Tag: Michael Gove

The new neoliberal witch prickers and Academics Anonymous

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In February 2015, the characteristically intemperate David Cameron said that the Conservatives are waging an all-out war on mediocrity” in schools. In higher education, there is a drive to quantify the humanities and make them achievement-oriented instead of collaborative and intellectual.

This is a government that has already proposed a retrogressive, enforced segregation of pupils based on ability, setting inclusion policy back at least 30 years. This is also an attack on the very principle of inclusion. Conservative policies have always tended to establish and perpetuate social hierarchies, ranking and outgrouping. 

Neoliberalism has turned our society into one that seems to value only reductionist, deterministic, technocratic and instrumental modes of thought and methods that simply entail quantification and reduction of the diversity of human experiences. The humanities, social sciences and arts have been politically sidelined. Funding is being cut in universities. 

This jeopardises public awareness, stifles debate about issues of social justice and other important sociocultural concerns in education. It devalues subjective experiences, meaning, insight, understanding, interpretation, intention and a wide range of other qualities that make up what it is to be human. It’s a profoundly dehumanising economic framework.

In May, the government’s Higher Education White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy, set out a rigidly economistic perspective, stating that “progress is found via choice and competition”, indicating the political aim to complete the process of neoliberalising our universities.

Will Davies describes the awful jargon in the document as “empty sloganeering” and “euphemisms for destruction” in his excellent article for The Sociological Review, in July. He also quotes Andrew McGettigan, who says: 

“This is a document that bristles with resentment towards the established university sector. One wants to ask: why do you hate universities so much? What exactly is the problem? It is sad to imagine the task faced by its anonymous Whitehall authors, almost certainly university-educated, perhaps in their late 20s or 30s with memories of university life still relatively clear.

Perhaps they chose a civil service career over more lucrative alternatives because they’d long been interested in politics or were attracted to the quirks and traditions of public office. The authors of this document would know that what they’ve written is bullshit.”

There’s more than a whiff of technocratic idealism peppered throughout the paper, with phrases like: “perfectly calibrated ‘satisfaction’ and fees, where every ‘incentive’ is ‘aligned’.”

As Stefan Collini has observed:

“It is the application of this [neoliberal market] model to universities that produces the curious spectacle of a right-wing government championing students. Traditionally, of course, students have been understood by such governments, at least from the 1960s onwards, as part of the problem. They “sponged off” society when they weren’t “disrupting” it.

But now, students have come to be regarded as a disruptive force in a different sense, the shock-troops of market forces, storming those bastions of pre-commercial values, the universities. If students will set aside vague, old-fashioned notions of getting an education, and focus instead on finding the least expensive course that will get them the highest-paying job, then the government wants them to know that it will go to bat for them.”

You can see clearly that the government regards universities as some sort of neoliberal sorting mechanism. It’s all part of the regressive positivist service: relentless measurement, rating and monitoring.

As Davies points out, “teaching” has been reduced: it’s just one more euphemism, like “provider” or “stakeholder.” He’s right. “Knowledge” is reduced to the status of commodity. Intelligence becomes private equity. Students are reduced to consumers. They are buying a neoliberal outcome: a possibility of more a comfortable place in a social Darwinist food chain. Pedagogy has been replaced by econometrics. In the government white paper, the word “competition” makes 47 appearances, “critical thinking” just the  one (and only as a “soft skill attractive to employers.”) It seems the humanities, arts and social sciences are missing in action.

The White Paper outlines that “we need to confront the possibility of some institutions choosing (or needing) to exit the market. This is a crucial part of a healthy, competitive and well-functioning market.” Every institution will need “a student protection plan in place to prepare for the event of closure. In other words, it’s a Conservative neoliberal utopia of “creative destruction” through competition, nudging the exit of the “underperforming.” In other words, the Conservatives are telling us here that some universities will have to go. 

Anti-intellectualism

Michael Gove’s assertion that “people in this country have had enough of experts” indicates a virulent authoritarian strain of anti-intellectualism, marking the triumph of the irrational over the rational, prejudice over theoretical framework and hypothesis, and techniques of persuasion over empirical evidence. It’s prevalent in political discourse. Reactionary anti-expert sentiments arise most often whenever political dogma is exposed and challenged by experts and research evidence. What we are left with is the tyranny of ideology and the political anecdote. In this context the only objective truths that matters are the (almost supernatural) “market forces,” power and money. 

It’s crucial that there is an organised challenge to the corporate managerialists who have seized universities and subverted their purpose, transforming them into homogenous, subdued, and above all, controversy-free, managed enclosures.

Intellectuals should play a role in informing opinion and shaping debate, but those who have the most to contribute, especially to political debates and to shaping policy, come from those departments that are now on the danger list in many universities. This is partly because they don’t bring in huge amounts of money in research grants.

The government prefers a technocratic approach to public policy, founded on a pseudo-intellectualism that is concerned only with the escalating illogic of neoliberalism and narrow, dehumanising economic outcomes. Social psychology and public policy are replaced with private, cost-effective, experience-shrinking nudge, the diversity of the social sciences and any democratic dialogue with the public are increasingly submerged because of a prejudice for Conservative neo-positivism in social research and a narrow instrumentalist approach to economic outcomes, for example. These simply serve to fuel the circulatory, self-confirming neoliberal idiom of belief from within.

“Fascism combats […] not intelligence, but intellectualism  which is  a sickness of the intellect […] not a consequence of its abuse, because the intellect cannot be used too much. It derives from the false belief that one can segregate oneself from life.” – Giovanni Gentile, addressing a Congress of Fascist Culture, Bologna, 30 March 1925

Authoritarians (including fascists) often use anti-intellectual propaganda and public sentiment to oppress political dissent. It’s used to maintain political stability and a rigid social order. During the 1970s in Cambodia under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, people were killed simply for being academics or even for merely wearing glasses (as it suggested literacy) in the Killing Fields.

In the Spanish Civil War and the following dictatorship, General Francisco Franco’s civilian repression, the White Terror campaign, killed an estimated 200,000 civilians, heavily targeting writers, artists, teachers and professors. In Brazil, the liberational and radical educator, Paulo Freire, was first imprisoned, then exiled for “being ignorant”,  he was an “international subversive” and a “traitor to Christ and the people of Brazil” according to the organisers of the coup d’ Etat.

O
n 16 November, 1989, the Jesuit rector of the Universidad Centroamericana in El Salvador, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuría, was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and shot point-blank in his garden by an elite military squad. Five other Jesuit priests and educators, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, were ordered to lie face down on the lawn and were brutally executed.

The Rev. Ignacio Martín-Baró was a liberational social psychologist whose research focused on the psychic conditions of living in a context of structural violence. The Rev. Segundo Montes taught anthropology with a view to the effects of social stratification and the displaced victims of the civil war. The Rev. Amando López Quintana was the chairman of the philosophy department but worked weekends as a parish priest and championed a mass-literacy campaign, like Paulo Freire. This is because literacy was a prerequisite for voting. These were rare heroes, champions of liberation, equality and social justice, who died because their beliefs and practices challenged the established order and power structure.

Those who value education really should read Freire’s Pedagogy Of The Oppressed.

Here in the UK, we are witnessing a different, much less directly brutal kind of political silencing. It’s more of a psychic war. There is a diminishment of critical thought and counter-narrative, involving the undermining of intellectual standards within learning and public discourse which tends to trivialise meaningful information, culture and academic standards. Such a “dumbing down” disguises the intellectual complexity of issues, controversies, perspectives in a debate and arguments presented, reducing controversy to oversimplistic soundbites, at the expense of factual accuracy, meaningful depth and rationality.

It’s difficult to see how the government can make any claim to “extending choices” for students in such a repressive and ever-shrinking context.

There is diminishing political support for the arts, cultural studies, literature, social sciences, politics, philosophy and history in a neoliberal context. Yet many of these subjects incubate fertile and radical critique and conceptually frame crucial public debates. Radical voices are being silenced, alternative narratives are being erased, intellectuals are being ostracised. In a functioning democracy, scrutiny, critique and debate regarding the state is essential. Without these, we become at best a managed democracy; its mechanisms and processes a mere facade.

Being Conservative with the truth

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge'”.  Issac Asimov 

 Anti-intellectualism has always performed a strategic Conservative ideological function – which is to shield the status quo from systematic criticism. 

Edmund Burke, the philosophical founder of modern Conservatism, favoured an anti-intellectualism which succeeded as a strategy of deterrence against radicalism; it became  the basis of a hegemonic strategy for the British elite establishment to strengthen and maintain their position. It’s been on the Conservative ideological cheat sheet ever since.

Burke’s ideology of anti-theory and “common sense” has been enormously successful. It’s become somewhat ingrained in our national character, yet his plea and his deep suspicion of theory and the abstract was nothing more than part of his philosophical defence of the ruling order. If anything, the last five years ought to have taught those of us with a commitment to progressive politics that we should steer well clear of sloganised rhetoric and the discourse of “common sense,” with its empty but glittering generalities. 

Of course Burke was a leading skeptic with respect to democracy. Although he admitted that theoretically, in “some cases” it might be desirable, he insisted a democratic government in Britain in his day would not only be inept, but also (strangely) oppressive. He opposed democracy for a couple of basic reasons. Firstly, he believed that government required a degree of intelligence, skill and knowledge of the sort that occurred rarely among the public. So, he was certainly an elitist on more than one level.

Secondly, he thought that if they had the vote, common people had “dangerous and angry passions” that could be aroused easily by demagoguery; he feared that the authoritarian impulses that could be harnessed by these passions would undermine the cherished traditions of Conservatism and established religion, leading to revolution and confiscation of property. Historically, the Conservatives have managed to make political dissent seem alien to the national psyche. The steep power and privilege structure in the UK is almost invisible to us, and difficult to question, precisely because it has become so normalised. Similarly, more recently, neoliberalism has become a doxa; it’s presented as a fait accompli – as common sense; the only possible way of political, social and economic organisation.

Justine Greening meet Paulo Friere. You know you really should.

Freire recognised that emphasis on individual characteristics are a result of social relations, and to view such individualistically de-emphasises the role of social structure and is responsible for the incorrect attribution of sociopolitical problems to the individual. Liberation education and psychology address this by re-orienting the focus from an individualistic to a social one. Using this framework, the behaviour of oppressed people is conceptualised not through intra-psychic processes, but as a result of an alienating environment.

Freire advocated authentic dialogue-based learning, where the role of the student shifts from object to active, critical subject. Freire heavily endorsed students’ ability to think critically about their education situation, this way of thinking allows them to recognise connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded.

Realising one’s consciousness is the first step of praxis, which is defined as the power and know-how to take action against oppression, whilst stressing the importance of liberating education. Praxis involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then referring back to theory. Social transformation is possible through praxis at the collective level.

The key concept of liberation education and psychology is concientización: critical consciousness – a recognition of the intrinsic connectedness of the person’s experience and the sociopolitical structure. Freire believed education to be a political act that could not be divorced from pedagogy. Freire defined this as a main tenet of his critical “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Teachers and students must become aware of the politics that surround education. The way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. Teachers themselves have political notions that they bring into the classroom.

Freire attacked what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as a passive participant – empty accounts to be “filled” by the teacher. He notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.” 

In 1999, PAULO, a National Training Organisation named in honour of Freire, was established in the United Kingdom. This agency was approved by the New Labour Government to represent some 300,000 community-based education practitioners working across the UK (myself included). It was a platform also, perhaps surprisingly, for Blair’s re-democratising democracy programme, based on a dialogic democracy, and a recognition of the centrality of life politics.

PAULO was given formal responsibility for setting the occupational training standards for people working in this field, and was based on a revolutionary anarchist/Marxist model of critical education. Even outside of that political context, Freire’s collective works, and especially Pedagogy of the Oppressedhas huge value and merit as a direction for an approach to teaching which is based on self awareness, community awareness, political awareness, responsibility, critical thinking, creativity, dialogue and social solidarity, and not on manipulation and oppression.

The Tories, however, are unrelentingly authoritarian, and this is reflected in their notions of “education”, which are: “Raising standards (through “setting” and taking those segregated off record: the “disappeared”)… and restoring discipline – so our children can compete with the world’s best and enjoy a better future.”

So nothing at all there about developing human potential, personal development, social development or even building the fundamental capacity for critical thinking.

A person who has not had opportunities to think critically about social and political reality, but simply accepts it is thereby participating in the world in a way that has been organised and designed for him/her by others.

If being human means exercising choice and freedom, then such uncritical, passive acceptance means being less than human.

But Tories prefer us that way. They don’t like to extend equal opportunities.

Meet the new professional witch prickers

The following letter was originally published in the Guardian on 8 August, 2014. It describes the high and dry wind that blew in metricised competition, a mythology of pure instrumentalism, to be administered by a billowing, neologistic managerial bureaucracy

Dear leaders,

I address you as “leaders” because, for some reason (perhaps manager comes too close to rhyming with janitor for your liking), you’ve increasingly taken to styling yourselves in this way. How grand. How imposing. How spurious.

Leaders are followed. The capacity and willingness to drive people along with the use of the pitchfork of threatened redundancy or the flaming torch of disciplinary action does not make a leader and the mere fact that you so brazenly call yourselves leaders is evidence of the malaise that prompts me to write.

For the record, if you’re not Alexander, Napoleon, Monty or the modern equivalent you’re not really a leader. Be neither managers nor leaders. Be provosts, masters, principals, vice-chancellors, rectors, deans, registrars, bursars. How quaint. How medieval. How refreshing.

Some problems

I know you think I ought to feel insignificant, as a mere teaching and research drone. My saying any of this is, of course, in forlorn hope. You listen to us all, and ignore us all: very egalitarian; very democratic.

Dictators (elected or not) always ignore everyone who’s not a member of the ruling clique. You’re not collegial just because you go around addressing people as colleagues all the time. Actually, there’s an inverse relationship. The more you say it, the more you show that you don’t really believe it. You simply want secure fiefdoms for the members of your cliques at the expense of making others into vassals with even fewer rights than hitherto.

Everything is directed towards that end. You break your own rules and make it up as you go along to suit yourselves. There is no genuine collegiality, no trust, no sense of equality in a republic of ideas.

So, whether you’re elected leaders (as in older universities such as mine) or appointed, your currency is the same: ill-conceived change to entrench the interests of your cliques and for the sake of being seen to do something. It’s a simple truth, but lost on people who “lead”, that all progress requires change but not all change constitutes progress. There is such a thing as change for the worse and that’s what you’re presiding over. Take three examples:

  • Instead of standing up for the idea of the university against the league tablers you prefer riding the tail of that tiger – taking the credit when an institution’s on the up and making sure we catch the blame when it’s falling.
  • Seemingly, there’s never enough money… except when there’s more for new administrative staff: courtiers for the ruling clique.
  • And, of course, there’s money to pay for rebranding. (But don’t you realise that the only thing any branding consultant ever sells is him- or herself? They persuade the shallow-minded to think in their terms and sell the idea that they can unerringly influence others as well.)

Some solutions

1) Defend what we do against governments and other external interests with vigour and courage.

2) Don’t change for the sake of being seen to do something and don’t confuse change with progress.

3) Accept that the university is a community made up of all those who serve it, not your plaything; nobody can be sacrificed in your name.

4) Stay involved, but don’t interfere. (Although there’s more science in scientology than management science.)

5) Trust academics to do good work. (Almost all of them do.)

6) Favour principles, not rules, but follow the rules you have and stop letting power win over truth and reason.

7) Remember that culture trumps system.

8) Stop thinking and speaking in the terms given by the deadly triumvirate: pseudo-intellectuals, neo-liberals and technofuturists.

9) Never again use the word strategy: with whom are you at war?

10) Stop calling people colleagues until you’ve learned to mean it.

Yours,

Homo Academicus

PS. I’m sorry if I’ve written this in something too much like English for your liking, not enough “going forwards”, “high level vision statements” and so forth, but I still use words to reveal, not to obscure.

PPS. Are you remotely troubled that so many academics are resorting to anonymous writing/blogging to say these things?

Ren? Magritte, Golconde, 1953, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009  øðä îàâøéè, âåì÷åðã, 1953, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009

Golconda – René Magritte

This anonymous academic is a professor in the arts and has taught in universities and colleges in Scotland, England and Ireland.

If you’d like to contribute an anonymous piece about the trials and tribulations of university life, contact claire.shaw@theguardian.com.

 —

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Young people’s mental health champion axed by government because she was critical

Natasha Devon MBE, former Government mental health champion and schools adviser speaking at our ‘Good Mental Health in Schools – What Works?’ conference on 28th April 2016.

The Government’s appointed mental health champion, Natasha Devon, who has been highly critical of how extensive academic testing of young people impacts negatively on their wellbeing, creating anxiety and stress, has had her role axed by the Department for Education (DfE).

A DfE spokesperson said that Ms Devon’s role, which was to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around young people’s mental health problems, had been axed to avoid “confusion.” The department has denied that the decision to unappoint Natasha as the mental health tsar for schools last August, was a political move designed to silence criticism of government policies. However, Natasha has been told that she can no longer make any comments publicly about her role.

Ms Devon has also criticised former education secretary Michael Gove – she said that he was “despised and divisive” and “refused” to accept a link between mental health, academic competition and performance.

The DfE has maintained that the decision was not based on Devon’s “frank” nature, (a strange way of describing integrity) but because “a cross-governmental champion was recognised as being the preferred option.”

Natasha has highlighted the negative impact of the academic pressures facing young people, and said she knew her opinions would not be popular “in some circles”, but felt she had to be brave and speak out, as an advocate for young people.

Last week, in her last public appearance, Ms Devon addressed a headteachers conference saying: “Time and time again over recent years, young people – and the people who teach them – have spoken out about how a rigorous culture of testing and academic pressure is detrimental to their mental health.

At one end of the scale we’ve got four-year-olds being tested, at the other end of the scale we’ve got teenagers leaving school and facing the prospect of leaving university with record amounts of debt. Anxiety is the fastest growing illness in under-21s. These things are not a coincidence,” she warned.

Devon said: “We have started to misuse words like ‘character, resilience and grit’ as though struggling with a mental illness is a defect in the individual, rather than a response to a culture which makes it difficult to enjoy good mental health.”

The former mental health champion for schools in England took up the post last August. Ms Devon, who was awarded an MBE in 2015 for her work helping young people conquer mental health and body image issues, said she had not been paid for the role as it was important she remained independent and objective.

She warns that the new, paid mental-health champion could “be paid effectively to toe the party line” though she hoped the new champion would be a “positive force for good,” but she was “sceptical”.

She said: “When I first took the role, I said to the department what I want to do is… bring the concerns of young people and the people who teach them to government level.

So it’s not actually me that’s being silenced, it’s young people and teachers.

I think the government knows that young people don’t vote, or if they do they are very unlikely to vote Tory, and they have historically ignored their needs and the price they have paid is now we have seen a crisis in their mental health.”

Natasha further commented: “I can confirm that I am no longer authorised to comment as the Government’s mental health champion for schools. The DfE have extended an opportunity for me to continue working on the peer-to-peer project they were seeking my advice on.”

Sarah Brennan, the chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “We are very surprised and sad that Natasha’s role as mental health champion has ended. She’s done a superb job of drawing attention to the crucial importance of mental health and wellbeing in schools.”

More than 40,000 people have signed a petition protesting against primary school tests aimed at seven-year-olds as part of more rigorous assessment processes. Many critics have claimed that children are being tested too early and their education is limited by being focused towards examinations rather than broader learning, resulting in “exam factories.”

Luciana Berger, mental health shadow minister, said Devon had spoken out “openly and honestly about the challenges facing children’s mental health under this Tory government.”

She added: “If she has been silenced then this raises serious questions over the government’s commitment to listening to the evidence and acting in the best interests of young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Ministers must explain themselves as a matter of urgency. Nicky Morgan [the education secretary] claims to be in ‘listening mode’ but it would appear that this does not extend to those that do not agree with her.”

News of Devon’s departure came the day after hundreds of parents chose to keep their children at home on Tuesday in a day of protest against tougher primary school tests, which they say are causing stress and anxiety in schools. This was part of the national “Let Our Kids be Kids” campaign, which is a response to concerns raised about the tough new exams introduced by the government. Campaigners protesting against Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) in primary schools say that children are “over-tested, over-worked and in a school system that places more importance of test results and league tables than children’s happiness and joy of learning.”

This is education that is geared towards constant assessment, competition, homogeneity, social stratification and labeling, rather than dialogue, cooperation, engagement, diversity and inspiration. Young people are being acted upon by the state, and treated as passive agents, rather than as active participants in the learning process.

Devon’s criticism went beyond mental health in the classroom. In an article for the Times Educational Supplement she accused the government of engineering “a social climate where it’s really difficult for any young person to enjoy optimal mental health”. She said: “Young people’s mental health is getting worse, but the government doesn’t want to address the social inequality that causes it.

It isn’t simply that we are hearing about mental ill-health more these days: our mental health is, beyond empirical doubt, getting worse. ”

 

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Related

Young people’s mental health is getting worse, but the government doesn’t want to address the social inequality that causes it

Nicky Morgan proposes a retrogressive, enforced segregation of pupils based on ability

The Psychological Impact of Austerity – Psychologists Against Austerity

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Amnesty International UK poll shows little support for abolition of Human Rights Act

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In response to the atrocities committed during World War two, the International Community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual. In 1948 the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the most important agreements in world history.

Shortly afterwards another newly formed international body, the Council of Europe, set about giving effect to the UDHR in a European context. The resulting European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950 and ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951. At the time there were only ten members of the Council of Europe.

Now 47 member countries subscribe to the European Convention, and in 1998 the Human Rights Act was passed by the Labour Party in order to “give further effect” to the European Convention in British law. It consolidates international laws and includes provision for the British public have their cases heard British courts instead of having to travel to Strasbourg.

We reported that the Government intend to controversially scrap the Human Rights Act by next summer, and replace it with a British “Bill of Rights.”

A  12-week public consultation on the Conservative Bill of Rights will start in November or December this year. It will be worded to clarify that the UK will not pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), as some critics have feared, it will even mirror much of the ECHR language in an effort to “calm opposition.”

However, Amnesty International (UK) have commissioned a poll, and it seems that the British public are not particularly willing to see any change to existing Human Rights legislation, with only one in 10 people in the UK (11%) believing that scrapping the Human Rights Act should be a government priority.

The poll results were released over the weekend, and also showed that almost half (46%) of people in the UK would not want to remove any of the rights currently included in the Human Rights Act from a new bill of rights. This said, a minority (16%) also felt that the death penalty should not be outlawed in a new bill.

The new ComRes survey found that more than three-quarters (78%) of people in the UK think that rights, laws and protections must apply to everyone equally in order to be effective, while 67% agree that governments should not be able to choose which rights they enforce.

Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty UK, said the survey indicates that the Government should abandon its “ill-advised” plans to repeal the Human Rights Act because there is “simply no appetite” for it.

She said: “The British people clearly want the Government to get on with their proper business of the day-to-day running of the country, and abandon these destructive plans.

“It’s quite right that it shouldn’t be up to governments to pick and choose which rights we are entitled to and select who they deem worthy of them. It took ordinary people a very long time to claim these rights and we mustn’t let politicians take them away with the stroke of a pen.

“It’s great to have it confirmed that British people think that rights and protections must apply to everyone equally in order to work at all.

“That includes people whose beliefs and actions we might profoundly disagree with, and it’s all the more important we stick to our enduring principles in challenging times.

“This is no time for the British government to set about dismantling and undermining human rights protections.”

We reported have that the government is currently facing investigations regarding serious allegations of contraventions of the human rights of disabled people and other protected social groups. The UK is also in breach of the rights of women and children.

A leak has revealed that Michael Gove will unveil British bill of rights to replace the Human Rights Act before Christmas. The justice minister is reportedly also seeking a “crackdown” on the so-called “human rights industry,” introducing measures intended to reduce the compensation individuals can win from public bodies following human rights claims.

Human rights groups have called the Government’s desire to scrap the  Human Rights Act “destructive”. The Ministry of Justice has of course claimed the details leaked over the weekend, were “speculation”.

The leaked draft proposals, which will be put out for a three-month consultation within weeks, indicate that the UK will remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, domestic courts would not be “automatically bound” to follow European Court rulings and ministers are also considering ways of guaranteeing the UK parliament’s sovereignty explicitly in law.

Harriet Harman, who is now the chair of parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, has written to Michael Gove, asking whether he could confirm that the government had officially ruled out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and if it would “abide by the final judgment of the ECHR in any case to which they are parties”.

I can quite understand her need for some clarity on this issue, as Cameron has previously pledged to leave the ECHR. The Sunday Times have released details of a leak revealing plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. Again.

Harman said: “In the first six months, government proposals have gone from a bill in the Queen’s speech to ‘proposals’ to ‘a consultation’. The timescale has moved from the first 100 days to this autumn and thenin a few months’ time‘.

“There is no more clarity about the government’s plans than there was back in May: we have no indication as to whether the government intends to publish a white paper, draft clauses or indeed a draft bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. It’s essential that such a vital issue is widely scrutinised and debated – and not just by politicians and lawyers. Twelve weeks is not enough.”

Lord Falconer, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, responding to the reports in the Sunday Times of the Tories’ plans, said:

“These are ill-thought out, illiterate and dangerous plans. The Human Rights Act has helped some of the most vulnerable people in our society. To talk about a “victims’ culture” is shocking and clear evidence that the Tories are intent on reducing people’s fundamental rights.

“They say they don’t want to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights but their plans clearly show that they have misunderstood the relationship between our courts and the European Court and their approach could result in such tensions that we would have to withdraw. 

“For the Government to dither over this issue and send a message that it’s ok to pick and choose the human rights you like does incredible damage both at home and to the UK’s standing in the world.

“Labour will stand firm in support of the Human Rights Act and oppose any watering down of people’s fundamental rights.”

Equal access to justice and protection of universal Human Rights is the bedrock of democracy, the alternative to this is that some people simply cease to be free.

The HRA is quite often portrayed by the Right as a party political measure. However, whilst the Human Rights Act is ultimately recognised as one of the greatest legacies of Labour in government, Cameron seems oblivious to the fact that Human Rights are not objects to be bartered away. They arose from struggles that were begun long ago by past generations who gave their lives for these rights to be enshrined in our laws.

Labour’s Human Rights Act ought to be a source of national pride. It is a civilised and a civilising law. It ensures that Britain remains a nation where key universal benchmarks of human decency and protections against state abuse are upheld by the courts. 

There is already a modern British bill of rights already. It is called the Human Rights Act.

Human rights, the reintroduction of hanging and what we have lost

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Michael Gove, former Education Secretary, has been appointed Justice Secretary: he is now in charge of the Department for Justice. With this appointment, it is clear that Cameron has plans for potentially radical reform, and regards justice as an area that needs a hardened, radical and senior Tory politician to drive through changes that are likely to be controversial. Gove does have form.

Gove’s first task is to scrap the Human Rights Act, (HRA) which was the previous Labour government’s legislation designed to supplement the European Convention on Human Rights, it came into effect in 2000. The Act makes available a remedy for breach of Convention right without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

As I have previously reported, the rights protected by the Act are quite basic. They include the right to life, liberty and the right to a fair trial; protection from torture and ill-treatment; freedom of speech, thought, religion, conscience and assembly; the right to free elections; the right to fair access to the country’s education system; the right NOT to be given the death penalty; the right to marry and an overarching right not to be discriminated against.

Cameron has argued that it should be repealed just 15 years after its implementation … so that he can pass another unspecified Act – a British Bill of Rights. Why would any government object to citizens being afforded such established, basic protections, which are, after all, very simple internationally shared expectations of any first world liberal democracy?

One sentence from the misleadingly titled document that outlines how the Tories plan to scrap the Human Rights Act – Protecting Human Rights in the UK, (found on page 6 ) – is particularly chilling: “There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged.”

Basically this means that human rights will no longer be absolute – they will be subject to stipulations and caveats. The government will establish a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, allowing UK courts to strike out what are deemed trivial cases.

The Tories’ motivation for changing our human rights is to allow reinterpretations to work around the new legislation when they deem it necessary. The internationally agreed rights that the Tories have always seen as being open to interpretation will become much more parochial and open to subjective challenge.

Any precedent that allows a government room for manoeuvre around  basic and fundamental human rights is incredibly dangerous.

No other country has proposed de-incorporating a human rights treaty from its law so that it can introduce a Bill of Rights. The truly disturbing aspect of Cameron’s Bill of Rights pledge is that rather than manifestly building on the HRA, it’s predicated on its denigration and repeal. One has to wonder what his discomfort with the HRA is. The Act, after all, goes towards protecting the vulnerable from neglect of duty and abuse of power of the State. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was an International response to the atrocities of World War Two and the rise of fascism and totalitarianism.

During their last term, the Tories contravened the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children. It’s clear that we have a government that regards the rights of most of the population as an inconvenience to be brushed aside.

I also previously reported that Cameron has pledged to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Cameron has expressed a wish to break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights. In future Britain’s courts will no longer be required to take into account rulings from the Court in Strasbourg.

Observation of Human Rights distinguishes democratic leaders from dictators and despots. Human Rights are the bedrock of our democracy, they are universal, and are a reflection of a society’s and a governments’ recognition of the equal worth of every citizens’ life. But the government have an ideology that is founded on distinctly social Darwinist principles.

These principles support economic neoliberalism and political conservatism. Class/social division is justified on the basis of “natural” inequalities among individuals, for the control of property is ludicrously claimed to be a correlate of superior and inherent moral attributes such as industriousness, temperance, and frugality. Attempts to reform society through state intervention, therefore, interfere with natural processes; unrestricted competition and defense of the status quo are in accord with biological selection, from this perspective. The poor are “unfit” and should not be supported and aided; in the struggle for existence, wealth is a sign of success. The Tories believe that some lives, therefore, “naturally” have much more value than others.

Gove, now the Justice Secretary, has previously called for hanging to be reintroduced. Writing in 1998 as a Times columnist, he said Britain was “wrong to abolish hanging” in the 1960s, when the death penalty was outlawed. Gove made the irrational claims that banning hanging  had “led to a corruption of our criminal justice system and the erosion of all our freedoms rather than “a great liberal victory,” as it was seen at the time.

Gove made the incoherent claim that banning hanging has made punishing innocent people “more likely,” he went on to conclude that public opinion had moved in favour of reintroducing hanging and that doing so could repair the broken trust between voters and politicians. Gove said he supported the “return of the noose out of respect for democracy”, and because it would force the courts to act with “scrupulous fairness.”

This deranged, barbaric relic actually said: “Hanging may seem barbarous, but the greater barbarity lies in the slow abandonment of our common law traditions. Were I ever alone in the dock I would not want to be arraigned before our flawed tribunals, knowing my freedom could be forfeit as a result of political pressures. I would prefer a fair trial, under the shadow of the noose.”

At the beginning of the 19th century, children in Britain were punished in the same way as adults. They were even sentenced to death for petty theft. It has historically been the case that the poorest tend to be executed, and it remains true: there are no millionaires on death row (See also: Amnesty International UK – Death penalty.)

In 1965, in the UK, Parliament passed Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, temporarily abolishing capital punishment for murder for 5 years. The Act was then renewed in 1969, by the Labour government under Harold Wilson, making the abolition permanent.

And with the passage of Labour’s Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and their Human Rights Act 1998, the death penalty was finally officially abolished for all crimes in both civilian and military cases, also.

The Human Rights Act is to be abolished, and Cameron has pledged to withdraw from the European Convention. In case you missed the connection, repealing the Human Rights Act will make the reintroduction of capital punishment much easier. The full range of potential consequences of losing our human rights laws are truly terrifying to consider.

For those of you that have campaigned against the Labour Party, claiming that they aren’t quite “left” enough, despite the fact that Miliband was actually offering the most progressive, redistributive policies of ALL the parties, and smaller cuts and for less time. (I guess some of you never bothered reading the Institute of Fiscal Studies Report, or Labour’s manifesto).

Under a Labour government, our Human Rights, NHS and welfare would now be safe. The bedroom tax would now be repealed. We would be rebuilding and making progress as a society instead of regressing and fearfully discussing the threats of tyranny and the possibility of the reintroduction of capital punishment.

We are about to lose everything that made us a civilised first-world country, from our human rights to our post-war settlement: welfare, our National Health Service and what remains of our access to legal aid.

Until the people of this country take some responsibility and demand that politics is based on truth and the needs of the majority, we will continue to have a corrupt authoritarian elite serving only the wants of the 1%.

Love and solidarity to all my comrades, who are mutually grieving a future we have lost, and who acknowledge and face the losses yet to come.

It’s never been more important to help each other through, and we really are going to need to.

Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.

Eugenics is hiding behind Hitler, and informs Tory policies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The right to life contained in Article 2:

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

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 

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

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

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

Part one

The axis of marginalisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Gove has written:

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

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

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

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

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

I usually prefer to describe them as “authoritarian”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiona Weir, Gingerbread’s chief executive, said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Equality impact assessments: the current legal position in UK

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

  •  Processes should be in place to help ensure that :

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

  •  Equality Impact Assessments: show impact on protected

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

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

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

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

TUC Briefing: The Gender Impact of the Cuts

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

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

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

Women’s Aid – The Survivor’s Handbook

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

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his superb art work

Remembering When Every Child Mattered

                                                                    

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1. The historical context of Labour’s Every Child Matters reforms

It is important that we never forget the appalling details of Victoria Climbie’s tragic suffering and horrific murder, in February 2000, not least because it exposed serious failings by the child protection services and staff responsible for her welfare at the time. The Labour Government acknowledged this tragedy with compassion, frank accountability, and a thorough, holistic, comprehensive legislative response that demonstrated some of the best joined-up thinking witnessed in any Government policy formulation.

Victoria was an eight year old girl, who came to Europe from West Africa, in the hope of a better life. She died of hypothermia, she had also suffered a heart attack, along with kidney and respiratory failure, after months of torture and neglect, inflicted by her brutal, sadistic great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, and her boyfriend, Carl Manning. Kouao savagely beat Victoria on a daily basis with items like a shoe, a coat hanger and a wooden spoon and she also hit Victoria’s toes with a hammer. Manning beat Victoria with a bicycle chain. She spent her last days in an unheated bathroom, tied up in a bin bag, lying in her own urine and excrement. She was forced to eat the cold food she was infrequently given by pushing her face into the piles of food left for her, as her hands were bound.

Victoria’s abusers were jailed for life in November 2000. During the trial, police, health and social services involved in the case were described as “blindingly incompetent”. These agencies had failed a child suffering the most terrible torture and abuse, despite the fact that there was visible evidence of the abuse, professionals had failed to intervene on no less that 12 occasions. One of the key criticisms levelled at those professionals involved is that they failed to share information and pass on concerns to other professionals. There was no effective mechanism in place for confidential information sharing that crossed each agency’s professional remit boundary.

In January 2001, the health secretary, Alan Milburn, ordered a statutory public inquiry into her death, which was headed by former chief inspector of social services, Lord Herbert Laming. The Labour Government drove a moral impetus, in addition to implementing Lord Laming’s recommendations within a coherent and comprehensive policy framework, legislating to address the significant gaps in child welfare provision more broadly.

Child protection became EVERYONE’S responsibility and concern. Compassion, equality, holism, and the cooperative principle lay behind the far-reaching Labour reforms that followed. Every Child Matters is the overarching title for the significant, positive and comprehensive flagship policy, which required all public sector organisations working with children to come together to prevent any more tragedies.

2. The Common Assessment Framework: agencies and professionals singing from the same hymn sheet

Enshrined at the heart of Every Child Matters is the Paramountcy Principle: this states that the welfare of children is at all times paramount and overrides all other considerations. This reflects a “whole child” approach to welfare, wellbeing and protection, as well as a holistic inter-agency approach to achieving that. Using the Common Assessment Framework (CAF), professionals could identify the additional, complex and unique individual needs of the child.

CAFs facilitated the identifying of needs, and the allocation of a lead professional to co-ordinate the provision that was developed quite often by co-opting appropriate agencies and professionals, and by drawing together those professionals already involved in service delivery for the child/young person, who then worked together co-operatively, as a specialist ‘team around the child’. The CAF also facilitated goal-orientated practice and positive outcome based, tailored provision. The work was planned, monitored and evaluated throughout the process. Indeed monitoring and evaluation were built into the process, CAF paperwork and the database prompted continual scrutiny and accountability throughout.

One of the advantages for the child/young person concerned was that they participated in this process, by a degree of input regarding their own perception of their needs, in decision-making, and often, by allocating their own favoured professionals. These were usually the ones that had worked closely and face to face with the child, and had therefore established rapport and trust, and who had often initiated the CAF in the first place. CAFs could only be undertaken with the child/young person’s consent. In fact, the scope for young people participating and potential inclusion possibilities were among the best advantages of the CAF.

Lead Professionals were often chosen to undertake multiple CAF casework, because of their professional relationship with the child/young person, which of course applied to their other clients as well. The disadvantage, of course, is that these professionals, because of the very nature of their face to face work, and ongoing professional contact, were often in danger of being particularly overburdened with CAF-related work and team around the child meetings. It wasn’t untypical to have very heavy caseloads if you worked at a face to face level with young people.

The policy did encourage innovative cross boundary inter-agency working, skill sharing, pooling of resources and the development and sharing of good practices. Social care organisations also adapted to accommodate the new CAF work, and lead professional work became something of a specialism, with many of us also advising and training other practitioners in the field.

Each Local Authority also had a central CAF co-ordinator, whose role was to developed training, deliver policy briefings and updates, and to monitor each CAF that was open and ongoing. CAFs were used to identify and address all welfare needs of vulnerable children and young people, where appropriate. But CAFs also helped professionals identify a need for more rigorous child protection procedures, as well as the needs related to more general wellbeing and the other of the five ECM outcomes (see above). Quite often, CAFs triggered child protection procedure, and then were used in tandem with specialised, ongoing child protection assessments.

3. The reality check: how the ECM reforms translated in the field, and promoted good professional practice

One of Labour’s visions behind ECM was that of professionals from a broad range of disciplines working together to address all of the needs of the child ‘seamlessly’, regardless of the child’s background. There is a clear recognition that many circumstances may impact negatively upon the wellbeing of children. For example, most experienced social workers will tell you that mental health problems in children are strongly correlated with levels of parental income, which is in turn linked with socioeconomic and political contexts. Poverty is linked to a higher likelihood of a child having identified ‘additional needs’.

Lack of wellbeing and additional needs are linked with pupil distress, often manifested as ‘behavioural difficulties’ in schools, which tend to lead to high levels of exclusion. That exclusion is in turn linked with a higher risk of offending. Much of the caseload on the Youth Offending Team database comprised of young people with additional learning needs, young people with identified dyspraxia, autism, OCD, ADHD, and children who had suffered a bereavement within a two year period were also over-represented.

The previous Conservative Government had reduced special needs education and provision by cutting funding, this had resulted in units and special needs school closures and meant that many mainstream schools were very overstretched in delivering specialist provision. Although mainstreaming specialist provision may have encouraged inclusion, lack of adequate funding tended to mean that it didn’t.

The result was more exclusions for the groups of young people with (usually unidentified) special educational needs (SENS), and any other issue or condition that had an impact on their behaviour, typically, because of the lack of specialist resources, specialist knowledge of staff, and a certain view and management of challenging behaviours, because of an emphasis in mainstream schools on the common needs of all pupils, rather than the additional needs of individuals. CAFs shifted the focus and balance to ensure that each individual child’s needs were identified and provision was developed to ensure they were met.

Labour recognised all of the issues and interconnected circumstances that may have an impact on the wellbeing of children and young people, and this knowledge was used to ensure that the needs of our children were met on every level, from addressing child poverty, to basic nutrition in school, confidence and esteem building youth work activities, (informal educational opportunities became part of a youth work curriculum which included emotional health,  sexual health, substance misuse awareness, where needs to address these issues had been identified, and social education, participation and citizenship were central to the curriculum).

There was a shift of emphasis from simple crisis management provision to the development of preventative, comprehensive social work, and youth and community  work. The ECM Bill translated into a needs-led, flexible and multi-layered response, with participation and inclusion of children and young people in the decision-making processes becoming central to professional practice. As well as extending participation and inclusion, ECM was an exceptional equal opportunities policy that also recognised and accommodated diversity very well.

Labour’s extending schools agenda was also all about providing services for meeting the multi-faceted needs of pupils, families and communities. Provision such as breakfast clubs and after school activities also benefited working parents because there was a childcare element built into the provision. Healthy eating became important, because of the recognition that diet may have an impact on both behaviour and achievement, as well as on wellbeing and health. This linked in well with the broader aims of ECM. Inclusion and participation became integrated in practice, and also, together with Citizenship, they became part of both the formal and informal education curriculum. This had a positive impact on youth work, providing direction and an outcome-based focus for youth work practice.

Youth workers were often to be found delivering informal education programs in schools, and delivering the alternative curriculum courses, which focussed on personal development, such as Asdan. Typically, youth workers also engaged the ‘hard to reach’ pupils. Usually the same group that most often would face exclusions. There was something reassuring, in a way, in the discovery that professionals across the board of child welfare agencies had so many of the same young people in common on their caseloads – it meant we were most likely working with the young people and children that really did need the support and additional provision. It also meant we could now tailor support provision more effectively by joint assessment, planning and delivery.

Needs-led practice had a positive knock on effect. It worked on may levels, too. For example, one observation about the high number of vulnerable pupil exclusions was that teachers often lacked capacity in handing and diffusing conflict. This is not a criticism of teaching staff – most were under too much pressure to manage full to capacity classrooms to find time enough to pause and reflect on this issue, and the outcome was to the detriment of vulnerable young people – the ones I worked with, in particular.

Exclusions for ‘challenging behaviours’ happened quite often to the young people with unidentified SENs and other complex needs. The exclusions had a broader negative impact on outcomes, as stated earlier, school exclusions increased the likelihood of young people offending. There is also the likely negative impact on the child’s self-perception and esteem, the issues of stigmatising and negative labelling to consider, among other things.

School exclusion was an issue that concerned me, so I designed a course on “conflict management”, which addressed issues such as the impact of negative labeling on young people’s self esteem and wellbeing, as well as strategies for coping effectively and positively with conflict, based on an overall assessment of needs of the groups of young people that I worked with, and crucially, this incorporated training on the development of needs-led strategies, for staff. Part of this included planning responsive provision for young people with challenging behaviours.

I delivered the training to staff in five schools. I also worked with the groups of young people on esteem building and developing conflict management skills. The number of exclusions dropped quite dramatically, following the delivery of the training. Even more positive was the news six months later that exclusions were still much less frequent than previously. And both staff and young people reported much less conflict. Young people told me they felt they were “better understood” in school, and felt teachers were being “kinder” as a result. 

The course became a useful practice tool kit for youth workers and other professionals, and the Youth Service also utilised the training. This meant that the resource could be used and re-used without me needing to deliver it again. That was essential, as the work was in addition to my statutory professional commitments of day to day case work and management. It became common to see professionals extend their practice and fully utilise all of their skills, and some of the needs-led work undertaken by my colleagues this way, was truly innovative, brilliant and beneficial to other professionals, in terms of professional and personal development, as well as to children and young people with need of support and protection.

4. How we let them know what we knew: information sharing and safeguarding

One way of linking professionals and information sharing was via the introduction of a database called Contactpoint. This was an effective way of professionals sharing concerns and information about their clients. It also introduced a significant level of professional accountability because every appointment, phone call, activity, and importantly, every action that was considered and taken had to be justified and recorded. Obviously, access to the database was restricted to relevant professionals only, and there were strict protocols and policies in place regarding data protection and access.

Contactpoint was a very good way of ensuring that provision wasn’t duplicated, (and so it helped prevent resources being wasted), and it offered an excellent opportunity for professionals to build on the work of other practitioners, share good practice, and it further encouraged cooperation, and joint work between different agencies. High professional standards were encouraged, good ideas shared. Professionals also learned new skills via the partnership work. Social workers could learn from educational psychologists, teachers, family intervention workers, health workers, youth workers and so on, and of course, the converse was true.

One other advantage of the Contactpoint database, besides casework based information sharing and accountability, was that it enhanced the safety and wellbeing of professionals. Contactpoint encouraged information sharing about crucial practice and safety issues, too. It also helped to encourage joint visits. For example, it wasn’t unusual for me to attend a home visit with an educational welfare officer, or a child psychologist and deliver provision in tandem, or build on their work.

Three of my colleagues were killed previously in Newcastle. Social workers are often lone workers, making home visits after school hours. Information sharing regarding the safety of home visiting is crucial, but had been critically neglected prior to Contactpoint. One of my colleagues was a social work student on placement. She made a lone home visit with a young man who had schizophrenia, and was tragically stabbed to death. That is one side of social work – the risks it entails – that seldom gets reasonable and adequate media coverage or acknowledgement.

One example of good partnership work was a family therapy project set up by two clinical psychologists, a paediatrician and two social workers, which I contributed to. I had always worked closely with CAMHS, and developed positive co-working relationships with the organisation, so felt this was a valuable opportunity for joint delivery of an excellent project. Parenting related issues were recognised as quite often having a negative impact on children/young people’s wellbeing. Of course, socioeconomic context matters, and we felt that this is too often overlooked in delivery of family services.

My colleagues and I were concerned that a ‘blaming the parent’ and stigmatising culture may evolve because of some of the professional emphasis on this one issue. We worked with parents and their children using a combination of group work and one to one sessions. The emphasis was on providing support and dialogue rather than being based on the notion of addressing a ‘parenting skills deficit’. Pooling of professional resources, skills and perspectives meant that this was an effective and successful project, measured in terms of ongoing monitoring and evaluation, feedback from parents and children, and successful outcomes for the child/young person.

We developed an innovative multidisciplinary, dynamic, flexible, responsive approach to therapy, that replaced the woefully inadequate and widespread dominant model – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), used by so many trained and disillusioned practitioners at the time, including me. It became normal to attend service briefings that were pertinent to one’s own working practice outside of one’s own service, and to comfortably speak and share professional experiences to a broad range of professionals from mental health services, educational welfare, police, schools, for example, on a daily basis.

5. The Coalition: from all that mattered to the secretive dismantling of State support

Michael Gove certainly put the “Tory” in “peremptory”. When he took office in Sanctuary Buildings, it was as the secretary of state for education, not children. He gave Every Child Matters a swift name change, and a radical shift in focus, the very day after the Coalition came into office. Authoritarians plan well in advance, it seems, and set their designs in motion very swiftly. The new Government placed a ban on the phrase “Every Child Matters” as part of a widespread change in terminology within Whitehall departments. Details of the changes are revealed in an internal Department for Education (DfE) memo, split into two columns for words used before 11th May and those which should be replaced.

The phrase “Every Child Matters” was immediately replaced with the pseudo-meritocratic phrase “helping children achieve more”. Achievement was only one of the original five ECM outcomes, and the other four have now been dropped. Family intervention projects – another ECM policy development – have been disbanded, and that phrase is also banned from use within Gove’s despotic and linguistically pauperised Department.

One of the first things Gove did was to rename the original and expansive Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) as a considerably reduced Department for Education (DfE). The Every Child Matters webpages are still linked to this site, but with the warning that: “A new UK Government took office on 11 May. As a result, the content on this site may not reflect current Government policy.

All statutory guidance and legislation published on this site continues to reflect the current legal position unless otherwise indicated.”

Gove also recommended that Contactpoint is scrapped, with a focus on a “signposting system” (usually a direct referral)  focusing on “genuinely vulnerable children”. This ridiculous statement implies that some children have somehow been fraudulently obtaining child protection and welfare services and support. And that professionals are not capable of recognising ‘genuinely vulnerable’ from not vulnerable. What this attempted “targeting services” rhetoric translates as is “we are going to cut funding”.

The original Department’s rainbow motif, complete with brightly coloured cartoon children – derisively referred to as “munchkins” by Conservative advisers – was ditched in favour of stark, austere, dark Conservative blue lettering. The Coalition have quietly pushed a shift from the Labour recognition of children’s potential, promoting their wellbeing and safety to a flat unidimensional standards-linked achievement.

Schools no longer have a statutory right to promote children’s spiritual, social and emotional wellbeing, and the Labour idea of self-aware and responsible Citizenship based element to education was also removed from the curriculum. (Though the Conservatives have changed the definition and terms of “responsible citizenship” subsequently, it’s now used as a form of state coercion to justify withdrawal of tax funded support provision). Ofsted no longer grade schools on this: Tory ministers seem to regard the ECM initiative’s goals as distractions from schools’ core purpose. No longer do children need to “enjoy and achieve” – just achieve. Local cutbacks are making it harder for schools to bring in specialised support. Once again. Same old Tories. Same old essential support provision being stripped away.

What was a ‘Children’s Plan’ under the Labour Government is now a “free market education plan”, marking Gove’s shift from free schools to ‘for profit’ schools. This, of course, is certain to cause institutional confusion, with each school having individual freedom, self publicity and marketing responsibility and with no universal statutory protection policy in place. The whole-child approach has been abandoned in favour of a narrow focus on “educational standards.”

Michael Gove described the Every Child Matters agenda as “meddlesome”, but what he really means is that this Government are not prepared to fund the health, safety, protection and wellbeing of every child that needs support. Labour ministers wanted to do more than just protect children, they wanted to “ensure that every child has the chance to fulfil their potential”. This Government are not interested in the welfare or the potential of our children.

It’s common sense that if you are really focused on improving attainment and helping children to achieve educationally, as Gove is claiming, that attainment is inextricably linked to their overall wellbeing. The dismantling of ECM has some very far reaching and negative consequences, for child protection and welfare, equal opportunities, acknowledging diversity, inclusion, family support, respite care, education provision (especially for those pupils that don’t have mainstream needs) are but a few that come to mind.

With the very challenging cuts that local authorities face, many have had to severely reduce their children’s social care budget by up to a fifth – forcing them to focus purely on their statutory responsibilities, and barely, at times. Labour’s development of the effective, comprehensive and, in my opinion, crucial preventative support services has been totally demolished by the Coalition. Apparently, Gove thinks that children and young people’s safety and wellbeing is optional.

68 per cent of our front line children’s services have had cuts to their budgets in 2011 alone. Bearing in mind these are also providing statutory services and considering that many local authorities are pessimistic about the future of these services, and with most charities previously funded to undertake ECM outcome based work – work with families in which children are struggling at school because of problems at home including poverty, adult mental health problems, domestic violence, substance abuse, truancy and poor housing – being also fearful for the future of the most vulnerable members of society. In some areas, support for vulnerable children of school age has just been cut from the budget completely. And as we know, the worst of the cuts are yet to come.

When the full extent of the welfare reforms is realised next year – the bedroom tax, benefit cap, the poll tax styled council tax via the Localism Bill, which are still yet to come, the numbers of children and young people facing substantially increased deprivation and poverty will rise steeply, with problems such as increased risk of neglect, risk of emotional and physical abuse – the resilience of parents is more likely to be affected by poverty (NSPPC 2008 Inform study recognises this link ) – mental health problems, lack of educational attainment and fewer life chances (further compounded by other punitive Coalition policies, that have significantly reduced equal opportunities) among other significant complex, interconnected problems becoming much more commonplace.

Poor and vulnerable children will need extensive support from both statutory frontline services and range of other support services that are no longer in place. The impact of Coalition cuts on the lives of so many vulnerable children and adults, together with the dismantling of essential welfare, support and protection services, will be catastrophic, and very likely, an irreversible horror that we – as a so called civilised society –  will have to face.

“Each child’s story is worthy of telling. There shouldn’t be a sliding scale of death. The weight of it is crushing.” – Anderson Cooper

Further Reading:

The shape of things to come? Privatisation for children’s services, education and support for those with additional needs in the classroom – http://eoin-clarke.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/5000-education-jobs-including-provision.html 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/may/13/dcsf-new-name-department-education 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8679749.stm 

Listen and learn Mr Gove. Posted on June 14, 2012: ttp://www.labourteachers.org.uk/blog/2012/06/14/time-to-listen-and-learn-mr-gove/ – Baroness Maggie Jones

How poverty and deprivation impact on child protection needs – http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/briefings/povertypdf_wdf56896.pdf
Parenting and poverty – http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/parenting-poverty.pdf