Tag: John McDonnell

Labour is preparing for the possibility of a general election because of instability of the Tory government

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Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has sent a letter to the Treasury’s permanent secretary, which shows the Labour party is prepared for a general election and an opportunity to mitigate the damage done by the Conservatives over the last 8 years:

JM letter


 

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

Comradely? Labour leadership says nothing untoward about local parties expressing concern about sitting MPs

On Wednesday I am travelling down to Westminster. I have been invited to attend a meeting chaired by Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. Welfare experts, researchers and campaigners are to contribute to a new drive to expose the mental health impacts and other harms linked with the government’s controversial reforms, such as the Work Capability (WCA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments.

We will also explore and identify the wider impacts of the government’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) policies on the economy and society. 

The Labour party is committed to scrapping the fundamnetally flawed assessments, and have placed equalities at the centre of Labour party economic research through cross-departmental and multi-disciplinary collaboration. A Labour government will also undertake a specific stock-take of welfare policy and benefit sanctions to address the rising number of suicides, which have soared in recent years. The Labour party have said that they will place equalities at the centre of Labour’s economic research through cross-departmental and multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, the shadow chancellor says that he became furious during a Parliamentary debate when he demanded a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative impact of welfare reforms on disabled people and the government refused. He praised the website Calum’s List, which details the cases of at least 60 deaths linked to welfare cuts.

He added: We said to the Government we know now from Calum’s List, listing people from reports in the press and elsewhere of people committing suicide as a result of Government cuts.

We knew the Government were monitoring some coroners’ reports and we wanted them published, [then DWP minister Esther] McVey wouldn’t and I got really angry.”

“Next week, what we are doing is getting a group of campaigning organisations and a group of experts together to talk about the way in which Work Capability Assessments are still having an impact, to try to get to the bottom in terms of mental health and suicide.”

McDonnell added that Labour’s first Queen’s Speech include legislation “making sure we have a welfare and benefit system that lifts people out of poverty”.

He said that his Hayes and Harlington constituency casework now operates an open-door system four days a week due to demand from people hit by government cuts. 

He added: “Helen who runs my office said the casework now is on a scale and a depth of suffering that we’ve never seen before. And this in a constituency with the [Heathrow] airport, high levels of employment but wages not matching the housing costs and the pressure on people working all hours just to keep a roof over their heads.

“If anything goes wrong they fall out of the system. Last month we were dealing with two families living in cars. We also have the ‘beds in sheds’ phenomenon, families living in a shed or garage rented out to them, it’s staggering really.

“Before this last eight years, those sort of horrendous situations would be infrequent but you wouldn’t have someone so heavily sanctioned. The sanctions often impact on people with mental health conditions hardest.”

The Labour party’s track record of inclusion and democratic consultation with disabled citizens and their communities contrasts starkly with the Conservative’s exclusionary ‘we know better than you’ approach to disability policies. The government have imposed cuts on disabled people, acting upon them as if they are objects of policy rather than being citizens within a democracy.  

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizens’ accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

However, in the UK, the way that welfare policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have more generally become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

McDonnell was involved in the setting up of Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC). Furthermore, after a nationwide round of consultations with disabled people about policies which enshrine the Equality and Human Rights acts, led by Debbie Abrahams, the Labour party wrote a manifesto, outlining policies for disabled people, called Nothing about you without you .

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Alex Cunningham, me, Debbie Abrahams and Gail Ward after the Disability Equality Roadshow in December, 2016.

The government have persistently refused to acknowledge that there is a ‘causal link’ between their punitive welfare policy programme – which has seen vulnerable citizens, including many disabled people, lose their lifeline support – and has been correlated with the rise in distress, suicides, harm and premature mortality among ill and disabled people in particular.

The correlation has consistently been recognised by disabled citizens, and evidenced by researchers, charities and disabled peoples’ organisations over the last few years. Although correlation is not the same thing as ‘causation’, it quite often implies a causal relationship. The problem is that the government have simply refused to investigate the established association further, choosing to simply deny the established link exists instead. That is completely unacceptable. 

Without further investigation of the many concerns raised, the government have no evidence whatsoever to verify their own claims of there being ‘no causal link’ precisely because they consistently refuse to conduct an inquiry regarding the established correlation between policies and harm, or to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of those policies. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRPD) says (in article four) that governments must, in implementing the convention, “closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities… through their representative organizations”. It also says (article 33) that “civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully” in monitoring the implementation of the convention in each country. In July, Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, refused to meet a coalition of disabled people’s organisations, in an apparent breach of the UN disability convention.

At the very least, Newton shows no inclination whatsoever to listen to the accounts of the lived experiences of disabled people, nor does she value a democratic dialogue with us. That is profoundly worrying.

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

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

Newton responded by claiming “it’s ‘not true’ that disabled people face a hostile environment.” She also asked the opposition not to say “things” that they “know are not true”. 

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

However, the Conservatives have a track record of denying empirical findings that don’t match their predetermined and ideological expectations. They simply deny and dismiss any criticism of their  discriminatory policies. Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary at the time of the UN inquiry report, famously claimed that cuts to support for disabled people did “not necessarily mean worse outcomes.” That is a bit of a climb down to previous claims from the government that cuts to lifeline support for disabled people ‘help’ them into work by removing the ‘perverse incentives’ of provision. 

In July, in a rather frightening and repressive, authoritarian outburst, Newton went on to claim that the opposition’s comments were “dangerous” and “deter” people who need support from claiming it. However, it is government policies that are dangerous, and that have created a series of ordeals and barriers in the assessment process, designed to weight the assessments towards permitting the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to refuse people support.

Much of Newton’s response to legitimate criticism entails rationalisation techniques that are designed to undermine the credibility of the accounts of others and especially that of the narrator by editing the narrative, and presenting an alternative order of events. More broadly, the right wing media took up this role on behalf of the government, in scapegoating and stigmatising disabled people and others who need social security support, in advance of the welfare reform act. By portraying disabled people as ‘fakes’, ‘scroungers’ and as an ‘economic burden’, this rhetoric was designed to create folk devils, and to justify punitive cuts to ‘undeserving’ disabled people. 

Image result for negative media portrayals of disabled people

Image result for negative media portrayals of disabled people

Many of us have been through the ordeals that claiming ESA entails and then faced further ordeals confronting mandatory reconsideration and appeal.Many of us have been deterred from claiming PIP. That was my own experience too. Despite needing PIP from 2011, I couldn’t face claiming PIP until I really had to. I put it off for seven years because my experience of the ESA assessments was so horrible and distressing, it made me seriously ill, because the stress exacerbated my symptoms. (I have lupus).  My local authority supported me with the claim when they provided aids and adaptations to help my mobility in my home.

Conservative ministers conveniently overlook the fact that many disabled people have worked and contributed to the UK’s  social security provision via tax and through the national insurance system. I worked for many years until I became too ill to do so in 2010. 

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

Newton even had the cheek to cite Labour’s Equality Act as a ‘protection’ for disabled people, as if it was the Conservatives who designed this policy. This is same Act that the government has violated over and over because of their welfare ‘reforms’ and austerity programme. This protection was brought about by the last Labour government, which also included the Human Rights Act, and signing the UK up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – an international human rights treaty intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

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

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

Newton also shamefully suggested people losing their motability cars, scooters and wheelchairs should complain to the Motability charity – not the government. It’s not the charity that are creating a hostile environment for disabled people, carrying out assessments that are absolutely unfit for purpose. It is not the charity’s fault that assessments are inaccurate and designed to ensure as few people as possible are given a full PIP award.

This is a repressive, opaque, unaccountable and profoundly undemocratic government that simply refuse to accept any responsibility for the consequences of their own actions.

If the government genuinely believed that there is no causal link whatsoever between their cuts, extremely punitive policies and the distress, harm, increased suicide rate and deaths of disabled people, surely the way to provide evidence of their claim is to permit an independent investigation, and to undertake a thorough cumulative assessment of their policies.

Instead, it seems blunt denials and techniques of neutralisation are the government’s prefered response to legitimate criticism and serious concerns regarding the welfare and wellbeing of disabled people in the UK. 

Techniques of neutralisation: 

These are strategies often used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others. They most often entail rationalisations of denial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government.

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

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

I’m not comparing what is happening to disabled people in the UK with the Holocaust, though it is worth noting that disabled people were among the first group that were murdered by the Nazis. What I am saying is the techniques used to exclude, and to normalise the political oppression of a group, are the same. They are also used as a form of ‘norm default setting’ to desenisitise the public to the circumstances and experiences of groups being politically targeted with discriminatory and oppressive treatment. 

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

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Suicide is a complex issue and our sympathies are always with those left behind, but it’s misleading to link it to welfare reforms.

“We continually review and make improvements where needed, for example strengthening the Work Capability Assessment service by stopping reassessments for those with the most severe and lifelong conditions, and introducing video recording in PiP assessments.

 “We are committed to ensuring people get the support they need, and to improving lives. Decisions for PiP and ESA are made following consideration of all the evidence, including from someone’s doctor or medical specialist. Meanwhile sanctions are only applied in a small minority of cases when someone fails to meet their agreed requirements.”

Earlier this week the government stressed that it was committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they need. 

We don’t agree.

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

 


 

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Neoliberalism has failed: Labour’s ideas are the new mainstream – John McDonnell

One of Corbyn’s most important achievements is in extending national debate beyond the limits of neoliberal ideology and challenging the hegemony imposed by Margaret Thatcher. The sell by date of neoliberal dogma was last century, it ought to have expired in Pinochet’s Chile. Yet the Tories continue to flog a dead horse, selling England by the pound, while selling the public very short indeed.

The Tories have frequently shrieked, with vindictive and borderline hysterical relish, that Labour’s pro-social economic policies reflect “fiscal irresponsibility”, but that doesn’t resonate with the government’s calamitous economic record over the past seven years. Nor does it fit with historic facts and empirical accuracy. 

The Labour party were in power when the global crash happened. The recession in 2007/8 in the UK was not one that happened as a direct consequence of Labour’s policies. The seeds of The Great Recession were sown in the 80s and 90s. The global crisis of 2008 was the result of the financialization process: of the massive creation of fictitious financial capital and the hegemony of a reactionary ideology, neoliberalism, which is based on the fatally flawed assumption that markets and humans are self-regulating and efficient. 

The New Right argued that competition and unrestrained selfishness was of benefit to the whole society in capitalist societies. It asserted that as a nation gets wealthier the wealth will “trickle down” to the poorest citizens, because it is invested and spent thereby creating jobs and prosperity. In fact the global financial crisis has demonstrated only too well that financial markets provide opportunities for investment that extend relatively few extra jobs and that feed a precarious type of prosperity that can be obliterated in just a matter of days. 

Labour’s second State of the Economy conference returned to Imperial College in London over the weekend. It confirmed that it is the ideas of the left that are now making the running. Eminent academic economists joined with council and business leaders, and hundreds of ordinary activists to debate and discuss how we can create the economic alternative that is now so urgently needed.

The Labour party has called out the accounting profession, pledging to eradicate poor practices following high-profile corporate collapses. John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, said on Saturday that the collapse of Carillion and a subsequent MP-led investigation into the outsourcing company’s demise had highlighted the “catastrophic failure and inadequacy” of the UK’s regulatory regime, as well as shortcomings in the audit market.

McDonnell said Labour had commissioned an independent review of how Britain’s audit market operates, including how it is policed by regulators. The review will be led by Prem Sikka, a professor of accounting at the University of Sheffield and an outspoken critic of the Big Four audit firms: PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY.

The review will examine whether existing regulatory bodies should be merged, abolished or restructured, and will consider the appropriate level of fines for accounting firms when misconduct is exposed. McDonnell said Carillion’s collapse demonstrated that the accounting and pensions regulators “have once more failed to do their jobs” and that “accountants and auditors seem to operate with impunity whilst lining their pockets”. 

McDonnell said “The lack of openness, transparency and accountability means nobody ever seems to be punished for their transgressions,” he said. “We have seen it all before. We still await proper investigation of the accounting and auditing shortcomings which led to the banking crash ten years ago.”

The independent review will also focus on the fact that the financial sector has at least 29 overlapping regulators. “This regulatory maze creates enormous opportunities for waste, duplication, obfuscation and buck-passing,” McDonnell said.

“It does not protect consumers or promote confidence. “We need a complete overhaul of the entire regulatory framework for finance and business, to promote openness, transparency, accountability and — where necessary — to impose appropriate punishments,” he added. “There will be no more Carillion scandals on Labour’s watch.”

McDonnell went on to say: “The tide of history has turned against the old neoliberal way of thinking. These ideas – Labour’s ideas – are becoming the new mainstream. Put into place, the next Labour government will build an economy for the many, not the few.”

Just this week, East Coast Mainline was taken out franchising for the third time, and the Treasury Select Committee condemned the directors of Carillion for “stuffing their mouths with gold” whilst the company collapsed. Both are damning examples of how the belief in government that markets and privatisation are the best way to organise society – the ideas of neoliberalism – have failed all but a very few at the top.

Too many governments, influenced by neoliberalism, have viewed effective corporate regulation as a barrier to prosperity, not an essential support. The result is a regulatory system that is not fit for purpose. The financial sector alone has at least 29 overlapping regulators, including the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The four big accountancy firms dominate the market and operate seemingly with impunity, as the collapse of Carillion demonstrated. Whether their clients win or lose, the big four always seem to ensure they themselves make a profit.

People are sick of losing their jobs, their pensions and their shareholding from corporate failures, but watching the culprits keep their large pay offs, pension pots and bonuses.  So I have asked Professor Prem Sikka to examine our regulatory system and bring forward proposals for reform to reinvigorate it.

Labour’s core economic objective is to create a prosperous economy that provides the richest quality of life possible for all our people, with its wealth produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. That means demonstrating how we can create the wealth needed to support this society in the new era of the fourth industrial revolution. And it means showing how we can confront the urgent, existential threat of climate change.

We need to secure major institutional changes to deliver the long-term, patient investment needed in new technologies, which is why Labour will create a National Investment Bank and transform our financial system, ending the excessive focus on short-term gains.

But it also means showing how that wealth can be fairly and sustainable shared. Our structural reforms are aimed at securing what Tony Benn described as an “irreversible shift in wealth and power in favour of working people”.

So we will democratise our economy at every level, massively scaling up the co-operative sector and introducing a “Right to Own” for workers when their companies are up for sale or threatened with takeover. It will require corporate governance reform, giving workers representation on company boards. We will restore trade union rights at work, and are exploring examples of legislation used elsewhere to enable profit sharing and share distribution. The wealth that our society produces includes the data we generate, and Labour will be exploring over the coming months ways in which that wealth can be put back into the hands of those who produce and use it.

Above all, it means improving the quality of people’s lives – not just in improving pay and giving people secure jobs, but in the human quality of people’s relationships and their free time.

We should work to live, not live to work, but under neoliberalism in Britain we seem to have got things the other way round. We work some of the longest hours in Europe to compensate for low investment and low productivity. A British worker produces in five days what a French or German worker produces in four.

As we invest and improve productivity we should look again at how we can reduce working hours, giving people more time for leisure and family life. The great promise of automation and the fourth industrial revolution is that we can liberate people from drudgery at work. But that will not happen without a government committed to making it happen, and able to assess its progress not only against the usual measures of success like GDP, but on metrics that show meaningful impacts for people – like real wages and inequality, and environmental protection, as the Institute for Public Policy Research has recommended.

The tide of history has turned against the old neoliberal way of thinking. These ideas – Labour’s ideas – are becoming the new mainstream. Put into place, the next Labour government will build an economy for the many, not the few.”

John McDonnell is Shadow Chancellor and MP for Hayes and Harlington

Related

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest success is the discrediting of neoliberalism

Neoliberalism and corruption: hidden in plain sight

Neoliberalism, PR and spinning inverted totalitarianism

 


 

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

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Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest success is the discrediting of neoliberalism

Jeremy Corbyn Labour conference speech in full (2017)

One of Corbyn’s most important achievements is in extending national debate beyond the limits of neoliberal ideology and challenging the hegemony imposed by Margaret Thatcher. The sell by date was last century, it expired in Pinochet’s Chile. Yet the Tories continue to flog a dead horse, selling England by the pound, while selling the public very short indeed.

The Tories have frequently shrieked, with vindictive and borderline hysterical relish, that Labour’s pro-social economic policies reflect “fiscal irresponsibility”, but that doesn’t resonate with the government’s calamitous economic record over the past seven years. Nor does it fit with historic facts and accuracy. 

The Labour party were in power when the global crash happened. The recession in 2007/8 in the UK was not one that happened as a direct consequence of Labour’s policies. The seeds of The Great Recession were sown in the 80s and 90s. The global crisis of 2008 was the result of the financialization process: of the massive creation of fictitious financial capital and the hegemony of a reactionary ideology, neoliberalism, which is based on the assumption that markets are self-regulating and efficient. 

The New Right argued that competition and unrestrained selfishness was of benefit to the whole society in capitalist societies. It asserted that as a nation gets wealthier the wealth will “trickle down” to the poorest citizens, because it is invested and spent thereby creating jobs and prosperity. In fact the global financial crisis has demonstrated only too well that financial markets provide opportunities for investment that extend relatively few extra jobs and that feed a precarious type of prosperity that can be obliterated in just a matter of days. 

Neoliberalism: the social sins and economic incompetence of the New Right

The financial deregulation promoted by the New Right permitted the financial institutions to dictate government policy and allowed wealth to be channelled into speculative investments, exacerbating the volatility of share and housing markets. Neoliberal theories were embraced and cherished by big business because they provided a legitimation for their pursuit of self-interest, personal profit and ample avenues for business expansion.  

Private companies supported the argument that government regulation interfered with business and undermined “enterprise culture”.  In this view, government intervention in the management of the economy is unnecessary and unwise because the market is a “self-correcting” mechanism. There was also certain appeal in free market ideology for governments too, in that it absolved them of responsibility for economic performance and living standards of the population. Government functions were and continue to be consigned to profit-seeking private companies,.

The New Right advocated policies that aided the accumulation of profits and wealth in fewer hands with the argument that it would promote investment, thereby creating more jobs and more prosperity for all. As neoliberal policies were implemented around the world inequalities in wealth and income increased, there were health inequalities and poverty increased, contradicting neoliberal theories that by increasing the wealth at the top, everyone would become more affluent. Public funds were simply funnelled away into private hands.

Neoliberal politics were shaped by the decisions and policy activities of Reagan and Thatcher, the architects of deregulation, privatisation, competition, the somewhat mysterious “market forces”, reduced public spending, austerity and trickle-down economics.

The changes pushed through in the US and the UK in the 80s removed constraints on bankers, made finance more important at the expense of manufacturing and reduced the power of unions, making it difficult for employees to secure as big a share of the national economic wealth as they had in previous decades.

The flipside of rising corporate profits and higher rewards for the top 1% of earners was stagnating wages for ordinary citizens, and of course a higher propensity to get into debt.

The Conservatives have a historical record of economic incompetence, and of ignoring empirical evidence that runs counter to their ideological stance. Margaret Thatcher’s failed neoliberal experiment resulted in a crashed economy in 1980-1, which had devastating consequences for communities and many individuals.

Neoliberalism gives economic goals and profiteering an elevated priority over social goals. Many of the social gains made as a result of our post-war settlement have been unravelled since the 1980s, and this process accelerated from 2010, under the guise of austerity.  Rather than arising as a response to an economic need, austerity is central to neoliberal economic strategy. 

While free market advocates claim that neoliberalism promotes a democratic, minimal state, in practice, the neoliberal state has consistently demonstrated quite the opposite tendency, requiring authoritarianism and extensive, all pervasive ideological apparatus to implement an anti-social economic doctrine. As David Harvey says in A Brief History of Neoliberalismthe neoliberals’ economic ideals suffer from inevitable contradictions that require a state structure to regulate them.

If the citzens were free to make decisions about their own lives democratically, perhaps the first thing they would choose to undertake is interference with the property rights of the ruling elite, therefore posing an existential threat to the neoliberal experiment. Whether these popular aspirations take the form of drives towards  progressive taxation, unionisation or pushing for social policies that require the redistribution of resources, the “minimal state” cannot be so minimal that it is unable to respond to and crush the democratic demands of citizens. 

Any state method that seeks to subvert the democratic demands of citizens, whether it’s through force, coercion, ideology and propaganda or social engineering, is authoritarian.

Following Thatcher’s reluctant but necessary resignation, John Major’s government became responsible for British exit from the ERM after Black Wednesday on 16 September 1992. This led to a loss of confidence in Conservative economic policies and Major was never able to achieve a lead in opinion polls again. The disaster of Black Wednesday left the government’s economic credibility irreparably damaged. It’s a pity that the public tend to forget such historical facts subsequently, at election time.

The abiding consequences of Thatcher’s domestic policies from the 1980s and her policy template and legacy set in motion the fallout from the global neoliberal crisis. We are witnessing the terrible social costs of the current government’s perpetual attempts to fix the terminal problems of neoliberalism with more neoliberalism. 

Under the fraying blue banner, the public are now seeing the incongruence between political narrative and reality; there’s an irreconcilable gap between their own lived experiences of neoliberal policies, and what the government are telling them their experiences are.  

“Ten years after the global financial crash the Tories still believe in the same dogmatic mantra – deregulate, privatize, cut taxes for the wealthy, weaken rights at work, delivering profits for a few, and debt for the many.

[…] We are now the political mainstream. Our manifesto and our policies are popular because that is what most people in our country actually want, not what they’re told they should want.” Jeremy Corbyn.

What is the point of a socioeconomic system that benefits only a minority proportion of citizens? It hardly reflects a functioning democracy.  

Ideology is a linked set of ideas and beliefs that act to uphold and justify an existing or desired arrangement of power, authority, wealth and status in a society. Ideological hegemony arises where a particular ideology, such as neoliberalism, is pervasively reflected throughout a society in all principal social institutions and permeates cultural ideas and social relationships. It’s very difficult to “stand outside” of such a system of belief to challenge it, because it has become normalised, taking on the mantle of “common sense”.

Corbyn has talked about forging a “new common sense” during the Conference season. It’s one that has increasingly resonated with the wider public. If there were a general election tomorrow, Labour would win comfortably. In Jeremy Corbyn’s own words, “a new consensus is emerging.” 

However, neoliberal policies are insidious machinations controlled by the capitalist ruling class, in the context of a historic class struggle, to repress, exploit, extort and subjugate the ruled class. One of the key conditions for this to work is public compliance. Such compliance is garnered through an increasingly authoritarian and repressive state.

Of course, as previous discussed, this is one of the biggest inherent ideologic contradictions within neoliberalism: it demands a lean and small state, austerity, and the dismantling of support mechanisms that ensure the quality of life for all citizens, on the one hand, but requires an authoritarian state that is focussed primarily on public conformity and compliance in order to impose a mode of socioeconomic organisation that benefits so few, and lowers the standard of living for so many.

Neoliberalism was never the way forward: it only went backwards

Conservatives would be better named “Regressives”. They’re elitist and really are nasty authoritarians, who have chosen to impose a socioeconomic model that fails most people, destroys all of our public services, extends exploitation of labour, creates massive inequality and absolute poverty, damages the environment, eats away at public funds while shifting them to private bank accounts. Then the need exists to manufacture political justification narratives to cover the devastating social damage inficted, which stigmatises and blames everyone who is failed by this failing system for being failed.

If the public had known all along what neoliberalism really is, and what its consequences are, they would never have wanted it. People are dying and other people are buying the planned and prepared bent rationale and political denials.

Apparently, there is “no causal link between punitive “behavioural change” policies and distress”, apparently. Examples of hardship, harm, suicide and death are simply “anecdotal”. Critics of policies and government decision-making are “scaremongering”, “extremists”, “enemies of the state”,  “deluded commies” and so on. Yet most of us are simply advicates of social democracy and justice. 

If you ever wondered how genocide happens, and how a nation come to somehow accept the terrible deeds of despots, well it starts much like this. It unfolds in barely perceptible stages: it starts with prejudiced language, divisive narratives, the promotion of the work ethic, exclusion, media propaganda, widening political prejudice, scapegoating, outgrouping and stigmatisation, acts of violence, and then extermination.

Our moral boundaries are being pushed incrementally. Before you know it, you hate the “workshy”, you believe that disabled people are shirkers who place an unacceptable burden on the state, you see all refugees and migrants as potential thieves, fraudsters and terrorists, and poor people are simply choosing the easy option. When political role models permit the public to hate, directing anger and fear at marginalised social grups, it isn’t long before the once unacceptable becomes thinkable.

The public conforms to changing norms. We become habituated. It’s difficult to believe a state may intentionally inflict harm on citizens. Our own government is guilty of “grave and systematic” abuses of the human rights of disabled people. A government capable of targeting such punitive policies at disabled people is capable of anything.

Conservatives think that civilised society requires imposed order, top down control and clearly defined classes, with each person aware of their rigidly defined “place” in the social order. Conservatism is a gate-keeping exercise geared towards economic discrimination and preventing social mobility for the vast majority.

David Cameron’s Conservative party got into Office by riding on the shockwaves of the 2008 global banking crisis: by sheer opportunism, dishonesty and by extensively editing the narrative about cause of that crisis. The Conservatives shamefully blamed it on “the big state” and “too much state spending.”

They have raided and devastated the public services and social security that citizens have paid for via taxes and national insurance. Support provision for citizens has been cut to the bone. And then unforgivably, they blamed the victims of those savage, ideologically-directed cuts for the suffering imposed on them by the Conservative Party, using the media to amplify their despicable, vicious scapegoating narratives. 

Setting up competition between social groups for resources just means everyone loses except for the very wealthy and powerful. This last 7 years we have witnessed the dehumanisation of refugees and migrants, of disabled people, of unemployed people, of young people, of the elderly and those on low pay. We have also witnessed the unearned contempt for and subsequent deprofessionalisation of doctors, economists, social scientists, academics, teachers, and experts of every hue in order to silence valid and democratic challenges and criticism of destructive government policies and ideology.

Many of us have pointed out that intent behind austerity has nothing to do with economic necessity, nor is it of any benefit to the economy. It’s simply to redistribute public wealth to private (and often offshore) bank accounts. The many deaths correlated with the Conservative’s punitive policies were considered and dismissed as acceptable “collateral damage”. The government constructed a lie about the economic “need” for people “living within our means” but at the same time as imposing cruel cuts on the poorest citizens, George Osborne awarded an obscene handout in the form of a tax cut of £107, 000 each per year to the millionaires.

Neoliberalism has transformed public funds into the disposible income of the very rich. Disabled people are suffering, and some are dying in poverty, unable to meet their basic needs so that wealthy people can hoard a little more wealth. Since 2010, very wealthy people have enjoyed other fiscally rewarding policy whilst the poorest have endured harsh austerity and seen their living standards deteriorate steadily. We have witnessed the return of absolute poverty – where people cannot meet the costs of their basic survival needs, such as for food, fuel and shelter –  as a direct consequence of the diminished welfare state since 2010. 

The current political and cultural narrative was carefully constructed to hide the truth from the wider population, ensuring that responsibility for individual people’s circumstances was relocated from the state to within those harmed by state actions: those ministers doing the harming via policies simply deny any empirical evidence of harm that they are presented, often clinging to psychological explanations of “mental illness” rather than acknowledging the wider role of adverse socioeconomic circumstances and political decision-making in the increasing number of people ending their own life, for example. Cases are despicably and callously dismissed as mere “anecdotal” accounts.

The harm being inflicted on disabled people in order to snatch back their lifeline support cannot be passed off as being the “unintentional consequences” of policies. The government clearly knew in advance what harm such draconian policies would result in. I say this because the evidence is that planning and preparation went into a comprehensive programme of reducing living conditions, public expectation, civil liberties and human rights. Or at least ignoring human rights legal frameworks. The right to redress and remedy has also been removed.

For example, the withdrawing of legal aid – particularly for welfare and medical negligence cases – preparing in advance for a UN inquiry; the political use of denial, behaviourism and pseudoscience to stifle public criticism; the introduction of mandatory reviews to deter appeals for wrongful Department for Work and Pesions (DWP) decisions; the devastating cuts to every support available to the poorest; the deprofessionalising of GPs and medical professionals; the claims that work is the only route out of poverty (when wages are intentionally depressed and many working people live in poverty) despite, evidence to the contrary, and our national insurance and tax system; the framework of psychological and material coercion inflicted on people claiming any form of welfare, forcing them to accept ANY work, thus pushing wages down further, since that completely removes any chance of wage bargaining; further destroying the unions; the passing of controversial and harmful policies by using statutory instruments, which reduces scope for scrutiny and objection in parliament; re-writing policies, legal rulings and changing the law to accommodate Conservative ideological criteria; shaping media “striver/scrounger” narratives and so on – all of these political deeds indicate a government that was well aware of the harmful consequences of their policies in advance of passing them into law, and that planned ahead, taking measures to stifle the potential for a public backlash.

Jeremy Corbyn’s apparently ‘improbable’ success in promoting a politics of social democracy, justice and integrity has matured, and realigned its centre with national sentiment. The Labour party have succeeded in breaking the neoliberal grip on intellectual thought in the UK, at last.

“For a long period of time, all economic thought has been dominated by trickle down economics, where if you issue tax cuts to corporations and the rich, the money will somehow filter down the rest of society,” John McDonnell says. 

“Well that’s significantly been proven wrong in this recent political debate, and we can see it, whether it’s people queuing up at food banks, housing shortages, millions of children living in poverty, two thirds of those families with someone in work. People all around are realising that this economic theory has failed, and what we’re trying to do is offer them an alternative. That’s what our manifesto was all about.”

A paradigm change is long overdue – by which I mean a substantial shift in the accepted way of thinking about the economy.  It may well be imminent. 

By the end of the second world war, the Keynesian revolution was sufficiently advanced for the Labour party to offer a comprehensive new approach to economic policymaking. Similarly, in 1979, the Conservative party was able to present the main elements of neoliberal thinking as the solution to the economic problems that blighted the economy in the 1970s. Up until recently, there was nothing comparable for the opponents of neoliberalism to latch on to.

New Labour continued with the neoliberal project, though they did temper this with a focus on ensuring adequate social provision to mitigate the worst ravages of untrammelled free market capitalism.

May recently felt the need to defend free market capitalism itself, which is a measure of how terrified the Tories are by Labour’s rise. yet the Conservative manifesto had drawn on left wing rhetoric, in order to appeal. It didn’t, however, because no-one believes the Conservatives’ “progressive” claims any more.

Laughably, the Conservative manifesto claimed: “We do not believe in untrammeled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality.”

It’s a pretty desperate improvisation by the Tories as they try to respond to angry citizens and mass concerns about social issues like inequality and growing poverty. However, the Conservatives have never been a “savior” of the working people, as their dismantling of Trade Union power demonstrates all too well. The Tories’ savage cuts to spending on public services belied May’s phoney redistributionist rhetoric. May’s hysterical left-wing posturing against the inequality and social division created by Conservatives has simply confirmed that the Anglo-American neoliberal revolution of the 1980s is over.

Corbyn’s Labour party has built a consensus for change. Such change is essential to ensure that the toothmarks of necessity – the bite of absolute poverty, and the social disarray caused by over 35 years of culminating neoliberalism – are eased, soothed and healed in much the same way that the post-war Keynesian consensus era – which brought with it legal aid, social housing, the NHS and welfare – healed our society following the devastating consequences of a world war. 

McDonnell has also articulated his vision for what he terms a “political renaissance”, where people aren’t limited by existing ideas and structures and have the space to come up with ideas that the party can debate and discuss. This is participatory politics and democracy in action. 

He says: “We’re trying to open up every avenue we possibly can for people to get engaged. It’s about asking people what are you interested in, how do you think it works better, what ideas have you got? It just overcomes some of the staleness we might have had in past years.”

This is a welcomed, long overdue and such a refreshing contrast to Conservatism, which is defined by its opposition to social progressivism. Neoliberals have tried to persuade us that there is no alternative to neoliberalism. They lied. A lot. Now they are dazed and confused because the establishment were so certain that Corbyn’s rise wasn’t supposed to happen. It couldn’t, the media informed us. Over and over.

But it has. It was inevitable. The Labour party had an ace up their sleeve: public interest and democratic accountability. Two sides of the same card.

It’s about time someone lit the way for us, enabling us to find the way out of the dark neoliberal torture dungeon. And once we’ve escaped, we really ought to jail our jailers.

At the very least, neoliberalism should be confined to the dustbin of history.

Looney Tunes.
Illustration by Andrew Rae

 

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Tory MP says PIP should only go to ‘really disabled’ people, not those with anxiety ‘taking pills at home’

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George Freeman, MP for Norfolk and chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board, has defended the government’s decision to subvert the judicial system, by disregarding the rulings of two independent tribunals concerning Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for disabled people.

In an interview on Pienaar’s Politics, on BBC 5 Live, Freeman said: 

“These tweaks [new regulations to cut PIP eligibility] are actually about rolling back some bizarre decisions by tribunals that now mean benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety”.

He claimed that the “bizarre” upper tribunal rulings meant that “claimants with psychological problems, who are unable to travel without help, should be treated in a similar way to those who are blind.”

He said: “We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it.”

He added that both he and the Prime Minister “totally” understood anxiety, and went on to say: “We’ve set out in the mental health strategy how seriously we take it.” 

He said: “Personal Independence Payments reforms were needed to roll back the bizarre decisions of tribunals.” 

Freeman’s controversial comments about people with anxiety “at home taking pills” implies that those with mental health problems are faking their disability. He trivialises the often wide-ranging disabling consequences of mental ill health, and clearly implies that he regards mental illnesses as somehow not “real” disabilities.

His comments contradict the government’s pledge to ensure that mental health and physical health are given a parity of esteem, just months after the Prime Minister pledged to take action to tackle the stigma around mental health problems. 

Yet people with the following mental health conditions are likely to be affected by the reversal of the Independent Tribunal’s ruling on PIP mobility awards – those in particular who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone:

Mood disorders – Other / type not known, Psychotic disorders – Other / type not known, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Phobia – Social Panic disorder, Learning disability – Other / type not known, Generalized anxiety disorder, Agoraphobia, Alcohol misuse, Anxiety and depressive disorders – mixed Anxiety disorders – Other / type not known, Autism, Bipolar affective disorder (Hypomania / Mania), Cognitive disorder due to stroke, Cognitive disorders – Other / type not known, Dementia, Depressive disorder, Drug misuse, Stress reaction disorders – Other / type not known, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobia – Specific Personality disorder, Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Note that some of the listed conditions have known physiological causes, too, such as “Cognitive disorder due to stroke”, whereas Agoraphobia, “Stress reaction disorders”, PTDS, some anxiety and depressive disorders, substance use and PTDS, for example, most often arise because of context, circumstances, events and  experiences, whilst the aetiology of some of the other listed conditions is not yet clearly understood by medical experts.

Regardless of the cause of an illness, it is not possible or appropriate to use constructed and arbitrary taxonomies and hierarchical ranks of disability to decide in advance of an assessment how those conditions negatively impact on disabled people’s capacity to live their lives, to perform tasks, their dignity, social inclusion and independence. Freeman’s generalisation was therefore completely inappropriate.

Freeman’s comments signposted the Conservative’s “deserving” and “undeserving” narrative, implying that some disabled people are faking their illnesses. However, disabled people do not “cheat” the social security system: the system has been redesigned by the government to cheat disabled people.

Criticism

Despite some scathing comments and challenges from the opposition, Freeman maintains: “My point was that these PIP reforms are partly about rolling back some frankly bizarre decisions in tribunals which have seen money that should go to the most disabled spent on people with really much less urgent conditions.”

The chief executive of Scope, Mark Atkinson. said: “It is unhelpful to make crude distinctions between those with physical impairments and mental health issues because the kind of impairment someone has is not a good indicator of the costs they will face.

Many disabled people will be now be anxiously waiting to hear as to whether or not these tighter rules will affect their current PIP award.

The government must offer clarity and reassurance that these new measures will not negatively affect the financial support that disabled people receive now or in the future, and that they stand by their commitment to making no further changes to disability benefits in this Parliament.”

Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has also responded to the comments by Freeman. She said:

“Mr Freeman must immediately apologise for the comments he made regarding sick and disabled people.

Freeman dismissed the needs of people with mental health conditions saying support should go to “really disabled people” rather than those who are “taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.

Not only does this fly in the face of the commitment to ‘parity of esteem’ for people with mental health conditions, but it directly contradicts Theresa May’s comments on mental health and two recent tribunal judgements.”

The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has called on Philip Hammond not to go ahead with the £3.7bn worth of cuts to PIP which will hit 160,000 disabled people.

The announcement about the two controversial regulations to be imposed without any parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and without any democratic dialogue with disabled people, was sneaked out last week by the government. It will mean 160,000 disabled people are likely to see a loss in their income as a direct effect of the changes made by the government to how PIP is awarded.

 McDonnell said

“Theresa May has used the cover of the by-elections to sneak out this announcement hurting so many vulnerable disabled people.

His is a return to the worst politics of spin that so tarnished our politics for so long. It is an act of immense bad faith. She is degrading politics and demeaning the role of Prime Minister.

Next week the Tories will make out that the economy and the public finances are doing better, however, they are planning to go ahead with a £3.7 billion cut to the disabled.

This time last year when the economy and public finances were not doing as well, and the then Chancellor George Osborne tried to cut PIP, Labour stopped him. And in his u-turn he claimed that he could “absorb” the cost of reversing this cut.

Hammond can’t hide from these PIP cuts in his Budget. He needs to explain why he can’t absorb them like his predecessor while he is still going ahead with tax giveaways to the very wealthiest in our country.”

But cutting PIP may cost more than it will save. 

PIP is an in-work benefit as well as being accessible to disabled people out of work. Cutting PIP will invariably mean that some disabled people can no longer remain sufficiently independent to work. Many have lost their higher mobility rate component when they were reassessed for PIP after claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and as a consequence, have lost their motability vehicles – which includes wheelchairs as well as specially adapted cars –  leaving many completely housebound and unable to work. 

The Conservative claim that “the government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, given the Conservative’s policy record, including cruelly scrapping the Independent Living Fund, which has had a hugely negative impact on those trying their best to lead independent and dignified lives, and the Access To Work funding has been severely cut, this is also a fund that helps people and employers to cover the extra living costs arising due to disabilities that might present barriers to work.

The mental-physical illness distinction is a false dichotomy

It’s not appropriate to dichotomise mental and physical illness, as they are not clearly distinct. Most people would probably recognise that trauma, anxiety and stress can exacerbate illnesses that have a clear physiological basis. However, illnesses that have clearly defined “physical” symptoms can often also cause mental illness. Depression resulting from dealing with chronic pain and adapting to progressive illness and increasing disability is one example of the overlap between the physical and mental dimensions of illness.

I have lupus, which is an autoimmune illness that potentially progressively damages the joints, tendons, muscles, nerves, skin, eyes, blood cells, capacity to fight infections, heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach and liver. And the brain.

Most people with lupus complain of severe headaches, cognitive dysfunction, short-term memory loss and often, coordination difficulties. However, some suffer from depression and anxiety as a direct consequence of inflammatory changes in the brain, and some people also experience mood disorders.  Other forms of neuropsychiatric lupus include psychosis, seizures, stroke and vascular dementia, chorea and cerebrovascular disease. There is often no clear boundary between the mental and physical symptoms of illness.

Health and wellbeing have socioeconomic determinants

Another important consideration is the context in which people live, this also has a significant impact on health and wellbeing. There is an extremely unequal distribution of power and wealth in the UK. There are also corresponding unequal distributions of opportunity, health and psychological wellbeing, inclusion, human rights and citizen freedoms more generally, such as freedom of choice and participation in democracy.

Precarity and anxiety directed by the state through targeted and discriminatory policies at the poorest citizens mediates and maintains a repressive state–citizen power relationship.

There is also an emerging and clear “cognitive” hierarchy: those in positions of power are formulating policies that are premised on a fundamental assumption that poverty happens because of something that poor people don’t do, or that they do “wrong”, and this happens because of cognitive errors and  “wrong” behaviours and attitudes. The assumption, of course, is that the policy decision-makers are more cognitively and behaviourally competent than those they are “nudging” to change their thinking and behaviour.

However, we know that an economic system founded on mythical “market forces, an even more mythical meritocracy – amongst other just-world fallacies – and competitive individualism, which sets citizen groups fighting for increasingly scarce resources, creates just a few “winners”(around 1%) and many more who are dispossessed (99%). 

Policies controversially aimed at “correcting behaviours” are increasingly punitive (benefit sanctions, increased welfare conditionality generally and restrictions on child tax credits are examples of the government’s behaviourist approach) that draw on psychosocial dynamics – imported from techniques of persuasion at the low end of the advertising industry – build and reproduce socioeconomic hierarchies, not only materially, but through dominant discursive practices, and also through inflicting precarity and perpetual anxiety on those people who have the least share of national wealth. 

It’s remarkable that a government that claims “work is beneficial to health” also fail to recognise the impact of neoliberal socioeconomic organisation, prejudiced political narratives and draconian policies, the relationship between growing inequality and increasing poverty, and how this toxic context has a detrimental effect on people’s physical health and psychological wellbeing.

The Conservatives are so busy diverting public attention, and pointing out what they think those people who need mitigation from the worst ravages of neoliberalism are “doing wrong”, they fail to recognise and acknowledge what it is that the government is doing wrong.

When people are attacked, oppressed and controlled psychologically by a so-called democratic government that embeds punishment at the heart of public policies to target the poorest citizens, it’s hardly surprising they become increasingly ill.

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I wrote a longer article about this for Scisco Media, which can be read here: Social security has been redesigned to cheat disabled people

 


 

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Basic Income Guarantee gains popularity across the political spectrum

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Basic income (which is sometimes called “citizen’s income” or “universal income”) is the idea that absolute poverty can be alleviated by providing every member of a society with an unconditional subsistence income. Supporters of basic income argue that it would alleviate absolute poverty and would also motivate people to work because they would always better off, as work-related income would be additional to their subsistence income. 

Earlier this year I wrote  about the Labour Party’s consideration of the universal basic income as a part of its new policy, during their talk at the London School of Economics. John McDonnell said: “It’s an idea we want to look at. Child benefit was a form of basic income so it’s not something that I would rule out.”

At the very least, this indicates the idea of universal provision has regained some credence in the face of a longstanding and seemingly unchallengeable political norm of increasing means-testing and welfare conditionality, established by the Thatcher adminstration, and radically extended by the current government.

Although basic income is a feature in many proposed models of market socialism, and has been particularly popular with the Green Party, support for basic income has also been expressed by several people associated with right-wing political views. While adherents of such views generally favour minimization or abolition of the public provision of welfare services, some have cited basic income as a viable strategy to reduce the amount of bureaucratic administration that is prevalent in many contemporary welfare systems. Others have contended that it could also act as a form of compensation for fiat currency inflation

Though the details vary, the basic income model has been advocated by  Right-wing thinkers such as Charles Murray, Milton Friedman and the Adam Smith Institute, amongst others. Libertarians who object to income redistribution in principle usually concede that a Negative Income Tax is the least controversial form of welfare, because it is administratively simple and “perverts incentives” less than most welfare schemes. It is particularly appealing to many liberals and libertarians because it is unpaternalistic – it’s highly compatible with laissez faire and neoliberal economic models. However, the current government are libertarian paternalists, blending a small state ideology with a psychocratic approach to governing, using behavioural change techniques (Nudge) to fulfil ideologically-driven policy outcomes.

Last year, the Citizen’s Income Trust (CIT), which has given advice to the Green Party and often cited by the Greens, has modelled the party’s scheme and discovered a major design flaw. It was revealed that that 35.15% of households would lose money, with many of the biggest losers among the poorest households. At the time, Malcolm Torry, director of the CIT, which is a small charitable research body, said: “I am not sure the Green party has yet taken on our new research or the need to retain a means-tested element. We have only just published the new work.”

The criticisms of the scheme, as well as doubts about costings, led the Greens to make a temporary tactical retreat on the issue, with the party’s leader, Natalie Bennett, saying detailed costings for the policy would not be available in the manifesto last March. The Greens had proposed a citizen’s income of around £72 to every adult in Britain regardless of wealth and existing income, which would cost the Treasury around £280bn.

One longstanding criticism of basic income is that it would provide  payments to citizens that are already very wealthy, perpetuating social inequality, and wasting resources. Another is that it does not take into account the long-term impacts and provide adequate support for those who cannot work, such as those who are ill and disabled. Such detail matters very much, and we must not allow basic income to be used as an excuse for dismantling essential welfare support for social groups that need long-term aid to survive.

The CIT added that if the policy was applied without a means-tested component, then poorer households would end up receiving far less in state benefits than they would under the existing system. 

However, one of the strongest arguments for basic income is that people would no longer be compelled to work in order to meet their basic needs. This means that employers would find it difficult to exploit workers, and would be pushed to offer decent wages, good terms and employment conditions in order to attract workers. People would have greater freedom to pursue meaningful, suitable and appropriate employment rather than having to take any job to avoid poverty and destitution. De-commodifying labor by decoupling work from income liberates people from the “tyranny of wage slavery” and leaves a space for innovation, creativitity and rebalances power relationships between wealthy, profit-motivated employers and employees.

It seems that the idea of basic income is gaining support. Reform Scotland, an independent non-party think tank, also propose in their recent report – The Basic Income Guaranteethat  the current work-related benefits system is replaced with a new Basic Income Guarantee (BIG).

However, despite claims that the think tank is independent of political parties, Reform Scotland is a public policy institute which works to promote increased economic prosperity and more effective public services based on the libertarian paternalist notions and Conservative principles of limited government and personal responsibility. Reform Scotland is funded by donations from private individuals, charitable trusts and corporate organisations.

The calculations used in the report imply that a Basic Income Guarantee would cost more initially to implement, but the think tank argue that there are strong arguments (which are couched in Conservative terms) to suggest that it would lead to “changed behaviour” and “a bigger workforce.” The think tank proposes that there remains a “disincentive” to work (the so-called “welfare trap”) which is caused by the high level of marginal taxes faced by those moving into work or increasing their hours. In their report, Reform Scotland say: “Our conclusion is that the benefits system should protect the unemployed and under-employed but at the same time must reduce – and ideally remove – any disincentives to take work, particularly part-time work. The manifest failing of the present system is the cash penalty many face when they take a job.”

Reform Scotland is proposing a Basic Income Guarantee which is paid to all working-age adults and children, whether in or out of work. All earnings would be taxed, but the basic income would never be withdrawn, meaning that “work would always pay.”

The think tank argues that radical reform of the current welfare system is required and that a Basic Income Guarantee is the best way forward. This would give every working-age person a basic income from the state of £5,200 per year, and every child £2,600.  The income would be a right of citizenship and would be the same regardless of income or gender. It would be non-means tested and would not increase or decrease as someone’s income changes, thereby removing the need for the associated bureaucracy.

The Basic Income Guarantee would replace a number of means-tested work related benefits, as well as child benefit, and would be a new way of providing a social safety net.

Welfare spending on working-age people has decreased since 2010, and the report highlights a context of the rising costs of pensions, and of £207.6 billion spent on welfare in 2014/15, £114 billion was in relation to pensioners. Of this, about £93 billion is made up by the state pension and pensioner credit. The Reform Scotland proposals therefore relate to the remaining  £93.6 billion, spent on working-age adults and children.

The report, written by former Scottish Green Party Head of Media, James Mackenzie, and former Scottish Liberal Democrat Policy Convener, Siobhan Mathers, in conjunction with Geoff Mawdsley and Alison Payne of Reform Scotland, seeks to promote informed debate of this idea by examining what the level of the basic income might be and how much implementing it would cost.

Reform Scotland’s report also calls for a single department to be responsible for welfare payments, ending the current split between HMRC and the DWP.

Commenting on the report, author James Mackenzie, former Scottish Green Party Head of Media, said: Basic income is one of those ideas that should appeal right across the political spectrum. When I was unemployed I remember having to think hard about whether to accept part time or short-term work because of the impact on my income. We should be making it easier for people to work who can and who want to, not penalising them. Basic income does just that, as well as helping those who have caring responsibilities, or who want to volunteer or study. 

There’s a resurgence of interest in the idea around the world, especially in Europe, with proposals being considered in Switzerland, Holland, France and elsewhere. The principle is the same everywhere, but policy makers need to know more about the practicalities. Now, for the first time, we are providing some detailed information about how it could work in Scotland, either after independence or after the devolution of the necessary powers.”

Co-author Siobhan Mathers, Reform Scotland advisory board member and former Scottish Liberal Democrat Policy Convener said: “There is a great opportunity for Scotland to design a welfare system that best suits its needs in the 21st Century. We could leave behind the unnecessary complexity of the UK system and provide a fair Basic Income Guarantee for all. This would make any transitions in and out of work more manageable and provide a clear, fair safety net for all.”

We have seen an unprecedented increase in a dark, unaccountable bureacracy this past five years, with private companies such as Atos, Maximus, and the likes of A4E and other private welfare-for-work providers marking the increased conditionality of welfare support – for both out of work support, and soon, for support paid to those in low paid and part-time work.

Conservative inclination has been towards substantially raising the (increasingly privatised and for profit) administrative costs of welfare, whilst at the same time radically reducing the lifeline benefits for people needing support for meeting basic needs.

Conservatives may well raise the “something for nothing” objection to basic income, which is founded on the absurd idea that the only way people may contribute to society is through paid labor.

Yet non-remunerated activities such as bringing up children, caring for elderly or sick and disabled relatives, supporting vulnerable neighbours, community work, volunteering for charities or investing time and effort in other voluntary endeavours such as contributions to the arts, sharing knowledge, education, writing, are all clearly valuable contributions to society. But these skills and activities have been steadily devalued, whilst providing an increasingly disposable (“flexible”) labor force is seen by the Conservatives as somehow fulfilling the best of our potential.

Reform Scotland has previously argued, when putting forward its Devolution Plus proposals, that there is plenty of logic behind bringing together the policy areas associated with alleviating poverty that are currently devolved, such as social inclusion and housing, with benefit provision, which remains reserved. This would help to provide a more coherent approach to tackling poverty and inequality.

The debate on this issue will, no doubt, continue in the years to come.

 

I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.

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Welcome to the Labour Party’s excellent Economic Advisory Committee of experts

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Labour Press released this in September 2015: