Tag: Samaritans

Generous welfare benefits increase the work ethic. The government is wrong about ‘perverse incentives’

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The UK establishment have intentionally created a scapegoating project. A dominant political and cultural narrative has targeted people needing social security support, constructing welfare folk devils and generating moral panic. This is to justify the dismantling of the welfare state, and to de-empathise the public to the plight of the poorest citizens. The government have misled the public, claiming social security provision leads to a “culture of dependency”. International research shows this is untrue.

Comparative research at an international level has undermined the government claim that the UK welfare state encourages “widespread cultures of dependency” and presents unemployed people with “perverse incentives”. 

study, which links welfare generosity and active labour market policies with increased employment commitment, was published in 2015. It has demonstrated that people are more likely to look for work if they live in a country where welfare provision is generous and relatively unconditional. Empirically, the research includes more recent data, from a larger number of European countries than previous studies.

The research also compared employment motivation in specific sub-sections of communities across countries: ethnic minorities, people in poor health, non-employed people and women, and adds depth to previous studies. It has been concluded that comprehensive welfare provision is increasingly seen as a productive force in society (Bonoli, 2012), that stimulates employment commitment (Esser, 2005) and supports individual inclusion and participation in society and the labour market, particularly among disadvantaged groups

Sociologists Dr Kjetil van der Wel and Dr Knut Halvorsen, from Oslo and Akershus University College, Norway, examined responses to the statement “I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money” presented to the interviewees for the European Social Survey in 2010.

In a paper published in the journal Work, employment and society, (published by the British Sociological Association and SAGE) titled The bigger the worse? A comparative study of the welfare state and employment commitment, sociologists compare the responses with the amount the country spent on welfare benefits and employment schemes, whilst taking into account the population differences between states.

The researchers found that the more a country paid to unemployed and disabled people, and invested in employment schemes, the more its population were likely to agree with the statement, whether employed or not.

They found that almost 80% of people in Norway, which pays the highest benefits of the 18 countries, agreed with the statement. By contrast in Estonia, one of least generous, only around 40% did. It’s also the case that the countries with the highest levels of financial support for those in need also have the highest employment rates, which challenges neoliberal antiwelfare narratives regarding so-called “perverse incentives” and their highly controversial and stigmatising “scrounger” rhetoric.

The UK was then considered average in terms of our generosity of benefit levels, and the percentage of subjects agreeing with the statement was almost 60%.  However, this research was carried out in 2010, prior to the radical changes to the UK social security system that happened with the Coalition Welfare Reform Act in 2012 and subsequent Conservative policies.

The researchers also found that government programmes which intervene in the labour market to support unemployed people in finding work made it more likely that those people agree that they wanted to work even if they didn’t need the money. In the countries with the most interventionist states, around 80% agreed with the statement and in the least around 45%. The UK’s response, though one of the least interventionist then (and is even less positively interventionist now), was around 60%.

In the article, the researchers say: “Many scholars and commentators fear that generous social benefits threaten the sustainability of the welfare state due to work norm erosion, disincentives to work and dependency cultures. 

A basic assumption is that if individuals can obtain sufficient levels of well-being – economic, social and psychological – from living off public benefits, compared to being employed, they would prefer the former. When a ‘critical mass’ of individuals receive public benefits rather than engaging in paid work, the norms regulating work and benefit behaviour will weaken, setting off a self-reinforcing process towards the ‘self-destruction’ of the welfare state. The more people are recipients of benefits, the less stigmatizing and costly in terms of social sanctions it is to apply for benefits.

However, other commentators suggested that because employment rates are higher in countries with generous welfare states, more people will have positive experience of work. People who receive generous benefits when out of work may feel more inclined to give something back to the state by striving hard to find work.

This article concludes that there are few signs that groups with traditionally weaker bonds to the labour market are less motivated to work if they live in generous and activating welfare states.

The notion that big welfare states are associated with widespread cultures of dependency, or other adverse consequences of poor short term incentives to work, receives little support.”

On the contrary, employment commitment was much higher in all the studied groups in bigger welfare states. Hence, this study’s findings support the welfare resources perspective over the welfare scepticism perspective.”

The UK government launched an unprecedented range of cuts on public services which happened between 2010 to 2015. However, the UK’s millionaires were awarded substantial tax cuts over that time period. George Osborne handed out a cut in tax that rewarded millionaires with £107, 000 each per year at the same time the welfare “reform” bill became policy.

The biggest percentage of cuts affected social security benefits and local government, which has adversely impacted on housing, local authority services and ultimately, on ordinary people in local communities. The cuts in social care and welfare fall disproportionately on two groups that overlap: people in poverty and disabled people. They fall hardest of all on people with the most severe disabilities, who need both benefits and social care.

Using an extremely divisive justification narrative peppered with words such as “workshy” and “scrounger”, and redefining what is “fair”, the government made out that UK tax payers were a discrete group from people needing welfare support, and that the latter group were a kind of economic free rider, sharing a “something for nothing culture”.  The government intentionally fostered resentment in employed people “paying taxes to carry the burden of those who won’t work”.

The Conservatives have persistently claimed that there are moral hazards and adverse behavioural consequences attached to providing poverty relief. This is a view shared by other neoliberal nation states, such as the US.

Policies represent perceptions and establish state instructions regarding how various social groups ought to be perceived and treated. They reflect how a government thinks society should be organised. They encode messages about how people ought to behave and how our individual degree of freedoms are defined, extended or restricted. Policies are always intentional acts that shape socioeconomic organisation.

The government have colonised left wing rhetoric, and conflated social justice and inclusion with work, making citizenship and human rights conditional, and contingent on a person’s economic productivity. They claimed to be “the party of workers”, yet the Conservatives have legislated more than once to undermine collective bargaining and trade unionism more generally. There has been a marked downward shift in wage levels and working conditions over the past six years, as well as drastic reductions in welfare support.

The word “reforms” is now a euphemism for cuts. Words like “support” and “help” are used as techniques of neutralisation, to divert people from the coercive, punitive and targeted elements of the “reforms”. These are semantic shifts of Orwellian proportions. 

The majority of unemployed people move in and out of work, indicating that policy, the economy and labour market conditions, rather than personal failings and dubious “cultures”, are the reason why people become unemployed. The tax payer/benefit claimant dichotomy is a false one. Everyone contributes to welfare, that is why national insurance was introduced: to pay for support provision that you may need in the future.

Furthermore, unemployed people pay taxes, and stealth taxes such as VAT contribute a significant amount to the Treasury. When social security benefits were originally calculated, they covered only the costs of food and fuel. It was assumed that people claiming support were exempt from council tax and paying rent. That is no longer the case, but benefit levels have not risen to adjust for this. 

The highest welfare spending has actually been on pensions, followed by in-work benefits. The latter subsidises employers paying low wages that don’t support families in meeting the costs of living. However, under the new Universal Credit, in-work support will be conditional and significantly reduced, especially for those families on low pay with children. 

The Conservative’s austerity cuts have disproportionally targeted the very people that a fair and civilised society should protect. This was justified partly by the global economic recession, though not everyone was expected to “live within their means” and contribute to reducing the national deficit. Remarkably, those that caused the recession appear to have got off free from obligation to contribute to the reduction of the debt, in a “low tax, low welfare society.”

The Conservative cuts were also justified by the perpetuation of a dominant neoliberal discourse based on small state ideology, antiwelfare myths and the purposeful creation of welfare folk devils and moral panic.

One consequence of the Conservative’s “reforms” has been the return of absolute poverty in the UK – some people cannot meet their basic needs and are going without adequate food and fuel. Many people have suffered distress, harm and some have died as a result of the government’s welfare regime. 

The Samaritan’s recent study – Dying from Inequality – links suicidal behaviours with socioeconomic deprivation. Their report says: “Suicide risk increases during periods of economic recession, particularly when recessions are associated with a steep rise in unemployment, and this risk remains high when crises end, especially for individuals whose economic circumstances do not improve. Countries with higher levels of per capita spending on active labour market programmes, and which have more generous unemployment benefits, experience lower recession-related rises in suicides.”

There is also a further extensive cost to human potential. As Abraham Maslow indicated, if people cannot meet their basic physical needs, they are not likely to fulfil psychosocial ones.

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Graphic courtesy of Dr Simon Duffy,  The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Related

A bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment, say UK’s top psychologists

Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour – report from Samaritans

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment provided empirical evidence that demonstrates clearly why welfare sanctions can’t possibly work as an “incentive” to “make work pay”


 

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

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Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour – report from Samaritans

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As Samaritans release a report ahead of Wednesday’s Budget linking inequality with a higher risk of suicide, the charity is calling on the government, businesses, industry and sector leaders to be aware of the risks of suicide and to direct support to those with unstable employment, insecure housing, low income or in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.

The report, Dying from Inequality, produced in conjunction with leading researchers and academics, is far-reaching and highlights clear areas of risk to communities and individuals, including the closure and downsizing of businesses, those in manual, low-skilled employment, those facing unmanageable debt and those with poor housing conditions.

In today’s press release, Samaritans’ CEO Ruth Sutherland says, “Suicide is an inequality issue that we have known about for some time, this report says that’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s got to change. Most importantly this report sets out, for the first time, what needs to happen to save lives. Addressing inequality would remove the barriers to help and support where they are needed most and reduce the need for that support in the first place. Government, public services, employers, service providers, communities, family and friends all have a role in making sure help is relevant and accessible when it matters most.

“Everyone can feel overwhelmed at times in their life. People at risk of suicide may have employers, or they may seek help at job centres, or go to their GP. They may come into contact with national and local government agencies, perhaps on a daily basis. So, in the light of this report we are asking key people and organisations from across society, for example those working in housing, in businesses, medical staff, job centre managers, to all take action to make sure their service, their organisation, their community is doing all it can to promote mental health and prevent the tragedy of suicide. 

Samaritans has already started addressing the inequalities driving people to suicide, by making its helpline number free to call, by calling on Government for more frontline staff to be trained in suicide prevention in England and by campaigning for local authorities to have effective suicide prevention plans in place. Now, in response to the findings of this report, the next steps will involve instigating working groups, in different sectors, bringing together businesses and charities who can influence in the areas highlighted, in order to tackle this issue in a collaborative, systematic and effective way to ensure that fewer people die by suicide.”

Sutherland continues: “Each suicide statistic is a person. The employee on a zero hour’s contract is somebody’s parent or child. A person at risk of losing their home may be a sibling or a friend. And each one of them will leave others devastated, and potentially more disadvantaged too, if they take their own life. This is a call for us as individuals to care more and for organisations that can make a difference, to do so.”

She went on to say: “Living in poverty shouldn’t mean losing your life. Going through difficult times like losing your job or being in debt shouldn’t mean not wanting to live. But that is what’s happening in the UK and Ireland today. Suicide is killing the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people, devastating families and communities.”

Some key points from the report summary:

There is no single reason why people take their own lives. Suicide is a complex and multi-faceted behaviour, resulting from a wide range of psychological, social, economic and cultural risk factors which interact and increase an individual’s level of risk.

Socioeconomic disadvantage is a key risk factor for suicidal behaviour.

Socioeconomic disadvantage or living in an area of socioeconomic deprivation increases the risk of suicidal behaviour.

The research evidence was considered at three levels: societal, community and individual: 

Societal: political, economic and social policies related to, for example, economic change, employment, social support and the labour market; stigmatised attitudes towards people on the basis of their socioeconomic standing or their suicidal behaviour.

Community: the local economic, social, cultural and physical environment, including, for example, geographical location, job opportunities, service availability and accessibility, and home ownership.

Individual: demographic characteristics, such as gender and age; socioeconomic position, including occupational social class and type of employment; mental health; and health-related behaviours.

Suicide risk increases during periods of economic recession, particularly when recessions are associated with a steep rise in unemployment, and this risk remains high when crises end, especially for individuals whose economic circumstances do not improve. Countries with higher levels of per capita spending on active labour market programmes, and which have more generous unemployment benefits, experience lower recession-related rises in suicides.

During the most recent recession (2008-09), there was a 0.54% increase in suicides for every 1% increase in indebtedness across 20 EU countries, including the UK and Ireland. Social and employment protection for the most vulnerable in society, and labour market programmes to help unemployed people find work, can reduce suicidal behaviour by reducing both the real and perceived risks of job insecurity and by increasing protective factors, such as social contact. In order to be effective, however, programmes must be meaningful to participants and felt to be non-stigmatising.

There is a strong association between area-level deprivation and suicidal behaviour: as area-level deprivation increases, so does suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are two to three times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to the most affluent.

Admissions to hospital following self-harm are two times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to the most affluent. Multiple and large employer closures resulting in unemployment can increase stress in a local community, break down social connections and increase feelings of hopelessness and depression, all of which are recognised risk factors for suicidal behaviour.  

While the economic situation and policy approaches vary across the nations in which Samaritans operates, the link between socioeconomic disadvantage and increased risk of suicide is evident in all these nations. It is therefore essential that we understand why this link exists. We all need to address this inequality issue which is resulting in the tragic loss of lives.

Features of socioeconomic disadvantage include low income, unmanageable debt, poor housing conditions, lack of educational qualifications, unemployment and living in a socioeconomically deprived area. Individual Individuals experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage and adverse experiences, such as unemployment and unmanageable debt, are at increased risk of suicidal behaviour, particularly during periods of economic recession.

The risk of suicidal behaviour is increased among those experiencing job insecurity and downsizing or those engaged in non-traditional work situations, such as part-time, irregular and short-term contracts with various employers. The experience of being declared bankrupt, losing one’s home or not being able to repay debts to family and friends is not only stressful but can also feel humiliating. This can lead to an increased risk of suicidal behaviour.

The risk of suicidal behaviour increases when an individual faces negative life events, such as adversity, relationship breakdown, social isolation, or experiences stigma, emotional distress or poor mental health.

Socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals are more likely to experience ongoing stress and negative life events, thus increasing their risk of suicidal behaviour. In the UK, socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals are less likely to seek help for mental health problems than the more affluent, and are less likely to be referred to specialist mental health services following self-harm by GPs located in deprived areas.

Different welfare states have been shown to have different effects on social and health inequalities. High quality public service provision leads to a more cohesive society than policies based on means-testing which may generate social divisions. Given the link between inequalities and suicidal behaviour, labour market policy design can help improve wellbeing and reduce the risk of suicide.

Employment

Evidence on the association between working conditions, debt and suicide suggests that increased, involuntary part-time work, job insecurity and workplace downsizing are important risk factors for suicidal behaviour. It is not only unemployed people who are at increased risk. Employees who keep their jobs during a workplace downsizing may experience job insecurity and negative relationships with their peers, as well as stress from an increased workload. People who are self-employed can also be affected if demand for their business decreases. 

Unemployment benefits

Generous unemployment benefits and other types of social protection can reduce the risk of suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates tend to increase in countries which implement significant budget cuts, which was evident during the 2008-09 recession in some EU countries (Karanikolos et al., 2013). Unemployment benefits compensate for some of the income loss experienced from involuntary unemployment. Depending on the level of benefits, they should help ease financial worries that may lead to suicidal behaviour. However, means-tested benefits may actually contribute to suicidal behaviour, if recipients feel stigmatised, leading to feelings of shame, worthlessness, a loss of status, and a deterioration of mental health.

Employment protection

Strong employment protection should reduce real and perceived risks around job insecurity and unemployment, resulting in a positive impact on mental health. In contrast, weak employment protection is likely to increase real and perceived insecurity, and could lead to precarious forms of employment, such as temporary or zero-hours contracts, with adverse effects on mental health.

Inexperienced workers with low skills are particularly vulnerable in such contexts, since they are most likely to be on contracts which are less well protected and more precarious. The risk of mental health problems is increased among those engaged in non-traditional work situations, such as part-time, irregular and short-term contracts with various employers, especially where there is little or no choice, as well as for those experiencing job insecurity and downsizing. Suicidal behaviour can be reduced amongst the most vulnerable in society through social and employment protection and labour market programmes. This will reduce the real and perceived risks of job insecurity and reduce stigma of unemployment.

Recommendations:

Individuals, communities and wider society can all play a part in reducing the risk of suicidal behaviour. Governments need to take a lead by placing a stronger emphasis on suicide prevention as an inequality issue.

National suicide prevention strategies need to target efforts towards the most vulnerable people and places, in order to reduce geographical inequalities in suicide. Effective cross-governmental approaches are required, with mental health services improved and protected.

Suicide prevention needs to be a government priority in welfare, education, housing and employment policies. Workplaces should have in place a suicide prevention plan, and provide better psychological support to all employees, especially those experiencing job insecurity or those affected by downsizing.

Poverty and debt need to be destigmatised so that individuals feel valued and able to access support without fear of being judged. Every local area should have a suicide prevention plan in place. This should include the development and maintenance of services that provide support to individuals experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.

Staff and volunteers in services accessed by socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals or groups should receive specialist training in recognising, understanding and responding to individuals who are in distress and may be suicidal (even if they do not say they are feeling suicidal). People bereaved or affected by suicidal behaviour, and therefore at higher risk of suicide themselves, should be offered tailored psychological, practical and financial support particularly in disadvantaged communities.

It is well understood that adverse individual or family circumstances, such as relationship breakdown, unemployment or debt, can result in a higher risk of suicidal behaviour (Gunnell & Chang 2016). What is less well known is the potential impact of the place where people live (neighbourhood, city, region) on the likelihood of suicidal behaviour.

The public health evidence is clear: as area-level deprivation increases, so does suicidal behaviour. For both men and women, those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour; and every increase in area-level affluence results in a reduction in the risk of suicidal behaviour.

The health of people in a neighbourhood, town, region or country is the product of the demographic, behavioural, socioeconomic and other characteristics of the people who live there. Compositional factors that are likely to increase the risk of suicidal behaviour in areas of socioeconomic deprivation include (O’Reilly et al., 2008; Lorant et al., 2005): experiencing multiple negative life events, such as poor health, unemployment, poor living conditions feeling powerless, stigmatised, disrespected, social disconnectedness, such as social isolation, poor social support other features of social exclusion, such as poverty, and poor educational attainment.

People living in the most deprived areas are more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour. Suicide rates are two to three times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to the most affluent, and rates of hospitalised self-harm are also twice as high. Neighbourhoods that are the most deprived have worse health than those that are less deprived and this association follows a gradient: for each increase in deprivation, there is a decrease in health. Additional support for those living in deprived areas is needed to reduce geographical inequalities in health and the risk of suicidal behaviour.

Experiences of childhood adversity, negative life events, and the cumulative effects of stress are associated with feelings of entrapment and hopelessness and increase the risk of suicidal behaviour, especially among those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Stressful life events and childhood adversity

Exposure to negative life events, particularly those involving loss, such as bereavement or a relationship breakdown, heightens the risk of suicidal behaviour. Socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals are more likely to experience such negative life events, and therefore more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour. Experiencing childhood adversity increases the likelihood that individuals will become socioeconomically disadvantaged in later life.

For example, unemployment is more likely among those who have adverse childhood experiences, particularly men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. Stress response and allostatic load Ongoing exposure to stress and adversity may gradually reduce an individual’s biological stress regulation resources, leading to a cumulative physiological toll known as “allostatic load” (Seeman et al., 2010).

Socioeconomic disadvantage itself is a stressor linked to increased allostatic load, but it may also influence allostatic load indirectly by increasing the likelihood of individuals experiencing childhood adversity and other stressful life events. Increased allostatic load brought about by the chronic and acute stresses associated with socioeconomic disadvantage may contribute to suicidal behaviour.

Socioeconomic disadvantage, from a psychological perspective, makes a major contribution to the occurrence of suicidal behaviour.

 

You can read the full summary report here

The full version of the report will be available on 10th March

 


 

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

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