Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

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Conservatives are especially conservative with the truth: the media are the message

In 2004, George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at Berkeley, wrote Don’t Think of an Elephant! Lakoff’s central point was that how issues are framed – which points of view the media and other political agenda setters defined as important and acceptable, and the language used to do so – largely shapes how voters think about them. 

Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out.  

Discrediting and minimisation are often used in persuading other people or social groups to stop listening to certain perspectives and arguments, or by simply diverting public attention elsewhere. An example of diversion is the recent widespread scapegoating of refugees and people who need social security, such as disabled people or those who have lost their jobs, in a bid to maintain the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values at a time when its failings were brought into sharp focus during and following the global crisis – also exposing failings in the behaviours and practices of the government and the vulture capitalist financier class.

Neoliberalism always gravitates towards increasing inequality, extending and deepening poverty. Fear mongering is sometimes used with a diversion or misdirection propaganda technique to mask this, and may be pervasive. Sometimes politicians and media commentators suddenly take a debate in a weird and irrational but predictable direction to avoid democratic accountability.

The process often begins with a marginalised group being singled out and held to blame for the socioeconomic problems created by the system of socioeconomic organisation itself. Using the construction of folk devils (welfare “skivers” , “workshy” “something for nothing culture”, “culture of entitlement” or “dependency” for example), the political class and media generate moral panic and outrage, which serves to de-empathise the public and to justify the dehumanisation of politically created outgroups.

Stigma, prejudice and discrimination follow, all of which serves to subvert responsibility for the harmful consequences and distress experienced by the targeted group. In the UK, people needing welfare support, and particularly disabled people, have been stigmatised and then targeted with discriminatory policies which have placed a disproportionate burden of austerity – cuts to lifeline support and services – on that social group. The policies have also contravened disabled people’s human rights.

Meanwhile, the vulture capitalist financier class are still being rewarded, profiting from often reckless, economic and socially damaging behaviours. Of course it’s business as usual for this group, regardless of the pressing need for behavioural change and an increased responsibility-taking mindset among them. After all, it is this group that have caused most damage to our economy, and on a global scale.

The media and the government conflate neoliberal authoritarian behaviours, and policies that cause distress and harm to marginalised social groups, with “power and strength”, and any opposition to this with “weakness”.

Campaigners against social injustice are labeled “extremist” and politicians on the left who stand up against prejudice and discrimination are labeled “weak”, “anti-British” and extensively ridiculed and smeared. Every single Labour leader, with the exception of Blair, has had this treatment from the mainstream media.

During the coalition and Conservative governments, the tabloids have chosen and framed most of the debates that have dominated domestic politics in the UK, ensuring that immigration, welfare, law and order, the role of the state, and Britain’s relationship with Europe have all been discussed in increasingly right wing terms, while almost ironically, the government have colonised progressive rhetoric to cover their intentions.

There is therefore a growing chasm between Conservative discourse, and policy intentions and outcomes. There isn’t a bridge between rhetoric and reality. 

The Conservatives have plundered from left wing narrative purely to broaden their superficial appeal and to neutralise opposition to controversial and contentious policy. The legislative context in which such language is being used is completely at odds with how it is being described by purposefully stolen terms and phrases which are being applied most deceitfully.

The negative associations because of Conservative policies have eclipsed the original meanings of the imported language. I always flinch when a Conservative minister says that the government is intending to “support” disabled people into work, or that they want to make welfare “fair” and they support “social justice”,  for example. These words are used in a context of coercive and punitive policy measures.

It’s very disorienting and disarming to see the language of social justice, democracy, inclusion and equality being used to justify and describe policies which extend social injustice, authoritarianism, exclusion and inequality. It’s also much more difficult to challenge actions that are disguised by a tactic of extensive euphemising, that draws on glittering generalities and the narrative of the opposition (the left generally).

Only a Conservative minister would claim that taking money from the lifeline support of sick and disabled people is somehow “fair,” or about “helping”, “supporting” or insultingly, “incentivising” people who have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors and the state via the work capability assessment, to work.

The Tories all too frequently employ such semantic shifts and euphemism – linguistic strategies – as an integral part of a wider range of techniques of neutralisation that are used, for example, to provide linguistic relief from conscience and to suspend moral constraint – to silence both “inner protest” and public objections – to the political violation of social and moral norms and human rights; to justify acts that cause harm to others while also denying there is any subsequent harm being inflicted by austerity policies; to deny the targeted population’s accounts and experiences of political acts of harm, and to neutralise any remorse felt by themselves and other witnesses.

Media discourse has often preempted a fresh round of Conservative austerity cuts, resulting in the identification, scapegoating and marginalisation of social groups in advance of targeted, discriminatory policies. Media discourse is being used as a vehicle for the government to push their ideological agenda forward without meeting legitimate criticism, opposition and public scrutiny and without due regard for essential democratic processes and safeguards. The mainstream media will not challenge or undermine the wider state-corporate nexus of which it is a fundamental part.

Noam Chomsky has written extensively about the role of the free market media in reinforcing dominant ideology and maintaining the unequal distribution and balance of power. In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman explore the media’s role in establishing the apparence of a political and economic orthodoxy (neoliberalism) and extending a seemingly normative compliance with state policies, while also marginalising antithetical or alternative perspectives, dismissing them as heresy. In the US and UK, most left wing commentors have a very diminished media platform from which to present their perspectives and policy proposals.

This “free-market” version of censorship is more subtle and difficult to identify, challenge and undermine than the equivalent propaganda system which was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. 

As Chomsky argues, the mainstream press is corporate owned and so reflects corporate priorities and interests. While acknowledging that some journalists are dedicated and well-intentioned, he says that the choice of topics and issues featured in the mass media, the unquestioned premises on which that “coverage” rests, and the range of opinions that are expressed are all constrained to reinforce the state’s dominant ideology.

How to tell lies dishonestly

Propaganda, PR, spin, manipulation, and techniques of neutralisation (a kind of doublespeak aimed at “switching off” your inner conscience, remorse and morality, and that of witnesses, so you can do things normally considered unacceptable, immoral or plain evil), are indirect or convoluted ways of telling lies. These techniques are very sneaky, often providing “get outs”. As such, the tactics are dishonest ways of being dishonest. While often providing a cover or superficial style of “truth”, the underlying content is always a big lie.

Not “a series of possibilities” or a “terminological inexactitude,” or “a series of misunderstandings” or “an unwise commitment”, but a lie. 

Even the labels “fake news”, “post rationalism” and “post truth” are euphemisms. We live in an age of great political deceit and lies, and an ineffectual, trivial lexicon to describe it.

That’s intentional, manipulative whopping whopper political lies.

The Conservatives have developed a notorious lexicon of euphemisms, especially designed to divert challenges and debate, to hide their aims and intentions and to reduce opposition, in order to manufacture an illusion of consensus, consistent with old school diversionary and bandwaggon propaganda methods.

Winston Churchill came up with the crafty phrase “terminological inexactitude,” which means being conservative with the truth (see what I did there), or to be more direct, it means telling lies. There are indirect ways of lying – less honest ways of being intentionally dishonest, if you will.

Euphemisms are often a form of doublespeak; they are words used to hide, distort or “neutralise” reality.  Euphemisms put political intentions, actions and their consequences in a better light, in much the same way that the mafia employs language to minimise the consequences of their actions. No-one is ever murdered by the mafia, to hear them talk, instead they are simply “given their medicine” , “clipped” or “wacked”, for example. However you say it, people still end up dead, unfortunately. The mafia say that disposing of the bodies of their murder victims is “spring cleaning”.

A credibility assessment of Tory narrating and editing: the sin in the spin exposed

1. “Reforms” = The stealthy privatisation of public wealth. “Conservative Reforms” entail cuts to social provisions and public services – paid for by everyone – which support the poorest citizens when they experience hardship. The money is then re-allocated to the wealthiest citizens via generous tax cuts and lower business tax  rates which effectively privatises wealth and profit, while making any risks and costs a social burden.

2. “Targeting those in greatest need” = savage and increasing cuts to social security provision, and in particular, to disabled people’s lifeline support. No-one actually qualifies for support, any more. However, a handful may get a favorable outcome when assessors flip a coin to decide which of the very ill people they meet and put through the mill are lucky enough to meet their target of permitting around six successful claims per year. From 2017, the target will reduce again to three. By 2020, no-one will “need” disability benefits and support, as we will all be cured by work fare and CBT.

Ultimately, this entails a constant moving goalpost of eligibility to publicly funded support. The government reduces the numbers of those previously entitled to welfare by constant, changing and unstated political redefinition of “need”, while implying to the public that welfare and those who need it are dispensable.

3. “Making work pay” = dismantling social security by stealth and driving down wages, ensuring that private companies profit.

4. “National living wage” = small and pitiful increase in minimum wage that does not offset welfare cuts (Universal Credit, benefit cap, reduced eligibility criteria for disability benefits) and other losses, such as job insecurity, poor working conditions, zero hour contracts.

5. “Supporting/helping people into work” = extremely punitive measures of behavioural conditionality and financial sanctions that hinder people in finding appropriate work, aimed at cutting social security spending and presenting lifeline benefits as dispensable to the public, whilst coercing people to behave in ways that benefit the state and that do not benefit those citizens being manipulated and coerced to fulfil the aims of the policy makers.

2, 3, 4 and 5 also undermine collective bargaining, since people are being coerced to take any work available, rather than suitable, secure work with acceptable pay and working conditions. This puts a downward pressure on wages.

6.  “Worklessness” = a made up word that disguises job precarity, unemployment and underemployment, because of government, economic and labour market failure, followed by political scapegoating and widespread, brutal cultural bullying of the poorest citizens.

7. “Extremists”= peaceful campaigners who object to social injustice, anyone else who doesn’t support the neoliberal status quo, authoritarianism, inequality, growing poverty and human rights abuses.

8. “Hard working strivers” = compliant and exploited citizens whose consumerism and systematic oppression keeps Tory donor big businesses in profit. As an imposed ideal, the work ethic also props up injustices like work fare and political scapegoating and prejudice directed at people who lose their jobs and need social security.

9. “Democracy” = authoritarianism, so that means it’s whatever the Tories say it is.

It entails policies which engineer a set of changes with huge distributional consequences: tax credit and benefit cuts will mean low-income working families with children will become significantly worse off, while wealthier families stand to gain a lot as a result of increases in the personal allowance and higher rate tax threshold, for example. 

Recent analysis by the Resolution Foundation shows four fifths of the gains from income tax cuts go to the most affluent half of households, while the poorest third of households will shoulder two-thirds of the government’s benefit cuts. This is an extraordinary indictment on a government that claims to have “fairness” and “social justice” at its heart.

10. “Progressive”= extremely regressive, almost feudal.

11. “Behavioural change”= to separate citizens from the prospects of material progress and to condition them to accept both the status quo and the short straw  of neoliberal ” market forces”, disguised as invisible bootstraps.

12. “Policy” = a method of siphoning money from the poorest citizens and public services into corporate and millionaires’ bank accounts, while punishing the poorest citizens as they are robbed, by telling all and sundry it’s their own fault they are poor. Usually involves an element of character divination and quack “cures” for “faulty” people. Often justified by an implied “trickle down” of wealth.

Neoliberal policies require a political framework of authoritarianism as they don’t benefit most people, and strip our public assets. A lot of neoliberalism is about governments kidding people that neoliberalism doesn’t cause massive inequalities, poverty, and the removal of publicly funded social support mechanisms.

While the state shrinks radically in terms of what it provides for ordinary people to meet their needs, it paradoxically develops a massive and increasingly bureaucratic order to deceive ordinary people in order to impose an authoritarian rule and control citizen perceptions and behaviours, allowing the government to keep on imposing ruthless scorched earth neoliberal policies so that a few very, very wealthy folk can get even wealthier whilst everyone else becomes increasingly miserable and struggles in meeting their basic survival needs.

13.  “Supply side economics” = founded on the mythical “trickle down” and the side-splittingly comedic idea that reducing taxes for the wealthiest will increase Treasury revenue. Usually, it’s hiked VAT and another raid on disabled people’s lifeline support that does that.

The economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, “Mr. David Stockman has said that supply-side economics was merely a cover for the trickle-down approach to economic policy – what an older and less elegant generation called the horse-and-sparrow theory: If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” This basically means the majority of the population are fed a pile of horsesh*t.

14. “Free market”= economic Darwinism, the triumph of rogue multinationals and predatory capitalism, which brings about the commodification of every single basic human need so a few corporations can make sustained, massive profits, while everyone else is dispossessed by the government. 

15. “Big society” = oppressive bureaucratic state that is enforcing the systematic dismantling of the social gains we made with our post-war settlement. It also means privatisation and cutting public services down to Victorian size, but excluding the gin houses. So, in a nutshell, no support but lots of authoritarian surveilance, control and punishment from the government, who continue to spend the public’s taxes on funding tax cuts to millionaires, reducing corporate tax, letting big companies off from their obligations, bailing out banks that cause global recessions and subsidising those hard done by big businesses. 

16. “Work experience” = free labour, exploitation opportunities and big profits for the government’s corporate sponsors. Also part of a wider plan to dismantle welfare and to undermine trade unions and collective bargaining.

17. “The law” = whatever the Tories say it is. If they don’t like it, they simply ignore or re-write it.

18. “Cutting the deficit” = it means to probably more than double it, but it’s also a smokescreen for a strong neoliberal programme of austerity and redistributing public wealth into a few private bank accounts, mostly offshore.

19. “Fair” = whatever the Tories say it is. Usually, Conservative “fairness” entails taking money from the poorest citizens, raiding public funds and handing it out to very wealthy people and providing rogue companies with contracts to help them do so.

Ethically bankrupt companies such as Atos, G4S and Maximus also generally cost the public billions more than they promise to save.

20. “Social justice” = rather like Augusto Pinochet’s bureaucratic authoritarianism: huge and growing social inequality, absolute poverty and harsh financial penalties for many people, such as those who are economically inactive because they are too ill to work, and those who have exploitative employers paying them a pittance. Sanctions and welfare conditionality are held to be “fair” and about Conservative “social justice”.

Low taxes for stingy and disproportionately resentful millionaires, who have gained the most from society but don’t feel like giving anything back, is also considered by the Conservatives as “social justice”. Poor and disabled people experiencing harm, distress and dying because of the Conservative austerity cuts is also included in this definition, as are aggressive government denials of “causal links” between blatantly draconian policies and any human suffering whatsoever. Apparently punitive policy that imposes starvation and destitution on the poorest people is in their best interest.

21. “Causal relationship/cause and effect” = whatever the Tories say it is. Anything that challenges Conservative discourse is generally dismissed as “anecdotal”. However the government make up statistics to “empirically support” their own anecdotal narrative and dogma.

22. “Small state”= massively bureaucratic administration aimed at incredibly intrusive and controlling state interventions in the intimate areas of our lives, such as decision-making, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. These technocratic interventions inevitably reduce the autonomy and remove the liberties of the poorest citizens, whilst those in positions of power, making the decisions, are not held accountable for the consequences of their abysmal, callous and usually very greedy choices.

The Behavioural Insights Team, at the heart of the Cabinet, are contributing to formulating policies to save the government money and to make a lot of profit from that. Their aim is to distract the public and “change the behaviours” of mostly poor citizens, providing both a prop and justification for failing neoliberal policies which result in widespread poverty, precarity and massive social inequalities. Welfare conditionality and sanctions, for example, are forms of punitive behavioural “correction” for the assumed character deficits and “faulty” psychology of people who are not wealthy. It seems the government think with impeccable logic that people can be punished out of being poor, by making them more poor in order to stop them being poor.

Meanwhile those who damaged the economy are left to continue making hefty profits from economy-damaging behaviours, because the government decided to make poor people pay for those “mistakes” via austerity measures instead. The behaviour change agenda sends out the message that it is individuals who somehow “choose” to be poor (yes, really), rather than poverty being an inevitable feature of an economic system that is weighted towards rewarding wealthy citizens while increasingly dispossessing the majority of ordinary citizens.

23. “We are all in it together” = it’s everyone for themselves, unless you are poor. The wealthy get socialism and special handshakes, the poor get laissez faire, the work ethic via operant conditioning, Samuel Smiles’ Victorian moralising bibles: Thrift and Self help, and a liberal dose of Malthusian miserablism.

24. “British values” = extremely divided society with a high level of social prejudice, inequality, absolute poverty and human rights abuses.

Used to redefine working class interests by the establishment, designed as a pressure cooker type of diversionary release for oppressed blue-collar workers, by offering them one “opportunity” to democratically register their alienation, anger and fear because of deteriorating social conditions and political disenfranchisement, via the populist Brexit campaign, while maintaining neoliberal hegemony and ensuring an ever-downward pressure on labour conditions, wages and collective bargaining.

25. “Integrated healthcare” = a combination of savage cuts, homeopathy, cognitive behavioural therapy, “pulling yourself together” and being told that “work is a health outcome” a lot. It’s failure precedes and contributes to justifying privatisation.

26. “Truthfully” = I want you to think I am being honest, but I am not. It’s a delivery style rather than being about actual truth content.

27. “Objectively”= the status quo; ideologically driven, more dogma to follow. Anti-intellectualism.

28. “Safe in our hands” = we fully intend to privatise all public services to make profit for big business and ourselves.

29. “Work is a health outcome” = the creation of an opportunity for big business to exploit sick and disabled people by politically coercing them into low paid, insecure work via punitive policies (euphemistically called “welfare conditionality”), and to build a desperate reserve army of labour, thus driving wages down further whilst simultaneously dismantling the welfare state and the NHS.

30. “Transparency” = corruption and authoritarianism.

euphemisms
Picture courtesy of Tom Pride.


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

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Dismay at Deborah Orr’s unusually ill-informed article on Simon Stevens’ Next Steps for Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships

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“Published last Friday, Simon Stevens’ document takes another big step towards realising Jeremy Hunt’s plans to replace the NHS with an American-style insurance system. It is clear about the intention to make Sustainability and Transformation Plans – now renamed Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships – into Accountable Care Systems.

Accountable Care Systems copy the US health insurance system. They are being spun as A Good Thing because they end the purchaser/provider split. Don’t fall for the spin.

Accountable Care Systems/Organisations are mechanisms for denying care by choosing to treat only patients who represent “best value for money” – ie are cheapest to treat, and most likely to have the best health recovery as a result of treatment. The Next Steps document keeps banging on about how they are going to enable “demand management” ie reduce patients’ access to care.”

Calderdale and Kirklees 999 Call for the NHS

STP Agony Aunt usually likes reading Deborah Orr’s columns – so she was dismayed by the reporter’s ill-informed applause in her weekend Guardian column for Simon Stevens’ Next Steps for Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships.

Published last Friday, Simon Stevens’ document  takes another big step towards realising Jeremy Hunt’s plans to replace the NHS with an American-style insurance system. It is clear about the intention to make Sustainability and Transformation Plans – now renamed Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships – into Accountable Care Systems.

Accountable Care Systems copy the US health insurance system. They are being spun as A Good Thing because they end the purchaser/provider split. Don’t fall for the spin.

Accountable Care Systems/Organisations are mechanisms for denying care by choosing to treat only patients who represent “best value for money” – ie are cheapest to treat, and most likely to have the best health recovery as a result of…

View original post 1,142 more words

Woman sanctioned after miscarriage was left in poverty and suicidal

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A woman was left with just £24 each week of her social security to live on after suffering a miscarriage and being sanctioned. She has told the Daily Record how she considered suicide after being left with barely anything to buy food and pay bills.

Lyndsey Turnbull told of her ordeal as the Scottish Government formally launched their new welfare-to-work programmes.

Lyndsey from Midlothian, said: “I wanted to get into work but the whole thing seemed geared up to punish those who wanted to get off benefits.”

She was on approximately £140 a fortnight Employment and Support Allowance when she missed an appointment after having a miscarriage around nine weeks into a pregnancy.

She said: “I was in a bad place and couldn’t talk to anyone about it.”

Lyndsey was sanctioned because was too distressed to disclose the reason for missing the appointment, which is absolutely understandable. However, the punitive sanctions framework does not accommodate people’s circumstances and situations when they may be very vulnerable.

Having to face a stern and unsupportive bureaucrat, whose role is to discipline and punish people who cannot comply with rigid welfare conditionality, to discuss deeply personal and distressing circumstances – and such a traumatic event as miscarriage – is the very last thing anyone needs. 

She added: “I went down to £24. I had no food, nothing to pay bills. It was awful.

“I really thought suicide might be the only option – and I wondered how many people would be just like me.”

Fortunately, Lyndsey eventually found someone to talk to at welfare service group Working Links, who helped her to get a second sanction reduced.

She later found a job at a petrol station and she said the new system’s voluntary focus will make it easier for people to get off benefits.

Lyndsey courageously contributed to a group meeting with Scottish National Party (SNP) Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn, to explain the problems she faced with the UK Department for Work and Pension sanctions regime.

Holyrood has no control over major benefits policy. However the new Scottish programmes will be voluntary – with no financial penalties attached – in a bid to get better results.

In other words, they will be genuinely supportive, rather than punitive and mandatory.

Around 4,800 people with disabilities and health conditions will get some help into work, the Daily Record reports.

Employment support is one of the first powers devolved through the Scotland Act 2016, made possible by the Vow of more powers before the independence vote.

Work First Scotland will help 3300 disabled people while Work Able Scotland will focus on 1500 people with long-term health conditions.

The Record revealed last year that the SNP would block any bid by Westminster to impose a sanctions system on the new programmes.

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Batul Hassan, 49, who also met Hepburn yesterday, was made redundant after 11 years at a local authority and was helped into work by Remploy.

She has dyslexia, dyspraxia and hearing problems and said her previous employer struggled to understand her needs.

Batul, from Edinburgh, added: “The new system has the potential to be a good thing.

“Two contracts mean people can move at the right pace, not lumped together.”

Hepburn said: “The devolved services will have fairness, dignity and respect at their core.

“We believe people will see them as an opportunity to gain new skills through supportive training and coaching.”

The Conservatives have clearly changed the meaning of words such as “fairness”, “support” and “respect”, in order to persuade the public that their punitive policies are somehow acceptable, and to deny the negative consequences they have on people who need the most support.

They are not acceptable.

 


 

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

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EHRC report highlights unacceptable political discrimination against disabled people

 

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Discrimination on the grounds of disability was made illegal 20 years ago when Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Further legislative progress was made with the Human Rights Act (2008) and the Equality Act (2010). So discrimination can’t happen now. Right?

Wrong.

Disabled people are not being treated as being equal with other citizens and continue to be denied the respect, dignity, opportunities, an acceptable standard of living and other acceptable outcomes that non-disabled people take for granted.

The government claim that the economy has recovered from the effects of the global recession, but that recovery is not one that is shared equally to include everyone. If the economy is doing as well as the government claims, why are disabled people still facing austerity cuts to their lifeline support, while wealthy citizens are handed out substantial tax cuts? 

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, targeting disabled people, who are much more likely to be living in poverty than other citizens, is absolutely inexcusable. However, the neoliberal right justify their rigid small state, pro-privatisation, deregulation, mythological meritocracy, low tax, high VAT and antiwelfare ideology with folklore economics. “Paying down the debt” has become an almost farcical bare-faced and parroted Conservative lie. 

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The neoliberal small state “big society”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report is the most comprehensive analysis on how (or if) the rights of disabled people are observed and protected in Great Britain. The most recent report says that changes to benefit rules have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on disabled people’s right to live independently.

According to the report, titled Disability report: Being disabled in Britainwhich was published on Monday, the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people. (See also: Disabled students fear for their future as independence payments cut).

Fewer than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults – and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010-11.

Food poverty has affected 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64, compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people.

David Isaac, Chair of the Commission, commenting on the damning new state of the nation report into life for disabled people, said: “Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”

The research, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement.

This includes: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and welfare “reforms” (cuts) significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.

The Commission has also highlighted these issues to the United Nations, for their forthcoming examination of how the UK measures up to the international standards on the rights of disabled people (the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – CRPD).

The United Nations (UN) has already determined that the UK government has systematically violated the rights of disabled people. The highly critical report, which was published in Geneva last December also concluded that the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work, and achieve an adequate standard of living have been detrimentally affected by the Conservative’s austerity programme.

The range of measures aimed at reducing public spending since 2010, including extremely controversial changes such as the bedroom tax, and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets have disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

The UN’s 22-page report condemned the radical and largely unmonitored welfare cuts and benefit caps, and social care cuts introduced as a major part of the Conservative’s austerity programme – the government claimed these cuts would make the welfare system “fairer and reduce benefit fraud.” The UN found no evidence of benefit fraud or fairness.

However, the government have simply dismissed the UN’s fully evidenced report, which included the first-hand accounts of many of those disabled people affected by Conservative austerity, disability campaigners, researchers and advocacy organisations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report reveals:

  • In England, the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least  5 A*-C GCSEs is three times lower than for non-disabled children (20.0% and 64.2% respectively). Disabled children are also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded.
  • The qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower. 
  • More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived. 
  • Social security “reforms” have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. Families in the UK with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families.
  • Across the UK, 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty.
  • Disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased. Disabled people in Britain were also less likely to own their own home. 
  • Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they’re less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
  • There is an urgent need for prisons to monitor and report on prisoner mental health. Prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions compared with the general population, and 70% of prisoners who died from self-inflicted means between 2012 and 2014 had an identified mental health condition. 
  • Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales. The number of detentions in hospitals increased from 46,600 in 2009 to 2010 to 63,622 in 2016. 
  • Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice. Across GB, there has been a 54% drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination following the introduction of fees in July 2013. 
  • More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with mental health conditions and those with physical disabilities the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed. 
  • The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all.

David Isaac continued: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind and that some people – in particular those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – experience even greater barriers.

“We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.

“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

The report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people; and improve existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people.

It contains 75 recommendations to the UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. The main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee will take place in August 2017, and the Commission will work with the other UK equality and human rights commissions and disabled people and their organisations to help make the recommendations a reality.

Further to this activity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is engaged in a range of ongoing work aimed improving the lives of disabled people, including legally enforcing the Equality Act, improving access to public services, housing and transport, analysing the impact of welfare reforms, and influencing new legislation.

In light of the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (work-related activity group) and the recent re-writing of PIP regulations to save money for the Treasury from disabled people’s support, while at the same time the government chose to hand out tax cuts to millionaires, it is inevitable that the situation for disabled people will only get worse.

These additional cuts have happened since the UN published the report about the systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights, to which the government have responded with utter contempt.

Human rights, inclusion and equality are the bedrock of a democratic society. We know from experience over the last six years that we can not depend on this government to observe any of these prerequisite obligations. 

Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, said: “It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day-in-day out. 

“But government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people. 

“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed. If the government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.

“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards.  We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track. We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.” 

Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Much of today’s report puts hard numbers on what we hear every day from people with muscle-wasting conditions about the extreme difficulties in finding a job, a safe place to live and accessing the opportunities many of us take for granted. 

“The government has to respond positively and urgently to the severity of today’s findings, not least in calling a halt to the damaging aspects of benefits reforms, but they are not the only people responsible for making society accessible to all. 

“Employers can be more proactive about making their workplaces and their recruitment policies more open to disabled people. Local councillors can increase their accessible housing targets. And we can collectively check our own attitudes to make sure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has better news to report in 20 years’ time. This alarming report is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.” 

Let’s not pussyfoot around the deliberate socioeconomic exclusion of disabled people. It’s absolutely unacceptable that in a very wealthy so-called democratic state, disabled people still face so many disadvantages as a direct consequence of discriminatory government policies, across so many different areas of their lives compared to non-disabled people.  

The Conservative’s policies since 2012 that have doggedly aimed at cutting disabled people’s support have been preempted by an outgrouping rhetoric and an all-pervasive political scapegoating media campaign designed, to stir up resentment and desensitise the public to the consequences of policies which discriminate against disabled people. Such actions are a damning indictment of the political intention behind those policies. 

We now have a social security system that is the stuff of dystopian novels about totalitarian bureaucracy. Rather than providing support, welfare has been redesigned by the Conservatives to focus on compliance with unreasonable “behavioural” conditionality (which assumes that poverty is a “lifestyle choice, as opposed to the inevitable consequence of neoliberalism and policies which serve to engineer growing social inequality) and extremely punitive sanctions, rather than supporting people back into appropriate work. 

Stopping or threatening to stop someone’s lifeline support when they are too unwell to work is unforgivably cruel, inappropriate and completely ineffective at helping anyone into employment.

In fact, we know that sanctions will make it almost impossible for someone to find employment. Withdrawing lifefline support as a punishment is likely to create desperation and absolute poverty. The impact of poverty is greater, and often devastating on those people who are ill and disabled. If people cannot meet their basic living needs, they cannot possibly meet higher level psychosocial ones. 

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Sanctions cause unacceptable harm to people who are disabled and ill, and sometimes, sanctions kill people

It is not acceptable that a government in the UK continues to formulate regressive and punitive policies aimed at cutting support for disabled people, which create vulnerability, loss of independence and dignity, distress, psychological and physical damage, and is putting people’s lives at risk.

It is shameful and it needs to be halted.

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

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Conditionality and discretionary housing payments: when paying rent is more important than buying food

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The government’s behavioural change agenda, which targets the poorest citizens, is being delivered via the increasing conditionality of social security and public service support provision. The underpinning rhetoric is that individual behaviours cause poverty, rather than government policies, which are causing a systemic unequal distribution of wealth.

Councils who are facing shortfalls in government funding to meet their statutory obligations have recently introduced behavioural conditionality to applications for awards of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP). Most local authorities are now saying they will only help those who will have a “positive outcome” as a result of the support. Yet they claim that this is to ensure limited funds go to only those “most in need”.

The reasoning provided by councils for only supporting those “nearest to the labour market” to encourage “financial independence” is at odds with the aim of ensuring support goes to “those most in need”. Surely those unable to work through illness and disability, who are furthest away from the labour market, actually have more need, yet will be less likely to meet conditionaility requirements and so won’t receive the support that the government tells us is supposed to be in place for us.

DHP is now much less likely to be awarded for those in greatest need precisely because of the new conditionality criteria. It specifically supports people who are more able to find work. Those who can’t are expected to go without food and fuel to meet their housing costs and potentially face destitution.

Disabled people paying for disabled people’s support

On Thursday I went to apply for DHP as I no longer have enough money to live on, partly because of now having to pay council tax and bedroom tax. Like many people, my essential outgoings are considerably greater than my income. The government have claimed that disabled people like me can claim DHP as a safeguard from the financially damaging impact of the bedroom tax, which disproportionately affects disabled people.

However, my own council have warned me in advance that they have little funding left for providing DHP support.

ESA and other benefits were originally calculated to meet the costs of food and fuel, and other essential living costs, based on an assumption that you would also get FULL housing and council tax benefit. There hasn’t been full housing benefit provision for some years now, but previously, people who are disabled were exempt from paying council tax, until recent years.  

This is leaving some people without enough money to meet the costs of their basic survival needs – food and fuel. One reason I now have to pay more council tax, according to the statement from my local authority on my bill, is to raise money to meet the costs for the government’s pledged funds for improving adult social care – the adult social care precept. That is being taken from every household, including the poorest, many of which have people with serious medical conditions and disabilities in them.

My local authority says: “The introduction of the National Living Wage and increase in population means this is an area where we have seen significant financial pressures. The 2% increase will help us to maintain our current services.”

There’s a certain horrible irony here, too.

My local authority inform me that I now have to pay council tax to fund support for:

  • older people
  • people with a learning disability
  • people with a physical disability
  • people with sensory loss
  • people with mental health needs

The never-ending need to justify need: facing the bureaucratic wall around support provision

I am a person with physical disabilities because of an illness, and my only income is my ESA, at the support group rate. I ought to have claimed Personal Independence Payment (PIP) before now. However my experiences claiming ESA were pretty distressing and extremely anxiety provoking, that has deterred me. The enormous stress and anxiety of the assessments, facing a tribunal and then the reassessment almost immediately after I won my case in court exacerbated my already serious illness, and left me acutely and desperately ill for at least two years.

I’m a reasonably robust person ordinarily. I have worked most of my life, and I enjoyed my work, particularly the youth and community posts I undertook. I did a vocational part-time Master’s whilst I worked full time, and later went on to do mental health social work with young people at risk.

I was very unprepared for what followed when I suddenly became very ill with lupus. I was used to being fit, healthy and very active. I also had a good salary and a relatively comfortable standard of living. Though I was never very affluent, I had enough to cover my family’s needs, and to provide enough for my children to have stability.

I was forced to give up work as I was much too ill to fulfil my role competently and there were significant risks to my health in the workplace. My illness and some of the treatments I have also mean that I am very susceptible to infection. I caught a cold from a colleague in work and ended up with pneumonia and pleurisy more than once, for example. My illness impacted on my capacity to work for many reasons, such as an autoimmune bleeding disorder, widespread joint and tendon damage affecting my mobility, severe nerve pain, deteriorating eyesight, neurological problems and cognitive difficulties and so on. The tribunal panel (regarding my ESA eligibility) concluded that I had made the right decision to leave work because of the further serious risks to my health, after reading my medical reports from my specialists. 

My house was repossessed because my modest mortgage payments became unmanageable as I had no way of making the payments. I did approach my local housing office for help, who told me they could only offer support once I was actually homeless. That would have meant having all my family’s possessions left on the street, too.

I found a house to rent just down the street for a very reasonable amount. In fact initially there was very little shortfall between my housing benefit and actual rent. I had two boys at school, they didn’t want to leave the area as they were in their final years, and we have other family in this area. I was informed by the council that I would be eligible for housing benefit for a three bedroom house at that time. I took out a small loan for my deposit, as by then my last wage had long gone. The council were pleased I had managed to find cheap accommodation that suited my family’s needs.

I moved into the property, but I was very ill and struggled coping. My disability advisor at the job centre advised me to claim ESA at this time. By then I was having weekly chemotherapy treatment (Methotrexate) at the hospital and was considered unavailable for work, I didn’t (and couldn’t) meet thhe jobseeker’s allowance conditionality requirements, and my advisor recognised this.

Within two months of moving into the property, the law changed, and I had to pay bedroom tax for my older son’s room, as he was suddenly expected to share a room with his younger brother. There are no smaller houses locally, none with lower rents, and all of the limited number of two bedroom council flats here are inhabited. Not that moving again would have been easy for me as I was so poorly at this time. The first move down the street had affected my health, and exhausted me for months.

However, after almost a year of struggling to pay the bedroom tax, my oldest son reached 18 and my housing benefit went back up not long before he left for university.  I got almost a year of backpay when I won my ESA tribunal and that helped me get on top of my increasing debt, after months of really struggling. I also got a tax rebate from when I worked, also helped enormously. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided that they would take back an overpayment they made in 2007, whilst I was struggling on basic rate ESA, awaiting tribunal in 2011. I was also paying bedroom tax then. I had claimed income support briefly when I changed jobs, whilst I waited for social services to complete background checks that were necessary for my post. I couldn’t start the post until the checks were done. Meanwhile we had nothing to live on. The checks took three months.

I was entitled to a month of run-on benefit as a lone parent once I took up the post. However, despite the fact I had signed off, the income support payments continued another two months. I had phoned a couple of times and then written twice to inform the job centre again that I had taken up my post.

I don’t mind paying back the money I was overpaid. I did mind that the DWP also took back the run-on benefit that I was actually entitled to for the first month, and told me it was far too late to appeal that decision. The hefty deductions from my reduced ESA did cause me a lot of hardship, but at least I didn’t owe anything by the time I won the tribunal. It was claimed I did still owe money at one point and I had a letter saying my ESA back dated payment wasn’t going to be released as I owed money. I didn’t.

It’s almost as if the DWP want to keep you in a state of constant anxiety, despair and precarity, and to make sure that your life is never remotely acceptably comfortable, secure and safe. Social security is no longer a safety net, it seems to have been transformed into a bureacratic wall that exists simply to discipline poor people and ensure as few people as possible have access to any lifeline support. The letters are written in a way that intends to cause anxiety, I am sure.

I managed financially for a couple of years, though budgeting on such a limited income is difficult. But having worked for a long time, I had furniture and household items, enough clothing and when things got very bad, I had a few personal items to sell if need be. 

Of course over time, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, fridges, kettles and cookers break down.  Children grow and need clothes and shoes. I went a whole year without a washing machine when mine broke, but saved a little every month until I had enough for a second hand one. I don’t know how I managed to get by because much of the time I could barely walk or use my wrists/hands, but I had to wash clothes and bedding in the bath. It took up a lot of my time and effort. Poverty is cumulative, too. It gets much worse and more wearying as time goes by. If you are ill and disabled, the impacts of poverty are considerably greater.

Both my youngest sons are at university now. They come home out of term times. I feed them and support them as best I can, though we don’t have any money to cover their living costs. Both are at universities out of the region, they have student finance for term times, but both have struggled to meet living costs. When they come home, it’s for a couple of weeks, though considerably longer at christmas. They have never managed to find work locally to tide them over out of term time, despite trying. No-one wants to hire people for a couple of weeks.

My oldest son found a part time job in his first year at university. He didn’t have regular hours and his employer simply called him when he needed him. However, my son’s travel costs to and from work exceeded what he earned, and more than once his allocated hours coincided with his lectures, which are compulsory.

Both boys are considered as living at home as they return home out of term times and are expected to return home once they complete their studies. 

In the new year, I caught ‘flu and within a couple of days I ended up with pneumonia and sepsis. At the time I was far too ill to know I was so poorly. It was my son who realised how serious my condition was and rang the ambulance, just in time.

I was already in a critical condition with septic shock when the ambulance arrived. My illness means my immunity to infection is very low, so I’m always at risk from pneumonia, kidney infections, random abscesses and so on, but this was the first time I have ever had life-threatening and severe sepsis. I was very ill in hospital and spent a couple of days drifting in and out of a bottomless sleep and hallucinating, whilst on the lifesaving IV treatments and fluids. I needed oxygen support for five days afterwards, anticoagulant injections, and continued taking combined oral antibiotics, steroids and a course of Tamiflu for a couple of weeks after I came home. 

When I got home from hospital in late Jaunary, we had no hot water or heating as my boiler had broken. But we used fan heaters, and I managed to keep warm in my room, I focused on recovery, until the electric went off because of a fault on a circuit. My landlord lives in the US currently and I had difficulty in contacting him. I had no choice but to find somewhere else to stay as the house was so cold it was uninhabitable, and we couldn’t cook food. I was still very weak and very slowly recovering. By this time my youngest son had returned to university. My oldest son and I had to stay with a friend.

The electrical fault was fixed and I got a new boiler fitted the following week. I remained weak and my pulmonary specialist told me it would likely be at least three months before I was fully recovered. I have been diagnosed with additional lung problems since, which showed up on a scan, following more tests showing my lung function is just 40% of what it is expected to be. Some of the problems are related to lupus, which has caused a lot of inflammation in both lungs.

My son decided I needed some additional support to recover and he has taken six months out from his degree to care for me. The alternative was for me to contact social services for support.

I now have to pay bedroom tax for his room, in addition to the council tax, as he is classed as a non-dependent adult. Having no boiler for several months has also meant I used a lot more eletricity, so my bill is much bigger than usual, so my direct debit has more than doubled every fortnight. I managed to negotiate it down a bit, but it is still more than twice my ususal payment. My new boiler is a lot more efficient than the old one, luckily, but I am nonetheless struggling to make ends meet.

So I applied for DHP.

I had an interview on Thursday at our local housing benefit office. 

Rent and council tax are more important than food and fuel, apparently

The interview went as follows:

Firstly, I was asked to give an account of my income and outgoings. 

Housing Officer: What have you done to look for work?

Me: I am in the Employment Support and Allowance Support Group (ESA). This is because I became too ill to work and it’s been agreed by my doctors, myself and the state that I can’t work “consistently, reliably and safely” due to the severity of my illness and the substantial risks I would face if I were to return to the workplace. I have tried to find a job writing from home that pays a wage to support myself, but had no luck so far. 

Housing Officer: What have you done to look for cheaper accommodation?

Me: I wasn’t aware I was expected to. However, there is no cheaper accommodation in the area, unless you have any two bedroom social housing to offer me. Then I would need considerable support in moving, as my illness means I have mobility problems, severe problems with profound fatigue, other health problems that make moving risky, and I also need to be organised to accommodate a strict routine for my health care.

Housing Officer: Have you considered taking in a lodger?

Me: I have no spare room to offer a lodger as my sons occupy them out of term time and are expected to return home once they graduate. However, I would not consider taking a stranger into my home because I am disabled and ill, therefore I am potentially vulnerable and feel that this may present an unacceptable risk to my wellbeing and safety. (See for example: Mother and son who ‘gave shelter to homeless man’ stabbed to death at family home.)

Housing Officer: Your weekly shopping average looks slightly high.

Me: Well at the moment it is for two of us. On Friday my youngest son is home for the Easter break, and I will then need to feed him too.

Housing Officer: I only want details of what you spend on yourself.

Me: Do the council expect that I leave my children without food?

(No response)

Me: My weekly shop includes essential items I can no longer get on prescription, such as eye drops, because my tear film is very poor, I don’t produce tears as I have Sjogren’s – painfully dry eyes – as part of my illness. I used to get moisturising drops on prescription from my opthalmologist but they have been discontinued. If I don’t use the eyedrops my cornea becomes scarred and I get eye infections.

I also have to buy sunblock, because I get a blistering and painful rash in the sunlight, even in winter – that’s also part of my illness.  

I have to buy detergents and toiletries that are very hypoallergenic and gentle because my skin is fragile, hypersensitive, prone to rashes and painful blistering in places because I have lupus and eczema, all of which leaves me prone to infection if I don’t treat the conditions with care. I also have to buy cleaning products and antibacterial items, to keep my home as clean as possible because my illness and treatments mean my immunity to infection is very poor. 

None of these items are available on prescription, but I do unfortunately need them. I have also included very modest clothing/footwear costs (I have to take care with footwear because I have severe Raynaud’s – a condition that causes very poor circulation that shuts down in my hands, feet and nose with even slight fluctuations in temperature – and so I need to keep my feet and hands warm.  I am prone to blisters from badly fitted shoes which then turn into serious infections and have developed sepsis at least once because of this. I also need shoes that are cushioned and support my Achilles tendons because of damage to them and my joints. 

I’ve also included modest costs for essential household items, which everybody needs sometimes due to wear and tear. I have a bleeding disorder, which affects me in a way that means I have to spend more on sanitary items than most people. I also have additional dietary needs because I am underweight, and I have IBS and acid reflux, which means I have to eat small meals frequently throughout the day. This is not a lifestyle choice: it’s because of my medical conditions.

Housing Officer: Don’t take any of the questions personally, everyone is asked the same.

Me: The problem with having the expectation of everyone having the same needs is that you then don’t have any opportunity to recognise the more vulnerable clients who need additional support because of their additional needs. Not everyone finds it easy to find suitable employment to support themselves.  Illness and disability can happen to anyone, it is sometimes a major barrier to working and I am not ill because of “lifestyle choices”: it’s not because of something I did or didn’t do. I have worked. Now I can’t. 

People are dying because of that built-in oversight and other government policies that don’t accommodate people’s circumstances and disregard their additional needs because of disability and illness. Many others are suffering unacceptable distress and harm to their health.

Housing Officer: I know.

She delivered that comment with complete and almost menacing detachment. I was so taken aback I couldn’t speak for a few moments. She didn’t even pause for breath, however.

The part that was by far the worst during the interview was this matter-of-fact agreement that people are dying as a result of the policies that she was calmly sat implementing.

It was delivered almost like a veiled threat: that if I didn’t or couldn’t comply with certain unstated behavioural requirements, which were not made explicit at any point during the interview or prior to it, I would also be left to die. 

I was then told I must “prioritise” my rent and council tax payments above everything else.

I explained that my rheumatology consultant has also told me I must prioritise eating well, putting weight on (I weighed less than 8 stones), and keeping warm. I don’t have enough income to do both of those things, as it is. I explained again that I could meet my husing costs before I had to pay council and bedroom tax, and have managed to do so until now, and this is why I had applied for DHP.

My comment was met with silence. 

Apparently, not falling into rent and council tax arrears is more considered more important than meeting basic survival needs such as eating and keeping warm.

I was also almost casually asked if I had any pets or Sky TV. Next I was asked if I had a TV, broadband and a mobile phone contract. I was asked how much I spend on my phone monthly (it’s a pay as you go). I felt I was being turned into a Daily Mail stereotype by bureaucratic questioning that was designed to find ways of dismissing me as ineligible for support in an arbitrary way, under the cover of mundane chit chat.

The more I responded the more demand was placed on me to justify my outgoings, the more information I presented, the bigger the scope for potentially finding reasons for refusing my application.

ESA and PIP assessments work in much the same way – assessors fish for as much information as possible about your everyday life so they can use it to try and claim you are more able to work and less disabled than you and your doctor are claiming.

For example, “Do you watch soaps on TV?” – a deceptively conversational and informal question – may translate your response on the report potentially, as “Can sit unaided and concentrate for at least half an hour”.  The aims and motives behind the questions are deliberately obscurred, so that you don’t have an opportunity to explain or clarify any details or challenge the assumptions being made to justify ending your lifeline support.

That gold locket and chain that was your mother’s, which you wear all the time because you can’t take it off, as the clasp is too difficult for your arthritic fingers, becomes a sign of finger and hand dexterity to an assessor, as it’s just assumed you take it off and put it on again. When I had a chest x-ray rencently, I had to ask the radiographer to take it off. The whole process is designed to search out ways to discredit your doctor’s and your own account by any means at all concerning the level of your disability and the impact it has on your day to day living and work capability.  

Agents of state control and “changing behaviours”

Behavioural conditionality has now been built into every aspect of social safety net provision, this is to save costs and ultimately, to justify the dismantling of social security, public services and healthcare provision. It is justified by an ideological narrative of the neoliberal “small state”, austerity and paying off the national deficit, the “unsustainability” of safety net provision and the state re-translation of competitive individualism into a rhetoric of self help, thrift and “personal responsibility”.

However, the behavioural change programme is being applied only to poor and vulnerable citizens. Against a backdrop of austerity and welfare “reforms” (cuts), millionaires were awarded a tax cut of £107,000 each per year, exempting them from the same obligation to practice personal responsibility, thrift and self help. The Conservatives’ low tax and low welfare society means that perversely, those who have a lot of money are not expected to contribute to our society, whereas those who are low earners or unemployed are expected to pay down the deficit and pull themselves up by invisible bootstraps.

If you suffer or die in the process, apparently that is okay because the government inform us there is no “causal link” between such “adverse” consequences and their adverse policies. However, a correlation has been well-established by independent research and the narratives of many of those affected by the draconian polcies, as well as campaigners.

What really struck me during my housing benefit interview was how the ordinary and seemingly reasonable woman in front of me seemed to suddenly shapeshift into a resentful, disapproving and prejudiced state drone who didn’t feel I deserved any support, about a third of the way into our interview.  I felt like Iain Duncan Smith was conducting the interview.

The government have built up almost impenetrable walls of authoritarian bureacracy around social security provision, and a hive mind army to deliver their distinctive and punitive approach to poverty, which is now all pervasive. All bullies seek the “behavioural change” of others to get their own way.  Conditionality is built upon a behavioural change agenda to prop up neoliberal policies aimed at removing social provisions that the poorest citizens need to survive. Work is no longer the panacea it is held to be, since labour market deregulation and intentionally low social security creates a reserve army of labour, which “incentivises” profiteering employers to keep wages low. 

Even a trip to your GP is likely to trigger the question “do you work” these days, as job coaches are co-located in surgeries to enforce the government’s “work cure” and suck you back into a supply side reserve army of desperate labour. However, sometimes people are simpy too ill to work. The state and its wall of bureaucracy, however, are absolutely refusing to accept this.

There is no end to intrusive state nudging and shoving, especially when you just want to be left to cope with being progressively ill in peace. The government believe that illness and disability are simply a set of “faulty” behaviours that need correcting, and that people will respond to a particularly punitive form of operant conditioning in order to change their behaviours to bring about a miraculous recovery. Work is considered a “health” outcome. However, work is a work outcome and has nothing whatsoever to do with a person’s health. In my own experience, work considerably contributed to the progression of my illness. Being constantly expected to work has also contributed significantly to the deterioration in my health.

Furthermore, I don’t recall giving consent for my taxes and national insurance to be used to pay rogue companies that cost the public billions to “save” relatively meagre amounts in welfare and public service spending just to punish, bully and coerce people who need support.

Nor did I give consent to a state experiment in value-laden, poorly designed and prejudice-determined operant conditioning on ill, disabled and unemployed citizens. 

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Cameron was surely mocking when he used this phrase as a slogan from Terry Gilliam’s darkly dystopic film, “Brazil”, which was coincidently about nightmarish totalitarian bureaucracy 

There were no innocent and random comments from the interviewing housing officer. Almost every question was geared towards making me feel guilty for being poor and not being in work, I was challenged over every single penny I spent, as if I have no right to food, items that I need to meet my complex health needs, and no right to extend an ordinary gesture of basic kindness and decency by taking in a stray cat that had no home and no-one. I’m surprised I wasn’t asked to sell everything I had bought and kept from when I worked.

I had no idea that disabled people could be refused support if they had a pet. Regardless of whether that pet was one you had when you were in better circumstances, working. How utterly callous to expect people to dispose of their cherished companions when they experience hard times, it’s cruel on the person and cruel on the poor and innocent animal.

Most pets cost very little to feed, too.

My cat is a great source of calm and comfort for me, at a time when I am struggling trying to constantly adapt to a progressive illness, and increasing absolute poverty.  I couldn’t bear to part with her.

I wonder what the decision-makers, who are gatekeeping funds that are meant to support disabled people rather than punish them, expect a person should actually do with a cherished family pet, which may have been a part of a family long before severe financial problems and illness came along.

It’s rather like financially penalising people by cutting off support for some children just because a parent has lost a job and encountered difficult times. It’s a Poor house mentality – we are all categorised as either “deserving” or “undeserving” based on our previous choices as well as our current ones. How very dare anyone have anything at all that gives them a little joy and comfort if they become too ill to work. Even if they worked for it prior to losing their job or becoming ill.

This said, those people who have never been able to work should be supported, unconditionally and without any resentment, to meet their living needs and to lead safe and secure lives. This is how a democratic, decent and civilised society should behave, after all.

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I don’t need a behavioural change agenda. My behaviour didn’t put me in a position of hardship: ill conceived state policies that disproportionately target ill and disabled people for austerity cuts are the root cause of my financial problems. I am not ill because of my behaviour, my medical condition arose because of a complex interplay between genetics (my mother and her father had a connective tissue disease, and both my maternal aunt and uncle do), hormonal events (pregnancy was probably the trigger in my case, as that is when I first became ill, 21 years ago) and possibly some environmental triggers too, such as an infection. It was not because I did or didn’t do something. No-one could have predicted a pregnancy would trigger a connective tissue disease. No-one knows how it will progress either, unfortunately. I managed to work for some years whilst being ill, and stopped only because I absolutely had too when I my symptoms became too severe.

Neoliberalism is founded on the principles of “market competition” and competitive individualism. In competition, a few people do very well and “win”, and many more don’t. That is the nature of competition. This is how it works.

Neoliberalism itself causes inequality and poverty, whilst rewarding most the people who are already very wealthy. Addressing the “behaviours” of poor people to punish them into not being poor won’t change the consequences of inequality because of our socioeconomic organisation one bit. Poverty, by it’s very nature, reduces behavioural choices and opportunity.

It’s really the government who need to change their policies and prejudiced behaviours, not poor, ill and disabled people.

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Related 

What do good Local Welfare Support and Conditionality Schemes look like? – The introduction of local welfare support and conditionality schemes are a side-effect of localisation.


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

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

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A disabled person suffering from cystic fibrosis, who struggles breathing because his lungs function at as low as 31 per cent capacity, has been told that benefits he receives in order to help pay with his healthcare costs will be stopped.

Peter Trengove nearly died three days after he was born because of the illness, which makes it difficult for sufferers to breathe and digest food.

Cystic fibrosis also claimed the life of Peter’s older brother when he was just six years old.

Peter had been in receipt of disability living allowance (DLA) in order to help to pay care costs, but DLA is currently being replaced by personal independence payments (PIP) as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) believes it is “outdated” and “unsustainable”.

Peter received notice on New Year’s Eve that he would have to attend an assessment as part of his PIP application, with forms on how cystic fibrosis affects his day-to-day life taking three hours to fill out.

On Saturday, Peter was informed that his DLA will end next month and that he will not be awarded PIP.

He told the Warrington Guardian: “According to the unqualified professionals at the DWP, cystic fibrosis isn’t a disability and has no effect on the sufferer at all.

“I was informed by the assessor that the decision would not be based on the assessment but on the written evidence given by my consultant – this was something I was relieved about because the assessor saw me on a good day.

“The decision cannot be based on one hour spent with a cystic fibrosis patient, which is why the decision makers should be focussing more on the evidence given by the consultant.

“The assessor claimed I can walk 200m – however no physical evidence was given that I can do this and the assumption was made based on me walking from the waiting room to the assessor’s office, which is less than 5m.”

Peter believes his assessor also disregarded evidence presented from his doctors, including medical notes on a chest infection in October that took three months to treat and a further month to recover from.

Peter had used his DLA for health costs including prescriptions, travel to specialists clinics a 40-mile round trip away and the cost of a personal trainer who helps to keep his lungs working as well as possible.

He is now appealing the decision, but says his health has been affected by the PIP assessment process and the subsequent cut in payments.

Peter added: “Since the assessment I’ve had bad days, which mainly includes not leaving my house unless I really have to in fear of exposure to illness, plus I’ve had no motivation.

People with cystic fibrosis are very prone to chest infections that lead to pneumonia. Catching a cold can put someone with this condition at substantial risk of becoming very seriously ill.

He continued: “I even have to force myself to get ready to go to the gym because I know I’ll basically become ill again if I don’t go.

“Whether I will be motivated tomorrow with the weight of my PIP application outcome lying heavy on my shoulders is a question yet to be answered.

“The only hope I have at present is that by appealing the decision, this will result in the answer I had hoped for on this occasion.”

As Peter points out, the assessment and appeal process for disability related support is very stressful and intrusive, as is the loss of income when the claim is turned down. Stress tends to exacerbate illness.

A spokesman for the DWP said: “Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.

Anyone that disagrees with a decision can ask us to look at it again and if they’re still unhappy with it they can appeal to an independent tribunal.”

When someone is very ill, dealing with day to day living and personal care becomes very difficult. The additional strain of facing a bureaucratic wall of assessments, mandatory reviews and tribunals is having adverse consequences on people who have health vulnerabilities as it is.  

I have been through assessment, tribunal and within three months of winning my appeal, a reassessment. The whole process, which took many months, exacerbated my illness substantially, hastening its progression. I have lupus. I also know only too well how having a limited lung capacity impacts on your day to day living, as mine is currently at 40%. 

The Conservatives claim that their recent authoritarian re-writing of the law, to exclude some categories of support for some kinds of disability, is to ensure that those in “most need” receive support. That is not happening. The category of “most in need” is being redefined to exclude more and more people who are struggling meet their basic living needs and cope with their disability. 

Perversely, the government claims that cutting disability support “incentivises” disabled people into work. Sanctions and cuts are described by Conservative ministers as “help” and “support” – a breathtakingly Orwellian doublespeak tactic.

Yet ESA benefit is only awarded to people that doctors and assessors acting on behalf of the state have deemed unfit for work. The recent re-titling of the minister for disabled people’s role to “Minister for disabled people, health and work indicates plainly that the government intends to continue to coerce people who have previously been exempted from work by both the state and by people’s doctors into work. 

The government have refused to accept that there is a well established correlation between their draconian cuts to disability support and severe psychological distress, material hardship, harm and sometimes, premature death

The commonly associated deterioration in people’s already poor health because of the unrelenting strain of facing the bureacratic wall – politically designed to ensure and enforce cuts to disabled people’s lifeline support provision and save costs on spending – is adding additional strain and cost to our NHS. It’s a false economy. As people’s health deteriorates further, they are more likely to need more social care support, too.

The majority of people who become ill and disabled have worked, contributed tax and national insurance, which was in part meant to contribute to social safety nets for people who may, through no fault of their own, face hardships because they became ill or had an accident which resulting in disability.  

The money we pay for publicly funded provisions and services is not the government’s money to cut and re-allocate to millionaires in the form of substantial tax cuts. Against the backdrop of the Conservative ideologically driven, neoliberal austerity programme, which disproportionately targeted disabled people, cuts to lifeline benefits were offset with a tax cut for millionaires, who gained £107, 000 each per year. 

Disabled people who are struggling to meet the cost of their basic survival needs are awarded on average £6,000 per year, excluding a PIP award, if they somehow manage to get through the repressive bureaucratic wall composed of the work capability assessment, mandatory review, (without any income), and the appeal process.

This is what David Cameron meant when he attacked what he dubbed a “culture of entitlement.” It means the systematic dismantling of our welfare state, a cut at a time. It means the dismantling of other social gains that we made following the postwar settlement, such as the NHS, social housing and legal aid. It means a regressive and oppressive government that deliberately fails to observe the basic human rights of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

In one of the wealthiest so-called democracies in the world, we have an authoritarian government that is imposed draconian policies which are all about punishment and taking money from our poorest citizens, causing them severe material hardship, physical harm and lasting psychological damage.

That is not a decent, civilised or remotely democratic thing to do.

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

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Poor working and social conditions are being propped up by the mass provision of CBT

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According to the Counsellor’s Guide to Working with EAP, by 2013, almost 50% of the UK workforce was supported by an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), representing 13.79 million people. The EAP industry began in the UK during the mid-1980s and has since become firmly established, with a rapid expansion in schemes following the recommendations made by Carol Black and David Frost in their report on sickness absence (Black & Frost, 2011). A high percentage of the larger public and private sector organisations and an increasing number of small to medium sized enterprises provide their employees with access to some form of short-term EAP service.  

The EAP association say, in their 2013 Market Watch report: “The difficult economic climate of the past five years may also be a driver, as employers look to support staff with non-work related issues to prevent these from intruding on the workplace.”

The Conservative’s austerity programme in the UK has presented the wellbeing industry with many lucrative business opportunities, and there are many profits being made on the growing poverty, inequality, social injustices and inevitable subsequent psychological distress of the population.

The relentless political drive towards the privatisation of government functions has turned traditional public services, social security and other safety net provision into profit-making enterprises as well. 

A major cause of economic inequality within market economies such as the UK is the determination of wages by the market. The systematic (and partisan) undermining of trade unions over recent years via Conservative legislation has seen the collapse of collectivism as the main way of regulating employment, and a substantial loss of space for bargaining for working rights, conditions and pay. The substantial cuts to social security support over the past few years have also served to drive wages down further

Neoliberalism, which was adopted as an overarching socioeconomic policy during the Thatcher and Reagan era onward, is premised on an idea that tight monetary control will contain inflation, and that labour market deregulation combined with regressive tax and benefit reform will somehow secure full employment. The expectation is that the more unequal redistribution of income and the freeing up of markets will dramatically improve competitive economic performance, and that the benefits of this higher rate of growth will trickle down the income distribution, benefiting everyone. Of course, that hasn’t happened.

The CBT technocratic sticking plaster

EAPs commonly use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – usually in digital form – online or by phone – and it’s a “workplace-focused programme” to assist in the identifying and resolving of employee concerns, which affect, or may affect, performance. Such employee concerns typically include, but are not limited to:

Personal matters – health, relationship, family, financial, emotional, legal, anxiety, alcohol, drugs and other related issues.

Work matters – work demands, fairness at work, working relationships, harassment and bullying, personal and interpersonal skills and work/life balance.

According to NHS Choices, Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.

CBT is a talking therapy that can help you manage YOUR problems by changing the way YOU think and behave. It doesn’t address your circumstances as such, nor does it address the socioeconomic and political context that imposes constraints and increasingly untenable living conditions on people.

In fact, the briefing document for counsellors working with EAP says:

“When working with an EAP referral it is important to remember that the organisation is your client as well as the individual concerned, therefore there will be two people who will be ‘in the room’ with you. It is, after all, the employer that is indirectly funding the sessions. Developing your understanding of the organisation will help you work with both ‘clients’ since an insight into the type of business and the pressures of this work can help you build up a rapport with the client.

[…] The employer is often keen to know whether the support offered by the EAP is having a business benefit. This will be part of the implicit or explicit requirements of the employer and they may need to have evidence of any return on investment. For instance, is there evidence that the employee/client has returned to work more quickly as a result of the counselling? Has the counselling prevented the client from taking time off work for sickness?”

This presents a constraining framework of conflicted interests for counsellors with favourable “outcomes” invariably weighted towards employers and not employees. How, for example, does a counsellor support someone in a decision to leave their job and find another with better conditions, more security and pay? In this context, the mass provision of CBT may be regarded as a technocratic “fix” for poor employment and social conditions, and is rather more about policing critical thinking and dissenting behaviours in the workplace than providing support for employees. Treating each individual as if the problems lie “within” their thoughts and behaviours also serves to discourage collective bargaining to improve workplace (and social) conditions.  

Although the briefing paper doesn’t tell us if 50% of the UK workforce have actually accessed the EAP services, the perceived need for this service provision and the growth of the industry tells us a lot about employment and social conditions in the UK.

And what does the mass provision of CBT tell us about how this is being addressed?

CBT has become a means of re-socialising those who have become casualities of neoliberalism to accept and internalise the normative “logic” of neoliberalism. It’s a repressive state “therapy” for micromanaging dissent and critical thinking. It inhibits progressive social change, by locating all of our socioeconomic and political problems within the thoughts and behaviours of individuals.

Meanwhile private providers are making lots of profit on something that can never work in the long term. By coercing individuals to accept the terrible burdens and ravages of neoliberalism, the state and coopted agencies are propping up a socioeconomic system that is collapsing and in the process, it is profoundly harming people.

 
 

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