In a very wealthy so-called liberal democracy, from 2016 to last year, these are the reasons why people were referred to food banks. The highest number of referals are among the low earners, demonstrating the government’s slogan ‘making work pay’ is a myth. Work does not pay for many. However, the government chooses to gaslight the population about consequences of it’s policies.
Today in Prime Minister’s Questions:
Bizarre intervention at #PMQs from Tory MP who said one example of economic success in Gloucester was that a new homeless centre has been opened there! What? A sign of success would be to build new homes for Gloucester homeless people to live in, Tories are so out of touch! 👎
The spite and malice on the Prime Minister’s face as she responds to the opposition, using blatant and snide playground gestures to intimidate never fails to anger me. It’s disgraceful that the government reduce serious political issues to immature ‘win or lose’ game playing and PR tactics.
The truth is that Universal Credit is not just failing our ‘relative’ contemporary standards of poverty but those of William Beveridge in the 1940s. Conservatives accuse Labour of ‘taking us back to the seventies’, but May’s government have taken us back to the 1940s, and to absolute poverty levels that existed before there was a welfare state. Absolute poverty is when people cannot meet their basic survival needs: food, fuel and shelter. The UK’s publicly funded social security system is no longer an adequate provision for people to meet the costs of their most fundamental and universal human needs.
This is a government that has demanded the most from those citizens with the very least under the guise of austerity, while handing out public funds to the private banks accounts of the wealthiest.
She attempted to make it look like Professor Simon Wren-Lewis was criticising Labour’s economic strategy, but he wasn’t. The quote mining – a frequently used Conservative strategy to present lies and to mislead parliament and the public – referred to a book chapter May referred to by Wren Lewis , an economist and member of Labour’s Economic Advisory Committee. Basically the chapter says that Labour will ensure:
The Government is spending less than it takes in in tax within five years
Government debt is falling within five years
Labour will only borrow for investment and infrastructure, not for day-to-day spending.
Apparently the Prime Minister quoted me saying about Labour's 2017 manifesto "the numbers did not add up" In fact I said "Let us suppose the IFS was correct" and examined consequences. I have never taken a view on whether they did/didn't add up. If that is what she said, she lied
Wren Lewis never said that Labour’s manifesto didn’t ‘add up’. He said that other people claimed it didn’t add up. And he said that it didn’t matter.
Wren Lewis notes in the chapter that the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)claimed it ‘doesn’t add up’ – which is a very different thing. And actually, the IFS didn’t really say thateither. It said that it was “hard to say” whether Labour’s pledge to reduce debt was compatible with their promises of a wave of nationalisations of water and energy.
The IFS said essentially that because the Labour party would transform the economy so radically, it would be impossible to say whether their manifesto costings would be accurate.
It’s a priceless cheek, as well as a malicious attack, especially considering that the Conservatives did not bother to cost their own manifesto at all.
The blatant lie also shows the prime minister’s utter contempt for democracy.
Finally, a word about the Conservative’s crowing regarding ‘their’ employment levels.
The ‘high employment’ narrative does not benefit citizens, who face zero hour contracts, little employment security and more than half of those people needing to claim welfare support are in work. The Conservative’s definition of ‘employment’ includes people who work as little as one hour a week. It includes carers. It also includes people who have been sanctioned.
Now there is a perverse incentive to furnish a hostile environment of Department for Work and Pensions’ administrative practices in action.
When the Conservatives took office in 2010, on average citizens earned £467 a week. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that we now take home £460 a week. In other words, average wages have gone down in real terms during the eight years of Conservative-Lib Dem and Conservative governments, while the cost of living has risen substantially. It’s a misleading to make these claims at all when weekly earnings are actually 1.3 per cent lower now in real terms than they were when the Conservatives took office in 2010.
Conservatives being conservative with the truth as ever.
#PMQs Yet again, the Govt benches full of smirking, laughing faces when @jeremycorbyn mentions the poverty, inequality, destitution many have suffered during last eight years of #austerity and disaster of #UniversalCredit. Shameful.
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Several studies over the last few years have found there no evidence that benefit sanctions ‘help’ claimants find employment, and most have concluded that sanctions have an extremely detrimental impact on people claiming welfare support.
However, the Conservatives still insist that benefit conditionality and sanctions regime is ‘helping’ people into work.
Yesterday, an important study was published, which warned what many of us have known for a long time – that sanctions are potentially life-threatening. The authors of the study warn that sanctioning is “ineffective” and presents “perverse and punitive incentive that are detrimental to health”.
The study – Where your mental health just disappears overnight – drew on an inclusive and democratic qualitative methodology, adding valuable insight as well as empirical evidence that verifies that sanctions are harmful, life-threatening and do not work as a positive incentive to ‘help’ people into work. The authors’ conclusions further validate the wide and growing consensus that sanctions should be completely halted.
The researchers say that benefits sanctions and conditions are simply pushing disabled people further from employment as well as damaging their health.
The research was carried out jointly by the University of Essex and Inclusion London, and it was designed to investigate the experiences of people claiming the Work Related Activity (WRAG) component of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
The authors of the report are: Ellen Clifford of Inclusion London, Jaimini Mehta, a Trainee Clinical Psychologist at the University of Essex, Dr Danny Taggart, Honorary Clinical Psychologist and Dr Ewen Speed, both from School of Health and Social Care, also at the University of Essex.
WRAG claimants are deemed suitable for some work related activity and failure to engage can lead to ESA payments being cut or ‘sanctioned’. Under Universal Credit, the ESA WRAG is being replaced by the Limited Capability for Work group (LCW). The ESA Support Group is replaced by the Limited Capability for Work Related Activity group (LCWRA).
The research team found that all of the participants in the study experienced significantly detrimental effects on their mental health. The impact of sanctions was life threatening for some people.
For many, the underlying fear from the threat of sanctions meant living in a state of constant anxiety and fear. This chronic state of poor psychological welfare and constant sense of insecurity caused by the adverse consequences of conditionality can make it very difficult for people to engage in work related activity and was made worse by the extremely unpredictable way conditionality was applied, leaving some participants unsure of how to avoid sanctions. The researchers concluded that conditionality is an ineffective psychological intervention. It does not work as the government have claimed.
The research report and findings were launched at an event in Parliament hosted by the cross-bench peer Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
Ellen Clifford, Campaigns and Policy Manager at Inclusion London, said: “This important research adds to the growing weight of evidence that conditionality and sanctions are not only harmful to individuals causing mental and physical negative impacts, but are also counter-productive in their aim of pushing more disabled people into paid work.
“Universal Credit, which is set to affect around 7 million people with 58% of households affected containing a disabled person, will extend and entrench conditionality.
“This is yet another reason why the roll out of Universal Credit must be stopped and a new system designed based on evidence based approaches and co-produced with disabled people and benefit claimants.”
The results also showed that participants wanted to engage in work and many found meaning in vocational activity. However, the WRAG prioritised less meaningful tasks.
In addition, it was found that rather than ‘incentivising’ work related activity, conditionality meant participants were driven by a range of behaviourist “perverse and punitive incentives”, being asked to engage in activity that undermined their self-confidence and required them to understate their previous achievements.
Other themes that emerged during the study included more negative experiences of conditionality, which included feeling controlled, a lack of autonomy and work activities which participants felt were inappropriate or in conflict with their personal values.
The government have claimed that generous welfare creates ‘perverse incentives’ by making people too comfortable and disinclined to look for work. However, international research has indicated that this isn’t true. One study found that generous welfare actually creates a greater work ethic than less generous provision.
Dr Danny Taggart, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Essex, said: “Based on these findings, the psychological model of behaviour change that underpins conditionality and sanctioning is fundamentally flawed.
“The use of incentives to encourage people to engage in work related activity is empirically untested and draws on research with populations who are not faced with the complex needs of disabled people.
“The perverse and punitive incentives outlined in this study rendered participants so anxious that they were paradoxically less able to focus on engagement in vocational activity.
“More research needs to be undertaken to understand how to best support disabled people into meaningful vocational activity, something that both the government and a majority of disabled people want.
“This study adds further evidence to support any future research being undertaken in collaboration with disabled people’s organisations who are better able to understand the needs of disabled people.”
Participants in the study commented on some of the perverse incentives: “The new payments for ESA from this year are £73 a week as opposed to £102. Well if you’re on £102 a week because you’ve been on it for longer than 6 or 12 months and you know if you go back to work and it turns out you’re not well enough to carry on then you’re coming back at the new rate of £73 per week. That’s going make you more cautious and its counter-productive and it increases the stress.” (Daniel).
“After 13 weeks I have to go and put a new claim in. After 13 weeks if the job doesn’t last, or if I get made redundant, or if I get terminated or the contract stops, I then have to go into starting all over again. Reassessment etc. So, I’m worse off.” (Dipesh).
Another form of perverse and punitive incentive arises because qualifications are regarded as an impediment to employment, not an asset; “So when the Job Centre says to you, you should remove your degree from your CV because they don’t want you to be over qualified when you apply for the jobs they give… The impact on your feeling of self-worth… They told me to remove it and if I didn’t I would be punished and would be sanctioned… This is the way that the Job Centre chip away at your confidence and all those sorts of things.” (Charlie).
The report discusses the stark impact of sanctions, described by ‘Charlie’. The authors say: “We include a fuller narrative in this case as it incorporates a number of the themes that came up for the sample as a whole – the perverse and punitive incentives and double binds involved in the WRAG, the mental health crises caused by Conditionality and Sanctioning, and how these pushed people further away from employment.
Charlie explains: “It became a really stressful time for me… we didn’t have a foodbank that was open regularly so I didn’t have that as an option… So, what I was doing instead, because quite quickly my electricity went out… So, all my food was spoilt that was in the freezer. I managed to last for another 5-6 days of food from stuff that I had in the house. So, after that I started to go, I was on a work programme but was never called in. So, I’d go in anyway and there were oranges and apples in a fruit bowl, so I would just go in there and steal the oranges and bananas so I would have something to eat. Then they finally made a decision that I was going to be sanctioned… And there was this image which will probably stay with me for the rest of my life.
“On Christmas day I was sat alone, at home just waiting for darkness to come so I could go to sleep and I was watching through my window all the happy families enjoying Christmas and that just blew me away. And I think I had a breakdown on that day and it was really hard to recover from and I’m still struggling with it. And it was only my aunt, I’ve got an aunt in Scotland, every year she sends me £10 for my birthday and £10 for Christmas. And so on the Saturday after Christmas, the first postal day, I received £20 from her and so then I could buy some electricity and food. I was then promptly sick because I’d gorged myself, because I ate too quickly.”
The authors add Charlie’s description of a meeting with the same advisor who had sanctioned him following the Christmas break and how it has affected him since: “So finally, when new year had ended and I had to go back and sign with that same woman who had sanctioned me. She said that being sanctioned had shown her that I didn’t have a work ethic. Now I’d been working pretty much solidly since I was 16 and it was only out of redundancy that I was out of work…
“The problem I had with that was the woman who sanctioned me was in the same place and it made me extremely nervous. I now have a problem going into the Job Centre because I literally start shaking because of the damage that the benefit sanction did to me… So yeah that was part, the sanction was one of the reasons that triggered the mental health and problems I’m having now…it was awful and I ended up trying to commit suicide… to me that was the last straw and I went home and I just emptied the drawer of tablets or whatever and I ended up in A&E for a couple of days after they’d pumped my stomach out.” (Charlie).
The study finds “no evidence to support the use of this modified form of Behavioural Economics in relation to Disabled people”.
The report authors say: “These models of behaviour change are not applicable for Disabled People accessing benefits. The incentives offered by Conditionality and Sanctioning involve threats of removing people’s ability to access basic resources. This induces a state of anticipatory fear that negatively impacts on their mental health and renders them less able to engage in work related activity.”
The report concludes that the DWP should end sanctions for disabled people. The authors recommended that the DWP works inclusively with disabled groups to come up with a better system.
It was once a common sense view that if you remove people’s means of meeting basic survival needs – such as for food, fuel and shelter – their lives will be placed at risk. Welfare support was originally designed to cover basic needs only, so that when people faced difficult circumstances such as losing their job, or illness, they weren’t plunged into absolute poverty. Now our social security does not adequately meet basic survival needs. It’s become acceptable for a state to use the threat and reality of hunger and destitution to coerce citizens into conformity.
Why sanctions and conditionality cannot possibly work
One fundamental reason why sanctions can never work as the government has claimed, to ‘incentivise’ people into work centres on Abraham Maslow’s groundbreaking work on human needs. Maslow highlights that people can’t fulfil their ‘higher level’ psychosocial needs when their survival needs are compromised. When people are reduced to a struggle for survival, that takes up all of their motivation and becomes their only priority.
One of the uniquely important features of Britain’s welfare state was the National Insurance system, based on the principle that people establish a right to benefits by making regular contributions into a fund throughout their working lives. The contribution principle has been a part of the welfare state since its inception. A system of social security where claims are, in principle, based on entitlements established by past contributions expresses an important moral rule about how a benefits system should operate, based on reciprocity and collective responsibility, and it is a rule which attracts widespread public commitment. National Insurance is felt intuitively by most people to be a fair way of organising welfare.
The Conservative-led welfare reforms had the stated aim of ensuring that benefit claimants – redefined as an outgroup of free-riders – are entitled to a minimum income provided that they uphold responsibilities, which entail being pushed into any available work, regardless of its pay, conditions and appropriateness. The government claim that sanctions “incentivise” people to look for employment.
Conditionality for social security has been around as long as the welfare state. Eligibility criteria, for example, have always been an intrinsic part of the social security system. For example, to qualify for jobseekers allowance, a person has to be out of work, able to work, and seeking employment.
But in recent years conditionality has become conflated with severe financial penalities (sanctions), and has mutated into an ever more stringent, complex, demanding set of often arbitrary requirements, involving frequent and rigidly imposed jobcentre appointments, meeting job application targets, providing evidence of job searches and mandatory participation in workfare schemes. The emphasis of welfare provision has shifted from providing support for people seeking employment to increasing conditionality of conduct, in a paternalist attempt to enforce particular patterns of behaviour and to monitor claimant compliance.
Ethical considerations of injustice and the adverse consequences of welfare sanctions have been raised by politicians, charities, campaigners and academics. Professor David Stuckler of Oxford University’s Department of Sociology, amongst others, has found clear evidence of a link between people seeking food aid and unemployment, welfare sanctions and budget cuts, although the government has, on the whole, tried to deny a direct “causal link” between the harsh welfare “reforms” and food deprivation. However, a clear correlation has been established.
A little more about behavioural economics and welfare policy
The use of targeted citizen behavioural conditionality in neoliberal policy making has expanded globally and is strongly linked to the growth in popularity of behavioural economics theory (“nudge”) and the New Right brand of “libertarian paternalism.”
Reconstructing citizenship as highly conditional stands in sharp contrast to democratic principles, rights-based policies and to policies based on prior financial contribution, as underpinned in the social insurance and social security frameworks that arose from the post-war settlement.
The fact that the poorest citizens are being targeted with theory-based “interventions” also indicates discriminatory policy, reflecting traditional Conservative class-based prejudices. It’s a very authoritarian approach to poverty and inequality which simply strengthens existing power hierarchies, rather than addressing the unequal distribution of power and wealth in the UK.
Some of us have dubbed this trend neuroliberalismbecause it serves as a justification for enforcing politically defined neoliberal outcomes. A hierarchical socioeconomic organisation is being shaped by increasingly authoritarian policies, placing the responsibility for growing inequality and poverty on individuals, sidestepping the traditional (and very real) structural explanations of social and economic problems, and political responsibility towards citizens.
Such a behavioural approach to poverty also adds a dimension of cognitive prejudice which serves to reinforce and established power relations and inequality. It is assumed that those with power and wealth have cognitive competence and know which specific behaviours and decisions are “best” for poor citizens.
Apparently, the theories and “insights” of cognitive bias don’t apply to the theorists applying them to increasingly marginalised social groups. No one is nudging the nudgers. Policy has increasingly extended a neoliberal cognitive competence and decision-making hierarchy as well as massive inequalities in power, status and wealth.
It’s interesting that the Behavioural Insights Team have more recently claimed that the state using the threat of benefit sanctions may be “counterproductive”. Yet the idea of increasing welfare conditionality and enlarging the scope and increasing the frequency of benefit sanctions originated from the behavioural economics theories of the Nudge Unit in the first place.
The increased use and rising severity of benefit sanctions became an integrated part of welfare conditionality in the Conservative’s Welfare Reform Act, 2012. The current sanction regime is based on a principle borrowed from behavioural economics theory – an alleged cognitive bias we have called “loss aversion.”
It refers to the idea that people’s tendency is to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. The idea is embedded in the use of sanctions to “nudge” people towards compliance with welfare rules of conditionality, by using a threat of punitive financial loss, since the longstanding, underpinning Conservative assumption is that people are unemployed because of alleged behavioural deficitsand poor decision-making. Hence the need for policies that “rectify” behaviour.
I’ve argued elsewhere, however, that benefit sanctions are more closely aligned with operant conditioning (behaviourism) than “libertarian paternalism,” since sanctions are a severe punishment intended to modify behaviour and restrict choices to that of compliance and conformity or destitution. At the very least this approach indicates a slippery slope from “arranging choice architecture” in order to “support right decisions” that assumed to benefit people, to downright punitive and coercive policies that entail psycho-compulsion, such as sanctioning and mandatory workfare.
For anyone curious as to how such tyrannical behaviour modification techniques like benefit sanctions arose from the bland language, inane, managementspeak acronyms and pseudo-scientific framework of “paternal libertarianism” – nudge – here is an interesting read: Employing BELIEF: Applying behavioural economicsto welfare to work, which is focused almost exclusively on New Right small state obsessions. Pay particular attention to the part about the alleged cognitive bias called loss aversion, on page 7.
“The most obvious policy implication arising from loss aversion is that if policy-makers can clearly convey the losses that certain behaviour will incur, it may encourage people not to do it”.
And page 46:
“Given that, for most people, losses are more important than comparable gains, it is important that potential losses are defined and made explicit to jobseekers (eg the sanctions regime)”.
The recommendation on that page:
“We believe the regime is currently too complex and, despite people’s tendency towards loss aversion, the lack of clarity around the sanctions regime can make it ineffective. Complexity prevents claimants from fully appreciating the financial losses they face if they do not comply with the conditions of their benefit”.
The paper was written in November 2010, prior to the Coalition policy of increased conditionality and the extended sanctions element of the Conservative-led welfare reforms in 2012.
The Conservatives duly “simplified” sanctions by extending them in terms of severity and increasing the frequency of use. Sanctions have also been extended to include previously protected social groups, such as lone parents, sick and disabled people.
Unsurprisingly, none of the groups affected by conditionality and sanctions were ever consulted, nor were they included in the design of the government’s draconian welfare policies.
The misuse of psychology by the government to explain unemployment (it’s claimed to happen because people have the “wrong attitude” for work) and as a means to achieve the “right” attitude for job readiness. Psycho-compulsion is the imposition of often pseudo-psychological explanations of unemployment and justifications of mandatory activities which are aimed at changing beliefs, attitudes and disposition. The Behavioural Insights Team have previously propped up this approach.
Techniques of neutralisation
It is unlikely that the government will acknowledge the findings of the new study which presents further robust evidence that unacceptable, punitive welfare policies are causing distress, fear, anxiety, harm, and sometimes, death.
To date, we have witnessed ministers using techniques of neutralisation to express faux outrage and to dismiss legitimate concerns and valid criticism of their policies and the consequences on citizens as “scaremongering”.
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 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.
Research has frequently been dismissed by the Conservatives as ‘anecdotal’. The government often claims that there is ‘no causal link’ established between policies and harm. However, 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 ideologically-driven punitive policies do not cause harm and distress, while evidence is mounting that not only do their policies cause harm, they simply don’t work to fulfil their stated aim.
You can read the new research report from Inclusion London and the University of Essex in full here.
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The group meeting at Portcullis House, Westminster.
On Wednesday, many of the disabled campaigners, researchers and organisations that have played a key role in exposing the discrimination and harm caused by the government’s social security reforms travelled to Westminster to attend a meeting with five Labour shadow ministers. The meeting was chaired by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
The original idea for a meeting of politicians, activists and researchers had come from Black Triangle’s John McArdle, who had put the idea to John McDonnell.
The meeting was conducted under the Chatham House rule, so although the contributions made during the meeting may be reported, the names of those who spoke and their organisations cannot, unless they spoke afterwards, specifically adding comment on record. I was permitted to report the names of the five shadow ministers who attended.
Other ministers participating were Margaret Greenwood (Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), Marsha de Cordova (Shadow Minister for Disabled People); Mike Amesbury, (Shadow Employment Minister) and Lyn Brown, (Shadow Treasury Minister, with responsibility for social mobility).
This initial meeting is to be the launch of a series of campaigning efforts and consultation between the Labour party, disabled activists, researchers and allied organisations. Labour is also hoping to secure support from members of other political parties in the longer term.
A second meeting is set to take place later this autumn.
The discussion was particularly focused on the harm, psychological distress and deaths caused by the controversial work capability assessment (WCA), but concerns were also expressed around the table about the damage caused to disabled people by the government’s roll out of universal credit. Some of us had also submitted work in advance of the meeting and contributed to shaping the agenda.
Other crucial concerns were raised about the ongoing problems with personal independence payment (PIP), the harm caused by the welfare conditionality regime and sanctions, and the cuts to social care support. There was also discussion about the cumulative impact of the government’s reforms on disabled women.
There was discussion about the importance of putting the government’s reforms into an ideological and historical perspective, which highlighted how successive governments have been strongly influenced by the US insurance industry, which had led to disabled people seeking support “to be treated as bogus claimants”.
Added to this are criticisms of how the biopsychosocial model of disability, notions of ‘the sick role’ and ‘behavioural medicine’ have provided an underpinning ideology and veneer of political credibility to justify the steady and incremental dismantling of lifeline welfare support for disabled people.
One key commentator on this subject added “The WCA was brought in to destroy public confidence in the welfare state.”
One contributor told the meeting: “You can’t divorce what’s happening in DWP with what’s happening in psychiatry.”
She also added that the approach by IAPT practitioners, who largely draw on the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) model, is tantamount to political gaslighting, since it blames the victims of circumstances that caused at a structural level, and are therefore beyond an individual’s control. The government’s ideological claim that ‘work is a health outcome’ has also been embedded in IAPT practices and aims, despite there being very little evidence that employment is generally beneficial to people with mental health problems. Evidence has emergedthat some kinds of employment are in fact further damaging to mental health.
There was also a call for nurses and GPs to be held to account for the way they had compromised their own medical ethics in dealing with requests for evidence to support disability benefit claims and in acting in the role of assessor for private contractors.
There was a little dispute regarding precisely where the focus should lie concerning the work capability assessment, with some people feeling quite strongly that our aim should be simply to see it abolished. The Labour party are committed to scrapping the highly controversial assessment process, but it was recognised that it’s highly unlikely the current government will do the same. One activist told the meeting that there was a need both for “harm reduction”, to address the immediate problems with the assessment process, and “system change” to secure the eventual abolition of the WCA altogether.
He pointed out: “Saying ‘change the WCA right now’ is not saying ‘keep the WCA’, it is saying ‘stop it killing so many people’.”
Several contributors said that the government had made a deliberate attempt to create a “hostile environment for disabled people”.
The meeting was broadly welcomed by disabled activists. Shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, added afterwards that he believed the meeting could herald the start of “a significant movement to expose the brutality of the system” and secure “permanent change”.
There were representatives present from many of the disabled-led grassroots organisations who have campaigned for many years against the Conservative’s punitive reforms and the disproportionate targeting of the disabled community with austerity measures. There were also researchers, union representatives and journalists gathered together to add to the discussion and to contribute in planning a response to the government’s persistent denials that there is a correlation between their policies and serious harm.
McDonnell told journalists after the meeting: “I think this is a breakthrough meeting in terms of getting many of the relevant organisations and individuals together who have their concerns about what is happening to disabled people and their treatment in the welfare system.
“I think it is the start of what could be a significant movement to expose the brutality of the system, but more importantly to secure permanent change.”
Marsha de Cordova, the shadow minister for disabled people, said that it was the first time that the various groups had been brought around the same table to talk about different issues – including crucial concerns about the imminent “migration” from benefits such as employment and support allowance onto universal credit – that all fed into the idea that the government had created a “hostile environment towards disabled people”.
She said: “It is good that we are talking about it. It’s great that we are bringing people around the table, and mainly disabled people.”
The meeting has consolidated new momentum and hopefully, a unity to our diverse and ongoing campaigns against the mounting injustices surrounding the welfare reforms, austerity, the fatally flawed Work Capability Assessment, welfare conditionality and sanctions, the targeted cuts embedded in Personal Independent Payment and universal credit.
We will be challenging the government’s persistent denial of a ‘causal link’ between their draconian welfare policies and the distress, systematic human rights violations, serious harm and deaths of disabled people that have arisen in correlation with those policies. Unless the government permit an independent inquiry into the terrible injustices that have followed in the wake of the welfare reform acts, they cannot provide evidence to support their own claims.
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On Wednesday, I travelled down to Westminster to meet with John McDonnell, Margaret Greenwood, Mike Amesbury and Marsha de Cordova and a group of disability rights campaigners, journalists, researchers and organisations. One of the issues we discussed during the meeting was the harm and distress that the roll out of Universal Credit is creating for some of our citizens.
I got back from my trip to the Commons, arriving by train back in Newcastle around eleven, I missed the last bus back to Durham. Outside of the train station, I met Liam, a young homeless man, and his partner, Michelle.
Liam told me that the couple became homeless because of the inbuilt failure of Universal Credit to support people both in and out of work. Liam took some temporary work over last Christmas, and was promised that there would be full-time posts in the new year. However there was no full-time work available, and Liam explained that although they had claimed Universal Credit over this period, the couple didn’t receive any support at all. As the work was part-time and the pay was low, Liam and his partner ran up rent and council tax arrears very quickly, as they could not afford to meet their basic living costs.
When Liam’s part-time work ended, he was told at the job centre that he had to start a new Universal Credit claim. Yet government ministers have assured us that this doesn’t happen. It was during this time that the couple ended up with arrears which led to their eviction. The housing association that the couple rented their flat from significantly pressured Liam into signing an eviction order that was effective immediately. The couple lost most of their belongings as well as their home.
Liam told me “Once this happens, it is so hard getting out of the situation”. He explained to me that when they became homeless, the couple were told at the job centre that they could no longer claim any welfare support, because they have no fixed abode. (*See below.)
The situation has quickly spiralled downwards. Liam also said that many people are just one pay cheque away from homelessness, but they don’t realise that until it happens to them.
As Liam and Michelle are originally from another regional city, they cannot access Newcastle Crisis for help. Michelle has PTSD, she cannot access any support for her mental health conditions, and Liam is understandably worried about her safety and mental wellbeing on the streets. It struck me how very much they both cared deeply for each other
I made sure they have some accommodation for tonight, at least. I’m not well off but gave them what I had. Liam told me he hasn’t slept for several nights, because he has to keep Michelle safe. They have to pay £15.50 for a temporary room for the night. That is the only available help they can access. As the couple cannot claim any welfare support, the fact that temporary accommodation costs them money, and of course they need to eat, leaves them with no choice whatsoever but to beg. They do access ‘People’s Kitchen’ in the city, too. But although it helps in providing food sometimes, it isn’t adequate provision for people who are homeless 24/7.
What struck me most about this couple is how friendly and humble they were, and that they are both such lovely people. One word that kept cropping up over and over in my dialogue with them was ‘invisible’. Our whole society looks the other way. Liam told me it is always assumed that homeless people are substance abusers, yet neither Liam nor Michelle drink alcohol or use drugs. It’s distressing enough to end up homeless without the additional prejudices and stigma attached to it.
I also witnessed first hand how the local police are trying to clear the streets and prevent begging. They are prosecuting homeless people. I was asked by a policeman how long I was planning on interviewing Liam and Michelle, but what he really meant was ‘How long are you going to provide an excuse for them to be here?’
Often, anti-social behaviour powers are used to ban activities often associated with rough sleeping, and concerns have grown that an increase in the use of these powers is criminalising homelessness and is not addressing the root cause of the problem.
Begging is also an offence under section 3 of the VagrancyAct1824(as amended). It is a recordable offence. The maximum sentence is a fine at level 3 on the standard scale (currently £1000). I’m wondering how people that cannot afford a roof over their head and need to beg for food would manage to somehow produce money to pay a fine.
Other provisions also criminalise ‘begging behaviour’: wilfully blocking free passage along a highway is an offence contrary to section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 (as amended), punishable by a level 3 fine. Using threatening or abusive words or behaviour is an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which also carries a level 3 fine.
Voluntary sector organisations have voiced concerns that the use of anti-social behaviour powers to tackle rough sleeping is criminalising homelessness and leaving vulnerable people in an even more marginalised position. According to Liberty, a Human Rights organisation, “PSPOs don’t alleviate hardship on any level. They are blunt instruments which fast-track so-called “offenders” into the criminal justice system”. Liberty has urged the Government to rethink these powers: “handing hefty fines to homeless people … is obviously absurd, counterproductive and downright cruel”.
There is also a concern that enforcement activity in one area simply displaces street activity to another geographical area, and can sometimes lead to the displacement of activity (e.g. from begging into acquisitive crime). Moreover, it does not address the underlying causes of rough sleeping.
There was a notice up on the train station door that said begging is illegal. Liam has been prosecuted twice under section 35, and a dispersal order was served on him, preventing him from returning to the area for 48 hours. The policeman was stiffly polite, but he hovered around waiting for me to leave, which was a little intimidating. I told him I would hold conversation with whoever I chose to. I felt that Liam and Michelle were being harassed.
It was a stark contrast to the experience of homeless people outside of King’s Cross station that I witnessed. While I was chatting to them, a charity group arrived with a table and some food, which was set up right outside. The policeman there was friendly with the homeless group and chatted to them, while they ate their meal.
Prior to becoming homeless, Liam had no criminal convictions. Now he has been criminalised for begging because he is homeless. He also told me he stole food on one occasion from the shop Greggs because the couple were starving. They seldom have enough food to get by, and the impact of hunger on their health is a major concern.
Health care for homeless people is a major public health challenge. Homeless people are more likely to suffer injuries and medical problems from their lifestyle on the street, which includes poor nutrition, exposure to the severe elements of weather, and a higher exposure to violence (robberies, hate crime, beatings, and so on). Yet at the same time, they have little access to public medical services or clinics, in part because they often lack identification or registration for public health care services. There are significant challenges in treating homeless people who have psychiatric disorders because clinical appointments may not be kept, their continuing whereabouts are unknown, their medicines may not be taken as prescribed and monitored, medical and psychiatric histories are not accurate, and for other reasons.
Yet despite the fact that the couple have had no support at all, Liam has gone into the job centre and local library pretty much every day to look for work. He has finally found a painting and decorating job, which he starts on Monday. Imagine just how difficult it is to do this without access to a regular bed, clean clothes and washing facilities.
Article 25 of the UniversalDeclarationofHumanRights, adopted 10 December 1948 by the UN General Assembly, contains this text regarding housing and quality of living:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
As a society, we seemed to have forgotten this fundamental human right in the punitive political era of citizen ‘responsibilities not rights’. But I have yet to see a homeless person successfully punished out of being homeless.
Prior to 1983, the term homeless implied that economic conditions caused homelessness. However, after 1983, under the neoliberal regime of Margaret Thatcher, conditions such as alcoholism and mental illness also became associated with the term in the media. This narrative was often backed up with testimony made by high-ranking Conservative officials. Yet one of the major causes of home;essness is a lack of sustainable employment and adequate wage levels.
This stigmatising approach rested on the notion that the people who are sleeping on the streets are those who are homeless by choice. I have no idea how this narrative of blaming the victims of neoliberalism gained traction, but somehow it has. It is being used to drown out the voices of those that have been failed by dismal neoliberal policies.
This claim – that homelessness is about ‘personal choice’ and an individual’s cognitive and psychological condition, untethered it from the broader structural context, and in particular, from the New Right’s neoliberal reforms sweeping through the socioeconomic system. In the broader sense, it tended to portray homelessness as something that would exist even under the best economic conditions, and therefore independent of economic policies and economic conditions.
Homeless people may find it difficult to vote as they have no fixed address, they may not have identification documents, or a mailbox. However, equal access to the right to vote is crucial in maintaining a democracy.
One effect of the political and media stigmatising and dehumanising project has been a total social exclusion. Homeless people experience a profound isolation. This gives the homeless community no say in how things are. Neither government nor wider society listen to them or consider their accounts of their experiences.
Yet we can’t claim to live in a democracy when increasing numbers of citizens facing destitution and living in absolute poverty are excluded politically, economically, culturally and socially.
The only way that things will ever change for the better is if we do listen. And hear about the lived experiences of Liam, Michelle and the growing numbers of others who have been made destitute by a broken system.
*It’s important that people know they are still eligible for Universal Credit if they become homeless.
If you are told you are not at the job centre, you should challenge this.
Justin Tomlinson, minister for family support, housing and child maintenance, says:
“There is some confusion around whether or not homeless people can claim Universal Credit.
“I would like to reassure people that support is available, and it’s incredibly important that people who are homeless – whether they’re rough sleeping, sofa surfing or living in temporary accommodation – should, and are able to, receive this support.
1. People can receive Universal Credit without an address
Usually when a person makes a claim for Universal Credit, they are asked to provide an address to register their claim to.
If a person doesn’t have a fixed address they can register their hostel or temporary accommodation as their address, and if they’re rough sleeping they can use the job centre address.
2. People don’t need ID to receive Universal Credit
Undoubtedly, having ID makes the process of applying for Universal Credit simpler and quicker but in cases where a person doesn’t have ID, work coaches can use other methods to identify a person and help them make a claim.
This isn’t just for people who are homeless, but could be used in other situations as well, such as for people who have lost belongings in a fire or flood, or if they’re fleeing domestic violence.
3. You don’t need a bank account to receive Universal Credit
Having a bank account is important, and it makes it easier for people to make payments, manage money and get into work.
But we understand that a homeless person may not necessarily have a bank account. There are measures in place to make payments through other methods, including post office accounts or the Payment Exception Service, and a work coach can help people through the process of setting up a bank account when appropriate.
4. Finding a home is prioritised over finding work
You can ask Job centre staff to apply an ‘easement’ of up to one month, which means a person is not asked to look for work during this period and can focus on finding suitable accommodation.
Work coaches have the discretion to extend the easement period further, depending on a person’s circumstances.”
If you are told that you can’t claim Universal Credit because you are homeless or have “no fixed abode”, tell the job centre advisor that:
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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, will undertake an official visit to the UK and Northern Ireland from 6 to 16 November 2018. His visit will focus, in accordance with his mandate, on the interconnections between poverty and the realisation of human rights in the UK
The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, made up of 47 Member States, responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the world. The United Kingdom is a Member of the Council.
Special Rapporteurs are selected on the basis of their expertise and experience in the area of their mandate, personal integrity, independence and impartiality and objectivity. They are not employed by the United Nations and receive no remuneration for their UN work.
Philip Alston is a Professor of Law at New York University, and he works in the field of international law and international human rights law. He has extensive experience as an independent UN human rights expert. He previously chaired the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for eight years (1991-98) and was United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions (2004-10).
The Special Rapporteur is part of a system of so-called UN Special Procedures, made up of independent experts who regularly undertake country visits around the world to report on human rights issues. The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has, since 2014, undertaken country visits to Chile, Romania, Mauritania, China, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Ghana. Every country is different, and each faces its own human rights challenges. The Special Rapporteur thus adapts his approach in accordance with the specific circumstances of each country.
An overview of visits by all UN Special Procedures to the United Kingdom and other countries since 1998 can be foundhere.
Visits to a country are based on extensive preparations by the Special Rapporteur and his team and are supported by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. They involve extensive study of topics relevant to the issue of poverty and human rights as well as interviews with civil society organizations, experts and affected individuals before a visit.
The visits usually last for about two weeks and include meetings between the Special Rapporteur and government officials, members of the legislature and judiciary, state institutions, civil society organizations, academics, and individuals who have experienced poverty. During his visit the Special Rapporteur will travel to various parts of the UK, but a final decision on his itinerary will not be made until close to the start of the visit.
Regular updates about the visit to the United Kingdom in November will be posted on the website of the Special Rapporteur and via his Twitter and Facebook pages.
On the last day of the visit, November 16, 2018, the Special Rapporteur will hold a press conference in London where he will present a statement regarding his initial findings. He will subsequently submit a final report which he will present to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2019.
The Special Rapporteur would like to invite all interested individuals and organizations in the United Kingdom working on issues related to poverty and human rights, including representatives of civil society organizations, experts and academics, to provide input for the preparation of his visit to the United Kingdom in November 2018.
Please note that the Special Rapporteur is also open to receiving input via browser-based encrypted email. Please contact the Special Rapporteur and his team via the email address above about how to further communicate via encrypted email.
Submissions are limited to a maximum of 2,500 words. However, additional reports, academic studies, evidence and other types of background materials can be attached as an annex to the submission.
All input will be treated confidentially by the Special Rapporteur and his team and for the sole purpose of preparing for the country visit.
If you would like your written submission to be published on the website of the Special Rapporteur, please explicitly indicate this is in your submission.
While all submissions are welcome and the questions below are by no means meant to be exhaustive, it would be greatly appreciated if the submissions can focus on one or more of the following thematic issues:
(1) What is the definition of poverty and extreme poverty that your organization employs in the context of the United Kingdom and to what extent do official definitions used by the state adequately encompass poverty in all its dimensions?
(2) What is your view on the current official measurement of poverty by the government, what are the shortcomings of the current measurement and what alternatives would be feasible?
(3) What are the most significant human rights violations that people living in poverty and extreme poverty in the United Kingdom experience? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law.
(4) Could you specify how poverty and extreme poverty in the United Kingdom intersect with civil and political rights issues (such as for example the right to political participation or the right to equality before the law)? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law.
(5) Could you specify how poverty and extreme poverty in the United Kingdom intersect with economic and social rights issues (such as the right to education or the right to health care)? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law.
(6) Which areas of the United Kingdom should the Special Rapporteur visit in light of the poverty and human rights situation in those locations?
(7) Which individuals and organizations should the Special Rapporteur meet with during his country visit to the United Kingdom?
Since 2010, successive governments have engaged in fiscal consolidation, the process of reducing the amount of fiscal deficit of the United Kingdom. This process is popularly referred to as ‘austerity’ or ‘budget cutting’.
(8) To what extent has austerity been necessary given the fiscal outlook of the United Kingdom in the last decade?
(9) Have austerity measures implemented by the government taken adequate account of the impact on vulnerable groups and reflected efforts to minimize negative effects for those groups and individuals?
(10) What have the effects of austerity been on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom in the last decade?
(11) Have the human rights of individuals experiencing poverty been affected by austerity measures?
(12) How have local governments been affected by austerity measures in the last decades? If possible, please specify the impact on public services such as police and fire departments, public libraries, and the administration of the welfare system by local authorities.
(13) What alternatives to austerity might have been considered by governments in the last decade? Could any such alternatives have had a more positive impact on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom?
(14) What are the potential implications of Brexit on austerity measures in the coming years?
C. UNIVERSAL CREDIT
Universal Credit, which was first announced in 2010, is a key element of welfare reform in the United Kingdom. Its stated aims are to simplify and streamline the benefits system for claimants and administrators, to improve work incentives, to tackle poverty and to reduce fraud and error. The Special Rapporteur is interested in learning more about Universal Credit, including its impact on poverty in the United Kingdom and on the human rights of those living in poverty. Below are some of the questions the Special Rapporteur has in that regard:
(15) To what extent has the Universal Credit been able to achieve the goals identified above?
(16) What has the impact of Universal Credit been on poverty and the lives of the poor in the United Kingdom until now? It would be helpful to also distinguish the specific impact of Universal Credit on specific groups, including for example children, persons with disabilities, women and other groups which may be more vulnerable on the basis of their identity and circumstances.
(17) Claimants apply for Universal Credit online. What has been the impact of Universal Credit being a ‘digital-only benefit’ on the ability of potential claimants to apply for this benefit? How does this relate to broadband internet access in the UK and the so-called ‘digital divide’? What is the role of public libraries and Jobcentres in enabling access to broadband internet for those applying for Universal Credit and have these public services been adequate for the purpose?
(18) What has the impact been of various forms of ‘welfare conditionality’ in the context of Universal Credit in terms of ‘incentivizing’ work?
(19) To what extent has the introduction of Universal Credit reduced the incidence of fraud and error in the welfare system?
D. NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN THE WELFARE SYSTEM
The Special Rapporteur is interested in learning more about the impact of new technologies including the use of ‘big data’, artificial intelligence, algorithms and automated decision-making processes on the human rights of those living in poverty in the United Kingdom, especially in terms of the functioning of the welfare system. Below are some of the questions the Special Rapporteur has in that regard:
(20) What use does the national government, as well devolved governments and local governments, make of such new technologies in the context of decision-making in the welfare system? A recent report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on ‘Algorithms in decision-making’ (May 2018) concluded that the central government does not currently produce, publish or maintain a list of algorithms it uses for public purposes, despite the fact that some of the new technologies that are employed, for example in welfare fraud and error investigations, can may have major negative human rights implications, especially for the poor. The Special Rapporteur is especially interested in learning more about concrete examples of the use of such new technologies by governments in the welfare system.
(21) What is the relevant regulatory framework for the use by government of such new technologies, especially in the context of the welfare system, and are there any shortcomings in the current legal framework?
(22) Which government agencies and departments are responsible for and have oversight over the use of new technologies by governments in the UK, especially in the context of the welfare system? Are their respective responsibilities clearly defined and delineated and are they able to effectively perform their responsibilities?
(23) What are the relevant policies of the central government vis-à-vis the use of these new technologies by the government, including especially in the context of the welfare system, and do these policies take into account the potential impact of the use of these technologies on the human rights of those living in poverty?
(24) What are the potential human rights issues faced by individuals living in poverty as a result of the use of new technologies in the UK welfare system?
E. CHILD POVERTY
(25) What is the extent of child poverty in the United Kingdom, and how has it evolved over the last decade?
(26) What are the implications of child poverty for the rights enumerated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
(27) What are the main causes of child poverty in the United Kingdom, what have been the main government responses, and how effective have they been?
(28) What are the potential implications of Brexit for the situation of those living in poverty in the United Kingdom?
(29) What are the potential implications of Brexit in terms of protecting the human rights of low-income groups and of persons living in poverty?
(30) To what extent does government planning for Brexit explicitly address the issues arising under questions 28 and 29 above?
Human rights are universal. That is the point of them.
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The government claim they value “evidence-based policy”. However, no-one knows exactly what evidence was found to justify Universal Credit, or how and why it may be applied to dismantling publicly funded social security provision for the public.
A grieving family have been forced to pay their loved one’s rent for three weeks following his death.
Ronnie Cowan, the MP for Inverclyde, has spoken out in parliament about the shocking treatment of one of his constituents because of callous Universal Credit rules concerning bereavement.
The Department for Work and Pensions have decided that if a Universal Credit claimant dies, regardless of when, they are classed as having died from the start of their four week assessment period, which can result in families being liable for their rent payments, and possibly council tax. This means that the government is outrageously clawing money from people for up to three weeks before they die and from their bereaved families.
Cowan said: “Once again, we witness the callous nature of the Department for Work and Pensions, which classes as person as dead from the beginning of their assessment period, even if they die towards the end of that period.
“This means that family members had to meet the cost of the housing rent for a period of three weeks as the payment was stopped from the beginning of the assessment period.
“This is fundamentally wrong and highlights the cruel nature of the current system which is not fit for purpose.”
The MP has asked the government how many more families have been affected in this way because of the Universal Credit bereavement regulations.
These latest concerns follow a recent critical report from the National Audit Office (NAO) that raises questions about Universal Credit being ‘value for money.’
Employment minister Alok Sharma wrote a letter to Cowan offering his sympathies to the family involved and explained the system they use.
Not surprisingly, Cowan says that all social security powers should be passed to the Scottish Government so that a more compassionate system can be put in place.
He added: “This is something which is clearly lacking from this UK Government.
“I will be writing to the minister to ask that they sort out this issue.”
A spokesperson for Department for Work and Pensions told me: “The death of a claimant is a relevant change of circumstances affecting entitlement to Universal Credit. When a single claimant dies there are no further payments due. For the purpose of the award calculation, the death is treated as if it occurred at the beginning of the assessment period.
“If an overpayment is caused because one member of a couple dies, an overpayment decision should be made as usual. The overpayment will be recoverable from the surviving partner.”
“In some circumstances, payment of Universal Credit that would otherwise reduce or stop following bereavement can continue for a short time. This is called a Bereavement run-on. For example, following the death of a:
partner child person for whom the claimant was carer, see Claimant with regular caring responsibilities Non-dependants
Payment of Universal Credit continues as if the person had not died for the assessment period in which the death occurs and the following two assessment periods.
The surviving member of a couple will receive a 3 month run-on for:
the assessment period in which their partner dies two subsequent assessment periods
When the 3 month run on period has ended, the surviving member of the couple will need to re-declare their circumstances. This is so a single award of Universal Credit can be made (without the need for a new claim).”
That would be a reasonable and humane approach.
However, later in the subsection entitled “Debt and deductions after death”, there is no further mention of the bereavement run-on. It looks as if someone with an incapacity for human compassion has amended the guidance and neglected to take out the original kinder version of the regulation guidelines. The document says:
“If an overpayment is caused because one member of a couple dies, an overpayment decision should be made as usual. The overpayment will be recoverable from the surviving partner.
“An overpayment of housing costs paid direct to a landlord can occur due to the death of the claimant. The overpayment is only recoverable from the landlord if they had failed to disclose the death of their tenant.
“An example is if they were aware of the death and failed to report it. Otherwise, the overpayment would be recoverable either from the estate of the deceased or any surviving partner of the Universal Credit claimant.
“The death of a claimant is a relevant change of circumstances affecting entitlement to Universal Credit. When a single claimant dies there are no further payments due. For the purpose of the award calculation, the death is treated as if it occurred at the beginning of the assessment period.”
The document also says that the Department for Work and Pensions conduct a search for an estate in respect of all ‘customers’ who die while in receipt of Universal Credit. A comparison is then made between the information provided for the Universal Credit claim and the assets declared in their estate.
If a person dies with outstanding debt and they leave an estate, the Department becomes a creditor of their estate. As a creditor, a claim is normally made from the estate for debts such as:
recoverable overpayment Administrative Penalty Social Fund loan
People pay tax and national insurance to contribute towards public services, including their social security, should they fall on hard times and require support from public funds. The Conservative government now expect people to pay twice for a barely adequate provision administered within a punitive framework, and delivered within a hostile environment.
We really need to question such an openly hostile and dehumanising system of social security that not only fails to support people, it also fails to recognise, acknowledge and accommodate the actual date that a person dies, and it fails to afford their loved ones some respect, solicitude, support, dignity and time to grieve in peace. Private moments of grief and emotional space are being heartlessly hijacked by the relentless machinery of the state.
This level of disgraceful dystopic bureaucracy potentially transforms the time in the immediate aftermath of the loss of a loved one from one of private grief and adjustment into one of inexcusable state intrusion and surveillance, and a profoundly distressing struggle for bereaved families.
The government claims that Universal Credit is designed to make sure that “work pays” and is aimed at “incentivising” people to move into work. The Conservatives clearly think that this may be achieved by ensuring conditions for people needing support are made unbearable. Conservative ministers have also claimed that welfare “puts in place barriers to people fulfilling their potential.”
This is a poltitically expedient reversal of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Punitive measures and a hostile environment cannot “help” people into work, nor can it alleviate poverty. It can only increase poverty and make people’s lives even more difficult, disempowering them further because of the additional burden of state inflicted cruelty on them.
History and the social sciences have provided ample empirical evidence that it is poverty, rather than a “lack of incentives,” which reduces people to an inescapable struggle for survival, preventing them from fulfilling their potential.
If people cannot afford shelter, food and fuel – basic survival requirements – how can any rational person expect that those citizens will somehow manage to extend their already very stretched, all-consuming cognitive priority and motivation for basic survival to also meet state demands for meeting unreasonable conditionality, job searching or work requirements?
At the start of the year, Mr James Moran from Harthill in my constituency qualified as an HGV driver and managed to find work on a zero-hours contract as a driver while also receiving universal credit—exactly the sort of scenario under which universal credit was supposed to work better. Not long after gaining employment, however, Mr Moran was sanctioned, despite being in employment. As he started the process of appealing the sanction, he suffered a stroke, which meant that he was no longer able to work as a driver.
As the sanction was still in place, he returned home from hospital with no means of receiving an income. Despite getting some help from his elderly parents, Mr Moran struggled with no money whatever for more than a month. He then suffered a second stroke.
Mr Moran has advised me that the doctors who treated him in hospital at the time of his second stroke admission told him that the low blood pressure that caused the second stroke was almost certainly caused by malnourishment. That malnourishment was a direct result of a DWP sanctioning error, forcing Mr Moran to live without an income—to live on fresh air.
I wrote to the Secretary of State about the case on 1 September and have repeatedly chased his office for a reply, but I have received nothing in return to date. The six-week minimum wait appears to be built into the Secretary of State’s correspondence turnaround as well. I do not take that personally, because I gather from press reports that the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions has had similar problems with getting the Secretary of State to put pen to paper. Perhaps he will now chase a reply.
A little later in the debate, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, Iain Duncan Smith shamefully alleged that the opposition were largely “‘scaremongering’ about the way in which the [Universal Credit] system has been designed.”
Universal Credit is clearly NOT an “evidence-based” policy, as claimed, since its architects and other government ministers refuse to recognise any evidence that contradicts their narrow ideological prejudices and assumptions.
As Gordon Allport once commented, a prejudice, unlike a simple misconception, is actively resistant to all evidence that would unseat it.
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The Labour MP also said yesterday in parliament: “This government’s policies have created a hostile environment causing grave violations on disabled people.”
Newton responded to these serious and valid concerns by an act of scandalised denial, outrage, vindictiveness, blaming the messengers, telling lies and by using gaslighting tactics.
Gaslighting is an intentional, malicious and hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to manipulate others, creating self-doubt and insecurity. Its aim is to redesign and edit people’s experiences and accounts of reality, replacing them with someone’s own preferred and more convenient version, by persistently altering the perceptions of others, to confuse and disorientate them. Like all abuse, it’s based on the need for power, control, and very often, concealment. It’s far more damaging than simply lying, because it is intended to control, hurt and silence others. It’s a strategy very commonly used by psychopaths, bullies, despots and the Conservatives to ensure they get their own way.
The government often use doublespeak – language shifts entailing words such as “reform”, “fair”, “support” and “help”- to disguise the horrible impacts of their extraordinarily draconian welfare policies and austerity programme, and to divert public attention. People who object to the harms that Conservative policies cause are told they are “scaremongering”. This is a form of gaslighting. It indicates that the government have no intention of changing their punitive policy approach or remedying the harms and distress they have caused.
The Conservatives have shown very strong tendencies towards socially illiberal and authoritarian attitudes over the past seven years. Furthermore, they aren’t exactly a party that designs policies to bring delight to the majority of ordinary citizens. Ministers regularly use a form of Orwellian Torysplaining and scapegoating to attempt to discredit and invalidate citizens’ experiences of increasing economic hardships and vulnerability – particularly those of marginalised groups – caused directly by punitive Conservative policies. This is certainly an abuse of political power.
Today, cabinet ministerand creature of habit,Esther McVey was rebuked for telling lies ‘misrepresenting’ the National Audit Office’s (NAO) very critical report on the roll-out of Universal Credit with a series of ‘inaccurate’ claims to MPs. The NAO is the government’s spending watchdog.
The NAO took the highly unusual step after the work and pensions secretary dismissed the catalogue of failings outlined by auditors last month in their report into the government’s flagship welfare programme.
In his open letter to McVey, which is likely to raise questions about her future as a cabinet minister, the Auditor General, Sir Amyas Morse, said that elements of her statement to Parliament on the report were lies “incorrect and unproven.”
He said it was “odd” that McVey told MPs that the NAO did not take into account recent changes in the administration of universal credit, when the report had in fact been “fully agreed” with senior officials at the Department for Work and Pensions only days earlier.
Sir Amyas added that McVey’s claim that the NAO was concerned that Universal Credit was rolling out too slowly was “not correct”.
The NAO report concluded that the new system – being gradually introduced to replace a number of benefits – was “not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven”.
The authors of the report also accused the government of not showing sufficient sensitivity towards some claimants and failing to monitor how many are having problems with the programme, or have suffered hardship.
In his letter, Sir Amyas told McVey: “Our report was fully agreed with senior officials in your Department. It is based on the most accurate and up-to-date information from your Department. Your Department confirmed this to me in writing on Wednesday June 6 and we then reached final agreement on the report on Friday June 8.
“Her assurance, in response to the report, that Universal Credit was working was also “not proven.”
He continued: “It is odd that by Friday June 15 you felt able to say that the NAO ‘did not take into account the impact of our recent changes’.
“You reiterated these statements on July 2 but we have seen no evidence of such impacts nor fresh information.”
Sir Amyas added: “Your statement on July 2 that the NAO was concerned Universal Credit is currently ‘rolling out too slowly’ and needs to ‘continue at a faster rate’ is also not correct.”
And he told McVey: “Your statement in response to my report, claiming that Universal Credit is working, has not been proven.
“The Department has not measured how many Universal Credit claimants are having difficulties and hardship. What we do know from the Department’s surveys is that although 83% of claimants responding said they were satisfied with the Department’s customer service, 40% of them said they were experiencing financial difficulties and 25% said they couldn’t make an online claim.
“We also know that 20% of claimants are not paid in full on time and that the Department cannot measure the exact number of additional people in employment as a result of Universal Credit.”
The Auditor General said that he had written to McVey on June 27 asking for a meeting to discuss her comments, and was publishing his open letter “reluctantly” because he had not yet been able to see her. McVey has a history of showing disdain for democractic norms and the protocols and mechanisms of transparency and accountability.
Now the Work and Pensions Secretary is facing calls to resign, after admitting that she had told lies “inadvertently misled” parliament.
You can hear her full statement here. She doesn’t look appropriately humble, sincere or ashamed, however:
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.
See the world through the eyes of society’s weakest members, and then tell anyone honestly that our societies are good, civilised, advanced, free.” Zygmunt Bauman.
Every Child Matters was Labour’s comprehensive and effective child welfare and protection policy that the Conservatives scrapped the day after they took office in 2010. The phrase “Every Child Matters” was immediately replaced with the phrase “helping children achieve more”. This reflects a fundmental change of emphasis from a rights-based society, for which both government and citizen share responsibility, to one where the individual is held solely responsible for their circumstances, regardless of structural conditions and the impact of political policies.
What was a “Children’s Plan” under the last Labour government is now a “free market education plan”, marking the Conservatives shift from free schools to “for profit” schools.
The price of having more children than the state deems acceptable
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics released today show that more than 70,000 low-income families lost at least £2,800 each last year after having their entitlement to benefits taken away as a result of the government’s “two-child policy”.
The joint analysis conducted by the DWP and HMRC shows that from 6 April 2017, just under 865,000 households with a third or subsequent child were claiming child tax credits or Universal Credit. Of these, DWP and HMRC claim that 70,620 reported a third or subsequent child after 6 April 2017, and that consequently they weren’t receiving benefit support for at least one child. Around 38% of those families affected were lone parents –26,800 of them in total. A court ruling in June 2017 deemed the policy as discriminatory towards lone parents with children under two.
The two-child policy means that households claiming child tax credit or universal credit, who have a third or subsequent child born after 6 April 2017, are unable to claim a child element worth £2,780 a year for those children. Iain Duncan Smith has said that the draconian policy has been designed to “incentivise behavioural change”, reflecting the government’s keen embrace of wonk behavioural economics in order to prop up a failing neoliberal administration.
Presumably Duncan Smith doesn’t think that people on low incomes who need social security support should have children. However, 59% of those families affected by the cruel an uncivilised imposed cut in their low income are in work. Financially punishing them for having a child isn’t going to change the profiteering behaviours of the draconian government, exploitative employers or the precarious conditions of the labour market. These are events and circumstances beyond the control of families and their children.
Many people have children when they are relatively affluent, and may then fall on hard times through no fault of their own. It’s hardly “fair” to punish people for the structural conditions that are largely shaped through government policies based on neoliberal economics. However, Duncan Smith claimed, nonetheless, that the policy would force claimants to make the “same life choices as families not on benefits, and ‘incentivise’ them [imported US managementspeak, which means ‘to motivate’] to seek work or increase their hours.”
The Conservatives have seemingly overlooked the fact that when people struggle to meet their basic needs, they are rather less likely to be able to improve their socio-economic situation, since necessity rather than choice becomes their key motivation. Punishing people who have little income by taking away even more cannot possibly help them to improve their situation. It can only serve to inflict further suffering and distress.
The statistics also showed that 190 women were “exempted” from the eugenic policy, which the government has insisted is “working” and had been “delivered compassionately,” after they were forced to prove to officials their third child was conceived as a result of rape. The women have had to disclose rape in order to claim benefits under the government’s two-child benefit policy, according to the official DWP stats released today. That’s 190 women forced to disclose being sexually assaulted just to feed their children.
The so-called rape clause has been widely condemned by campaigners, who say it is outrageous a woman must account for the circumstances of her rape to qualify for support. The SNP MP Alison Thewliss called it “one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall”.
A government spokesperson said: “The policy to provide support in child tax credit and universal credit for a maximum of two children ensures people on benefits have to make the same financial choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.”
Adding ludicrously: “We are delivering this in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards in place.” GeorgeOrwell’s dystopian novel became a government handbook of citizen “behavioural change”.
The rollout of universal creditwill increase the number of families affected. All new claims for the benefit after February 2019 will have the child element restricted to two children in a family, even if they were born before the policy was introduced.
Personal decision-making and citizen autonomy is increasingly reduced as neoliberal governments see human behaviours as a calculated investment for future economic returns. Now, having a child if you happen to be relatively poor invites the same outraged response from the right as those we saw leading up to the welfare ‘reforms’ regarding the very idea of people on welfare support owning flat screen TVs and Iphones.
Apparently, people struggling to get by should do without anything that would make their life a little more bearable. You can only have public and political sympathy and support if you lead the most wretched life. Perish the thought that you may have bought your TV during better times, when you had a job that paid enough to live on. Or decided to have a child.
However, it is profoundly cruel and dehumanising to regard children as a commodity. Economic ‘efficiency’ and the ‘burden on the tax payer’ are excuses being used to justify withholding public funds for fundamental human necessities, for dismantling welfare and other social safety nets.
Campaigners have said that the number of families affected by the policy would drive up UK poverty levels, putting an estimated 200,000 children into hardship.
In April this year, 60 Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders condemned the policy, arguing it would lead to a rise in child poverty and abortions.
Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”
“Our analysis with IPPR last year found 200,000 children will be pulled into poverty by the two-child limit. Today’s DWP statistics now show it’s already having a damaging impact – and at a fast pace. These are struggling families, most of them in work, who will lose up to £2,780 a year – a huge amount if you’re a parent on low pay.
“An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy. Even when times are tough, parents share family resources equally among their children, but now the government is treating some children as less deserving of support purely because of their order of birth.”
The curtailment of benefits for mothers and chilren is a form of negative eugenics, as is using financial ‘incentives’ to ‘nudge’ women claiming welfare support to use contraception.
Frederick Osborn defined eugenics as a philosophy with implications for social order. The Conservatives see eugenics as a political concern for governance. The view arises from a focus on neoliberalism and particularly, with competitive individualism. It is linked with the Conservatives’ views concerning economic productivity, and managing resources and wealth. The Conservatives believe that poverty arises because of ‘faulty’ perceptions, cognitions and behaviours of poor people. The two-child policy is aimed at maintaining the socio-economic order. Modern eugenics is market-based and austerity driven.
Eugenics rejects the doctrine that all human beings are born equal and redefined moral worth purely in terms of genetic fitness. However the UK government is more concerned with economic “fitness”. The doctrine challenges the idea of human equality and opens up new forms of discrimination and stigmatisation.
Eric Hobsbawm (1996) among others has pointed out in The Age of Capital 1848-1875, mounting concentrations of wealth were coupled with the massive displacement of populations and socio-economic disruption on a previously unimaginable scale. At the core of this process of destructive change is the commodification process, which has transformed human needs into marketable goods.
As the welfare state and social protection systems are being dismantled, neoliberal governments have called forth a new social imaginary of ‘functional’ and ‘dysfunctional’ people. The ‘dysfunctional’ are simply those that haven’t managed to any accumulate wealth – which is the majority of us. The deployment of terms such as ‘deserving’, ’empowerment’, ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ in policy discourses and the way these are being used to pathologise service users and to reconstruct the relationship between the state and citizens indicates an authoritarian government that seems determined to micromanage the psychology, self perceptions and characters of those it deems ‘dysfunctional’.
This idea, which also underpins the pseudoscientific discipline of behavioural economics is one way of justifying huge wealth inequality and maintain the status quo. It also serves to createa utopian free-market order with the power of the state and to extend this logic to every corner of society. As sociologist Loïc Wacquant said, neoliberalism represents an “articulation of state, market and citizenship that harnesses the first to impose the stamp of the second onto the third.”
Childrens’ worth, for the Conservatives, may be counted out in pounds and pence or not at all.
The Conservatives believe it is necessary to govern through a particular register, that of the economy. The government offers economic ‘opportunities’ for only the ‘right kind’ of people. As a neoliberal form of governmentality, we are witnessing the construction of a new meritocratic ‘common-sense’ in which the rule of the ‘brightest and best’, those with the highest level of cognitve functioning, is presented simply as a form of rational economic ‘natural selection’. The two-child policy reflects this view of a marketised ‘natural selection’ mechanism.
A major criticism of eugenic policies is that, regardless of whether “negative” or “positive” policies are used, they are susceptible to abuse because the criteria of selection are determined by whichever group is in political power at the time. Furthermore, negative eugenics in particular is considered by many to be a violation of basic human rights, which include the right to reproduction. Another criticism is that eugenic policies eventually lead to a loss of genetic diversity,
The political restriction of support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming social security year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are ‘structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive ‘deficits’.
The Conservatives have always held an elitist view of humanity – wealthy people are seen as worthy, noble and moral, and poorer people are regarded as biologically-driven, impulsive and crassly sexualised. This set of prejudices justifies a harsh set of social policies that aims to abolish government assistance to the ‘undeserving’ poor, while preserving and enhancing the privileges accorded to their ‘deserving’ betters.
These ideas can be traced back in part to an 18th-century English clergyman—and Thomas Robert Malthus, who was one of the founders of classical economics. Malthus wanted an end to poor relief and advocated exposing unemployed people to the harsh disciplines of the market.
Malthus maintained that despite a ‘generous’ welfare system, poverty in England kept increasing. He also believed that welfare created ‘peverse incentives’ – Conservatives echo these claims that support to unemployed citizens always creates more of the poverty it aims to alleviate. From this view, receiving ‘unearned’ resources ‘incentivises’ unemployed people not to seek work, thus perpetuating their own condition.
Central to Malthus’s ‘scarcity of resources thesis’ (paralleled with the Conservatives’ austerity programme an ‘deficit reduction’) is the idea that hunger and deprivation serves to discipline the unemployed people to seek work and control childbirth. Apparently, cruelty is the key to prosperity.
The Conservatives are contemporary Malthusians, who endorse removing benefits as a necessity to compel citizens to work, and when in work, to work even harder, regardless of whether their children suffer in the punitive process of imposed deprivation.
Malthus believed that poor people procreate recklessly, whereas wealthy people excercise ‘moral restraint’. The Conservatives’ draconian social policies also depend on the endorsement of divisive cultural prejudices and dehumanising views of poor and vulnerable citizens.
The two-child policy is an indication of the government’s underpinning eugenicist ideology and administrative agenda, designed to exercise control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of ‘faulty’ individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socio-economic policies.
Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without. This reveals the government’s bleak and dystopic view of a society where financial outcomes override all other considerations, including human lives.
Conservatives’ two-child policy violates human rights
I wrote in 2015 about some of the implications of the two-child policy. Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two-child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.
If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits? It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born.
And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to.
Restriction on welfare support for children will inevitably directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority freedom to continue having children as they wish, while aiming to curtail the poorest citizens by ‘disincentivising’ them from having larger families, by using financial punishment. It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, it openly discriminates against the children of larger families .
People who are in favour of eugenic policies believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups. The government’s notion of “behavioural change” is clearly aimed at limiting the population of working class citizens. And taking public funds from public services.
Any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable”, regardless of the reason, and which formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights, is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are overtly expressed as “eugenics” or not.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory,states:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
An assessmentreport by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider imposing the deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans at the time to repeal the UK’s Human Rights Act.
Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.
England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:
“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”
It’s noted in the commissioner’s report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention – the best interests of the child are paramount:
“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.
The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:
For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.
1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.
3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.
States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of internationalco-operation.
States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.
2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article then you can contact Turn2usfor benefits advice and support, or BPAS for pregnancy advice and support, including help to end a pregnancy if that’s what you decide.
I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
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.
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’vewritten 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.
Newton said: “I utterly refute the allegations that have been made today: that we are discriminating against disabled people; that we are systematically undermining and violating their human rights, or worst of all that we are targeting their welfare support.”
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”.
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 includessome 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.
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 prejudicemay 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.
“Being hit by the bedroom tax is bad enough, but losing your sickness benefits too is even harder.”
Back in 2014, armed with only a laptop and phone, disabled campaigners started a hunt for the truth. As policies including the bedroom tax, the abolition of disability living allowance, and the rollout of controversial out-of-work sickness benefits hit, War on Welfare (Wow) called on the coalition government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of the wave of disability cuts to measure the effect on disabled people. It resulted in a debate in parliament – the first time disabled people had secured a debate in the main chamber of the House of Commons – but no action.
Now, four years on, Wow has gained the backing of a cross-party coalition that wants Theresa May’s government to calculate the overall impact of the so-called welfare reformson disabled people. Every party except the Conservatives is in favour of a Commons debate on conducting this assessment, including the DUP. In light of the pressure over Northern Irish abortion reform, their support for detailed analysis of the impact of Tory disability cuts is another awkward clash between May and the DUP’s 10 MPs propping up her administration. But more than that, it’s a sign of hope that ministers may have to finally investigate just what damage their disability cuts are causing – from the social care crisis to cuts to multiple parts of the NHS, to the disastrous rollout of universal credit; now delayed for an extra year until 2023.
The government’s austerity programme has resulted in multiple reductions in income since 2010 that have hit disabled people all at once and disproportionately. Being hit by the bedroom tax is tough – but losing your sickness benefits as well after being found “fit for work” is even harder.
If you need an insight into the damage these policies have done, just go to Wow Voices, a website set up by campaigners that features disabled people explaining the impact of cuts on them. One woman with terminal breast cancer writes of how, for the last 18 months, she’s been told she needs to be reassessed for her benefits every six months, and she’s frantic about the thought of losing her support. “I’ve cried more about this than my terminal diagnosis,” she says.
The UN’s damning report in 2016 into the UK’s “violations” of disabled people’s rights has put further pressure on the government over its treatment of disabled citizens. Meanwhile, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s own cumulative impact assessment shows that families with a disabled adult and a disabled child will lose £5,500 a year by 2022 as a result of tax and benefit changes – contradicting the government’s claim that such analysis would be “too complex” to do.
This month, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found around 650,000 people with mental and physical health problems were officially destitutein the UK last year – that means being so poor, they can’t afford deodorant, the electric, or regular meals – with social security changes found to be a key cause. It’s bad enough for ministers to take away state support from disabled people en masse, but to refuse to analyse its effects is the definition of irresponsible. The Conservatives must finally shine a light on the impact that disability cuts have had. What are they so afraid of?
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.