Tag: Human Rights

The Choice Architecture Of Poverty

Special Rapporteur Philip Alston has presented a United Nations Report on Poverty in the UK. The UK Mainstream Media have not really excelled in analysis or presentation of the findings. After almost a decade of Nudge by Press Release, the Guardian has missed the vital message while the BBC has simply recycled old Government Press Releases. The Mainstream Media seem to be shy about embracing the most damning finding of the report.  

In December 2017, Professor Alston carried out a visit to the USA – California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Washington DC – carrying out the same kind of investigation as has just finished in the UK. The most damning finding of the UN-US Report on Poverty was similar to the most damning finding of the UN-UK Report on Poverty. Had the Guardian excelled in Journalism they might have highlighted that the UN was not simply finding something isolated.

The Guardian and the BBC might not have concluded that the “Government is in denial” because following the implications of the most damning finding is that POVERTY IS A CHOICE 

Both in 2017, in the USA, and in 2018 in the UK, the UN has concluded that poverty is a choice and that Government has made the decision that the only choice on offer is compliance or poverty. The Mainstream Media is failing to follow any kind of analysis that follows the implications of the finding that poverty is a choice and there is no adequate explanation as to why? The notion that poverty is a choice is one that has been foisted onto everybody by the Government since 2010. Welfare Changes have been touted as Reforms which will enable people to choose to lift themselves out of poverty. That choice takes place within the Choice Architecture that has been created by policy.   

In the UN-US Report, Alston states that: 

“ …I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into unpayable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers…”  

In the UN-UK Report, Alston similarly finds that:  

One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor. Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time. As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years.”  

The Mainstream Media make no connection between the American Experience and the British Experience. As if there was no connection between US Policy and UK Policy. As if all the shuttling back and forth between Republicans and Conservatives has never had any impact. As if the Minor Infraction Notices are, in no way, related to Benefit Sanctions. There is an almost willing blindness: never stray from the press release.  

The UN Rapporteur was never commissioned to analyse Nudge Theory. The outcome of eight years of Libertarian Paternalism has transformed British Society into something that, the UN recognises, punishes the Poverty it also chooses to deliver. The overwhelming Mainstream Media response has been the Punch and Judy caricature and Poverty Porn Prurience instead of analysis.

How did a Government get to the point where Human Rights are optional or contingent upon being an Employee: this is a question central to the current Welfare Policy which is transforming British Society. It also has an answer that the UN Rapporteur gives: POVERTY IS A CHOICE.  

In putting forward an endless series of press releases and promoting the production of daytime television portraying skivers and strivers the Department of Work and Pensions has been nudging the Mainstream Media into only presenting a narrative where strivers can choose to leave poverty and only skivers would want to avoid that choice. The constant nudging – the well written Press Releases that, frequently, substitute for actual Journalism – has worked. The Government has decided to provide the choice of poverty in a range of ways.  

The Government provision of choices of poverty underline that decisions are placed beyond Claimants in a calculated and cruel manner. The Choice Architecture prevents Claimants from making decisions. Decisions would empower Claimants and also permit innovation. Claimants could determine what is the best course of action. Instead the digital by default process has been used to provide a series of choices without any deviation permitted.

A Claimant who fails to fill in any choice – and fill it in correctly, and fill it in digitally – automatically chooses poverty. Similarly, those who fail to know that choices have been proffered are choosing poverty. The complexity of the choice architecture is overwhelming – even for those engaged in administering it. It is a system that has been designed to deliver poverty – and it has.  

The skills to interact with a State that is being made actively oppositional and digital as the UN-UK Report highlights:   

The reality is that digital assistance has been outsourced to public libraries and civil society organizations. Public libraries are on the frontline of helping the digitally excluded and digitally illiterate who wish to claim their right to Universal Credit.” 

Which is not too distant from the UN-US Report:

Much more attention needs to be given to the ways in which new technology impacts the human rights of the poorest Americans. This inquiry is of relevance to a much wider group since experience shows that the poor are often a testing ground for practices and policies that may then be applied to others. These are some relevant concerns.”  

The truth is, the US and the UK have parallel tracks in overarching Policy objectives: eliminate the State and have the Poor fend for themselves. The emphasis on digital systems as a means to distance Policy Makers from Policy Delivery and to “cut costs” is evident across the US and UK Reports. Pretrial detention has been an area calling for systematic reform in the US for decades. The UN-US Report observes:   

Automated risk assessment tools, take “data about the accused, feed it into a computerized algorithm, and generate a prediction of the statistical probability the person will commit some future misconduct, particularly a new crime or missed court appearance.”

The system will generally indicate whether the risk for the particular defendant, compared to observed outcomes among a population of individuals who share certain characteristics, is ‘high’, ‘moderate’, or ‘low’. Judges maintain discretion, in theory, to ignore the risk score.” 

Which reflects the “automated” nature of the Work Capability Assessment for the Disabled in the UK, previously reported by the UN as being either at risk or actually in the process of grave human rights abuse. In the UN-UK Report the Automated Risk Assessment tools are commented upon:   

But it is clear that more public knowledge about the development and operation of automated systems is necessary. The segmentation of claimants into low, medium and high risk in the benefit system is already happening in contexts such as ‘Risk-based verification.’ Those flagged as ‘higher risk’ are the subject of more intense scrutiny and investigation, often without even being aware of this fact. The presumption of innocence is turned on its head when everyone applying for a benefit is screened for potential wrongdoing in a system of total surveillance. And in the absence of transparency about the existence and workings of automated systems, the rights to contest an adverse decision, and to seek a meaningful remedy, are illusory.”   

Which underlines that the Government of the day – regardless of political inclination – are delivering Policy Objectives without transparency, clarity or even sufficient information to determine what the Policy Objectives are. When policy objectives only become clear through outcomes, there is a clear suspicion that Democracy has been subverted. Which is the general direction the UN-US and UN-UK Reports indicate. There are serious Human Rights failings but also a serious democratic deficit arising from the idea that POVERTY IS A CHOICE.   

The use of Computer Systems is not neutral or innocent. The Special Rapporteur notes that:   

it is worrying that the Data Protection Act 2018 creates a quite significant loophole to the GDPR for government data use and sharing in the context of the Framework for Data Processing by Government.”  

Which is not simplistically that UK Government Departments have “rights” to trawl through personal data but that it is increasingly criminalised for Claimants – more than eight million people – to object to that trawl or to object to the sharing of data with Commercial Contractors. Those same Contractors being Employers and the inevitable consequence of data sharing being to put Claimants at a distinct power and negotation disadvantage when contracts of Employment are considered. Because the UK Government Departments have zero obligation to ensure Claimants get the best possible job. Simply that Claimants flow off the Register.   

Which is how POVERTY IS A CHOICE is being delivered from Government to the People. Interaction with the Department of Work and Pensions has become the single most corrosive interaction with Government that People can have. The design of benefits has become an exercise in delivering the ideological convictions of the Government regardless of the practicality of those convictions. For the Conservative Government, that conviction is that people should be in poverty unless they are Employed. Which ensures the disabled, parents, students, pensioners, entrepreneurs in start-up and Carers are locked into a combative process in which the only exit is to choose poverty.  

The UK Mainstream Media is not really exploring this dimension of the UN Rapporteur’s commentary. It leads to uncomfortable terrain for any Journalist. Not least, the intimate connection between the Republicans in the US and the Conservatives in the UK. The ideological convergence of the Conservatives with the Republicans has delivered a wide range of public policy disasters. The Department of Work and Pensions has been allowed carte blanche to redesign the Welfare State based on the Workfare preferred by the Republicans.

The Nudge Unit has crossed, and recrossed, the Atlantic ensuring that the Conservative’s historic prejudice for “the right to manage” has become inflated. Including all aspects of social existence into contractual relationships between the Government and the People. Dating back to Ronald Reagan’s 1985 “Contract with America” speech where everything was reduced to legislation as contract and society became replaceable with a well ordered business.

The UK Mainstream Media is not really capable of exploring these ideas because, quite simply, to do so is to undermine the interests of their owners. Without any need for coercion, the Government is capable of nudging the Media into endlessly propagating the POVERTY IS A CHOICE agenda.  

Despite the comprehensive nature of the UN Rapporteurs investigations and reporting, there is little about the UN-UK Report that is actually surprising. The connection between the UN-UK and UN-US Reports might well be a surprise to the Media. Realistically, there should be no surprise at all. The Extremists of The Atlantic Bridge, The Heritage Foundation and all the myriad of Far Right Think Tanks since Reagan, have all been promoting the same ideas both sides of the Atlantic. They have all been ensuring that the tools exist for Government to make only once choice possible for the People and that choice is Poverty.  

UN-UK Report  

UN-US Report 

 Picture: Mika Rottenberg, Bowls Balls Souls Holes, Video Installation Rose Art Museum Waltham USA (2104). 

This article was written by Hubert Huzzah.


 

 

Tens of thousands of people claiming ESA owed thousands each due to government blunder

Tens of thousands of disabled people are set to receive backdated benefit payments averaging £5,000 following a government error. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed it will pay out more than £1.5bn after “shoddy administration” meant about 180,000 people did not receive benefits they were legally entitled to after being ‘migrated’ from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The average underpayment for each person is estimated to be about £5,000, but some people will be owed significantly more, with approximately 20,000 having been underpaid around £11,500 and a small number owed as much as £20,000.

The error was first thought to have resulted in underpayment for 70,000 disabled people over seven years, but a government document published on Wednesday shows it is expected to have affected far more people, with the estimated back payments bill having risen from £340m to £970m. 

The average underpayment for each person affected is estimated to be about £5,000, but some people will be owed significantly more, with approximately 20,000 people having been underpaid around £11,500 and a small number owed as much as £20,000.

Initially, the government said there would be up to £150m that may never be paid back because arrears would only be accounted for as far back as 21 October 2014, the date of a legal tribunal ruling – meaning some would never have been reimbursed. However, following legal action, ministers made a U-turn in July and subsequently announced it would pay back the thousands of disabled people in full. 

In July, Esther McVey, the minster for work and pensions, made a ministerial statement: “The Department has analysed the relationship between ‘official error’ and section 27 of the Social Security Act 1998 in regulating how and to what extent arrears can be paid. As a result of the conclusions of this analysis, we will now be paying arrears to those affected back to their date of conversion to ESA.

“My department will be contacting all those identified as potentially affected as planned. Once an individual is contacted, and the relevant information gathered, they can expect to receive appropriate payment within 12 weeks.” 

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, accused the Conservatives of creating a “hostile environment for sick and disabled people”.

She added: “Disabled people have been short-changed and denied the social security they were entitled to. The government must ensure that disabled people who have been so unfairly treated are properly compensated.”

McVey also confirmed that once contacted, claimants would be provided with a dedicated free phone number on which they can make contact with the department.

The government said it was in the process of reviewing about 570,000 ESA cases that could be affected, and that it expects to complete the process by the end of 2019.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Anyone affected by this historic error will receive all of the money they are entitled to. That is why we have created a dedicated team of over 400 staff to examine cases, and have paid back around £120m so far. 

“We have worked with charities and other disability organisations to make sure that we are providing the right support to all affected claimants and are hiring and allocating more staff to do that.”

Responding at the time of the ruling, Carla Clarke, solicitor for Child Poverty Action Group, which launched the legal action, said: “Poor and inadequate DWP processes left up to 70,000 [now estimated at 180,000] disabled individuals without the support they should have received to help them with their additional costs.  

Justice required that the DWP error was corrected in its entirety for the people affected, many of whom are owed arrears from 2011. We are pleased that the DWP agreed that this was correct following our legal action. 

However, it shouldn’t be necessary to take a government department to court to achieve justice for people who have been failed by officials making avoidable errors.”

The government’s hostile environment and Personal Independence Payments

Image result for universal credit disabled people criticism

The government announced in January this year that every person receiving Personal Independence Payments (PIP) will have their claim reviewed. A total of 1.6 million of the main disability benefit claims will be reviewed, with around 220,000 people expected to receive more money.

The decision came after the DWP decided not to challenge a court ruling that said changes to PIP were unfair to people with mental health conditions. The review could cost £3.7bn by 2023.

The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said the DWP was embarking on a “complex exercise and of considerable scale”.

She added: “Whilst we will be working at pace to complete this exercise, it is important that we get it right.”

The government should have got it right in the first place. It shouldn’t be necessary to take a government department to court to achieve justice for people who have been failed by officials.

Ministers made changes to PIP in 2017 which limited the amount of support people with mental health conditions could receive. As a result, people who were unable to travel independently on the grounds of psychological distress – as opposed to other conditions – were not entitled to the enhanced mobility rate of the benefit. 

The government pressed ahead with these changes, despite criticism from an independent tribunal in 2016.

In 2017, an independent review of PIP was highly critical of the assessment system, after revealing 65% of those who appealed against rejected claims saw the decision overturned by judges.

Last December, a High Court judge ruled the alterations “blatantly discriminate” against people with psychiatric problems and were a breach of their human rights.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey subsequently announced that the government would not appeal against the judgement, despite not agreeing with ‘certain aspects of it.’ 

 Disability income guarantee cut under Universal Credit

The first legal challenge against Universal Credit in June this year found that the government discriminated against two men with severe disabilities who were required to claim the new benefit after moving into new local authority area.

Prior to moving, both men were in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at meeting the additional care needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer, as part of their Employment and Support Allowance entitlement.

Recently released figures from the DWP suggest that 500,000 individuals are in receipt of the SDP. Both the SDP and EDP have been axed and are not available under Universal Credit. According to both the men, they were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change.

Despite repeated assurances from the government that “no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to Universal Credit where circumstances remain the same” both claimants saw an immediate drop in their income of around £178 a month when they were moved onto Universal Credit.

When they asked for top up payments they were told that government policy was that no such payments would be paid until July 2019, when managed migration would begin.

The court ruled that the implementation of Universal Credit and the absence of any ‘top up’ payments for disabled people as compared to others constitutes discrimination contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Following months of litigation, McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, carried out a policy U-turn and committed the government to ensuring that no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be made to move onto Universal Credit until transitional protection is in place and also committed to compensating those like the two disabled men who have lost out.

Despite this, following hand down of the judgment the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has sought permission to appeal, maintaining that there was “nothing unlawful” with the way the disabled claimants were treated.

However, a subsequent court case resulted in agreement on compensation for the two men. TP will now receive £3,277 for past financial losses and £3,240 for the pain and distress he has been caused, as well as £173.50 a month to cover the shortfall in his benefits pending transitional protection coming into force.

AR will receive £2,108 for past financial losses and £2,680 for the anxiety and distress he was caused, as well as a monthly payment of £176 to make up the shortfall in his benefits.

The DWP had initially attempted to keep the terms of the agreement secret. However, the High Court ordered the department to disclose the details of the compensation settlement. 

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “This again demonstrates the government’s mistreatment of disabled people.

“These men were assured by the government that they wouldn’t lose out on universal credit but they were left thousands of pounds out of pocket, which severely impacted on their wellbeing.

“Esther McVey should now compensate all those who lost out, reverse cuts to transitional protection, and withdraw her appeal against the original finding of discrimination.

“The government must also stop the roll out of universal credit and fix its fundamental flaws.

“The next Labour government will transform our social security system, ensuring it is there to support disabled people to live independently and with dignity.”

Tessa Gregory, from the law firm Leigh Day, who represented the two men, known only as AR and TP, welcomed the financial settlements.

But she called on McVey to compensate all other claimants in similar positions, and to reconsider her decision to appeal the finding of discrimination.

She said AR and TP had called on McVey to “urgently” reconsider draft regulations which currently only compensate disabled people in their position with a flat rate payment of £80 a month.

Gregory said: “This plainly does not reflect the actual loss suffered by our clients and thousands like them and compounds the unlawful treatment to which they have been subjected.”

The DWP have refused to answer questions about the case, including how many disabled people it believed had so far lost out on EDP and SDP in the move to universal credit, and whether McVey would reconsider her decision to compensate others in the same position as AR and TP by only £80 a month.

A DWP spokesman confirmed: “The government is appealing the decision of the judicial review, but in the interim we have agreed to make payments to the lead claimants.”

Figures published by the DWP suggest that, in February this year, there were 4,000 SDP claimants and 14,000 EDP claimants (including 3,000 who received both EDP and SDP) who have been moved onto universal credit.

The DWP has previously said it will stop moving claimants of SDP onto universal credit until the introduction of transitional protection next year, while all those who have already lost out through such a move will receive some backdated payments.

But it has not offered them the full compensation agreed with AR and TP and there has been no mention so far of claimants who previously received EDP but not SDP before their move onto universal credit.

And the DWP has still not been able to explain how it justifies not providing equivalent levels of support to new disabled claimants of universal credit, who will receive lower payments than those transferred onto universal credit from legacy benefits such as income-related ESA.

DNS has been forced to complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office about DWP’s refusal to offer a detailed description of how the introduction of universal credit – and the loss of the premiums – will impact disabled people financially.

I did some joint work with Alex, who writes at Universal Credit Sufferer, after a third sector welfare advisor informed us that people claiming PIP were being told to claim legacy benefits – ESA or JSA if they are fit for work – by the DWP and that they were not allowed to sign onto Universal Credit. 

Following several calls between us to the DWP press office, it was clear that staff were not at all clear about this situation. The response we eventually got was “We need to check with officials and come back to you tomorrow.” However, I didn’t get a follow-up call. 

It seems that all new claims for Universal Credit will not be accepted if the person claiming is in receipt of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Daily Living Component. However, this move has not been widely publicised. Both Alex and I found that when we used Universal Credit’s online application portal, it will not accept a claim if you declare you are in receipt of Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

While it may be a reluctantly positive move on the part of the government to ensure that disabled people won’t be forced into claiming universal credit and therefore losing their disability premiums, this isn’t a long term solution. It nothing to address the loss of the premiums for new disabled claimants. Nor does it address the controversial and fatally flawed assessment and appeal processes that are unfit for purpose under any welfare circumstance.

But the road to tyranny is mostly paved by government that create hostile environments for some groups and ignore citizens’ accounts of the impacts of their actions on citizens.


Related

Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit.

Work and Pensions Committee publishes “damning” evidence of the impact of Universal Credit

Disabled people ‘worse off’ under universal credit

 


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The Centre for Social Justice say Brexit is ‘an opportunity’ to introduce private insurance schemes to replace contribution-based social security

Image result for demolition of welfare state UK kittysjones

I’ve written two lengthy pieces about the new report and submission this month to the UNCRPD – UK Independent Mechanism update report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (published October 2018 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission) – which provides an independent assessment of the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM) on the “disappointing” lack of progress by the UK governments to implement the UN’s recommendations since August 2017. You can access the articles here and here

The UKIM report says that the government “has not taken appropriate measures to combat negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including the government’s own claims that ‘dependency’ on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment.” 

This is important because it shows just how embedded traditional Conservative prejudice is in policy design and within the practices that social security administration has come to entail. 

Image result for welfare state UK

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

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

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

However, most of the public have already contributed to social security, those needing support tend to move in and out of work. Very few people remain out of work on a permanent basis. The Conservatives have created a corrosive and divisive myth that there are two discrete groups in society: tax payers and ‘scroungers’ – a class of economic free riders.

This intentionally divisive narrative of course is not true, since people claiming welfare support also pay taxes, such as VAT and council tax, and most have already worked and will work again, given the opportunity to do so. For those who are too ill to work, as a so-called civilised society, we should not hesitate to support them.

The government’s mindset is very disciplinarian. In their view, everyone else needs ‘corrective treatment’ to ensure that society is shaped and ruled the way they think it ought to be. The government believes that rather than addressing social problems – many of which are created and perpetuated by their own policies, such as growing inequality and absolute poverty – can be addressed by ‘incentivising’ people to ‘behave’ differently. In other words, they believe that people can be punished out of poverty, being ill, being out of work, and from being less “competitive”, cost effective citizens, letting down the Conservative’s constructed, overarching neoliberal state.

The ’round table’ report from the Centre for Social Justice 

Public policies that are supposed to address fundamental human needs arising from sickness and disability are tainted by a neoliberal idée fixe. The leitmotif is a total corporacratic commodification of human needs and relationships. This has entailed the government permitting private companies to build toll gates to essential support services, building hierarchies of human worth within the closed and entropic context of a competitive market place, where resources are “scarce” and people are being herded; where the only holding principle that operates is profit over human need.

In a report from the Centre for Social Justice (an Orwellian title if ever there was one) called REFORMING CONTRIBUTORY BENEFITS (2016), David Cameron is quoted in the introduction: 

“We have already come a long way in the last 5 years. In the last Parliament we created Universal Credit so that work would always pay. We capped benefits so we struck the right balance between incentivising work and supporting the most vulnerable. And we set up the largest programme to get people into work since the 1930s with over a million people coming off the main out of work benefits and over 2 million getting into work. But when it comes to reforming, we still have further to go …” David Cameron, June 2015.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is a neoliberal right wing think tank, founded by Iain Duncan Smith. The CSJ has played an important role in the design and development of Universal Credit. 

In the opening paragraph, the report says: “William Beveridge’s original blueprint for a welfare state had personal contributions at its core. Indeed, there is widespread consensus that the contributory principle inculcates a degree of responsibility and ownership in a system that has been criticised for breeding dependency.” (My emphasis).

These are views widely held by neoliberal Conservatives, not everyone else.

As UKIM pointed out in their report, the term “welfare dependency” is itself controversial, often carrying derogatory connotations that the recipient of welfare support is unwilling to work. This narrative has diverted attention from the structural factors that cause and entrench poverty, such as government policy, labour market conditions and economic change. Instead of focusing on how to tackle the root causes of poverty, the Conservatives have focused instead on attacking the supposed poor character, morals and psychology of those needing social security support.

This narrative transforms individual experiences of social inequality and being in poverty into a personal failing, rather than a failure of the state. The ideas came from political writers such as Lawrence M. Mead. In his 1986 book Beyond Entitlement: The Social Obligations of Citizenship, Mead argued that American welfare was too permissive, giving out benefit payments without demanding anything from poor people in return, particularly not requiring the recipient to work. Mead viewed this as directly linked to the higher incidence of social problems among poor Americans, more as a cause than an effect of poverty. Neoliberal governments in both the US and UK found these ideas appealing, and the government of Margaret Thatcher imported several other similar US ideas. 

Charles Murray argued that American social policy ignored people’s inherent tendency to ‘avoid hard work’ and to be ‘amoral’, and that from the ‘War on Poverty’ onward the government had given welfare recipients disincentives to work, marry, or have children in wedlock. His 1984 book Losing Ground was also highly influential in the welfare reforms of the 1980s and 90s, and remains so among neoliberal Conservatives. 

Murray 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.

Charles Murray and Lawrence Mead clearly made an impact on the international policy debate in the 1980s, partly due to the legitimisation that they received from the support of the Reagan and Thatcher administrations for their central claims. They were particularly influential in the growth of work fare and a welfare system based on punishment and psycho-compulsion. Murray claimed the underclass of poor people avoid work because of the “overgenerous” nature of welfare benefits. Mead argued that a “culture of poverty” meant that workfare policies are required to ‘reintegrate’ and ‘incentivise’ the ‘unemployed poor.’ 

This toxic brand of neoliberal anti-welfarism, amplified by the corporate media, has aimed at reconstruction of society’s “common sense” assumptions, values and beliefs. Class, disability and race narratives in particular, associated with traditional prejudices and categories from the right wing, have been used to nudge the UK to re-imagine citizenship, human rights and democratic inclusion as highly conditional.  

Leaving the European Union provides an opportunity for the government to shift what is left of social security from public to private provision

The round table paper discusses the ‘further reform’ to welfare that Cameron hinted at:

One of the reasons why this has not happened so far has been the commitment to EU rules on maintaining a benefit programme that is exportable. The British Government succeeded in establishing that Universal Credit would not be exportable as long as contributory benefits were. 

Had contributory benefits been abolished whilst UK social security was bound by EU law, this would have exposed Universal Credit (the significantly larger budget) to exportability. In light of the British vote to leave the EU, however, there is now the possibility of reforming contributory benefits without breaching EU law.” 

The authors of the report say reforming welfare would mean “[a] new insurance model would also allow competition, greater diversification and, finally, the opportunity for claimants to take control over their long term financial support.” 

During the round table discussion, participants discussed a “potential solution”  put forward by private company Legal & General. The report itself carries legal & General’s logo. 

The suggestion was to replace the contributory benefits system with a low premium social insurance scheme delivered by employers through an auto-enrolment structure. This new social insurance scheme would take the form of a ‘rainy day guarantee’, where beneficiaries would make regular payments into the scheme, which would protect against the risk of “future income shocks as a result of long term sickness or unemployment.”

The target for the new social insurance scheme would initially be individuals from “the professional and skilled class who have fewer transactional experiences with Government. They are less likely to suffer a shock to income from illness or sudden unemployment and often need support  infrequently and for less than six months.”

“The infrastructure of this new social insurance scheme could replicate that of the auto-enrolment pension products that have been phased-in under the previous and current Governments. Employers could offer new employees access to a ‘social insurance product’ that could be administered by a private sector organisation, though partially facilitated by the Government.”

The authors also say: “During the roundtable discussion, a significant question emerged over whether a new social insurance product would be compulsoryor voluntary. One concern raised in discussion was that a voluntarysystem risks not gaining a critical mass that enables it to function,whereas a compulsory programme could undermine public confidence in the state welfare system.”

Yes, the one that most citizens have already contributed to. It is not ‘state’ welfare, it is publicly funded social security.

The report continues: One of the barriers to wide-spread acceptability of a private insurance model ahead of a state-contributory benefits model is the emotional reaction by claimants who have paid taxes but are no longer entitled to a benefit payment. Many trust the system to pay out – any alternative outcome could undermine trust in the state welfare system.

“Herein lies a problem: many people place a high degree of trust in the welfare system, only to be disappointed when it delivers less than they expect it to. Part of the challenge in proposing an insurance model, therefore, is to communicate the benefits compared to the state system.”

The benefits to whom, exactly? Legal & General and the wider private insurance sector ?

More of the rub: “Another challenge is the extent to which a new social insurance model could be extended to include both unemployment and sickness support currently covered by ESA and JSA contributory benefits. PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) has estimated that the annual cost of sickness absence in the UK is almost £29 billion. (Hyperlinks added by me). 

“Insurance premiums are calculated on risk and probability, such that if the risk and the probability are high,the premiums will also be high. From an insurance perspective, unemployment is seen as a greater long-term risk than sickness. Company efforts to mitigate the risk may thus mean premiums rise to an amount greater than the £11 per month previously stated.” 

Prioritising private business profit over collective human needs: the neoliberal model

In their conclusion and policy recommendations, the authors say:  

“As this report has discussed, the contributory benefits system is ripe for reform and the proposition of a social insurance model poses a potential solution. With regards to the implementation of a social insurance programme to replace contributory benefits  participants at the round table discussion made the following conclusions: 

  •  Premiums should be treated as income in the Universal Credit system, promoting use of the social insurance system.  
  • The notion of a social insurance model must be communicated correctly; Lessons can be learned from past government announcements on, for example, privately run prisons.
  • The support of business is essential, and communication must be clear as this is another product that sits alongside auto-enrolled pensions, the new lifetime ISA, and the apprenticeship levy
  • High opt-out rates risk destabilising the functionality of a voluntary model, and will therefore determine the necessity of a mandatory system or at the least an opt out model.
  • Individuals who do not draw down on their insurance pot could be offered financial recourse in the form of either a savings or pensions benefit.

“Overall, the opportunity to reform contributory benefits has arrived,the political and economic climate allows for it, and the presence of a strong alternative policy makes it possible and practical.”

You can read the full report here.

Some thoughts

The government says it believes that:

  • the current [welfare] system is too complex
  • there are insufficient incentives to encourage people on benefits to start paid work or increase their hours

The government are aiming to:

  • make the benefit system ‘fairer’ and more affordable
  • reduce poverty, ‘worklessness’ and welfare dependency
  • reduce levels of fraud and error. 

However,  ‘worklessness’ and ‘welfare dependency’ are contested categories based on assumptions and not empirical evidence. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore the very ideological premises of Conservative welfare policy is unevidenced and fundamentally flawed.

Problems with social security provision delivered through private insurance schemes

The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) provides cash benefits for sickness and disability,  unemployment, the death of a partner, retirement, and so on. Citizens already  earn entitlement to these benefits by paying National Insurance contributions;

  • The National Health Service (NHS), which provides medical, dental and optical treatment and which is normally available free of charge only to people who live in Great Britain and Northern Ireland;  
  • The child benefit and Child Tax Credit schemes, which provide cash benefits for people bringing up children;   
  • Non-contributory benefits for certain categories of disabled persons or carers;  
  • Other statutory payments made by employers to employees entitled to maternity, paternity and adoption leave.

The government’s ‘low tax low welfare view of society, coupled with a decade of very low wages and rising costs of living has created ‘tax constraints’ that conflict with the demands made on the welfare state, the government says. Substituting private insurance for tax-financed welfare provision is being touted as some kind of painless way out of those self imposed ‘constraints’.  

However, in general, switching from tax-financed social security to private insurance, where premiums are related to each individual’s risk status, will be ‘regressive’, that is, it will benefit the better-off at the expense of the less well-off. Certain citizens will not be offered cover because their level of risk is too high to make it profitable and economic for private insurance companies. This will also add to the regressive effects. Certain risks will be excluded from cover as a result of the nature of the insurance market.  

If the state still provides some kind of safety net, it may end up with all of the ‘downside risk’ but none of the ‘upside gain’: if things turn out badly and insurers are unable to meet their commitments, the state has to fill the gap created, but if things turn out well, it is the insurers who keep the surplus and profit.

In discussing the future of the welfare state, the question of whether the private sector should take on some of the insurance functions currently provided by social security has  almost inevitably arisen. However, much of this debate has a purely ideological basis.

Switching from social security to private insurance generally increases costs for those on low incomes; premium levels for products mean that those with average incomes and average risk also lose. For many insurance products, women, older people and those in poor health lose the most. 

For many with higher incomes, the role of permanent health insurance is already filled by long-term occupational sick pay while for those with lower incomes, affording enough cover to get clear of means-tested benefit entitlement is difficult. 

Uncertainty over future long-term care needs and costs makes policies virtually impossible to assess, for both consumers and providers, making reliance on private insurance a dubious proposition. The nature of the risks leads to policies which limit coverage and exclude some groups, including those without good employment records and people with disabilities.

Tax-financed provision offers not only the most equitable but also the most efficient solution, minimising costs to average-risk as well as high-risk and low-income ‘consumers’ and preserving the advantages of unified public finances.

Furthermore, it retains the integrity of the original aims of the welfare state and ensures a democratic state.

UKIM’s report to the UNCRPD raised other concerns about the potentially negative impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people, which you can read about here.

 

Related

This explores the overlapping neoliberal ideas aimed at the reform of both welfare and health care in the UK – Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame 

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

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

A critique of benefit sanctions:  the Minnesota Starvation Experiment and  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative character divination

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


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Disability campaigners & organisations meet with Labour ministers to discuss devastating impacts of government’s draconian disability policies

this ESA round

 

The group meeting at Portcullis House, Westminster. 

On Wednesday, many of the disabled campaigners, researchers and organisations that have played a key role in exposing the discrimination and harm caused by the government’s social security reforms travelled to Westminster to attend a meeting with five Labour shadow ministers. The meeting was chaired by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

The original idea for a meeting of politicians, activists and researchers had come from Black Triangle’s John McArdle, who had put the idea to John McDonnell.

The meeting was conducted under the Chatham House rule, so although the contributions made during the meeting may be reported, the names of those who spoke and their organisations cannot, unless they spoke afterwards, specifically adding comment on record. I was permitted to report the names of the five shadow ministers who attended.

Other ministers participating were Margaret Greenwood (Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), Marsha de Cordova (Shadow Minister for Disabled People); Mike Amesbury, (Shadow Employment Minister) and Lyn Brown, (Shadow Treasury Minister, with responsibility for social mobility).

This initial meeting is to be the launch of a series of campaigning efforts and consultation between the Labour party, disabled activists, researchers and allied organisations. Labour is also hoping to secure support from members of other political parties in the longer term.

A second meeting is set to take place later this autumn.

The discussion was particularly focused on the harm, psychological distress and deaths caused by the controversial work capability assessment (WCA), but concerns were also expressed around the table about the damage caused to disabled people by the government’s roll out of universal credit. Some of us had also submitted work in advance of the meeting and contributed to shaping the agenda.

Other crucial concerns were raised about the ongoing problems with personal independence payment (PIP), the harm caused by the welfare conditionality regime and sanctions, and the cuts to social care support. There was also discussion about the cumulative impact of the government’s reforms on disabled women. 

There was discussion about the importance of putting the government’s reforms into an ideological and historical perspective, which highlighted how successive governments have been strongly influenced by the US insurance industry, which had led to disabled people seeking support  “to be treated as bogus claimants”.

Added to this are criticisms of how the biopsychosocial model of disability, notions of ‘the sick role’ and ‘behavioural medicine’ have provided an underpinning ideology and veneer of political credibility to justify the steady and incremental dismantling of lifeline welfare support for disabled people.

One key commentator on this subject added “The WCA was brought in to destroy public confidence in the welfare state.”

Linked with this was concern raised at the continuing roll-out of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which has led to mental health professionals to “come out with the sort of language we are hearing from the Department for Work and Pensions”. 

One contributor told the meeting: “You can’t divorce what’s happening in DWP with what’s happening in psychiatry.” 

She also added that the approach by IAPT practitioners, who largely draw on the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) model, is tantamount to political gaslighting, since it blames the victims of circumstances that caused at a structural level, and are therefore beyond an individual’s control. The government’s ideological claim that ‘work is a health outcome’ has also been embedded in IAPT practices and aims, despite there being very little evidence that employment is generally beneficial to people with mental health problems. Evidence has emerged that some kinds of employment are in fact further damaging to mental health.

There was also a call for nurses and GPs to be held to account for the way they had compromised their own medical ethics in dealing with requests for evidence to support disability benefit claims and in acting  in the role of assessor for private contractors.

There was a little dispute regarding precisely where the focus should lie concerning the work capability assessment, with some people feeling quite strongly that our aim should be simply to see it abolished. The Labour party are committed to scrapping the highly controversial assessment process, but it was recognised that it’s highly unlikely the current government will do the same. One activist told the meeting that there was a need both for “harm reduction”, to address the immediate problems with the assessment process, and “system change” to secure the eventual abolition of the WCA altogether.

He pointed out: “Saying ‘change the WCA right now’ is not saying ‘keep the WCA’, it is saying ‘stop it killing so many people’.”

Several contributors said that the government had made a deliberate attempt to create a “hostile environment for disabled people”. 

The meeting was broadly welcomed by disabled activists. Shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, added afterwards that he believed the meeting could herald the start of “a significant movement to expose the brutality of the system” and secure “permanent change”.

There were representatives present from many of the disabled-led grassroots organisations who have campaigned for many years against the Conservative’s punitive reforms and the disproportionate targeting of the disabled community with austerity measures. There were also researchers, union representatives and journalists gathered together to add to the discussion and to contribute in planning a response to the government’s persistent denials that there is a correlation between their policies and serious harm. 

McDonnell told journalists after the meeting: “I think this is a breakthrough meeting in terms of getting many of the relevant organisations and individuals together who have their concerns about what is happening to disabled people and their treatment in the welfare system.

I think it is the start of what could be a significant movement to expose the brutality of the system, but more importantly to secure permanent change.”

Marsha de Cordova, the shadow minister for disabled people, said that it was the first time that the various groups had been brought around the same table to talk about different issues – including crucial concerns about the imminent “migration” from benefits such as employment and support allowance onto universal credit – that all fed into the idea that the government had created a “hostile environment towards disabled people”.

She said: “It is good that we are talking about it. It’s great that we are bringing people around the table, and mainly disabled people.”

The meeting has consolidated new momentum and hopefully, a unity to our diverse and ongoing campaigns against the mounting injustices surrounding the welfare reforms, austerity, the fatally flawed Work Capability Assessment, welfare conditionality and sanctions, the targeted cuts embedded in Personal Independent Payment and universal credit. 

We will be challenging the government’s persistent denial of a ‘causal link’ between their draconian welfare policies and the distress, systematic human rights violations, serious harm and deaths of disabled people that have arisen in correlation with those policies. Unless the government permit an independent inquiry into the terrible injustices that have followed in the wake of the welfare reform acts, they cannot provide evidence to support their own claims.

Related

John McDonnell attacks Tory disability cuts and vows to address suicides linked to welfare reforms

Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow comes to Newcastle

Nothing about you without you – the Labour party manifesto for disabled people

 

 


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The government’s eugenic turn violates human rights, costing families at least £2,800 each so far, according to DWP statistics

See the world through the eyes of society’s weakest members, and then tell anyone honestly that our societies are good, civilised, advanced, free.” Zygmunt Bauman.

every child used to matter

Every Child Matters was Labour’s comprehensive and effective child welfare and protection policy that the Conservatives scrapped the day after they took office in 2010. The phrase “Every Child Matters” was immediately replaced with the phrase “helping children achieve more”. This reflects a fundmental change of emphasis from a rights-based society, for which both government and citizen share responsibility, to one where the individual is held solely responsible for their circumstances, regardless of structural conditions and the impact of political policies. 

What was a “Children’s Plan” under the last Labour government is now a “free market education plan”, marking the Conservatives shift from free schools to “for profit” schools. 

The price of having more children than the state deems acceptable

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics released today show that more than 70,000 low-income families lost at least £2,800 each last year after having their entitlement to benefits taken away as a result of the government’s “two-child policy”.

The joint analysis conducted by the DWP and HMRC shows that from 6 April 2017, just under 865,000 households with a third or subsequent child were claiming child tax credits or Universal Credit. Of these, DWP and HMRC claim that 70,620 reported a third or subsequent child after 6 April 2017, and that consequently they weren’t receiving  benefit support for at least one child. Around 38% of those families affected were lone parents – 26,800 of them in totalcourt ruling in June 2017 deemed the policy as discriminatory towards lone parents with children under two. 

The two-child policy means that households claiming child tax credit or universal credit, who have a third or subsequent child born after 6 April 2017, are unable to claim a child element worth £2,780 a year for those children. Iain Duncan Smith has said that the draconian policy has been designed to “incentivise behavioural change”, reflecting the government’s keen embrace of wonk behavioural economics in order to prop up a failing neoliberal administration.

Presumably Duncan Smith doesn’t think that people on low incomes who need social security support should have children. However, 59% of those families affected by the cruel an uncivilised imposed cut in their low income are in work. Financially punishing them for having a child isn’t going to change the profiteering behaviours of the draconian government, exploitative employers or the precarious conditions of the labour market. These are events and circumstances beyond the control of families and their children. 

Many people have children when they are relatively affluent, and may then fall on hard times through no fault of their own. It’s hardly “fair” to punish people for the structural conditions that are largely shaped through government policies based on neoliberal economics. However, Duncan Smith claimed, nonetheless, that the policy would force claimants to make the “same life choices as families not on benefits, and ‘incentivise’ them [imported US managementspeak, which means ‘to motivate’] to seek work or increase their hours.”

The Conservatives have seemingly overlooked the fact that when people struggle to meet their basic needs, they are rather less likely to be able to improve their socio-economic situation, since necessity rather than choice becomes their key motivation. Punishing people who have little income by taking away even more cannot possibly help them to improve their situation. It can only serve to inflict further suffering and distress.

The statistics also showed that 190 women were “exempted” from the eugenic policy, which the government has insisted is “working” and had been “delivered compassionately,” after they were forced to prove to officials their third child was conceived as a result of rape. The women have had to disclose rape in order to claim benefits under the government’s two-child benefit policy, according to the official DWP stats released today. That’s 190 women forced to disclose being sexually assaulted just to feed their children.

The so-called rape clause has been widely condemned by campaigners, who say it is outrageous a woman must account for the circumstances of her rape to qualify for support. The SNP MP Alison Thewliss called it “one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall”. 

A government spokesperson said: “The policy to provide support in child tax credit and universal credit for a maximum of two children ensures people on benefits have to make the same financial choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.”

Adding ludicrously: “We are delivering this in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards in place.” George Orwell’s dystopian novel became a government handbook of citizen “behavioural change”.

The rollout of universal credit will increase the number of families affected. All new claims for the benefit after February 2019 will have the child element restricted to two children in a family, even if they were born before the policy was introduced.

Personal decision-making and citizen autonomy is increasingly reduced as neoliberal governments see human behaviours as a calculated investment for future economic returns. Now, having a child if you happen to be relatively poor invites the same outraged response from the right as those we saw leading up to the welfare ‘reforms’ regarding the very idea of people on welfare support owning flat screen TVs and Iphones.

Apparently, people struggling to get by should do without anything that would make their life a little more bearable. You can only have public and political sympathy and support if you lead the most wretched life. Perish the thought that you may have bought your TV during better times, when you had a job that paid enough to live on. Or decided to have a child.

However, it is profoundly cruel and dehumanising to regard children as a commodity. Economic ‘efficiency’ and the ‘burden on the tax payer’ are excuses being used to justify withholding public funds for fundamental human necessities, for dismantling welfare and other social safety nets.

There is no discrete class of tax payers; everyone pays tax, including those who need social security provision

Campaigners have said that the number of families affected by the policy would drive up UK poverty levels, putting an estimated 200,000 children into hardship.

In April this year, 60 Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders condemned the policy, arguing it would lead to a rise in child poverty and abortions.

Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”

She went on to say:

“Our analysis with IPPR last year found 200,000 children will be pulled into poverty by the two-child limit. Today’s DWP statistics now show it’s already having a damaging impact – and at a fast pace. These are struggling families, most of them in work, who will lose up to £2,780 a year – a huge amount if you’re a parent on low pay.

“An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy. Even when times are tough, parents share family resources equally among their children, but now the government is treating some children as less deserving of support purely because of their order of birth.”

Jamie Grier, the development director at the welfare advice charity Turn2us, said: “We are still contacted by parents, the majority of whom are in work, fretting over whether this policy means they might consider terminating their pregnancy.” (See The government’s eugenic policy is forcing some women to abort wanted pregnancies.)

 

The curtailment of benefits for mothers and chilren is a form of negative eugenics, as is using financial ‘incentives’ to ‘nudge’ women claiming welfare support to use contraception.

Frederick Osborn defined eugenics as a philosophy with implications for social order. The Conservatives see eugenics as a political concern for governance. The view arises from a focus on neoliberalism and particularly, with competitive individualism. It is linked with the Conservatives’ views concerning economic productivity, and managing resources and wealth. The Conservatives believe that poverty arises because of ‘faulty’ perceptions, cognitions and behaviours of poor people. The two-child policy is aimed at maintaining the socio-economic order. Modern eugenics is market-based and austerity driven.  

Eugenics rejects the doctrine that all human beings are born equal and redefined moral worth purely in terms of genetic fitness. However the UK government is more concerned with economic “fitness”. The doctrine challenges the idea of human equality and opens up new forms of discrimination and stigmatisation.

Eric Hobsbawm (1996) among others has pointed out in The Age of Capital 1848-1875, mounting concentrations of wealth were coupled with the massive displacement of populations and socio-economic disruption on a previously unimaginable scale. At the core of this process of destructive change is the commodification process, which has transformed human needs into marketable goods.

As the welfare state and social protection systems are being dismantled, neoliberal governments have called forth a new social imaginary of ‘functional’ and ‘dysfunctional’ people. The ‘dysfunctional’ are simply those that haven’t managed to any accumulate wealth – which is the majority of us. The deployment of terms such as ‘deserving’, ’empowerment’, ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ in policy discourses and the way these are being used to pathologise service users and to reconstruct the relationship between the state and citizens indicates an authoritarian government that seems determined to micromanage the psychology, self perceptions and characters of those it deems ‘dysfunctional’. 

This idea, which also underpins the pseudoscientific discipline of behavioural economics is one way of justifying huge wealth inequality and maintain the status quo. It also serves to create a utopian free-market order with the power of the state and to extend this logic to every corner of society. As sociologist Loïc Wacquant said, neoliberalism represents an “articulation of state, market and citizenship that harnesses the first to impose the stamp of the second onto the third.”

Childrens’ worth, for the Conservatives, may be counted out in pounds and pence or not at all.

The Conservatives believe it is necessary to govern through a particular register, that of the economy. The government offers economic ‘opportunities’ for only the ‘right kind’ of people. As a neoliberal form of governmentality, we are witnessing the construction of a new meritocratic ‘common-sense’ in which the rule of the ‘brightest and best’, those with the highest level of cognitve functioning, is presented simply as a form of rational economic ‘natural selection’. The two-child policy reflects this view of  a marketised ‘natural selection’ mechanism.

A major criticism of eugenic policies is that, regardless of whether “negative” or “positive” policies are used, they are susceptible to abuse because the criteria of selection are determined by whichever group is in political power at the time. Furthermore, negative eugenics in particular is considered by many to be a violation of basic human rights, which include the right to reproduction. Another criticism is that eugenic policies eventually lead to a loss of genetic diversity,

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

The Conservatives have always held an elitist view of humanity – wealthy people are seen as worthy, noble and moral, and poorer people are regarded as biologically-driven, impulsive and crassly sexualised. This set of prejudices justifies a harsh set of social policies that aims to abolish government assistance to the ‘undeserving’ poor, while preserving and enhancing the privileges accorded to their ‘deserving’ betters. 

These ideas can be traced back in part to an 18th-century English clergyman—and Thomas Robert Malthus, who was one of the founders of classical economics. Malthus wanted an end to poor relief and advocated exposing unemployed people to the harsh disciplines of the market.

Malthus maintained that despite a ‘generous’ welfare system, poverty in England kept increasing. He also believed that welfare created ‘peverse incentives’ –  Conservatives echo these claims that support to unemployed citizens always creates more of the poverty it aims to alleviate. From this view, receiving ‘unearned’ resources ‘incentivises’ unemployed people not to seek work, thus perpetuating their own condition.

Central to Malthus’s ‘scarcity of resources thesis’ (paralleled with the Conservatives’ austerity programme an ‘deficit reduction’) is the idea that hunger and deprivation serves to discipline the unemployed people to seek work and control childbirth. Apparently, cruelty is the key to prosperity.

The Conservatives are contemporary Malthusians, who endorse removing benefits as a necessity to compel citizens to work, and when in work, to work even harder, regardless of whether their children suffer in the punitive process of imposed deprivation.

Malthus believed that poor people procreate recklessly, whereas wealthy people excercise ‘moral restraint’. The Conservatives’ draconian social policies also depend on the endorsement of divisive cultural prejudices and dehumanising views of poor and vulnerable citizens. 

The two-child policy is an indication of the government’s underpinning eugenicist ideology and administrative agenda, designed to exercise control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of ‘faulty’ individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socio-economic policies.

Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without. This reveals the government’s  bleak and dystopic view of a society where financial outcomes override all other considerations, including human lives.

Conservatives’ two-child policy violates human rights

I wrote in 2015 about some of the implications of the two-child policy. Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two-child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.

If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits?  It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born.

And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to. 

Restriction on welfare support for children will inevitably directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority freedom to continue having children as they wish, while aiming to curtail the poorest citizens by ‘disincentivising’ them from having larger families, by using financial punishment. It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, it openly discriminates against the children of larger families . 

People who are in favour of eugenic policies believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups. The government’s notion of “behavioural change” is clearly aimed at limiting the population of working class citizens. And taking public funds from public services. 

Any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable”, regardless of the reason, and which formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights, is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are overtly expressed as “eugenics” or not.

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

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2.  Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

An assessment report by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider imposing the deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans at the time to repeal the UK’s Human Rights Act.

The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present to the United Nations.

Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.

England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:

“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”

It’s noted in the commissioner’s report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention – the best interests of the child are paramount:

“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:

Article 1

For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

Article 2

1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Article 3

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 4

States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.

Article 5

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 26

1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.

2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.

Here are the rest of the Convention Articles.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article then you can contact Turn2us for benefits advice and support, or BPAS for pregnancy advice and support, including help to end a pregnancy if that’s what you decide.

 

Related 

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

UN to question the Conservatives about the two-child restriction on tax credits

The government has failed to protect the human rights of children

European fundamental rights charter to be excluded in the EU withdrawal Bill, including protection from eugenic policy

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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The UK government must stop selling arms to Israel and end its own complicity in human rights abuses

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Russia, France, and the UK have all expressed “serious consternation” over the legality of the US Embassy moving to Jerusalem, and Israel’s heavy-handed response to the ‘clashes’ it has provoked, which have reportedly caused at least 58 deaths, including six children under 18, killed by Israeli fire during demonstrations on the day of the US embassy’s inauguration in Jerusalem. There are at least 2,771 injured among Gaza protesters.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said: “We have publicly criticised the move multiple times. International resolutions declare that the status of Jerusalem – one of the most important issues of the entire peace process – must be resolved in direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine.” 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also said that Donald Trump’s decision, made last December, “violated international law,” but expressed particular alarm at IDF tactics.

“France calls on all actors to show responsibility to prevent a new escalation,” Le Drian said in a statement. “France again calls on the Israeli authorities to exercise discernment and restraint in the use of force that must be strictly proportionate.” 

The UK government has reaffirmed its commitment to keeping its embassy in Tel Aviv and said it was worried that the unilateral move could derail an already dormant peace process. 

A spokesperson Theresa May said “We are concerned by the reports of violence and loss of life in Gaza. We urge calm and restraint to avoid actions destructive to peace efforts. The UK remains firmly committed to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.” 

I think president Trump is at the helm of that very ship that has now sailed. 

Britain has also called for a UN investigation looking at why “such a volume” of live ammunition was used by Israeli troops against Palestinian protestors in Gaza. That is a truly priceless comment, given the sheer volume of arms sales the UK government has made with Israel. The UK government approves thousands of  arms deals with states it condemns for human rights abuses. And then is “surprised” when those states use them.

Back in 2015, the UK government lifted all restrictions on arms sales to Israel following a year-long review of 12 export licences for weaponry which it admitted may have been used in the bombardment of Gaza.

Then business secretary, Sajid Javid, said his department was satisfied that the licences for material including components for military radar and tanks meet the UK’s export criteria, which ban any sale of arms where there is a “clear risk” that they may be used to commit serious breaches of human rights.” 

The UK gave the go-ahead for dozens of military exports to Israel, including components for drones and air-to-surface missiles, in the immediate aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, which claimed more than 2,000 lives, including those of hundreds of Palestinian civilians.

Campaigners said the exports showed that the government was conducting “business as usual” in its arms sales to Israel and turning a “blind eye” to the risk that UK-made weaponry could be used in any fresh clashes between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Britain’s refusal to suspend the 12 licences led to the resignation of Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi, who said Britain’s stance was “morally indefensible”.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has today said that Israel’s killing of 58 Palestinian protesters and wounding of thousands more is an “outrage” and a “wanton disregard for international law”. 

He said: “Firing live ammunition into crowds of unarmed civilians is illegal and inhumane and cannot be tolerated.”

The Labour party leader also made comments on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, saying “the majority of the people of the Gaza Strip are stateless refugees, subject to a decade long blockade and the denial of basic human and political rights.

“More than two thirds are reliant on humanitarian assistance, with limited access to the most basic amenities, such as water and electricity,” he added. 

Corbyn has supported for the European Union and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for an independent investigation into Gaza, and long encouraged a review of arms sales to Israel.

He has previously said: “The UK government must support the UN Secretary-General’s call for an independent international inquiry into the killing of protesters in Gaza and review the sale of arms that could be used in violation of international law. The silence from international powers with the responsibility of bringing a just settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict must end.”

His statement concluded that a return to negotiating a two-state solution is the only way to end the conflict.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was equally scathing, calling Israel’s actions “vicious and utterly avoidable slaughter” and urging an independent investigation.

Corbyn said the UK’s response was “wholly inadequate,” adding: “We cannot turn a blind eye to such wanton disregard for international law. That is why Labour is committed to reviewing UK arms sales to Israel while these violations continue.”

Labour MP Luciana Berger said America’s decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem was “hugely inflammatory”.

I’m currently researching and writing an in depth article on the UK’s arms trade and the implications of selling weapons and components to states with records of human rights abuse. I’m exploring the symbiotic relationship between neoliberalism and militarism. Scientific and technological research has made possible the manufacture of ever-more complex and powerful modern weaponry with such massive destructive potential and has further increased the risk of large-scale warfare and escalation into nuclear conflict. Yet the UK continues to sell weapons of mass destruction and arms components, which then inflame conflicts and further fuel proxy wars, that are already destabilising our fragile world security.

Information warfare has also gained a growing significance, exemplified by increasing US National Security Agency (NSA) and UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) global data capture, and has led reference to be made to the evolution of a “military-information complex”. 

There is a detailed list and quarterly breakdown, from Wolverhampton TUC, of UK’s arms and weapon component exports to Israel, going back years, here.

From the 2017 Department of Trade’s Strategic Arms Export Controls document, there are listed details of the exports the UK government made to Israel (page 420): 

Types of goods on licence     No. of licences       Value
Military                                            109                   £215,585,497
Non-military                                    158                  £65,428,168
Both Military and Non-military       7                  £2,545,798

Total                                                   274                 £283,559,464

 

For:

aircraft military communications equipment.
assault rifles (2).
ballistic test equipment.
body armour.
components for aircraft military communications equipment.
components for assault rifles.
components for ballistic test equipment.
components for body armour (2 licences) [See footnote 13].
components for combat aircraft.
components for combat helicopters (3 licences) [See footnote 23].
components for combat naval vessels (3 licences).
components for decoying/countermeasure equipment (4 licences).
T components for decoying/countermeasure equipment.
components for ground vehicle military communications equipment.
components for launching/handling/control equipment for missiles.
components for launching/handling/control equipment for munitions.
components for military aircraft head-up/down displays.
components for military communications equipment (5 licences).
components for military diving apparatus.
components for military guidance/navigation equipment.
T components for military guidance/navigation equipment.
T components for military helicopters.
components for military improvised explosive device decoying/detection/disposal/jamming equipment.
components for military infrared/thermal imaging equipment (3 licences).
components for military radars (3 licences).

components for military support aircraft (4 licences).
components for military support vehicles.
components for military training aircraft (6 licences).
components for naval electrical/electronic equipment (3 licences).
components for NBC protective/defensive equipment.
components for pistols.
components for sniper rifles.
components for submarines (10 licences) [See footnotes 18, 20, 21].
components for surface-to-air missiles (6 licences).
components for tanks (2 licences).
components for targeting equipment (4 licences).
T components for targeting equipment.
components for weapon control equipment.
decoying/countermeasure equipment.
energetic materials additives.
equipment for the development of multi-role missiles.
equipment for the production of military support aircraft.
equipment for the use of attack alerting/warning equipment (2 licences).
T equipment for the use of military electronic equipment.
equipment for the use of military radars.
equipment for the use of targeting equipment.
T general military vehicle components.
general naval vessel components (3 licences) [See footnote 22].
T high power RF weapon systems (2 licences).
T launching/handling/control equipment for munitions.
military aircraft ground equipment.
military aircraft head-up/down displays (2 licences).
military communications equipment (2 licences).
T military electronic equipment.
military equipment for initiating explosives.
T military guidance/navigation equipment.
military helmets (2 licences) [See footnote 13].
naval electrical/electronic equipment.
rangefinding equipment.
small arms ammunition [See footnote 19].
sniper rifles (4).
targeting equipment (2 licences).
technology for military communications equipment.
technology for military electronic equipment.
technology for military guidance/navigation equipment.
technology for military radars.
technology for multi-role missiles.
test models for multi-role missiles.
training small arms ammunition.
weapon sights (2 licences).
aero-engine assemblies.
T analogue-to-digital equipment.
biotechnology equipment (2 licences).
calibration equipment for guidance/navigation equipment.
civil explosive detection/identification equipment (7 licences).
civil NBC protection clothing.
civil NBC protection equipment.
components for civil explosive detection/identification equipment.
components for magnetometers.
composite structures.
corrosion resistant chemical manufacturing equipment (18 licences).
dimensional measuring equipment.
T direct view imaging equipment.
electromagnetic wave absorbing materials.
equipment for the production of gas turbines.
explosives detection equipment.
extended temperature range integrated circuits.
fibrous/filamentary materials (2 licences) [See footnote 5].
frequency changers (4 licences).
graphite materials.
helium-3.
imaging cameras (18 licences) [See footnotes 17, 25].
T imaging cameras (6 licences).
inertial equipment (3 licences).
information security equipment (28 licences) [See footnotes 10, 15, 31].
T information security equipment (3 licences) [See footnotes 27, 28].
information security software (7 licences).
instrumentation cameras (2 licences).
laser acoustic detection equipment.
lasers (2 licences).
liquid rocket propulsion systems.
machine tools.
magnetometers.
metal alloy cylindrical forms (2 licences).
T network analysers (2 licences) [See footnote 29].
neutron generators (2 licences).
nickel powders.
oscillators.
pressure transducers (11 licences).
T real-time oscilloscopes.
RF direction finding equipment.
semiconductor wafers with epitaxial layers.
T signal analysers (8 licences) [See footnotes 12, 30].
T signal generators (7 licences).
software for information security equipment (7 licences) [See footnotes 10, 15, 31].
sonar log equipment.

There have been more UK parliamentary visits to Israel-Palestine than anywhere in last two years. In total, the visits made either side of the 2017 election were worth more than £2 million, £1.2 million of which came from the Conservative side of the House. Other declarations show that Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Hong Kong contributed to nearly half of the £1,105,490 worth of travel covered by foreign governments, offering free flights, hotels and meals to their guests.

Labour’s John Mann made trips to Israel, most were related to his role as the UK chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism. Nevertheless, eyebrows were raised at the discrepancy in declarations between a trip made by Mr Mann to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said to have cost £818, and a trip to the same area, made by Hendon Conservative Matthew Offord, which he declared as costing $3,450. Offord’s visit — in April 2018 — is understood to have taken place under the auspices of the Conservative Friends of Israel.

Mann, who registered eight overseas visits on the Register of Interests in the year following the election, the most recorded by any MP, said these trips are “part of the job”.

Most trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories were covered by pressure groups including Conservative Friends of Israel, Labour Friends of Israel or Medical Aid for Palestine. And most of them were described as “fact-finding missions”, visiting both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

 

Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world, official government figures show – with most of the weapons fuelling deadly conflicts in the Middle East.

Since 2010 Britain has also sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked “not free” on the Freedom House “Freedom in the world” report, and 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s own human rights watch list.

A full two-thirds of UK weapons over this period were sold to Middle Eastern countries, where instability has fed into increased risk of terror threats to Britain and across the West.

Israeli tank

Among the export licences granted to 130 British arms-makers, one is for a company selling components for Israel’s main battle tank. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

Through the arms trade, the UK is complicit in the violations of Palestinians’ human rights. Despite the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the UK remains a major arms exporter to Israel, and purchaser of Israeli weapons and technologies. More than 100 companies manufacturing and selling military equipment to Israel have offices and manufacturing plants in the UK. Many financial institutions are invested in the weapons trade and profit from it. By holding shares in companies that export military technology and weapons to Israel, and by providing and facilitating loans to companies producing such military technology and weapons, these companies are complicit in the murder of Palestinians. 

BAE systems, Rolls Royce, Boeing and Babcock are all involved in providing arms and components to Israel. Banks like HSBC are involved in financing loans for some companies, and have ties with the arms industry. 

The prime minister’s husband, Philip May, works for a private investors company that is the largest shareholder in arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, whose share price has soared since the recent airstrikes in Syria. The company, Capital Group, is also the second-largest shareholder in Lockheed Martin – a US military arms company that supplies weapons systems, aircraft and logistical support. Its shares have also rocketed since the missile strikes earlier this year. 

Capital Group was also linked to the Paradise Papers scandal in 2017. News and current affairs magazine, Private Eye, suggested at the time that Philip May’s company used offshore law firm Appleby to devise investments in tax havens.

When asked at the time of the scandal about her husband’s role, a spokesperson for the prime minister told reporters: “Mr May is involved in the development of Capital Group’s retirement solutions. He is not an investor but consults with other Capital associates on retirement products and solutions for clients.”

“Capital allocation strategy” is the process of allocating financial resources to different sources to ‘maximize profits’ and ‘increase efficiency’. Overall, it is management’s goal to ‘optimize’ capital allocation so that it generates as much wealth as possible for its shareholders. This is often done using a principle of ‘blind trust’. Investments are carried out through third-party companies. “Blind” investments are unseen. Politicians often place their personal assets in blind trusts to avoid public scrutiny and accusations of conflicts of interest.

Nonetheless, there clearly ARE some serious and deadly conflicts of interest.

Image result for uk arms sales to israel


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Amnesty International express grave concerns about UK government’s outsourced ‘back to work therapy’

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THE BRIGHTON AND HOVE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL GROUP NEWSLETTER.

January / February 2018. Page 4:

Mental Health and “Return to Work”

It’s not just the introduction of Universal Credit which is affecting the Human Rights of too many citizens of the UK. As part of the drive to force physically disabled people into work under the “Work and Health Programme” often via cursory “interviews” those facing mental health issues are being targeted as well.

Image result for equality is the best therapy

This is based on an article by Kitty S Jones. 

In 2016 she wrote: “Last April, more than 400 psychologists, counsellors and academics signed an open letter condemning the profoundly disturbing psychological implications of the government’s austerity and welfare reform measures. The group of professionals said that over the past five years the types of issues causing clients distress had shifted dramatically and now include increasing inequality, outright poverty and that people needing support because of structural problems, such as benefits claimants, are being subjected to a “new, intimidatory kind of disciplinary regime”. 

The signatories of the letter, published in The Guardian, express concern over chancellor George Osborne’s plans, laid out in the latest budget, to embed psychological therapy in a coercive back-to-work agenda. Osborne said the government will aim to give online CBT to 40,000 recipients of Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, people on the Fit for Work programme, as well as putting therapists in more than 350 job centres. 

The letter stated that the government’s proposed policy of linking social security benefits to the receipt of “state therapy” is utterly unacceptable. The measure, casually described as “get to work therapy,” was discussed by George Osborne during his last budget (2015). 

The letter’s signatories, all of whom are experts in the field of mental health, have said such a measure is counter-productive, “anti-therapeutic,” damaging and professionally unethical. The intimidatory disciplinary regime facing benefits claimants would be made even worse by further unacceptable proposals outlined in the 2015 budget

The proposals are widely held to be profoundly anti-therapeutic, potentially very damaging and  professionally unethical. With such a narrow objective, the delivery will invariably be driven by an ideological agenda, politically motivated outcomes and meeting limited targets, rather than being focused on the wellbeing of individuals who need support and who may be vulnerable. 

A major concern that many of us have raised is regarding consent to participation, as, if benefit conditionality is attached to what ought to be a voluntary engagement, that undermines the fundamental principles of the right to physical and mental care. Such an approach would reduce psychologists to simply acting as agents of state control, enforcing compliance and conformity. 

That is not therapy: it’s psychopolitics and policy-making founded on a blunt behaviourism,  which is pro-status quo, imbued with Conservative values and prejudices. It’s an approach that does nothing whatsoever to improve public life or meet people’s needs.

The situation seems to be getting worse. Despite the recent Carillion fiasco over outsourcing public sector work other agencies have been given the contracts to deliver the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy component of the Return To Work programme. Of these, G4S (“We are saving the taxpayer £120 million a year in benefit savings.” Sean Williams – Welfare to Work, Managing Director, G4S.) have published the criteria for applicants as therapists to deliver “return-to-work” advice in Surrey, Sussex and Kent. 

The Role Description:

Manage a caseload of Customers and provide return-to-work advice and guidance regarding health issues. 

Targeted on the level, number and effectiveness of interventions in re-engaging Customers and Customer progression into work. 

Focus on practical techniques that enable them to manage their conditions to enter and sustain employment. 

Work with Customers on a one-to-one basis and in groups to provide support on a range of mental health conditions. 

Refer clients to relevant external health or specialist services as required. 

Conduct bio-psychosocial assessments via face-to-face and telephone-based interventions and produce tailored action plans to support Customers in line with contractual MSO. 

Deliver specific health for employment workshops and input into delivery models to support achievement of MSO.

Build relationships with key stakeholders including GP’s, employers and relevant NHS bodies. 

Identify and build relationships with other organisations that contribute to the successful delivery of the programme. 

Expected to contribute substantially to the development of the service. Including the routine collection, review and feedback of activity/data, ensuring that activity targets are adhered to.

Basic Requirements

Experience of delivering CBT. 

Evidence of understanding of Welfare to Work and the issues that unemployed people face.

Amnesty say: “Should this delicate and sensitive work be entrusted to the likes of G4S? It behoves us as, Human Rights activists, to be aware of the grave potential for Human Rights abuses in our country and to act to monitor non governmental agents such as G4S who have already got a very poor track record in Human Rights matters.” 

I listed some of G4S’ Human Rights abuses in my original article, which you can read in full here.

I have also written more than one article about my concerns regarding the related government claim that “work is a health outcome”, and about the political pathologising and stigmatising of people claiming social security.

Please read Amnesty’s newsletter, you can also sign up here, the national and international websites are listed at the foot of the newsletter.

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