Tag: #Ideology

The impact of government policy on free speech in universities: Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

protest pic

Freedom of speech is generally considered an integral part of a functioning democracy. In 2014, I wrote about how the process of dismantling democracy started in earnest from May 2010 here in the UK, and has been advancing by almost inscrutable degrees ever since, because of pervasive government secrecy and a partly complicit, dominant right wing media.

In order to “protect democracy” governments are subverting the law. This is a fundamental paradox, of course and Edward Snowden saw this could lead to the collapse of democracy and critically endanger our freedom of speech. Snowden reminded us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. It has to be one that is free enough to allow a diverse range of political commentaries, rather than a stranglehold of right wing propaganda from the Murdoch empire and its ideological stablemates.

Between July and August 2013, The Guardian newspaper was subject to prior restraint as well as property destruction by members of GCHQ following its publication of documents relating to PRISM, the NSA and the disclosures of Edward Snowden. Jackbooted officials arrived at the Guardian office and smashed up hard drives containing the information. It hit the news surprisingly quietly, when Snowden exposed a gross abuse of political power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies. (More detailed information here).

David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was held for 9 hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. 

This was a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process, and as Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.”

Even the Telegraph columnist Janet Daley remarked that these events were like something out of East Germany in the 1970s.

This certainly raised critically important legal and ethical issues, for those involved in journalism, especially if some kinds of journalism can be so easily placed at risk of being politically conflated with terrorism. (See also Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late).

Freedom of expression is enshrined and protected in UK law by the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The most important of the convention’s protections in this context is Article 10.

Article 10 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

Freedom of expression, as outlined in Article 10, is a qualified right, meaning the right must be balanced against certain other rights. Nevertheless, several judgments by the European Court of Human Rights have held that “Freedom of expression…is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population”.

Since the Human Rights Act (1998) came into force, UK laws are required to be compliant with the rights guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights, including that of free speech and freedom of association and assembly. Under the act, Higher Education Institutions, for example, are under a statutory duty to protect the free speech of staff and students, as well as protecting them from discrimination.

However, the Conservatives have a long history of censorship. During The Troubles in Northern Ireland the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 regularly stopped or postponed the broadcast of documentaries relating to Ireland. A Real Lives documentary for the BBC, “At the Edge of the Union” was temporarily blocked in August 1985 by direct government intervention from the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan which led to a one-day strike by the National Union of Journalists to defend the independence of the BBC. Those were the days. And of course, under the same regime, Spycatcher, written by Peter Wright, former MI5 officer and Assistant Director, and co-author Paul Greengrass  was also banned.

We are prevented by parliamentary rules from broadcasting parliamentary proceedings in a comedic or satrical context. Proceedings of the House of Lords, House of Commons, and various Parliamentary Committees are broadcast on BBC Parliament and Parliament’s website. The Rules of Coverage released by the House of Commons Broadcasting Committee place severe limitations on the use of this footage, including a prohibition of its use in the context of political satire. For this reason, rebroadcasts of foreign comedy shows containing Parliamentary footage are restricted from broadcast in the UK, or the footage removed or replaced, often to rather comic effect.

There are many more historic examples of censorship in the UK of course.

The impact of Conservative policy on free speech in universities

Free speech on campus is under threat – and the Government’s Prevent scheme poses one of the greatest risks.

The question of free speech on campus has dominated headlines, student unions, and social media for a few years. However, the emphasis has tended to be on no-platforming, and safe spaces with countless right wing commentators pieces whingeing about the so-called ‘student snowflake’ psyche. The Universities Minister even threatened to fine institutions that ban speakers.

However, the government’s Prevent strategy in the UK is the biggest threat to free speech at universities rather than media caricatures of “snowflake” students, according to a director of Liberty, among others.

Farcically, ‘extremism’ is broadly defined as ‘opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance’: in other words, opposition to a particular script of ideals clad in the language of national-discursive cohesion.

However, this approach has consistently failed to engage critically with students’ attempts to challenge the encroachment of fascism, for example, by conflating top-down attempts to stifle expression through Prevent, with bottom-up efforts to protest and challenge far right or very controversial speakers.

Furthermore, the listing of non-violent climate activists Extinction Rebellion (XR) as a ‘terrorist-type’ group under Prevent guidelines in a leaked document that also outlined how concern for Muslims around the world and “criticism of British military involvements are signs of “extremism”, have accelerated calls for Prevent to be abolished and for the formulation of a new way forward. This is definitely an attack on free speech, which is aimed at stifling any form of dissent, upholding  the dominance and normalisation of a right wing, neoliberal ideology. 

The climate emergency campaign group was included in a 12-page guide produced by counter-terrorism police in the south-east titled Safeguarding young people and adults from ideological extremism, which is marked as “official”.

The document says that ‘issues to look out’ for include people who speak in “strong or emotive terms about environmental issues like climate change, ecology, species extinction, fracking, airport expansion or pollution”. 

The document also flags young people taking part in non-violent direct action, such as sit-down protests, banner drops or “writing environmentally themed graffiti”.

The guide, bearing the counter-terrorism policing logo, urges those in “regular, direct contact with young people or members of the public” to look out for various warning signs and consider a referral to Prevent if they believe someone is falling prey to “ideological extremism” – which has a broad scope for interpretation. The Conservatives consider those even slightly left of centre to be ‘extreme’. 

Left wing terrorist

Some of the left wing groups on the leaked document, clearly indicating the UK government’s McCarthyist turn.

718 XR leaked doc

Part of the leaked document.

The disclosure that XR has been listed alongside proscribed groups such as National Action and Al-Muhajiroun is likely to be deeply embarrassing for counter-terror chiefs. They have for years faced claims that Prevent can cross the line to stifle legitimate free speech, thought and dissent.

XR and other left-wing and environmental groups listed include Greenpeace, the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which featured alongside threats to national security such as neo-Nazi terrorism and a pro-terrorist Islamist group. The leaked guide, aimed at police officers, government organisations and teachers who by law have to report concerns about radicalisation, was dated last November. 

It’s clear that that Prevent and counter-extremism policy in general is being used to police the fallout from failing neoliberal government policies. For a party  that has loudly claimed to despise the so-called nanny state, this document indicates a massive state overreach which seriously threatens our right to political engagement, democratic participation and peaceful protest. (See footnote)

Corey Stoughton, director of advocacy at the human rights organisation, said the tactics of the strategy for monitoring campus activism had a “chilling effect” on black and Muslim students, provoking self censorship for fear of being labelled extremist.

“There is a substantial irony in the government spuriously accusing today’s students of threatening free speech [for example, no platforming of far right and other controversial speakers] when, in fact, the true threat to free speech on campus is the government’s own policies,” Stoughton said, a former civil rights lawyer at the US department of justice during the Obama administration. 

In January 2017 King’s College, London, told students that their email could be retained and monitored as part of the college’s Prevent obligations. It is believed other universities also monitor emails. Critics, including human rights lawyers, have said the policy is a catch-all for many types of political dissent and free speech, and that it also encourages the demonisation of Muslims.

More recently, campaigners and experts are warning again that free speech is being stifled in universities because of the Conservative’s “overzealous” anti-terrorist Prevent programme, with students and lecturers being regarded as “suspects and informants”

Prevent’s stated aim is to curb ‘home-grown’ terrorism. The Prevent policy applies across schools, further education colleges and universities to deny a platform to those who might promote terrorism unless the risks can be mitigated. The strategy has been interpreted as encouraging teachers and lecturers to report those who might have been radicalised or might radicalise others – although Counter terrorism security advisers  (CTSA) also require institutions to have “particular regard to the duty to ensure free speech” and to “the importance of academic freedom” when carrying out the Prevent duty. But clearly there is a strong tension arising between the Prevent strategy aim and upholding academic freedoms.

Freedom of expression at higher education institutions has a specific protection under the Education (No 2) Act 1986. The act states that everyone involved with the governance of an HEI must take such steps as are “reasonably practicable” to ensure freedom of speech is secured for members, students, employees and visiting speakers.

This means that universities have an explicit duty to protect freedom of expression in their institutions. Notably it requires universities to keep up to date a code of practice that sets out what procedures it expects from staff and students regarding freedom of expression. Furthermore, it further includes student union premises as being part of the “university establishment” even if not owned by the university, which is significant when considering the degree to which student groups might be able to argue they are not party to the requirements of the act as regards freedom of expression.

Furthermore, The Equality Act 2010 brings together more than 116 pieces of legislation covering anti-discrimination law in the UK. Chapter 2 of Part 6 of the Equality Act (the Higher Education Chapter) applies, in conjunction with Part 2 of the Equality Act, to Higher Education Institutions, and specifically protects students and prospective students from discrimination, harassment or victimisation from the institution’s governing body.

However, recently, students have even had their university essays investigated by police and faced questioning by staff under government counter-terror measures. The Independent reports that a Freedom of Information requests reveal that academic materials have been flagged in response to the government’s anti-radicalisation strategy – but it is understood that no action has been taken against students. So far.

At De Montfort University in Leicester, three students’ essays were flagged to university security before their work was assessed by police. Meanwhile, at the University of Wolverhampton, a student’s piece of work prompted staff to question the student.  

Alison Scott-Baumann, a professor of society and belief at Soas, University of London, found in her research that many academics and students connect “inhibition of free speech” with Prevent. 

On the findings showing that students’ work is being investigated by the government, she said: “It completely destroys trust between the staff and the students and it also distorts the subject matter that staff feel they can teach.”

Scott-Baumann, a senior academic whose work involves researching free speech, added: “It suggests to me that because other means of uncovering radicalisation are not working – because there is no radicalisation on campus of a dangerous kind in my view – then if you can’t find what you are looking for you go into essay surveillance having failed to find anything on campus.”

Prevent is being used as a front for the government’s new McCarthyism

Waqas Tufail, a senior lecturer in criminology at Leeds Beckett University, called the figures “shocking” and added the new data shows how Prevent has encouraged a “McCarthyite culture” on campus.

 He said: “You would not think students’ essays were being policed in a democratic state. In what way can the police be arbiters when it comes to an essay?”

While the flagging of academic texts to Prevent has been previously documented, experts say this is the first time they have heard of universities reporting students for their essays.

Post compulsory education (from degree level education and above) – and particularly concerning the social sciences and humanities – requires students to think critically, often exploring very contentious issues. It is expected as standard that students will explore and present in their work a summary of all of the key positions within any area of controversy, reflect and evaluate each perspective fairly, and present a balanced and reasoned conclusion. You don’t have to agree with a proposition to present it fairly, consider and evaluate it and set it into a context. 

The University of Reading faced criticism for flagging an essay by a prominent left-wing academic, which examines the ethics of socialist revolution, as “sensitive” under the Prevent duty. 

The new data reveals that some universities also require students and academics to fill out forms before they can access material related to certain topics for their studies.

On the latest data, Dr Tufail, who has carried out research on the Prevent Programme, added: “It is just perhaps more evidence that Prevent is not working. And despite what the government has said for a long time, it does discernible harm. It really hits home when you think about the impact on academic freedom and general freedom of speech. There hasn’t been quick enough action from the government.

“I think the government has a lot to answer for. But we shouldn’t let individual universities off the hook.”

The government launched a review of the Prevent programme scheme last January, after years of allegations that it discriminated against Muslims and violated freedom of speech and religion. However,  the investigation has been beset by controversy, with Lord Carlile leave his post as ‘independent reviewer’ after a legal challenge accused him of bias.

Fope Olaleye, black students’ officer at the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “The level of surveillance being experienced by students, especially vulnerable students, is already having a censorious and chilling effect on who can engage in educational spaces.”

He added: “There is no doubt that the relationship between lecturers and students has changed, from one of partners in learning to that of suspects and informants, and this must change. 

“Universities and colleges should be spaces of critical thinking, not sites of surveillance.” 

Evidence provided by academics and students to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as well as interviews conducted with students and other organisations by Index on Censorship suggests that the Prevent duty is having a chilling effect on freedom of expression in British universities.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think tank, said: “While everyone must be live to the dangers posed by extremism, I do worry about the potential chilling effect of Prevent on free speech at universities. The complaints are too loud and come too often to ignore.

“It is ironic that so many academics feel the real threat to free speech comes from the government, when the last Conservative manifesto said free speech needed strengthening in universities.” 

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “The Prevent programme threatens freedom of speech and stifles debate and open discussion. Staff and students must be free to discuss and debate controversial issues without fear of being referred to the authorities. Prevent does more harm than good if it closes down debate on contentious topics or makes people less likely to speak up.”

A UK Universities spokesperson said: “Universities continue to work hard to implement effective approaches to Prevent that are supported by students and staff, that protect freedom of expression while complying with their wider duties.

“Institutions are committed to promoting and protecting free speech, provided it is done within the law and balanced with safeguarding responsibilities to all students.”

Free speech is vital to the free flow of thoughts and ideas. Nowhere is this perhaps more important than in universities, which are crucibles for new thought and academic discovery, and whose remit is to encourage and foster critical thinking.

We should be very concerned that Prevent legislation in particular – which compels universities to refer students who “seem at risk of being drawn into terrorism” – is at odds with the statutory duty on universities to protect free speech and I echo the call by the Joint Committee on Human Rights for a full, independent review of the Prevent policy. Freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination are intertwined fundamental human rights. 

An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and press. These traditional safeguards of liberal democracy, along with equal access to justice and government accountability via legal aid, have been systematically eroded by the Conservatives. 

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

Footnote

Back in 2013, I wrote an article – JP Morgan wants Europe to be rid of social rights, democracy, employee rights and the right to protest – about JP Morgan’s chilling, extremely partisan review of what they saw as the ‘state of progress’ on ‘tackling’ the Eurozone crisis. It was the political reform part of the review that particularly worried me. 

The review says: “At the start of the crisis, it was generally assumed that the national legacy problems were economic in nature. But, as the crisis has evolved, it has become apparent that there are deep seated political problems in the periphery, which, in our view, need to change if economic and monetary union (EMU) is going to function properly in the long run. The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience.

“Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism. Political systems around the periphery typically display several of the following features: weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labor rights; consensus building systems which foster political clientalism; and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo. The shortcomings of this political legacy have been revealed by the crisis.”

“There is a growing recognition of the extent of this problem, both in the core and in the periphery. Change is beginning to take place. Spain took steps to address some of the contradictions of the post-Franco settlement with last year’s legislation enabling closer fiscal oversight of the regions. But, outside Spain little has happened thus far. The key test in the coming year will be in Italy, where the new government clearly has an opportunity to engage in meaningful political reform. But, in terms of the idea of a journey, the process of political reform has barely begun.” 

What the review is making clear is that ‘socialist’ and democratic  inclinations  must be removed from political structures; localism must be replaced with strong, central, authority; labour rights must be removed, consensus (call it democracy if you will) must cease to be of concern and the right to protest must be curtailed.

This is an agenda for hard right, corporatist, centrist government. There’s another word for that, and it’s what the bankers seem to want. 

JP Morgan’s proto-fascist document can be accessed here: The Euro Area Adjustment—About Half-Way There. Firstly, they say that harsh financial measures are ‘necessary’ to ensure that major investment houses such as JP Morgan can continue to reap huge profits from their speculative activities in Europe. Secondly, the authors maintain, it is necessary to impose ‘political reforms’ aimed at suppressing opposition to the massively unpopular austerity measures being imposed at the behest of the banks. 

Whatever the historical inaccuracies in their analysis, there can not be the slightest doubt that the authors of the JP Morgan report are arguing for governments to adopt strong authoritarianism to complete the process of social counterrevolution to austerity that was, at the time, already well underway across Europe.

In short, JP Morgan are calling for extremely authoritarian measures to suppress dissent, impoverish the working class and wipe out its social gains since the post-war settlement. This is proto-fascism and reflects the unadulterated anti-philanthropic voice of  neoliberalism, which is incompatible with freedom of speech, human rights, social liberalism and democracy.

They got their own way.

In 2019, JP Morgan Chase reported record $36.4B profit for 2019 .

Chomsky’s concept of Necessary Illusions in Manufacturing Consent is linked to powerful elites dominating how life happens – shaping human experiences – and most people, some 90% of the population, are marginalised, diverted from political awareness, participation in self-governing, and reduced to apathy so they don’t vote or take responsibility for the quality of our lives, as a social collective. Media are a tool of society’s elites and owned and controlled by them and are used to impose those illusions – propaganda tools – that are necessary to keep people diverted from participation, empowerment, and the political process.

Chomsky said that the major form of authority that really needs challenging is the system of private control over public resources. Such privatisation (and economic enclosure) is something our own government is galloping along with at full tilt. It’s a system that entails the dispossession of the majority of citizens (the 99%) by a wealthy and powerful minority (the 1%).

Seumus Milne has said: “The real corruption that has eaten into the heart of British public life is the tightening corporate grip on government and public institutions – not just by lobbyists, but by the politicians, civil servants, bankers and corporate advisers who increasingly swap jobs, favours and insider information, and inevitably come to see their interests as mutual and interchangeable… Corporate and financial power have merged into the state.” From: Corporate power has turned Britain into a corrupt state.

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The ‘revolving door refers to the interchange of personnel, usually between businesss and government, but also between lobby groupsmanagement consultantsthink tanks and government, as well as between the media, public relations firms and government. 


 

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A few billionaires own more wealth than 4.6 billion people, says report ahead of Davos

Bootstraps

The age of endless growth in prosperity for everyone is now a distant memory of a rather more hopeful era. Despite what the government tells us, inequality is growing. And this is damaging to the economy, and to ordinary citizens who are struggling to get by on ever-diminishing incomes and ever-rising living costs. It’s highly unlikely that Brexit will help matters, too

Rising inequality coincided with a profound shift in economic policy throughout much of the developed nations of the world – neoliberalism. Political parties got elected from the end of the seventies by promising to cut tax rates, ‘free up’ markets, and reduce government intervention in the economy. The change was most pronounced in Britain and the United States, after Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took office. But it also occurred to varying degrees in Continental Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan. 

Those countries with largest tax cuts also experienced the biggest increases in inequality, and losses in public welfare and social cohesion.. However, neoliberals’ prevailing view of inequality is that it isn’t a bad thing because it ‘spurs’ people to work harder and become more self-reliant and self-disciplined.

However, people in poverty are increasingly likely to be in working families, which indicates that poverty isn’t caused by people being lazy, undisciplined and unmotivated.

The myth of meritocracy is also used to justify inequality.  Boris Johnson and Charles Murray, among others, have argued that wealth is linked with having a higher IQ. However, roughly a third of rich people inherit their wealth, so that cannot be linked to their own personal qualities, talents or achievements.

There is also the problem with defining ‘skills’and ‘talent’ worthy of merit. One person’s idea of talent is another person’s idea of Simon Cowell. 

The authors of a paper called Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure, say “The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, efforts or risk taking. Sometimes, we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role in achieving significant material success.

But, as a matter of fact, it is rather common to underestimate the importance of external forces in individual successful stories.”

The authors conclude, rather depressingly that: “The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa.”

Although the researchers outline the role of luck and randomness in how some people become very wealthy, they have overlooked the role that neoliberal policies play in redistributing public wealth towards the already wealthy.

The team who undertook this study, led by Alessandro Pluchino, also concluded that an important factor in their model was an element of fortune and misfortune that can make or break the individuals’ success.

This is one good reason why we need a robust social security system. Because no-one is immune from periods of hardship and misfortune: an accident or illness, the loss of a job, and a range of other circumstances can leave us facing poverty. No-one ‘deserves’ to be hungry, homeless and poor.

The ‘Inequality Turn’ in the 1980s is one of the most distinctive aspects of contemporary political economy. It isn’t likely that people suddenly became less ‘deserving’ of a decent standard of living, given the radical change in economic ideology and subsequent shift in socio-economic organisation. It’s rather more likely that the political choices of neoliberal policy over that time have resulted in the growth of inequality.

The neoliberal shift has led to the world’s billionaires having more wealth than 4.6 billion people and the world’s richest 1% own more than double the wealth of 6.9 billion people. There are just 2,153 billionaires. 

Those are the latest figures on global inequality from a report released on Monday ahead of an annual meeting of global elites in the mountain resort of Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The report by the international aid organisation Oxfam states that the number of billionaires has doubled in the last decade.

As at least some of the world’s 2,153 billionaires attend the World Economic Forum this week, others will be working to communicate another message: the complicity of the global elite in wealth inequality.

“Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist,” said Amitabh Behar, the CEO of Oxfam India who will be present at Davos.

“[Inequality is at the] heart of fractures and social conflicts all over the world, and no one is fooled,” said Pauline Leclère, Oxfam France’s senior campaigner for tax justice and inequalities.

“Inequality is not someone’s ‘fate’. It is the result of social and fiscal policy that reduces the participation of the wealthy [through taxes] and weakens funding for public services.”

Leclère said this is the message that Oxfam will be trying to deliver at Davos.

The charity  has released its annual report ahead of the famous economic meeting to address mounting inequality since 2014. 

The 2008 financial crisis saw the rich get richer. In 2012, the top 10% of earners took home 50% of all income. That’s the highest percentage in the last 100 years, according to a studyby economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty. 

If you want to know how that happened, you need to simply compare and contrast Conservative neoliberal policies: those aimed at wealthy people have tended to reward them with money, simply for having money, while the poorest citizens have been ‘incentivised’ to be less poor by being financially sanctioned.

This language of ‘incentives’ has been used to engineer a massive shift of public wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest. For example, the social security cuts to disabled people’s support happened at the same time as a generous tax cut to the UK’s wealthiest citizens. While the government imposed austerity on everyone else, they handed out £170,000 each per year to the millionaires in the form of a generous tax cut. 

According to government opinion and rationale, wealthy people require wealth to ‘incentivise’ them to be wealthy, whereas poor people require less money to somehow punish them out of their poverty. 

I don’t think the current government are in a position of power because of their coherence, honesty, talent and intelligence.

I think they are in government because of their ruthless pursuit of insulting the intelligence of others. And succeeding to do so.

Boris Johnson making a tenuous and tedious link between IQ, talent, competition and the inevitability and essential nature of inequality.

Gender inequality

This year, Oxfam examined the gender divide as well, highlighting that men worldwide own 50% more wealth than women due to a “sexist and unfair economic system”.

The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa, according to the report.

Women are much more likely to work in sectors that are more insecure and less valued economically, the Oxfam said.

They do more than 75% of unpaid care work and make up two-thirds of the “care workforce” in nursery and domestic jobs.

“Women and girls are among those who benefit least from today’s economic system,” said Behar.

Overall, their conclusions on inequality remain unchanged.

“Unfortunately, the organisation’s conclusion is the same. Inequality continues to rise in extreme proportions,” Leclère told Euronews, adding that inequality is bad for economies.

The director of the International Monetary Fund said at a conference in Washington DC last week that although inequality between countries was decreasing, inside many high-income countries, inequality is growing.

“The gap between rich and poor can’t be resolved without deliberate inequality-busting policies, and too few governments are committed to these,” said Behar.

Though members of civil society say they’re looking to receive concrete results from Davos, they know it’s an uphill battle.

Leclère says NGO members aren’t “fooled” by the events’ big, lofty political speeches. “We’re waiting for them to follow up with action.”

I can’t see that happening any time soon.

The remedy for an inclusive economy and society

77 years ago, the Beveridge Report identified five social evils: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. We had thought we had eradicated these injustices from society for virtually everyone in the advanced economies with the development of social security, education, housing and health services combined with a growing and inclusive economy offering full employment.

What’s the point of a government of a wealthy nation if it cannot ensure citizens have food, fuel and shelter – fundamental survival requirements? And even worse, one that thinks it is somehow acceptable to punish citizens who need welfare support by withdrawing the means of meeting survival needs by sanctioning them for ‘non-compliance’.

How did we regress to become a state where absolute poverty is once again visible and widespread, and where inequality is everywhere? Absolute poverty is when people cannot meet the costs of basic survival needs, such as for food, shelter and heating. Inequality causes lower economic growth and reduces efficiency, as a lack of opportunity means that the most valuable asset in the economy – citizens – cannot reach their full potential, and so cannot fully contribute and benefit.  

Maslow

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs

Breaking with the Keynesian model in western Europe and north America in the early postwar decades, the UK and US returned to an earlier, ‘classical’ presumption that, left alone, markets arrive at ‘optimal’ economic equilibria and the state should therefore withdraw from ‘social steering’. The neoliberal era has not only seen the soaring away of top incomes at the expense of those in the lower reaches of the income hierarchy but has also itself been thrown into question by the financial crash of 2008, which no neoclassical economist anticipated.

What would help to reduce inequality?

A good starting point for the UK government would be ensuring:

  • quality, long term employment jobs and fair wages
  • housing everyone can afford
  • health care and support when people need it
  • education for the future
  • a progressive and redistributive tax and transfer system that promotes fairness
  • reversing the legislation that disempowered trade unions, leading to the decline of trade-union membership and collective-bargaining rights
  • secure income in retirement.

These measures would reverse some of the damage that successive neoliberal governments have done to the UK’s social safety nets, resulting in a shift away from democratic norms and the balance of power and wealth.

Prof Alston, an independent expert in human rights law, spent nearly two weeks travelling in Britain and Northern Ireland and received more than 300 written submissions for his report about inequality and poverty in the UK.

He concluded: “The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

Alston is absolutely right. The Conservatives from Thatcher onwards have steadily dismantled the social gains of our post war democratic settlement: the NHS, social security, legal aid, social housing and trade unions have been under a vicious onslaught of oppressive Conservative policies for many decades. Our public services are being sold off. Privatisation is about a few people making a big profit, which invariably comes at the expense of the quality of services delivered. Companies making ‘efficiency savings’ by cutting costs, restricting services and hiring fewer and less qualified, less expensive staff.  The public ends up paying private contractors rather more, than public providers, too.

The Australian professor, who is based at New York University, said government policies had led to the “systematic immiseration [economic impoverishment]” of a significant part of the UK population, meaning they had continually put people further into poverty.

“Some observers might conclude that the DWP had been tasked with “designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th Century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens”, he said.

The UN report cites independent experts saying that 14 million people in the UK – a fifth of the population – live in poverty, according to a new measure that takes into account costs such as housing and childcare.

Alston said the cause was the government’s “ideological” decision to dismantle the social safety net and focus on work as the solution to poverty, something that many of us have also observed over the past decade.

“UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available,” he said.

Alston raises a fundamental question – is the government, and the country, comfortable with the society that we’ve become?

He outlines the normalisation of food banks, rising levels of homelessness and child poverty, steep cuts to benefits and policing, and severe restrictions on legal aid. All of these political decisions make life considerably more difficult for millions of people.

In Professor Alston’s view, these are the unequivocal consequences of deliberate, calculated political decisions. I agree. 

Despite the government’s focus on work and record levels of employment, and their glib promise of ‘making work pay’, about 60% of people in poverty are in families where someone works. 

Alston notes that this, along with welfare cuts, has created a “highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences” in an extended economic downturn.

facade welfare

Read more: Davos 2020: everything you need to know about the World Economic Forum

 

Related

Welfare sanctions can’t possibly “incentivise” people to work

 


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The problem with Jeremy Corbyn? The ranting incoherence of the mass media

Corbyn

 

My son Jake asked me yesterday:”What is it with the Guardian’s existential insecurity and deep political cognitive dissonance? (Yep, he’s a philosophy student). He said “they’re all over the place. What’s that about?” He said that he expected the unintelligible mob-mouthing from the headlines of the right wing rags such as the Express and Sun, but felt the disease has spread to what he had previously considered the “reasonably reasonable media.”  

He commented that even the Guardian and Independent have now succumbed to bouts of “febrile tutting, compulsive McCarthyist curtain twitching, spasmodic sneering and barnyard braying” at HM’s leader of the opposition The “mass hysteria, he says, has become a “shape-shifting reactionist wreck of contradiction, screeching mob mentality headlines, demanding ever- impossible, unreasonable  standards  of just one politician: Jeremy Corbyn.”

He thought I should gather together evidence of contradictions to highlight his point, but found someone had already done an outstanding job of that.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Colin Millar’s extraordinary gallery of empirical evidence.

And yes, Jake’s observations are absolutely right.

9,406 views 

There is a possibility Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister of the UK by the end of next week. There is no better time to highlight how, no matter what Corbyn does or whatever position he takes, his critics will attack him – even if they totally contradict themselves (thread). 

Corbyn opposes the exploitation of foreign sweatshop-workers – Labour MPs compare him to Nigel Farage:

John Rentoul

@JohnRentoul

Astonishing. McDonald’s a decent co making good food that most voters enjoy, & Labour says no http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/7081614/Jeremy-Corbyn-and-cronies-snub-McDonalds-from-Labour-conference.html 

Latest News headlines, exclusives and opinion | The Sun

thesun.co.uk

149 people are talking about this

Corbyn is not like Trump, says James O’Brien:

James O’Brien

@mrjamesob

I’m no fan but it’s really, really not. Trump attacks the ones telling the truth; Corbyn attacks the ones peddling racist lies. https://twitter.com/montie/status/1044916199761616896 

Tim Montgomerie

@montie

Hard to tell the difference between Trump and Corbyn in their constant attacks on the free press

1,567 people are talking about this

Corbyn is even worse than Trump, says James O’Brien:

 

Anti-Semitism row is allowing Corbyn to hide from the media’ Anti-Semitism is to Corbynites what fake news is to Trump, says guest columnist James O’Brien

Jeremy Corbyn is simply too principled:

spiked@spikedonline

“This week we have had a chilling insight into Corbyn’s authoritarianism. For a politician to make open threats against the press is deeply disturbing. He cares nothing for free speech or press freedom.”

Brendan O’Neill on the Corbynista threat to liberty

Embedded video

218 people are talking about this

Corbyn is no threat whatsoever to life as we know it (Brendan O’Neill):

spiked@spikedonline

“There’s a great irony to the Czech spy story: Corbyn insists he wasn’t involved with the Stalinists and yet he has responded in a quite Stalinist way to this story.”

Brendan O’Neill on Sky

Embedded video

167 people are talking about this

Jeremy Corbyn has no interest in power (Nick Cohen):

But conversely, Nick Cohen also believes Corbyn isn’t radically left-wing enough:

 

What Labour needs now is a takeover by real left-wing radicals | The Spectator

To say that the Labour party is in crisis because it is ‘too left-wing’ is to miss the point spectacularly. With eyes wide open, and all democratic…

Dan Hodges now, saying Corbyn is too keen for Brexit:

(((Dan Hodges)))

@DPJHodges

The reason Corbyn is adopting a more aggressively pro-Brexit stance is the same reason he’s aggressively rejecting the IHRA definition. He’s calculated he can take Labour Remainer votes for granted. They’ll sulk a bit, then say “but the food-banks”, and vote for him.

607 people are talking about this

Before Hodges criticises Corbyn for not wanting Brexit at all:

 

Mitch Benn: Corbyn isn’t brave enough to change his mind on Brexit:

Mitch Benn🇬🇧🇪🇺

@MitchBenn

Corbyn doesn’t have the guts to allow his position on Brexit to be challenged and the membership don’t have the guts to make him.

261 people are talking about this

Mitch Benn: Ok, Corbyn has changed his mind on Brexit – what a coward! 

 

 

Mitch Benn: Has the penny finally dropped for Jeremy?

Ok, this is intriguing…

Corbyn was wrong not to oppose Theresa May’s Brexit plan (Philip Collins):

Corbyn was wrong not to support Theresa May’s Brexit Plan (Philip Collins):

Labour must stop trying to frustrate Brexit It will take a speechwriter of iron discipline to resist the metaphor of renaissance. When the prime minister describes the British position on the European ..

Peter Mandleson: By not opposing Tory Brexit, Corbyn is betraying the national interest:

 

Colin adds: I don’t have soundcloud, but you can buy my book – detailing the best football rivalry you have never fully appreciated:amazon.co.uk/Frying-Pan-Spa…

Oh yeah, and you can vote Labour on 12 December to help fix this country. 

 

 


 

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Amber Rudd’s masterclass in Doublespeak

crudd.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideological mythologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

facade-welfare

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

 

I originally published this as part of a larger article. 

 


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Calculus Of Libertarian Paternalism

Max Ernst

German artist Max Ernst (1891 – 1976) incorporated a lot of sophisticated mathematical ideas into his works. Indeed, many Surrealists and Dadaists of the Anti-Tradition had a sophisticated grasp of mathematics and represented mathematics in a variety of astounding ways.

The 1942 picture, “Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidian Fly” shows a Young man observing a fly, through Euclidean triangle eyes. The fly executes a complex flight path leaving a trace behind it. That trace criss-crossing itself creates a large number of Non-Euclidian triangles. Quite literally, the Young Man is looking at a world with eyes that are utterly different to the reality of the World.

In mathematics, there are broadly three kinds of triangles: Hyperbolic, Euclidean, Elliptic. They each have three sides meeting at three corner angles and those features make them into triangles. An elliptic and hyperbolic triangle will not have corner angles adding up to one hundred and eighty degrees. Where anybody supposes that all triangles can only have angles adding up to one hundred and eighty degrees their calculations will be wrong for two types of triangles. Seeing the world through Euclidean Eyes is much the same as seeing the world through an ideological lense. Especially if the World has a different geometry. Looking at the Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidian Fly illustrates all three kinds of triangles and that gives resonance to the idea that the Young Man is intrigued. Anybody would be intrigued at the prospect that the World has hidden depths.

The assumption that all triangles are the same is wrong; but, not something that overly worries people. For enough practical situations, the Euclidean Triangle is acceptable. Good enough for Government Work. It seems obvious and has an intuitive appeal. People see triangles as having straight edges and one hundred and eighty degrees of angles. It makes sense. It is a default pattern of thought. It is what nudge theorists call choice architecture. No matter what you choose your choice will be determined by the assumption that the angles will always add up to one hundred and eighty degrees and that lines are always straight. It is the kind of inflexible thinking that Politicians of all Parties excel at: straight talking, clear thinking, up front. Sadly, the truth is the inability to address the variety in the world makes those politicians inflexible, authoritarian, and even counter-productive.

The inability to accept that, even if you do not know exactly how they work, there are Non-Euclidian triangles is something that prevents living in a world of surprises. Which is not to say that every surprise abolishes all that you know. This is a phenomenon that politicians of a certain sort use repeatedly. Mental gymnastics that present them as being flexible, dynamic, innovative where, in fact, they are inflexible, dull authoritarians. Nowhere is this more useful than in Paternalism.

Paternalism, in essence, tells the world that there is on kind of triangle. For enough practical situations, we can assume that Euclidean Triangles are the only Triangles. These situations do not include the sophisticated situation where there is rapid change and the world enters uncharted territory. Paternalism is not good at uncharted territory.

Paternalism is a political idea of limiting liberty or autonomy in a manner intended to promote the good of a person or group. That limitation of behaviour might be against or regardless of the will of a person. The Paternalist expresses an attitude of superiority: this is the correct way to do things. As a political idea, Paternalism has been unfashionable since the end of the Second World War. There is a small step from table manners to total war.

Telling people, especially people who are increasingly educated, that there is only one kind of triangle is nonsense. Paternalists classify themselves as soft or hard, pure or impure, moral or welfare; and, since the advent of nudge theory these have all been wrapped up into the notion of Libertarian Paternalism. Broadly Libertarian Paternalism is Paternalism where the subject of the Paternalism is influenced in their choices in a way that will make them better off, as judged by themselves. Libertarian Paternalism is about getting the whole world to buy into the notion that there is one, and only one, kind of triangle.

Which makes those who do not accept the nudge, metaphorically, into the wrong kind of triangle. Given there are three general kinds of geometry – Euclidean, Hyperbolic, and Elliptical – there is a two in three probability that a randomly selected triangle is the wrong kind of triangle. Which has a curiously powerful historical resonance for some people. Judging that a nudge is wrong for me places those with judgement in conflict with the Paternalist and the inevitable hardening of whatever powers the Paternalist possesses takes place. Libertarian Paternalism cannot help but become Authoritarian. Paternalism trumping Libertarianism for a very simple reason: Paternalists propose rule escalations and either the Libertarian accepts the escalation or the Paternalist escalates the coercion. There is no real free choice.

The modern paternalism has branded itself as nudge as if there was something harmless about it. In reality nudge relies on cognitive biases. There are around one hundred cognitive biases that have been identified by psychologists. These are systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgement in other words: ways in which we assume we know what kind of triangle we are looking at. These cognitive biases result in fairly predictable outcomes. Nudge Theorists spend a lot of time designing decisions for Citizens to make around these cognitive biases which result in decisions that are not really free choices and may not even be rational. Indeed there is often a payoff for the Paternalist in having an irrational choice: the Citizen has made a choice and has no insight into why. Which ensures the Paternalist can narrate social reality simply by saying, “this is why you chose that”.

The list of cognitive biases is long and they are effective means to nudging people into taking the right decision. So, for example, the Default Effect is where, given a choice between several options, the tendency to favour the default one. This is frequently seen in computer systems where, for example, the default language is US-EN and needs to be changed. The subtle impact of this, for English Language Speakers, is that not changing the default US-EN to GB-EN, for example, results in software that is understandable but drives language use towards American semantics.

Then there is the Framing Effect: drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how that information is presented. So, for example, using US-EN and GB-EN rather than American English and British English helps to drive the conclusion that these are, somehow, dialects of the same language with equal linguistic value, rather than diverging languages in a struggle for existence. The list of cognitive biases is a list of ways to influence people: framing software use in US-EN has the subtle effect of making software be perceived as American, even though America is not the biggest writer of code in the world.

Cognitive biases are about getting things done: decisions made. They are not about rational decision making but about getting things done. In the word of the Philosopher Harry Frankfurt, they are about bullshit. The use of cognitive biases is not about saying something true or false but about getting things done. It is about Action. The principle of action replacing though has been central to the development of Totalitarianism for at least a century.

The danger of Paternalism is that it ceases being benevolent and becomes Total. In the practices of Nudge there is embodied a subtle yet obvious flaw: those doing the Nudging are not immune to the cognitive biases they use. They see the entire world as Euclidean Triangles – which, in a world with Elliptical and Hyperbolic triangles, amounts to confirmation bias. Confirmation Bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. Being in positions of power, those who Nudge are using Confirmation Bias to inform their creation of a Framing Effect and a Default Effect. The outcome is that policies are not evidence based, rational and democratic but prejudice based, irrational and paternalistic.

When Sunstein and Thaler proposed that Libertarian Paternalism was a good idea, they were doing so from a peculiar position of having access to legal, contract and finance skills. Libertarian Paternalism would, it seem, work in a community that had replaced society with enforceable contracts.

This kind of notion seeps into the way the Department for Work and Pensions treat Claimants. The Unemployed become Job Seekers thus taking advantage of the cognitive bias of focusing; and, the Job Seeker has a Job Seekers Agreement which, it turns out, is an actual contract for which the Claimant must fulfil all conditions, however arbitrary. This is where we begin to see how Nudge is also nudging the Department for Work and Pensions.

Job Seekers are viewed as being lumps of labour that can be switched in and out of the Economy mechanistically. This amounts to the cognitive bias of functional fixedness. Which separates the Claimant from any access to legal, contractual or finance resources implicit in the Sunstein and Thaler presentation of Nudge Theory. Which reduces the interaction between the Department and the Claimant to a Paternalistic relationship. Indeed, the nature of that relationship is reinforced by the elimination of legal aid: there is no recourse to effective contract drafting for the Claimant and the whole relationship is determined by who has the deepest pockets.

The Department of Work and Pensions is the clearest example of how Nudge becomes Authoritarianism. The elements that make Nudge workable have all been eliminated. There is no possibility of each Claimant negotiating a realistic Job Seekers Agreement and so the agreement will be dictated, to save time if nothing else. This highlights one of the cognitive biases of the Department: illicit transference – the notion that what is true of one claimant is true of all Claimants or what is true of Claimants collectively is also true of Claimants individually.

Because the Department of Work and Pensions has abandoned the evidence based work in favour of Observer-expectancy “Randomised Control Trials” – there is a veneer of scientific respectability. Yet, the Randomised Control Trials do not actually stand up to scrutiny. Which is evidenced by the consequent Departmental use of statistics. The Department of Work and Pensions has a poor reputation for statistics – being disciplined by the National Audit Office on several occasions – which highlights the Department’s predilection for cognitive biases such as Zero risk bias, Unit Bias, Stereotyping, and Status Quo Bias.

The clear outcome is that, once the capacity for all parties to a nudge to act in a libertarian fashion is removed, all that is left is Paternalism. It is a choice. A choice made in a choice architecture: the choice is transferred from the Claimant or the Citizen to the Department or the Government. Nudge is little more than the choice architecture of authoritarianism. This is no more evident than in the choice of Austerity.

The outcome of Austerity has been the rise of social murder – the killing of reasonably well defined groups such as Claimants – often at considerable cost, in order to sustain a cognitive bias. The multiple cognitive biases, of the Tories, used to support the claim that Markets solve everything are little more than the denial that there is more than one kind of triangle. Independent observers – such as UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston – have pointed out that Austerity is a choice that could be reversed ‘overnight’ for little cost. It is a choice. Made within a choice architecture created by Authoritarians.

The social murder carried out since 2010 is in the process of transforming society. Obedience is being presented as the default choice. In reality, the cognitive bias of System Justification, is driving the political, economic and social destruction of society and social murder is an acceptable outcome because “society will be reformed”.

It is the same notion that instruction to action – of taking back control – of keeping calm and carrying on – all signify. It is about remaking society in the image of some historical bubble: the cognitive biases of False Memory about some golden age, possibly in the 1940s or 1950s, where the world was somehow, magically, better. It was a world in which there was only one kind of triangle. It was also a world in which Max Ernst was fleeing totalitarians who wanted to kill him for painting the wrong kind of triangle.

Picture: “Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidean Fly”, Max Ernst, 1942.

Article by Hubert Huzzah

Disabled people facing government hostility in the UK – Mo Stewart

A protest outside Atos in London in July 2017

 

Last year I wrote an article about how the social security system in the UK has been re-structured around “ordeals”, which were introduced by the Conservative government in order to discipline and “disincentivise” citizens from claiming welfare support, by undermining any sense of security people may have of fulfiling their most basic needs.  Welfare support is extremely conditional and precarious. Ordeals are intrinsic to a system of punishment that the draconian Conservatives claim will “change the behaviours” of underpaid, unemployed and disabled people. By creating a hostile environment, the government are somehow claiming that it’s possible to simply punish people out of poverty. 

My friend, Mo Stewart writes, today in the Guardian (Letters 

“The British public have reacted to “a sense of betrayal of that so-called British value of fairness” (The hostile environment? Britain’s disabled people live there too, the guardian.com, 26 April). This “sense of betrayal” was only possible because the national press reported the plight of the Windrush scandal, but this is not always the case. Some of the press were happy to promote the exaggerated claims of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which, during five years of coalition government, knowingly misled the public regarding “fake” claimants of disability benefit. Coincidentally, disability hate crimes increased by 213% during the coalition’s term in office.

Influenced by a US healthcare insurance “consultant”, who funded DWP-commissioned research used to justify welfare reforms, the work capability assessment (WCA) adopted the bio-psychosocial model of assessment which has failed all academic scrutiny. The WCA is used by the DWP to resist access to the employment and support allowance (ESA) sickness and disability benefit, which is the financial equivalent of jobseeker’s allowance, so there is no financial incentive when claiming ESA.”

This DWP assessment totally disregards diagnosis, prognosis, past medical history and all medical opinion. Deaths of genuine claimants were always inevitable. There is a reason why the DWP has refused to publish updated ESA mortality totals since February 2014, as suicides linked to the ESA assessment climb. It’s time for this ideological DWP tyranny to end, and for the national press to stop disregarding another national atrocity impacting on disabled people.”

The letter was signed by:

Mo Stewart Independent disability studies researcher 
Professor Woody Caan Editor, Journal of Public Mental Health 
Dr Tanya Titchkosky Professor of disability studies, University of Toronto 
Professor Peter Beresford Professor of citizen participation, Essex University
Dr Marion Hersh Senior lecturer, biomedical engineering, Glasgow University
Dr Dominic Griffiths Senior lecturer in Inclusive Education and SEN, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr Anne Daguerre Assistant professor in work, employment and welfare, Middlesex University
Dr Simon Duffy Director, Centre for Welfare Reform
Vin West Chair, Arfon Access Group,
and others.

Related image

 

Related

Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

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

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

 


 

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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It’s David Gauke and the government that need to change their behaviours, not poor people

Andrew Marr interviews David Gauke about the effects of welfare sanctions

David Gauke claims that the government’s harsh sanctions regime is to ‘change the behaviours’ of people who need to claim support from the welfare state. This is the welfare state that everyone, including those needing support, has funded through the National Insurance and tax system. Gauke clearly thinks that starving people and making them destitute will somehow punish people into working more. He’s riding the fabled rubber bicycle.

Gauke clearly needs to read Abraham Maslow’s work and the results of the Minnesota starvation experiment, because a vast amount of empirical evidence indicates that when people can’t maintain their basic living requirements – fulfilment of basic physical needs for food, fuel and shelter, which every human being has – then they simply will not have the capacity to fulfil higher level psychosocial needs, and that includes looking for work. 

maslow-5

Gauke tried to imply that more people are working and this is somehow linked to the punitive conditionality regime. However, he chose to completely ignore comments outlining how more people have become homeless, now face soaring debt and face more risk of experiencing mental health problems because of sanctions.

The government have ensured via systematic deregulation that the ‘supply side’ labour market is designed to suit the wants of employers and not the needs of employees. Much employment is insecure and wages have been driven down to the point where they are exploitative and no longer cover even the basic livings costs of workers. Wages have stagnated, and are most likely to remain stagnated for the foreseeable future.

So we now have an economic situation where even nurses and teachers are having to visit food banks because they can’t afford to eat. At a time when the government boasts more people than ever are in employment, cases of malnutrition and poverty related illnesses are actually rising. Work clearly does not pay.

An international study has recently shown that, rather than acting as a ‘perverse incentive’ as the Conservatives claim, generous welfare states tend to encourage people to work. This fits with Maslow’s framework, and findings of the extensive Minnesota starvation experiment, among many other reliable and valid sources of empirical evidence, indicating that sanctions cannot possibly work to ‘incentivise’ or motivate people to work.

If Gauke was remotely interested in ‘getting it right’, he would have surely paid a little attention to this and other important research findings. However, he seems very happy to operate from within his own and his party’s state of perpetual confirmation bias.

So much so that even the harrowing findings of a United Nations inquiry into the government’s woeful record of systematically abusing the human rights of disabled people who need welfare support didn’t break their stride at all. They simply denied it. I’m surprised that the government didn’t accuse the United Nations of being ‘Momentum supporters’, as they usually dismiss their critics with that comment, or simply label us as ‘scaremongers’ or ‘marxists’. However, unlike the word ‘Tory‘, the latter isn’t actually a derogatory term outside of the minds of the Tories and Daily Mail journalists.

Pressing him on the harmful effects of benefit sanctions, in the interview, Andrew Marr quoted an open letter to the Independent signed by representatives of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the other leading UK psychotherapy organisations. 

The letter called on the government, in the words quoted by Andrew Marr, to “immediately suspend the benefits sanctions system” because:

“We see evidence … which links sanctions to destitution, disempowerment, and increased rates of mental health problems …

“Vulnerable people with multiple and complex needs, in particular, are disproportionately affected.”

In his reply, Gauke completely ignored this, and simply restated that work ‘can help people’s mental health’, while Marr mentioned that the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee have both criticised the Department for Work and Pension for not knowing enough about the effect of sanctions. Gauke implied that sanctions are pretty much experimental – a sort of trial and error approach, that the government ‘doesn’t always get right’. 

Actually, it’s not a government that gets much right. It’s not so long ago that government officials admitted that claimant’s comments used in an official benefit sanctions information leaflet were ‘for illustrative purposes only’. The Department for Work and Pensions tried to claim, using fake case studies, and fake ‘testimonials’ that people were ‘happy’ to be sanctioned. The government attempted to manufacture evidence, in other words, to justify the use of despotic state behaviours. It’s not a government that feels any need to be transparent and accountable. It is one, however, thatlikes to get its own way, regardless of how harmful and damaging that may be. 

Something I have also raised concerns about on previous occasions is that behavioural economics – the ideological and experimental ‘libertarian paternalist’ approach of the government in changing the behaviours of citizens (note it’s mostly poor citizens that are being targeted for nudge ‘interventions’) – isn’t being monitored, nor does it operate within a remotely ethical framework. No-one seems to care about the potential for abuse here, or about the potential for the state to inflict lasting psychological damage on citizens via its imposition of psychomanagement.

It’s hardly surprising that an authoritarian government using psychological coercion on the poorest citizens by inflicting extreme punishments – in making food, fuel and shelter (basic survival needs) entirely conditional on citizens’ absolute compliance – is causing serious harm and psychological distress to those citizens. It isn’t how people expect governments to behave in a developed, very wealthy so-called democracy.

B.F Skinner’s lab rats were treated better than people needing welfare support. At least once the rats pressed a lever in the operant conditioning chamber during the experiment, they were fed. Some people are left for weeks, months and sometimes up to 3 years without the means to cover their basic survival needs, just to put this into perspective. The government is experimenting on the poorest citizens without their consent. Punishment is being inflicted by the state in an attempt to ‘cure’ state inflicted poverty. Take a moment to think that through.

Behavioural economics entails ‘nudging’ citizens without their informed consent to change their perceptions and behaviours, so that they meet politically defined economic outcomes. The idea of increasing the severity and duration of welfare sanctions came from behavioural economists, who claim, along with the government, that they know what is ‘best’ for citizens and society. Apparently, conditions entailing starvation and destitution is ‘best’ for poor citizens, while handouts, tax cuts and offshore banking is best for the very wealthy minority.

When citizens experiencing such a deep fear of being sanctioned that they are forced to sit through a jobcentre interview while having a heart attack, when vulnerable disabled people are taking their own lives, rather than face a precarious future in a country that is no longer kind; when the government’s actions are causing real and irreversible harm to people who are ill; when the government’s ‘interventions’ are killing people, when cases of suffering, malnutrition and other poverty related diseases begin to reappear, after decades of progress through the welfare state, now being undone when the government refuses to acknowledge these consequences and does nothing to change its own enormously damaging behaviours – simply continuing to deny these inevitable consequences of its own actions – we must ask ourselves if those political actions and the consequences are fully intended.

Policies are political statements of intent, they provide messages about how a government thinks society and the economy should be organised and this is being imposed on citizens. The more a social group suffers the adverse consequences of a failing economic system, the more the government punishes them. It’s despicable. 

Ordinarily, governments in wealthy democracies are supposed to reflect the needs of the public they serve. This government expects the public to reflect the needs of the government and meet economic policy outcomes. The neoliberal framework is profoundly damaging, however, to most ordinary citizens. It seems it cannot be imposed without a considerable degree of authoritarianism, and irrational, unevidenced and pretty vile ideological justification. The justification simply reflects Conservative class prejudices and an elitism. All of this of course turns democracy completely on its head.

Gauke showed not a shred of remorse or concern regarding the terrible impact of sanctions during that interview. He simply didn’t respond, insisting instead that conditionality is necessary for ‘behaviour change’, and as a ‘fair’ gesture to that mythological beast of burden, the ‘tax payer’. While Gauke is casually discussing the political misuse of the worst kind of brutal, punitive behaviourist pseudopsychology, which is designed solely to prop up a failing economic system and to justify the steady dismantling of the welfare state, real and qualified psychologists are telling the government about the unforgivable harm and damage they are inflicting. The Conservatives are simply refusing to listen and engage with citizens.

The welfare state has always entailed a degree of conditionality ever since its inception. However, Gauke tried to claim that the extremely impoverishing sanctions now being imposed for often arbitrary reasons – on people who are late for an appointment, who are too ill to attend a meeting, or for a range of other reasons that indicate barriers people may face in complying with often meaningless, trivial tasks – are somehow ‘necessary’. But we know that most people who need to claim welfare support are either past working age, or they are actually in work. 

So let’s get this straight, it’s a government that believes withdrawing the means of meeting basic survival needs of poor people is necessary. Let that sink in for a moment.

The arrogant and taken-for-granted assumption is that poor people need behaviour changing ‘state therapy’, when the fault lies with the socioeconomic and political system. Not only has this government done their utmost to pathologise poor people, and scapegoat them for a failing political-economic system, it is a government that is quite happy to watch people suffer. If people can’t meet their basic needs for food, fuel and shelter, they will die. This is a government that is OK with people dying because of government policies. Take a moment to think that through.

Gauke also claimed that work is the only sustainable basis for lifting people out of poverty. As stated previously, most of our welfare spending is on supporting people in work. The problem of low wages is not one that warrants the punitive ‘behaviour change’ approach aimed at those on poor pay and in precarious employment. It’s not as if the government values collective bargaining and trade union interventions. The behaviour that needs changing is that of exploitative, profit driven employers. Yet already disempowered citizens on low pay are being sanctioned for not ‘progressing in work’. This government is absolutely disgraceful, vindictive and unremittingly cruel.

Image result for welfare spending uk pie chart

‘Making work pay’ is a simply a Conservative euphemism for the dismantling of the welfare state – a civilised and civilising institution that came into existence to ensure that no-one faces starvation, destitution and the ravages of absolute poverty.

Gauke conveniently overlooked the fact that the majority of people needing support have worked, many move in and out of low paid, insecure employment, others are in employment but are not paid an adequate amount to meet even their essential living costs. In fact the majority are in employment. Everyone – in work and out – pays taxes and contributes to the treasury. Well, except for those with havens and the power to say ‘this is what we will pay, take it or leave it’ to the government. ‘Sweetheart deals’ generally don’t come from sweet hearts. These are people who don’t care if the welfare state, NHS and other gains made from our post-war settlement are being plundered and destroyed: they are the cheerleaders of social and economic destruction and the architects of absolute poverty for others.

Gauke also claimed that work was the only sustainable basis for ‘helping people out of poverty.’ However the original aim of the architects of the welfare state was to ensure no-one lived in absolute poverty. This is a government that fully intends to continue dismantling our social security system, regardless of the harm that this does to individuals and to society as a whole. 

The BPS’s call for the suspension of benefit sanctions was repeated in our report Psychology at Work, which was launched last month. The report said sanctions should be suspended pending an independent review into the link between their use and their impact on the mental health and wellbeing of claimants.

The Society called on the government to commit to an end-to-end review of the Work Capability Assessment process in order to bring about the culture change needed to make it beneficial. 

Psychology at Work also made recommendations for creating a psychologically healthy workplace and supporting neurodiverse people at work. 

Here is the Society’s full open letter to the Independent:

The DWP must see that a bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment

We, the UK’s leading bodies representing psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and counsellors, call on the Government to immediately suspend the benefits sanctions system. It fails to get people back to work and damages their mental health.

Findings from the National Audit Office (NAO) show limited evidence that the sanctions system actually works, or is cost effective.

But, even more worrying, we see evidence from NHS Health Scotland, the Centre for Welfare Conditionality hosted by the University of York, and others, which links sanctions to destitution, disempowerment, and increased rates of mental health problems. This is also emphasised in the recent Public Accounts Committee report, which states that the unexplained variations in the use of benefits sanctions are unacceptable and must be addressed. 

Vulnerable people with multiple and complex needs, in particular, are disproportionately affected by the increased use of sanctions.

Therefore, we call on the Government to suspend the benefits sanctions regime and undertake an independent review of its impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

But suspending the sanctions system alone is not enough. We believe the Government also has to change its focus from making unemployment less attractive, to making employment more attractive – which means a wholesale review of the back to work system.

We want to see a range of policy changes to promote mental health and wellbeing. These include increased mental health awareness training for Jobcentre staff – and reform of the work capability assessment (WCA), which may be psychologically damaging, and lacks clear evidence of reliability or effectiveness.

We urge the Government to rethink the Jobcentre’s role from not only increasing employment, but also ensuring the quality of that employment, given that bad jobs can be more damaging to mental health than unemployment.

This should be backed up with the development of statutory support for creating psychologically healthy workplaces.

These policies would begin to take us towards a welfare and employment system that promotes mental health and wellbeing, rather than one that undermines and damages it.

Professor Peter Kinderman, President, British Psychological Society (BPS)

Martin Pollecoff, Chair, UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)

Dr Andrew Reeves, Chair, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

Helen Morgan, Chair, British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC)

Steve Flatt, Trustee, British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)

It seems that real psychologists believe it is the government, rather than poor people, who need to change their behaviours.

 


 

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

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Alleged Conservative Twitter account claims poor people are ‘dangerous’ and food bank users spend their money on drugs and alcohol

Tories on poor

A Twitter account claiming to be the Lincolnshire Conservatives has been suspended after complaints were made about some of its tweets which said poor people were “dangerous” and food bank users had “no cooking skills”.

The tweets were posted overnight on June 2  and originate from an account claiming to be to be the official Twitter account for Lincolnshire Conservatives, with a location tag in Grantham. 

Several offensive tweets were posted, including ridiculous with claims that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was “impotent” and “disappoints his wife,” suggesting that he would similarly disappoint voters.

The poster boasted about tweeting from Grantham, the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, and professing to have “never been more confident” about winning the election.

Tweets from the account also said: “The vast majority of people who use food banks have poor budgeting skills and no cooking skills.

“They usually resort to a life crime and then blame the government for their deplorable lifestyle. Corbyn supports those rogues.”

The account also tweeted that “poor people are not “vulnerable”, they are dangerous due to the fact that they are addicted to drugs and have NOTHING to lose.

It’s certainly true that Conservative ministers and peers such as Iain Duncan Smith and Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, have tended to conflate poverty with poor budgeting and cooking skills. Many Tories have implied poverty arises because of “faulty behaviours” and “lifestyle choices” rather than being a consequence of political choices and policies that extend inequality, and an inevitable feature of our “competitive” economic organisation.

This scapegoating approach has been used by the Conservatives to attempt to justify the extremely punitive “behaviour change” policies and austerity programme directed almost exclusively at the poorest citizens. 

Both Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron have previously implied that poverty arises because of “worklessness”, obesity, alcoholism and substance misuse. There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact the available evidence strongly suggests that individuals are more likely to drink regularly and above recommended limits during the week if s/he is a high-income earning managerial/professional worker. 

The tweets, from a fake account or otherwise, certainly capture something of the Conservative mindset, and reflect their traditional prejudices.

Richard Davies, Conservative county councillor for Grantham, North West, told Lincolnshire Reporter: “It’s a fake account.

“We’ve reported it to Twitter for impersonating us and they’ve taken it down.

“Our account is @LincsTories.”

It’s unusual for Conservatives to call themselves “Tories” because of the derogatory connotations of the word – “Tory” derives from the Irish word tóraidhe; modern Irish tóraí; modern Scottish Gaelic Tòraidh: outlaw, robber or brigand, from the Irish word tóir, meaning “pursuit”, since outlaws were “pursued men”. The term was originally a term of abuse, and remains a pejorative.

 

See also: Conservatives, Cruelty and the Collective Unconscious

 


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Theresa May euphemizes savage cuts to PIP when confronted by an angry disabled person demanding democratic accountability

Theresa May

The prime minister has been avoiding confrontation with real citizens and voters so far, and has simply concerned herself with a series of stage-managed media appearances featuring Conservative supporters.

However, Theresa May faced a series of difficult questions after she was confronted by a furious voter over cuts to disability benefits while she was campaigning in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Cathy Mohan, who has learning difficulties, challenged the Prime Minister over Conservative cuts, which meant she lost her carer. She also asked about how others had been affected as the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by the new cost cutting Personal Independence Payment (PIP). She told the PM that she has been forced to live on £100 a month in benefits after being denied essential support with the extra costs of coping with a learning disability.

In the footage captured by Channel 5 News, the voter demanded tht the government return to the DLA payments system, explaining that she couldn’t survive on the PIP scheme that has replaced it. 

Suprisingly, The Express also ran the story, although it was interesting to note the language use and interpretation to describe the exchange, with the Prime Minister “replying”, “saying”, “concluding” and Cathy “continuing her tirade” and “her rant“. Anyone would think that the Express journalist wanted to portray this citizen demanding democratic inclusion as unreasonable. 

Cathy simply asked: “Theresa, are you going to help people with learning difficulties? 

It’s good to see the Prime Minister being held democratically accountable for once by a real member of the public with a real life account of the devastating impacts of Tory austerity cuts, which have fallen disproportionately on those with the very least, and those who are among our most vulnerable citizens. 

2014-02-17-BurdenoftheCuts-thumb

You can see Cathy angrily and bravely confronting the Prime Minister here

Cathy says “I’m being serious, I want you to do something for us.”

 May replied: “We’ve got a lot of plans for people with mental health in particular…”

But absolutely furious with being fobbed off,  Cathy swiftly interrupted the Prime Minister and continued: “And learning difficulties? 

Because I’ve got mild learning disabilities and I haven’t got a carer at the moment, and I’m angry.

I would like somebody to help me because I can’t do everything I want to do.

I’m talking about everybody not just me, for everybody who’s got mental health and anybody who’s got learning disabilities.

I want them not to have their money taken away from them, and being crippled.

They just took it all away from me,” she said.

She added: “The fat cats keep the money and us lot get nothing.”

It’s true that the vulture capitalist private companies undertaking disability assessments take millions from the public purse to deliver pseudo-medical assessments that are specifically designed to make it unlikely that your claim will be successful, regardless of how ill and disabled you are. 

An audit report concluded that the Department for Work and Pension’s spending on contracts for disability benefit assessments is expected to double in 2016/17 compared with 2014/15. The government’s flagship welfare-cutting scheme will be actually spending more money on the assessments themselves than it is saving in reductions to the benefits bill – as Frances Ryan pointed out in the Guardian, it’s the political equivalent of burning bundles of £50 notes.

The report also states that only half of all the doctors and nurses hired by Maximus – the US outsourcing company brought in by the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out the assessments – had even completed their training.

The NAO report summarises:

£1.6 billion
Estimated cost of contracted-out health and disability assessments over three years, 2015 to 2018

£0.4 billion
Latest expected reduction in annual disability benefit spending

13%
Proportion of ESA and PIP targets met for assessment report quality meeting contractual standard (September 2014 to August 2015).

See: Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.”

May responded by using trite and meaningless sloganised reassurances: “The government is “particularly focused on those who are most in need”.

“Focusing on those most in need” is a Conservative euphemism for cutting lifeline support for those who need it, by a series of incremental restrictions to the eligibility criteria for PIP.

The criteria for receiving PIP has recently been restricted by the Conservatives, leading to more than 160,000 vulnerable people being denied the additional financial help that they once received.

May continued: What I can do is ensure that we’re giving more help to people with mental health and learning disabilities.

We want to ensure when we look at the help we’re giving to people with any disability that particularly we focus on those who are most in need.”

PIP is a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these. It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as full, active and independent lives as possible, including staying in work. 

Before 2010, policies that entailed cutting lifeline support for disabled people and those with serious illnesses were unthinkable. Now, systematically dismantling social security for those citizens who need support the most has become the political norm.

Any social security policy that is implemented with the expressed aim of “targeting those most in need” and is implemented to replace a policy that is deemed “unsustainable” is invariably about cost cutting, aimed at reducing the eligibility criteria for entitlement. The government were explicit in their statement about the original policy intent behind PIP. However, what it is that defines those “most in need” involves ever-shrinking, constantly redefined categories, pitched at an ever-shifting political goalpost.

Two independent tribunals have ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the scope and eligibility criteria of PIP, which helps both in-work and out-of work disabled people fund their additional living costs. 

Following a court ruling in favour of disabled people, the government rushed in an “urgent change” to the law to prevent many people with mental health conditions being awarded the mobility component of PIP. Without any parliamentary debate. The court held that people  with conditions such as severe anxiety can qualify for the enhanced rate of the mobility component, on the basis of problems with “planning and following a journey”, or “going out”.  The new regulations were rushed in without any dialogue with the Social Security Advisory Committee, too, via statutory instrument. 

The government’s new regulations will reverse the recent ruling and means that people with mental health conditions such as severe anxiety who can go outdoors, even if they need to have someone with them, are much less likely to get an award of even the standard rate of the PIP mobility component. The new regulations also make changes to the way that the descriptors relating to taking medication are interpreted, again in response to a ruling by a tribunal in favour of disabled people.

The first tribunal said more points should be available in the “mobility” element for people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone. The second tribunal recommended more points in the “daily living” element for people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition. 

The DWP warned that it would cost £3.7bn extra by 2022 to implement the court rulings. The government have responded by formulating an extremely authoritarian “emergency legislation” to stop the legal changes that the upper tribunals had ruled on from happening. From 16 March the law was changed, without any democratic conversation with disabled people and related organisations, or debate in parliament, so that the phrase “For reasons other than psychological distress will be added to the start of descriptors c, d and f in relation to “Planning and following journeys”on the PIP form.

It’s worth noting that the Coalition Government enshrined in law a “commitment” to parity of esteem for mental and physical health in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In January 2014 it published the policy paper Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health (Department of Health, 2014), which sets out 25 priorities for change in how children and adults with mental health problems are supported and cared for.

The limiting changes to PIP legislation certainly does not reflect that commitment.  

Let us not forget that last year, the United Nations’ highly critical report confirmed that the UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people.

And let us not forget that this government dismissed the findings of the inquiry and each of the major concerns raised, calling it “offensive”.

It’s rather more offensive that a government of one of the wealthiest so-called democratic nations in the world chooses to disregard its human rights obligations towards disabled people, often leaving them without lifeline support and with devastating consequences, whilst gifting millionaires and rogue multinationals with tax payers money.

Image result for disabled people's rights uk


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

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I’ve just told the Conservative director of campaigning to jog on

17992309_1302068139828559_7295604745407481410_n

I have just been given an award for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). Not sure how much I will get towards my rent as the award notice doesn’t make much sense, but I got it after sending in my medical evidence recently. 

It means I get to keep a roof over my head for a bit longer, anyway. It’s very, very difficult to get an award of DHP now, as it has been made highly conditional, partly because councils are so strapped for cash due to Conservative cuts, partly because Conservative policies, such as the bedroom tax and other “reforms”, have increased the need considerably for this support.

My own council informed me that already there are very little funds left for DHP. I applied because since becoming too ill to work, my income has dwindled to the point where I’m now short by more than £100 per month to pay for my rent, council tax, food and fuel. I don’t have a spare room, but I have to pay council tax currently because my son is taking a couple of months out from university to care for me, following a severe bout of pneumonia and sepsis, which almost cost me my life. My son is therefore classed as a “non dependent”. Despite the fact he has no income out of term time, he is still expected to contribute to the rent. I am currently so poor because of draconian Conservative policies. 

So imagine my surprise and disgust when I got an email today from the Conservative campaign director, asking me to donate £30 to the Tory election campaign. You couldn’t make it up. 

Note the nudges used in their grubby mail opening: “We’ve had a great response…” which is an approach that the Behavioural Insights Team at the heart of the cabinet office call “social norming“. It was designed by the advertising industry and is increasingly being used in polcy and political rhetoric to create a false consensus effect. Social norming is increasingly being used in policies aimed at behavioural change. That the government is using such an approach from their Nudge Unit to influence voting behaviour is deplorable.

This kind of nudge is based on the bandwaggon propaganda technique. It’s an improper appeal to emotion, used for the purpose of swaying the opinions of an audience.  This technique involves encouraging people to think or act in some way simply because other people are doing so, or so it is implied. It’s an appeal to “join the winning side” because pretty much everyone apparently endorses it, after all. 

Plus there is an urge for us to “all stand together”, remarkably, from a government that has intentionally caused massive social division in order to manipulate the populations’ perceptions and behaviours towards politically scapegoated others, (unemployed and disabled people, refugees and asylum seekers, for example) to divert attention from the fact that Conservative policies are causing massive inequality as their policies reward the wealthy and punish the poorest citizens, their policies are aimed at dismantling the social gains of our post war settlement, and creating scapegoats and the growth of social prejudice as a diversionary tactic to protect those responsible for our ruined economy – the financier class and the government.

Image result for bandwagon propaganda

I’m wondering just how many people needing social security would be donating half their weekly income to these sadistic jokers after years of their extremely punitive “reforms”?

I’m guessing none.

Quite properly so.

Here is a copy of the email, with my considered response:

From: Darren Mott – Chief Agent and Director of Campaigning
Sent: 24 April 2017 12:39
To: suejones
Subject: Re: We need to stand together Susan 

Dear Susan,

We have had a great response from supporters across the country joining our 2017 Fighting Fund supporters list.

It has been exciting to see such support for our plan for a stronger Britain through Brexit and beyond.

I will be speaking to our campaign team at midday tomorrow to set spending priorities in this crucial phase of the campaign to strengthen the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand in Europe. Donate now to help.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, Susan, we need you. Elections are always hard fought. Only Theresa May and the Conservatives can ensure we have strong leadership, certainty and stability through Brexit and beyond.

If you haven’t already, please donate £30 today and join our 2017 Fighting Fund supporters list.

Thank you,

Darren

Darren Mott
Chief Agent and Director of Campaigning

PS: Donate by midday to make sure you are on our supporters list for this key phase of the campaign.

From: Conservative Campaign Headquarters
Subject: We Stand Together 

Tory

Dear Susan,           

This is urgent.

In 6 weeks’ time there will be a general election. Your donation is vital. It is vital to bolster an election campaign that aims to strengthen Theresa May’s and the UK’s negotiating position on Brexit.

Your donation will help defeat Jeremy Corbyn, and our Lib Dem and SNP opponents, who together are planning to disrupt our Brexit negotiations, raise taxes, increase borrowing and waste.

Will you be one of our General Election 2017 Fighting Fund supporters, and will you help us get on with the job of making life in the United Kingdom even better, Susan?            

Donate today:

£20 gets us 100 campaign posters

£35 delivers 500 leaflets to target voters

£50 helps us call 1000 target voters

£100 delivers 3000 letters to target voters

£500 delivers 3000 freepost surveys to target voters

We are finalising our election plans now, Susan. Will you donate to our campaign and become a Fighting Fund supporter today?

Thanks for your support,     

Conservative Campaign Headquarters
                 

  Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

 

 

My measured response:

Bootstraps

Susan Jones
05:56

RE: We need to stand together Susan

To: Darren Mott – Chief Agent and Director of Campaigning

After this government’s policies have systematically robbed me of an adequate income, I am afraid I haven’t even enough money to meet my basic needs, let alone donate to a party that has nothing but disdain for those of us who become too ill to work. I have worked most of my life and contributed tax and National Insurance, only to see you dismantle the social gains of our publicly funded post-war settlement and hand out my money to millionaires and rogue multinationals.

You’re right, the stakes have never been higher. That’s why I will be campaigning as hard as I possibly can for a Labour government, which will acknowledge and reflect public needs in their policies. That’s rather more democratic than a government that imposes their own needs on the population to meet their ideological and draconian policy outcomes.

So jog on.

It’s time to put the Tories out of our misery

 Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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