Tag: Herbert Spencer

Tory policies are class contingent, express prejudice and are discriminatory

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Conservatives persistently peddle a fallacy that they don’t subscribe to an ideological belief system.
Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history and the arrival of a post-ideological world. But Fukuyama’s declarations were really just New Right ideology incognito.

I always saw Fukuyama as an ardent champion of ultra-neoliberalism, and he disguised his neo-conservatist ideology behind apparently benign virtue words and phrases (as part of a propaganda technique called Glittering Generalities), such as “Man’s universal right to freedom.” 

He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand – “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit Social Darwinist notions long-held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives; and as we know, that’s rigged in favour of a minority of rich and powerful people, by rich and powerful people. Tory ideology does not ever yield a remotely utilitarian outcome.

Fukuyama’s ideas have been absorbed culturally, and serve to naturalise the dominance of the Right, to stifle the rationale for critical debate and discredit alternatives. Not all “common sense” is established by consensus, nor does it always make sense. Tacit assumptions and prejudices often lie beneath the stock of glittering generalities and comforting soundbites that are quite commonly what passes as public and political acumen.

To quote Owen Jones:

“Since they were founded as a modern political force in 1834, the Conservatives have acted as the parliamentary wing of the wealthy elite. When I was at university, a one-time very senior Tory figure put it succinctly at an off-the-record gathering: the Conservative Party, he explained, was a “coalition of privileged interests. Its main purpose is to defend that privilege. And the way it wins elections is by giving just enough to just enough other people.”

It’s not just that Tories don’t reflect working class interests though. It’s much worse. Margaret Thatcher’s policies caused premature deaths, and her Cabinet were far less harsh towards unemployed, sick and disabled people than Cameron’s government.

A research report which looked at over 70 existing research papers concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you inflict stress and harm on people who are already ill, by withholding their lifeline support; by constantly reassessing them and telling them they are fit for work when they clearly are not; by invalidating their experiences, by forcing them to fight for the means of survival – without having the means of survival, it will probably exacerbate any illness and quite possibly, this will kill them.

Cameron and his government have consistently displayed an absolute lack of concern for sick and disabled people, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity cuts. Yet it’s inconceivable that Conservatives don’t grasp the fact that their policies are at least potentially very harmful, and certainly very punitive in nature.

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.

Tory ideology is founded on toxic subterranean values and principles, which are anachronistic and incompatible with a society that has evolved to value democracy, human rights and the socio-economic gains from our post-war settlement.

Conservatives have always seen inequality as a necessary and beneficial element to a market driven economy, for example; and their policies tend to assemble a steeply hierarchical society, especially given their small state fetishism, which involves removing socioeconomic support services and civilising mechanisms such as welfare, free healthcare and access to legal aid.

Beneath the familiar minarchist, class contingent Conservative policies and neoliberal schema is a tacit acceptance of socioeconomic Darwinism and a leaning towards eugenicist principles, expressed most clearly recently in the withdrawal of tax credit support for low paid families with more than two children, in order to “change behaviours” as Iain Duncan Smith put it. The reasoning behind this is the government believe they can “nudge” poor people into “breeding” less. Such a class contingent policy, based on archaic methods of operant conditioning, reflects a deep prejudice and also demonstrates a considerable degree of authoritarianism that is certainly incompatible with democracy.

(See also David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public, Paternalistic Libertarianism and Freud’s comments in context and What will the Tories suggest next. “Compassionate” eugenics?)

The Tories employ a variety of strategies to attempt to justify their ideology, narratives and policies amongst which are techniques of neutralisation. These are used to rationalise or justify acts that contravene social norms or that are illegal.  There are five basic techniques of neutralization; denial of responsibility; denial of injury; denial of victims; condemnation of the condemners and an appeal to higher loyalties.

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

It was Alexander Alverez who identified that these techniques were used more broadly at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust. He added a sixth technique – Disengagement and Dehumanisation.

Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal and moral values, and to switch off their own “inner protests”, providing them with the freedom to commit deviant acts. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they may employ techniques of neutralisation to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.

It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government. The Tories systematically attempt to distort meanings, to withhold, or to deny any evidence that may expose the impact of their draconian policies on targeted social groups.

For example, when the Tories habitually and dishonestly use the word “reform” in reference to cutting public funding or support and “help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to coerce and punish. The claim that the bedroom tax is “helping” people into workorhelping child poverty– when empirical research shows that 96% of those affected by the bedroom tax can NOT downsize due to a lack of available homes in their area – is a completely outrageous lie. People can’t move as there is a housing crisis, which is due to a lack of affordable homes and appropriately sized accommodation.

How can policies that further impoverish the poorest ever “help them to into work” or alleviate poverty? It’s glib, irrational tosh from a Government that can’t do coherent, joined up thinking, and even worse, thinks that we can’t either.

Forms of social prejudice are normalised gradually, almost inscrutably and incrementally – in stages. Allport describes the political, social and psychological processes, and how techniques of persuasion – propaganda – are used to facilitate stigmatising and dehumanisation of targeted groups to justify discrimination, until the unthinkable becomes acceptable, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.

The prejudice happens on a symbolic level first – via language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of divisive and stigmatising phrases like “scroungers and strivers” in the media and political rhetoric, referring to people who need support and social security as “stock”, suggesting that disabled people are not worth a minimum wage and so on.

These comments and strategies are not “mistakes”; this is how Conservatives really think. People who are prejudiced very seldom own up to being so, nor do bullies. They employ linguistic strategies, deceitful, diversionary and irrational responses that makes challenging them very difficult.

But as history has taught us, we really must challenge them.

This was taken from a longer article, in part – Techniques of neutralisation: David Cameron’s excuses for Iain Duncan Smith

Related

Conservatism in a nutshell

Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism. Oh dear.

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

Inequality has risen: Incomes increased for the richest last year, but fell for everyone else

The UK is now the most unequal country in EU, and Cameron has been very conservative with the truth

Cameron’s Gini and the hidden hierarchy of worth

Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor

‘We are raising more money for the rich’ revisited: some thoughts

UK becomes the first country to face a UN inquiry into disability rights violations

Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich, Human Rights and infrahumanisation

A list of official rebukes for Tory lies

demcracyPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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

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“We are moving Britain from a high welfare, high tax economy, to a lower welfare, lower tax society.”

George Osborne, 8 July 2015

The pro-wealthy and anti-humanist budget indicates clearly that the Conservatives are preoccupied with highlighting and cutting the state cost of sustaining the poorest citizens rather than the costs of subsidising the rich.

I’ve pointed out before that the Conservatives operate a perverse, dual logic: that wealthy people need support and encouragement – they are offered substantial financial incentives – in order to work and contribute to the economy, whereas poor people apparently need to be punished – by the imposition of financial cuts – in order to work and contribute to the economy.

That Osborne thinks it is acceptable to cut the lifeline benefits of sick and disabled people to pay for government failures, whilst offering significant cuts to corporation tax rates; raising the tax-free personal allowance and extending inheritance tax relief demonstrates very clearly that the myth of trickle-down is still driving New Right Conservative ideology, and that policy is not based on material socio-economic conditions and public need. (And Cameron is not a one-nation Tory, despite his claims.)

Research by the Tax Justice Network in 2012 indicates that wealth of the very wealthy does not trickle down to improve the economy, but tends to be amassed and sheltered in tax havens with a detrimental effect on the tax bases of the home economy.

A more recent report – Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality : A Global Perspective by the International Monetary Fund concluded in June this year that there is no trickle-down effect –  the rich simply get richer:

“We find that increasing the income share of the poor and the middle class actually increases growth while a rising income share of the top 20 percent results in lower growth—that is, when the rich get richer, benefits do not trickle down.”

It’s inconceivable that the Conservatives fail to recognise such policy measures will widen inequality. Conservatives regard inequality and social hierarchy as inevitable, necessary and functional to the economy. Furthermore, Conservatives hail greed and envy as emotions to be celebrated, since these drive competition.

Since the emergence of the New Right, from Thatcher to Cameron, we have witnessed an increasing entrenchment of Neoliberal principles, coupled with an aggressive, authoritarian brand of social conservatism that has an underpinning of crude, blunt social Darwinist philosophy, as carved out two centuries ago by the likes of Thomas Malthus and Herbert Spencer.

Spencer is best known for the expression “survival of the fittest,” which he coined in Principles of Biology (1864), after reading Charles Darwin’s work. Spencer extended natural selection into realms of sociology, political theory and ethics, ultimately contributing to the eugenics movement. He believed that struggle for survival spurred self-improvement which could be inherited. Maslow would disagree. All a struggle for survival motivates is just a struggle for survival.

Spencer’s ideas of laissez-faire; a survival-of-the-fittest brand of competitive individualism; minarchism – minimal state interference in the processes of natural law – and liking for private charity, are echoed loudly in the theories of 20th century thinkers such as Friedrich HayekMilton Friedman and Ayn Rand who each popularised Spencer’s ideas, whilst Neoliberal New Right Conservatives such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron have translated these ideas into policies.

Ideology has considerable bearing on policies, and policies may be regarded as overt, objective statements of political intent. I’ve said many times over the past five years that Conservatives have forgotten that democracy is based on a process of dialogue between the public and government, ensuring that the public are represented: that governments are responsive, shaping policies that address identified social needs. Conservative policies are quite clearly no longer about reflecting citizen’s needs: they are increasingly authoritarian, and all about telling us how to be.

Conservatives have always coldly conceived society as a hierarchy of human value, and they have, from their pinnacle of supremacist, self-appointed authority, historically cast the vulnerable and the poorest as the putative “enemies of civilization.” Social Darwinism is written in bold throughout their policies.

Furthermore, such a combination of Neoliberal and Conservative political theory, explicitly opposes democratic goals and principles. Neoliberalism was originally used by academics on the Left as a pejorative to capture the policies of imposed exploitation, privatisation, and inequality.

Neoliberalism is now characterised by the use of international loans and other mechanisms to suppress unions, squash state regulation, elevate corporate privilege, privatise public services, and protect the holdings of the wealthy. The term became widely recognised shorthand for rule by the rich, authoritarianism and the imposition of limits on democracy.

Banks, corporations, the financial sector, and the very wealthy are exercising power and blocking any attempt to restructure the economic system that brought about the crash.

Meanwhile, the free market is a market free for powerful interests; the profit motive has transformed the organising value of social life, and those who the Conservatives evidently regard as collateral damage of this socio-economic dogma made manifest are paying the price for the global crash, with Osborne and the Conservatives constructing narratives that problematise welfare support, generating moral panic and folk devils to demonise the poorest citizens in need of support.

Growing social inequality generates a political necessity for cultivating social prejudices.

Such Othering narratives divert public attention from the fact that the right to a fair and just legal system, a protective and effective safety net for the poorest, free healthcare – all of the social gains of our post-war settlement – are all under attack.

I have said elsewhere that Conservative ideology is incompatible with our legal commitments to human rights. The United Nations declaration of Human Rights is founded on the central tenet that each and every human life has equal worth. The Conservatives don’t agree, preferring to organise society into hierarchies of worth and privilege.

Conservative austerity measures and further impending welfare cuts are not only a deliberate attack on the poorest and most vulnerable social groups; the range of welfare cuts do not conform to a human rights standard; the “reforms” represent a serious failure on the part of the government to comply with Britain’s legal international human rights obligations.

The cuts announced by the chancellor include a further reduction to the benefits cap – not only from £26,000 to £23,000, as promised in the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto, but down even further to £20,000 outside of London.

Child tax credit, housing benefit and working tax credit will be reduced, with child tax credit only being paid for the first two children. Presumably this is, to quote Iain Duncan Smith, to “incentivise behavioural change,” placing pressure on the poorest to “breed less,” though personally, being the direct, blunt, no-nonsense sort, I prefer to call it a nudge towards “eugenics by stealth.”

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission say that any cuts to tax credits will cut the incomes of 45 per cent of working families. These cuts are particularly controversial, since the benefits cap was partly justified as a way of “making work pay”  – a Conservative narrative that echoes the punitive 1834 New Poor Law Principle of less eligibility – see: The New New Poor Law.

The Government asserts that its welfare “reform” strategy is aimed at breaking the cycle of “worklessness” and dependency on the welfare system amongst the poorest families. It’s more punitive Poor Law rhetoric.

There’s no such thing as “worklessness”, it’s simply a blame apportioning word, made up by the Tories to hide the fact that they have destroyed the employment market, just as Thatcher did, and as the Conservatives always do.

Punishing the low paid, cutting the income of families who work for low wages directly contradicts the claim that the Conservatives are “making work pay.”

Yet Osborne has framed his welfare cuts with the “The best route out of poverty is work” mantra, claiming that slashing the social security budget by £46 billion in the next five years, (including cutting those benefits to disabled people, who have been assessed as unfit for work and placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), and cutting in-work benefits, such as tax credits) is needed to make sure “work pays” and that: “we give a fair deal for those on welfare and a fair deal to the people, the taxpayers of this country who pay for it.”

The Conservatives always conveniently divide people into an ingroup of taxpayers and an outgroup of stigmatised others – non-tax payers. However, most people claiming benefits are either in work, and are not paid enough, through no fault of their own, to pay tax, or are pensioners who have worked most of their lives; or are unemployed, but have previously worked and contributed tax.

Most people claiming disability benefits have also worked and contributed tax, too.

Unemployment and in-work benefit claims are generally a measure of how well or poorly the government is handling the economy, not of how “lazy” or “incentivised” people are.

And only the Tories have the cheek to claim that raising the minimum wage (long overdue, especially given the hikes in the cost of living) is the introduction of a living wage. The basic idea is that these are the minimum pay rates needed so that workers have an acceptable standard of living. Over the last few years, wages have very quickly fallen far behind the ever-rising cost of living.

The increase is at a rate of £7.20 an hour for people over the age of 25.  Housing benefit will be withdrawn from those aged between 18 and 21, while tax credits and universal credits will be targeted at people on lower wages by reducing the level at which they are withdrawn.

The chancellor’s announcement amounted merely to an increase in the minimum wage, and the curbs on tax credits would hit low-paid workers in other ways, unfortunately.

Whilst the announcement of a phased increase in the minimum wage is welcome, it is difficult to see how this will reverse the increasing inequality that will be extended as a further consequence of this budget without a matching commitment to improving the structural framework – the quality and stability of employment available. As it is, we are now the most unequal country in EU.

If the government were sincerely interested in raising wages to make work genuinely pay, ministers would be encouraging rather than stifling trade unionism and collective bargaining. But instead we see further cuts to public sector pay in real terms year after year and the raising of the legal bar for industrial action so that strikes will be effectively outlawed in public services. And let’s not forget the grubby partisan policy of two years ago – the Let Lynton Lobby Gagging Act.

Rhys Moore, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said:

“Is this really a living wage? The living wage is calculated according to the cost of living whereas the Low Pay Commission calculates a rate according to what the market can bear. Without a change of remit for the Low Pay Commission this is effectively a higher national minimum wage and not a living wage.”

Those most affected by the extreme welfare cuts are those groups for which human rights law provides special protections. The UK government has already contravened the human rights of women, children, and disabled people.

The recent report of the UK Children’s Commissioner to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, published in July this year, says:

“Response to the global economic downturn, including the imposition of austerity measures and changes to the welfare system, has resulted in a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty, preventing the realisation of their rights under Articles 26 and 27 [of the UN CRC] … Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families.”

The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recently reported on the UK’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and found it woefully lacking:

“Welfare cuts will ensure that the government is not in compliance with its international human rights obligations to realise a right to an adequate standard of living under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESR) and a child’s right to an adequate standard of living under Article 27 of the UN CRC. Further it will be in breach of the statutory target to eliminate child poverty contained in the Child Poverty Act 2010.”

Just in case you missed it, there has been a very recent, suspiciously timed change to the definition of child poverty, and a proposed repeal of the Child Poverty Act – something that Iain Duncan Smith has been threatening to bring about since 2013.

It’s yet another ideologically directed Tory budget, dressed-up in the rhetoric of economic necessity, detached from public needs.

And Conservative ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.

Related:

George Osborne’s Political MasterstrokeA View from the Attic

Osborne’s class spite wrapped in spin will feed a backlashSeumas Milne

Budget 2015: what welfare changes did George Osborne announce, and what do they mean?  New Statesman: The Staggers

How Osborne’s new cuts breach the UK’s human rights obligations, Lecturer in Law at Lancaster University

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Osborne’s razor: the Tory principle of parsimony is applied only to the poorest

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone

Eugenics is hiding behind Hitler, and informs Tory policies.

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One of the commentators on this site raised some interesting issues, in response to part of an article that I wrote, which warrant some discussion.

I had said: “Eugenics is now embodied in economic acts, carried out by a government that has systematically rigged the neoliberal market, the act of [state] murder simply requires policies that leave the poorest and the most vulnerable people without support to meet their basic survival needs, denial from government that this is happening, and then it’s just a matter of withholding or hiding the evidence ….  the Right are and always have been Social Darwinists.”

The response: “I think you exaggerate a bit by bringing in eugenics – which was a deliberate attempt to wipe out/sterilise large proportions of the poor, whereas here it’s only a side effect that the powerful aren’t particularly concerned about.

There is a strong sense of the ‘deserving and undeserving poor’ in Tory narratives though, and I find the lack of empathy mindboggling. Particularly as David Cameron himself had a severely disabled son, so must have first-hand knowledge of the expensive nature of care for the disabled.

I don’t disagree with them [the Tories] being Social Darwinists at all – there is a brutal ‘survival of the fittest’ logic to many of their policies in practice. But eugenics is different – I don’t believe that anyone in the current government actually wants the poor and disabled to be dead or infertile, just that they don’t want to pay to support them. There’s a small, but important, distinction between neglect and genocide.” 

There are several facets to my initial response. Firstly, eugenics is tightly entwined with social Darwinist ideology. Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and concept of the “struggle for existence,” presented in his On the Origin of Species in 1859, captivated the minds of biologists.  But Darwin’s ideas also played to the dangerously receptive imaginations of certain members of Victorian society. It resonated strongly with individualism and with laissez faire economics – the dominant paradigm of the era.  The ideas became embedded in political and economic theory and policies.  Francis Galton, Darwin’s half-cousin, introduced his own controversial idea—the theory of eugenics—in 1883.  He used “natural selection as the basis of his theory to describe selective breeding in humans as a means to improve the “fitness” of the human race. These ideas were part of a broader notion of “progress” during the era of modernity.  Any idea that aims at ensuring the “survival of the fittest” is essentially eugenic.

The cross-over of natural selection themes from “science” into political and social thinking is reflected in the fact that it was a sociologist, not a scientist, who coined the term “survival of the fittest” – Herbert Spencer.

Neoliberalism, which has been the dominant framework of socio-economic organisation since the Thatcher era, is underpinned with eugenic notions. It justifies “competitive individualism” and both creates and legitimises wide economic inequalities. 

While the government may not be committing conspicuous murder, people ARE dying as a consequence of Conservative policies. Ethically, is there any difference between withdrawing lifeline support for vulnerable citizens and letting “nature take its course” on the one hand, and taking up more visible and overt methods of eliminating perceived “faulty” traits” and disposing of “undesirable” people on the other? Some people call the government’s ‘eugenics by indifference’ approach ‘democide‘, rather than genocide. 

The pertinent question is: are the well-documented welfare-related deaths an intentional consequence of Conservative policies or simply because of government neglect regarding consequences of their policies? Does withdrawing essential state support for the poorest citizens, disabled citizens and vulnerable social groups constitute eugenics?

I think it does. A government that kills citizens, regardless of the means that are used, is not a democratic one. Nor is it in any way liberal.

The objectives of democide include the disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups; the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity; and sometimes, the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. While genocide is regarded generally as political murder on the basis of race, democide covers a broader definition to include those killed in large numbers as a result of government policies, regardless of ethnicity. 

There is an intimate and historical connection between Social Darwinism and eugenics, which is worth some discussion, because ideology has considerable bearing on policies, and policies may be regarded as objective statements of political intent regarding how a government thinks society should be socioeconomically organised.

Social Darwinism was one of the pillars of fascism and Nazi ideology, and the consequences of the application of policies based on notions of “survival of the fittest” by the Nazis drove the eugenics program, which eventually created a very powerful international backlash against the theory, culminating in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Social Darwinists interpret human society primarily in terms of biology, struggle, competition, and natural law (a philosophy based on what are considered to be the immutable characteristics of human nature). Social Darwinism characterises a variety of past and present social policies and theories. Social Darwinism explains the philosophical rationalisation behind racism, imperialism, capitalism and eugenics.

The term quite rightly has negative implications for most people because we consider it a rejection of decency, compassion, civilisation and social responsibility, and a devaluing of human life.

Any social policy based on an underpinning philosophy of Social Darwinism –  explicitly or implicitly – invariably has eugenic implications. Modern eugenics was rooted in the Social Darwinism of the late 19th century, and is used to justify a hierarchy of entitlement to rights, State withdrawal of support for the most marginalised (and vulnerable) social groups, with all of its associated metaphors of fitness, competition, and intrinsic, tautological rationalisations of inequality.

I want to make clear at this point that any consideration of the political and psychosocial processes that culminated in the atrocities of the Holocaust is not in any way an attempt to trivialise those events. Quite the contrary. In recognising the processes that important researchers such as Gordon Allport identified – the unfolding stages involved in the growth of prejudice in a society that manifests othering, outgrouping, and permits a society to incrementally discriminate and hate over time – and in drawing parallels, we may ensure that such atrocities never happen again.

Allport's ladder

Eugenic theories are most commonly associated with Nazi Germany’s racially motivated social policies. The Nazis sought the improvement of the Aryan race or Germanic Ubermenschen – master race – through eugenics, which was the foundation of Nazi ideology.

Those people targeted by the Nazis were identified as life unworthy of Life Lebensunwertes Leben – including but not limited to the “idle”, “insane”, “degenerate”, “dissident”, “feeble-minded”, homosexual and the generally weak, for elimination from the chain of heredity. More than 400,000 people were sterilised against their will, whilst 275,000 were killed under Action T4, a “euthanasia” programme.

However, there is quite a broad definition of eugenics and I propose that because it has been so thoroughly discredited, it has been forced to “go incognito” over the last century. The public support for eugenics greatly waned after the fall of Nazi Germany and the Nazis’ attempt to use eugenic justifications for the Holocaust at the Nuremberg Trials.

Right-wing philosopher, Roger Scruton, said in an article in the American Spectator: “The once respectable subject of eugenics was so discredited by Nazism that “don’t enter” is now written across its door,” implying he would like to see more openness to eugenics as an idea. In a way, he does make a valid point, because when what was once stated explicitly becomes implicit and tacit – normalised – it is difficult to oppose and challenge, essential debate is therefore stifled.

Eugenics is the infamous idea that governments should decide which kinds of citizens ought to be considered desirable – the consensus tends to be that these are white, athletic, intelligent, and wealthy – and which kinds of citizens ought to be considered undesirable – these tended to be black, Jewish, disabled, or poor –  and employ the power of the State to encourage increases of desirable citizens (positive eugenics) and encourage decreases of undesirable citizens (negative eugenics).

Eugenics is specifically State interference in and engineering of the “survival of the fittest”. That is happening here in the UK, with Tory policies like the extremely punitive welfare “reforms”, which are aimed at the most vulnerable citizens – such as those who are sick and/or disabled – all too often denying them the means to meet basic survival needs.

The founder of eugenics, Sir Francis Galton, who was a half-cousin of  Charles Darwin, formulated the idea that the protection afforded by civil society had prevented the kind of natural selection occurring in Darwin’s Origin of Species from happening in humans, thus perpetuating the existence of “weak and feeble-minded” people who would have been unable to survive in the “state of nature”.

Thomas Malthus went further, and is most often considered the founding father of this ideology of profound antihumanism: he also believed that giving support to the needy would only imperil everyone else, because resources are limited, so the brutal reality was that it was better to let them starve. Malthus held the belief that the poor are akin to a “horde of vermin whose unconstrained aspirations and appetites endanger the natural order”: that tyrannical measures are necessary to constrain humanity.

It was Malthus that offered a pseudo-scientific basis for the idea that human reproduction always outstrips available resources. Following this pessimistic and inaccurate assessment of the capacity of human ingenuity to develop new resources, Malthus advocated oppressive policies that led to the starvation of millions in India and Ireland.

Malthus’s position as professor at the British East India Company training college gave his theories considerable influence over Britain’s administration of India through most of the nineteenth century, which led to the official response of neglect to India’s periodic famines.

Malthus wrote about restraints on population growth which included famine, disease and war. His theory was later used to explain the British government policy of maintaining agricultural exports from Ireland during the Great Famine (1845-49) in which at least 1.5 million people died of starvation or the side-effects of malnutrition, and at least another million immigrated.

Malthus was also very influential in bringing about the punitive Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. His work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, was a product of that era, it resonated with the laissez-faire framework of competitive individualism, and the dominant socio-political paradigm. It remains influential today, despite being thoroughly discredited, not least by social history since his time of writing.

Prior to the Holocaust, eugenics was widely accepted in the UK. Malthus’s ideas on population control and Spencer’s Social Darwinism fitted neatly into the sociopolitcal ideological framework. The ruling elite feared that offering medical treatment and social services to disabled people would undermine the natural struggle for existence and lead to the degeneration of the human race.

Those ideas, once explicitly endorsed, are now implicitly captured in policies and Conservative narratives about sanctions, “conditionality,”  “making work pay,” (compare with the principle of less eligibility enshrined in the New Poor Law) “fairness,” “incentives,” “scroungers,” and so forth. A crucial similarity with the early part of the century and now is reflected in Tory austerity rhetoric – a perceived shortage of resources for health and welfare. Another parallel is the scapegoating process and a rise in the level of social prejudices and sociopolitical discrimination.

Anti-immigration rhetoric, reflected in the media, with the vilification of sick and disabled people and the poor, has preceded policies particularly aimed at the steady removal of State support indicating a clear scapegoating process, and this isn’t indicative of a government that is “neglectful”- it is patently intentional, hence the pre-emptive “justification” narratives to garner public support and acceptance towards such punitive and harsh policies.

So, the first purpose of such justification narratives is to make cruel and amoral policies seem acceptable. However, such propaganda narratives also serve to intimidate the targeted minority, leading them to question whether their dignity and social status is secure. In many cases, such intimidation is successful.

Furthermore, this type of hate speech is a gateway to harassment and violence. (See Allport’s scale of prejudice, which shows clearly how the Nazis used this type of propaganda and narrative to justify prejudice, discrimination, to incite hatred and ultimately, to incite genocide.)

As Allport’s scale indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subtle expressions of prejudice. The dignity, worth and equality of every individual is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equal worth of all human beings. This is for very good reason.

Article 20(2) of the ICCPR requires states to prohibit hate speech. Hate speech is prohibited by international and national laws, not because it is offensive, but rather, because it amounts to the intentional degradation and repression of groups that have been historically oppressed. In the UK, we have a government that endorses the repression of the historically oppressed.

Social Darwinists generally argue that the “strong” should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease. In most contemporary western societies these views tend to emphasise competition between individuals for resources in a neoliberal State. In the UK, this idea is very apparent in the policies of the conservative-led government, and previously, we saw similar views from Thatcher.

The biological concept of “adaptation” is used by the Right to claim that the rich and powerful are better adapted to the social and economic climate of the time, and the concept of natural selection perpetuates the supremacist argument that it is natural, normal and proper for the strong to thrive at the expense of the weak.

Notions of deserving and undeserving poor flourished at a time when Social Darwinism and eugenics where widely acceptable here in the UK. The utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, identifying moral actions in public policy as those which produce the greatest good for the greatest number, also support the contention that, whilst in the short term the interests of the poor would seem to be supported by public relief, the ultimate result of relief is detrimental to their interests.

Social Darwinism was popular in the late Victorian era in England, America, and elsewhere and the ethical philosophies of Conservatives are underpinned by a strongly elitist view based on the pseudo-scientific arguments of “adaptation and natural selection.” The Victorian era has made a deep impact upon many contemporary Conservatives, such as Gove and Osborne.

Michael Gove has written: For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies … I don’t think there has been a better time in our history” in “Alas, I was born far too late for my inner era”.

A better time for whom, precisely? It was a time of child labour, desperation, prostitution, low life expectancy, disease, illiteracy, workhouses, and a truly dog-eat-dog social perspective. Or was it the deferential protestant work ethic reserved only for the poor, the pre-destiny of the aristocracy, and “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” that appeals to Gove?

In a speech to the Confederarion of British Industry, (CBI) George Osborne argued that both parties in the coalition had revitalised themselves by “revisiting their 19th-century roots.”

Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism, with his dictum “the survival of the fittest” – he was a sociologist, not a biologist – provided further support for the view that the “vices” of the lowest class in society make such persons undeserving of help from those who were financially privileged. (“Us” are the fittest: “Them” – the “Other” – are not.)

It is but a short step from the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century to the radical individualism of Ayn Rand, the latter’s popularity on the Right continuing to support a Conservative libertarian celebration of selfishness – “Nobody is mine.”

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Conservatives have always seen society and human relationships in terms of hierarchies, based on “red in tooth and claw” Darwinist conflict. A hierarchy is any system of persons or things ranked one above the other.

The term was originally used to describe the system of church government by priests graded into ranks. Organised religion is very hierarchical. Hierarchical thinking is about seeing the world through systems of domination or importance. But the central principle of human rights is that each have equal worth: that we are all equally important. But hierarchies ensure that privilege and decision-making is not socially distributed. Nor is power.

The very way that Tories think leads to a collision between their ideology and our human rights, and is completely incompatible with the principles of equality and democracy. Tories think that some people hold a more important place in society than others. This reduces people – they become inferiors or superiors, and really, that is about unequal distribution of power, subordination and domination – those power relationships are no longer entirely notional, we have moved some distance from being a liberal democracy these past four years – and feudalism and manorialism are very Tory ideals.

To summarise, there are strong links between the right-wing idea of competitive individualism, Social Darwinism, social inequalities, eugenics, nationalism, fascism and authoritarianism. Those ideas are implicit in Tory rhetoric, because they form the very foundations of Tory ideology. A society with inequalities is and always has been the ideologically founded and rationalised product of Conservative Governments.

Robert Michel’s iron law of oligarchy describes the inevitable tendency of hierarchical organisations to become oligarchic in their decision making – anti-democratic. And prejudice is an in-built feature of hierarchy, because of the stratified nature of power, esteem and status.  Right-wing populism so often takes the form of distrust of the European Union, and of politicians in general, combined with anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a call for a return to “traditional, national values”.

Those “traditional values” that the Tories cherish, and often speak about, mean the end of our hard-earned rights, the end of any principle of the equal worth of everyone, the end of government accountability and increasingly, legal restraint, the end of democracy, the end of access to social opportunities, the end of any meaningful citizen autonomy. Yet these are civilising conditions. The Tories would prefer to have us outwardly oppressed and inwardly repressed, and fighting amongst ourselves for ever-decreasing resources.

This government’s schadenfreude, the intent and motivation behind the draconian policies that we’ve seen this past four years, which target the most vulnerable citizens most of all, is debated.

Some people believe that the policies are a consequence of a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the wealthy rather than being malicious acts. But the Tories laughed on hearing the accounts of suffering of the poor because of the bedroom tax and an increasing dependency on food banks, for all to see, during parliamentary debate with the opposition.

But entertaining the idea for a moment that the inflicted suffering is not a motivation but rather, a consequence, well that would make the Government at the very least indifferent, callous and unremorseful, since they show a supreme lack of concern for the plight of those least able to defend themselves against injustice and inflicted poverty. And such indifference contravenes fundamental human rights. It breaches international laws.

Either way, I feel shock and anger at the recognition that all of those principles and beliefs we held dear – such as justice, fairness, democracy, freedom, Government accountability, equality (at least in terms of the worth of each life), institutionalised philanthropy – all trodden under foot by advocates of Social Darwinism – an aristocratic elite – in just four years. And the faith we each had in those collective ideals undermined by the constant perpetuation of socially divisive propaganda tactics from the Right.

Dividing people by using blame and prejudice further weakens our opposition to oppression. It’s a strategy the Tories have mastered.

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated socio-economic aims and consequences. None of the policies that this government have formulated regarding the “support and care” of some of the most vulnerable citizens could be seen as anything other than expressions of intentional harm.

Services and support have been cut, lifeline benefits have been restricted by a variety of means, such as the revolving door process application of the work capability assessment, benefit sanctions, the mandatory reconsideration process.

Where is the investigation into the very high number of deaths associated with the Tory-led welfare reforms? The government have been made aware of those deaths through parliamentary debate, yet they persist in denying any “causal link” with the significant increase of sick and disabled people dying and their savage cuts to lifeline benefits. If there is no causal link, an inquiry would demonstrate that, surely?

It’s a universally recognised fact that if people are prevented from meeting their basic survival needs, they will die. Benefit sanctions, and cuts to welfare and public services, the rising cost of living and the depression of wages are having a detrimental effect on many. I don’t imagine that it’s the case that everyone but the government are aware of this. Yet the harmful policies remain.

The Coalition will leave more debt than all Labour governments since 1900. The current government’s now responsible for £517 billion of the trillion-plus-pound UK public debt, compared to £472 billion accrued during the 33 years Labour led the country since the turn of the twentieth century.

And the figures look even worse when you adjust for inflation. When you do that, the Coalition’s share jumps to nearly half of the total debt.

But the Coalition don’t meet any public’s needs, they simply serve the wants of the 1%. Labour invested in public services, the Tories have bled them dry. So, what have they done with the money? Because the public have seen only austerity cuts.

These policies are intentional. Withholding State support for poor, disabled, ill and vulnerable people – paid for via our taxes – is a deliberate act.

While our government have been busy denying the eugenics-by-stealth consequences of their diabolical policies in this Country, back in 2012, the Guardian exposed the fact that the British government has spent millions of pounds funding a policy of forced sterilisation of the poor in India as part of an effort to reduce human population to “help combat climate change”. But we also know that many Tories deny climate change exists.

The governments of China and India practice hard eugenics, underwritten by American and British tax money, these are coercive measures undertaken by governments to decrease citizen population.  The exposure of support for hard eugenics prompted denial and backtracking.  United Nations Population Fund (UNFPAclaims to support “voluntary family planning” in China. They assume that women, who are aware that conceiving a second child will result in a forced abortion, are free to make choices – thus the forced abortion is a State arrangement entered into “voluntarily.”

Hard eugenics is the ideology that is hiding behind Hitler. But soft eugenics  is based on the same pathological belief – that a government should spend its resources to prevent the propagation of those who the government believes to be “detrimental” to society and economic production. It won’t be long before there is some UK policy that imposes a restriction on the number of children poor people may have – probably “soft” eugenic policy, initially. Perhaps a limit on the number of children that unemployed or underemployed families may claim support for. Of course that will have ghastly ramifications for the human rights of children, since it would discriminate against a child on the grounds of when he/she was born.

Here in the UK, our government has been quite explicit in its drive to end “the something for nothing culture”. Our taxes  have been handed out to the wealthy and State support has been steadily withdrawn from the vulnerable. Government policies are an explicit statement of political and socio-economic intentions.

Policies based on Social Darwinism and eugenics cannot be justified. Our morality is liberated from the biological, reductionist constraints of evolutionary thinking. We relate to one another through culture, shared histories, language, morality, and law. Even if it were true that we are biologically determined – fixed by evolution, as intentional beings, we are not culturally fixed.

There is a difference between what we are, and who we are. There is also a difference between what is and what ought to be. The theories of Social Darwinism, eugenics and sociobiology involve biological reductionism. A recognition of the importance of biological conditions and even “human nature” need and ought not involve biological reductionism. And to embrace reductionism is to ultimately deny our capacity for making rational choices.

But we exceed the limits of reductionism and determinism every time we make any claim to knowledge (including those claims of reductionism and determinism), make a choice, discuss ethics and morals, explore possibilities, create, discover, invent – we are greater than the sum of our parts. The humanist ideas of human potential have never interested the Tories.

However, humanist principles, particularly those of Maslow, are very closely connected to our human rights and the development of our welfare state. Maslow’s psychology about possibility, not restraints. His metaphysics were all about the possibilities of change and progress, within a democratic framework. These ideas run counter to Tory ideology.

It’s therefore of no surprise that the Tory-led Coalition has steadily eroded our welfare and public service provisions and that Cameron has stated plainly that he fully intends to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights

This is a government that chooses to treat our most vulnerable citizens brutally, with absolutely no regard for their legal and moral obligation to ensure that our taxes are used to meet our most basic needs.

There can be no justification for editing or repealing the Human Rights Act itself, that would make Britain the first European country to regress in the level and degree of our human rights protection. It is through times of recession and times of affluence alike that our rights ought to be the foundation of our society, upon which the Magna Carta, the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act were built – protecting the vulnerable from the powerful and ensuring those who govern are accountable to the rule of law, and as an instrument of equality, social cohesion and public purpose.

It is expected of a democratic government to improve the understanding and application of the Act. That is an international expectation, also. Quite rightly so.

Observation of human rights distinguishes democratic leaders from dictators and despots. Human Rights are the bedrock of our democracy, they are universal and are a reflection of a society’s and a governments’ recognition of the equal worth of every citizens’ life.

We need to ask, in light of the issues I’ve raised here, why would any government want to opt out of such protections for its citizens?

We know from history that a society which isn’t founded on the basic principles of equality, decency, dignity and mutual respect is untenable and unthinkable.

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Article 2 of the Convention on Human Rights uses the following definitions of genocide, amongst others:

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
  •  Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  •  Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The right to life contained in Article 2:

  • Prohibits the State from intentionally killing;
  • and  requires an effective and proper investigation into all deaths caused by the State.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 

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welfare reforms and the language of flowers: the Tory gender agenda

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In all places, then, and in all seasons,
Flowers expand their light and soul-like wings,
Teaching us, by most persuasive reasons,
How akin they are to human things.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Flowers from Voices Of the Night

Ring-a-ring-a-roses,
A pocket full of posies;
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down – Traditional

Part one

The axis of marginalisation

George Bernard Shaw immortalised the Victorian East End flower girls in Eliza Doolittle, in his play “Pygmalion.” The play is a sharp lampoon of the rigid British class system of the day and must also be read as a commentary on women’s striving for independence. The play was subsequently adapted numerous times, most notably as the highly romanticised musical “My Fair Lady” (and the film, starring Audrey Hepburn). But there was a historical reality behind Shaw’s fiction that was far less glamorous, he edited out genuine representation of so many miserable lives filled with a constant, dehumanising, gnawing ache of absolute poverty and oppression.

Assumptions about women’s roles have historically shaped public policy. And they still do. Historically the Victorian era was a time of many contradictions, such as the widespread cultivation of an outward appearance of dignity, a strict social code of conduct and prudish sexual restraint together, with the prevalence of social phenomena such as prostitution and child labour. Hardly surprising that an affluence of social movements arose from attempts to improve the prevailing harsh living conditions for so many under a rigid class system.

The Victorian era was founded on optimistic Modernist notions of progress, but it ought to serve as a historical lesson in the social evils of Elitism, the Victoran Era saw great expansion of wealth and  power that was  not shared or “trickled down” in the slightest. But it seems we never learn. Victorian Britain was a land of laissez-faire capitalism and self-reliance. Government regulation was minimal and welfare was left mostly to charity.

At the same time that explicit erotica was beginning to appear in newspapers, emotions and sexual feelings were expressed by means of cryptological communications through the use or arrangement of flowers. “Talking bouquets” called “nosegays” or “tussie-mussies” were used to send coded messages to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings that could not be spoken out loud in Victorian society.

The language of flowers was used by women to speak for women at a time when women often were discouraged from speaking for themselves in society. In the UK, (and the US) the language of flowers was a popular phenomenon and was traditionally associated with Victorian womanhood ideals for women to be pious, pure, domestic, and submissive to their husbands.

When a woman married, she had no independent legal status. She had no right to any money (earned or inherited), she could not make a will or buy property, she had no claim to her children, she had to move with her husband wherever he went. If her husband died, he could name the mother as the guardian, but he did not have to do so.

During Victoria’s reign, Britain was also ruled by an aristocratic elite that excluded democrats, radicals, and workers. The Government was not fully representative, since in 1832, only 20 percent of the population could fulfil the property qualifications to vote.

The Victorian era is almost synonymous with the ideology of “great men” – “outstanding” male individuals, whose features and life stories fill the National Portrait Gallery (founded 1856) and the patriarchal Dictionary of National Biography (launched 1882) while their exploits were hymned in key texts like Thomas Carlyle’s Heroes and Hero Worship (1841) and Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help (1859).

Throughout the era, “masculine” values of action, courage and endeavour supported military campaigns and commercial expansion. Women were allotted a subsidiary role, with patience and self-sacrifice the prime feminine virtues, and central to their domestic roles. Motherhood was idealised, alongside virginal innocence, but women were subject to pervasive denigration.

Towards the end of the century, strident misogyny was still strong in both popular fiction and academic writing – but as loudly as female inferiority was declared immutable, women everywhere began to demonstrating otherwise, challenging the axis of patriarchy, and the architects of their marginalisation.

Patterns of patriarchal authority were reinforced by social philosophers like Auguste Comte, Arthur Schopenhauer, Herbert Spencer, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and John Ruskin, this developed into a mid-century doctrine of “separate spheres” –  men were figured as competitors in the amoral, economic realm while women were positioned as either decorative trophies or spiritual guardians of men’s immortal souls.

From the 1860s, social construction of the the Darwinian theory of “survival of the fittest” (a phrase coined by sociologist, Herbert Spencer, not Darwin) added a pseudo-scientific dimension which placed men higher on the evolutionary ladder. This theory of evolutionary ethics is an attempt to derive morality from “biological laws”, and is based on the general doctrine of evolution connected to Darwin.  Malthus’ Essay on Population (1766-1834) was another significant influence on Victorian attitudes.

The mid-century was notable for its moral panic over prostitution, which developed – despite a “permissive” interval in the 1860s – into demands for male chastity outside marriage. At the end of the era, a socially shocking topic was that of the virginal bride (and her innocent offspring) infected with syphilis by a sexually experienced husband. But during the Victorian era, the concept of pater familias, meaning the husband as head of the household and moral leader of his family, was firmly entrenched in British culture.

It was women that were perceived as unclean and this perception was worsened through the First Contagious Diseases Prevention Act in 1864. Women suspected of being unclean were subjected to an involuntary genital examination. Refusal was punishable by imprisonment; diagnosis with an illness was punishable by involuntary confinement to hospital until perceived as cured.

The disease prevention law was only ever applied to women, which became the primary rallying point for activists who argued that the law was both ineffective and inherently unfair to women. The examinations were inexpertly performed by male police, women could be suspected based on little or no evidence, and the exams were painful and humiliating. After two extensions of the law in 1866 and 1869 the unjust acts were finally repealed in 1886.

Bringing together political and personal demands for equality, the slogan: “Votes for Women, Chastity for Men” was coined. Feminist ideas spread among the educated female middle classes,  and the women’s suffrage movement gained momentum in the last years of the Victorian Era.

In addition to losing money and material goods to their husbands, Victorian wives became property to their husbands, giving them rights over their bodies and what their bodies produced; children, sex and domestic labour. Marriage abrogates a women’s right to consent to sexual intercourse with her husband, giving him ownership. Their mutual matrimonial consent therefore became a contract of surrendered autonomy for women.

While husbands quite often participated in affairs with other women, wives endured infidelity as they had no rights to divorce on these grounds and their divorce was considered to be a social taboo. Even following divorce, a husband had complete legal control over any income earned by his wife; women were not allowed to open banking accounts.

The context for such oppression was set around a century and a half ago, a few years before Queen Victoria ascended the throne, a Royal Commission of Parliament proposed a major reform of the Poor Law. The bastardy clauses of the New Poor Law of 1834 outlined that “women bear financial responsibilities for out-of-wedlock pregnancies.” In 1834 women were made legally and financially supportive of their illegitimate children.

It was a Conservative and Liberal project – largely influenced by Thomas Robert Malthus and disseminated by the 1834 Poor Law Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws and such novelists as Harriet Martineau – asserting that poverty arose from overpopulation and that women more so than men were responsible for determining demographic growth. (Yes, really).

Single mothers and their out-of-wedlock children represented the worst violators of independence and individualism, and the centuries-old welfare provisions offered them among the worst obstacles to a free market.

Radical critics perceived in the bastardy clauses a challenge to traditional notions of protecting society’s weak and of allowing the working class the “right” to receive parish and charitable aid. Furthermore, critics recognised that the sexual double standard inherent in the new clauses revealed the ideology of Liberalism: the Liberal system magnified rather than minimised the advantages enjoyed by society’s enfranchised and the disadvantages experienced by society’s weakest members.

The Commissions report, presented in March 1834, was largely the work of two of the Commissioners, Nassau Senior and Edwin Chadwick. The report took the outline that poverty was essentially caused by the indigence of individuals rather than economic and social conditions. Paupers claimed relief regardless of his merits: large families got most, which encouraged improvident marriages; women claimed relief for bastards, which encouraged immorality; labourers had no incentive to work; employers kept wages artificially low as workers were subsidised from the poor rate. (Aha, the Daily Mail and déjà vu)

The New Poor Law of 1834 was based on the “principle of less eligibility,” which stipulated that the condition of the “able-bodied pauper” on relief  be less “eligible” – that is, less desirable, less favourable – than the condition of the independent labourer. “Less-eligibility” meant not only that the pauper receive less by way of relief than the labourer did from his wages but also that he receive it in such a way (in the workhouse, for example) as to make pauperism less respectable than work – to stigmatise it. Thus the labourer would be discouraged from lapsing into a state of “dependency” and the pauper would be encouraged to work.

The Poor Law “made work pay”, in other words.

Did I hear a collective, weary sigh, heavily laden with a strong sense of déjà vu? The parallels to be drawn here are no coincidence.

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Part two

The Tory motto: the more things change, the more they stay the same

The Victorian era has made a deep impact upon Tory thinking, which had always tended towards nostalgia and tradition. Margaret Thatcher said that during the 1800s:

Not only did our country become great internationally, also so much advance was made in this country … As our people prospered so they used their independence and initiative to prosper others, not compulsion by the state.

There she makes an inference to the twin peaks of callous laissez-faire and the mythical “trickle down” effect. Yet history taught us only too well that both ideas were inextricably linked with an unforgivable and catastrophic increase in destitution, poverty and suffering for so many, for the purpose of extending profit for a few.

Writing in the 1840s, Engels observed that Manchester was a source of immense profit for a few capitalists. Yet none of this significantly improved the lives of those who created this wealth. Engels documents the medical and scientific reports that show how human life was stunted and deformed by the repetitive, back breaking work in The Condition Of The Working Class In England. Constantly in his text, we find Engels raging at those responsible for the wretched lives of the workers. He observed the horror of death by starvation, mass alienation, gross exploitation and unbearable, unremitting poverty.

The great Victorian empire was built whilst the completely unconscientious, harsh and punitive attitude of the Government further impoverished and caused so much distress to a great many. It was a Government that created poverty and also made it dishonourable to be poor.

Whilst Britain became great, much of the population lived in squalid, disease-ridden and overcrowded slums, and endured the most appalling living conditions. Many poor families lived crammed in single-room accommodations without sanitation and proper ventilation.

That’s unless they were unlucky enough to become absolutely destitute and face the horrors of the workhouse. It was a country of startling contrasts. New building and affluent development went hand in hand with so many people living in the worst conditions imaginable.

Michael Gove has written:

For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies … I don’t think there has been a better time in our history”  in “Alas, I was born far too late for my inner era.

A better time for what, precisely? Child labour, desperation? Prostitution? Low life expectancy, disease, illiteracy, workhouses? Or was it the deferential protestant work ethic reserved only for the poor, the pre-destiny of the aristocracy, and “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate”?

In a speech to the CBI, George Osborne argued that both parties in the coalition had revitalised themselves by revisiting their 19th-century roots. When Liberal Democrat David Laws gave his first speech to the Commons as the secretary to the Treasury, Tory MP Edward Leigh said: “I welcome the return to the Treasury of stern, unbending Gladstonian Liberalism”, and  Laws recognised the comparison to the Liberal prime minister,and said:

I hope that this is not only Gladstonian Liberalism, but liberalism tinged with the social liberalism about which my party is so passionate.

The Coalition may certainly be described as “stern and unbending,” if one is feeling mild and generous.

I usually prefer to describe them as “authoritarian”.

We know that the 19th-century Conservative party would have lost the election had it not been rescued by Benjamin Disraeli, a “one nation” Tory who won working-class votes only because he recognised the need and demand for essential social reform. Laissez-faire, competitive individualism and social Darwinism gave way to an interventionist, collectivist and more egalitarian paradigm. And there’s something that this Government have completely missed: the welfare state arose precisely because of the social problems and dire living conditions created in the 19th century.

The 19th century also saw the beginnings of the Labour Party. By pushing against the oppression of the conservative Victorian period, and by demanding reform, they built the welfare state and the public services that the current Government is now so intent on dismantling.

During the Victorian era, oppression of women was embedded deeply in psychic, political and cultural processes. It’s quite easy to see how some feminists came to attribute the characteristics of violence and hierarchical authoritarianism to men.

However, whatever claims we make as truths of our biological “natures”, the is/ought distinction highlights our (degree of) autonomy and emphasises our moral responsibilities and choices regarding social organisation, also. In this respect, debating the fundamentals of sex-based attributes and gender stereotypes is futile, because we have ethical and social obligations that transcend bickering about “biological facts.” The traditional binary opposition between “equality”and “difference” is a damaging one, especially in assessing the debate in terms of social rights and needs.

The welfare reforms present a particular challenge to the financial security and autonomy of women. The “reforms” have been strongly influenced by (a particular form of) economic modelling, and do not take into account the lived experiences or the impact of the cuts on those targeted. Conservative ideology also informs the reforms and the Government uses out-of-date model of households and concern about “dependency” on state, not within families.

The form of modelling depopulates social policy, dehumanises people, and indicates that the Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects. We therefore need to ask whose needs the “reforms” are fulfilling.

Our welfare system has brought the UK a high degree of social and income equality. Economists, it seems, disagree on the effect that inequality has on economic growth, however. Some argue that it promotes growth, others insist that it’s a barrier, but very tellingly, most would like to live in a country with a high degree of income equality as one of the main indicators for a high score on the human-development index.

In developed Liberal democracies, the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for an acceptable quality of life.

The welfare state is funded through redistributionist taxation. Such taxation usually includes a larger income tax for people with higher incomes, called a progressive tax. This helps to reduce the income gap between the rich and poor.

The UK Government’s welfare “reform” programme represents the greatest change to benefits biggest changes to welfare since its inception. These changes will impact the most vulnerable in our society. In particular, women rely on state support to a greater extent than men and will be disproportionately affected by benefit cuts.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith (who didn’t manage to lead his party to an election due to losing a motion of no confidence) is largely responsible for this blitzkreig of apparent moral rigour, a right wing permutation of “social justice” rhetoric and harsh Victorian orthodoxy.

The Government asserts that its welfare “reform” strategy is aimed at breaking the cycle of “worklessness” and dependency on the welfare system in the UK’s poorest families. Poor Law rhetoric. There’s no such thing as “worklessness,” it’s simply a blame apportioning word, made up by the Tories to hide the fact that they have destroyed the employment market, as they always do.

The strategy fails to explicitly acknowledge the link between women’s poverty and child poverty, it fails to provide the supports needed in terms of flexible childcare and flexible working that women with children need in order to work, and it sets the “blame” for poverty squarely at the feet of the UK’s most disadvantaged families, stigmatising them further and pushing them deeper into poverty as an ideologically-driven means of “freeing” them from poverty.

The “reforms” (cuts) consist of 39 individual changes to welfare payments, eligibility, sanctions and timescales for payment and are intended to save the exchequer around £18 billion. How remarkable that the Department of Work and Pensions claim that such cuts to welfare spending will “reduce poverty.

There’s nothing quite so diabolical as the shock of the abysmally expected: the brisk and brazen Tory lie, so grotesquely untrue. Such reckless rhetoric permeates Government placations for the “reforms”. The “reforms” were hammered through despite widespread protest, and when the House of Lords said “no“, the Tories deployed a rarely used  and ancient parliamentary device, claimed “financial privilege” asserting that only the Commons had the right to make decisions on bills that have large financial implications.

Determined to get their own way, despite the fact no-one welcomed their policy, the Tories took the rare jackbooted, authoritarian step to direct peers they have no constitutional right to challenge the Commons’ decisions further. Under these circumstances, what could possibly go right?

Recently the Government effectively abolished the Child Support Agency. Very quietly. With immediate effect it is replaced, in part, by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). This will cover new arrangements for separated and divorced families where two or more ­children are involved – and will ultimately cover all separated families.

Closure of around one million existing cases starts next year. At which point, if families want to join the new CMS, they need to reapply, start from scratch and pay an initial £20 fee.

The most controversial measure is the introduction of charging for use of the service, which is being held back until 2014. Parents will be encouraged to bypass the CMS altogether and make their own arrangements.

The Government’s own analysis shows that one in 11 – 100,000 – families will drop out of the system entirely and stop getting maintenance for their children rather than go through the stress of ­reapplying.

Gingerbread, an organisation that campaigns for lone parent families have already pointed out that in such tough financial times, any missed payments could have a serious impact on children.

Whilst the Government claim that “encouraging parents to agree terms” regarding supporting children is a positive move, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if such negotiations came with ease, then couples with children wouldn’t separate in the first place, surely.

There is already provision in the law for encouraging divorcing  parents to reach an “agreement of terms”. There will usually be a family court adviser from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to support with parents via mediation, including reaching agreements about child maintenance.

And what of those relationships that have been abusive – where one partner has fled domestic violence, for example?

According to Home Office figures, 1.2 million women reported that they experienced domestic abuse last year in the UK, including half a million victims of sexual assault.

Traumatised women who have just left violent partners, and whose children are distressed, have little respite from the Government imposed obligation to attend “work-focussed interviews” as a condition of getting money to live on. When claimants miss Jobcentre appointments and “work-focussed interviews”, they are sanctioned and lose their benefit, and the Housing Benefit which pays for a refuge place stops too.

Citizens Advice has reported a substantial increase in the number of people telling advisers they are victims. Their figures reveal that 13,500 people – 80% of them women – reported domestic violence to Citizens Advice last year.

There were 3,300 reported incidents between October and December 2012, an 11% increase on the same period the previous year. More than 30% of women have suffered domestic violence.

Convictions for domestic violence rose to 74% of prosecutions in the year leading up to  to March – not far behind the average for other violent crime and up from 60% in 2005-6. At the same time the rape conviction rate was 63.2%, up from 62.5% last year. Ten years ago rape conviction rates were not recorded by the CPS.There is a hidden epidemic of abuse undermining decades of progress in the women’s liberation movement.

Obtaining legal assistance for cases of domestic violence is now much more difficult that it was last year. The legal aid budget is being cut by £350 million a year. With 57% of recipients of legal aid being women, thousands will find themselves without the means to get representation. It has been estimated that 54% of women suffering from domestic violence would not qualify for legal aid. That is unacceptable.

The Everywoman Safe Everywhere Commission, chaired by former Labour MP Vera Baird, says:

Just as there is now overwhelming evidence that women have borne the brunt of the economic recession so too it is clear the services designed to keep them safe are now under threat too.

The Commission found services offering help and ­counselling to abused wives and girlfriends have had their funding cut by 31% since May 2010. As a result women’s refuges are facing closure or having to cut services. There is also a real fear that cuts to housing benefit mean many will not be able to claim help towards staying in a refuge. 

Research by Shelter and Cambridge University suggests that the reforms will in fact cost more in terms of the extra strain on local authorities, such as homeless accommodation services, and the National Health Service.

Income Support, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit for lone parents will be reduced and lone parents will now face new sanctions if they do not find work promptly. They will only receive Income Support if their children are less than 5 years old. Lone parents whose children are older than 5 will have to apply for Job Seekers Allowance and find work regardless of local childcare opportunities.

Such difficult barriers to navigate ordinarily, but for someone enduring the trauma of abuse and fear, it is even more unacceptable to impose such punitive measureson such avery vulnerable social group.

Victims of domestic violence must now show medical evidence before they can qualify for legal aid in family cases. Women and children living with domestic violence may have to visit more than 13 different agencies to get the help they need. For some women the energy and resilience required to persevere and navigate complex services are understandably lacking.

Added problems are that many women are very afraid that their children may be taken into care, that they will be judged as poor parents; bad mothers. And they are right to be afraid.

I have heard professionals talk about women “choosing” to let a violent man back into the family home and expressing their opinion that her relationship with the violent man is obviously more important to her than her relationship with her children.

Yet their reality can be so very extreme and difficult to comprehend because of the utter desperation that these circumstances create – women have absolutely no choice when they have a knife at their throat, or the real and believable threat that the house will be set on fire and the children killed if she doesn’t allow her partner back in.

The risk of letting a violent partner back into the family home, even though this will mean facing daily violence and abuse and the possibility of your children being taken into care is less of a risk than not letting a violent partner back into the home. And we hear, almost on a weekly basis that “distraught” fathers/ husbands have killed or attempted to kill their partners and/or children.

Women also know from painful and bitter experience that the police, the courts, the women’s refuge, social services, the probation service cannot protect her or her children from a man who is determined, obsessive and relentless. Women who are killed by their partners or former partners almost always tell someone “he is going to kill me.” And how has that become normal, within our society?

Our response to domestic abuse, as professionals, as a society and as individual human beings is difficult to understand. We react strongly to reports of war crimes, of torture and institutional abuse and yet we tolerate the long term, unrelenting abuse of women and children in their own homes and blame and punish women when they cannot protect themselves or their children. And the Tory-led welfare processes further narrow the options for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

Refuges for women are reporting that their very existence is under threat from drastic changes to the UK’s welfare system. Without these vital services, more women will be at continued risk of abuse – or worse.

The housing benefit on which refuges depend is the lifeblood of the national network of services that keep women and children safe. But this vital source of income is now at risk. Many of refuges do not meet the official definition of “supported exempt accommodation,” which means that a lot of the women needing support will fall foul of the benefit cap rolled out in July.

This will be particularly damaging for women who pay two rents – one for the refuge they are living in temporarily, and the other for the home they have fled.

Women who move on from refuges and resettle in areas of high rent may also be plunged into debt as a result of the cap. Those who accumulate rent arrears may face eviction and be left with an impossible dilemma either to sleep rough or return to their violent partner.

The new universal credit scheme presents further problems for lone parents. Under this system, all benefit payments will go directly to one member of a couple. In cases of domestic violence, this could give perpetrators command of household income, further enabling them to control and isolate their partners.

One of the most devastating impacts of welfare reform has been the abolition of community care grants and crisis loans. These are two of the most crucial resources for women and children trying to rebuild their lives following abuse. For women moving to new, safe homes, these benefits enabled them to buy items such as beds and refrigerators. The local schemes that have been set up to replace them are underfunded and poorly managed, often providing food bank vouchers instead of cash.

One woman recently supported didn’t even have enough money to buy beds for her two small children. Another woman was delighted to secure a new home in a safe area, but was refused funding for furniture by her local scheme. When a refuge worker applied to children’s services on her behalf, their response was to offer to take her children into care. Is this really the kind of empowerment we must expect for victims of domestic violence who are struggling to forge new lives?

Local authorities are under enormous pressure to limit spending, and their response has been to prioritise funding for residents with a “local connection.” This move is deeply concerning, since women fleeing domestic violence frequently move great distances in search of safety.

One resident recently secured new housing in a different local authority from the refuge she had been staying in, but was refused funding assistance because she had did not qualify as a local resident.

The sum total of consequences of these new welfare processes is bleak. They are narrowing options for women and children experiencing domestic violence and threatening the survival of vital services like refuges.

Local and central Government must ensure that victims of domestic violence do not fall through the gaps in these reforms. Local authorities must train their staff in the complex dynamics and risks of abuse, so that every woman who needs support to rebuild her life is given professional, sensitive consideration, not subjected to a box-ticking exercise. Central government must ensure that refuges are included in the definition of supported exempt accommodation. This will help to protect funding for the network of safe houses that keep women and children safe across the country.

Domestic violence is a national problem. It is a problem that kills an average of two women every week. It is increasing, and we must not risk the reforms inflating this horrific statistic even further.

Gingerbread, the charity representing single parents, has campaigned against the “disproportionate” effects of the benefit cap on single parents who are not working. Families with a single parent make up three-quarters of those losing money in trials of the coalition’s £500-a-week benefit cap, new Government figures show.

Pilot schemes in four London areas discovered that 74% of people affected by the cap in its first few months were lone parents living with their children.

The effect on single parents in these areas has been found to be bigger than the national picture predicted in the Department for Work and Pensions’ impact assessment. It’s unfair that lone parents and their children should bear the brunt of the Government’s failure to address the underlying cause of housing benefit rises: the shortage of affordable housing and the greed of private landlords.

Fiona Weir, Gingerbread’s chief executive, said:

Thousands of young children from single-parent families will face deeper poverty, or the upheaval of having to move away from their family networks and communities as a result of this poorly conceived benefit cap.”

The Government has denied that its cap is aimed at forcing lone parents with young children to go back to work of course. Mark Hoban argued that the scheme is simply “designed to strengthen work incentives and create ‘fairness’ between those in work and those out of it”.

So Hoban and the Tories think that “fairness” is to impoverish lone parents and their children. The punitive approach to poverty didn’t work during the last century, it simply stripped the unfortunate of their dignity, and diverted people, for a while, from recognising the real cause of poverty. It isn’t about individual inadequacies: the poor do not cause poverty, but rather, Governments do via their policy and economic decision-making. Owen Jones recently claimed that “the political right is the inevitable, rational product of an unequal society”.

I disagree. Unequal society is and always has been the rational product of Conservative Governments. History shows this to be true. Tory ideology is built upon a very traditional feudal vision of a “grand scheme of things,” which is extremely and sharply hierarchical.

There are currently only 146 female MPs, out of a total 650 members of parliament. The Tories have only 48 female MPs and 256 male ones. To say that women are under-represented in parliament would be a gross understatement.

In an article titled “Gender Inequality and Gender Differences in Authoritarianism” by Mark J. Brandt and P.J. Henry, it is recognised that there is a direct correlation between the rates of gender inequality and the levels of authoritarian ideas in the male and female populations.

It was found that in countries with less gender equality where individualism was encouraged and men occupied the dominant societal roles, women were more likely to support traits such as obedience which would allow them to survive in an authoritarian environment, and less likely to encourage ideas such as independence and imagination.

In countries with higher levels of gender equality, men held more authoritarian views. It is believed that this occurs due to the stigma attached to individuals who question the cultural norms set by the dominant individuals and establishments in an authoritarian society, as a way to prevent the psychological stress caused by the active ostracising of the stigmatised individuals.

The private sphere is the part of our social life in which individuals enjoy a degree of authority, unhampered by interventions from Governmental or other institutions. Examples of the private sphere are our family, relationships and our home.

There has been an increasing intrusion by Government into the private domain, (the bedroom tax is a good example of this, since it affects our family sleeping arrangements and significantly reduces the choice of home we are permitted to live in) whilst at the same time, our participation in the public domain of  work, business, politics and ideas is being repressed, and we are once again being contained in the private domestic sphere.

The enforcement of the public/private divide was a significant feature of the Victorian Era, too. This divide reflects gendered spaces of men and women. The mantra of second wave feminism, “the personal is political,” signifies the first attempt to break down the gendered division between the private sphere attributed to women and the public sphere and freedoms of men.

In the course of history, women’s voices have been silenced in the public arena. We must therefore contest majoritarian conceptions of the public sphere, once again, that underpin traditional notions of gendered spaces, whilst we also vindicate a robust private sphere that protects minorities from quasi-majoritarian political assault.

For some of us Victorian costume dramas are not merely agreeable ways to while away Sunday evening but enactments of our inner fantasies … I don’t think there has been a better time in our history” – Michael Gove

God preserve us from the rigidly conservative and traditional inner fantasies that have spilled over into the policies of these lunatics, who have no regard, clearly, for human dignity, human rights and the equality of esteem and worth of all citizens.

Once again we see the most vulnerable bear the brunt of the ideologically-driven austerity measures. Welcome back to Victorian patriarchy. This Government refuse to listen, even worse, they go to great lengths to silence us, and they have not been reasonable.

But calm down dears, perhaps Cameron would be more responsive to a nice posy.
1st jan 2009


Equality impact assessments: the current legal position in UK

Government must show due regard, when developing new policies/processes, to their impact on race, disability and gender; Equality Act 2010 (April 2011) adds new categories

  •  Processes should be in place to help ensure that :

– strategies/policies/services are free from discrimination;
– departments comply with equalities legislation;
– due regard is given to equality in decision making etc.; +
– opportunities for promoting equality are identified

  •  Equality Impact Assessments: show impact on protected

– groups (including women) of proposed policy changes, to
– ensure that policies do what is intended and for everybody.

Coalition budget faces legal challenge from Fawcett Society over claims women will bear brunt of cuts

The Fawcett Society’s immediate response to the Chancellor’s 2013 Budget Statement

Government strategy – Preparing for the future, tackling the past -Child Maintenance – Arrears and Compliance Strategy 2012 – 2017

TUC Briefing: The Gender Impact of the Cuts

For help and advice about the  CSA changes: gingerbread.org.uk .

If you are experiencing domestic violence, the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline is: 0808 2000 247

Advice on domestic violence and Legal Aid eligibility – Rights of Women

Women’s Aid – The Survivor’s Handbook

Darren Hill: U.K Welfare Reform and the Youth Contract.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his superb art work

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

 

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Government consultation on measuring child poverty. So, what’s that about?

The Government are currently developing “better measures of child poverty” to provide a “more accurate reflection of the reality of child poverty.” According to the Tory-led Coalition, poverty isn’t caused by a lack of income. The Coalition have conducted a perfunctory consultation that did little more than provide a Conservative ideological framework to catch carefully calculated, subliminally-shaped public responses.

This framework was pre-fabricated by the strange déjà vu musings of Charles Murray, the American sociologist that exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast. Murray’s culture of poverty theory popularised notions that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities, poor character and level of abilities.

Of course, this perspective also assumes that the opposite is true: wealthy and “successful” people are so because they are more talented, motivated and less lazy, and are thus more deserving. Just like the widely discredited social Darwinism of the Victorian era, proposed by the likes of Conservative sociologist Herbert Spencer, (who originally coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and not Darwin, as is widely held) these resurrected ideas have a considerable degree of popularity in upper-class and elite Conservative circles, where such perspectives provide a justification for extensive privilege. In addition, poor communities are seen as socialising environments where values such as fatalism are transmitted from generation to “workshy” generation.

Perhaps that’s why Thatcher destroyed so many communities: in a bid to drive her own demon out. It was invoked by a traditional Tory ritual of blame. Political responsibility was sacrificed, and that’s also a traditional Tory ritual.

According to traditionalist sociologists Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore, not only is poverty a reflection of one’s lack of talents, but inequality is necessary and functional for society. Some positions are socially more important (or functional) than others. Such important positions usually require deferred gratification – sacrifices – to be attained: surgeons need long years of education and dedication to finally practice their crafts. Therefore, it is legitimate that those who make such sacrifices be rewarded with money, power and prestige. Such rewards are offered to motivate the best and brightest to aim for such positions. The poor are poor because they are less intelligent, talented, driven, innovative, motivated, self-restrained and hard working, according to the right-wing pseudomeritocratic narrative. 

Of course we know from psychological studies that the “brightest and best” are often driven by greed, hunger for power and status: narcissism and psychopathic ambitions, and that the genuinely brightest and best are very often less well financially rewarded for more virtuous and intelligent behaviours.

The salary/pay differences between nurses and footballers is a good example that highlights the myth of meritocracy. We reward good eye and foot coordination skills in footballers and prize them far more highly as a society than we do caring, medical knowledge and health and healing skills in nurses.

How we organise socially (which is shaped considerably within a dominant paradigm of competitive individualism, and a Conservative neoliberal economic framework) and how we endorse and reward behaviours as a society is also a big factor in the distribution of competitive, (as opposed to cooperative) greedy, narcissistic, (as opposed to empathic, collectivist) psychopathic traits in those holding the most financially rewarding positions of power.

Blame-the-victim theories of poverty assume that all individuals think alike independently of their social context and circumstances. They ignore the actual resilience and ingenuity that people in absolute poverty mobilise in order to simply survive. And these theories also ignore the tremendous social obstacles that block people’s path to prosperity, such as war or political and ethnic repression. They ignore, in particular, the crucially significant role that Government decision-making and policy plays in shaping inequalities, and the distribution of wealth.

An overview of the underhanded, not the underclass.

In the consultation, material deprivation was mentioned almost in passing. Iain Duncan Smith memorably said recently that poverty isn’t caused by a lack of money. Oh really? Hmmm…  I suppose if you are stranded on a desert island, then it isn’t, but that’s not applicable here as a line of reasoning, Iain. Although I have seen many impoverished souls amongst the rich, I have yet to see a materially deprived wealthy person. Gosh, I’m surprised you didn’t know that the elite do tend to accomplish avoiding vagabondage and pauperism with aplomb, Iain.

Other “causes” of poverty outlined in the document include “worklessness,” unmanageable debt, poor housing, parental skill level, family stability,  and quality education, substance abuse and addiction … and it’s sounding like a Charles Murray Bell Curve mantra to me. Tory ritualistic chanting again.

Eugenics in a ball gown.

This Tory and almost quaint positivist notion of “cause and effect” – personal and socio-cultural inadequacies cause social inequality and poverty – is teleological (functionalist): poor housing, unmanageable debt, family instability and lack of access to quality education are all outcomes of poverty, not causes. I know this to be true, having worked with families that were experiencing difficulties caused by periods of deprivation and poverty, and I have to report that those sorts of misfortunes happened to people regardless of their social background. (Although I must add that none of the upper class or elite, to my knowledge, have ever required intensive support from social services.)

Yet these ideas have become tacitly accepted socially, politicised vigorously and relentlessly, and given pseudo-credibility in the largely right-wing agendarised media. Inequality in Britain today is now so stark, yet there is remarkably little public concern or anger about poverty. (But plenty of anger about the “feckless” poor.) Indeed, compassion and concern for the poorest in society has declined substantially due to the sustained and increasing prevalence of the view that poverty is largely caused by laziness and is the fault of the individual, and that is also simply a shruggable, unavoidable fact of life. Poverty is caused by the poor. It’s not a generous or an expansive view of human nature, from the Tory ontological camp.

Moreover, much of the British public believes that there are sufficient opportunities to succeed for those who try hard enough, and also that it is the middle class which actually struggles the most, economically. These assumptions are highly Conservative, ideologically, with political implications that limit public support for egalitarianism and extensive wealth redistribution from rich to poor, and stifle empathy and understanding for the victims of poverty. There is also, of course, the fact that many don’t want to think about the issue at all, because it causes discomfort and unease: making poverty visible reminds people on some subliminal level, no matter how much they blame the victim, that poverty could nonetheless happen to anyone. The saying goes that most of us are just a couple of pay cheques away from destitution. To many, this is tacit knowledge, but such misfortune will never happen to them.

Competition is threaded throughout the Conservative neoliberal ideological framework, and the Tories have always been inclined to see society as having a hierarchical organisation and structure. Competitive individualism is an all-pervasive social contagion, and has led to those who have the least feeling that they are competing the most for rapidly disappearing resources. This is why the media propaganda campaigns of the Government have seen success, because the Government, via the media, has tapped into this contagion and constructed convenient scapegoats.

Sick and disabled people have been negatively labelled and stigmatised by the media, and it’s no coincidence that hate crimes directed at this social group have significantly increased. We see the poor who work hating the poor unemployed, we see the poor unemployed hating poor immigrants, and we see people who are poor and ill saying that they deserve more support than others that are also poor and ill.

Yet instead of maintaining divisions, the casualities of this Government’s policies would do better to organise, cooperate and mutually support each other. There’s a few socialist principles to counter the isolating poverty trance that many of us are in danger of succumbing to. We can’t afford to be dazed. “Divide and conquer” as a propaganda strategy has certainly been effective, and whilst the authoritarian diversionary (middle) finger is being pointed in blame at the poor and the vulnerable, the real villains are stealing all of our money, and stripping away our publicly funded services and support programs, and enjoying huge tax cuts and handouts as they go. Poverty and wealth do tend to grow together. It’s no coincidence.

I do not agree with the idea that “worklessness” is the cause of child poverty, or many of the other “causes” proposed in the consultation document. We are in an economic recession, and I do believe the Government has a duty to protect the most vulnerable of its citizens, rather than blaming them for the consequences of Government policies. What has happened instead is Coalition policies have contributed enormously to creating more poverty and are set to continue to do so, at a rapid pace, especially once the rest of the cuts via the Localism Bill, Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap are implemented from April. Coalition policies have of course generated more money for the wealthy, with the very wealthiest gaining around £107, 000 each per year, for example, whilst austerity targets the poorest disproportionately. That is the cause of poverty: utilising social and economic policies to bring about a hugely unequal, grossly unfair and unmerited redistribution of wealth.

In a time of economic recession, jobs are lost, unemployment rates are rising, (despite what we are being told by Cameron – how can we possibly have the best employment rates since the 1960’s, when we are in the middle of the worst global recession we have seen for many decades?) and businesses are increasingly facing bankruptcy, it is therefore hardly fair to penalise the unemployed. Yet taking money from those who have the least via the “reforms,” sanctions and work fare is the Government’s response to the rising unemployment, and to sickness and disability, too. We know that work fare results in even more job losses, because we know that businesses are inclined to get rid of paid workers and replace them with free labour, which comes funded from the tax payer, and so further increases company profits.

We know that private companies are driven by the profit motive, and that they ride roughshod over human needs. They employ the cheapest (and therefore least qualified and professional) workforce that they can. They provide the cheapest materials, economise and make “efficiency savings” in services they provide.

Add to that the matter of Government targets to “incentivise” businesses through further financial reward – with the political aim of reducing State support for the poorest and most vulnerable – and we have the most corrupt and inhumane profiting from human misery, with private companies such as Atos being encouraged explicitly (contractually and via policies) to inflict misery, and being financially rewarded for inflicting that misery, suffering, sometimes death, and of course, increasing financial hardship and poverty. Companies like Atos and A4E reflect the very worst aspects of “vulture capitalism”. It is the asset-stripping of our public services, selling them off and exploiting people for profit, no matter what the cost is to those people.

Sanctions of up to 3 years – stopping a person’s basic means of survival (benefit covers the cost of food and fuel, with housing benefit covering the other basic survival need – shelter) means that those who cannot find work will quite likely die. That’s a fact. Evidence of this biological fact is well articulated by Abraham Maslow  (see Maslow’s Hierarchy.)  Maslow’s proposition also illuminates clearly why poor people cannot be “incentivised” or “helped” through sanctions and  punishment, or motivated by these methods to find none existent jobs when they are struggling to survive.

When people are struggling to meet their most basic needs, they cannot summon the effort to do anything else. The Government expect us to believe that punishing poor people will somehow cure them of their poverty, although many people who are not claiming a benefit won’t know about the punishment regime in place for the unemployed poor, since the use of words by the Government like “helping” people into work (that isn’t real) is such a big detour from truth, and it makes a completely menacing, sneering mockery of the real meaning of that word.  Ah, those “caring” Conservatives are at it again …

We really need to ask ourselves what kind of Government would steal money from the poorest citizens through “reforming” the system of welfare provision, when we are in recession. Then ask again why there is a desire to redefine poverty in a way that excludes the obvious reason for it: a lack of money. One cannot help but wonder why the Coalition think that poor people need money taken from them to “incentivise” them, but very wealthy people need money giving to them, to “incentivise” them. Where did the money come from that rewarded so well those who do not need it ? Oh yes, I can see now….

A simple truth is that poverty happens because some people are very, very rich. That happens ultimately because of Government policies that create, sustain and extend inequalities. The very wealthy are becoming wealthier, the poor are becoming poorer. This is a consequence of  “vulture capitalism” – at the core of Tory ideology – designed by the opportunism and greed of a few, it is instituted, facilitated and directed by the Tory-led Coalition.  

Welfare provision was paid for by the public, via tax and NI contributions. It is not a “handout.” It is not the Government’s money to cut. That is our provision, paid for by us to support us if and when we need it. It’s the same with the National Health Service. These public services and provisions do not and never did belong to the Government to sell off, make profit from, and strip bare as they have done.

Low wages and low benefit levels, rising unemployment and a high cost of living are major causes of poverty. “Worklessness” is a made up word to imply that the consequences of Government policies are somehow the fault of the victims of traditional Tory prejudices.

It’s a psychological and linguistic attack on the vulnerable – blaming the unemployed for unemployment, and the poor for poverty. Those are a consequence of Coalition policies. The Coalition take money from those who need it most to give away to those who need it least. That causes poverty. The Coalition are creating poverty via the consequences of policies. Occasionally they do admit it, or more likely, slip up with a truth. (It was Steve Webb in this case, in addition to the opposition.)

Bearing in mind we are in a recession, I believe that the way the most vulnerable have been treated is unforgivable, and inhumane, and it also breaches several basic human rights. Poverty is caused by economic policies driven by political prejudice and ideology. Poverty is generated through structural – socio-economic – conditions that some Governments impose on a population. I would therefore like to see acknowledgement of this in the Tory-led  measurement of poverty. It’s time the Coalition took some responsibility for the appalling and miserable conditions and human suffering that they are deliberately imposing on the Citizens that they are meant to serve

Given the Coalition’s significant contribution to the continuing rise in childhood poverty, it’s worth noting their abject failure to meet their obligations to make provision for children at risk from the effects of poverty, because they prefer instead to make provision for those who need it the very least: the already very wealthy.

Signatories (such as the UK, since 1991) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history), are legally obliged to protect children from the adverse effects of economic policies.

The Coalition’s austerity measures, which target the poorest citizens for the greatest proportion of cuts, must surely breach this Convention.

Article 3: (Best interests of the child.) The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to BUDGET, POLICY AND LAW MAKERS.

That would be the Government.

 The Convention Rights of Children


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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone.

 


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