Tag: Techniques of Neutralisation

Leaked document reveals how government are micromanaging public perceptions of the government’s austerity programme

daniel-kahneman-quote-nudge

Kahneman’s work with Amos Tversky was a key influence on the development of behavioural economics. Kahneman’s friend and colleague, Richard Thaler, built on their body of work, producing the first text about Nudge. Behavioural economics is a form of neoliberal ‘cognitive credentialism’.

It has increasingly informed political justification narratives, favouring the wealthy and powerful, and presenting a case for imposing austerity on the poorest citizens. It is also used to fuel a tenuous, pseudoscientific and neo-technocratic alternative account of the subsequent growth in poverty and inequality, and the political destruction of the UK’s public services.

The Conservative-led coalition instituted the Nudge Unit in 2010. Although now part-privatised, and seemingly wholly unaccountable to the public, it remains a part of the Cabinet office, too. 

A question we really need to ask is who nudges the nudgers?

A leaked dossier, apparently a joint study by the Cabinet Office and Department for Work and Pensions, states: “Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and the belief that [the government is] acting fairly, openly and with integrity.”

The damning document was accidentally exposed by an unnamed person, revealing it in front of Westminster journalists and photographers. The leak highlights the fundamental disconnect between what people are experiencing and what they are being told is happening by the government.

This is a form of testimonial injustice and part of a wider strategy of epistemic authoritarianism.

The document shows part of a study that has highlighted the poor state of the public’s trust in politics, government and the party in power. It then outlines strategies that are part of an attempt to ‘build trust’ and “improve government communications.” This indicates a shameful government that thinks soundbites rather than a much needed positive change in policy direction is an adequate way of running the country. 

It also reflects the utter arrogance of a Conservative government who think that trust is something that may be simply acquired from the public, rather than earned.

The authors named on the document are Laura de Moliere, the Department for Work and Pension’s lead behavioural scientist, and Catherine Hunt, Head of Insight and Evaluation at the Cabinet Office.

The document shows the governments’ planned use of communication strategies to ‘manage’ public perceptions of the government’s behaviours and their policies. However, the Conservative’s draconian austerity programme has resulted in widespread distress, hardship, harm, and has caused citizen deaths. This document basically reveals the Conservative’s emphasis on political slogans, attempts at subliminal manipulation and gaslighting techniques, as a means of simply maintaining their power. Using language to erode people’s shared sense of reality is also a totalitarian technique of control.

The document shows a government with no intention of changing their prejudiced, punitive policies and the subsequent harms and hardships they are inflicting on the poorest citizens. It demonstrates a profoundly undemocratic government with absolutely no intention of listening to the public, or engaging in a democratic dialogue.

“Acting in the public’s interest” has become another empty, meaningless Conservative slogan, repeated ad nauseam, in much the same way as “strong and stable” was, and before that, “we’re all in it together.”

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Poster from Terry Gilliam’s dark, dystopic film Brazil. It’s a satire, about a hidden,  bureaucratic, totalitarian government, which is reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Conservative’s austerity policies have been targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, while at the same time as the savage cuts were being implemented, the chancellor lavished £107,000 each per year in a tax break hand out to millionaires. We have never been “all in it together”. That was a big lie.

Cameron’s slogan preempted the damage that austerity has inflicted on the UK, because it was known in advance that those policies were going to cause harm. The government have responded to raised criticisms and legitimate concerns regarding the consequences of their policies by using a range of techniques of neutralisation.

However, a few cunning and deceitful linguistic strategies and lies are not going to fool people for long. Sooner or later, the empirical evidence catches up and then overtakes the lies. Peoples’ direct experiences of austerity inform them of the truth. Yet the government is trying to tell them that those experiences are not so. Using a form of political gaslighting – calling people who raise legitimate concerns “scaremongers”, for example – reflects the same attitudes and behaviours of despots throughout history.

strong and stable

Fascism ultimately takes on the contours of whatever national and political culture produces it.

This is a government that has a serious problem in recognising any limits to its authority.

The UK’s democracy recession

The leaked paper explains why several ministers and Conservative MPs have appeared to be using the same crib sheet recently, claiming repeatedly that Universal Credit, for example, is “compassionate and fair”, when that description does not in any way match the evidence. It explains the repeated and unbelievably ludicrous claims that the government make about their commitment to “social justice”,  “fairness”, and that they are “competent” and “tackling inequality” in the context of a policy framework underpinned by conscious cruelty. 

The government have hired specialist coaches to instruct them in how to tell lies effectively, using experts in behaviourist communication techniques of manipulation. We have historically regarded states that employ surveillance and monitoring to screen, rank and change citizens’ behaviour by acting upon them without their consent as “totalitarian”. 

A state that misuses psychology and propaganda to impose conformity on a population regards citizens as a means to an end, to fulfil ideological goals: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”.

The Conservatives have adopted the Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda approach to managing public perceptions and beliefs. Like Goebbels, the Conservatives have adapted techniques in commercial advertising to the political sphere, including the use of catchy slogans and subliminal cues. 

Nudge and behavioural economics more generally has added another layer of strategic and creeping authoritarianism aimed at micromanaging  citizens’ perceptions, decision-making and behaviours to align them with government aims. 

This, of course, completely turns democracy on its head, as I have said on many other occasions on his site. 

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The damning leaked document.

It’s truly remarkable that a government who claims it favours a small state has used public funds to build a massive and private propaganda and behaviour modification empire, without any reference to the consent of the governed. The need to control citizens to such a degree indicates an overcentralisation of  political decision making. 

Ian Lavery said: “Austerity has done more than just destroy public trust, it has destroyed lives.

“The Tory party continues to treat being in government as some sort of cynical PR exercise.

“If they recognise that austerity has been a disaster, they should be focusing on bringing it to an end rather than how to spin it.”

Several of us have approached the government for comment.

However, it will probably take a while for the government’s Strategic Communications Service to finish crafting their response.

Here is the document in full, courtesy of the Mirror

The role of communication in rebuilding political trust

November 2018

Catherine Hunt, Cabinet Office & Laura De Moliere, DWP

1. What does this paper deliver?

This paper provides a definition of trust, based on a review of academic, public sector and media industry publications as well as our own research. It identifies the factors that underpin trust, looks at why trust in the institutions of government is falling and sets out how this affects us as communicators. It builds on the conclusions from our previous paper on trust from April 2018 and recommends a strategy for building trust and improving the effectiveness of our communication activity in the future.

2. Summary and recommendations

The main conclusions that can be drawn from this paper are:

An individual citizen’s trust in government (political trust) is based on his or her perceptions of its competence and whether or not is acting in the public (and the individual’s personal) interest, judged by the values that it governs by.

  • Competence is judged by the presence of five specific behaviours: setting out a shared vision for the future; authenticity; taking perspectives; valuing others’ opinions; and transparency.
  • The core trust values that Government should demonstrate are fairness, openness and integrity

Citizens’ political trust and views of whether it is acting competently and in the public interest is influenced by:

  • Specific support for the political administration in power at any given point in time.
  • Diffuse support for the overall system of government and its institutions

Trust in politicians has always been low. However, the global recession in 2008 and subsequent period of austerity triggered a decline in diffuse trust for the system of government in many Western economies, including the UK.

  • Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and belief that it […] acting fairly, openly and with integrity

Rapid social, demographic and technological changes are […]

As diffuse trust in the institutions of government […]

parties is rising. People who support […]

parliament. This is also true for […]

The decline in political trust […]

which will in turn reduc[…]


(The last part was only partially visible in the photo capture.)

One final comment. I have researched and written a lot over the last few years about the very issues that this leak exposes. I’ve been one of the biggest critics of PR and strategic comms, techniques of neutralisation, the political abuse of psyop techniques and psychographic targeting, behavioural economics and the political use of nudge on a largely unaware and non-consenting public.

In other words, I have told you so.

I’ve linked this psychopolitical governance approach with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the government’s use of similar companies during the last election, and the Leave campaign. The Institute for Statecraft and Integrity Initiative exposure reveals yet another dimension of this hidden, dark approach to governance. It indicates a kind of secret police, employed to uphold and enforce the government’s narrative and ideological aims.

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951.

Some voices are eternally relevant.

 

Related

gcs-guide-to-communications-and-behaviour-change1 - Copy
You can read this document here.

You can also read the Civil Service Strategic Communications handbook here

Some of my work:

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

 The government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Exclusive: DWP Admit Using Fake Claimant’s Comments In Benefit Sanctions Leaflet

The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative character divination

Rogue company Unum had a profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper – Politics and Insights

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down: mind the Mindspace

The just world fallacy


The DWP left a terminally ill man penniless until after he died

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Jill Fennell and her partner Mark Scholfield. She says: “The benefits system is barbaric and inhumane.” (Image: Jill Fennell/Facebook).

A man who was terminally ill with cancer was forced to spend his final days penniless as he waited for a Universal Credit payment that cruelly arrived the day after he died.

Mark Scholfield was made to endure an eight-week delay for the social security payment before he died, aged just 62, of mouth cancer.

Mark’s partner, Jill Fennell, who was with him for 23 years, said: “When you’ve been given a devastating blow, being told you have terminal cancer, money is the last thing anyone should be worrying about.

“The benefits system is barbaric and inhumane.”

Jill, also 62, said self-employed musician, Mark, was unable to work for two months before he had his diagnosis in February 2017. He was told his condition was terminal, she said, and initially, he was  encouraged to apply for fast-track Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to help him meet the costs of living and pay bills.

However, because he lived in Camberwell, South London, where the government’s controversial flagship failure – Universal Credit – was being rolled out, he was told that he did not qualify for ESA.

Instead he had to apply to Universal Credit (UC). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) often use Credit Reference Agencies to verify the identity citizens making a claim, but Mark had never had credit, and he was told that must visit a Jobcentre with ID.

Jill said that despite his failing health and diagnosis of terminal cancer, Mark was forced by the DWP to go through a health and work assessment over the phone. She  said that she was distraught, and  left “screaming hysterically down the phone”, asking “did they realise he was dying?”

After five weeks Mark received his first payment, which just about covered rent and council tax, but left him with little to live on. But for the next eight weeks he did not receive any more money, and died on July 19, 2017.

It was only after Mark’s death that Jill discovered an ESA payment had been made a day later, as well as a UC payment.

She said: “Mark had needed the money while he was alive to live his final months in some level of comfort and dignity, but he was denied that.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Scholfield’s friends and family.

“While Mr Scholfield was receiving Universal Credit, we are extremely sorry for the delay in his ESA payment which should have been fast-tracked.”

That response is simply unacceptable. Because this kind of glib, standardised apology for an apology is happening far too frequently, it to reflect any shred of sincerity, meaning, reflection or learning on the part of the DWP.  

Linguistic behaviourism: cruelty is compassion, indifference is care

Yesterday, heartless Amber Rudd was accused of shrugging off ‘heartbreaking’ Universal Credit experiences and stories by suggesting they are about only “one or two” people. 

This is a government who tell us with a straight face that inflicting absolute poverty on the poorest citizens is somehow going to make them less poor. This ideological framework is also imposed upon people in low paid work, struggling to meet their basic living costs. So the government slogan “making work pay” is meaningless Orwellian tosh, as is the Conservative’s longstanding ‘culture of dependency’ thesis and ideological justification narrative for inflicting devastating cuts on those who can least manage to get by. 

The Work and Pensions Secretary made the outrageous comments after being confronted by the Mirror about flaws in Universal Credit.

For years many of us have published articles ranging from flaws in the social security system, affecting millions, to struggling readers who’ve been forced to use food banks to survive, as well as administrative ineptitude and bullying that has often had catastrophic consequences. The roll out of Universal Credit has caused hunger, destitution, deaths and suicides, let’s be frank and pay some attention to the empirical evidence, rather than expedient ideological soundbites.  

Amber Rudd told the Mirror: “Some of the criticisms that have come from various publications have been based on one or two particular individuals where the advice hasn’t worked for them.

That statement flies in the face of empirical evidence. On this site alone there are MANY individual accounts of the harms arising as a result of Universal Credit. And to claim the reason for these harms is because “the advice hasn’t worked or them” is a serious and disgusting trivialisation of the psychological distress and trauma, the deaths, suicides, rising numbers of those facing hunger, hardship, and destitution that Universal Credit, combined with such systematic government denial and indifference, is causing.

“But in the vast majority of cases, and I would urge everybody who hasn’t to take the opportunity to speak to work coaches, the sort of support that individuals get is a completely different approach to what they had previously.”

Yes. It’s not actually support. It’s a programme of discipline, coercion and punishment.

It isn’t work coaches who have to live with the consequences of a system that was designed to be an increasingly standardised Conservative hostile environment. The government seem to believe that publicly funded public services should serve as a deterrent to people needing support from the public services they have paid into.

Work coaches don’t have to live with the direct consequences of state policies. What matters most is the accounts of citizens, which tell their raw, first hand experiences of the system, not of those administrating it. But citizens’ voices are being intentionally stifled, edited out and worse, their accounts are being re-written by politically expedient civil servants and government ministers. This presentation of ideological fictions and the use of gaslighting techniques is usually the preserve of totalitarian regimes, it’s not the behaviour one would expect of a democratic government in a so-called liberal society. 

Governments with such limited social intelligence don’t lie very convincingly, but they do tend to be hard faced and tenacious. The real horror is their utter indifference and lack of responsiveness: that they really don’t care. They continue to demand our suspension of belief and dizzying cognitive dissonance. The relationship between citizen and state is one of abuse, founded on gaslighting strategies.

There is very little empirical evidence of the “professionalism, care and compassion” that Rudd claims. Furthermore, the trivialisation and persistent denials of the harm, distress and extreme hardship that is being inflicted on people because of government policies are all utterly unacceptable behaviours from a government minister, reflecting a profound spite within policy design, a profound lack of political accountability and a profound indifference for the consequences of these behaviours on the lives of ordinary people.

Rudd added: “And it is delivered with professionalism and care and compassion.”

Sure. The kind of “professionalism, care and compassion” that leaves a terminally ill man without sufficient support to meet his most basic needs, or that leaves a pregnant mother in extreme hardship, homeless, and resulting in the loss of her unborn child. Or one that pushes people towards suicide.

And former Universal Credit staff reveal call targets and ‘deflection scripts, which means staff having to block or deflect vulnerable claimants, telling them that they would not be paid, or would have to submit a new claim, or have a claim closed for missing a jobcentre appointment, or be sanctioned – a penalty fine for breaching benefit conditions – or go to the food bank.

One whistleblower said that her role often felt adversarial. She said: “It was more about getting the person off the phone, not helping.” That’s a very strange kind of “compassion.”

As researchers have concluded, Universal Credit is a complicated, dysfunctional and punitive’ system that makes people increasingly anxious, distressed, with some of the most vulnerable citizens in the UK being pushed to consider suicide, and it ‘simply doesn’t work.’ (See Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchersfor example).

A devastating National Audit Office report last year about Universal Credit concluded that the DWP was institutionally defensive and prone to dismissing uncomfortable evidence of operational problems. Welfare secretary at the time, Esther McVey, felt the need to make a speech in July in which she promised that where problems arose in future the department would “put our hands up, [and] admit things might not be be going right”.

It’s also clear – in the words of the public accounts committee – that there is a “culture of indifference” within the DWP and wider government.

It’s time that government ministers started to listen to citizens’ voices, to service users – as well as campaigners, researchers, charities and the opposition Parties. And the United Nations – instead of presenting denials that policies are seriously harming people. But there is every indication that they won’t. 

Universal Credit’s malign effects are obvious to anyone who actually looks, and is willing to listen to the voices of those affected by this punitive, mean-spirited and fixated, theory-laden, ideologically driven, miserly provision, that was, at the end of the day, paid for by the very public who are claiming it.

Labour MP Maria Eagle flatly stated that Rudd’s comments are “not true” and are “out of touch”.

She said: “The entire design of the system puts people in debt and the benefit cuts accompanying its introduction have made it far worse.” 

Rudd was questioned by the Mirror after she said yesterday: “Maybe things that were  proposed previously weren’t effective or weren’t compassionate in the way that I want them to be.”

Mirror journalists asked if she could, ‘hand on heart’, say it was “compassionate” to double UC claimants this year, keep the two-child limit and keep the benefit freeze until 2020.

Rudd did not respond to the question, instead replying: “The overall product that is Universal Credit is absolutely compassionate.”

Product? That’s a very odd word to use for lifeline support – the public services that are our social insurance which people have paid into for those times when they need it. 

And using key words from a government strategic comms crib sheet – James Cleverly among others has also opted for the word ‘compassionate’ to describe the welfare ‘reforms’ – does not make those narratives the reality experienced by citizens who need to access support from public services. Saying it does not make it real. This is something the Conservatives seem to have overlooked – that their narratives don’t match people’s realities. That’s the problem with telling lies – the empirical evidence catches up with you sooner or later.

Starving people and leaving them in destitution is not ‘compassionate’. Using a publicly funded public service to deliver punitive and a blunt, coercive, authoritarian behavioural modification programme is not ‘compassionate’. These are the actions and narratives of a government dipping a toe into the realms of totalitarianism.

Rudd claimed that UC needs to be ‘improved’, including to make it fairer to woman, but also said it was a “vital reform delivering a fair and compassionate welfare system”, “by far the most important and crucial reform” and a “force for good”.

Yesterday, the high court concluded that the Universal Credit assessment is illegal. The first judicial review verdict of Universal Credit found that the cutting of severe disability premiums from those who had previously claimed ESA was discriminatory.  How many more legal changes will it take to make the government act with some decency and observe basic laws and human rights?

Rudd went on to claim, somewhat incoherently, that the ‘old system’ was “broken”, “not a utopia that we should return to” and under Labour someone unemployed could receive “£100,000 housing benefit per year.”

The charity Fullfact submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to the DWP in 2012, following the same claims from David Freud, among other Conservative minsters, that people claiming social security support were receiving £100,000 housing benefit per year. The figures in the response showed that over four out of every five Housing Benefit claims are below £100 per week (the equivalent of £5,200 per year) according to the September 2010 figures, while only 70 out of over 4.5 million recipients claimed over £1000 per week, around 0.001% of the total.

Even this is likely to overstate the number claiming £100,000 per year however, as a family would need to claim over £1,900 per week to hit this total. Previous FoI responses from the Department have suggested around five families were awarded this amount.

Ministers and the media repeatedly failed to highlight what is such a small number of the total, and printed screaming and misleading headlines that were inaccurate, without putting this into a wider context. While the evidence suggests that there are a small number of Housing Benefit claims of more than £100,000 per year –  around five – these cases are very much the exception rather than the rule. Focusing exclusively on these outliers without first putting them into context, where over 80% of claims are below £100 per week, has [intentionally] distorted the debate about welfare, aimed at de-empathising the public and providing a justification narrative for cuts.  

Other information drawn from the FoI request found that larger claims tended to come from larger families, and the average household size for people claiming over £40,000 was six. For more details, do check out the numbers in the request itself, which is available here.

People weren’t suffering profound distress, hunger, destitution, suicide ideation and dying because of the ‘old system’.

Perhaps ‘utopias’ are relative. What we are currently witnessing is not “compassionate” or a “force for the good”: it is the dystopic system of an authoritarian state inflicting punishment, discipline and coercion on our most vulnerable citizens.

It’s a state programme that dispossesses citizens, with catastrophic human costs, to fund the tax cuts demanded by a handful of powerful and wealthy vultures, who live lavishly within a culture of entitlement, while the rest of us are increasingly impoverished.

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Amber Rudd claims that Universal Credit is ‘compassionate’. She must have been taking lessons in Doublespeak again.


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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Please can someone help this girl who is sleeping in a bin

No one should ever have to live like this in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. 

In 2013, Chris Skidmore, a Conservative MP, claimed that the impact of austerity and public service cuts wasn’t bad because people have not been left “lying dead in the streets”. He made the remarks at the Conservative conference during a meeting of the Thatcherite Free Enterprise Group.

He defended the comments at the time, and said: “The point I was making was that when we were making cuts, people suggested they were so bad that people would be lying dead in the streets. That has clearly not happened.

“With the economy recovering it is not the picture of doom that was predicted.”

People ARE dying because of austerity. And more than 500 homeless people have died in the last 12 months in the UK

Labour MP Lisa Nandy responded to Skidmore’s comments, saying that they exposed the Conservative’s callous attitude to people hit hard by their austerity measures.

She added: “It’s a pretty extreme measure by which to assess the impact of cuts. Hundreds of thousands have been hit by the bedroom tax and a million youngsters are out of work.

“People will be shocked to hear the dismissive way Tories treat suffering.”

The denial, strategic narrating and editing of people’s accounts of their experiences of austerity by this disgraceful government must end. There is no use for a government that simply uses techniques of neutralisation and calls those raising legitimate concerns ‘scaremongers’ to divert us from the fact that their policies are inflicting great distress, harm and premature death on some targeted groups, and to stifle valid criticism.

What is the point of a government that does not ensure that citizens in the UK have the means of meeting their most basic survival needs, in the sixth wealthiest nation in the world, while handing out public funds it has taken from the public to millionaires and rogue private companies? 

It’s time for positive change. In fact for many of us, change is essential if we are to survive. 

Earlier this year, a homeless man died from horrific injuries after sleeping in a bin in Rochester, Kent. He was wrapped in a roll of carpet to keep warm, when the bin was emptied. Russell Lane did not wake up and was hidden from view under the carpet. This tragic incident is a further reminder of the risks associated with sleeping in bins – both in cases involving homeless individuals, or those on a night out. Hypothermia may make homeless people drowsy and they may experience difficulty with their level of alertness and with waking up.

Large padded bins are a sheltered location to sleep, but those sleeping in them are often hard to detect and are at risk of serious injury or death both from falls into collection vehicles and the deadly compressing machinery within them. Imagine how awful it must be having to choose between dying of hypothermia and exposure or taking a risk and bedding down in a bin.

Just before Christmas last year twenty-eight-year-old Jay McLaren was found dead at a recycling plant after sleeping in a bin following a night out in Sunderland town centre, while last July there was a large-scale search for the body of RAF gunner Corrie McKeague who, it is believed, fell asleep in a bin in Bury St Edmunds before being unknowingly taken to landfill for incineration.

As a so-called civilised society, we mustn’t look the other way. In cold weather, the plight of people who have no shelter is especially harsh, and many passersby may struggle to know what to do. But here are small things we can each do to make a difference, and reduce the dangers of freezing weather for homeless citizens. For example:

  • We could stop, smile and buy someone a warm drink, or provide some warm food.
  • We could set up places were people can take their old coats and blankets, socks, hats, gloves, scarves – and then distribute those to people sleeping rough. Or even set up a point in each town so that homeless people know where to go for warm clothes that have been donated.
  • We can also contact Streetlink. (Click) When a rough sleeper is reported via the Streetlink app, or by phone – telephone number 0300-500 0914. The details  you provide are sent to the local authority concerned, so they can help connect the person to local services and support. You will also receive an update on what action was taken so you’ll know if the situation was resolved. StreetLink aims to offer the public a means to act when they see someone sleeping rough, and is the first step someone can take to ensure rough sleepers are connected to the local services and support available to them.

Please help this poor girl.

The young woman was found in the recycling wheelie bin could have been crushed to death had she had not been found and filmed by a refuse collector. He bought her a meal. However, no one seems to know where she is now.

People are starving destitute and dying on the streets because of draconian Conservative policies that were designed to cruelly punish the poorest citizens.

It’s time that people in the UK stopped looking the other way.


 

I would like to help, but I live at the other end of the country, and would struggle to travel down to London at the moment, as I am very unwell with a lupus flare. I have to get to the hospital in Newcastle on Monday (Christmas eve) for an emergency appointment with my specialist for some additional treatment – it’s usually a high dose shot of steroids. So I can’t travel at the moment.


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation if you like, which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others facing the consequences of the punitive welfare ‘reforms’.

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Gaslighting Conservative MP says Universal Credit protest is a ‘political stunt’

A Conservative MP, Simon Clarke, has condemned a protest against Universal Credit in Guisborough, dismissing it as a “political stunt”.

Clarke said the protest will ‘disrupt local businesses’ on one of the busiest days in the run up to Christmas.

Local Labour MPs and unions are holding a march in the town on Saturday. They join thousands of other people, accusing the government of a “callous approach”.

They said the so-called flagship reform – which replaces six existing benefits, and has been introduced across Teesside in recent months – was “causing real poverty and hardship in our communities”.

Redcar and Cleveland Council has written to the Government three times to delay the roll-out until after Christmas, saying that claimants’ waiting five weeks for their first payment would leave families penniless over the Christmas period.

However Clarke, whose Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland is the only Conservative seat on Teesside, claims he has not had a single constituent flag any problems with the system.

Clarke claims: “At the heart of Universal Credit is the principle that work should always pay and those who need support should receive it.” 

“That is what it delivers – bringing an end to the broken culture we inherited from Labour, where the number of households where nobody had ever worked doubled between 1997 and 2010.”

Clarke continued with his myth making: “I have liaised really closely with the brilliant team at Loftus Job Centre in recent weeks. The team there could not have been clearer: they think Universal Credit will help people, they are well trained to deliver it and they are fed up of being demonised by politicians who only want to frighten their clients unnecessarily.”

However, it is very problematic to accept the narratives of administrators and to completely discount the negative experiences and citizen accounts of those Universal Credit is being imposed on. The system is so riddled with design flaws and process faults that it is practically guaranteed to generate mistakes and delays that would push vulnerable benefit claimants into hardship, according to administrative whistleblowers. 

Service centre workers have told the Guardian that glitches and errors in the “cobbled-together” system have commonly led to peoples’ benefit payments being delayed for weeks or wrongly reduced by hundreds of pounds. Mistakes and delays can add on average an extra three weeks to the formal 35-day wait for an initial benefit payment, pushing claimants into debt, rent arrears, and reliance on food banks.

Campaigners warn that the problems may get worse next year when more than 3 million claimants start to be “migrated” to the new system.

One employee said: “The IT system on which Universal Credit is built is so fundamentally broken and poorly designed that it guarantees severe problems with claims.”

He said the system was “overcomplex and prone to errors that affected payments and often proved slow to correct.”

“In practical terms, it is not working the way it was intended and it is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants.”

Bayard Tarpley, who left the Grimsby service centre after two years as a telephony agent, told the Guardian that he had been dealing with distressed claimants every day. “My hope is that by speaking out I can help explain why these processes have such a significant, harmful impact on claimants.”

He gave several examples of where poor system design and practice caused delays and payment errors, including:

  • Staff are not notified when claimants leave messages on their online journal; for example, if they wish to challenge payment errors. As a result, messages sent to officials can go unanswered for days or weeks unless claimants pursue the inquiry by phone.
  • Claimants are discouraged by staff from phoning in to resolve problems or to book a home visit and instead are actively persuaded to go online, using a technique called “deflection”, even when callers insist they are unable to access or use the internet.
  • Callers have often been given wrong or contradictory advice about their entitlements by DWP officials. These include telling severely disabled claimants who are moving on to universal credit from existing benefits that they must undergo a new “fit for work” test to receive full payment.
  • Although the system is equipped to receive scanned documents, claimants instead are told to present paper evidence used to verify their claim, such as medical reports, either at the local job centre or through the post, further slowing down the payment process.
  • Small delays or fluctuations in the timing of employers’ reporting of working claimants’ monthly wages via the real time information system can lead to them being left hundreds of pounds out of pocket through no fault of their own.

Food banks are regarded as a formal backstop for when the system fails, he said. Officials are told to advise those claimants who are in hardship and who do not qualify for cash advances to contact charities or their council for help. However, many councils have closed local welfare provision as a result of central government cuts to funding.

These disclosures add to the mounting concerns over Universal Credit, and provides evidence that the system is not supporting people with even their most basic living costs. Universal Credit roll out is six years behind schedule but will eventually handle £63bn of welfare support going to 8 million people.

Campaigners and researchers say their concerns have been met with a “defensive and insular” approach to managing welfare reform by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). 

The department came under withering fire from a cross-party group of MPs who accused it of a “culture of indifference” after it had repeatedly ignored warnings of basic process errors that led to 70,000 disabled benefit claimants being underpaid an estimated £500m over six years.

The then work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, sought to limit the damage in a speech in which she admitted there were problems with Universal Credit, and promised to listen to campaigners, claimants and frontline staff to find ways to change and improve the system.

If Universal Credit is so ‘helpful’ for citizens, wouldn’t you think that the United Nations would have recognised that this was the case during the recent inquiry? As it is, Philip Alston said that Universal Credit is “entrenching people in poverty” and inflicting “unnecessary misery” on citizens, because of the government’s “radical social re-engineering programe”. 

Alston concluded: “In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.” 

He also warned that the motivation behind the controversial benefit reform was to slash spending, despite finding little evidence that there had been any savings, and that the message to claimants is, “You are alone” and that state assistance is the “last resort”.

Yet Clarke says: “Since roll-out began here last month, not a single constituent has come forward with a problem for me to help with. My staff have all received training if anyone does. No amount of staff training, however, can ensure that people have enough money to meet their basic living costs within a punitive framework that is purposely designed to create a hostile environment to deter people from claiming social security support. 

“But I think people in Guisborough will rightly be unimpressed that their town is being disrupted on one of the busiest shopping days before Christmas by what is frankly a political stunt,” said Clarke, using what is frankly a deplorable gaslighting technique.

I can’t imagine that many people experiencing problems with their Universal Credit claim would find Clarke particularly approachable. He seems to be surrounded by an impervious wall of denial.

Redcar MP Anna Turley has also called for the roll out of Universal Credit to be stopped until flaws in the system are put right. She said that low income families and vulnerable people would be left reliant on food banks and forced into personal debt.

A similar protest, organised by Unite the Union, was held in Redcar last weekend.

Cllr Sue Jeffrey, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said: “I am dismayed at the callous approach being taken by this Government.

“We know that there is likely to be difficulties for many people who are forced to move onto Universal Credit in the month before Christmas.”

The TUC said that the Conservatives “are in denial about the hardship Universal Credit will cause in our area”.

Accusing the accuser: Conservative techniques of neutralisation and perception management

However, it’s an intentional, evidence-vaulting sort of deliberated response – a habitualised, patterned, crib sheet, ‘strategic communication’ (communication tactically aligned with the government’s overall strategy and ideological aims, to enhance its strategic positioning) kind of denial:

Another MP who called for an end to “scaremongering” about Universal Credit last year is Wendy Morton. Speaking in a Commons debate about Universal Credit, she said: “It is this government who are helping people, which is why I am disappointed to have sat through a lot of this debate and heard scaremongering stories from Opposition Members.”

She responded with the sloganised, detached and meaningless comment: Universal Credit “makes work pay and helps people into work” and staff at job centres, who administer the benefit, were “working hard to get it right.” 

In October, during a parliamentary debate, St Austell and Newquay’s MP, Steve Double, claimed that jobcentre staff “love it, and claimants like it” and that “one of the problems is all the scaremongering, primarily from the Labour party.”

The evidence from a wide variety of sources, however, strongly suggests otherwise. 

As Labour MP Liz McInnes said at the time: “If these claims are in fact true, who could possibly object to impact assessments being released? They will no doubt reflect the happiness and joy being spread to Universal Credit claimants in beautiful Cornwall. One would think that the Government would be shouting this marvellous news from the rooftops – if it were true.”

Esther McVey memorably refused to agree to meet with the women so bady affected by Universal Credit that they were forced into sex work to avoid destitution. She coldly asked former Labour minister Frank Field, who raised his concerns, to remind them “there are now record job opportunities” in the UK.

During that particular debate, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood called on the government to stop the  roll-out, adding: “There’s a real danger that hundreds of thousands of people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be pushed into poverty and left at risk of destitution.”

McVey dismissed those concerns as “scaremongering”. And again in March, McVey accused Labour of “scaremongering and misinformation”, saying an extra 50,000 children would benefit under the Universal Credit system, when MPs raised concerns of growing childhood poverty.

In March, at a meeting ,the Conservative Mansfield MP and Hucknall councillor Ben Bradley said, ludicrously, that Labour were “weaponising poor people” and “scaremongering rubbish”.

The government are weaponising social security.

And Labour councillor Michael Payne, who represents Arnold North, quoted parts of a disgraceful blog written by Bradley in which he said people on benefits should have vasectomies

There are many on the Opposition Benches who have expressed legitimate concerns about the catastrophic Universal Credit roll out on behalf of their constituents only to have them passed off as “scaremongering.”

However, the government should not ignore the concerns shared by affected citizens, many outside the House, by the charities and organisations at the forefront of supporting people through such difficult and distressing periods when they don’t have the means to meet even their basic living needs, leaving them extremely vulnerable. 

Last week I wrote about Dan Carden’s letter to Amber Rudd, also asking her to postpone the roll out of Universal Credit in his Liverpool Walton constituency. 

He said: “We have families experiencing poverty on an unprecedented scale and now facing further avoidable hardship in the run up to Christmas. 

“I have now been informed that job centres across Liverpool are advancing payments to my constituents to obtain provisional driving licences for the purposes of identification and then deducting the cost from their benefits.

“Constituents are also having to pay for postal orders, passport photographs and postage, just to obtain provisional licences.”

He explained that the DVLA says there is a five-week wait for provisional licences, and highlighted the delays before the first payments are made when someone is transferred on to Universal Credit.

Carden added: “Continuing with this roll-out will leave many of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool Walton destitute by Christmas and I am therefore asking you to intervene as a matter of urgency.”

The secretary of state for work and pensions, responded despicably and oppressively, as follows:

However, it seems Rudd failed to bother checking her own government’s web site for advice and evidence.

When people apply for Universal Credit, they are asked to verify their identity online via the GOV.Verify service. 

To do so, you need either;

  • A valid UK driving license
  • A valid UK passport.

Of course this creates problems for those without the documents. Their Universal Credit claim cannot go ‘live’ without conforming to the ID verification framework. People generally can’t get an advance because their claim isn’t live. Once they’ve received their new ID document, (takes around 6-8 weeks usually), it’s then a further 5 weeks (at least) until their first Universal Credit payment.

According to the government web site, you can only apply for an advance on your first payment if you have already verified your identity.

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • verify your identity (you do this online when you submit your Universal Credit claim or at your first Jobcentre Plus interview)
  • provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account.)

It seems that the “terrific” job coaches are not applying rules consistently, leading to a post code lottery concerning the verification requirements for claims. 

The Verify framework:

 

The response from Rudd and other ministers has become a deplorable, standardised and authoritarian tactic of repressing legitimate criticism for the Conservatives, however. Other ministers who have habitually used the term ‘scaremonger’ as a gaslighting technique include Sarah Newton and David Gauke among others. 

Traditional Conservative prejudices about poverty: blame the victims

Gordon Henderson the Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey in Kent, has tried to argue that the move to Universal Credit was not responsible for a significant rise in the use of foodbanks.

He said that he had secured information from a local foodbank about claimants who had faced difficulties with Universal Credit, and he claimed he had ‘discovered’ that many of them were “living in a local hostel that provides temporary accommodation for homeless adults” conflating cause with effects as a matter of prejudice, ideological preference and despicable politcal expediency.

He went on that it “soon became obvious that some of them suffered from underlying problems that affected their ability to manage the transition to Universal Credit, and that forced them into using the food bank”, such as “drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, an inability to manage money, or plain fecklessness”.

It’s not possible to ‘manage’ no money, or amounts that are insufficient to meet basic survival needs. 

He added, disgracefully, that making Universal Credit perfect overnight would not “solve their mental health problems” and issues with drugs and alcohol and “would not make them less feckless” and that “they would still have the same problems, whatever benefits system was put in place”. 

He concluded that he was “glad” that such people were “in the minority” and appeared to suggest that those with mental health problems – and seemingly people with learning difficulties – were to blame for their difficulties with Universal Credit, after adding that there were also “some people who have genuine concerns”.

In 2014, Anglican bishops and the new Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster joined the Left to claim that a national crisis had driven half a million people to use food banks.

Deplorable right wing ideologue Simon Heffer said “Government ministers knew that was nonsense. The level of benefits is, they believe, sufficient to feed those who receive them.”

Yet a huge and growing amount of evidence says otherwise.

He continued: “Though Leftists cynically exploit the existence of food banks as proof that a Tory-led government has inflicted terrible hardship on the poor, there is a widespread belief that some people use them because they have chosen to spend their money, instead, on drink, tobacco, slot machines, tattoos or pornography. This leaves little cash to buy food.” Heffer was advocating the use of prepaid cards welfare cards, to restrict what people can spend their money on, to “incentivise them out of dependency and into work”. 

Exposing Conservative mythologies

them-and-us-640x300 (1)

One of the biggest myths that the Conservatives peddle is that of ‘intergenerational dependency on welfare’. However, only 0.3% of households have two generations that have not worked, according to studies of the Labour Force Survey.  The majority of these households included children who had only come out of education within the last five years and in a third of these households, the member of the younger generation had been out of work for less than a year. The Conservative folk devils created from the “longterm undeserving benefit claimant” sponger stereotype is very much exaggerated.  

Detailed research into what ordinary people think should go into a minimum household budget showed that actual out of work benefits are no way near as generous as some politicians would have you believe – and were actually well below the minimum level before the welfare cuts were implemented.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that while pensioners did receive 100% of what people think they need, a single adult of working age received just 40% of the weekly minimum and a couple with two children received just 62% of the weekly minimum. Those amounts have been further reduced because of the welfare caps, Universal Credit, bedroom tax and reductions in Emloyment and Support Allowance (ESA), council tax support, in a context of ever-rising living costs.   

The biggest part of social security spending – 53% – actually goes to pensioners. Overall, out-of-work benefits account for under a quarter of all welfare spending. Even excluding pensioners’ benefits, nearly half of welfare spending goes on benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, which helps disabled people (both in and out of work) with extra costs; Child Benefit and Tax Credits or Universal Credit to working families; and Statutory Maternity Pay. The majority of children and working age adults in poverty in the UK live in working, not “workless” households. 

Cuts to the social security budget are having a huge impact, and will continue to have an even bigger impact on those in work, especially the poorest families. 

Furthermore, the idea that social security spending has increased and is currently out of control is shown to be incorrect as spending in 2011-12 accounted for 10.4% of GDP, lower than an average of 11% in the mid-1980s and 12% in the mid 1990s. 

The commonly held public perceptions of large numbers of long-term social security claimants are incorrect as less than 10% of Job Seekers Allowance claimants claimed for more than one year. Moreover the majority of people claiming social security support are in work.

An interesting Conservative council’s report on Universal Credit: off the crib sheet 

Sedgemoor in Somerset has a Conservative district council.  Last year the council produced a report about the impact of Universal Credit, which was rolled out in 2016 in Somerset. The intention behind the report was to formally present the findings to the Department for Work and Pensions. 

The authors of the report say that although they support Universal Credit, they are concerned about the way in which the system is being rolled out.  They say that Sedgemoor District Council’s experiences mirror those of both Citizens Advice and Digilink, particularly in terms of the level of support required.

However, they also raised concerns around the administration of the scheme and the additional costs to local service providers. They maintain Universal Credit Telephone Records (and a sample of these are attached as Appendix B in the report).

Here is a list of some of the concerns expressed in the report, which contradict the Conservatives’ official line:

Inadequate support for most vulnerable in Society;
 Lack of understanding of the nature and often severity of some customers’ personal circumstances (see case study 6 on the report);
 Delay in receiving first payment and the need to budget carefully (case study 7);
 Rent element of UC not paid in the first instance and clients using the personal element on housing to stay in their homes until the ‘top-up’ is received;
 Additional work with tenants to prevent them going into arrears (and the additional cost of this to service providers);
 Some concerns that the administration of the virtual call centres around the country are failing, for example through providing inadequate answers and explanation, and these cases are being picked up by Citizens Advice and others;
 The policy of the scheme is set centrally and the delivery of the scheme is controlled  nationally, yet solutions on a local level are needed; 
 Specific issues with some customers unable to make an online application due to no computer/internet access or the skills to do so;
 Inadequate funding to support the scheme, e.g. the £6,000 for Digilink sessions;
 Lack of understanding and explanation of the scheme and the frustration this causes (case studies 8 and 9).

Other concerns raised were that the “DWP’s approach encourages all applicants to take responsibility for their own claim, which means that service providers cannot interact with the DWP without the client being present. Unfortunately, this does not take into account that many of the most vulnerable residents are not in a position to fully manage their own claim, for example, if they do not have the technological skills.”

Despite some Conservatives disgracefully attempting to link food bank use with individuals’ “fecklessness”, in the council’s report it says that the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks in Somerset, has reported nationally that benefit delays/changes remain the biggest cause of foodbank use, accounting for 42% of all referrals, up from about a third the previous year. Around 10,000 emergency food parcels were distributed in Somerset in 2015/16. Bridgwater has seen an increase in referrals in the last year.

The government claim that the social security system is designed to target and provide for those who need support. Yet the report above raises concerns that those most in need are not getting the support they need.

However, it is clear that Conservatives generally believe that many people needing support don’t ‘deserve’ it because of traditionally held Conservative prejudices about poor people. These prejudices are plainly evident in their narratives that justify punitive ‘behavioural change’ policies and the creation of a hostile environment to deter members of the public from accessing a public service that most of them have paid for via taxes and national insurance contributions. 


Related

Universal discredit


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Select Committee launch inquiry into ‘effectiveness of welfare system’ as UN rapporteur condemns Conservative policies

Image result for philip alston

The Work and Pensions Select Committee have launched an inquiry into ‘effectiveness of welfare system.’ The Committee say the inquiry was launched as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty makes an investigative visit to the UK, and it will consider how effectively our welfare system works to protect citizens against hardship and chronic deprivation.

The Committee have noted that the UK’s welfare system is currently undergoing fundamental reform, in the transition to Universal Credit alongside other major and largely untested reforms like benefit sanctions and the benefit cap. 

Image result for universal credit roll out cartoon

The Committee’s latest work on Universal Credit examined how Government will (or won’t) safeguard some of the most vulnerable members of our society as it implements this huge programme of change.

After the recent Budget, Members from across the House expressed concerns on this issue, including some senior MPs telling the Government that continuing the freeze on benefits in place since 2010 was “immoral”.

Previously, the Work and Pensions Committee inquired into the local welfare safety net in response to changes in the Welfare Reform Act 2012—which replaced several centrally administered schemes with locally run provision—and further changes in the Summer 2015 Budget.

The Committee looked at whether these changes represented “localism in action” as claimed, or rather, created a postcode lottery of service provision, with people falling through the gaps or “holes” in the welfare safety net and the costs shunted on to local authorities, services and charities.

The Committee concluded that welfare ‘reforms’ risk leading people into severe hardship and called on the government to:

  • Ensure reforms such as the benefit cap do not inadvertently penalise groups who cannot actually adapt to it or offset its effects, and that appropriate mitigation strategies are in place.

    For example, some people cannot find or move to cheaper housing, because none is available, or cannot move in to work because they are a single parent and there is no appropriate childcare in their area. 
  • Conduct robust, cross-departmental evaluation on the impact of local schemes on the most vulnerable households 
  • Co-ordinate with local government better to ensure more consistent quality of provision

Since then indicators strongly suggest that chronic deprivation is on the rise. These include numbers of households in temporary accommodation, rough sleepers, and people referred to foodbanks, says the Committee.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“We are now seeing the grim, if unintended, consequences of the Government’s massive welfare reforms across several major inquiries. Policy decision after policy decision has piled the risks of major changes onto the shoulders of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and then onto local authorities, services and charities scrambling to catch them if and when they fall.

The welfare safety net ought to be catching people before they are plunged into debt, hardship and hunger. Instead it appears to be unravelling before our very eyes. The Committee now wants to find out whether the Government’s policies are sufficient to save people from destitution—and, if not, what more needs to be done.”

We do have to wonder how much evidence it will take before the government concedes that its draconian welfare policies are discriminatory, ideologically driven,  empirically unverified in terms of their efficacy and profoundly damaging; creating poverty and extreme hardships for historially marginalised groups. 

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has discussed a ‘Government in denial’ in his scathing report. He draws pretty much the same conclusions that many of us have over the last few years. He says that “key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned.”

Much of the contract has been dismantled, including access to justice via legal aid, as well as universal welfare, health care, social housing and many other social gains and safety net provisions that were a fundamental part of the post war democratic settlement.

This is a consequence of the Conservative’s coordinated and sustained attack on democracy, public services and establised ideas about universal rights and citizenship, since 2010. It’s very difficult to see this as anything else but an ongoing and intentional attack. 

The government’s ‘mean spirited’ welfare policies have intended outcomes. They are codified expressions of how a government thinks society ought to be structured.

Alston draws the same conclusions as I have since 2012; that the harms and suffering being inflicted on the most politically disadvantaged citizens is part of “a radical social re-engineering’, and nothing to do with any economic need for austerity.”

In other words, the all too often devastating consequences of Conservative welfare policies are deliberate and intended. 

Alston says that the government’s policies and drastic cuts were “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting “unnecessary” hardship in one of the richest countries in the world.

“When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits,” he said.

Yet another example of  the government’s strategy of loud and determined denials and sustained use of techniques of neutralisation.

When it was announced that the UN was investigating the impact of government policies and severe poverty in the UK, Conservative Minister for the 17th Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said: “Surely the UN has better ways of wasting money?”

A government gaslighting  spokesman said: “We completely disagree with this [Philip Alston’s] analysis. With these Government’s changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.

“Universal Credit is supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.

“We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.”

Of course, the empirical evidence does not support this government statement.

Send the Committee your views

The Committee is now inviting evidence, whether you are an individual, group or organisation, on any or all of the following questions. 

Please send your views by 14 December 2018.

  • How should hardship and chronic deprivation be measured?
  • What do we know about chronic deprivation and hardship in the UK?
  • Is it changing? How?
  • Why do some households fall into poverty and deprivation?
  • What factors best explain the reported increases in indicators of deprivation like homelessness, rough sleeping and increased food bank use? 
  • What about the local variations in these markers of deprivation?
  • Do Jobcentre Plus procedures and benefit delays play a role?
  • What role does Universal Credit play in in relation to deprivation, or could it play in tackling it?
  • Is our welfare safety net working to prevent people falling into deprivation?
  • If not, how could it better do so?
  • What progress has been made on addressing the issues identified in the Committee’s 2016
    Report, (described above / link)?
  • What are the remaining weaknesses, how should these now be addressed?

Send a written submission

Related

Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchers

 


 

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I’m a disabled person and Sarah Newton is an outrageous, gaslighting liar

Last year I wrote an article about how the social security system in the UK has been re-structured around “ordeals”, which were introduced by the Conservative government in order to discipline and “disincentivise” citizens from claiming welfare support.  The government’s aim is to ‘deter’ a ‘culture of dependency’ (a debunked myth) by undermining any sense of security people may have of fulfilling their most basic needs.  Welfare support is extremely conditional, precarious and punitive, because it is founded on traditional Conservative prejudices about poor people. 

Ordeals are intrinsic to a system of punishment that the draconian Conservatives claim will “change the behaviours” of underpaid, unemployed and disabled people. By creating a hostile environment, the government are somehow claiming that it’s possible to simply punish people out of having basic needs.  If employment were genuinely ‘the route out of poverty’, as the government claim, why is it that most people who need social security support are in work?

Then there are the additional concerns about how the government treats those citizens who are too ill to work. The Conservatives simply refuse to believe them or their doctors.

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

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

The entire assessment process has established a system marked by assuming disabled people are somehow faking their disability or illness. It’s a case of “remove people’s support first, they can appeal later”. Once they have got through mandatory review and struggling without any income, that is. (To date, two-thirds of appeals are won by claimants. This is despite the legal aid cuts, which mean disabled people appealing their rejectionfor support are denied any legal support in a staggering 99% of cases.)

Outrageously, Newton said it’s “not true” that disabled people face a hostile environment.” She also asked the opposition not to say “things” that they “know are not true”.


Basically Newton was inviting the Labour party to collaborate in gaslighting disabled people, as well as attempting to stifle genuine concerns, democratic dialogue and avoid any democratic accountability whatosever. Absolutely shameful, authoritarian behaviour. 

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

However, the Conservatives have a track record of denying empirical findings that don’t match their ideological expectations. They simply deny and dismiss any criticism of their prejudiced and discriminatory policies. Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary at the time of the UN inquiry report, famously claimed that cuts to support for disabled people did “not necessarily mean worse outcomes.” 

If the Conservatives genuinely believed that were true, they wouldn’t have such a problem in ensuring very wealthy people paid a fair amount of tax more generally. Apparently, money matters only to the rich. Cuts to their income must be avoided at all costs. And it does cost some of society’s most marginalised citizens, leaving us vulnerable. 

Those in the work-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) group have already seen their support brutally cut to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. Personal Independent Payment (PIP) was introduced to cut costs, too.

The fact that disabled people are also dying after losing their benefits is continually ignored, often dismissed by the government as ‘anecdotal evidence’, which does not ‘demonstrate a ‘causal link’ between the death and government policy”. 

My own experiences of the Conservatives hostile environment

As a disabled person who has gone through three ESA assessments, and more recently, a PIP assessment, a mandatory review and tribunal, I can verify that the Conservatives’ policies have created a hostile and harmful environment for disabled people. When I went through the ESA assessment in 2011, I was already gravely ill with a severe lupus flare. I was forced to leave a job I loved in 2010.

By then I had worked with the illness as long as I possibly could. I became ill with lupus in 1998. The illness is chronic, progressive and is characterised by periods of acute illness, followed by periods of relative remission. Each flare generally imposes an increasing amount of damage to joints, nerves, tendons, organs and blood cells, as the disease progresses, causing myriad symptoms that vary over time, and from person to person. 

Unbelievably, despite being so ill, I scored zero points at the assessment and the stress of having to fight for a means to live exacerbated my illness. I won an appeal nine months later. In the meantime I was placed on a work programme that I couldn’t possibly undertake. The disability advisor I saw at the job centre told me she could see I was unfit for work.

Just three months following the appeal, I was told I must attend another assessment. By this time I was so poorly that I collapsed at the interview. The Atos doctor told me I should never have been sent for another assessment. I was on chemotherapy treatment at the time, which ought to have exempted me, as should the tribunal outcome just a couple of months previously. The initial Atos report, presented to the court, was clearly about someone else’s life and conditions. The tribunal said that working would place me at unacceptable risk. 

I also ensured the assessment was recorded the second time, so little was my trust of the fairness and rationality of the process. Or the honesty and integrity of Atos’s ‘health care professionals’. At the second assessment, I saw a doctor, who sent me home in a taxi, Atos actually paid for it. He also recommended that I was placed in the Support Group.

It was two years before my treatment stopped the aggressive advance of my illness, which also leaves a wake of progressive damage to bones, joints, tendons, nerves, blood cells, major organs and my immune system – causing further disability. My rheumatologist is sure the severe stress of assessment and appeal, coupled with the financial hardship I experienced, exacerbated my flare. By 2013 I was still very frail, and weighed less than eight stones, despite feeling less acutely ill.

The experience was so distressing for me that I could not face going through a PIP assessment, despite the fact that I needed the additional support. I put off claiming until last year, when I needed aids and appliances in my home just to manage day-to-day tasks like taking a shower and cooking. The occupational therapist from my local council helped me with my claim. By this time I desperately needed the additional support.

The PIP assessment was dehumanising and degrading and the ‘examination’ included movements that left me in a lot of severe pain, reducing my mobility further, substantially. Some of my joints were badly swollen by the evening, following my appointment, including both shoulders and knees. I was asked to do movements I wasn’t familiar with, and it isn’t until you try them that you find you cannot actually bend or reach that way. The movements were also done in quick succession. I was trembling with the effort and complained I was in pain. When I refused to do a squat, I was asked why. I explained that I simply couldn’t do it. I have arthritis in both hips and lower spine, both of my wrists and shoulders won’t take any weight and had I fallen backwards, I risked breaking a wrist, as I also have early onset osteoporosis because of my ilness.

People should not be leaving assessments in a worse condition than when they arrived for them.

I made a formal complaint, but was fobbed off by the person carrying out the investigation, who simply concluded that as he ‘wasn’t in the room at the time’ of the assessment and so could neither verify nor negate my ‘allegations’. It took him four pages to say that.

I was just one point short of an enhanced PIP award. The reasoning on the assessment report for denying me a point for cognitive difficulties was that I had a degree (1996, Master’s in 2007), worked as a social worker (until 2010, when I became too ill to work) and a driving licence in 2003. I have been unable to drive since 2005 because of flicker induced seizures. Clearly the idea that an illness that prevents me from continuing in work, which is also well-known for causing neurological illness, has led to increasing cognitive difficulties since 2009 isn’t acceptable to PIP assessors, who wanted to keep my award as low as possible.

The DWP didn’t even bother writing to let me know the outcome of my mandatory review. Throughout the process, from the first ESA assessment to the last PIP assessment, I was treated as though I was somehow a burden, rather than being supported.

Newton claimed yesterday that the opposition’s comments are “dangerous”and “deter” people who need support from claiming it. What utter tosh. It is government policies that are dangerous, and that have created a series of ordeals in the assessment process, designed to weight the assessments towards permitting the DWP to refuse people support.

I needed PIP in 2011, but my experience of ESA assessment was so devastating that I was deterred from claiming PIP until I was absolutely desperate, last year. I simply could not face risking my health even further with another assessment, unless I absolutely had no choice. That last assessment also caused an exacerbation of my illness and injury to my already damaged joints and tendons. 

How dare Newton tell such hard faced, deplorable lies.

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

Newton even had the cheek to cite Labour’s Equality Act as a ‘protection’ for disabled people, as if it was the Conservatives who designed this policy. This is the same Act that this government has violated over and over because of their welfare ‘reforms’ and austerity programme.

Those protections were brought about by the last Labour government, which also included the Human Rights Act, as well as Labour signing the UK up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – an international human rights treaty intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

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

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

Newton also shamefully suggested people losing their motability cars should complain to the Motability charity – not the government. It’s not the charity that are creating a hostile environmen for disabled people, carrying out assessments that are absolutely unfit for purpose. This government simply refuse to accept any responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. History has taught us that such right wing authoritarian governments are very, very dangerous.

How dare this minister deny and dismiss the accounts of disabled people – those directly affected by her government’s draconian policies. How dare she call other people ‘liars’ while she stood there lying in parliament. She seems to have forgotten that disabled people have the same democratic right as other groups to hold a dialogue with the government, but instead we have patronising and vindictive ministers telling us their punitive and authoritarian policies aren’t causing us any harm or distress. We say they are and we are told by this manipulative, gaslighting liar that it is we that are ‘lying’. 

Newton presented us with despicable and manipulative gaslighting tactics used by bullies, psychopaths and despots. When Newton claims that the opposition are telling ‘untruths’, she is also accusing those of us who have suffered because of her governments wretched and punitive policies. She then goes on with hard faced cheek to ‘condemn the condemners’*(see below for outline of techniques of neutralisation):

I honestly ask all members opposite, please do not use this language of hostile environment. It is simply not the case.

“And the very people that need all of our support are put off from seeking it and coming forward.

“Really, I would ask them to stop saying things which they know are not true.”

The Conservatives talk a lot about “evidence-based policy”, but they don’t walk the talk. An overwhelming weight of evidence has highlighted the cruel, draconian effects of the Tories’ social polices to date. The government have simply chosen to deny and ignore it. 

Clearly the government is committed to trying it on by paying people (from their OWN contributions) as little as they can possibly get away with from the public fund. Perish the thought that public paying taxes towards public services may actually want to use those public services at some point in their lives. Yet the government irrationally insists that the cuts are “to provide tax payers with value for money.”

There IS NO discrete group of tax payers that never use public services, who are simply paying for “other peoples'” support. Everyone pays tax, including those claiming welfare support. Most people claiming support have worked, many needing support are actually IN work. Furthermore, as employment has become increasingly precarious, many move in and out of employment, through no fault of their own. 

The “value for the tax payer” spin is simply a divisive strategy – a political game of “us and them” that is used to justify punitive policies which target some groups, while the deliberate scapegoating of those groups serves to de-empathise the public to their loss of support, increasing vulnerability and distress. 

Deliberately cutting money from disabled peoples’ crucial lifeline support can hardly be described as providing “value for money” nor is it “fair” and “supportive”. This consistent response and denial from a government of liars indicates quite clearly that the cuts were always intentional on the part of the government.

The gaslighting, denial and dismissal by Newton and her Conservative colleagues indicates a deliberately prejudiced, vicious attack on a significant minority of the population, which this Orwellian government clearly have absolutely no intention of stopping or putting right any time soon.


* Techniques of neutralisation: 

Used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez
added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudice may ultimately result in genocide.

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

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

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

Read some of the accounts of other disabled people who have also faced the Conservative’s hostile environment and social security ordeals:

Fit for work assessment was trigger for suicide, coroner says

Man leaves coroner letter as he fears Work Capability Assessment will kill him

Jobcentre tells GP to stop issuing sick notes to patient assessed as ‘fit for work’ and he died

Cystic fibrosis sufferer refused PIP – the Conservative bureaucratic wall and systematic dismantling of social security

Man with diabetes had to have his leg amputated because of benefit sanctions

Benefits Assessor: How Long Are You Likely To Have Parkinson’s?

Please let’s help Peter to maintain his mobility and independence

Thousands of disabled people have already lost their specialist Motability vehicles because of Conservative PIP cuts and many more are likely to be affected.

Remembering the Victims of the Government’s Welfare “Reforms”  (This list needs to be updated).

 


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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It’s time government ministers stopped lying about their attack on disabled people

Image result for centre for welfare reform simon duffy

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the Universal Credit (UC) rules which will leave many disabled people who are new claimants, who experience a change in circumstances or a break in their claim, without their Disability Income Guarantee.

Those people who qualified for the support component of income-related Employment and Support Allowance and (ESA) are eligible for a disability premium (also called the Disability Income Guarantee.) However, as a result of the abolition of both the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) under UC rules, according to the disability charity, Scopethe cut to the disability income guarantee will see disabled people lose as much as £395 a month.

Two disabled people decided to take the government to court over the brutal cuts to their income, which has caused them severe hardship.

Earlier this month, in a landmark judgment, the High Court ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they claimed Universal Credit. 

Lawyers representing the men said the ruling showed that the new benefit system was “not working” for the disabled or other claimants, and urged the government to halt the roll-out and overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs and not “condemn them to destitution”. The two claimants, known only as TP and AR, had both previously been in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at ensuring the additional care and needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer are met.

Both people were required to make a claim for universal credit when they moved into new local authorities where the controversial new benefit was being rolled out. According to both the men, they were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change. Yet despite repeated assurances from the government that “no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to universal credit where circumstances remain the same”, both men saw an immediate drop in their income of around £178 a month when they were moved over to UC.

When they asked for the top up payments promised by the DWP, they were told that Government policy was that no such payments would be paid until July 2019 when managed migration is due to begin.

As both claimants testified to the court, the sudden drop of income had a devastating impact on them, both physically and psychologically. TP, a former City banker who suffers from a terminal illness, has been struggling to address his care needs, and AR, who suffers from severe mental health issues, has been unable to afford basic necessities.

Earlier this month, the DWP committed the government to ensuring that no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be made to move onto universal credit until transitional protection is in place and also, made a commitment to compensate those like the claimants who have lost out.  

Despite this, following the judgment, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has sought permission to appeal, maintaining that there was “nothing unlawful” with the way the claimants were treated. 

Their lawyer, Tessa Gregory from the human rights team at Leigh Day, told the Court: “Nothing about either of the claimants’ disability or care needs changed, they were simply unfortunate enough to need to move local authorities into a Universal Credit full service area.”

The judge said the impact on the individuals was “clear”, and said the way they were transferred onto universal credit was “manifestly without reasonable foundation” and “failed to strike a fair balance”.

Following the ruling, Ms Gregory said: “This is the first legal test of the roll out of Universal Credit and the system has been found to be unlawfully discriminating against some of society’s most vulnerable. 

“Whilst we welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that no one in our client’s position will now be moved onto Universal Credit until top up payments are in place, it comes too late as it cannot make up for the months of suffering and grinding poverty our clients and many others like them have already had to endure.

“We call upon Esther McVey to compensate our clients and all those affected without any further delay, and urge her to focus on fixing Universal Credit rather than wasting more public funds appealing this court decision.

“Today’s decision shows again that Universal Credit is not delivering what was promised at the outset. It is not working. It’s not working for the disabled, it’s not working for parents, it’s not working for low-income and part-time employees and it’s not working for the self-employed.  

“The government needs to halt the rollout and completely overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs, not condemn them to destitution. If this doesn’t happen further legal challenges will inevitably follow.

“Disability premiums are not a luxury. They play a crucial role in helping disabled people pay for essentials like food, clothing and bills. The needs of the people involved in this case haven’t changed, and yet they have lost more than £170 per month in support. This isn’t  fair.

Until the Government fully addresses these issues, it will unfairly penalise disabled people for moving over to universal credit.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “The court found in our favour on three of the four points raised by the claimant. We will be applying to appeal on the one point the court found against the Department. This government is committed to ensuring a strong system of support is in place for vulnerable people who are unable to work.”

Clearly the government is committed to trying it on by paying people as little as they can possibly get away with from the public fund. Deliberately cutting money from disabled peoples’ crucial lifeline support can hardly be described as “ensuring a strong system of support is in place”. This response indicates quite clearly that the cut was fully intentional on the part of the government.

The spokesperson added: “Last week, the Secretary of State announced that we will be providing greater support for severely disabled people as they move onto universal credit. And we have gone even further, by providing an additional payment to those who have already moved onto the benefit.”

Yes, because the cut has been ruled as discriminatory and unlawful, not because a choice was actually made to do so. Only the Conservatives could turn prejudice, discrimination and breaking the law into some kind of virtue.

Again this response indicates clearly that these were intended changes, and not merely  a consequence of administrative incompetence. There was not a shred of regret expressed by the government regarding the severe hardship these cuts have caused for disabled people. 

And this still leaves disabled people claiming the disability support component of Universal Credit for the first time without the Disability Income Guarantee. That is also discriminatory. 

The Department for Work and Pensions have claimed UC means that support is “focused on those who need it most”, but a government removing Severe Disability Premium and Enhanced Disability Premium, which is support designed to help severely disabled people who live without a carer – is pulling a basic safety net from citizens with the greatest needs. The premiums were also designed in part to address the problem of cumulative poverty for severely disabled people who cannot work, or who face disadvantage in the labour market because of additional needs and barriers. 

This cut will also potentially affect disabled lone parents who may rely on their benefit support to pay for support to shop, cook and wash, for example. The cut may mean that they will be forced to rely on their own children as carers.

Austerity has been carried disproportionately by disabled people

The UC system has made an estimated £11bn in savings, mainly through Treasury cuts to the original set level of universal credit rates – most notably through reductions to work allowances, which will save around £3bn, and the removal of £2bn in disability premium payments – but UC planning and delivery has also incurred £8.5bn in expenses.

Government statistics published last year show 47 per cent of people who were formerly receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) saw their support fall or stop altogether when they were reassessed for Personal Independent Payment (PIP).

Of a total of 947,000 claimants who were reassessed in the year up to October 2017, 22 per cent saw their support reduced, while a quarter were disallowed or withdrawn altogether — meaning 443,000 people will have had their claims reduced or removed.

However, the success rate for claimants when appealing Personal Independence Payments (PIP), for example, was 65% in 2016/17. The Mirror has recently reported that the rate of PIP appeal success has hit an all-time high of 71% for the first quarter of 2018.

Labour MP Rosie Duffield secured a debate (her first) which took place a couple of days ago (20 June) about the report by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The report said successive UK governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the committee said the government had created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people. (You can read the full debate here).  

The debate addressed last autumn’s report on the UK’s implementation of UNCRPD, and the conclusion of the UN’s disability committee that the UK government should make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

In a briefing prepared ahead of the debate, the Equality and Human Rights Commission  the other official and independent bodies responsible for monitoring the UK’s progress in implementing the convention – had called on the UK government to describe how it would “comprehensively address” the UN committee’s findings. However, the government has not made any commitment to implementing the committee’s recommendations.

During the debate, Labour MPs accused Sarah Newton, Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, and the government, of making disabled people a “forgotten class”; of allowing the DWP to “endlessly mistreat” them, and of creating a “national scandal”.

Newton dismissed Labour’s comments, using techniques of neutralisation that I’ve written about before. In short, Newton used a tactic that the Conservatives have used many times before – an indignant and outraged denial. She actually accused the opposition of ‘scaremongering’ again, (and by default, she attempted to discredit disabled citizens’ accounts of their own experiences, which of course flies in the face of democratic accountability). 

The Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying the victims and condemning the condemners. 

In her attempt to defend her government’s appalling record on cuts to social security, she also told MPs that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”.

But this is not true, a fact that has been repeatedly pointed out to Tory ministers and her party.

Although disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are exempt from the benefits freeze – which is set to last to 2020 – there is no exemption for the main component of ESA and the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, which continues to be frozen.

Newton claimed that the UN, opposition and again, by default, disabled citizens, were making “irresponsible” allegations. And the courts. Again, this is a technique of neutralisation called “condemning the condemners”, used to ‘switch off ‘someone’s conscience when they plan, or have done, something to cause harm to others. The technique may also be used to push at the normative and moral boundaries of groups and the wider public.  (*See below for a full outline of the techniques).

Newton also said that the government was “very disappointed” that the UNCRPD did not “take on board […] the evidence that the government gave them. They did not acknowledge the full range of support.” That’s because it isn’t there.

The UNCRPD report presented extensive, meticulous evidence with their thorough report, gathered from disabled people that have been affected by the welfare cuts, campaign groups, charities and research academics. It also condemned the UK government’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements.” 

It isn’t ‘scaremongering’ to express concern about punitive policies that are targeted to reduce the income of social groups that are already struggling because of limited resources, nor is it much of an inferential leap to recognise that such punitive policies will have some adverse consequences. 

Political denial is oppressive – it serves to sustain and amplify a narrow, hegemonic political narrative, stifling pluralism and excluding marginalised social groups, excluding qualitative and first hand accounts of citizen’s experiences, discrediting and negating counternarratives; it sidesteps democratic accountability; stultifies essential public debate; obscures evidence and hides politically inconvenient, exigent truths. Denial of causality does not reduce the probability of it, especially in cases where a correlation has been well-established and evidenced. The government have no empirical evidence to verify their own claims that their punitive policies do not cause harm and distress.

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

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

Damian Green, who was the work and pensions secretary at the time the UN report was published. dismissed the highly critical findings . He said, shamefully, that the report was “patronising and offensive” and presented an outdated view of disability in the UK. He said Britain was “a world leader in disability rights and equality”.

But many of us – disabled citizens, disability activists, campaigners, charities and researchers – welcomed the report, saying it accurately highlighted the real economic and social hardships faced by disabled people after years of harsh spending cuts to social security and social care.

The shadow work and pensions secretary at the time, Debbie Abrahams, said the UN report was “crystal clear” in its identification of UK government failures. “It confirms that, despite Theresa May’s warm words, this government is failing sick and disabled people,” she said.

The UN committee said a range of measures introduced since 2010, including the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets, had disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

Spending cuts had negatively affected the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work and to achieve an adequate standard of living, the report said. The UN urged UK ministers to ensure the rights of disabled people were upheld.

Green said: “At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings. The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people. Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst taking care of those who can’t.”

The government said at the time that it spent about £50bn a year to support sick and disabled people – a bigger proportion of GDP than countries including Canada, France and the US.

However, this is plainly untrue. In 2015, the government’s own figures show that even before some of the cuts were implemented, the UK was ninth out of 28 countries, when ranked in terms of the size of its social protection expenditure as a proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP). 

In fact Newton’s highly selective statistical ‘data’ was contradicted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) who also reported that the UK actually spends less than France, as well as Norway, Germany and Spain on disability benefits.

Furthermore, Newton’s figure includes amounts that are not directly related to disability benefit, such as carers’ allowance, housing benefit, council tax allowance, and it also includes some NHS spending.

The government actually spent £39 billion on disability, incapacity and industrial injury benefits in 2017/18. That’s 76% of the total £51 billion that Newton claimed was spent.

Abrahams said the report echoed warnings Labour had been making since 2011 about the effects of the government’s policies on disabled people. It certainly echoed warnings many of us have been making – in my own case, since the welfare “reforms” in 2012.

“The UN committee is clear that its report examines the cumulative impact of legislation, policies and measures adopted from 2010 to October 2016, so the government’s claim that it is outdated does not stand up to scrutiny.

“I am also concerned that the government is labelling the report as patronising, when they are the ones dismissing the concerns raised by disabled people who helped instigate the inquiry in the first place.”

This dismissal is despite being presented with evidence from a wide range of organisations as well as disabled citizens, to whom Conservative policies are causing harm and distress.  Yet the government continue to distance themselves from the consequences of their own decision-making, opting to deny them instead. Those are not the reasonable actions of an accountable, democratic government. 

Decades of findings in sociology and psychology tell us that as soon as a social group are defined as an outgroup, the public start to see them differently. Because politicians have stereotyped people who claim welfare support, portraying only negative characteristics, the public also perceive only those characteristics. The government, with the help of the media, has purposefully portrayed people claiming welfare support as folk devils: lazy, dishonest, stupid and as scroungers, and so on. This is profoundly dehumanising. 

The people being harmed by policies have become outsiders, they’ve been pushed out of the circle of our moral community. The government clearly don’t think of the people enduring terrible distress and hardship as experiencing the same range of autonomy, needs, thought, emotion and motivations that they do; they don’t imagine them feeling things in the same way that they do. This disconnection – a failure to recognise common human characteristics in the other – means that they are denied some measure of empathy, and consequently a sense of ethical and democratic obligation and inclusion.

The Conservatives talk a lot about “evidence-based policy”, but they don’t walk the talk. A weight of evidence has highlighted the cruel, draconian effects of the Tories’ social polices. The government have chosen to deny and ignore it. 

This lack of appropriate response indicates a deliberately prejudiced, vicious attack on a significant minority of the population, which the government has absolutely no intention of stopping or putting right any time soon.

 

You can watch the whole debate that was secured by Rosie Duffield here

 

* Techniques of neutralisation: 

Used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez
added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, stigma, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudice may ultimately result in genocide.

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

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

 


 

I write voluntarily, to do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights. I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other disabled people going through ESA and PIP assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and 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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