Tag: #inclusion

Government criticised for lack of diversity, lack of transparency and poor fiscal management

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The Institute For Government (IFG) published their annual Whitehall Monitor Report on Thursday, presenting an insight and analysis of the size, shape and performance of government and the civil service.

In the opening paragraph, the IFG say: “The Prime Minister Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority in a snap general election. Revelations about ministers’ inappropriate conduct resulted in three Cabinet resignations. Preparations for Brexit have been disrupted by the snap election, by turnover in personnel and by difficulties in parliamentary management. The Government faces challenges in key public services, notably hospitals, prisons and adult social care.

It was noted in the report that preparations for Brexit have been disrupted by “difficulties in parliamentary management”. The Government has introduced only five of the nine new bills it says are needed for Brexit, and a third of the Government’s major projects worth over £1bn are at risk of not being delivered on time and on budget.

This Whitehall Monitor annual report – which is the fifth – summarises:

  • The political situation following the early election constrained the Prime Minister’s political authority and created challenges for the Government’s legislative programme and management of public services, major projects and Brexit.
  • The civil service is growing, in terms of size, but should be more diverse.
  • Government is less open than it was after 2010, and is not using data as effectively as it should.

I’ve used the summary to shape my analysis.

Fiscal management

The forecasts for tax revenues have been downgraded, the Government also forgoes billions of pounds through tax expenditures that are not subject to rigorous value-for-money assessments.

Since 2010, the value of liabilities on the government’s balance sheet has grown more quickly than the value of assets, increasing net liabilities. Furthermore, “revenue is not likely to overtake spending, in the foreseeable future”. 

Despite the promises from George Osborne of a budget surplus by 2020, and his fiscal straitjacket – the imposed, rigid programme of spending cuts and austerity for the majority of citizens, and tax cuts to the wealthiest ones. 

In real terms, revenues from taxes have grown 7% since 2010/11. This is largely the result of:

  • VAT receipts increasing by 22% (partly due to the standard VAT rate increasing from 17.5% to 20% in 2011)
  • National Insurance contributions increasing by 11%
  • Some increases in income tax collected following a stabilisation following the global crash

Council tax is also included in Treasury revenue, and that will have risen, since many low paid or out of work people now pay a contribution, whereas previously, they were exempt. Despite the increases in VAT, revenue from the sale of goods and services has fallen 34% since 2010/11. 

For the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) downgraded its forecasts for productivity growth. This, in turn, has resulted in the outlook for Government revenue being revised downwards.

Tax expenditures cost £135bn per year. Tax expenditures are tax discounts or exemptions that “further the policy aims of government”. The total sum of all forgone revenue from tax expenditures across income tax, National Insurance contributions, VAT, corporation tax, excise duties, capital gains tax and inheritance tax was £135bn in 2015/16. This is equal to a quarter of the total central government tax revenue in that year, and is larger than the total budgets of all but two departments (Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health).

For capital gains tax, the cost of tax expenditures was more than four times the amount of revenue collected

This certainly provides a strong indication of the government’s policy and budget priorities, making a mockery of trite sloganised claims of “a country that works for everyone”. Some social groups clearly raise rather more hidden political costs than others, but it is only disadvantaged and marginalised groups that tend to be negatively ideologically portrayed as a “burden” on the state by Conservatives and the media. 

In the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced new stamp duty reliefs for first time buyers purchasing properties worth under £500,000. Due to the policy being specifically targeted at first time buyers, this policy resembles a tax expenditure, and in 2018/19 (its first full year) is expected to cost £560m.

Furthermore, the National Audit Office has reported that the Treasury does not monitor tax expenditures and assess the value for money they offer with the same rigour as it does general expenditure. The Institute for Government, along with the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has called for the tax reliefs that most closely resemble spending measures to be treated as spending for accountability and scrutiny purposes.

Net government liabilities are now over £2 trillion. The Whitehall Monitor report says: “The Government’s net liability has implications for future generations of taxpayers, who will bear the costs of meeting these obligations, but the long-term nature of such obligations can make discussions around the government balance sheet seem more remote than the immediate choices about how much departments should spend each year.

“Nonetheless, policy choices have important implications for the Government’s liabilities – for example, the decisions taken by the Coalition Government to increase the state pension age, and to set a triple lock that guarantees annual increases of at least 2.5% in the state pension, are likely to have contrasting effects on the size of the state pension liability.”

The report goes on to say: “But the Government has made commitments to voters on public services, productivity, social mobility and major projects. If it fails to meet their expectations, it risks further undermining confidence in government.”

The government is still not transparent about its spending plans. The report says that “Better data is needed to understand the benefits – and risks – of outsourced public services”. 

“Wider government contracting includes back-office outsourcing by departments and the purchase of goods they use in the delivery of public services (e.g. paper, energy), as well as privately run public services. In 2015/16, £192bn was spent by government on goods and services, of which £70bn was spent by local government, £65bn by the NHS and £9bn by public corporations, with central government departments and other public bodies accounting for the remaining £49bn. 

“While some contract data is published, the Institute for Government and Spend Network have previously highlighted gaps in transparency – including on contractual terms, performance and the supply chains of third-party service providers.

“The Information Commissioner has said that the public should have the same right to know about public services whether the service is provided directly by government or by an outsourced provider”. [My emphasis]

The IFG also say in their report: “In 2016, the Public Accounts Committee concluded that the outsourcing of health disability assessments at DWP had resulted in claimants ‘not receiving an acceptable level of service from contractors’, while costs per assessment had increased significantly. [My emphasis. Some 10% of the budget for the Department for Work and Pensions goes to private contractors.]

“Similarly, in 2013 MoJ [Ministry of Justice] found that it had been overbilled in relation to contracts worth £722m.”

There have been numerous high-profile failings in government outsourcing. The recent collapse of Carillion highlights many of the longstanding and existing issues, and should encourage a political focus on solving them.

The report continues: “There is no centrally collected data outlining the scope, cost and quality of contracted public services across government. Nonetheless, we know that Whitehall departments account for only a portion of outsourced service delivery, which can also happen further downstream after departments have provided funds to public bodies (for example, the purchasing of services from GPs by the NHS) or local authorities.”

The next section of the report outlines the 2016–17 parliamentary session, in which 24 government bills were passed – fewer than in any session under the 2010–15 Coalition Government. In part, this reflects the curtailed session, which ended with the dissolution of Parliament on 3 May ahead of the election in early June. The report goes on to say that 1,097 pages of legislation – 38% of all pages passed in the session – were dealt with at speed, raising questions about the adequacy of the scrutiny these bills received.

There were also concerns raised about the scope of the powers the government has sought regarding the EU Withdrawal Bill, which has proven controversial. In particular, the inclusion of so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers, allowing the Government to amend or repeal existing primary legislation without the scrutiny normally afforded to bills. This has quite properly provoked concern among parliamentarians.

Curiously, the report says that the use of statutory instruments (SIs) – previously used only to pass non-controversial policies and amendments – has dropped. However, this flies in the face of existing evidence, which is sourced from the government’s own site. If there has been a drop since 2014, it certainly contradicts the trend set since 2010. Furthermore, the Government has been criticised for using SIs to pass controversial policies, such as welfare cuts.

It seems that IFG counted the number of SIs by parliamentary session (the parliamentary year which tends to run from Spring to Spring) rather than by calendar year.

Scrutiny of SIs is rather less intensive than scrutiny of primary legislation. They are subject to two main procedures, neither of which allows Parliament to make any amendments:

  • negative procedure, in which an SI is laid before Parliament and incorporated into law unless either House objects within 40 days
  • affirmative procedure, in which both Houses must approve a draft SI when it is laid before them.

It’s also worth reading: Conservative Government accused of ‘waging war’ on Parliament by forcing through key law changes without debate.

The lack of progress on inclusion and diversity

The IFG says there has been “little recent progress” in numbers of senior civil servants with disabilities or ethnic minority backgrounds, while the percentage of women  also decreases proportionally with ascending Whitehall pay scales. .

They report: “The civil service needs to fulfil the promise of its diversity and inclusion strategy, especially in improving the representation of ethnic minority and disabled staff at senior levels.”  

Of those appointed to the highest departmental rank of permanent secretary in 2017, “as many were men with the surname Rycroft as were women – two in each case”. The report notes also “there has never been a female cabinet secretary for the UK”.

Despite the much-trumpeted launch of the Disability Confident employment scheme, aimed at “helping to positively change attitudes, behaviours and cultures,” and “making the most of the talents that disabled people can bring to the workplace”, sadly there is no evidence that the Government intends role-modeling positive behaviours or putting into practice what it preaches.

The representation of disabled civil servants at senior level has improved only very slightly: 5.3%, up from 4.7% in 2016. Across the UK population as a whole, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 21% of people are estimated to have a disability (some 18% of the working-age population). 

Lack of openness, transparency and accountability

In the UK, the idea that government should be open to public scrutiny and policies congruent with public opinion is central to our notion of democracy. Government openness and transparency also tends to be linked with citizen inclusion, democratic participation and a higher degree of collaboration between citizens and government on public policy decisions. It also ensures that corruption and the misuse of political  t power for other purposes, such as forms repression of political opponents is less likely.

Information and data deficits are more likely to lead to political corruption and a reduction in democratic accountability.

The IFG report says that in 2016–17, more ministerial correspondence was answered in time, which were thanks to more generous targets, while fewer parliamentary questions were answered on time and information was withheld in response to more Freedom of Information requests.

Parliament has other mechanisms to hold government to account, including urgent questions (which have most tellingly increased significantly in recent years) or select committee inquiries (which have also increased in number, with the election delaying government responses). The Government has established a track record of withholding details of planned legislation from the opposition. (See for example: PIP and the Tory Monologue).

According to Democracy Audit UK  an independent research organisation, established as a not-for-profit company, and based at the Public Policy Group in the LSE’s Government Department – the lack of transparency has been fuelled by the coalition period, and now, the Conservative’s’ narrow majority,  as the amount of secondary legislation is growing, and primary legislation is drafted in ways that increasingly leave its consequences obscure, to be filled in later via statutory instruments or regulation. Commons scrutiny of such “delegated legislation” is subsequently reduced, and likely to be very weak and ineffective.

Meanwhile, departments’ publication of mandated data releases, including spending over £25,000, organograms and ministerial hospitality, is patchy. Departments also proactively publish on GOV.UK, though supply and demand differs by department

The IFG says that many departments are not publishing their data as frequently as they should and this, coupled with the difficulty of measuring government performance, suggests that the government is becoming less transparent and accountable.

A rise in the numbers of Freedom of Information requests that are being refused

Since 2010, government departments have become rather less open in response to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. In 2010, 39% of requests were fully or partially withheld; this had increased to 52% by 2017. 

Departments are able to refuse requests on a number of grounds: if the request falls under one of the 23 exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (such as national security or personal information) or those in the Environmental Information Regulations; if it breaches the limit for the cost involved in responding (£600 for central departments and Parliament); if the request is repeated; or if the request is ‘vexatious’ (meaning it is likely ‘to cause a disproportionate or unjustifiable level of distress, disruption or irritation’). 

Of the 2,342 requests withheld in full in 2017, 50% were held to be due to FoI Act exemptions, 47% to cost, 2% to repetition and 1% to vexatiousness.

Of course exemptions may also be used as “good reasons” – excuses – to withhold inconveniently controversial information that is likely to bring valid criticism and cause scandal.

Mike Sivier‘s request for information about how many people have died after going through the Work Capability Assessment, which had resulted in a decision that they were fit for work, was originally refused. The figures were only released after the Information Commission overruled a Government decision to block the statistics being made public, through Mike’s Freedom of Information request.

After the request, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), an independent authority set up to uphold public information rights, agreed that there was no reason not to publish the figures, despite the Department for Work and Pensions variously claiming the request was “vexatious”, and that it “could impose a burden in terms of time and resources, distracting the DWP from its main functions”.

However, clearly the real reason for the original refusal of this request is that the information was highly controversial and contradicted political claims regarding the completely unacceptable level of harm that has been caused to citizens by the damaging impact of the Conservative’s draconian welfare policies. 

The ICO said: “Given the passage of time and level of interest in the information, it is difficult to understand how the DWP could reasonably withhold the requested information.”

More recently, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has continued to try to block John Slater’s FoI request which is likely to expose the widespread failings of two of its Personal Independent Payment (PIP) disability assessment contractors, initially claiming that it did not hold the information he had requested, before arguing that releasing the monthly reports would prejudice the “commercial interests” of Atos and Capita.

The DWP later told the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that releasing the information “will give rise to items being taken out of context… [and] will be misinterpreted in ways that could lead to reputational damage to both the Department and the PIP Providers”, and would “prejudice the efficient conduct of public affairs” by DWP.

It also warned the ICO that the information could be “maliciously misinterpreted to feed the narrative that the Department imposes ‘targets’ for the outcomes of assessments”.

However, that comment alone indicates the highly controversial nature of the information being withheld, and thus also betrays the real motive. Information is being restricted to stifle legitimate criticism of Government policy and to hide from public view the empirical evidence of its consequences.

The ICO has nonetheless ordered the release of the information requested. A DWP spokeswoman said: “We have received the ICO judgement and we are currently considering our position.” 

If the DWP disagree with the decision and wish to appeal, it must lodge an appeal with the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) within 28 calendar days. The requester also has a right of appeal.

The ICO say: Failure to comply with a decision notice is contempt of court, punishable by a fine.

It’s also worth noting that the DWP are obliged to inform any contractors of how the Freedom of Information Act may affect them, making it clear that no guarantee of complete confidentiality of information may be made and that, as a public body, it must consider for release any information it holds if it is requested. 

The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) overtakes the DWP to become the most opaque department. This is one example of a wider lack of transparency around Brexit and reflects the wider reluctance of the Government to share assessments of the anticipated impact of Brexit on different parts of the UK economy. Publication of spending and organisational data remains patchy, suggesting departments are not using the data themselves. 

The Scotland Office, Wales Office and Department for Transport tend to grant more requests in full, and in a timely manner. Among the more opaque are several departments regularly granting fewer than 30% of requests, particularly since 2015, including the Cabinet Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Minstry of Justice (MoJ).

None of the departments created in July 2016 – DExEU, DIT and BEIS – has ever granted even half of its total requests in full. In the three-quarters leading up to Q3 2017, DExEU was the least likely of all departments to comply with FoI requests, respectively answering 18%, 10% and 15% in full. It also refused a higher percentage because they were considered “vexatious” than any other department in 2017; 14% of requests.

The IFG report says “DExEU’s lack of transparency here, and its tardy responses to other requests for information (though not on FoI, where it is the sixth most responsive department), are consistent with its wider reluctance to release information, including the Government’s assessments of the anticipated impact of Brexit on different parts of the UK economy.”

Chart percentage of Freedom of Information requests withheld by government departments

You can read the full IFG Whitehall Monitor Report here


 

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Vote Labour to uphold the rights of disabled people – our letter to the Guardian

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The following letter was published in the Guardian today, written and signed by a group of academics, professionals, campaigners and grassroots activists who work together cooperatively.

We collaborate to fulfil our mutual aims of achieving a progressive, civilised, just and safe society for all. We hope to do this by ensuring that the society we are a part of is democratic and fully inclusive: we want a civilised society that observes and meets its human rights obligations on behalf of all social groups. This isn’t happening currently. (See: UN’s highly critical report confirms UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people).

As an independent researcher, writer, campaigner, and as a disabled person, I am very proud to be included among them. 

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Many disabled people see Labour’s policies as a lifeline, say the 30 signatories to this letter. 

For chronically ill and disabled people, recent years have been a disaster. The UN recently found “reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met” (Report, 8 November 2016).

We have been forced through a work capability assessment that the government’s own expert adviser described as “inhumane”, and which in 2015 was found to be associated with an additional 599 suicides.

Many needing help are now forced through another persecutory assessment – the personal independence payment – designed to reduce the numbers qualifying for help by half a million.

Social care has been so savagely cut that some young disabled must wear incontinence pads for lack of toileting assistance. People can’t take any more of this.

Many disabled people are not party-political, but see Labour’s policies for disabled people as a lifeline – envisioning a society where people are treated as human beings deserving of respect, equality and a decent life. Please, don’t endorse recent human-rights abuses; endorse the human rights of disabled people by registering, and by voting Labour on 8 June.

Paul Atkinson Jungian psychotherapist
Stef Benstead Spartacus Network
Peter Beresford Co-chair, Shaping Our Lives
Gary Bourlet Founder, People First Movement in England
Dr Emma Bridger Research fellow in psychology
Professor Woody Caan Journal of Public Mental Health
Dr Kelly Camilleri Registered clinical psychologist
Merry Cross
Dr David Drew Labour Parliamentary candidate for Stroud
Nick Duffell Psychohistorian
Dr Simon Duffy Centre for Welfare Reform
Dr Dina Glouberman Skyros Holistic Holidays
Catherine Hale Chronic Illness Inclusion Project
AC Howard DWPexamination.org – For The UK’s Disabled Community
Chris Johnstone General practitioner
Sue Jones Psychologists Against Austerity, researcher and writer, campaigner
Jayne Linney Disability activist
Alec McFadden TUC Salford
Helen McGauley Trainee clinical psychologist, Lancaster University
Beatrice Millar Person-centred counsellor/psychotherapist
Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
Gavin Robinson Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy
Professor Andrew Samuels University of Essex
Nicola Saunders Psychotherapist
Martyn Sibley Disability blogger
Mike Sivier Vox Political
Professor Ernesto Spinelli
Mo Stewart Independent researcher, disability studies
Gail Ward
Dr Jay Watts Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Claudia GillbergSenior Research Associate in Education; Fellow at Centre for Welfare Reform and Disability Rights Activist

Dr Richard House Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy

 

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

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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Words and discrimination: ‘parked’ and ‘vulnerability’

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You can often tell such a lot about people’s views and sometimes, their intentions, by the words and phrases they use. The description of disabled people as being “parked” on benefits (and told/under the impression they will never work again”) is a turn of phrase I loathe. It’s a mantra that’s gained a PR crib sheet resonance from George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith to Stephen Crabb and Damian Green. To extend the metaphor, parking is subject to the availability of a parking space; permission; to regulations and laws; parking tickets and fines; parking attendants and traffic wardens to police and ensure compliance.

Disability and sickness are compared with the inconvenient abandonment of a vehicle in the middle of a very busy market place. Or the informal blatant plonking and installing of oneself on a sofa or bed, behind outrageously closed curtains in the middle of a busy viral epidemic of the protestant work ethic, prompting further symptoms of oppressive impacted resentments and frank, febrile tutting.

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Yet the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Support Group is made up of those individuals who “have a severe limitation which creates a significant disability in relation to the labour market, regardless of any adaptation they may make or support with which they may be provided” (Department for Work and Pensions, 2009: 8).

Disabled people are being excluded, and at the same time, represented in political and mainstream discourse in ways to evoke moral judgments and public emotions such as distrust, disgust and anger. Evidence of state culpability lies in the relationships between political rhetoric, media narrative and punitive, populist social policy.  

However, in official policy documents, welfare cuts have been dressed up as a discourse related to “support” , “social inclusion” and even “fairness” and “equal opportunity”. Though this is only narrowly discussed in terms of employment outcomes. “Inclusion” has been conflated with being economically productive. In contrast, the media rhetoric, and importantly, the consequences of Conservative policies aimed at disabled people, are increasingly isolating and exclusionary, as a result of intentional political outgrouping.

Yet such rhetoric is surely also counter‐productive to even such a limited view of inclusion, inevitably distorting employer responses to ill and disabled people as potential employees. However, Conservative neoliberal policies reflect a consideration of the supply rather than the demand side of the labour market.

“[…] rather than being concerned with the economic position of disabled people in Britain, the development of the Employment and Support Allowance and the Work Programme was concerned with relationships between the supply of labour and wage inflation, and with developing new welfare (quasi) markets in employment services. Attempting to address the economic disadvantages disabled people face through what are essentially market mechanisms will entrench, rather than address, those disadvantages.”  From: Commodification, disabled people, and wage work in Britain – Chris Grover.

Glib, deceptive and diversionary language use and ideological referencing does nothing to address the social exclusion of disabled people, who are already pushed to the fringes of society. Disabled people have become easy political scapegoats in the age of austerity. Scapegoating and outgrouping have become common political and cultural practices. Stigma is being used to justify the most regressive social policies since before the foundation of the welfare state in the 1940s.  

Patronising and authoritarian Conservatives like to speak very loudly over disabled people, and tell us about our own experiences because they really believe we can’t speak for ourselves. They simply refuse to listen to people who may criticise their policies, raising the often dire consequences being imposed on us because of the “reforms”  CUTS. I also think that we are witnessing the most powerful anti-intellectual and anti-rational ethos in government in living memory.

Whilst Conservative rhetoric lacks coherence, rationality, integrity and verisimilitude, it has an abundance of glittering generalities and crib sheet repetition designed from supremacist decisions made around elitist tables behind closed and heavy doors. The Conservatives seem to believe that disabled people aren’t like other citizens and that we don’t need a democratic voice of our own. Policies are designed to act upon us, to “change” our behaviours through the use of “incentives”, whilst we are completely excluded from their design and aims. Our behaviours are being aligned with neoliberal outcomes, conflating our needs and interests with the private financial profit of others. 

As one of the instigators and a witness for the United Nations investigation into the government’s systematic violations of the human rights of disabled people, as a person with disability, I don’t care for being described by a blatantly oppressive Damian Green as “patronising” or being told that disabled people – witnesses – presented an “outdated view” of disability in the UK. The only opportunity disabled people have been presented with to effectively express our fears, experiences, concerns about increasingly punitive and discriminatory policies and have our democratic opinion heard more generally has been through dialogue with an international human rights organisation, and still this government refuse to hear what we have to say.

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

Just as Herbert Spencer supported laissez-faire capitalism and social Darwinism (on the basis of his Lamarckian beliefs) – and claimed that struggle for survival spurred self-improvement which could be inherited – the Conservatives apply the same tired and misguided, private boarding school myths and disciplinarian moral principles in their endorsement of a totalising neoliberalism: the bizarre belief that competition, struggle and strife is “good” for character and even better for the market economy.

Under the Equality Act 2010 there are several types of discrimination that are prohibited. These are direct discrimination (s.13(1) Equality Act 2010), indirect discrimination (s.6 and s.19 Equality Act 2010, harassment (s.26 Equality Act 2010), victimisation (s.27(2) Equality Act 2010), discrimination arising from disability (s.15(1) Equality Act 2010) and failure to make reasonable adjustments (s.20 Equality Act 2010). 

Disabled people are being conveniently reclassified to fit Treasury cost-cutting imperatives. However, the government prefer to say that we are claiming lifeline support because we are “disincentivised” to find a job because we are claiming lifeline support… there’s a whole ludicrous circular government monologue going on there that we are being quite intentionally excluded from.

This is one common type of ableist behaviour: it is a form of discrimination which denies others’ autonomy by speaking for or about them rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to non-disabled persons On this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities, skills, and/or character traits. And often, denied rights and a democratic voice.

If you ask disabled people about work, most of us will say we would like to – after all, who of us would actually choose to be ill and disabled – but there are social, political, cultural and economic barriers to our doing so. None of us will tell you we don’t work because we feel secure and comfortably off on an ever-dwindling and paltry amount of ESA, which has been subjected to cuts, further threats of cuts from prominent think tanks, increased conditionality, the threat of sanctions, and constant, distressing assessments and reassessments which were designed to find ways of stopping your lifeline support.

Disabled people became amongst the first citizens of a new class: the precariat. In sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material and psychological welfare. The emergence of this class has been ascribed to the entrenchment of neoliberalism.

Many disabled people, however, will tell you that they are simply too ill to work. It’s a ludicrous and frankly terrifying state of affairs that the administrating despots in office don’t accept that some people simply cannot work, and persist in hounding them, claiming that cutting social security, originally calculated to meet only basic needs and now reduced to the point where that is no longer possible, is somehow an “incentive” for very sick people to find work. It’s incredible that the government are telling us with a straight face that a poor person’s “incentive” is punishment and financial loss, whilst millionaires are “incentivised” by reward and financial gifts, such as “tax breaks”.

The same approach is apparent in the recent green paper on work, health and disability, where the government casually discusses subjecting disabled people in the ESA support group to compulsory work related activity and “behavioural conditionality” (sanctions are suggested), though the support group were previously exempt from the punitive welfare conditionality regime, since their doctors and the state accepted that this group of people are simply too ill to work. Employers, it is suggested, are to be “incentivised” by financial rewards – tax cuts. When this government discuss “being fair” to the “tax payer”, they are referring to wealthy and privileged people, not the majority of ordinary citizens such as you and I.

Discrimination is defined as “treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way from the way in which you treat other people”, based on characteristics or perceived characteristics. Under Labour’s 2010 Equality Act, direct disability discrimination occurs when a disabled person is treated less favourably than a non-disabled person, and they are treated this way for a reason arising from their disability. Indirect discrimination happens when an organisation or government has a particular policy or way of working that has a worse impact on people who share your disability compared to people who don’t. Harassment is defined as someone treating you in a way that makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded.

The government even have the cheek to call their discrimination “supporting” and “helping” us. I’ve never heard of such immorality, bullying, indecency, prejudice and punishment being called “help” and “support” before. Millionaires are helped; they get financial handouts in the form of tax cuts that they don’t need. Meanwhile we have lifeline income taken away to fund, leaving us without food, fuel and shelter increasingly often. Such mundane language use is an attempt to mask the intentions and consequences of draconian policies. It utterly nasty, manipulative, callous, calculated cold-blooded gaslighting.

Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom (1962) felt that “competitive capitalism” is especially important to minority groups, since “impersonal market forces”, he claimed, protect people from discrimination in their economic activities for reasons unrelated to their productivity. Through elimination of centralized control of economic activities, economic power is separated from political power, and the one can serve as counterbalance to the other. However, he couldn’t have been more wrong. What we have seen instead is an authoritarian turn. The UN conclusions to their recent inquiry into the government’s systematic and grave violations of the rights of disabled people verify his lack of foresight and his conflation of public needs and interests with supply-side economic outcomes.

A word about the use of the term “vulnerability”

The reason that some groups are socially and legally protected – and the reason why we have universal human rights – is because some groups of citizens have historically been vulnerable to political abuse and are structurally discriminated against. The aim of human rights instruments is the protection of those vulnerable to violations of their fundamental human rights. The recent United Nations inquiry into the UK government’s systematic violations of the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities concludes that disabled people in the UK are facing systematic political discrimination, social exclusion and oppression.

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

Whilst some individuals within a socially vulnerable context may break free from the hierarchical order, social vulnerability itself persists because of structural – social, economical and political – influences that continue to reinforce vulnerability. 

The medical model is a perspective of disability as a problem of the person, directly caused by disease, trauma, or other health conditions which therefore requires sustained medical care in the form of individual treatment by professionals. The medical model sees management of the disability  as central and ideally, it is aimed at a “cure,” or the individual’s adjustment and behavioural change that would lead to better “management” of symptoms.

The social model of disability outlines “disability” as a socially created problem and a matter of the full inclusion and integration of individuals into society. In this model, disability is not an attribute of an individual, but rather a complex collection of conditions, created by the social environment. The management of the problem requires social  and political action and it is the collective responsibility of society to create an environment and context in which limitations for people with disabilities are minimal. Equal access and inclusion for someone with an impairment/disability is a human rights concern.

From the 70s, sociologists such Eliot Friedson observed that labeling theory and a social deviance perspective could be applied to disability studies. Social constructivist theorists discussed a non-essentialist perspective: the social construction of disability is the idea that disability is constructed as the social response to a deviance from the norm. “Disability” is constructed by social expectations and institutions rather than biological differences.

I think there is something positive to learn from the variety of models of disability, and should like to point out that despite the potential merits of any one in particular, each have also been heavily criticised, and most importantly, there is nothing to stop an unscrupulous government from intentionally exploiting a theoretical paradigm to suit an ideological design. 

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Eugenics

The French statistician, Alphonse Quetelet wrote in the 1830s of l’homme moyen – the “average man”. Quetelet proposed that one could take the sum of all people’s attributes in a given population (such as their height or weight) and find their average, and that this figure should serve as a norm toward which all should aspire. This idea of a statistical norm threads through the rapid growth in the popularity of gathering statistics in Britain, United States, and the Western European states during this period, and it is linked to the rise of eugenics. Disability, as well as other concepts including: “abnormal”, “non-normal”, and “normal” arose from this mindset.

With the rise of eugenics in the latter part of the nineteenth century, such deviations from the norm were viewed as somehow dangerous to the health of entire populations.

As a social and political movement, eugenics reached its greatest popularity in the early decades of the 20th century, when it was practiced around the world and promoted by governments, institutions, and influential individuals. Many countries enacted various eugenic policies, including: genetic screening, birth control, promoting differential birth rates, marriage restrictions, segregation (both racial segregation and sequestering the mentally ill), compulsory sterilization, forced abortions or forced pregnancies, culminating in genocide

The moral dimensions of the eugenics in the 19th and 20th centuries rejected the doctrine that all human beings are born equal, and redefined human worth purely in terms of genetic “fitness”. More recently in the UK we have seen a moral shift entailing human worth being politically redefined in terms of economic productivity. 

Common early 20th century eugenics methods involved identifying and classifying individuals and their families, including the poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, developmentally disabled, promiscuous women, homosexuals, and racial groups (such as the Roma and Jews in Nazi Germany) as “degenerate” or “unfit”, leading to their segregation or institutionalization, sterilization, euthanasia, and ultimately, their mass murder. The Nazi practice of euthanasia was carried out on hospital patients in the Aktion T4 centres such as Hartheim Castle.

The “scientific” reputation of eugenics declined in the 1930s, a time when Ernst Rüdin used eugenics as a justification for the racial policies of Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler had praised and incorporated eugenic ideas in Mein Kampf in 1925 and emulated eugenic legislation for the sterilization of “defectives” that had been pioneered in the United States once he took power

After World War II, the practice of “imposing measures intended to prevent births within [a population] group” fell within the definition of the new international crime of genocide, set out in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of GenocideThe Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union also proclaims “the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at selection of persons.”

Recently the government in the UK introduced policies that curtail tax credits to the children of mothers claiming financial support for more than two children. Iain Duncan Smith announced that the policy was introduced to “change the behaviours” of people claiming welfare. Of course this assumes that people don’t plan and have their children in more prosperous periods of their lives, and then experience financial hardship for reasons that have nothing to do with their behaviours, such as recession and job losses, or being in low paid work and so on.This has some profound implications for notions of equality and the idea that each human life has equal worth. Such a policy discriminates against children because of when they are born, as well as being discriminating against poor families. Such a policy is an example of negative eugenics by “incentives”

Some campaigners are very critical of the use of the word “vulnerability”, because they feel it leads to attitudes and perceptions of disabled people as passive victims.

Yet I am vulnerable, despite the fact that I am far from passive. Since 2010, no social group has organised, campaigned and protested more than disabled people. Many of us have lived through harrowing times under this government and the last, when our very existence has become so precarious because of targeted and cruel Conservative policies. Yet we have remained strong in our resolve. Despite this, some dear friends and comrades among us have been tragically lost – they have not survived.

In one of the wealthiest democratic nations on earth, no group of people should have to fight for their survival.

I see vulnerability as being rather more about the potential for some social groups being subjected to political abuse. 

We are and have been. This is empirically verified by the report and conclusions drawn from the United Nations inquiry into the grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights here in the UK, by a so-called democratic government.

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Disabled people’s human rights in further jeopardy because of Brexit

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The UK government has tended to regard human rights as optional; as being rather more like ‘guidelines’ than laws, and often, as a mere inconvenience and barrier to the fulfillment of their ideological commitments.

Opportunities for disabled people in the workplace are likely to come under further threat unless government prioritises the recreation of EU safeguards into British statute. That is according to diversity consultancy, The Clear Company, which contributes to the government’s Disability Confident Campaign.

Former Paralympian Baroness Grey-Thompson has also warned that leaving the European Union would prevent British people with disabilities benefiting from plans to boost accessibility.

She added that Brexit would also risk a recession that would leave less money to be spent on support services. She said:

“Our membership of the European Union has had real, positive benefits for the millions of UK residents with limiting long-term illnesses, impairments or disabilities.

“It has helped to counter workplace discrimination, obliged transport providers to make their services more accessible and secured access to some UK disability benefits for Britons living in other EU countries.

“Not only would leaving Europe jeopardise these, it would close us off from enjoying the rewards of upcoming legislation that will further increase accessibility and risk a recession that would leave less money to be spent on much-needed support services.”

Fiona McGhie, Public Law expert at Irwin Mitchell, said:

“What Brexit would affect is the ability to potentially rely on the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) which in particular includes many wider social and economic rights, such as the rights to fair and just working conditions, to healthcare and to have personal data protected. If disabled people wished to try and strike down UK legislation as incompatible with rights under CFR under EU law – that avenue may not be available after the vote to leave.”

In the wake of the referendum, the following is an official press release from ResponseSource, which is a journalist enquiry service that provides a press release wire:

The EU promotes the active inclusion and full participation of disabled people in society, in line with the EU human rights approach to disability issues, through priorities including accessibility, participation, social protection and external action. It works around a firm ethos that disability is a rights issue rather than a matter for discretion.

From an employment perspective, the objective of the European Commission’s European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 is to significantly raise the number of people with disabilities working in the open labour market. They represent one-sixth of the EU’s overall working-age population, but their employment rate is comparatively low at around 50%.

The EU promotes the active inclusion and full participation of disabled people in society, in line with the EU human rights approach to disability issues, through priorities including accessibility, participation, social protection and external action. It works around a firm ethos that disability is a rights issue rather than a matter for discretion.

Commenting on this morning’s revelation, Kate Headley, Development Director at The Clear Company, said:

“As long as the UK was part of the EU, disabled people had the benefit of EU frameworks and directives to act as a safety-net against British government and any power it may exert. Now, the future of policy which most affects disabled people is in the hands of Whitehall alone.

“There is no doubt that EU-derived laws, and EU-led initiatives, have had a largely positive impact on the disabled community. This may explain why Miro Griffiths, a former government adviser and project officer for the European Network on Independent Living, recently went on record to say he believed that Britain’s exit from the EU “would have dire consequences for disabled people”. Our priority now is to help ensure that the rights disabled people currently hold are protected post-Brexit.

“Aside from the issues of how the UK’s decision to exit will impact the NHS and wider care services, the European Health Insurance Card, and EU Air Passengers Regulation – all of which disproportionately affect those with disabilities – we must also look at the effect on disabled people in the workplace.”

“The EU’s record on assisting disabled workers is strong. Its Employment Equality Directive 2000, for example, led to the removal of the original exemption in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) for employers with fewer than 20 staff in the UK, so that in 2004 it became unlawful for any UK employer to discriminate against disabled people. The employment directive also led to the DDA being changed to make direct discrimination by employers against disabled people unlawful.”

“The TUC has identified employment rights that could well be under threat from a government no longer required to comply with EU legislation. Many of these promote health and well-being at work and home, such as the Working Time Directive, which protects from stress and ill-health that arise from working excessive hours including health service workers.”

“I would urge the government, post Article 50, to recreate the safeguards that disabled people have benefited from under EU membership into British statute. We will gladly continue to support the government in the development of strategy and stand by our commitment to support employers and employees alike. Amid the avalanche of new legislation which will almost certainly flood Whitehall in the coming months, laws that safeguard and support disabled workers must be prioritised as EU law recedes.”

Related

Unfortunately, the UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people. It’s highly unlikely, given the current context, that the Conservatives will recreate the EU safeguards and incorporate them in protective legislation.

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Prime minister dismisses UN inquiry into government’s discriminatory treatment of disabled people

The biggest barrier that disabled people face is a prejudiced government

The Government’s brutal cuts to disability support isn’t ‘increasing spending’, Chancellor, but handing out tax cuts to the rich is

If even the DWP isn’t Disability Confident, how will a million disabled people get jobs? – Bernadette Meaden

UN officials to visit UK over coming months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s “reforms” to disability benefits are compatible with Human Rights

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I reported last year that the UK has become the first country to face a United Nations inquiry into disability rights violations. A formal investigation was launched by the United Nation’s Committee regarding the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Officials from the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are to visit Britain after the Tories announced a wave of new austerity measures, including slashing disability benefits by a further £30 a week.

Thousands of sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are to have their weekly payment cut from £102.15 to £73.10, which is the same amount as jobseekers’ allowance, if they are assessed as being able to undertake “work-related activity”. Bearing in mind that in order to claim ESA in the first place, prior to assessment, a doctor has already deemed this group of people unfit for work, the move to cut lifeline benefits further is especially cruel and inhumane.

We signed up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities under the last Labour government. On 8 June 2009, the UK government ratified the Convention, signaling its commitment to take concrete action to comply with the legal rights and obligations contained in the Convention. The Government also ratified the Convention’s Optional Protocol.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a side-agreement to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was adopted on 13 December 2006, and entered into force at the same time as its parent Convention on 3 May 2008. As of July 2015, it has 92 signatories and 87 state parties.

The Optional Protocol establishes an individual complaints mechanism for the Convention similar to that of other Conventions. But this Protocol also accepts individual rights on economic, social and cultural rights. Parties agree to recognise the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals or groups who claim their rights under the Convention have been violated. The Committee can request information from and make recommendations to a party.

In addition, parties may also permit the Committee to investigate, report on and make recommendations on “grave or systematic violations” of the Convention.

In December 2014, the UN Human Rights Council created the role of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Part of the Special Rapporteur’s broad mandate is to report annually to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly with recommendations on how to better promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

The Special Rapporteur chose to focus her first report on a thematic inquiry into the right to social security, globally. The report will be published in October 2015.

The Commission’s response focuses on three areas from the UK that are highly relevant to the Special Rapporteur’s inquiry:

  • The impact of reforms to the UK’s social security system on disabled people’s rights to independence and to an adequate standard of living;
  • Whether the design and delivery of health and social care services in England is consistent with the rights to physical and mental health, independent living and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and
  • The impact of reforms affecting access to civil law justice in England and Wales on disabled people’s right to effective access to justice.

The Commission’s response to the UN Special Rapporteur’s inquiry into persons with disabilities right to social security can be found here.

The Disability Convention requires governments to designate one or more independent mechanisms to “promote, protect and monitor implementation” of the Convention.

The Commission, which is Britain’s National Human Rights Institution, has been designated alongside the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Equality Commission to fulfill this role in UK.

The Sunday Herald has more recently reported that UN officials will visit the UK in the next few months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare “reforms” have led to “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights.  According to the Scottish Herald, a leading Scottish disability charity has been advised that a visit by the Special Rapporteur and members of the Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities is expected in the “near future”.

United Nations (UN) investigations are conducted confidentially, I’ve already submitted reports and evidence regarding the impact of the welfare “reforms” on sick and disabled people. I’ve mostly focussed on the withdrawal of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), the adverse consequences of the Work Capability Assessment, workfare and sanctions.

Anyone wishing to make a submission may contact the UN here:

Catalina Devandas Aguilar
Special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
Address: OHCHR-UNOG; CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Email: sr.disability@ohchr.org

The Department of Work and Pensions have refused to comment regarding the inquiry.

Shocking statistics published by the Department of Work and Pensions last week showed thousands of people have died after being declared “fit for work”. The figures, which did not detail the cause of the deaths, revealed that at least 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 within six weeks of a work capability assessment (WCA), which found them found them fit for work.

Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland, a consortium of disability organisations, said: “The UN have notified us they will be visiting Britain to investigate … and want to meet with us when they come, sometime in the next few months.”

Inclusion Scotland has also made a submission to the study being prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, which is examining the right of disabled people to social protection.

In the submission, Inclusion Scotland warned that the UK Government’s welfare reforms are “jeopardising disabled people’s right to life” by increasing the risk of suicide after loss of benefits. Last week, the Sunday Herald revealed that DWP staff had been given official guidance on how to deal with suicidal claimants left penniless after suffering benefit sanctions.

The Inclusion Scotland submission also highlights a series of shocking findings, including that disabled people in some areas of Scotland are waiting for up to ten months to access Personal Independent Payment (PIP) disability benefits, due to delays in assessments taking place.

Dr Simon Duffy, director of think tank The Centre for Welfare Reform, said independent research carried out since 2010 had shown the UK Government has targeted cuts mostly at people in poverty and people with disabilities. Disabled people have been targeted by cuts nine times more than other citizens. It also found that people with disabilities, who make up one in 13 of the population, bore almost a third (29%) of the cuts.

He added:

In fact the people with the most severe disabilities have faced cuts several times greater than those faced by cuts to the average citizen. This policy has been made even worse by processes of assessment and sanctions that are experienced as stigmatising and bullying.

The government has utterly failed to find jobs for the people they target – people who are often very sick, who have disabilities or who have mental health problems.

Instead we are seeing worrying signs that they are increasing rates of illness, suicide and poverty.

Many disabled people’s rights campaigners, such as Samuel Miller, Robert LivingstoneMike Sivier and myself, amongst others, welcome this development. Many  campaigners and organisations have made submissions to the UN, using the Optional Protocol mechanism. As I’ve said elsewhere, our political freedoms and human rights must not be subservient to Tory notions of economic success. Democracy is not about the private accumulation of wealth. It is about the wise use of the collective wealth for the common good of the public – that must extend to include ALL of our citizens. And a decent, civilised, democratic society supports its vulnerable members and upholds universal human rights.

Disabled people have been stigmatised, scapegoated and subjected to cuts in their lifeline support because of the financial mistakes and poor decision-making of government.

We need to ask why our Government has so far refused to instigate or agree an inquiry into the substantial rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, as these deaths are so clearly correlated with policy changes.  Or why a cumulative impact assessment has not been carried out regarding the consequences of these extremely draconian policies.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone, used with thanks

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame. Part 3 – the Tories want to repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act

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Political theories of poverty vary across the political spectrum, with those on the right tending to individualise social problems more generally, and those on the left tending to socialise them. Very different policy implications stem from each perspective.

Since the Thatcher era, the New Right have developed a distinctive behaviourist approach to poverty, founded on the idea that poor people are poor because they lack certain qualities and traits.

In 2013, Iain Duncan Smith worked on developingbetter measures of child povertyto provide a “more accurate reflection of the reality of child poverty.” According to the Conservatives, poverty isn’t caused by a lack of income.

The Coalition conducted a weighted and biased consultation at the time that did little more than provide a Conservative ideological framework in the form of leading questions, to catch carefully calculated, led and subliminally shaped public responses.

Iain Duncan Smith has indicated he will repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act, which committed the government to a target of eradicating child poverty in the UK by 2020. He has dispensed with the current relative definition of poverty (anyone in a household beneath 60% of median income), abandoned the targets and introduced a new (although rather unclear) definition: the child poverty target is to be replaced with a new duty to report levels of educational attainment, “worklessness” and addiction, rather than relative material deprivation and disadvantage.

Duncan Smith argues that the measures set originally by Tony Blair are a “poor measure of poverty”, and he claims that families can fall or go above the relative poverty line for reasons that have little to do with their material wealth.

Using the Centre for Social Justice’s 2012 report Rethinking Child Poverty, (set up by none other than Iain Duncan Smith in 2004) to support his ideological perspective, Duncan Smith’s account of UK poverty is defined by bad parenting, by alcohol dependency and drug-addiction.

There is of course very little focus on accounts of parents who are poor because they are unemployed or in low-paid work. Or because of government policies that are directed at rewarding wealthy people and punishing poor people. (See also: We are raising more money for the rich.) Duncan Smith said:

“We know in households with unstable relationships, where debt and addiction destabilise families, where parents lack employment skills, where children just aren’t ready to start school, these children don’t have the same chances in life as others. It is self evident.”

Of course it’s also “self-evident” that debt, addiction and unstable relationships happen to wealthy people as well, so as far as causal explanations of poverty go, this one certainly lacks credibility and coherence.

Furthermore, I propose that a lack of opportunities and life chances arise from the cumulative effects of discriminatory economic and social structures and policies. Iain Duncan Smith went on to say:

“They cannot break out of that cycle of disadvantage. We are currently developing these measures right now – family breakdown, problem debt and drug and alcohol dependency – and we will report each year on these life chances as well.”

The Conservatives are claiming that poverty arises because of the “faulty” lifestyle choices of people with personal deficits and aim to reconstruct the identities of poor people via psychopolitical interventions, but it is only through a wholesale commitment to eliminating poverty by addressing unemployment, underemployment, job insecurity, low paid work, inadequate welfare support and institutionalised inequalities that any meaningful social progress can be made.

Over the last five years, the UK has become the most unequal country in Europe, on the basis of income distribution and wages. If that increase in inequality arose because of individual failings, as the Conservatives are claiming, why have those personal failings only become apparent so suddenly within the past five years? The Child Poverty Action Group voiced concerns :

“The statement isn’t about strengthening efforts to end child poverty, but about burying the failure of the government’s child poverty approach. And with more cuts coming down the line, child poverty is set to rise.”

The Bell Swerve

Iain Duncan Smith draws on a framework of ideas that was shaped to a large extent by the white male supremacist musings of Charles Murray, the controversial ultra-conservative American sociologist that exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast.

Murray’s New Right culture of poverty theory popularised notions that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits and character flaws; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities and level of abilities. Murray’s very controversial work The Bell Curve was a novel of racist pseudoscience and manipulated, misleading statistics which he used to propose that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.

According to Murray, disadvantaged groups are disadvantaged because, on average, they cannot compete with white men, who are intellectually, psychologically and morally superior. Murray advocates the total elimination of the welfare state, arguing that public policy cannot overcome the “innate deficiencies” that cause unequal social and educational outcomes.

Many critics, including myself, regard Murray as a white supremacist, a nationalist that has a long history of advocating discredited ideas that are rooted in eugenics. Nonetheless, Murray has had a significant influence on Conservative thinking about welfare in particular, both here in the UK and across the Atlantic.

“Unless the government sets out a clear target for improving the life chances of the poorest families, its agenda for healing social division in our country will lack both ambition and credibility.”

The Children’s Commissioner issued a statement regarding the repeal of the Child Poverty Act:

“The Child Poverty Act targets were not just about relative poverty – which is a measure of inequality, important in itself – but also included a measure of material deprivation. Critically, the new measures proposed today would not include any tangible measure of poverty, hunger, cold, or deprivation of any kind. Poverty is a financial measure. Unemployment statistics and statistics on educational attainment are already collected.

“The majority of children living in poverty have at least one parent who is working. Employment is important but if wages do not rise substantially in relation to living costs it will not provide a route out of poverty alone. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has today published a report stating that families with children working full-time on the National Minimum Wage are now 15% short of the Minimum Income Standard that people believe offers an acceptable standard of living.  Today’s announcement will effectively confine to history any figures on the millions of children being raised in families who experience in-work poverty denying them necessities such as adequate food, clothing and heating.”

Last year, the Children’s Commissioner said that the increasing inequality which has resulted from the cuts, and in particular, the welfare reforms, means that Britain is now in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.

Austerity cuts are disproportionately targeted at the poorest. It’s particularly shameful that absolute poverty has returned to Britain since 2010, given that we are the 5th wealthiest nation in the world. That indicates clearly just how much inequality has increased under the Conservatives since 2010.

Poverty and inequality are a consequence of the way that society is organised, political decision-making and how resources are allocated through discriminatory government policies.

Poverty arises because of the behaviour of the powerful and wealthy, not the poor.

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See also:

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame – part 2

The just world fallacy

The right-wing moral hobby horse: thrift and self-help, but only for the poor

The New New Poor Law

UK Wealth Divide widens, with inequality heading for “most unequal country in the developed world”

Poor people are poor because they don’t know how to get something from nothing

1957929_293215800829475_303676825_oPictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone

UN report: Britains ‘boy’s club culture’ – women in the UK are left vulnerable to violence, poverty & hardship


I wrote last year that Conservative small-state ideology has led to “depopulated” social policies, resuting in the dehumanisation of people in some social groups, and it indicates that Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects. Policies are inceasingly being detached from public needs. We therefore need to ask whose needs Conservative policies are fulfilling.

In 2010 the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned the government about its potential failure to meet its legal duties. This followed concerns raised by the Fawcett Society amongst others, regarding the estimated grossly disproportionate impact of the austerity cuts on women.

The Commission recognised the serious concerns about the impact of the deficit reduction measures on vulnerable groups and, in particular, following the House of Commons library report, the impact of the budget on women. The Commission stated:

We have written to the Treasury to ask for reassurance that they will comply with their equality duties when making decisions about the overall deficit reduction, and in particular in relation to any changes to tax and benefits for which they are directly responsible.”

A more inclusive understanding of the range of impacts on both men and women is essential in the formulation of gender-aware, as opposed to gender-blind, policy responses to recession and recovery. It’s clear that the UK government is not interested in collating information regarding impacts and subsequent implications regarding inequality, yet they do have a legal duty to do so.

A previous United Nations Committee report on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlights areas where women’s rights in the UK had come to a standstill and appallingly, shamefully, some rights have been reversed.

On August 13, 2013, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women released its concluding observations on the UK’s seventh periodic report on 26 July 2013.

Concerns raised by the Committee include protection from discrimination under the Public Sector Equality Duty, the impact of austerity measures on women and women’s services, and restrictions on women’s access to legal aid.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women on 1 July 2013. In its submission the Commission, as a national human rights institution, identifies key issues it believes should be highlighted as actions following the examination and sets out a number of questions the Committee may wish to put to the Government. You can see a full list here – UK Government still in breach of the human rights convention on gender discrimination.

Despite Labour’s protective Human Rights Act and Equality Act, Britain has become increasingly sexist, has an all-pervasive, patriarchal “boy’s club culture” and Conservative austerity measures are leaving women increasingly vulnerable to violence, poverty and hardship, the UN special rapporteur for women, Rashida Manjoo, has recently said.

The special rapporteur said there was “a more visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls” and a “marketisation of women’s and girls’ bodies” in the UK, which was “more pervasive than elsewhere.”

She warned that sexual bullying and harassment were now “routine” in UK schools, according to NGOs she had interviewed, and recommended that schools have mandatory education modules on sexism. “The state has a responsibility to protect, to prevent, to punish, to provide effective remedies,” she said. “These are part of the state’s responsibility.”

Rashida added: “Have I seen this level of sexist cultures in other countries? It hasn’t been so in-your-face.”

Amongst the figures quoted in her report are: 30% of women in England and Wales have reported experience of domestic abuse since the age of 16; 77 women were killed by partners or former partners in 2012-13; 18,915 sexual crimes against children were recorded in England and Wales in 2012-13; and almost one in three 16- to 18-year-old girls have experienced “groping” or other unwanted sexual touching at school.

The special rapporteur also drew attention to the disproportionate impact of funding cuts on the provision of services to women and girls at risk of violence, and the adverse consequenes of the Tory welfare “reforms.”

Access to trauma services, financial support and housing are crucial, yet current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues,” Rashida said.

She added that the austerity cuts “not only [affected] the specific provision of ‘violence against women’ services’, but also had a more general impact as poverty and unemployment were known contributory factors.”

“Service providers argue that they are being forced to make cuts to their frontline services as a result of reduced funding, whether by closing refuges, reducing support hours, or increasing waiting lists … current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.”

Manjoo also heavily criticised the bedroom tax, she recognised that it makes it very difficult for women to escape domestic violence. She also attacked the Conservative government’s austerity programme.

She said: “Austerity measures are having an effect on the provision of services to address violence against women, as well as other cross-cutting issues affecting women such as poverty and unemployment.” 

Rashida Manjoo quite properly condemned the lack of human rights-driven government measures to combat violence against women and girls.

The special rapporteur, who travelled across the UK during a 16-day fact-finding mission into violence against women, said she was barred at the gates of Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre on Monday, on instructions “from the highest levels of the Home Office”.

Manjoo received reports of violations at the privately run Yarl’s Wood centre, near Bedford, before her visit to the UK, and said she wanted to verify the allegations of abuse. Last month a Jamaican woman, Christine Case, 40, died at the centre, which holds about 400 women.

After repeated unsuccessful requests to the Home Office, the investigator attempted an independent visit to Yarl’s Wood. Under the terms of her mandate, Manjoo should have been offered unrestricted access.  A Home Office spokesperson said a tour of Yarl’s Wood “was never agreed as part of this fact-finding mission.” 

So much for democratic, open, transparent and accountable government.

In her preliminary report, (and unsurprisingly,) Manjoo said the number of women detained in prisons and immigration centres in the UK was rising, with a significant over-representation of black and minority ethnic women.

“A large number of women in detention have a history of being subjected to violence prior to being imprisoned … the strong link between violence against women and women’s incarceration, whether prior to, during or after incarceration, needs to be fully acknowledged,” she said.

Manjoo also said the UK court system is “widely perceived to be biased in favor of men.

Rashida Manjoo’s full 24 page report is expected to be published later this year and will be presented at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.

The report’s findings echo the views of  many campaigners, including hundreds of psychotherapists, counsellors and mental health practitioners, who in April used a rallying, open letter to the Guardian to warn against “malign” welfare reforms and severe austerity measures.

The group of signatories, made up of therapists, psychotherapists and mental health experts, said Britain has seen a “radical shift” in the mental state of ordinary people since the coalition came to power.

British society has been “thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking” and the distress this is causing and the wide adverse effects of this ideology are particularly visible in therapists’ consulting rooms.

This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health,” they added.

A democratic government, especially in a very wealthy, so-called liberal first-world country, is expected to reflect and accommodate the needs of a population in its policy-making, and to formulate policies within a human rights framework.

That clearly is not happening in the UK.

 

Related

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

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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Miliband: hope, humanism, joined-up thinking and integrity.

 

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One of Miliband’s virtues is that he re-humanises politics. For him, people’s individual experiences matter, and he always cites many examples throughout his speeches. He includes qualitative accounts from real people. It’s a particularly contrasting quality to Cameron’s unempathic, dehumanising, quantitative and negative labelling approach.

To the Tories, we are all reducible to their often cited, fake statistics. The numbers tell us what the Tories want us to “know”, and not what actually is. And we know that the Tories have never been big on free speech – see the Gagging Act, for example. They like to exclude “inconvenient” voices of truth from the grand, overarching Tory narrative. Miliband listens to accounts of people’s realities, and accommodates those accounts. Cameron imposes both accounts and realities upon us.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that the right-wing bitcherati press have taken the piss once again and tried to make Miliband’s approach to the paramount importance of everyday people look small. Littlejohn in particular is being his pernicious, old, fascist self. How anyone that writes for the Mail for a living has the cheek to criticise anyone at all is beyond me. But it shows that the right are determined to portray any strengths that Ed Miliband has as a weakness. Propaganda at its worst. But its so blatant, superficial and unsophisticated, at least.

I have criticised Tory ontology and methodology previously, using social science as a frame of reference. Politics is a social science, and not a “stand-alone” one: it draws on the disciplines of psychology and sociology, too. As a critical interpretivist, I believe that social reality is not “out there” waiting to be discovered: we are constructing and reconstructing it meaningfully. However, politically, there’s been a marked shift away from understanding the lived experiences of real people in context: a systematic dehumanisation. The Tories have depopulated social policy. This is a characteristic of authoritarianism, and other hallmarks include stigmatisation of social groups, moral disengagement, moral exclusion, impunity, and a societal “bystander apathy”, as I’ve discussed elsewhere.

In the social sciences, there was a big shift away from Cameron’s approach to “understanding the social world” from the 70s onwards. Mostly we realised that  counting people’s responses doesn’t give us any clue about meanings and intentions, it can only turn up statistics. And these are open to reductionist and determinist interpretations and inferences from the persons gathering them, as we know.

Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behaviour and intention – the reasons that govern such behaviour. The qualitative method investigates the why and how of our decision making, rather than just what. And we get to interpret our own reality and experiences. We are each experts in our realm of experiences, and Miliband understands this. He invites our expertise, Cameron stifles it.

The social researcher and the politician do not stand apart from or outside of the intersubjectively constructed universe they wish to describe/measure: there is no “objective” vantage point, because we all participate personally within it.

Clifford Geertz, an anthropologist said: Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.

And in Thick Description, which compared the “thin” descriptions of measurements with the “thick”, densely layered description of context and meaning that qualitative research can provide in any given situation, he said : “The difference between a twitch and a wink is vast.  From a purely physiological perspective, a wink is the contraction of the muscles of a single eye that cause the eyelid to close.  So, of course, is a twitch.  And so is a slow-motion, exaggerated parody of a wink; a fast motion parody of a twitch; and any number of parodies of parodies of twitches and winks that a group boys sitting in the back row might engage in to amuse one another on a spring afternoon”.

And any measure of the interactions that include and are driven by these twitches and winks is bound to measure the wrong things and fail to measure the right ones.

No-one but the Tories would try to argue that poverty is an intentional act of the poor, that food banks are a symptom of rising greed rather than need. I have never known a government to be so blatantly insouciant with the measurable social phenomena it causes via its policies. Or with its own credibility, for that matter.

In contrast to quantitative research, qualitative research involves the collection and analysis of information that focuses on the meanings attached to people’s actions and behaviours, often referred to as the lived experience.It defines us as active participants in the world, instead of merely reducing us to statistics and preferences.  It makes priority of our perceptions and experiences and the way we make sense of our lives.

First-hand experiences matter. And quite properly so. It puts us, the people, in the driving seat, we construct our own meanings, rather than having authoritarians like Cameron imposing meanings, definitions, convenient labels and Tory ideology upon us. Quantitative methods tend to hammer the world into a presupposed state  – as Einstein once said: the theory tells you what you may observe. How very Cameron. All quantitative studies can yield are conventionalised expressions of the experience of the author, or the one commissioning the research.

Quantitative, positivist paradigms share commensurable assumptions but are largely incommensurable with critical, constructivist, and participatory paradigms.. In other words, they don’t accommodate any critical  approaches or analysis, nor are they inclusive. How very Cameron.

Furthermore, quantitative methodology in the social sciences depends upon faith in the “verification principle”. Which is itself unverifiable…

How very  cul-de-sac, and how very Cameron.

Quantitative methodology objectifies us, whereas the qualitative method draws on a humanist, hermeneutic/phenomenological approach: understanding moves from the outer manifestations of human action and productivity (the superficial) to the exploration of their inner meanings and references. Numbers cannot convey human experiences: it is thought, language and our expression that converts experience into meaning.

Humanist thinkers within the discipline of psychology, such as Ronald D Laing, drew on a qualitative  approach, and in his earliest works, he starts from the experience of the individual ego, in “The Divided Self” (1961) and moves towards existential phenomenology , and in his later work, such as “The Politics Of Experience And The Bird Of Paradise“(1967), he manages to integrate these perspectives within a Marxist framework.

Laing, along with others who led the anti-psychiatry movement in the late 50’s and early 60’s, such as Erving Goffman and Thomas Szasz, had a profound and hugely significant impact within the field of psychology, which had been dominated by associationism, behaviourism, psychometrics and eugenics and of course, psychoanalysis.

At a time when theorists from social sciences maintained that their perspectives were premised on scientific (usually positivistic) principles, Laing offered a humanist critique of these approaches, which he said trivialised psychology and dehumanised its subjects. Laing shifted the emphasis from an experimental approach, and a searching for “facts” and “predictability” regarding human behaviours to dialogue, intersubjectively constructed and reconstructed meanings and human experience. Laing and others challenged established categories of behaviour deemed pathological or abnormal, by meaningful explorations of individual accounts of their experience of being.

Laing in particular gave a rational voice to those individuals who had experienced exploitation within family relationships, which he studied extensively, discovering sets of interactions that often involved complex tactical games, relationship knots and strategies, with family members making alliances with some and creating enmity with other members. Within the nexus of the family there is an unremitting demand for constant strategic interpersonal interaction based on mutual reciprocal concern and attention. Individuals are therefore vulnerable to existential harm. They are emotionally imprisoned via the nexus, internalising other family members, and the interaction patterns.

Laing believed that some families acted like gangsters, offering each other protection against each other’s violence. Some governments do, too.  He also believed that the internalisation of family interaction patterns becomes our world – and it restricts the development of the self, with individuals carrying the emotional blueprint of their family for the rest of their life, which may inhibit any real autonomy or self awareness. This blueprint may manifest as expression through behaviours that are clinically identified and diagnosed as schizophrenia. Laing and others exposed the negative labelling processes, and ritualised humiliation directed towards those experiencing self-fragmentation because of the internalisation of negative family interaction patterns. For Laing, madness is simply a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world. Of course that world exists within a political framework.

In sociology, phenomenology was expressed in the work of Alfred Schutz (1899 – 1959) who studied the ways in which people directly experience everyday life, and imbue their activities with meanings. In contrast to the predominant structural and somewhat deterministic perspectives within the discipline, Schultz moved away from the tendency of subordinating everything within disaffecting, abstruse and overarching ideologies or grand narratives, and he emphasised a multiplicity of new and often spontaneously co-authored ideologies lived out day-by-day and based on common sense and intersubjectively constructed values.

Schultz expressed a vitalism that engendered an organic way of thinking, with characteristics such as intuitive insight as a way of perceiving things from within, and placed emphasis on understanding as a holistic grasp of the widely varied, often complex and subtle elements of situations, and on experience as something that is lived through in common with others.

Schultz says that we draw on a common stock of knowledge – “typifications” and common sense which orientates us, helps us navigate socially, and achieve a reciprocity of perspective with others. Socialisation processes mediate and normalise this common stock of knowledge.

Phenomenological Sociology went hand in hand with a preference for a qualitative methodology that emphasised authentic everyday accounts of social reality, with agency and meaning being the focus. Quantitative methodology, on the other hand, had primarily focused on measurement, notions of the predictability of behaviours due to these being determined by social structure for example, as was the case with many advocates of Functionalism, such as Social Darwinist Herbert Spencer, and a socially detached and “objective” researcher.

Such a researcher was evidently armed with the belief that he/she possessed the somewhat unique ability to stand outside of human experience and values, unlike the subjects of enquiry, and would thus gather “social facts” and then interpret them from this independently existing standpoint. For example, a sociologist studying drug use amongst young people may gather statistics and hand out closed questionnaires with short directive and directed yes/no type questions. From the information gathered, the researcher may conclude that anomie and alienation lead to drug use, because, for example, many young drug users singled out for study live in deprived inner city areas.

Most young drug users, however, would not use terms like anomie to explain or give meaningful accounts of their drug use. This imposed conceptual framework of the researcher demonstrates very well how detachment and objectivity is not possible, in sociological enquiry. Indeed, some have extended this criticism to scientific enquiry. We each operate within idioms of belief, and Michael Polanyi has proposed that Western Science is such a self-sustaining idiom. (“Personal Knowledge”, 1958). He compares science with Azande Witchcraft, (Evans-Pritchard’s anthropological study: “Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande”), noting that each conceptual framework is “segregated’ by a logical gap” (they are incommensurable), but from within each idiom, beliefs tended to be circulatory, self-confirming and self-sustaining.

This is true of all ideologies. We can make inferences from sociological research, for example, but every sociologist knows about the Hawthorne effect: that the very fact that people know they are being observed changes their behaviour and distorts the result.

Polanyi had become acutely aware of the extent to which worldviews penetrate into language, and that he had sensed that this may have important ramifications for relations between frameworks of belief. As the basis of his argument, Polanyi gives a precis of his epistemology in “Science, Faith And Society” (1946) and “Scientific Beliefs” (1951). Polanyi considers that discovery, verification and falsification of propositions in science do not obey “any definite rule” but proceed with the aid of “certain maxims” which defy both precise formulation and rigorous evaluation. The maxims are “premisses or beliefs … embodied in … the tradition of science”.

Sustained by this tradition, science is governed by the coherent opinion of its practitioners, who employ the “idiom of science” in which its interpretative framework, Polanyi concludes, is an entrenched tangled and negotiated reciprocity of perspective, and all founded on the the belief of scientists that science is true: a personal conviction which they cannot factually justify. And again, how can we verify the principle at the heart of scientific methodology: verificationism itself, for example?

It is also possible to identify imported scientific metaphors operating at the heart of social science. For example, the shift from “structure” to “events” in physics is reflected in a similar shift in theoretical focus in sociology. There was a marked shift in structural and deterministic accounts of human behaviour and a move to study small scale interactions, social events, context bound interactions and situations, which can be linked with phenomenology. Behaviour was relativised by a multiplicity of contexts, which meant that more descriptive methodologies were employed.

A phenomenologist would ask open-ended questions, preferring interviews and the use of dialogue. Responses would be directed as little as possible, ensuring that the account given is a true and meaningful reflection of the direct experience of the person/social agent. This kind of research also reflects immediacy – the here and nowness of the social world, that has a full potential yet to be explored, rather than the positivist emphasis on a narrowing predictability and replicating results to try and determine their’ “accuracy.” It is also democratic and founded on notions of equality.

The person/agent has the centre stage and is the author of the research. Furthermore, phenomenologists have pointed out that sociologists are also embedded in everyday life and cannot therefore escape the shared norms, values and meanings of the life world they inhabit. Phenomenologists value valid accounts, rather than social “facts”, as it is not possible to be “objective” when one occupies a completely intersubjective realm of enquiry.

Miliband, of course, recognises this, he values authenticity, inclusion, equality, democracy and spontaneity over and above ideology. Cameron is completely driven by ideology. and the ghastly assumptions that Tory dogma entails.

Social existence is not one dimensional; it is complex, ambiguous, poorly defined, deceptive, fragmented, emotional and often unpredictable. It is animated by a plurality of perspectives. It is often based on what we take for granted – tacit knowledge – that which is self-evident that informs our intellectual constructions. A phenomenological approach can uncover those taken for granted underpinning assumptions – quintessentially cultural phenomena, in that these assumptions are what societies are built upon.

Miliband understands this. He acknowledges that human experiences are complex, multidimensional, inter and intrasubjective, and multipersonal, many layered events, where both “verifiable statement” and valid existential account each have an important place in our endlessly creative narratives, and of the endless possibilities of our being in a social universe of expansive potential. Cameron only reduces that potential. And he really has, in just four years.

In a sense, we’ve all been doing such qualitative research our whole life, and therefore have very much to contribute to a pluralist, socially democratic society. Miliband knows this, Cameron freely chooses not to. Cameron is an epistemological and ontological fascist: he predefines what we “know”, and what is “acceptable” as “knowledge”, and he predefines social reality, excluding its’ members accounts.

Max Weber’s principle of Verstehen  is a critical approach in all social sciences, and we can see the consequences of its absence in the cold, pseudo-positivist approach of the Coalition in the UK. Their policies clearly demonstrate that they lack the capacity to understand, or meaningfully “walk a mile in the shoes of another”. The Coalition treat the population of the UK as objects and not human subjects of their policies.

My own starting point is that regardless of any claim to value-freedom in political science, we cannot abdicate moral responsibility, and cannot justify moral indifference. We see this positive approach exemplified in our laws, human rights and democratic process. We are also seeing an erosion of this tendency to a globalisation of values, and inclusion of a recognition and account of the full range of human experiences in policy making. Indeed Tory policy has become an instrument of social exclusion and increasing minoritization.

We are being reduced to little more than economic statements here in the UK. We have a Government that tends to describe vulnerable social groups in terms of costs to the State, and responsibility is attributed to these social groups via media and State rhetoric, whilst those decision-makers actually responsible for the state of the economy have been exempted, legally and morally, and are hidden behind complex and diversionary scapegoating propaganda campaigns.

Sartre once said that oppressors oppress themselves as well as those they oppress. Freedom and autonomy are also reciprocal, and it’s only when we truly recognise our own liberty that we may necessarily acknowledge that of others. Conservatism has always been associated with a capacity to inhibit and control, and never liberate. We need to take responsibility for the Government that we have. In fact we must.

Miliband is offering us social democracy. The accusations of political “cross-dressing” from the fringes of the left are utter nonsense, hence the persistent right-wing media smear campaign. Miliband is offering us inclusivity, he speaks with an obvious decency and passion, and has consistently presented us with a  comprehensive and coherent narrative, if only we will listen.

Socialism for a Sceptical Age, by Ralph Miliband was about the continued relevance of socialism in a post-communist world. Ed Miliband has said that the final few sentences of this book are his favourites of all his father’s work:

In all the countries there are people in numbers large and small who are moved by the vision of a new social order in which democracy, egalitarianism and co-operation – the essential values of socialism – would be the prevailing values of social organization. It is in the growth of their numbers and in the success of their struggles that lies the best hope for mankind.”  

“Socialism is not a rigid economic doctrine, but ‘a set of values’ It is ‘a tale that never ends’. Indeed, the strange fact is that  while there’s capitalism, there’ll be socialism, because there is always a response to injustice.” Ed  Miliband. (Source)

He’s right.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant pictorial truths

Sticks and stones: abusive labels, self concept – when words become weapons

The socio-political perspective.

My friend Harry Ottley once told me, many years ago, that I could kill a man with words. It was at a time when I was struggling to come to terms with a series of horrible events. Recovering from trauma takes time and for a while, I wasn’t myself. I didn’t want any company at the time, and Harry, who simply wanted to offer support, found me somewhat antisocial and blunt.

We can heal, though. It takes time, a lot of soul-searching, it’s often a very painful process and there are no short cuts. One of the reasons I decided to study psychology and sociology was my abiding interest in how we are immersed in each other: we exist, connect, shape and are shaped in a social context: in an inter-subjective realm, our behaviours affect each other, often profoundly.

Language, narratives, ideologies, norms and all of the mechanisms we draw on to make sense of and to navigate the universe can stifle us, damage and repress us, but may also transform and liberate us.

Harry is right. What we say to each other matters very much.

The range of what we say and think and do is limited by what we don’t notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds

Some people often use the “freedom of speech” plea to justify their prejudice. They say they have a right to express their thoughts. But speech is an intentional ACT. Hate speech is intended to do harm – it’s used purposefully to intimidate and exclude vulnerable groups. Hate speech does not “democratise” speech, it tends to monopolise it. Nor is it  based on reason, critical thinking or open to debate. Bigotry is a crass parody of opinion and free speech. Bigots are conformists – they tend not to have independent thought. Prejudice thrives on Groupthink.

Being inequitable, petty or prejudiced isn’t “telling it like it is” – a claim which is an increasingly common tactic for the right, and particularly UKIP – it’s just being inequitable, petty or prejudiced.  And some things are not worth saying. Really. We may well have an equal right to express an opinion, but not all opinions are of equal worth.

And the right-wing do frequently dally with hate speech. Hate speech generally is any speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of their race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. Critics have argued that the term “hate speech” is a contemporary example of Newspeak, used to silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented in order to appear politically correct.

This term was adopted by US conservatives as a pejorative term for all manner of attempts to promote multiculturalism and identity politics, particularly, attempts to introduce new terms that sought to leave behind discriminatory baggage attached to older ones, and conversely, to try to make older ones taboo.

“Political correctness” arose originally from attempts at making language more culturally inclusive. Critics of political correctness show a curious blindness when it comes to examples of “conservative correctness.” Most often, the case is entirely ignored, or censorship of the Left is justified as a positive virtue.Perhaps the key argument supporting this form of linguistic and conceptual inclusion is that we still need it, unfortunately. We have a right-wing Logocracy, creating pseudo-reality by prejudicial narratives and words. We are witnessing that narrative being embedded in extremely oppressive policies and in their justification.

The negative impacts of hate speech cannot be mitigated by the responses of third-party observers, as hate speech aims at two goals. Firstly, it is an attempt to tell bigots that they are not alone. It validates and reinforces prejudice.

The second purpose of hate speech is to intimidate a targeted minority, leading them to question whether their dignity and social status is secure. In many cases, such intimidation is successful. Furthermore, hate speech is a gateway to harassment and violence. (See Allport’s scale of prejudice, which shows clearly how the Nazis used “freedom of speech” to incite hatred and then to incite genocide.) As Allport’s scale indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subtle expressions of prejudice.

The dignity, worth and equality of every individual is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings. Article 20(2) of the ICCPR requires states to prohibit hate speech. Hate speech is prohibited by international and national laws, not because it is offensive, but rather, because it amounts to the intentional degradation and repression of groups that have been historically oppressed.

The most effective way to diffuse prejudice is an early preventative approach via dialogue: positive parenting, education and debate. Our schools, media and public figures have a vital part to play in positive role-modelling, like parents, in challenging bigotry, encouraging social solidarity, respect for diversity and in helping to promote understanding and empathy with others.

Hate speech categories are NOT about “disagreement” or even offence. Hate speech doesn’t invite debate. It’s about using speech to intentionally oppress others. It escalates when permitted, into harassment and violence. We learn this from history, and formulated human rights as a consequence.

UKIP would have us unlearn the lessons of the Holocaust so that people can say “I’m not being racist, but…” or “It’s not wrong to say immigrants should be sent home…” and so on.

Wittgenstein once said: “The limits of my language are the limits of my  world.”

Words are powerful. As well as describing, signifying, explaining, persuading, interpreting, obscuring, deceiving and so on, they may also issue commands and instructions. We “spell” words. Spelling may also be described as “words or a formula purported to have magickal powers.” Words act upon others and elicit responses.

Yes, they may profoundly impact on others. With words, both spoken and unspoken, we can shape and re-shape the universe. We shape and transform each other. We can create. Einstein changed the meaning of the word “mass” and transformed Newton’s universe of structures to his own – one of events. It’s a different universe.

We can oppress or liberate with a few intentional words. The choice is ours.

The psychological perspective

“Every relationship. . . implies a definition of self by others and other by self. . . A person’s ‘own’ identity can never be completely abstracted from his identity-for-others.” From Self and Others – R D Laing.

The human mind is social. Through a process of symbolic interactions, beginning as children, humans begin to define themselves meaningfully within the context of their socialisations.

The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept, first mentioned in Human Nature and the Social Order by Charles Cooley in 1902. It’s basis is that a person’s sense of self-hood arises from social, interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. We internalise those interactions. The term refers to how people shape their self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perceive them.

People tend to conform to how they think others think them to be,  especially children, since they don’t have the necessary experiences and inner resources to reject labels, and it’s difficult, or arguably impossible, to act differently from how a person thinks he or she is perpetually perceived. Individuals use language and thought as the basis of their self concept.

Cooley said: “The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind.”

Self-fulfilling prophecy is the behavioural confirmation effect, in which behaviour, influenced by expectations, causes those expectations to come true. People react, not only to the situations they are in, but also, and often primarily, to the way they perceive the situations and to the meaning they ascribe to their perceptions.

Sociologists often use the Pygmalion effect, interchangeably with self-fulfilling prophecy, and the effect is most often cited with regard to educational under-attainment, social class, race.

“When teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways. How we believe the world is and what we honestly think it can become have powerful effects on how things will turn out.”  James Rhem, executive editor for the online National Teaching and Learning Forum.

In the context of race, gender and class, negative labelling is often associated with  socio-political control mechanisms and prejudice. Stereotypes and labels estrange us from our authentic possibilities. The attributions and labels that people exchange on a symbolic level, also have the function of instruction or injunction, this function may be denied,  giving rise to one type of “mystification”, rather like hypnotic suggestion.

“Pain in this life is not avoidable, but the pain we create avoiding [our own] pain is avoidable.” Ronnie D Laing.

It’s almost impossible for individuals – especially children – to avoid experiencing changes to their psyche and  subsequent actions following repeated emotional abuse (and physical abuse, psychological violence is so very often a precursor to physical violence).

Research consistently shows that children subjected to verbal aggression, may exhibit a range of serious disorders, including chronic depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation and anger. Words Can Be Weapons is a powerful multimedia campaign based in China that illustrates how words may be turned into weapons, to illustrate that what we say can hurt and damage others, very literally.

The number of crimes committed by juveniles has doubled in China, and the Centre For Psychological Research in Shenyang says its studies link juvenile crime to childhood emotional abuse – a taboo subject in China. The centre partnered with the Beijing office of advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather. Six teenagers were interviewed in Shenyang Detention Centre about negative, hurtful statements their parents had said to them in the past, such as “moron” and “You’re a disgrace.” The video then transforms these words, powerfully, into replications of the actual weapons these young people later went on to use to commit crimes.

Juggi Ramakrishnan, Ogilvy and Mather’s executive creative director in Beijing, said, in a press release: “Verbal abuse of children is like setting off a time bomb. It explodes only much later, long after the original perpetrator has left the scene. And it is society that pays the price, as is evident from the rising rate of juvenile crime. We really needed to tell this ‘cycle-of-violence’ story in a way that will make people sit up and take notice.”

One young person begins his interview by saying:  “I guess my world must be a dark one… My mother would yell at me every day, often telling me to go away and die.”

When he heard these words again, this time from his manager, he lost his self-control and stabbed him. The campaign took the words that had haunted him his entire life, and turned them into a knife, like the one he had used in his assault.

The campaign, in the English language version of the video was published on YouTube in April but has only recently garnered the attention it deserves. It has all the content from the project, including full interviews with the young people who are residents in the Detention Centre, at: wordscanbeweapons.co

We know from extensive research that victims of emotional and psychological abuse may also become perpetrators, particularly if no support has been available for the victim. Though many do not.

Damaged self-esteem and psychological injury destabilises us, it may lead to learned, created and distorted or false behaviours as a defence against further psychic injury. Abusers distort our sense of self, lower our self-worth, disorder our emotional responses to others, destroy our faith in our own judgements, skew our perception of others, and erode our personal boundaries.

For children and young people especially, there’s a risk of victim or victimiser roles being normalised, because the experience of alternative  interactions is limited.

In psychology and sociology, internalisation is the process that involves the integration of attitudes, values, standards and the opinions of others into one’s own identity or sense of self.

Studies suggest that young people who have internalised a view of their self as “positive and good” tend to have a developmental trajectory toward pro-social behaviour, those with damaged selves are more likely struggle with the social rules, codes and norms of conduct, empathic affects to others, and adaptive behavioural strategies.

Our selves may be either authentic or false. False selves tend to be an adaptation to false realities.(As opposed to fake selves, which are contrived to manipulate others).

We live in times when the media constructs such false realities every day, with the UK government directing a scapegoating and vilification process which targets vulnerable groups, because of Tory traditional prejudices, in order to justify their ideological inclinations to dismantle the social gains of our post-war settlement, withdraw publicly funded state support for those in need. We have a conservative social order built upon bullying, abuse and coercion from the aristocratic top down: it’s a hierarchy of control and power. And the only authentic quality David Cameron has is his inauthenticity. He’s a typical public school bully, and his atrocious role-modeling gives others permission to bully.

As a consequence, everyday untenable situations arise for those least able to cope with them, because we internalise identity, and through a process of attribution, this currently involves political pretence, dishonesty, illusion, elusion, delusion, and media collusion. This is a government that has normalised abuse on every level, and the consequences of that inflicted psychic trauma will be with us for several generations to come.

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Gaslighting
is a form of  mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range from simple denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, to the staging of  events and using a narrative with the intention of disorienting the victim, and “invalidating” their experience. The UK government uses gaslighting techniques, by calling critics “scaremongers”, by claiming cuts to services and provisions are “reforms”, and that coercive welfare sanctions “support” people into work, or “make work pay”, especially given the largest fall in wages ever.

Pictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone 

 


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Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom”

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The Tories are not “paying down the debt” as claimed. They are raising more money for the rich.

Labour’s social and economic policy was a success, and this is substantiated by the LSE’s definitive survey of the Blair-Brown years:

There is clear evidence that public spending worked, contrary to popular belief.” Nor did Labour overspend. It inherited “a large deficit and high public sector debt”, with spending “at a historic low” – 14th out of 15 in the EU.

Labour’s spending increased, and money was invested in public services and social programs, and until the crash was still “unexceptional”, either by historic UK standards or international ones.

Until 2007 “national debt levels were lower than when Labour took office”. After years of neglect during the previous Conservative administration, Labour inherited a mess: public services in very poor state, shabby and squalid public buildings and unforgivably neglected human lives that formed a social deficit much more costly than any Treasury debt.

Labour Ministers set about addressing the causes and devastating effects of poverty and social marginalisation. Both poverty and inequality had risen to levels unprecedented in post-war history. This process accelerated during the 1980s.

Unlike every other post-war decade, in which the benefits of economic growth had been shared across social groups, the economic gains of the 1980s disproportionately benefited the rich at the expense of the poor (Hills, 2004). Social inequality on such a gross level was not only the result of Thatcher’s policies, she celebrated it. She declared that inequality is essential to fostering “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”.

The mess that Thatcher left is verified by several longitudinal studies. Dr. Alex Scott-Samuel and colleagues from the Universities of Durham, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh, sourced data from over 70 existing research papers, which concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy

includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

The article also cites evidence including the substantial increase in income inequality under Thatcher – the richest 0.01% of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and the rise in UK poverty rates from 6.7% in 1975 to 12% in 1985.

It concludes that:

Thatcher’s governments wilfully engineered an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain” by dismantling traditional industries such as coal and steel in order to undermine the power of working class organisations, such as unions. This ultimately fed through into growing regional disparities in health standards and life expectancy, as well as greatly increased inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

Blair established the social exclusion unit inside No 10. “Social exclusion” signified not just poverty, but its myriad causes and symptoms, with 18 task forces examining education, babies’ development, debt, addiction, mental health, housing and much more. Policies followed and so did improvements.

John Prescott’s department published an annual Opportunities for All report that monitored these social targets: 48 out of 59 indicators improved. So when Cameron and his band of brigands sneer that “all Labour did was give tax credits to lift families just over the poverty line” – “poverty plus a pound” – they lie through their teeth.

Contrary to Tory claims, benefits were not Labour’s main instrument of social change: the benefit budget fell as a proportion of spending, outstripped by increases in health, education and other social services.

Labour policies enshrined principles of equality and inclusion. The Tories deplore such principles, yet that doesn’t stop them claiming that their socially regressive policies are somehow “fair”. Things got better with a Labour administration, money was mostly well spent. That’s not the case now. It’s all being intentionally and spitefully undone. We are moving backwards on just about every positive social measure Labour put in place: the coalition’s “more for less” is exposed as pretence. They are simply raising more money for the rich.

And all because of their driving ideology. George Osborne’s “plan A” isn’t about economics: it amounts to little more than a rehashed Thatcherite ideological agenda of deregulation and labour market “flexibility”, as modelled by the Beecroft report – the assault on the rights of employees, and Labour’s historic equality legislation. The Tory demand for a “nightwatchman state” is both ill-conceived and completely irrelevant to Britain’s economic circumstances.

The Coalition have borrowed more in 4 years than labour did in 13 and have NOTHING to show for it except a handful of wealthier millionaires. And the return of absolute poverty.

We know that austerity was intentionally imposed by the Coalition, using a feigned panic over the budget deficit to front an opportunistic vulture capitalist approach to stripping our public assets. With the Coalition in power for 4 years, the deficit has apparently receded in importance.

We can hope that Labour can return to its  pro-social role of advocating government spending for the provision of public services. Conservatives have always played on dogma and popular prejudice by constantly equating government with bureaucracy. But that’s just the superficial excuse for their obsession with removing every trace of supportive provision and our public services.

It’s more accurate to say that Conservatives equate socially responsible, democratic, caring governments with “bureaucracy”. Conservatives aren’t ever interested in championing independent and merit-based public service. But most criticisms of government bureaucracy are based on myth, not reality.

The agencies that the Tories attack and destroy actually play a valuable and indispensable role in making our society a better place to live. They are the very hallmarks of what makes us civilised, they are how we support the vulnerable, ensure equal opportunities, uphold human rights.

The whole point of having human rights is that they apply to EVERYONE – something the Tories never understand – if rights are  not universally applied, then they are worthless. In fact they are hostile to the very notion that we each have equal worth, as we know.

Tories value and develop social hierarchy. When Tories want to make “shrinking” government sound attractive and feasible, they claim they are cutting “bureaucracy” and not social “programs.” Most people recognise the public value of State programs – in the areas of education, health and the environment for example – and don’t want to see these reduced; but everyone hates bureaucracy.

Using the term “bureaucracy” in this way is a rhetorical sleight-of-hand that attempts to obscure the real costs of cutting back on government programs. The lack of coherent reasoning underpinning the rhetoric is because this is simply Tory fundamentalism: it is not founded at all on rational, evidenced discourse.

I’ve said elsewhere that Edwardian levels of inequality led to the Great Depression. Austerity measures under Chancellor Hindenburg contributed to the rise of Nazism. The drop in household income in Japan between 1929 and 1931 led to a wave of assassinations of Government officials and bankers.

Social policies after World War 2 turned the tables and brought peace, with inequality steadily dropping in Britain until recently. But inequality is now returning to pre-war levels. The Tories are incapable of learning from historic lessons, because of their own ideological bondage.

In response to the atrocities committed during the War, the International Community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual. Ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951, those human rights originally established in the Universal Declaration have been steadily eroded since the Coalition gained Office.

There’s a clear link between high levels of inequality and failure of Governments to recognise human rights, and to implement them in policies. Authoritarians view the rights of the individual, (including those considered to be human rights by the international community), as subject to the needs of the Government. Of course in democracies, Governments are elected to represent and serve the needs of the population.

Democracy is not only about elections. It is also about distributive and social justice. The quality of the democratic process, including transparent and accountable Government and equality before the law, is critical. Façade democracy occurs when liberalisation measures are kept under tight rein by elites who fail to generate political inclusion.

How remarkable that a government that argues against bureaucracy on the grounds that it’s a “threat to individual freedom” have no problems imposing the Gagging Act and the Legal Aid Act – policies purposefully designed to severely limit our freedoms. But then, the Tories were never known for their rationality and joined-up thinking. Or for integrity and telling the truth.

Related articles:

Thatcher’s secret plot to dismantle the welfare state and privatise the NHS revealed

The mess we inherited: some facts with which to fight the Tory Big Lies

The great debt lie and the structural deficit myth

Osborne’s real aim is not budget surplus, but attack on Welfare State & public sectors 539627_450600381676162_486601053_n (2) scroll2 It’s not a difficult task for a government to guarantee a safety-net that is always available for anyone who falls on hard times during an era of huge social and economic change. We all fund it, after all. And we all know that unemployment, injury or illness may happen to anyone through no fault of their own. It’s considered a duty of any first-world government to provide the means of basic survival for its citizens and to fund that with the money we contribute via taxes. In fact such an approach to social and economic welfare is internationally codified in human rights.

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

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

The Tories prefer to spend the tax they take from you on Tory donors – private companies that don’t deliver a service but simply fleece profit; on undeserving millionaires’ tax breaks – the feckless, scrounging rich had at least £107,000 each per year extra already. Then there is the never ending list of Tory expense scandals – all at our expense. And tax evasion. Why are we paying for this?

Furthermore, why are we indifferent as a society to the fact that our government is causing harm to our fellow citizens? I can’t comprehend this, how can we have allowed this to happen, as a so-called civilised and once democratic society? It’s about a driving ideology that is socially detrimental, malevolent, and not economically necessary: the Tories do not think that people have a right to food, housing or medical care, that much is clear. But they continue to take the money we have paid since the 1940s for those things. And hand it out to the wealthy.

Despite these facts, the Govt and the right-wing media have the audacity to talk about welfare claimants, as if all our woes are their fault. They aren’t, the spiteful authoritarian Tories are the problem.

We can’t afford this government, economically, socially, morally or psychologically. Osborne’s austerity message was seriously undermined, and his lies in trying to blame the last government were demonstrated last November when the Office for National Statistics found that the coalition had borrowed £430.072 billion since it took over, whereas the last Labour government managed to borrow just £429.975 billion in 13 years. –  George Osborne Says Britain’s ‘Best Days Lie Ahead’, Ignoring These 6 Graphs 1234134_539964652739734_1075596050_n

Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant memes