWN contributions) as little as they can possibly get away with from the public fund. Perish the thought that public paying taxes towards public services may actually want to use those public services at some point in their lives. Yet the government irrationally insists that the cuts are “to provide tax payers with value for money.”

There IS NO discrete group of tax payers that never use public services, who are simply paying for “other peoples'” support. Everyone pays tax, including those claiming welfare support. Most people claiming support have worked, many needing support are actually IN work. Furthermore, as employment has become increasingly precarious, many move in and out of employment, through no fault of their own. 

The “value for the tax payer” spin is simply a divisive strategy – a political game of “us and them” that is used to justify punitive policies which target some groups, while the deliberate scapegoating of those groups serves to de-empathise the public to their loss of support, increasing vulnerability and distress. 

Deliberately cutting money from disabled peoples’ crucial lifeline support can hardly be described as providing “value for money” nor is it “fair” and “supportive”. This consistent response and denial from a government of liars indicates quite clearly that the cuts were always intentional on the part of the government.

The gaslighting, denial and dismissal by Newton and her Conservative colleagues indicates a deliberately prejudiced, vicious attack on a significant minority of the population, which this Orwellian government clearly have absolutely no intention of stopping or putting right any time soon.


* Techniques of neutralisation: 

Used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others. 

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by David Matza and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following psychological techniques by which, they believed, delinquents justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust:

1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.

2. Denial of harm and injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.

3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. Or they may claim that there isn’t a victim.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, ‘scaremongering’ or they are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. 

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the ‘greater good’, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a social group/nation, or benefits to the economy/ social group/nation.

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez
added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudice may ultimately result in genocide.

Any one of these six techniques may serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice and aggression to the extent that when they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, discrimination, exclusion of citizens, hatred and ultimately, in genocide.

In accusing citizens and the opposition of ‘scaremongering’, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying  distress; denying the victims and condemning the condemners.

Meanwhile, for many of us, the government’s approach to social security has become random, controlling and an unremitting, Orwellian trial. 

Read some of the accounts of other disabled people who have also faced the Conservative’s hostile environment and social security ordeals:

Fit for work assessment was trigger for suicide, coroner says

Man leaves coroner letter as he fears Work Capability Assessment will kill him

Jobcentre tells GP to stop issuing sick notes to patient assessed as ‘fit for work’ and he died

Cystic fibrosis sufferer refused PIP – the Conservative bureaucratic wall and systematic dismantling of social security

Man with diabetes had to have his leg amputated because of benefit sanctions

Benefits Assessor: How Long Are You Likely To Have Parkinson’s?

Please let’s help Peter to maintain his mobility and independence

Thousands of disabled people have already lost their specialist Motability vehicles because of Conservative PIP cuts and many more are likely to be affected.

Remembering the Victims of the Government’s Welfare “Reforms”  (This list needs to be updated).

 


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Tory rhetoric, the politics of psychobabble: it’s batshit telementalism and mystification

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Oh come all ye faithful

The Conservative conference was a masterpiece of stapled together soundbites and meaningless glittering generalities. And intentional mystification. Cameron claims that he is going to address “social problems”, for example, but wouldn’t you think that he would have done so over the past five years, rather than busying himself creating them? Under Cameron’s government we have become the most unequal country in the European Union, even the US, home of the founding fathers of neoliberalism, is less divided by wealth and income than the UK.

I’m also wondering how tripling university tuition fees and reintroducing banding in classrooms can possibly indicate a party genuinely interested in extending equal opportunities.

“Champions of social justice and opportunities”? Must have been a typo in the transcript: it’s not champions but chancers.

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, 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.

It’s interesting to note that the only standing ovation Cameron had for his speech from delegates was not related to policy proposals or even rhetoric. It was a response to the bitter, spiteful and typical Tory bullying approach to any opposition: in this case, an outburst of vindictive, unqualified personal comments, misquotes, misinformation and downright lies about Jeremy Corbyn.

It was more of the usual Conservative claptrap about Labour leaders “hating Britain”. Cameron used an out-of-context quote to paint Jeremy Corbyn as a “security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating” leader. Cameron had failed to give any context to Mr Corbyn’s comments that he intentionally  misquoted, failing, for example, to mention the fact that Corbyn had said the lack of a trial for Bin Laden was the “tragedy”, not his death itself. The deliberate misquote, however, was met with a deft response from the Left, hoisting Cameron by his own petard.

Here is Cameron’s speech in full technicolour and spectacular ontological insecurity:

Cameron’s malicious comments reminded me again of the Tories’ history of dirty tricks, like the Zinoviev letter, the campaign against Harold Wilson, and made me think of the almost prophetic and increasingly less fictional A Very British Coup.

Even the BBC have called the Conservatives out on their very nasty anti-democratic propaganda campaign against Corbyn.

From the deluge of incoherent commentaries to the mechanisms of telling lies: Conservatives don’t walk the talk

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 and somewhat tiring, and I’m not the only writer to comment on this.

The Conservatives use 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 (comparable with the principle of less eligibility embedded in the Poor Law of 1834) and benefit sanctions.

The most striking thing about the Conservative conference, for me, isn’t just the gap between rhetoric and reality, it is also the gap between the bland vocabulary used and the references, meanings and implications of what was actually being said.

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. 

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.

We’ve seen the future and it’s feudal

Ah, he means “making work pay,” 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.

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 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.

The aim of Conservatives is not to meet public needs, but to nudge the public into complicity with Conservative ideology

Many writers, a number of MPs and Peers have variously likened Conservative rhetoric to George Orwell’s Doublespeak in his novel Nineteen Eighty Four. Others claim that the idea of a language and thought-manipulating totalitarian regime in the UK is absurd. But that said, I never thought I would witness an era of human rights abuses of disabled people, women and children by the government of a so-called first-world liberal democracy. The same government have also stated it’s their intention to repeal our Human Rights Act and exit the European Convention on Human Rights. I can understand the inclination towards disbelief.

There’s another group of people that know something is wrong,  precisely what that is becomes elusive when they try to think about it and the detail slips through their fingers, as it were, when they try to articulate it. But that’s what Tory rhetoric purposefully aims to generate in those who oppose Conservatism: confusion, cognitive dissonance and disbelief

Which brings me to the government’s woeful brand of “liberatarian paternalism” – manifested in the form of an authoritarian Nudge Unit. The fact that it exists at all and that it is openly engaged in changing people’s decision-making without their consent is an indication of an extremely anti-democratic, psychocratic approach to government. The Tories are conducting politics and policy-making using insidious techniques of persuasion and psycholinguistic hocuspocusery for psychic and material profiteering, ordinarily reserved for the very dubious, telemental, manipulative end of the diabolistic advertising industry.

Once a PR man, always a PR man, that’s David Cameron.

By telemental, I mean it’s based on a kind of communication model that is transmissional, linear, mechanistic – where people are treated as conforming, passive “receivers” of information constructs, rather than an interactive, participatory, dialogical and importantly, a democratic one where people are regarded as autonomous critical interpreters and negotiators. We’re being talked at, not with. The Tories are using telementation to communicate their ideological sales pitch, without any democratic engagement with the majority of citizens, and without any acknowledgement of their needs. (Telementation is a concept originally introduced by linguist Roy Harris. )

The co-author of Nudge theory, Cass Sunstein, actually suggested that government monitors political activism online, too. He has some links with GCHQ’s covert online operations which employ social science to inform their psychological operations to influence online interactions and outcomes. Sunstein proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as “false and damaging conspiracy theories” about the government. “Conspiracy” theories like this one, eh?

The nudging of psychobabble and neuroliberalism

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.

Malice in blunderland.

There is an accessible government website outlining some of the Nudge Unit’s neurobabble and subliminal messaging “successes”, albeit the more mundane ones, like getting men to pee on the “right” part of a urinal. Or getting people to pay their taxes on time, or to donate organs.

The Nudge Unit’s behaviourism and psychological quackery, however, is all-pervasive. It has seeped into policy, political rhetoric, the media, education, the workplace, health services and is now embedded in our very vocabulary and social narrative. Every time you hear the phrase “behavioural change” you know it’s a government department acting upon citizens everywhere, using  basic, crude operant conditioning without their consent, instead of actually doing what public services should and meeting public needs. Instead, citizens are now expected to meet the government’s needs.

Where do you think the government got their pre-constructed ideological defence lexicon of psychobabble – they bandy about insidiously bland words like “incentivise” in the context of coercive state actions – such as the ideas for welfare increased conditionality and brutal operant conditioning based sanctions?

Did anyone actually ask for state “therapy” delivered by gaslighting, anti-socially disordered tyrants?

I sent an FOI asking the Department of Work and Pensions for the figures for sanctions since 2010 to the present, and I asked for the reasons they were applied. I also asked how sanctions can possibly “incentivise” or “help” people into work, and what research and academic/psychological/theoretical framework the claim is premised on, 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”.

maslow-hierarchy-of-needsMaslow’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?

The nature of deception and psychological trauma

The Government are most certainly lying to project a version of reality that isn’t real.  Critical analysis of Tory rhetoric is a very taxing, tiring challenge of endlessly trying to make sense of disturbing relations and incoherent misfits between syntax and semantics, discourse and reality events. There’s a lot of alienating, fake humanism in there.

When politicians lie, there is a break down in democracy, because citizens can no longer play an authentic role in their own life, or participate in good faith in their community, state, and nation. Deception is cruel, confusing, distressing and anxiety-provoking: keeping people purposefully blind to what the real political agendas are and why things are happening in their name which do not have their agreement and assent.

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 order of concepts is not the order of things

On a psychological level, mystification is used in abusive relationships to negate the experience of abuse, to deceive and to avoid authentic criticism and conflict. Mystification often includes gaslighting, which is a process involving the projection and introjection of psychic conflicts from the perpetrator to the victim, and has a debilitating effect on the victim’s ability to think rationally and often, to function independently of the gaslighter. It can take many forms. In all instances, however, it involves the intentional, cold and cunning distortion of accounts of reality by a predator that systematically undermines the victim’s grasp of what is happening, distorting perceptions of events, editing and re-writing for the gaslighter’s own political, financial, or psychological ends.

And of course, gaslighting exploits the fact that human beings have a tendency to deny and repress those things that are too overwhelming and painful to bear. Much psychotherapy is based on creating a safe space for allowing experience of the dreadful – which as an event has already happened – to “happen.”

A memorable example of psychological mystification is presented in a case study cited by R.D. Laing. (In Did You used to be R.D.Laing, 1989). A woman finds her husband with a naked woman in the living room. She asks: “What is that naked woman doing in my house on my sofa!?” To which her gaslighting husband, without missing a beat, replied:  “That isn’t a woman, that’s a waterfall.” 

The poor woman felt her grasp of reality weaken, because she had trusted her husband and had always tended to believe him. She lost her self to a period of psychosis because of the deep trauma this event caused her. Her husband was an authoritarian figure. We tend to accept that authority figures tell the truth, with little questioning. But it’s not a safe assumption at all.

She was made to doubt her own perception and account of events, despite the utter absurdity of the alternative account of reality presented to her. To have one’s perception and experience of reality invalidated is very painful, threatening to the self and potentially extremely damaging.

We have a government that thinks nothing of using this type of distortion and deception to cover up the worst consequences of its policies.

This is a government of authoritarians and psychocrats who have an apparent cognitive dissonance: they decided that rich people are motivated only by fincancial gains, whilst poor people are motivated only by financial losses and punishments. However, when you replace the word “incentive” with the value-laden term “deserve”, and then slot it into an ideological framework with an underpinning social Darwinist philosophy, it becomes more coherent and actually, profoundly unpleasant. The Tories think that “social justice” is about taking money from those who need the most support, and handing it to those who don’t

This is a government that’s all about manufacturing conformity and obedience. The gospel, according to the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, is that we are the architects of our own misfortunes, but when it comes to good fortunes, well of course, the government claims responsibility for those. Incoherent, puerile proselytizing nonsense.

The truth of the human condition, according to the Tories, is that poor people scrounge, rich people are saintly and the former group needs humiliating and state “therapy” – degrading “paternalistic” corrective treatment, (mostly comprised of a barrage of anti-humanist ideology and the constant threat of, and often actual withdrawal of your lifeline income), whereas the latter group need all the praise, support and state handouts they can get.

This is a government that use a counterfeit and dark triad (particularly Machiavellian) inspired language to create an impression of plausibility and truth, and to hide their true aims. They are demogogues of a radical and reactionary anti-social agenda. Intolerance, fear and hatred, machismo and bullying tendencies are masqueraded as moral rectitude.

This is a government that uses superficial, incongruent, meaningless psychobabble to justify the most savage and cruelly coercive policies that we have seen in the UK during our lifetime. Those social groups unaffected by the policies think that the government are acting in our “best interests”, but people are suffering and dying as a consequence of these policies.

People’s life problems such as unemployment and poverty arise from bad decision-making from the government and are not clinical maladies, the use of or implying of pseudo-clinical terms in political victim-blame narratives and gaslighting is not meaningful or appropriate.

Political psychobabble is designed intentionally to limit the freedom of public comprehension, it neutralises our own vocabulary, and invalidates our experiences. The nasty party are engaged in psychic profiteering – a government of quacks spouting pretentious gibberish to justify taking money from the poorest citizens and handing it out to the very wealthy.

It’s irrational, incoherent psychobabble from over-controlling, obedience-obsessed irrationalists whose sole aim is to ensure the population conform to government needs, and meet the demands of neoliberalism, rather than, heaven forbid, wanting a democratic government and an economic system that actually meet public needs.

Or if you prefer plainspeak: Tory rhetoric is rather like a long-empty belfry – full of batshit.

Oh, that way madness lies.

Cam weakness
Picture courtesy of Robert Livingstone

The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

The power of positive thinking.

The government invests a lot of time and money in “nudging” people to accept the unacceptable.

George Osborne announced in the budget that the government will be funding a “package of measures” to improve employment outcomes which will entail putting Cognitive Behaviour therapists in more than 350 job centres to provide “support” to those with “common mental health conditions,” and making online access to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy available for people who are claiming employment support allowance (ESA) and job seekers allowance (JSA).

From the HM Treasury document – Budget 2015, page 64: 1.236:

“Budget 2015 also announces a package of measures to improve employment outcomes for people with mental health conditions. Starting from early 2016, the government will provide online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to 40,000 Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants and individuals being supported by Fit for Work. From summer 2015, the government will also begin to co-locate Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) therapists in over 350 Jobcentres, to provide integrated employment and mental health support to claimants with common mental health conditions.”

The government put up an online contract notice which specifically states:

“This provision is designed to support people with common mental health conditions to prepare for and move into work, with intervention at the earliest possible point in a claim to benefit or access to the Fit for Work service.”

Under the government’s plans, therapists from the NHS’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme would support jobcentre staff to assess and treat claimants, who may be referred to online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) courses.

We really must question the ethics of linking receipt of welfare with “state therapy,” which, upon closer scrutiny, is not therapy at all. Linked to such a narrow outcome – getting a job – this is nothing more than a blunt behaviour modification programme. The fact that the Conservatives plan to make receipt of benefits contingent on participation in “treatment” worryingly takes away the fundamental right of consent.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is used to change how you think (“Cognitive”) and what you do (“Behaviour”). It bypasses emotions, personal history and narrative, to a large extent, and tends to focus on the “here and now.”

CBT is an approach that facilitates the identification of “negative thinking patterns” and associated “problematic behaviours” and challenges them. This approach is, at first glance, a problem-solving approach. However, it is of course premised on the assumption that interpreting situations “negatively” is a bad thing, and that thinking positively about difficult or distressing events is beneficial.

The onus is on the individual to adapt to their distress and difficult circumstances by perceiving their circumstances in a stoical and purely rational way.

So we need to ask what are the circumstances that the government are expecting people claiming welfare support to accept stoically. Sanctions? Work fare? Being forced to accept very poorly paid work, abysmal working conditions and no security? The loss of social support, public services and essential safety nets?  Stigma? Starvation and destitution? State punishment and exclusion?

It’s all very well challenging people’s thoughts but for whom 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 accept and accommodate that, and to mute negative responses to negative situations. CBT in this context 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 highly specific outcome.

CBT is too often 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 sociopolitical, and that assumption authorises intrusive state interventions that encode a distinctly Conservative moral framework which places responsibility on the individual, who is characterised as “faulty” in some way.

There is also an underpinning assumption that working is good for mental health, and that being in employment indicates mental wellbeing. However, isn’t it more likely the case that healthier people are in work, those who aren’t well enough to work don’t?

It’s well-established that poverty is strongly linked with a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with a mental illness. But that does not mean working is therefore somehow “good” in some way, for mental wellbeing. Therapy does not address social conditions and context, and so it permits society to look the other way, while the government continue to present mental disorder as an individual weakness or vulnerability, and a consequence of “worklessness” rather than a fairly predictable result of living a stigmatised, marginalised existence of material deprivation.

Inequality and poverty are political constructions and arise because of ideology and policy-formulated socioeconomic circumstances, but the Conservatives have transformed established explanations into a project of constructing behavioural and emotional problems as “medical diagnoses” for politically-created (and wholly ideologically endorsed) socioeconomic problems.

Austerity, which targets the poorest citizens disproportionately for cuts to their lifeline income and essential services, was one ideologically-driven political decision taken among alternative, effective and more humane choices.

The government are not strangers to behaviour modification techniques and have been applying crude behaviourism to public policy, drawing on the “expertise”of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT)  – the “Nudge Unit” – that they established and installed in the Cabinet Office in 2010. (See Mind the Mindspace, which outlines some of the implications of a government extending operant conditioning via policies to an unconsenting public.)

It is disadvantaged people and excluded groups who are the primary targets of enormously pseudoscientific, coercive and punitive psychopolicy interventions. It’s a kind of technocratic ‘fix’, designed solely to align the perceptions and behaviours of those citizens failed and harmed by our current socioeconomic organisation to nonetheless accommodate and accept neoliberal outcomes.

The casual manner in which advocates of behaviourism dismiss the right of people to behave in accordance with their own feelings, intuition and instincts exposes their authoritarian (not “libertarian paternalistic”) ambitions.

It’s frankly terrifying that our so-called democratic government is waging an ideological crusade directed at altering citizens’ thoughts and behaviour, and avoiding any accountability, sidestepping any engagement in potentially difficult political debate about their policies and the impacts that they have.

The objectives adopted by the Nudge Unit choice architects, politico-therapists and psychocrats are entirely about the state micromanagement of public perceptions and behaviours.

These objectives resemble ambitions usually associated with totalitarian regimes. This is a gross state intrusion into a previously private domain – our thoughts, perceptions and behaviours. Not only is this government trespassing on an intimate, existential level; it is tampering with – editing – our perceptions and experiences, damaging and isolating the poorest citizens, burdening them with the blame for the consequences of state policies while also editing out state responsibilities towards citizens.

Both CBT and Nudge are aimed at pushing people in ways that bypass reasoning. The assumption is that because our decision-making ability is limited we need to use non-rational means to persuade people to do what is “good” for them. But who has the moral authority to decide that? This is not about helping people make better choices – it’s about coercing people to make the choices that policymakers want them to make. And again, those “choices” are based on enforcing conformity to the ideological commitments of policymakers.

This psychocratic turn is in diametric opposition to Enlightenment narratives – it fosters a profound anti-rationality and anti-autonomy approach, it’s not remotely democratic: it’s based on a ridiculous premise that people use their freedom and liberty poorly, but somehow, those passing that judgement on everyone else are exempted from such judgements themselves. It is also extends profoundly anti-humanistic consequences.

Apparently, some people think that everyone else is susceptible to flawed thinking and behaviours, but that theory magically excludes the theorist from such human failings, since they are claiming some objective, mind-independent vantage point – a position far away from the rest of us. It’s like saying: this is your “human nature” but not ours.

Whether or not we agree on the efficacy of CBT as a therapeutic model in principle is a small consideration which is overshadowed by the fact that the government are using such “therapeutic” techniques as a highly partisan tool – to enforce traditional Tory biases and prejudices and to achieve their ideologically-driven policy agenda.

CBT will be deployed in job centres to simply favour the political objectives of neoliberal Conservatism: propping up an anti-progressive austerity agenda, regressive ideology, endorsing an ever-shrinking state, while reflecting a profound  Tory misanthropy.

The social problems arising because of a lack of provision will remain unaddressed and unchallenged because of the Conservative paradigm shift in positivist – causal explanations of political and social problems: it’s not down to policy, it’s all the fault of individuals (who are of course those individuals affected adversely by state policy.)

CBT is a short-term treatment, which is cheap and simple to deliver. I suspect this is one other reason for it becoming more popular with the Coalition than is warranted.

CBT has limitations for treating certain groups, including people with severe and treatment-resistant depression and those with personality disorders.

Studies concerning the efficacy of CBT have consistently found high drop-out rates compared to other treatments, with the numbers abandoning therapy often being more than five times higher than other treatments groups. (P. Cuijpers,  A. van Straten, G.  Andersson & P. Van Oppen. (2008)).

Researchers analysed several clinical trials that measured the efficacy of CBT administered to young people who self-injure. The researchers concluded that none of them were found to be efficacious. (See: Task force on the promotion and dissemination of psychological procedures: A reported adopted by the Division 12 Board – D. Chambless, K. Babich, P. Crits-Christoph,  E. Frank, M. Gilson & R. Montgomery. (1993)).

CBT fails fundamentally on a theoretical level: it lacks basic clarity, depth and coherence. It doesn’t provide a definition of “clear and correct” thinking – curiously, CBT theorists develop a framework for determining distorted thinking without developing a framework for “cognitive clarity” or what would be deemed “healthy, normal thinking.” This has left a large space for partisan definitions and political agendas.

And why is irrational thinking considered to be a source of mental and emotional distress when there is no evidence of rational thinking causing psychological wellbeing? Furthermore, social psychology has never demonstrated that the normal cognitive processes (whatever they are) of the average person are irrational.

CBT is deterministic: it denies agency and any degree of free-will. Human behaviour, in this view, is determined by the cognitive processes invoked by external stimuli. It focuses on the former, ignoring the latter. CBT theory basically contends that what you feel is somehow not very important to why you do what you do and think what you think.

But human beings are not automata: we are complex and multi-faceted. Our emotionality is a fundamental part of being human, too – our emotional bonds and attachments, and our interactions with significant others over time contribute hugely to shaping who we are: we are socially situated and contextualised. We are intersubjective, reciprocal and intentional beings. A therapy that sidelines how we feel must surely, at best, be regarded as superficial in its efficacy, scope and reach.

Moreover, in emphasising thought processes to the exclusion of complex and legitimate emotions, therapists may contribute to the harmful repression and denial of feelings.

CBT encourages an unhealthy avoidance of psychological discomfort and distress by diverting thoughts from the source of discomfort. CBT may rouse immature, neurotic and pathological defence mechanisms. It devalues resilience based on mature coping strategies such as openness, courage, mindfulness, acceptance and emotional self-sufficiency.

Not only is that psychologically unhealthy for a person, it’s bad for society as it desensitises and de-empathises people, stultifies learning from experience by disconnecting people’s thoughts from their circumstances and from others. It discourages personal development and stifles ‘resilience’.

Perhaps the most damning criticism of CBT is that it encourages self-deception and self-blame within clients and patients, because it maintains the status quo. The basic premise of cognitive therapy is: except for how the patient thinks, everything is okay. You can see why this would appeal to the Conservatives.

Poor mental health is often linked with poverty (Melzer et al. 2004) poor community integration, and competitiveness among social groups (Arrindell et al., 2003). Key questions arise as to the efficacy, therefore, of working with individuals, when much research suggests community work would be much more effective (Orford, 2008).

The Beacon Project (Stuteley, 2002) was pioneered by health workers who supported those with depression and other health problems by working with their whole community – addressing their basic social needs and developing mutual social support systems. There were significant changes in physical and mental health for the whole community, showing the benefits of fostering a psychology of mutual support, altruism, cooperation and collaboration: building social capital.

Human needs, public services and provisions, developmental processes, social relationships and contexts are important to any comprehensive model of mental health. Community work offers something that CBT can’t: unlimited scope and reach, sustainable, self-perpetuating, long-lasting provision with an inbuilt preventative agenda. It’s also a prefigurative model. As such, it is founded on democratic principles and the values of  genuine dialogue.

But the government has no interest in addressing mental health and wellbeing or building social support provisions. The government insists that people’s problems are self-generated and endogenous. But the socioeconomic context, policy decisions and consequences are the fundamental cause of unemployment, poverty and much mental distress.

When people are affected by social problems with structural causes, such as poverty and inequality, this in turn leads to a lack of opportunity, economic disadvantage and deprivation, unemployment, ill-health, absolute poverty (increasingly), poor housing, political scapegoating and punishment via policy, it’s ludicrously and grossly unfair to further stigmatise them and claim that their problems arise because of how they think and behave.

For the Tories, the only aim of CBT is a strongly emphasised participation in the labour-market, with minimal expectations of the state and minimal reliance on public services.

“Social problems are often the consequence of the choices that people make.” David Cameron.

No. Social problems are most often the consequence of a government that uses policy to create social inequality, poverty, social exclusion and extremely challenging economic circumstances for those people who have the least to start with. The government uses denial and a process of individualising blame for the problems caused by this government’s ideological austerity programme, which is used to legitimise further cruel constraint by those socio-economic factors caused by the government.

The Tories would have us believe that poor people suddenly become inadequate whenever we have a Tory government. They don’t, but they do become poorer. They are then held responsible and punished for the consequences of Conservatism.

If anyone needs to change the way they think, it’s certainly the Conservatives.

Update June 26, 2015: Mental health workers protest at move to integrate clinic with jobcentre

“This month Prof Jamie Hacker Hughes, president of the British Psychological Society (BPS), pointed out recent research which presented evidence that claimants had been forced to accept psychological treatment. Researchers from Hubbub and Birkbeck, University of London, found unemployment was being rebranded as a psychological disorder in many advanced economies, with interventions being introduced to promote a positive outlook or leave claimants of welfare to face sanctions.

Dave Harper, a reader in clinical psychology at the University of East London, told the Guardian he believed there was an ideological agenda driving the government’s proposals.

“We are in a recession,” Harper said. “There are not many jobs out there and this is implying that unemployed people are to blame for their situation. It’s shifting the focus away from economic policy and on to the individual.”

As a BPS member, I was happy to see a clear, ethical statement from the President.

Related

The just world fallacy

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down – a summary of the implications of Nudge theory

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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