Tag: Social Security

A brief history of social security and the reintroduction of eugenics by stealth

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Introduction

Our welfare state arose as a social security safety net – founded on an assurance that as a civilised and democratic society we value the well-being and health of every citizen.

There was a cross-party political consensus that such provision was in the best interests of the nation as a whole at a time when we were collectively spirited enough to ensure that no one should be homeless or starving in modern Britain.

As such, welfare is a fundamental part of the UK’s development –  our progress – the basic idea of improving people’s lives was at the heart of the welfare state and more broadly, it reflects the evolution of European democratic and rights-based societies.

Now the UK “social security” system is anything but. It has regressed to reflect the philosophy underpinning the 1834 Poor Law, to  become a system of punishments aimed at the poorest and most marginalised social groups. The Poor Law principle of less eligibility – which served as a deterrence to poor people claiming poor relief is embodied in the Conservative claim of Making work pay: benefits have been reduced to make the lowest paid, insecure employment a more appealing option than claiming benefits.

Unemployed people have absolutely no bargaining power or choice regarding their work conditions and pay. They are coerced by the state to apply for any work available. This also negatively impacts on collective bargaining more widely, the creation of a desperate reserve army of labor serves to drive wages down further. (See: Conservatism in a nutshell.)

The draconian benefit sanctions are about depriving people of their lifeline benefits because they have allegedly failed to comply in some way with increasingly stringent welfare conditionality – which is aimed at enforcing compliance, “behaviour change” and achieving reductions in welfare expenditure rather than supporting people claiming benefits and helping them to find work.

Removing a person’s means of meeting basic survival needs presents significant barriers to that person finding work. If we can’t meet our basic needs, we cannot be motivated or “incentivised” to do anything but struggle for survival.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

 

Such a political aim of “behaviour change” is founded entirely on assumptions and moral judgements about why people are unemployed or underpaid. And of course serious concerns have arisen because sanctions have tended to be extremely discriminatory. Young people, women with childcare responsibilities, people with learning disabilities, people with mental illnesses and disabled people are particularly vulnerable as a consequence of the rigid conditionality criteria.

Frankly, such an approach to welfare seems to be cruelly designed to exclude those people who need support the most. Not only does the current government fail to recognise socio-economic causes of poverty, poor wages, underemployment and unemployment because of political decision-making – preferring to blame individuals for economic misfortune – it also fails to recognise the detrimental wider social and economic implications of penalising poor people for the conservative engineering of a steeply hierarchical society.

As a government that values social inequality, and regards it as necessary for economic growth, insolvency and poverty for some is intrinsic to the Conservative ideological script and drives policy decisions, yet the Tories insist that individuals shape their own economic misfortunes.

Worse, the Conservatives are prepared to leave people without a basic means of support – one that the public have paid for themselves.

Austerity – which is aimed at the poorest members of society – has served to increase inequality, and since the Tory welfare “reforms,” we have seen a re-emergence of absolute poverty. Up until recently, our welfare system ensured that everyone could meet their basic survival needs. That no longer is the case.

A brief history of welfare

A welfare state is founded on the idea that  government plays a key role in ensuring 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 both political and social responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for well-being.

It was recognised that people experienced periods of economic difficulty because of structural constraints such as unemployment and recession, through no fault of their own. It was also recognised that poor health and disability may happen to anyone through no fault of their own.

The welfare state arose in the UK during the post-war period, and following the Great Depression, for numerous reasons, most of these were informed by research carried out into the causes of poverty, its effects on individuals and more broadly, on the UK economy. There were also political reasons for the Conservatives and Liberals supporting the poorer citizens – the newly enfranchised working class.

Charles Booth in London and Sebohm Rowntree in York carried out the first serious studies of poverty and its causes. They both discovered that the causes were casual labour, low pay, unemployment, illness and old age – not laziness, fecklessness, drunkenness and gambling, as previously assumed. The poverty studies raised awareness of the extent of poverty in Britain and the myriad social problems it caused.

The Boer war of 1899-1902 highlighted the general poor state of health of the nation. One out of every three volunteers failed the army medical due to malnutrition, other illnesses due to poor diet and very poor living conditions. The military informed the government at the time of the shockingly poor physical condition of many of those conscripted.

It was realised that the effects of poverty were potentially damaging to  the whole of society. Health problems and infectious disease – rife in the overcrowded slums – could affect rich and poor alike. It was recognised that the economy suffered if large numbers of people were too poor to buy goods and social problems such as exploitation, debt, crime, prostitution and drunkenness were a direct result of poverty, and not the cause of it.

The discovery of  widespread poor health as a consequence of poverty raised concerns about Britain’s future ability to compete with new industrial nations such as Germany and the USA. National efficiency would only increase if the health and welfare of the population improved.

The growth of the Labour Party and Trade Unionism presented a threat to the Liberals and the Conservatives. The new working class voters were turning to these organizations to improve their lives. The traditionally laissez-faire Liberals recognised this and supported the idea of government help for the working class.

Back to the present: welfare is no longer about welfare

The current Conservative government has taken a distinctly behaviourist turn – a form of psychopolitics which essentially reduces explanations of poverty to the personal – blaming poor people for poverty and unemployed people for unemployment, formulating policies that are about making people change their behaviour, based on a simplistic “cause and effect” approach. The government nudges and we are expected to comply. Increasing the use of benefit sanctions is one policy consequence of this psychopolitical approach.

Of course this brand of psychopolitics is all about the government assuming the fallibility of the population and the infallibility of the government when it comes to decision-making and behaviours.

Although Cameron claims that “Nudge” draws on a “paternalistic libertarian” philosophy, any government that acts upon a population, by reducing liberties, choices and by imposing behavioural modification without public consent – expecting people to change their behaviours and choices unwittingly to fit with what the state deems “right,” rather than reflecting public needs via democratic engagement and a genuine dialogue, is actually authoritarian.

As I’ve said elsewhere, welfare has been redefined: it is pre-occupied with assumptions about and modification and monitoring of the behaviour and character of recipients, rather than with the alleviation of poverty and ensuring economic and social well-being.

Eugenics by stealth

Further intention of directing behavioural change is at the heart of policies that restrict welfare support such as tax credits to two children. The Conservatives have recently announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families. Whilst this might not go as far as imposing limits on the birth of children for poor people, it does effectively amount to a two-child policy.

A two-child policy is defined as a government-imposed limit of two children allowed per family or the payment of government subsidies only to the first two children.

Of course this is justified using a Conservative ideologically driven scapegoating narrative of the feckless family, misbehaving and caught up in a self-imposed culture of dependence on welfare.

This restriction in support for children of larger families, however, significantly impacts on the autonomy of families, and their freedom to make decisions about their family life. Benefit rules purposefully aimed at reducing family size rarely come without repercussions.

It’s worth remembering that David Cameron ruled out cuts to tax credits before the election when asked during interviews. Tax credit rates weren’t actually cut in the recent Budget—although they were frozen and so will likely lose some of their value over the next four years because of inflation.

Some elements were scrapped, and of course some entitlements were restricted. But either way a pre-election promise not to cut child tax credits sits very uneasily with what was announced in the budget.

Iain Duncan Smith said last year that limiting child benefit to the first two children in a family is “well worth considering” and “could save a significant amount of money.” The idea was being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could alienate parents. Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:

“I think it’s well worth looking at,” he said. “It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.”

Firstly, this is a clear indication of the Tories’ underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socio-economic policies.

Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without.

Moreover, a policy aimed at restricting support available for families where parents are either unemployed or in low paid work is effectively a class contingent policy.

The tax child credit policy of restricting support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming benefits year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive deficits.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a study that debunked  the notion of a “culture of worklessness” in 2012.  I’ve argued with others more recently that there are methodological weaknesses underlying the Conservative’s regressive positivist/behaviourist theories, especially a failure to scientifically test the permanence or otherwise of an underclass status, and a failure to distinguish between the impact of “personal inadequacy” and socio-economic misfortune.

Back in the 1970s, following his remarks on the cycle of deprivation, Keith Joseph established a large-scale research programme devoted to testing its validity. One of the main findings of the research was that there is no simple continuity of social problems between generations of the sort required for his thesis. At least half of the children born into disadvantaged homes do not repeat the pattern of disadvantage in the next generation.

Despite the fact that continuity of deprivation across generations is by no means inevitable – the theory is not supported by empirical research – the idea of the cycle of “worklessness” has become “common sense.” Clearly, common perceptions of the causes of poverty are (being) misinformed. The individual behaviourist theory of poverty predicts that the same group of people remain in poverty. This doesn’t happen.

However, the structural theory predicts that different people are in poverty over time (and further, that we need to alter the economic structure to make things better). Longitudinal surveys show that impoverished people are not the same people every year. In other words, people move in and out of poverty: it’s a revolving door, as predicted by structural explanations of poverty.

Many families are in work when they plan their children. Job loss, an accident or illness causing disability, can happen to anyone at any time. It’s hardly fair to stigmatise and penalise larger families for events that are outside of their control.

Limiting financial support to two children may also have consequences regarding the number of abortions. Abortion should never be an outcome of reductive state policy. By limiting choices available to people already in situations of limited choice – either an increase of poverty for existing children or an abortion, then women may feel they have no choice but to opt for the latter. That is not a free choice, because the state is inflicting a punishment by withdrawing support for those choosing to have more than two children, which will have negative repercussions for all family members.

Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.

If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits?  It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born.

And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to.

Restriction on welfare support for children will directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority to continue having babies as they wish, whilst aiming to curtail the poor by disincentivisingbreeding” of the “underclass.” It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, and it openly discriminates against the children of large families.

People who are in favour of eugenics believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups.

Eugenics arose from the social Darwinism and laissez-faire economics of the late 19th century, which emphasised competitive individualism, a “survival of the wealthiest” philosophy and sociopolitical rationalisations of inequality.

Eugenics is now considered to be extremely unethical and it was criticised and condemned widely when its role in justification narratives of the Holocaust was revealed.

But that doesn’t mean it has gone away. It’s hardly likely that a government of a so-called first world liberal democracy – and fully signed up member of the European Convention on Human Rights and a signatory also to the United Nations Universal Declaration – will publicly declare their support of eugenics, or their totalitarian tendencies, for that matter, any time soon.

But any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable” and formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are overtly expressed as “eugenics” or not.

Conservatives are not known for valuing diversity, it has to be said.

Implications of the welfare “reforms”: Human rights

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

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

A recent assessment report by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider its deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.

The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present to the United Nations.

Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.

England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:

“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”

Another worry is the impact of changes to welfare, and ministers’ plan to cut £12bn more from the benefits budget. There are now 4.1m children living in absolute poverty – 500,000 more than there were when David Cameron came to power.

It’s noted in the report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention – the best interests of the child are paramount:

“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:

Article 1

For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

Article 2

1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Article 3

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 4

States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.

Article 5

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 26

1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.

2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.

Here are the rest of the Convention Articles

The Nordic social democratic model of welfare

Finally, it’s worth noting, as sociologist Lane Kenworthy has pointed out, that the Nordic welfare experience of the modern social democratic model can:

“promote economic security, expand opportunity, and ensure rising living standards for all . . . while facilitating freedom, flexibility and market dynamism.”

Nordic welfare models include support for a universalist welfare state which is aimed specifically at enhancing individual autonomy, promoting social mobility and ensuring the universal provision of basic human rights, as well as for stabilizing the economy, alongside a commitment to free trade.

The Nordic model is distinguished from other types of welfare states by its emphasis on maximizing labor force participation, promoting gender equality, egalitarian and extensive benefit levels and the large magnitude of income redistribution.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted that there is higher social mobility in the Scandinavian countries than in the United States, and argues that Scandinavia is now the land of opportunity that the United States once was. The Nordics cluster at the top of league tables of everything from economic competitiveness to social health to happiness.

They have avoided both southern Europe’s economic sclerosis and America’s extreme inequality. Development theorists have taken to calling successful modernisation “getting to Denmark”.

The Nordics demonstrate very well that it is possible to combine competitive capitalism with a large state: they employ 30% of their workforce in the public sector, compared with an OECD average of 15%. The main lesson to learn from the Nordics is not ideological but practical.

The state is popular not because it is big but because it works. A Norwegian pays tax more willingly than a Californian because he or she has access to decent schools, support when times are difficult and free health care as a result.

Norway ranks among the richest countries in the world. GDP per capita is among the highest in the world.

Norway regards welfare services not as social costs but as fundamental social investment for open innovation and growth.

Innovation should not be an opportunity for a few only. It should be democratised and distributed in order to tackle the causes of growing inequality.

Inequality hampers economic growth.

We can’t afford not to have a welfare state.

See also:

Children’s Commissioner warns that UK is now in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Human rights are the bedrock of democracy, which the Tories have imperiled.

Welfare reforms break UN convention

Welfare reforms, food banks, malnutrition and the return of Victorian diseases are not coincidental, Mr Cameron

The government refuse to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of welfare “reforms”. Again.

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”

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

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

The welfare state: from hung, drawn and quartered to Tory privatisation

Thatcher scary

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

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

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

The research article concludes that:

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

New Right Conservatives have a curiously evidence-resistant conviction that the “big state” has somehow stymied our society: that the “socialist relic” – our NHS and our Social Security system, which supports the casualties of Tory free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know from history and recent events that competitive individualism and market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

Tory rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t somehow “create” them. If the Conservatives must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

In a wealthy so-called first world democracy, it is profoundly uncivilised and anti-democratic to simply dismiss people experiencing poverty and hardship effectively as collateral damage, and terribly cruel and irresponsible to blame those people for the situations of difficulty and deprivation created by policies and the socio-economic framework itself.

This wide recognition that the raw “market forces” of stark laissez faire cause casualties is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such competitive economic dogmas to manifest – as the stormy present – there are winners and losers. That is the nature of competitive individualism, and along with inequality, it’s an implicit, undeniable and fundamental part of the meritocracy script.

And that’s before we consider the fact that whenever there is a Conservative-led government, there is no such thing as a “free market”: in reality, all markets are rigged to favour elites.

Cameron is continuing to build on Thatcher’s legacy. We know from the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) report, which was encouraged and commissioned by Margaret Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe in 1982, that there was a radical, politically toxic plan to dismantle the welfare state, to introduce education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education; to freeze welfare benefits and to introduce an insurance-based health service, ending free health care provision of the NHS. One of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, he  was one of Cameron’s advisors until 2012.

A confidential cabinet memorandum by the Central Policy Review Staff in September 1982, said: “This would of course mean the end of the National Health Service.” The report was declassified and released in 2012 by the National Archives under the 30-year rule.

But the fear of the scale of opposition to the plan meant the grand dismantling of the welfare state didn’t happen. Instead the Conservatives have planned and worked to take it apart a piece at a time.

In 1982 unemployment rose above three million. Yet the Tories were happy with further increases to try and drive down wages. John Sparrow of the Cabinet Office’s Central Policy Review Staff think-tank, wrote in a June memo to Thatcher that the youth training scheme, introduced in 1983, would be “likely to displace some older workers”.

He continued:

Displacement is not necessarily a bad thing, since it puts downward pressure on wage rates.” Sparrow noted that government plans to end out-of-work benefits for 16 year olds would remove them from the unemployment figures.

Fast-forward to the present: David Cameron is prepared to consider making workers pay into flexible saving accounts to self-fund periods of illness and unemployment benefits, Downing Street has confirmed.

The idea was first floated by Iain Duncan Smith who said he was “very keen” to have a debate about encouraging people to use personal accounts to save for unemployment or illness, even though it is not “official” government policy.

Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph:

We need to support the kind of products that allow people through their lives to dip in and out when they need the money for sickness or care or unemployment.

We need to encourage people to save from day one but they need to know that they can get some of the money out when their circumstances change. This is not government policy but I am very keen to look at it, as a long-term way forward for the 21st century.

Duncan Smith seems to be suggesting that benefits are replaced with a kind of unemployment insurance scheme as seen in the US or products known as “fortune accounts”, which are used in Singapore.

Asked about the idea of workers saving up for their sickness and unemployment benefits, Cameron’s official spokeswoman confirmed he was prepared to consider such a model. She said:

I think the PM shares the work and pensions secretary’s view that we should be doing more to encourage people to take personal responsibility for how they manage their affairs.

The proposal of fortune accounts for the UK was examined in depth in a paper by the Right-wing libertarian Adam Smith Institute thinktank in 1995, which considered how people could go to a single private provider for an account that gave them long-term care insurance, disability cover, health insurance, savings fund management and unemployment insurance.

The paper suggested:

Many other things that we often regard as ‘welfare’ today are also insurable and will be part of the fortune account package. Cover against incapacity to work, long-term care services, and disability, will all be in the package.

A report from Civitas argued (preemptively) that National Insurance is “no longer fit for purpose” and that everyone in work should be forced to save into a private pension to help shoulder the burden of the rising costs of old age.

Civitas professorial research fellow Peter Saunders argued in the report, titled Beyond Beveridge, that the principle that those who are able to should pay into the system has been eroded and “taxpayer-funded hand-outs” have increasingly replaced contributions-based benefits.

He goes on to say that whilst the main purpose of the proposed personal welfare accounts would be for retirement saving, they could also provide cover for when times are tough during periods of short-term unemployment, sickness and parental leave.

It reads like Daily Mail dogma to me.

The report reviews Britain’s National Insurance system and
proposes that it be replaced by compulsory “personal welfare

accounts.”

The introduction of personal insurance schemes would mark the end of welfare provision as we know it. Furthermore, those least likely to be able to afford the premiums are those most at risk of losing their jobs.

The Tories fully intended that the welfare “reforms” were the beginning of the end of our welfare state. The welfare cuts were ushered in strictly because of the despotic use of “financial privilege” by Cameron to bypass the widespread and vehement opposition to the Bill.

At the time, such was my dismay at the proposed welfare “reform” Bill that I emailed the entire House of Lords, imploringly. After using a reasoned approach, my second email simply said: the welfare reforms must not happen. Many of the peers and members replied, and many responded with “agreed.” But Cameron made the “reforms” happen anyway and apparently felt no obligation to observe the niceties of democratic process.

The Tories clearly have no intention of ensuring a safety net for citizens and have plotted to dismantle our welfare state since the Thatcher era. This is a long-planned outcome for the Tories. Social security and public services are in serious jeopardy.

Cameron’s rhetoric is full of references to “rolling back the state”, the “re-awakening of community spirit”, and a restoration of the kind of “intermediate civic institutions” that preceded the welfare state. The whole idea of Cameron’s “big society” is that private charities fill the holes created by public spending cuts.

Food banks have increasingly replaced welfare, for example, yet the point of post-1945 European welfare states was to free those in need from dependence on the insecurity of private generosity, which tends to miss out the socially marginalised, and to be least available when times are hardest.

Welfare, or social security, if you prefer, has provided a sense of security and dignity that we never previously enjoyed, it established a norm of decency, mutuality of our social obligations and created a parity of esteem and worth which was, until fairly recently, universal, regardless of wealth and status.

The “big bad state” is comprised of civilised and civilising institutions. It is such stable and enduring institutions and subsequently secure individuals that are raised above a struggle for basic survival which provide a frame for coherent communities. The Conservatives, with their anti-humanist, anti-enlightenment demagoguery of rigid class division, and policies that engineer steep social stratification, tend to create ghettoes, not communities.

The paternalism of traditional Tories and the authoritarianism of the current New Right are profoundly undemocratic: neither design can reflect the needs of the public since both frameworks are imposed on a population, reflecting only the needs of the ruling class, to preserve social order.

Conservative small-state ideology has led to depopulated social policies, which have dehumanised people, and indicate that the Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects.

The moralising scrutiny and control of the poor is a quintessential element of tory narrative. Tory ideology never changes. They refuse the lessons of history, and reject the need for coherence and rationality. Tories really are stuck in the Feudal era. They have never liked the idea of something for everyone, yet everyone has paid for welfare provision:

“The [financial] crisis is an opportunity to sweep away the rotten postwar settlement of British politics. Labour is moribund. But David Cameron has a chance to develop a “red Tory” communitarianism, socially conservative but sceptical of neoliberal economics.” Phillip Blond, The Rise of the Red Tories, 2009.

Cameron was never sceptical of neoliberalism: like Thatcher, he has extended it without restraint. Neoliberalism entails a charismatic ideology – what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls a doxa: an unquestionable orthodoxy that operates as if it were the objective truth – that facilitates an uncompromising attack on public welfare; inevitable, growing inequality, and the individualization of all social actions, all in the name of private “enterprise”, the accummulation of private wealth for a minority and “global competitiveness.”

Unsurprisingly, then, unemployment, inequality, and poverty are increasingly blamed on the individuals experiencing these conditions rather than on the structural constraints that create the conditions.

We are being turned away from the role of the community and instead our attention is being purposefully diverted and re-focused solely on the “responsibilities” of individuals (and those responsiblities are inversely proportional to how much wealth a person has), common social values such as cooperation, mutual support, reciprocal altruism are being eroded, and the interdependent and intersubjective nature of social life is flatly denied: mutual relationships and common bonds are being dissolved and replaced by a social Darwinist narrative – founded on the mantra of competitive individualism.

The policies, practices and irrational beliefs of the state are distorting the perceptions of social groups and individuals, the colonisation of public language and space with neoliberal narratives – facilitated by a largely complicit media – delivers a distinctive anti-rationalist epistemology that restructures public ontological understandings.

Those understandings have become profoundly anti-collectivist and increasingly, antisocial, ultimately undermining social cohesion, stability and social security.

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Related

The welfare debate and the end of reason

The welfare state – can we afford it?

Can we afford the welfare state?

Britain can still afford the welfare state

We can’t afford to lose the welfare state.

Images courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Conservatism in a nutshell, part 2: Laissez-faire isn’t.

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 “David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.

But they also seem to believe that the only way to make ordinary people work harder is to take money away.”

Ed Miliband.

Source: Hansard, December 12, 2012.

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Oh, the irony of Cameron trying to blame the “global economy” for the utter mess of the UK economy that his party has created. (Well, unless you are a millionaire, then it’s all a pretty good mess, actually.) Cameron’s mess is an entirely homegrown one, and is entirely down to his policies. Worse still, no matter how desperate things get, his message to the UK is that the only solution is to stick to his plan – more austerity – the plan that has created the problems in the first place.

Labour dealt with the global banking crisis without the need for austerity, and had steered the UK out of recession by 2009/10, Cameron, and his government caused a homegrown recession just like Thatcher and Major did, through redistributing public wealth to private pockets and offshore bank accounts.

The Conservative’s “long term economic plan” is to continue transferring public funds to private bank accounts. Not for the benefit of the economy, or the public, but for the sole benefit of hoarding millionaires and Tory donors who are sucking our public funds out of circulation and killing the economy.

“Trickle-down economics” is a term imported from the US, to refer to the idea that tax breaks and other economic benefits provided to businesses and upper income levels of society will benefit poorer citizens by improving the economy as a whole. It’s linked with Laissez-faire ideology.

Laissez-faire is basically the theory of Conservative/Liberal governments that uphold the apparent autonomous character of the economic order, believing that government should not intervene in the direction of economic affairs. “Free markets” and “free competition” are seen as a reflection of the natural system of liberty.

From a Laissez-faire perspective, the State has no responsibility to engage in positive intervention to promote equality through wealth distribution or to create a welfare state to protect people from poverty, instead relying on charity to provide poor people with relief. I rather suspect this is what Cameron means by “big society”.

The claim that people who have their taxes lowered, with greater wealth, will distribute their benefit to less wealthy individuals, so that a fraction will reach the general population and stimulate the economy, is of course completely unfounded and absurd. It’s worth noting that proponents of the policy generally do not use the term “trickle-down” themselves. But the underpinning assumptions of trickle-down theory are implicit in the rhetoric of Laissez-faire/supply-side economics, and clearly expressed in social policy.

The phrase “trickle-down” has been attributed to humorist Will Rogers, who originally said of the US New Deal (the response to the Great Depression of 1930s) that “money was all appropriated for the top in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy.”

It’s original use was entirely pejorative and it was drawn on as a lampoonery device .

The Depression of the 1930s profoundly influenced our theories of economics and resulted in many changes in how governments dealt with economic downturns, and the subsequent widespread poverty, such as the use of stimulus packages, Keynesian economics, and Social Security, manifested in our post-war settlement.

Cameron is dismantling those civilised foundations we built, using the malfeasance of his own administration – austerity – and of the finance sectors that caused the global crash, as an excuse to drive their prize ultra-conservative Ayn Rand ideology into manifest existence – the withdrawal of State support for anyone who may need it. For those that don’t, the State is there as your best buddy, and will continue to intervene on your behalf to feed you great gifts.

For a party claiming to reduce the State and reduce interventions, they sure intervene a lot. Talk about an Adam Smith sleight of hand…with one “invisible hand” they take money from the poor, by introducing policies that purposefully cut income and public services, and with the other, they hand out our money to the millionaires.(See: Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.)

The trickle-down theory is not a genuine feature of the economy, but an illusion maintained by Conservatives to fool the poor into believing that there is opportunity for social mobility, and to excuse their miserly, cruel cuts to the poor, and generosity to those that don’t actually need it. It’s political hocus-pocus.

What we need, as history has taught us, is broad fiscal policies that are directed across the entire economy, and not toward just one specific income  group: that merely condenses wealth into the private bank accounts of a few, reducing the entire economy and society to a few stagnant pools of hoarding greed. It also reflects the implicit Conservative advocacy of Social Darwinist philosophy, with the “market place” absurdly operating as “natural law”, generating a socioeconomic hierarchy.

A 2012 study by the Tax Justice Network indicates that wealth of the super-rich does not trickle down to improve the economy, but tends to be amassed and sheltered in tax havens with a negative effect on the tax bases of the home economy. (See: Wealth doesn’t trickle down – it just floods offshore, research reveals.)

The trickle down theory and Laissez-faire philosophy formed the basis of economic policy during the industrial revolution of the 1800s.  It didn’t work then either, in the wake of widespread absolute poverty resulting from deeply exploitatively low wages combined with very dangerous work environments, it became evident that exclusively Laissez-faire economic attitudes resulted in the political engineering and endorsement of exploitation and harsh mistreatment of citizens. It shortened people’s lives and reduced most citizens to a harsh, miserable existence. It was a time when economic theory was mistranslated into a social doctrine of”survival of the fittest.”

Conservatives: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Bloody Feudalists.

As Hilary Mantel observed this week, the Tory-led Coalition are more brutal towards the poor and vulnerable than Thomas Cromwell was, she said that the Middle Ages appeared a positively enlightened era compared to the “retreat into insularity” which the UK had currently embraced. Mantel summed up criticism of this Government’s regressive justification narratives very well:

The government portrays poor and unfortunate people as being morally defective. This is a return to the thinking of the Victorians. Even in the 16th century, Thomas Cromwell was trying to tell people that a thriving economy has casualties and that something must be done by the state for people out of work.

“Even back then, you saw the tide turning against this idea that poverty was a moral weakness.”

Of course we know that poverty is caused entirely by Government policies. And if you didn’t know that, then ask yourself how the following policies could possibly cause anything but inequality and increasing poverty for the poorest:

These cuts, aimed at the poorest, came into force in April 2013:

  • 1 April – Housing benefit cut, including the introduction of the bedroom tax
  • 1 April – Council tax benefit cut
  • 1 April – Legal Aid savagely cut
  • 6 April – Tax credit and child benefit cut
  • 7 April – Maternity and paternity pay cut
  • 8 April – 1% cap on the rise of in working-age benefits (for the next three years)
  • 8 April – Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment (PIP)
  • 15 April – Cap imposed on the total amount of benefit working-age people can receive.

At the same time, note the Tory “incentives” for the wealthy:

  • Rising wealth – 50 richest people from this region increased their wealth by £3.46 billion last year to a record £28.5 billion.
  • Falling taxes – top rate of tax cut from 50% to 45% for those earning over £150,000 a year. This is 1% of the population who earn 13% of the income.
  • No mansion tax and caps on council tax mean that the highest value properties are taxed proportionately less than average houses.
  • Benefited most from Quantitative Easing (QE) – the Bank of England say that as 50% of households have little or no financial assets, almost all the financial benefit of QE was for the wealthiest 50% of households, with the wealthiest 10% taking the lions share
  • Tax free living – extremely wealthy individuals can access tax avoidance schemes which contribute to the £25bn of tax which is avoided every year, as profits are shifted offshore to join the estimated £13 trillion of assets siphoned off from our economy.
  • Millionaires were awarded a “tax break” of £107,000 each per year.
  • The richest 1,000 in UK double their wealth since crash while average incomes drop 6%

That most definitely does not indicate any “trickle-down” of wealth.

It was noted by the Keynsian economist John Kenneth Galbraith, adviser to President John F. Kennedy, that trickle down theory was originally less elegantly called the “horse and sparrow” theory in the 1800s.

The original theory was based on the idea that if you feed a horse enough oats, it will shit enough to feed a lot of sparrows.

And the Conservatives are certainly feeding us horse shit.

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Related

The Great Debt Lie and the Myth of the Structural Deficit

Conservatism in a nutshell

The World At One, Radio 4, 17th November, 2014“The economic situation explained in 3 minutes.Tory austerity has given us the slowest recovery since the South Sea Bubble.Professor David Blanchflower absolutely slaughters Cameron over his pre-excuse warning over the world economy, he blames Tory austerity for tanking Britain’s economy and preventing a recovery, and states that any recovery we do have is simply part of the cycle as long as you don’t wreck it with austerity, and confirms that our economy was on the RISE in 2009 / 2010.” Robert Livingstone.

Some highlights of the Conservative long term economic plan so far:

540525_186110078206715_79170441_nFitch and Moody triple A credit rating lost
1390648_548165358586330_1740107407_nThe return of absolute poverty and Victorian malnutrition-related illnesses, such as rickets and scurvy.
10001887913_f8b7888cbe_oAusterity was never about “paying down the debt”, that was a Tory lie: it is entirely about “raising more money for the rich“.
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This is conservatism in a nutshell

482882_456712161064984_1212213617_nConservative socio-economic ideology is incompatible with human rights.

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his persistence in exposing the Tory lies and hypocrisy in his pictures.


Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man

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

Austerity is not being imposed by the Coalition to achieve an economic result. Austerity IS the economic result. In the wake of the global banking crisis, the Tories, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, have opportunistically delivered ideologically driven cuts and mass privatisation.

We also know that the government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) laid bare an important truth – that any semblance of economic recovery is despite the Coalition and not because of them. Yet the Tories have continued to claim that austerity is “working”. The Chairman of the OBR, Robert Chote said:

“Looking over the forecast as a whole – net trade makes very little contribution and government spending cuts will act as a drag.

The OBR state that any slight economic recovery is in no way because of Osborne and Tory policy, but simply due to the wider global recovery from the global crash. 

The government has drastically cut its spending on everything – including the NHS, and welfare in spite of their ludicrous claims to the contrary, this means that the government has consistently damaged the prospect of any economic recovery. This also demonstrates clearly that Coalition policy is driven by their own ideology rather than a genuine problem-solving approach to the economy. Yes, I know I’ve said all of this before – and so have others – but it’s so important to keep on exposing this Tory lie.

However, I believe that Conservatives really do have a conviction that the “big state” has stymied our society: that the “socialist relic” – our NHS and our Social Security system, which supports the casualties of Tory free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know that the competitive, market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

Coalition rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. If the Coalition must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

Inequality is a fundamental element of the same meritocracy script that neoliberals so often pull from the top pockets of their bespoke suits. It’s the big contradiction in the smug, vehement meritocrat’s competitive individualism narrative. This is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such fundamentally competitive economic dogmas to manifest, there are always winners and losers. It’s hardly “fair”, therefore, to leave the casualties of competition facing destitution and starvation, with a hefty, cruel and patronising barrage of calculated psychopolicical scapegoating, politically-directed cultural blamestorming, and a coercive, pathologising and punitive behaviourist approach to the casualities of inbuilt, systemic, inevitable and pre-designated sentences of economic exclusion and poverty.

And that’s before we consider the fact that whenever there is a Conservative-led government, there is no such thing as a “free market”: in reality, all markets are rigged to serve elites.

Political theorist Francis Fukuyama, announced in 1992 that the great ideological battles between “east and west” were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed. He was dubbed the “court philosopher of global capitalism” by John Gray. In his book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama wrote:

“At the end of history, it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society…..What we are witnessing, is not just the end of the cold war, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

I always saw Fukuyama as an ardent champion of ultra-neoliberalism, and he disguised his neo-conservatism behind apparently benign virtue words and phrases (as part of a propaganda technique called Glittering Generalities), such as “Man’s universal right to freedom.” 

He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand – “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit Social Darwinist notions long held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives, and as we know, that’s rigged. Tory ideology does not ever have a utilitarian outcome.

Fukuyama’s ideas have been absorbed culturally, and serve to naturalise the dominance of the Right, and stifle the rationale for critical debate.

Like Marx, Fukuyama drew to some extent on the ideas of Hegel – who defined history as a linear procession of “epochs” – technological progress and the progressive, cumulative resolution of conflict allowed humans to advance from tribal to feudal to industrial society. Fukuyama was determined to send us on an epic detour – Marx informed us the journey ended with communism, but Fukuyama has diverted us to another destination.

I agree with Fukuyama on one point: since the French Revolution, democracy has repeatedly proven to be the fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives. However we haven’t witnessed the “triumph of liberal democracy” at all: in the UK, we are seeing the imposition of rampant, unchecked neoliberalism coupled with an unyielding, authoritarian-styled social conservatism, with the safety net of democracy removed.

Fukuyama’s declaration manufactures an impression of global consensus politics but I believe this is far from the truth. I don’t believe this can possibly be the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution. It doesn’t reflect any global and historical learning or progress.

Jacques Derrida (Specters of Marx (1993) ) said that Fukuyama – and the quick celebrity of his book – is but one symptom of the wider anxiety to ensure the “death of Marx”. He goes on to say:

“For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth.”

Fukuyama’s work is a celebration of neoliberal hegemony and a neo-conservative endorsement of it. It’s an important work to discuss simply because it has been so widely and tacitly accepted, and because of that, some of the implicit, taken-for-granted assumptions and ramifications need to be made explicit.

I don’t think conviction politics is dead, as claimed by Cameron – he has said that he doesn’t “do isms”, that politics is doing “what works”, “working together in the National interest” and “getting the job done”. But we know he isn’t working to promote a national interest, only an elite one. Cameron may have superficially smoothed recognisable “isms” from Tory ideology, but Nick Clegg has most certainly taken the politics out of politics, and added to the the impression that old polarities no longer pertain –  that all the main parties have shifted to the right.

However, the authoritarian Right’s domination of the ideological landscape, the Liberal Democrat’s complete lack of any partisan engagement and their readiness to compromise with their once political opponents has certainly contributed to popular disaffection with mainstream politics, and a sense of betrayal.

It’s ironic that many of those on the left who mistake divisiveness for a lack of political choice have forgotten the degree of consensus politics between 1945 and 1979, when Labour achieved so much, and manifested what many deem “real” socialist ideals. The Conservatives at that time largely agreed the need for certain basic government policies and changes in government responsibility in the decades after World War II, from which we emerged economically exhausted.

The welfare state, the national health service (NHS), and widespread nationalisation of industry happened at a time of high national debt, because the recommendations of the Beveridge Report were adopted by the Liberal Party, to some extent by the Conservative Party, and then most expansively, by the Labour Party.

It was Thatcher’s government that challenged the then accepted orthodoxy of Keynesian economics – that a fall in national income and rising unemployment should be countered by increased government expenditure to stimulate the economy. There was increasing divergence of economic opinion between the Labour and the Tories, ending the consensus of the previous decades. Thatcher’s policies rested on a strongly free-market monetarist platform aiming to curb inflation by controlling the UK’s money supply, cut government spending, and privatise industry, consensus became an unpopular word.

The Thatcher era also saw a massive under-investment in infrastructure. Inequality increased. The winners included much of the corporate sector and the City, and the losers were much of the public sector and manufacturing. Conservatism: same as it ever was.

Those on the “Narxist” left who claim that there is a consensus – and that the Blair government continued with the tenets of Thatcherism need to take a close look at Blair’s policies, and the important achievements that were underpinned with clear ethical socialist principles: strong themes of equality, human rights, anti-discrimination legislation, and strong programmess of support for the poorest, sick and disabled and most vulnerable citizens. Not bad going for a party that Narxists lazily dubbed “Tory-lite”.

Narxism is founded on simplistic, sloganised references to Marxist orthodoxy, and the claim to “real socialism.” Many Narxists claim that all other political parties are “the same.”

The Narxist “all the samers” tend to think at an unsophisticated populist level, drawing heavily on a frustratingly narrow lexicon of blinding glittering generalities, soundbites and slogans. But we need to analyse and pay heed to what matters and what defines a political party: policies and their impact. Despite New Labour’s shortcomings, if we are truly to learn anything of value and evolve into an effective opposition, presenting alternatives to the Conservative neoliberal doxa, we must also examine the positives: a balanced and even-handed analysis. We won’t progress by fostering further divisions along the longstanding “real socialist”, “left” and “moderate” faultlines.

It’s very clear that it is the Coalition who are continuing Thatcher’s legacy. We know this from the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) report, which was encouraged and commissioned by Thatcher and Howe in 1982, which shows a radical, politically toxic plan to dismantle the welfare state, to introduce education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education, to freeze welfare benefits and to introduce an insurance-based health service, ending free health care provision of the NHS. One of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, he is now one of Cameron’s advisors.

New Labour had 13 years to fulfil Thatcher’s legacy – and did not. However, in four short years, the Coalition have gone a considerable way in making manifest Thatcher’s ideological directives. To do this has required the quiet editing and removal of Labour’s policies – such as key elements of Labour’s Equality Act .

The imposed austerity is facilitated by the fact that we have moved away from the equality and rights based society that we were under the last Labour government to become a society based on authoritarianism  and the market-based distribution of power. The only recognisable continuity is between Thatcher’s plans and Cameron’s policies. The intervening Labour government gave us some respite from the cold and brutal minarchism of the Tories.

There was never a greater need for partisan politics. The media, which is most certainly being managed by the authoritarian Tory-led government creates an illusory political “centre ground” – and a manufactured consensus – that does not exist.

Careful scrutiny and comparison of policies indicates this clearly. Yet much propaganda in the media and Tory rhetoric rests on techniques of neutralisation – a deliberately employed psychological method used to direct people to turn off “inner protests”, blur distinctions: it’s a mechanism often used to silence the inclination we have to follow established moral obligations, social norms, as well as recognise our own values and principles. And it’s also used to disguise intentions. Therefore, it’s important to examine political deeds rather than words: policy, and not narratives.

My own partisanship is to fundamental values, moral obligations  and principles, and is certainly none-negotiable. Those include equality, human rights, recognising diversity, justice and fairness, mutual aid, support and cooperation, collective responsibility, amongst others, and the bedrock of all of these values and principles is, of course, democracy.

Democracy exists partly to ensure that the powerful are accountable to the vulnerable. The far-right Coalition have blocked that crucial exchange, and they despise the welfare state, which provides the vulnerable protection from the powerful. They despise human rights.

Conservatives claim that such protection causes vulnerability, yet history has consistently taught us otherwise. The Coalition’s policies are expressions of contempt for the lessons of over a century of social history and administration.

The clocks stopped when the Tories took Office, now we are losing a decade a day.

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Thank you to Robert Livingstone for the pictures. More here

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

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Social security came about precisely because we evolved to recognise a need for a social safety net to protect citizens when they encountered economic difficulties, because we learned last century that we are all potentially vulnerable, and that this isn’t anything to do with a person’s characteristics – ordinary people are not to blame for socio-economic circumstances, or for becoming ill and disabled. Unemployment, accident and illness can happen to anyone.

In 1992, Peter Lilley, the somewhat salacious Tory department of social security secretary said he had “got a little list” of people to stereotype as scroungers. Lilley amused the Conservative Party conference with a plan to “close down the something for nothing society”, delivered in the form of a parody of the Lord High Executioner’slittle listsong from The Mikado  by Gilbert and Sullivan:

“I’ve got a little list / Of benefit offenders who I’ll soon be rooting out / And who never would be missed / They never would be missed. / There’s those who make up bogus claims / In half a dozen names / And councillors who draw the dole / To run left-wing campaigns / They never would be missed / They never would be missed. / There’s young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue / And dads who won’t support the kids / of ladies they have … kissed / And I haven’t even mentioned all those sponging socialists / I’ve got them on my list / And there’s none of them be missed / There’s none of them be missed….”

I remember that subsequently, Spitting Image  portrayed Lilley as a commandant at a Nazi concentration camp and commentator Mark Lawson of The Independent said that if Lilley remained as Secretary of State for Social Security, it would be “equivalent to Mary Whitehouse becoming madam of a brothel.”

The social groups who featured on that hate list are some of the poorest and most disempowered in our society: lone parents, mental health service users, refugees and asylum seekers, the unemployed, and young and homeless people. They have few, if any advocates in parliament on the right, and apparently, few votes are to be lost by attacking them.

Such are the Tory prejudiced, divisive and self-serving attacks on welfare and the purposely devalued social groups it supports. This punitive approach to welfare reform generally has the opposite effect to that promised by Tories such as Lilley, creating additional bureaucratic costs and waste, and setting one group against another. This is a deliberate undermining of social cohesion, cooperation and collective responsibility. It isolates many, who by common consent need support. This approach is also designed to deter those people with legitimate entitlement to support, and to justify an unnecessary and inappropriate harassment, stigmatising and denigrating those it should be helping.

Welfare is the provision of a minimal level of well-being and social support for all citizens. In other words, it was conceived to alleviate absolute poverty and meet basic survival needs. This is based on a model of human developmental psychology focusing on the recognised stages of growth in humans, and is founded on the central idea that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual may be motivated to fulfil any other needs and betterment. As a minimal condition for making choices and being responsible, people must have all of their basic physiological needs met. For example, a homeless person’s job choices might be constrained by the lack of an address for correspondence or even a place to take a shower. Understanding such humanist concepts was central to the development equality policies and human rights.

The welfare state expands on these concepts to include services such as universal healthcare. In most developed countries welfare is provided by the government. Benefits are based on a compulsory supra-governmental insurance contribution system, the National Insurance system in the UK was established in 1911.

The Beveridge Report in 1942, essentially recommended a national, compulsory, flat rate insurance scheme which would combine health care, unemployment and retirement benefits. After its victory in the United Kingdom general election, 1945 the Labour Party pledged to eradicate the five Giant Evils, and undertook policy measures to provide universal support for the people of the United Kingdom “from the cradle to the grave.”

Social Security policy resulted in the development of what was considered to be a state responsibility towards its citizens, and a citizen responsibility towards each other. Welfare is a social protection that is necessary. There was also an embedded doctrine of fostering equity in the policy.

In addition to the central services of education, health, unemployment and sickness allowances, the welfare state also involved increasing redistributive taxation, increasing regulation of industry, food, and housing, better safety regulations, weights and measures controls. The principle of health care “free at the point of use” became a pivotal idea of the welfare state, which later Conservative governments, who were critical of this, were unable to reverse. Prescription charges were introduced by the Conservative Government in 1952.

The Welfare State period lasted from around 1945 until the Thatcher government began to privatise public institutions in the 1980s, although some features remain today, including compulsory National Insurance contributions, and the provision of old age pensions. It was Conservative governments that introduced constraints to eligibility for benefits via means testing.

The Labour Party won a clear victory in 1945 based on their programme of building provision for citizens with the Welfare State. However, since the 1980s the Conservative government had begun to reduce provisions in England: for example, free eye tests for all were stopped and prescription charges for drugs have constantly risen since they were first introduced by the Conservatives in 1951.

During the Thatcher era, the English High Tory journalist T. E. Utley, wrote that the welfare state was “an arrangement under which we all largely cease to be responsible for our own behaviour and in return become responsible for everyone else’s.” However, even people who erroneously believe that the present welfare system is corrosive to individual responsibility accept the urgency of preventing hunger and destitution. Yet the Tories have persisted with their pre-Victorian rhetoric of the “undeserving, idle poor.”

There is a moral as well as a logical absurdity in this Conservative claim, tied up with notions of citizenship. It’s a continual contradiction of principle within Conservative ideology that small state logic applies to the most vulnerable, who are left to the worst ravages of “market forces” without state protection, but such laissez faire principles don’t extend to the wealthy. Conservatives systematically fail to correct market failures in the interests of the public, but they do intervene to protect the interests of the minority of wealthy citizens. Similarly, replacing state run public services with profit incentivised private providers is an intervention. These partisan interferences distort the “market mechanism,” contrary to Tory claims.

As Ed Miliband noted, when Cameron declared We are raising more money for the rich:

“David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.’

‘But they also seem to believe that the only way to make you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.”

So “market forces” are adjusted and fixed to benefit the wealthy and penalise the poor.

The sociologist T.H. Marshall wrote in 1965, “it is generally agreed that… the overall responsibility for the welfare of the citizens must remain with the state.” Marshall’s own concept of “social citizenship” – which put forward a new model of citizenship based on economic and social (as well as political) rights – was characteristic of this collective approach to social welfare after 1945. There was a clear and optimistic sense of rebuilding a better Britain.

It’s worth noting that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights recognises socio-economic human rights, such as the right to educationright to housingright to adequate standard of livingright to health and the right to science and culture. Economic, social and cultural rights are recognised and protected in several international and regional human rights instruments. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is the primary international legal source of economic, social and cultural rights. All member states have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights of the public and are expected to take “progressive action” towards their fulfilment. The current government have made it clear that they hold such rights in high contempt, and in terms of socio-economic policy, they are driven by an extremely regressive rather than progressive ideology.

The social citizenship model remained unchallenged until the emergence of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative Party leader (1975) and then Prime Minister (1979). Thatcherism promised low taxes, less state intervention, and lower levels of public spending, Thatcher introduced cuts in spending on housing and stricter eligibility rules for benefits. This was the Conservative beginning of the end of collective provision.

The Tories have steadily eroded our provision for the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens – our collective safety net, and their rhetoric is about erasing our evolved, civilised collective approach from our social memory. We are being steadily de-civilised, our historical, collective learning and social history is being re-written, and the Tories would have us turn into a society of dog eat dog psychopaths if they get their way.

The Tories have a cynical view of human nature, and presume people will always act out of self-interest, and whilst they may well avoid disappointment, Conservatives will never understand people by assuming that is all that motivates them. History has demonstrated that when human beings are given the chance to meet their fundamental needs and express themselves fully, they are, by nature, interested in the well-being of society and all its members.

I don’t believe that we have limited ability in terms of human endeavour to achieve positive change. Conservatives see the traditional order as enduring and sacred: a trust to be passed from generation to generation. They see the hierarchy that they always engineer as the result of “natural merit.” To be a Tory is to believe this “natural order” of things.

Survival of the wealthiest

Yet Conservative ideology directs an openly hierarchical society and promotes social inequalities, both materially and in terms of social esteem. Tories believe that a “good” society is one where people would simply accept their place. And that is wherever the Tories place them – “The rich man at his castle, the poor man at his gate.”

There are strong links between the right wing idea of “competitive individualism,” laissez faire capitalism, Social Darwinism, eugenics, nationalism and fascism/authoritarianism. Social Darwinists generally argue that the “strong” should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease.

Most of these views emphasise competition between individuals in a laissez-faire capitalism context; but similar concepts have motivated ideas of eugenics, racism, imperialism fascism, Nazism and struggle between national or racial groups. Eugenics is state interference in the engineering of the “survival of the fittest (wealthiest)”. That is happening here in the UK, with Tory policies like the welfare “reforms”, which are extremely punitive towards sick and disabled citizens in particular – all too often denying them the means of meeting basic survival needs. The Tories think that wealth is a measure of virtue, and that poor people deserve poverty.

Welfare isn’t simply a matter of societal rights but also a matter of life and death. People are dying, and are being made homeless, we are seeing a massive increase in food poverty, malnutrition and people are committing suicide because they are so desperate. Yet the Tories continue to present the victim-blame script. It’s a script that is used almost always to reinforce white supremacist and patriarchal power structures.

And it’s a script that plays off a weakness of our Western worldview, our inclination to assign negative moral value to those who suffer – what psychologists call thejust world fallacy .”

It is often said that you can judge a society on how it treats its weaker members, and in that respect the current government have failed so many. What kind of society is it that allows over a million young people to struggle on the dole, stifling their potential and their creativity, instead of spending the money on helping them to find meaningful work – and then blames them?

What kind of society allows a government to re-brand unemployment and poverty as personal failure, when we know that this government’s policies have caused unemployment to rise, just like every other Tory government. Thatcher at least admitted she had intentionally created high unemployment to keep inflation low, however, that “strategy” failed and we had high inflation and high unemployment. Conservative governments always create a large, disposable army of labour, which they like to keep as desperate as possible to drive down wages, working conditions and to stultify collective bargaining.

Raising unemployment is an extremely effective way of reducing the strength of the working classes, and what is being engineered in Marxist terms is a crisis of capitalism which creates a reserve army of labour and has allowed Tory donors – the capitalist class – to make very high profits.

What kind of society allows sick and disabled people to be harassed – where they are called in for crude, tick-box tests to prove that they are “really” ill or disabled, one where that “assessment” is designed purposefully to remove their lifeline benefits, one where most are found “fit for work” with many dying a few weeks or months later? And when people succeed in appealing wrongful decisions, they are almost immediately sent for a reassessment?

This is happening here in the UK. The Tory welfare “reforms” are extremely punitive towards people who can’t find work and sick and disabled citizens, all too often denying them the means to meet basic survival needs. We urgently need to overturn this by forcefully challenging the Tory myths that poison any attempts at progressive change. Human suffering, loss of dignity and death may have many facets, but all of them are equally unforgiving, and when imposed by humans on fellow humans, all are equally unforgivable. 

Some Tory benefit myths addressed:

Mythbuster: Tall tales about welfare reform – Red pepper
Voters ‘brainwashed by Tory welfare myths’, shows new poll – The Independent
Welfare Myth Number One – Benefits Are Expensive – Dr Simon Duffy
Who really benefits from welfare – Dr Simon Duffy
Where the cuts are targeted – Dr Simon Duffy
The myth of the “welfare scrounger” – The New Statesman

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone