Bedroom Max – Rupert Dreyfus


An introduction to Rupert Dreyfus

Rupert writes sardonic and transgressive fiction, (a genre of literature that centres on characters who feel oppressed by the norms and expectations of society and who rebel against those confines, usually written in the first person) which he uses to make incisive social and political commentary, blended with a distinctive brand of iconoclasm and sharp, dark wit.  

No-one at the moment is doing more to break down the artificial divisions in writing – between realism, surrealism, social and political satire, commentary, alternative narrative and dissidence – than Rupert.

He also writes for the arts and culture section of Scisco Media and the occasional polemic for Consented.

He says: “Prior to the rise of the internet, artists of all stripes have previously been locked out of a nepotic creative industry, unable to reach their intended audience. The barrier is rooted in neoliberalism where a handful of businesspeople decided what the rest of us should read, watch, listen to and generally consume as entertainment. Everything else wasn’t permitted to enter the creative landscape.

This antidemocratic model would encourage creatives to follow market trends in order to increase their profitability and in turn their likelihood of getting corporate backing. Meanwhile originality would be pushed to the fringes where people rarely look.

Yet we don’t have to be art critics to know that being profitable and creating good art aren’t necessarily the same thing. Neither is the amount of sales a yardstick for authenticity.”

Rupert speaks to us about the soul-diminishing absurdity of the times we live in. It’s an era of multimedia and we are inundated with executive memos from the establishment. Yet we are isolated and lonely. He pushes at boundaries to expose the fragile illusion of consensus and a facade democracy. He tells us about the tragedy of mediocrity and the outrage of blandly prepackaged dehumanisation and discloses strategies for maintaining a sense of identity and resisting the soul death of conformity in the concrete theatre of society, where there is little safety and solace and very few enclaves. He describes the precariousness of our lived experiences in highly entropic, post industrial, very corporate, vulture capitalist, authoritarian urban contexts and the ritualistic planet consuming preposterousness and utter claustrophobia of a toxic, cloying, overarching, totalising neoliberal ideology. 

As US punk band Anti-Flag say in their 2012 track “The Neoliberal Anthem”: Strap in and watch the world decay!  

However even counterculture and contemporary agitprop are being mainstreamed, prepackaged, reduced and pre-rationalised by the ever devouring neoliberal profit culture, as Joe Stummer once observed: “They got Burton suits, ha, you think it’s funny, turning rebellion into money.”

The X Factor was one bastard child of the facile mass market mentality – a neoliberal conspiracy of the bland; we are damned to forever aspire only to the condition of muzak. Unless we recognise that we must rebel. 

And democracy is not something we have: it’s something we always have to do.

Power corrupts, so it must be ordinary citizens that change the world. 

Rupert’s brilliant works provide us with an antidote for the asinine of neoliberalism. 

So, without further ado, here is an excellent short story from the Rupester.



 Bedroom Max

If you really must know, it all went downhill for me and the campaign one freezing cold Monday morning back in early February. Like every other Monday morning I woke up bright and early, sat in total silence, spooned salted porridge down my throat and spent a good three hours studying the financial news in great detail. I remember being saddened to learn that a once popular chain of stationery shops called Paper Cuts had gone into liquidation over the weekend resulting in nearly two thousand scheduled redundancies.

‘It breaks your heart,’ I whispered, tears building in my eyes. ‘Those poor businessmen; will this pain never end for them?’

Determined to do all that I could for the economy I headed off to Harts Close with my placard and flask of tea, ready for another day of campaigning. You may already know, but Harts Close is one of the poorest estates in the north-west which is charmingly poor when you think how poor the north-west is in general. Even some of the affluent parts of the north-west look not unlike shantytowns in the developing world so imagine what one of the poorest estates looks like. But it’s all justified when you think how shiny our capital is. We mustn’t forget that spending hardworking taxpayers’ money outside of London is like putting banknotes through a paper shredder.

That particular morning I was the first to arrive at Harts Close, beating my fellow campaigners by a good ten minutes. I began to set up the campaign stall for our Spare Bedrooms Are a Crime Against the Economy petition, hoping to recruit some new members to the cause although I wasn’t holding out on this.

As I prepped the stall and waited for the other campaigners to join me, I was taken aback when I saw one of those appalling creatures leaving his home. With such high levels of unemployment at Harts Close he clearly wasn’t off to work hard and get along; he was off to, and it punishes my gag reflex having to say it, sign on.

With a leaflet outlining all of the key information of our campaign, I approached him though being extra careful not to get too close in case he was contagious.

‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘I wonder if you’d be interested in signing our petition.’

‘I would do but I’ve got to be on the shop floor in less than half an hour. I’m afraid I haven’t got time-’

‘Haven’t got time to learn what you can do for your country?’ I said, cutting him off.

‘Sorry,’ he replied, dropping the attitude. ‘I didn’t realise you were collecting for combat wounded veterans.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Then who are you with?’

‘My name is Maxwell Bashmore,’ I told him. ‘And I’m with the Taxpayers’ Battalion.’

‘The who?’

‘The Taxpayers’ Battalion. We’re a charity which represents all taxpayers in the United Kingdom; even those who disagree with us.’

‘I’ve never heard of you.’

I proceeded to explain that the Taxpayers’ Battalion has been on Question Time forty-nine times in the last three years and that we have a website which receives no fewer than seventy-five individual hits per quarter. But none of this seemed to impress him. He just gawped at me as if I was speaking in some obscure unga-bunga jungle language.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘That’s all very well, but what do you actually campaign for?’

‘Our main objective is to raise awareness that everybody is a taxpayer first, human being second. But once you realise that all you ever are and all you ever will be is a taxpayer, the human being in you quite rightly dies.’

‘And what about this petition?’ the panhandler asked. ‘What’s it actually for?’

‘If you really must know we are campaigning to strengthen the laws of the so-called bedroom tax so that we, the taxpayers, don’t have to subsidise you, the unemployed, with any more absurdly unfair spare bedrooms when a sleeping bag and a park bench meets the minimum requirement for a night’s sleep.’

‘But I’m not unemployed.’

‘Of course you are; you all are. And once this petition has enough signatures we’re campaigning to make sure that you’re no longer able to receive anything other than dried pasta and tins of spam after the next election. We think it’s only fair considering that we are taxpayers and you’re not, and therefore we should get to decide where every last penny is allocated which should only be towards strengthening the economy rather than funding the lifestyles of the unemployed. As non-tax paying subjects you should just be thankful that you’re allowed to breathe the same air as the rest of us although we are presently thinking of ways that we can tax oxygen for the unemployed, too. I’ve actually got some ideas which I’m going to run by our local member of parliament this afternoon. And he’s a member of the Conservative Party so there’s a good chance he’ll be on board.’

‘I’m not interested,’ this monstrosity told me while he started to walk away.

‘Not interested in saving the British economy?’ I yelped. ‘Not interested in helping your government to cut the deficit?’

‘Nope,’ he said as he continued to walk in the direction of the dole queue. ‘Not interested at all.’

‘That’s right!’ I told him as I shook my fist at his shrinking silhouette. ‘Go and hang around the job centre all day, getting free work experience at the taxpayers’ expense! It’s because of people like you that Paper Cuts went into administration over the weekend. How you all sleep at night…!’

‘Get beeped!’ he shouted while holding up his middle finger.

It probably comes as no surprise that this was a typical exchange with the residents of Harts Close. They just don’t want to listen to common sense politics. They are overwhelmingly joyous with the thought of dousing taxpayers’ money in gasoline and then setting it on fire. Every last one of them.

Before long the other campaigners arrived slightly later than usual. Well I say others; I actually mean Trevor and George. The campaign had consisted of only three members since its inception, but back then we were utterly convinced that the rest of the taxpaying community would slowly grow to accept that we were speaking for all taxpayers. I suppose we had the producers of Question Time to thank for helping us with this. And before you say it: no the BBC doesn’t disproportionately represent members of the far right as to reinforce the impression that the whole of Britain longs to live under a dictatorship. They’re quite clearly part of the biased liberal media brigade dreamed up by Trotskyists in an effort to covertly support the red menace during the interwar period.

‘Morning, gentlemen.’

‘Sorry we’re late,’ Trevor said. ‘We were delayed by a car crash on the dual carriageway. An ambulance held us up for about ten minutes.’

‘Were there any injuries?’

‘I don’t think so,’ George said with his whiny voice. ‘The driver looked a bit shook up, but she was able to use her mobile phone.’

‘And did you get out of your car and protest?’

‘Why would we do that?’

‘Because it’s quite clearly a waste of taxpayers’ money. If this selfish crow had suffered a compound fracture or whiplash then an ambulance, at a push, might be warranted. But if she was capable of using her mobile phone then she was blinking well capable of either driving to the hospital for a check-up or not using any tax funded medical facilities whatsoever thus saving hardworking taxpayers’ money. And clearly the latter scenario would’ve been the preferred outcome for the hardworking British taxpayer who we tirelessly represent through our working hard and getting along. And I bet she wore trousers, too, which is an absolute disgrace to women everywhere. She really is the worst person I’ve ever met in my life.’

‘Of course,’ Trevor said.

‘And don’t you remember the report I wrote last summer?’ I continued. ‘The average ambulance call-out costs the taxpayer exactly three thousand and fifty-six pounds and twenty-seven pence. Which is why we need to privatise the NHS – and fast. Poor people get a headache for five minutes these days and they think they’ve got a brain tumour; it’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. Not to mention all those lives which they save; day in, day out. And research suggests that five percent of those survivors haven’t ever paid taxes so it’s an absurdly unfair system we have. The Americans have got it spot on: if you can’t afford healthcare then you should learn to live with your illnesses and, if necessary, die quietly. Anyway; let’s get on with helping the economy back to good health so our hypothetical children’s children don’t have to spend their entire lives cutting the deficit. The unemployed are going to be leaving their homes any minute now and I’ve only managed to set up half of the leaflets. Well I say their homes, but we all know who picks up the tab at the end of the month.’

We proceeded to spend the morning like any other Monday morning; drinking from our flasks and campaigning against the unemployed. Every time one of these spongers walked passed the stall we would wave our placards and ask them to sign our petition to strengthen the laws of the bedroom tax. But they never did; they just kept on living their economically inactive lives without a care where our money was being spent. Some of them would tell us to beep! off while others would make rude hand gestures when they walked on by. And whenever they actually tried to express their uninformed opinions, we would put our fingers in our ears and drown out their voices by repeating our motto over and over. And if you really must know, our motto goes like this: let’s all face the facts; life would be better if we didn’t support the weak with our tax!

One day very soon it’ll be the national anthem.

It was close to midday when things went from bad to worse. We hadn’t obtained a single signature, and I could tell that Trevor and George weren’t happy with my earlier comments regarding their failure to protest on behalf of all British taxpayers. But truth be told the three of us had been on bad terms for at least a month. During our last meeting it had come to light that Trevor’s eldest niece was a member of the same local library we tried to close down last year while George admitted that he’s recently had to cancel his private medical insurance. This means they both might as well be placing taxpayers’ money in a space shuttle and sending it to the moon so that future alien visitors can place it inside a museum and laugh at it at our expense. Of course I had let them both know how disappointed I was at the situation and it had been straining our campaign for some time.

‘Shall we take a break, gentlemen?’ I said. Trevor and George looked at each other and then swung their heads back to me. ‘What is it?’

‘I’m afraid we’re retiring from the Taxpayers’ Battalion,’ Trevor told me.

‘You mean you’re giving up?’


‘Both of you?’

‘I’m afraid so.’

‘But why?’

‘To be honest,’ George said. ‘We think you’re just a little too obsessed with paying taxes.’

‘What do you expect?’ I snapped. ‘I’m treasurer of the Taxpayers’ Battalion! Of course I’m just a little too obsessed with paying taxes. And I won’t stop being just a little too obsessed until the welfare state is nothing more than a lump of rock and everyone has insurance for everything – even those who can’t afford it. In fact especially those who can’t afford it. It is all of our duty to see that this something-for-nothing-culture-of-entitlement someday comes to an end. But not including the monarchy, of course, because they’re good for the economy and are rightly exempt from the bedroom tax.’

But there was no convincing the pair of them. I could only watch as George and Trevor placed down their placards and walked away from our campaign stall, leaving me all alone at Harts Close.

‘Blinking traitors!’

Right there I knew that I had to campaign harder than ever. I had to do everything I could to strengthen the British economy…

…but first it was time to visit my local member of parliament. You probably know the chap; he’s called Montgomery ‘Monty’ Pyeman-Hondo-Basildon-Skrog III. He’s a decent gentleman who understands that the only thing which is wrong with the free markets are those people who aren’t working hard enough and getting along like all decent people were born to do. They think this world is for having fun or something.

So I went to Monty’s surgery at around about lunchtime. I walked straight to the receptionist’s desk and introduced myself.

The receptionist looked up at me. ‘Hello, Mister Bashmore,’ she said while combing her mousey hair with her fingers. ‘Glad you could make it. Monty is expecting you. If you’d like to follow me.’

I trailed behind the receptionist who led me down a labyrinth of corridors. Meanwhile I told her all about my love for this green and pleasant land. I also explained how immigration is technically responsible for every crime ever committed and that the European Union headquarters is an exact replica of Stalin’s moustache if you turn it upside down so it’s a ruddy good job we got out before they made us all speak Russian. I was reassured to see that she agreed with me wholeheartedly. However, she seemed quietly offended when I told her that her job was a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.

When we finally reached Monty’s office she knocked on the door three times and waited.

From the other side of the door we heard: ‘You may enter!’

The receptionist pushed her way inside. ‘This is the one o’clock appointment,’ she said to Monty before disappearing the way she’d come.

I found Monty sitting at a Victorian writing table in his office, a quill pen in his right hand. He had a spectacular handlebar moustache and was wearing an old leather aviator hat. He was sitting beneath a large oil painting of the handsome Baroness Thatcher. Now there’s a remarkable lady! She knew the true meaning of democracy. If you really must know democracy has absolutely nothing to do with people taking control of their communities and everything to do with supporting the free markets. Every single democratic decision must strengthen the economy; no matter how many people suffer as a consequence. The economy must come first. If you don’t agree with this elementary fact of life then you’ve been brainwashed by cultural Marxism which, by the way, is a serious academic study.

‘Isn’t she a lovely piece of skirt?’ Monty said.

‘Margret Thatcher?’

‘I mean the receptionist.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘She might be a lovely piece of skirt, Mister Pyeman-Hondo-Basildon-Skrog III, but she’s also a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.’

‘Please,’ Monty said while fixing his Union Jack dickie bow tie and making his way over to the fridge. ‘Call me Monty. I’m one of the lads really and this is why I understand exactly what the average working man wants which is to work hard and get along. Would you like a bottle of ME, ME, ME?’

‘And what’s that exactly?’


‘Is it British?’

‘Brewed in Middle England hence the name ME, ME, ME.’

‘Then don’t mind if I do.’

I watched as my best friend Monty opened up the fridge door and grabbed two bottles of beer. As he walked back to the table he cracked them open with a bottle opener. ‘I can’t wait for the big game at the weekend. I hope they play Johnson up front again and stick with the four-four-two formation. That seemed to work marvellously for them last weekend.’

‘You’re just like a normal person.’

‘Of course I am. I smoke cigarettes; I fancy women; I studied military history at university and I go to watch football matches at the weekend. Sometimes I even hunt defenceless wild animals with my specially trained pack of wolves and then watch as they get ripped to bits. It’s what real men do. So what can I do for you, Mister Bashmore?’

As Monty handed me a beer I proceeded to reel off my shopping list of policy ideas. These included things like no votes for the unemployed, introducing the whip for unskilled workers, banning all technology which has been invented since nineteen fifty-nine, giving the vote to small to medium sized businesses, competitive Morris dancing the new national sport.

Monty looked genuinely interested, nodding his head and twiddling the ends of his moustache. ‘Sounds like common sense politics to me,’ he said. ‘I’ll certainly put some of this forward at the coming Prime Minister’s questions. Especially the policy advocating compulsory business studies at infant schools. I’m surprised we didn’t include that in our last manifesto. Or perhaps we did. I must confess I haven’t had the time to read it properly. I just liked the title: Making People Work Hard and Get Along.’

‘So how are you finding your first week as Shaftsborough’s new member of parliament even though you’re from the opposite end of the country and have never even been here before in your life?’

‘It’s been a whirl. We have the corporate media on our side so nothing can possibly go wrong. They basically tell people who to blame which is never the people in charge and always those who have minimal influence on the political process, and the little people fall for it every time. This country really is a flock of sheep and we hate them all.’


‘It really is. And at any given moment there’s approximately thirty percent of the electorate which bought into this hilarious joke that we’re on their side if only they follow our instructions. We’re struggling to work out who this thirty percent of the electorate actually are because our policies quite clearly only benefit about six people in the entire country and they’re all worth more money than sense – hence the massive donations.’

‘That’s incredible.’

‘But do you want to know what the clincher is?’

‘Please tell me.’

‘Every time somebody writes a protest song or a ridiculous short story which is attempting to be clever but is actually a load of fluffy hippy nonsense, another fifty people join our club.’ Monty paused and then looked over at me. ‘We’re like Medusa; try to cut one of our heads off and six more will grow back in its place. And we turn people to stone.’ He then looked at me. ‘So tell me again, old boy. What is it you do?’

‘I’m treasurer of the Taxpayers’ Battalion,’ I told him. ‘A charity which campaigns against the unemployed.’

‘Fantastic. You’re a true patriot.’

‘I love my country’s economy.’

‘Me too. Perhaps I’ll make a donation. I take it you could make good use of five thousand English pounds? I say, old boy; have you heard the one about the Belgian plumber?’

‘I don’t believe I have.’

So as Monty told this hilarious joke that insults women, environmentalists, wheelchair users and Islam he wrote out a cheque. Afterwards I thanked him and left his office.

I then made my way to my only job that day. I should explain that before I ended up here I used to be a self-employed children’s entertainer. I used my profession as an opportunity to teach children how to be a true patriot. That afternoon I was performing for a room full of six year olds. I can’t remember the occasion; perhaps it was one of their birthdays.

I started with my usual puppet routine where English Bob would demonstrate the failings of multiculturalism by having to speak Punjabi whenever he visited his local corner shop because the brown-skinned non-British subject behind the till couldn’t speak a single word of English. I then went on to the next lesson.

‘Right, children,’ I said. ‘Put your hands up if you want to answer a question.’

Immediately there were thirty-something little hands waving at me and a chorus of: ‘I do! I do!’

I pointed at this one little girl. ‘What’s your name?’

My name is Holly.’

‘That’s a fine British name, Holly. Why don’t you tell everybody what you want to be when you grow up?’

‘I want to be a nurse.’

This is a typical example of our lefty nation gone absolutely mental. Children nearly always want to work in the public sector; policemen, firemen, doctors. It’s as if they have this innate desire to want to help others. It was my mission to make sure that they all left Maxwell’s Laissez-Faire Circus Show wanting to pursue a career in corporate management.

‘No you don’t.’

‘I do.’

‘No you don’t, Holly. Do you know what taxes are?’ Holly shook her head and furrowed her eyebrows. I then spent several minutes explaining to Holly the horrors of paying taxes only to see your hard-earned money being turned into hamster bedding by drug addicts and benefit cheats. Afterwards she agreed to show an interest in the retail sector. Another life saved from the rampant red menace.

Finally I taught them the most important lesson of all; the lesson which all true patriots learn way before they learn how to tie their own shoelaces.

‘Right, children,’ I said. ‘Who wants a sweetie?’ Predictably all the children began to scream with excitement. ‘There is just one problem. I only have this one packet of sweeties. Admittedly there are enough sweeties for everybody in the room, but that’s not how the real world works. So I’m going to give this packet of sweeties to just one of you and then I want you to eat them all. Even if you feel fat and greedy, and the other children go hungry; just eat them all and don’t share them with anybody else. Laugh in their faces and tell them that they’re not getting any sweeties. Can you do this for me?’

‘But I share with my friends all the time,’ came this squeaky voice.

‘Well you’re definitely not getting any sweeties then. Anybody else here likes to share?’

A few other children admitted to sharing so I told them that they’ve got no chance either. I then gave the sweeties to a child who promised not to pass them on to anybody else.

‘Sharing isn’t caring,’ I told them all. ‘Sharing is weakness. Be greedy, children, for this world is a wretched place and everybody is thy enemy.’

And that was the end of the show. You really have to get them while they’re young and beat out any niceness from their little hearts so they’re ready to step in to the boring world of doing business.

As I walked the streets in the direction of home I began to feel deflated. This was, of course, everything to do with Trevor and George’s sudden exit from the campaign. I told myself that the only way I could pick myself up was by going back to Harts Close with a megaphone and campaigning against the unemployed harder than ever.

It was four o’clock in the afternoon when I arrived for the second time that day. Most of the unemployed had been out on their shopping sprees and were now taking hard drugs in their mansions.

I put the speaker to my lips and began to yelp: ‘This is a message for the residents of Harts Close! We all know that you’re a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, but it’s not too late! You can turn your lives of dependency around and be free; free to work long hours and wear corporate uniforms! Free to buy things like televisions and computer games and legal drugs like alcohol if you really must; just make sure it’s British by checking the label. And everything in moderation because the British economy must come first!’

It was round about here that this little imp, dressed head to toe in cheap sportswear, tapped me on the shoulder and started to hurl abuse at me. ‘What the beep! are you going on about?’

I lowered my megaphone. ‘Would you like to sign the petition?’

‘What petition?’

‘The petition to strengthen the laws of the bedroom tax.’

‘My auntie died because of the bedroom tax.’

‘No she didn’t.’

‘Yes she did.’

‘No she didn’t. You’ve clearly read that in the biased liberal media.’

‘The biased liberal what?’

‘The biased liberal media. I’ll give you a lesson about life, little fellow; the biased liberal media is propaganda written by people who long for the days of the Soviet Union; days when everybody had to wear military clothes that didn’t fit properly and went to work on horseback even though the West had long invented the automobile because we’re far superior. And just so you know; loads of people starved to death under Stalin, too. Unlike here in Britain where nobody goes without. Is that what you really want to see happen to our green and pleasant land, little fellow? Is it?’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ this misguided little scamp said to me, becoming increasingly hostile. ‘All I know is that my disabled auntie died because the government stopped paying for her home. My mum found her dead in the kitchen shortly afterwards. Apparently the stress of having to move out had caused her to have a stroke.’

‘You should be careful what you read in the biased liberal newspapers or before you know it you’ll be wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and joining a union for champagne socialists.’

‘Champagne who?’

‘Champagne socialists. Listen, basically anybody in employment who criticizes the status quo is a champagne socialist. And, yes, the concept of a champagne socialist is a logical fallacy but I’m not interested in logic; I’m interested in common sense politics.’

‘Well, I didn’t read it in the papers,’ he said. ‘I learned it from my family.’

‘But that’s how good the biased liberal media are at lying to people; they can make you believe anything. It’s almost like hypnosis. The only news we can trust these days is the financial news written by patriotic corporations that love our country. Everything else is a big, fat lie told by champagne socialists who wear red socks and hate our freedom to buy things.’

To my surprise and disgust a policeman approached us. ‘Is everything alright?’

‘This little fellow here needs his mother,’ I told the officer. ‘Although I’m presuming she’s probably long overdosed on wacky tobacky reefer spliffs or whatever they call them. Can you see that he gets home safely, officer?’

‘Actually,’ the policeman said. ‘We’ve had a complaint about you, sir.’

‘What a complete waste of taxpayers’ money,’ I muttered. ‘What’s the complaint regarding?’

‘We’ve had numerous calls from local residents who are concerned about a gentleman disrupting the local community with a megaphone. He won’t listen when they tell him to move along.’

‘That’s preposterous!’

‘Apparently it’s like talking to a sculpture made out of human excrement. They’ve all been out on the street, asking you to move along, but you won’t listen. You just parade around the estate, telling people that they’re a waste of taxpayers’ money. I’ve actually been shown the evidence on several mobile phone devices. It’s as if you’re wearing industrial headphones the way you refuse to listen to anybody. They’re asking you to go away, but you just won’t listen. So I’m asking you kindly, sir, please will you put the megaphone away and move along.’

This, of course, was an outrageous lie. Nobody had been out to talk to me; they were all too busy smoking crack heroin drug pipes and watching repeats of Jeremy Springle to worry about what I was up to.

‘This is a scandal!’ I yelped. ‘I am Maxwell Bashmore; an upstanding, taxpaying member of the taxpaying community. I work hard and I get along more than anybody in the world! In fact I technically pay your wages so you should be doing exactly what I tell you to. Officer, I demand that you carry out a thorough investigation into these slanderous comments and make the necessary arrests.’

‘You’re not my boss and that’s not how slander works. Now I’ve asked you politely to move along, but it appears that you don’t want to listen to the law either.’

‘Blinking traitor!’

But it was no use; this officer proceeded to read me my rights and then he took me to the police station. All the while I calculated how much this terrible mistake was costing the hardworking British taxpayer and kept everybody present updated.

When I arrived at the station I got one free telephone call which turned out to be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. I made the call to my best friend Monty. It was the receptionist who picked up. When I told her who I was, she put me straight through.

‘Who is this?’ Monty said.

‘It’s Maxwell Bashmore.’


‘Maxwell Bashmore. We had an appointment earlier this afternoon. You really liked my policy idea about using homeless people for military target practice.’

‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘I remember now. The true patriot. Have you heard the joke about the Polish hairdresser?’

‘I haven’t got time for jokes and I never find them genuinely funny anyway.’

‘But this one offends transgenders, donkeys and children under the age of five all in one fell swoop. It’s hilarious.’

‘Please listen to me.’

‘What is it, Maxwell? You sound a little crabby.’

‘I’m at the station.’

‘Which station?’

‘The police station.’

‘What happened?’

‘I’ve been arrested for breaching the peace, but it’s a wild conspiracy theory invented by the entire political left who want to silence any kind of sensible debate with their political correctness gone stark raving bonkers.’

‘Don’t call here again.’

And with that the phone went down.

I should probably tell you that I haven’t spoken to Monty since that call although I know that deep down we’re the best of friends. He’s just like a normal person and he thinks about me every day. He really cares about the future of the British economy.

But it’s what happened next that really hurt: using taxpayers’ money I was taken to court and was found guilty of breaching the peace. It was, of course, lie after lie after lie. All of them lying out of their backsides; including the judge and the jury. All of them blinking traitors. Regardless I was sentenced to fourteen days in prison.

But the misery doesn’t end there either! A criminal record meant that once I’d been released from prison I could no longer work with children. After using Monty’s donation to cover my legal expenses I was immediately faced with the predicament of having to either, and I loathe to have to say it again, sign on or go homeless. Like a true patriot I chose to go homeless which is how I ended up under this motorway bridge, drinking turps and huddling round this burning metal skip with you lot.

And if you really must know I’ve worked out that if I remain homeless for the next five years, three months and five days I will have technically paid back everything I have taken from the hardworking British taxpayer by refusing to receive any benefits. Then, when my life is finally back on track, I’ll be back to campaign until the welfare state is no more.

Rupert Dreyfus, 2016.

Rupert Dreyfus has been causing mischief in the literary world since 2014 by taking swipes at the establishment, those nightmarish corporations which seem hell-bent on turning our world into one giant supermarket and the arse end of the status quo. His first novel, Spark, was released in 2014 and his first collection of short stories, The Rebel’s Sketchbook, was released the year after, receiving widespread acclaim.

Links to Rupert’s books – guerrilla fiction for the Digital Age 

Spark: Rupert Dreyfus/

The Rebel’s Sketchbook: Rebel’s Sketchbook. –Mr Rupert Dreyfus/


Government backs new law to prevent people made homeless through government laws from becoming homeless


Theresa May’s ritualistic Tory chanting: “getting people’s lives back on track”

Earlier this month, Theresa May surprisingly unveiled a £40 million package designed to prevent homelessness by intervening to help individuals and families before they end up on the streets. It was claimed that the “shift” in government policy will move the focus away from dealing with the consequences of homelessness and place prevention “at the heart” of the Prime Minister’s approach. 

Writing in the Big Issue magazine – sold by homeless people – May said: “We know there is no single cause of homelessness and those at risk can often suffer from complex issues such as domestic abuse, addiction, mental health issues or redundancy.”

“So I believe it’s time we changed our approach. We can no longer focus on tackling the symptoms and immediate consequences of homelessness. We need to put prevention at the heart of a new approach.

“As a first step towards this change, I’m announcing a new £40 million package to both prevent and tackle the causes of homelessness. This will include £20 million for local authorities to pilot innovative initiatives to tackle the causes of homelessness – helping to find solutions for families and individuals before they reach crisis point.”

Earlier this year it was revealed that under David Cameron’s administration homelessness in England had risen by 54 per cent since 2010

This reflected the sixth consecutive annual rise, with households becoming homeless in London increasing to 17,530 (9 per cent) in the last year alone and 58,000 households across the whole of England.

That’s during six consecutive years of the Conservatives in Office, and six years of savage austerity measures that target the poorest citizens disproportionately, by coincidence.

Or by correlation.

There are a few causes that the prime minister seems to have overlooked, amidst the Conservative ritualistic chanting which reflects assumptions and prejudices about the “causal” factors of social problems and a narrative of individualism. It’s a curious fact that wealthy people also experience “complex issues” such as addiction, mental health problems and domestic abuse, but they don’t tend to experience homelessness and poverty as a result. 

The deregulated private sector and increasingly precarious tenancies

Announcing the Government’s support of the bill, Mr Javid said: “No one should have to sleep rough on the streets. We want to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. That’s why we are determined to do all we can to help those who lose their homes and provide them with the support they need to get their lives back on track.

“This Government is therefore, very pleased to support Bob Blackman MP’s Private Members Bill, with its ambitious measures to help reduce homelessness.”

Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, said he welcomed the Government’s decision. He added: “Throughout my 24 years in local government prior to becoming an MP, I saw the devastation that can be caused by homelessness first hand, with too many people simply slipping through the net under the current arrangements.

“By backing this bill, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to an agenda of social justice and also shows that it is willing to listen. I look forward to working with Ministers going forward in order to bring about this important change in legislation.”

Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, welcomed the Government’s commitment but warned that unless “MPs [need to] offer their support at the bill’s second reading on Friday, this historic opportunity could easily be lost”.

Jon Sparkes, the charity’s chief executive, added: “This is a credible and much-needed piece of legislation which now has the backing of the Government, the opposition and the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. The cross-party consensus is there, and we hope that MPs from across the political spectrum will come together on October 28 to vote on the bill.

“Helping people to stay off the streets and rebuild their lives is about basic social justice – it’s the right thing to do – but it also makes good economic sense. New research from Crisis has revealed how preventing 40,000 people from becoming homelessness could save the public purse up to £370m a year, or just over £9,000 per year for every person helped. The logic is clear: preventing homelessness saves lives, but also reduces public costs.

“For 40 years we’ve had a system that fails too many homeless people and turns them away at their time of need. The Homelessness Reduction Bill could help put an end to that injustice once and for all. It is a major opportunity to improve the rights of people currently shut out of the system, whist continuing to protect families with children.”

Lord Porter, the chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents councils and had opposed an earlier draft of the Bill, said granting councils the ability to build homes would be a more effective step towards ending homelessness and the housing crisis in general.

“Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can within existing resources to prevent and tackle it. However, there is no silver bullet, and councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness. The causes of homelessness are many and varied and range from financial to social,” he said.

“After having worked closely with Bob Blackman, we are confident that the new Bill, if it does go through Parliament, will be in a better place.

“However, it is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness. If we are all to succeed, then all new duties proposed in the Bill will need to be fully funded. Councils need powers to resume our role as a major builder of affordable homes.”

The shortage of housing and the impact of the Government’s welfare “reforms”

The 2013 annual State of the Nation report by the charities Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) revealed that the number sleeping rough had risen by six per cent in England this year, and by 13 per cent in London. There has been a 10 per cent increase in those housed temporarily, including a 14 per cent rise in the use of bed and breakfast accommodation.

Writing just a year after the highly controversial Welfare Reform Act was ushered through the legislative process on the back of Cameron’s claim to the “financial privilege” of the Commons , the report authors explicitly blamed the Government’s welfare cuts for compounding the problems caused by the high cost and shortage of housing as demand outstripped supply. The researchers found found that the cap on housing benefit made it more difficult to rent from a private landlord, especially in London, and claimed the controversial “bedroom tax” has caused a sharp rise in arrears for people in public housing, particularly in the Midlands and North.

A separate survey by Inside Housing magazine showed that councils and housing associations are increasingly resorting to the threat of eviction, as the loss of an adequate social security safety net is causing increasing hardship for social housing tenants. The reduction of council tax benefit for people who were previously exempt from paying council tax has also contributed significantly to experiences of material hardship, too. 

Ministers have emphatically denied that their reforms have contributed to the return of homelessness. However, homelessness has now risen in each of the five years since the Coalition was formed – after falling sharply in the previous six years, and has continued to rise throughout 2016.

The government’s welfare policies have emerged as the biggest single trigger for homelessness now the economy has allegedly recovered, and are likely to increase pressure on households for the next few years, with the new benefit cap increasing the strain, according to the independent research findings in the Homelessness Monitor 2015, the annual independent audit, published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The housing minister, Kris Hopkins, said the study’s claims were “misleading”. Local authorities had “a wide range of government-backed options available to help prevent homelessness and keep people off the streets,” he said.

“This government has increased spending to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, making over £500m available to local authorities and the voluntary sector,” he added.

It hasn’t worked. This is because, despite Theresa May’s claims, the government tends to simply address the effects and not the real causes of homelessness. Unless the government actually address the growing inequality, poverty and profound insecurity that their own policies have created, then homelessness and absolute poverty will continue to increase.

Hopkins added that the government had provided Crisis with nearly £14m in funding to help about 10,000 single homeless people find and sustain a home in the private rented sector.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Homelessness can be catastrophic for those of us who experience it. If we are to prevent a deepening crisis, we must look to secure alternatives to home ownership for those who cannot afford to buy: longer-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.”

The Homelessness Monitor study 2015 found:

  • Housing benefit caps and shortages of social housing has led to homeless families increasingly being placed in accommodation outside their local area, particularly in London. Out-of-area placements rose by 26% in 2013-14, and account for one in five of all placements.
  • Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax contributed to an 18% rise in repossession actions by social landlords in 2013-14, a trend expected to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrink
  • Housing benefit cuts played a large part in the third of all cases of homelessness last year caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.

The study says millions of people are experiencing “hidden homelessness”, including families forced by financial circumstances to live with other families in the same house, and “sofa surfers” who sleep on friends’ floors or sofas because they have nowhere to live.

Official estimates of rough sleeper numbers in England in 2013 were 2,414 – up 37% since 2010. But the study’s estimates based on local data suggest that the true figure could be at least four times that.

The Department for Work and Pensions also announced last month that it was cutting funding for homeless hostels and supported housing for disabled people by reducing supported housing benefit rent payments for three years. The homelessness reduction bill in the current policy context is yet another example of how Conservatives don’t seem to manage coherent, joined up thinking. 

“The Government’s proposals will compromise the right for people with a learning disability to live independently, and must be reconsidered urgently,” Dan Scorer, head of policy at the learning disabilities charity Mencap, warned after the announcement.

Meanwhile Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of the homelessness charity St Mungo’s, said the cut would leave the homeless charity with £3 million a year less to spend on services. 

“The rent reduction will threaten the financial viability of some of our hostels and other supported housing schemes and offers no direct benefit to vulnerable tenants who mostly rely on housing benefit to cover their housing costs,” he said.

It’s just not  good enough that the government simply attempts to colonise progressive rhetoric, claiming they stand for social justice, when they very clearly don’t walk the talk.

Conservative neoliberal “small state” anti-welfare policies are increasing homelessness. The bedroom tax, council tax benefit reductions, housing benefit reductions, welfare caps, sanctions, the deregulation of private sector, the selling off and privatising of social housing stock have all contributed to the current crisis of homelessness.

It was particularly remarkable that May claimed the government are “doing the right thing for social justice” yet the Conservative policy framework is, by its very design, inevitably adding to the precariousness of the situations those people with the least financial security are in.

Someone should explain to the prime minister that “social justice” doesn’t generally entail formulating predatory policies that ensure the wealthy accumulate more wealth by dispossessing the poorest citizens of the public assets, civilised institutions and civilising practices gained through the post-war settlement.

Devolving responsibility for the housing crisis and lack of adequate social security provision to local authorities that are already strapped for cash because of government cuts, and with an ever-dwindling housing stock, won’t help to address growing inequality, or alleviate poverty and destitution.



From homes fit for heroes to the end of secure, lifelong social housing tenancies

I don’t make any money from my work. 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.

DonatenowButton cards


The Nudge Unit’s u-turn on benefit sanctions indicates the need for even more lucrative nudge interventions, say nudge theorists


Some context: the new neuroliberalism and “behavioural insights”

The behaviourist turn in government administration – the use of targeted citizen behavioural conditionality in neoliberal policy making –  has expanded globally and is linked to the growth of behavioural economics theory (“nudge”) and a New Right brand of “libertarian paternalism.”  

Reconstructing citizenship as highly conditional stands in sharp contrast to democratic principles, rights-based policies and to policies based on prior financial contribution, as underpinned in the social insurance and social security frameworks that arose from the post-war settlement.

The fact that the poorest citizens are being targeted with behavioural theory “interventions” also indicates discriminatory policy, which reflects traditional Conservative class-based prejudices. It’s an authoritarian approach to poverty which simply strengthens existing power hierarchies, rather than addressing the unequal distribution of power and wealth in the UK.

Some of us have dubbed this trend neuroliberalism because it serves as a justification for enforcing politically defined neoliberal outcomes. A hierarchical socioeconomic organisation is being shaped by increasingly authoritarian policies, placing the responsibility for growing inequality and poverty on individuals, side-stepping the traditional (and very real) structural explanations of social and economic problems.

Such a behavioural approach to poverty also adds a dimension of cognitive prejudice which serves to reinforce and established power relations and inequality. It is assumed that those with power and wealth have cognitive competence and know which specific behaviours and decisions are “best” for poor citizens. Apparently the theories and “insights” of cognitive bias don’t apply to the theorists applying them to increasingly marginalised social groups. Policy has increasingly extended a neoliberal cognitive competence and decision-making hierarchy. 

It’s very interesting that the Behavioural Insights Team now claim that the state using the threat of benefit sanctions may be “counterproductive”. The idea of increasing welfare conditionality and enlarging the scope and increasing the frequency of benefit sanctions originated from the behavioural economics theories of the Nudge Unit in the first place. 

The increased use and rising severity of benefit sanctions became an integrated part of welfare “conditionality” in the Conservative’s Welfare “reform” Act, 2012. The current sanction regime is based on a principle borrowed from behavioural economics theory – an alleged cognitive bias we have called “loss aversion.”

It refers to the idea that people’s tendency is to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. The idea is embedded in the use of sanctions to “nudge” people towards compliance with welfare rules of conditionality, by using a threat of punitive financial loss, since the longstanding, underpinning Conservative assumption is that people are unemployed because of alleged behavioural deficits and poor decision-making. Hence the need for policies that “rectify ” behaviour.

I’ve argued elsewhere, however, that benefit sanctions are more closely aligned with operant conditioning (behaviourism) than “libertarian paternalism,” since sanctions are a severe punishment intended to modify behaviour and restrict choices to that of compliance and conformity or destitution. At the very least this approach indicates a slippery slope from “arranging choice architecture” in order to “support right decisions” that are felt to benefit people, to downright punitive and coercive policies that entail psycho-compulsion, such as sanctioning and mandatory workfare. 

Psychology is being misused by the government to explain unemployment (it’s claimed to happen because people have the “wrong attitude” for work) and as a means to achieve the “right” attitude for job readiness. Psycho-complulsion is the imposition of often pseudo-psychological explanations of unemployment and justifications of mandatory activities which are aimed at changing beliefs, attitudes and disposition. The Behavioural Insights Team have previously propped up this approach.

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) is composed of mostly behavioural economists, who also claim the title of libertarian paternalists (and who have a clear and distinct ideological premise for their behavioural theories, whilst attempting to claim “objectivity”.)

They claim that whilst it is legitimate for government, private and public institutions to affect behaviour the aims should be to ensure that “people should be free to opt out of specified arrangements if they choose to do so.” 

The nudges favoured by libertarian paternalists are also supposed to be “unobtrusive.” That clearly is not the case with the application of coercive, punitive Conservative welfare sanctions.

When it comes to technocratic fads like nudge, it’s worth bearing in mind that truth and ethics quite often have an inversely proportional relationship with the profit motive. It’s a cognitive bias, if you will.

And when one nudge theory fails, there are always lucrative and political opportunities to generate more.

Of course Dr Kizzy Gandy, a leading researcher at the policy unit says: “We are optimistic that behavioural science can help government departments to better design policies to help those who are ‘just managing’ in order to prevent and overcome poverty.”

In a new report released today from the Behavioural Insights Team, the authors say: “There is evidence that welfare conditionality in the UK – mandatory behavior requirements such as attending meetings with work coaches or providing repeated evidence of disability in order to receive benefits – is associated with anxiety and feelings of disempowerment.” 

“However, as far as we know no one has examined whether welfare conditionality has cognitive depleting effects.”

It’s particularly  worrying that there is a proposal in the report for further “experimental” pseudo-psychological approaches to policies aimed at the poorest citizens. The researchers call on the Department for Work and Pensions to conduct experiments into whether welfare conditionality actually had any positive effects and suggested that “self-set” and “enforced goals” might be a better way of “helping people into work.” Although this allows for a little tokenist self determination and permits a little autonomy, it is still an approach ultimately based on enforcement.

There is a clear distinction to be made between “behavioural science” – which is almost entirely about economic outcomes; what is politically deemed “best” for citizens and social conformity, and mainstream psychology – which embraces a much broader and deeper perspective of the complexities of human potential and wellbeing.

For anyone curious as to how such tyrannical behaviour modification techniques like benefit sanctions arose from the bland language, inane, managementspeak acronyms and pseudo-scientific framework of “paternal libertarianism” – nudge – here is an interesting read: Employing BELIEF: Applying behavioural economics to welfare to work, which is focused almost exclusively on New Right small state obsessions. Pay particular attention to the part about the alleged cognitive bias called loss aversion, on page 7.

And this on page 18: The most obvious policy implication arising from loss aversion is that if policy-makers can clearly convey the losses that certain behaviour will incur, it may encourage people not to do it,” and page 46: “Given that, for most people, losses are more important than comparable gains, it is important that potential losses are defined and made explicit to jobseekers (e.g.the sanctions regime).”

The recommendation on that page: We believe the regime is currently too complex and, despite people’s tendency towards loss aversion, the lack of clarity around the sanctions regime can make it ineffective. Complexity prevents claimants from fully appreciating the financial losses they face if they do not comply with the conditions of their benefit.”

The Conservatives duly “simplified” sanctions by extending them in terms of severity and increasing the frequency of use. Sanctions have also been extended to include previously protected social groups, such as lone parents, sick and disabled people. 

The paper was written in November 2010, prior to the Coalition policy of increased “conditionality” and the extended sanctions element of the Tory-led welfare “reforms” in 2012. I wrote about this at length earlier this year, here: Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions: a state experiment in behaviour modification.

The Behavioural Insights Team, (otherwise known as the Nudge Unit) was set up by David Cameron in 2010. In their most recent report called Poverty and decision-making: How behavioural science can improve opportunity in the UK, the nudge researchers now say that burdening unemployed people with responsibilities, using the threat of sanctions might actually be making it harder for them to get jobs.

According to the behavioural economist theorists authoring this highly jargonised report, government policies designed to help people are reducing and impairing people’s so-called cognitive scope and abilities.

However, it’s difficult to imagine how punitive sanctioning, which entails the removal of people’s lifeline income, originally calculated to meet the costs of only basic survival needs, such as for food, fuel and shelter, could ever be seen as “helping people.”

I don’t believe that Orwellian semantic shifts can ever provide a genuine and effective solution to poverty and inequality. 

Some major inconsistencies and incoherences in the report

In the latest BIT report, loss aversion is mentioned again:  “People dislike losses more than they like equivalent gains. Babcock, Congdon, Katz, and Mullainathan (2012) hypothesise that people may experience loss aversion if they consider taking a job paying below past earnings. Therefore, they may stay on unemployment benefits longer than they should. Unrealistic wage expectations may be reinforced when the social status and personal identities of workers are strongly tied to their previous job.” [My boldings]

Note the phrase “unrealistic wage expectations” and later incoherent comments in the report about in-work poverty, which I will highlight.

The summary report states in the introduction: A third of the UK population spent at least one year in relative income poverty between 2011 and 2014.

Traditionally policymakers and anti-poverty organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) have focused on boosting people’s economic capital (e.g., income) and human capital (e.g., educational attainment) to reduce poverty. While investments in these areas have led to important gains in opportunity for many Britons, emerging research from behavioural science shows that other less tangible resources, which derive from psychological, social and cultural processes, significantly influence people’s ability to overcome disadvantage.

BIT was commissioned by JRF to examine the role of individual decisions in shaping people’s experiences of poverty in the UK and to identify the drivers of these decisions. This reflects JRF’s interest in looking beyond traditional, structural drivers of poverty. Our findings, based on a review of the published literature, are presented in a new report, launched today.”

Let’s cut to the chase. The entire document is framed by the use of a distinct and established narrative; it’s composed of a pre-loaded ideological language, references and signposts, using comments and phrases like “[…] we explain some of the ways that cognitive, character and social capital influence social mobility, via decision-making.”  

And a sub-heading:Character capital: Self-efficacy and responsive parenting.” Apparently, “home visits by health workers have had positive effects in preventing intergenerational poverty.” That’s quite a remarkable claim, given that the document acknowledges poverty is actually increasing in the UK.

The whole concept of character capital is itself founded on the notion that people with an “internal locus of control” tend to perform tasks better than those with an “external locus of control.” This is about where people place the responsibility for what they achieve – either “inside” individuals, based solely on notions of merit, specific skills and talents, or external to individuals, “outside” individuals, based on environmental conditions such as competition, chance, opportunities, socioeconomic, employment market context and so on. However, the cited evidence to support this theory was later contradicted in the report.

It’s also worrying that it is implied those who believe that achievement is linked with structural conditions are “under-performers.” It reads a little like a Samuel Smiles Victorian treatise on “thrift, character and self-help.”

It’s also an almost subliminal method of dismissing the impact of structural constraints on the opportunities available to individuals. It serves to make invisible what was once a key consideration in public discussions about poverty: the unequal distribution of power, wealth, resources and opportunity.

Also of note: “low levels of financial literacy” was conflated with notions of “human capital”, which “potentially exacerbate the effects of depleted cognitive capital among low income groups when choosing between credit options.”

The research authors seem to think that the only human potential worth recognising is that of our economic decision-making. Yet when people are materially poor, budgeting and decision-making are invariably constrained – that’s intrinsic to the very nature of poverty.

Limited decision-making and reduced available choices don’t cause poverty: they are the subsequent exclusion effects of poverty.

It’s telling that none of the recommendations made in this document actually address the structural causes of material poverty and growing inequality in the UK.

There is a substantial incoherence in some of the claims made, too. For example: “The world of work is possibly the single most important policy area for maximising individual and household resources to prevent and overcome poverty.”

Yet: “Just under half of those in poverty in the UK live in a workless household (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2014)”. So work clearly doesn’t pay for over half of those people in poverty. 

In fairness, it is later acknowledged that: “However, simply being in work is not sufficient to prevent or overcome poverty. Nearly two-thirds of children in poverty live in working families.” 

This heavily jargonised rhetoric is, on the whole, about looking for cheap individualist “solutions” to poverty that disregard the need for improving people’s material and financial situations, by extending on an existing neoliberal narrative of alleged individual fault, character deficits, cognitive bias and decision-making flaws. None of this will raise the profile of crucial issues such as the conditions imposed by austerity and neoliberal policies, socioeconomic organisation and political decision-making, that are having a profound impact on growing inequality and increasing poverty in the UK. The persistent use of the word “workless” rather than “unemployed” is another linguistic signpost for neoliberal competitive individualism, too. 

Geographer David Harveydescribes neoliberalism as a process of accumulation by dispossession: predatory policies are used to centralise wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth and assets. The report does not refer to the mode of political-economic organisation of which growing inequality and poverty are an intrinsic and inevitable feature.

Proposed solutions: more of the same

Summary of recommendations:


Consumer credit

1 Make it easier to access low cost credit through extending access to interest-free Budgeting Advances; assisting credit unions to expand online services; and providing tax relief to individuals taking out payroll loans.

2 Further restrict practices by high cost credit providers that play on consumer biases, and test remedies that will improve consumer credit decision-making.

3 Continue to evaluate financial capability programmes through initiatives like the Money Advice Service What Works Fund.

(Access to credit does not alleviate poverty in the long-term.)


1 Test ways of automating rainy day savings through employer enrolment, default savings accounts with banks, and Universal Credit payments.

2 Evaluate the effectiveness of financial apps for helping people save.

3 Optimise the Help to Save matching scheme, through testing auto-enrolment and prizes for regular saving, to encourage low-income groups to save.

(Poor citizens do not have sufficient funds to make savings. And research shows that absolute poverty is growing in the UK, which means that many people often don’t have sufficient funds for meeting even fundamental survival needs, such as for food and fuel.) 



1 Use identity-building activities in Jobcentres to cultivate intrinsic motivation for work in order to improve the quality and sustainability of jobs that people find.

2 Collect longer-term and more holistic outcome measures of labour market interventions to understand their full impact on poverty.

3 Develop a simple tool for Jobcentres to identify capital deficits in order to match interventions to individual job seeker needs.


1 Develop a common “cognitive load stress test”that measures how easy it is for eligible groups to access government entitlements.

2 Use annual entitlement summaries to prompt existing welfare recipients to apply for other assistance they may be eligible for, and to help them budget.

3 Experiment with the design of welfare conditionality to boost cognitive capacity and self-efficacy, such as having claimants set their own payment conditions.



1 Provide families in or near poverty with free access to evidence-based online parenting programmes.

2 Develop community to strengthen social ties between parents from different backgrounds.

3 Conduct research into whether small and inexpensive adjustments to housing conditions can reduce cognitive load and improve parental decision-making.

Post secondary education

1 Make the application process for post-secondary education as simple as possible, for example, by pre-populating application forms.

2 Use personalised assistance and prompts to encourage students and parents to apply to post-secondary education.

3 Link formal information about returns to post-secondary education with informal information (from peers) about what post-secondary education will be like.

Every single intervention recommendation fails to address the structural causes of poverty, which lie out of the control of people experiencing poverty. Yet most of these recommendations are aimed at prompting the state to act upon individuals.  

Proposals such as providing access to parenting programmes, “identity-building activities in Jobcentres to cultivate intrinsic motivation for work”, “rainy day savings”, and to “develop a simple tool for Jobcentres to identify capital deficits in order to match interventions to individual job seeker needs” all sound like a New Right blame-storming exercise. Again, the problem of poverty is regarded as being intrinsic to the individual, rather than one that arises in a wider political, economic, cultural and social context.

Post secondary education costs money and isn’t supported by the state. The Education Maintenance Award (EMA) was withdrawn by the Conservatives, and the cost of a university education is now far too much for many young people from poorer backgrounds because of the tripling of fees and reduction in maintenance support. It’s the government that need a nudge, here. This is a good example of how opportunities and choices are being limited for poorer citizens by cuts and constraints imposed by the ideologues in office.  

The government never question the decision-making of the powerful and wealthy, yet it certainly wasn’t the poorest citizens that caused the global recession in 2007, nor was it the poorest citizens that imposed damaging austerity policies. Yet the poorest people are burdened with a disproportionate burden of austerity cuts to their support. The wealthiest citizens have meanwhile been gifted with substantial tax cuts. 

Nudge is a state prop for neoliberalism, inequality and social control

Neoliberals argue that public services present moral hazards and perverse incentives. Providing lifeline support to meet basic survival requirements is seen as a barrier to the effort people put into searching for jobs. From this perspective, the social security system, which supports the inevitable casualties of neoliberal free markets, has somehow created those casualties. But we know that external, market competition-driven policies create a few “haves” and many “have-nots.” This is why the  welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such competitive economic dogmas to manifest without restraint, we must also concede that there are always ”winners and losers.”

Neoliberalism organises societies into hierarchies. Inequality is therefore an inevitable feature of the UK’s current mode of socioeconomic organisation. 

The UK currently ranks highly among the most unequal countries in the world.

Inequality and poverty are central features of neoliberalism and the causes therefore cannot be located within individuals.  

Neoliberals see the state as a means to reshape social institutions and social relationships based on the model of a competitive market place. This requires a highly invasive power and mechanisms of persuasion, manifested in an authoritarian turn. Public interests are conflated with narrow economic outcomes. Public behaviours are politically micromanaged. Social groups that don’t conform to ideologically defined outcomes are stigmatised, and outgrouped.

Shamefully, in a so-called first world, wealthy liberal democracy, othering and outgrouping have become common political practices.  

Replacing spent micro-managementspeak with more micro-managementspeak

The Nudge Unit, which was part-privatised in 2014, have now warned that some Government policies were reducing so-called “cognitive bandwidth” or “headspace” of the people they were designed to help. So more theoretical psychobabble to overwrite the previous psychobabble which didn’t work when applied via policy.

This is bland neoliberal managementspeak at its very worst. The policies are causing profound damage, harm and distress to those they were never actually designed to “help”. Let’s not permit techniques of neutralisation: the use of rhetoric to obscure the real intention behind policies, as well as the consequences of them. It’s nothing less than political gaslighting. 

Of course the report attempts to apply “the latest findings from behavioural science to improve government services.” In a neoliberal framework, there are many lucrative opportunities for private companies to experiment in the psychological management of populations who have become the casualties of political decision-making, for political ends. The ethical relativity, moral entrepreneurship and sheer financial opportunism on display here certainly reflect some fundamental neoliberal values and principles. The main one being profit over human need.

Dr Kizzy Gandy proposes that cost-effective “simple tweaks” to services could help improve the way services worked. “Government policies should help people to have less on their mind, not more,” she added. 

However, I propose that government policies in democratic societies should also be designed to meet the public’s needs, including alleviating poverty, rather than being about impoverishing targeted social groups and then undemocratically acting upon individuals, without their consent, directing them how to behave in order to accommodate government ideology and meet politically defined neoliberal outcomes.

Material poverty steals aspiration and motivation from any and every person that is reduced to struggling for basic survival. Abraham Maslow (a real social psychologist) explained that when people struggle to meet their basic physical needs, they cannot be “incentivised” to fulfil higher level psychosocial needs – that includes job seeking.

Further criticism 

Labour Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said: “Even the government’s own Behavioural Insights Team now recognise the mountains of evidence that the widespread use of sanctions is not leading to better outcomes for people seeking work. Indeed, this government team’s report suggests that sanctions may be operating as a barrier to finding a job.

“This government should be ashamed of their persistent failure to act on this issue over many years, after I, and other campaigners, have provided evidence of the devastating impacts of their sanctions policy.  I have committed to putting an end to Tories’ cruel and unnecessary sanctions regime, as part of our work to transform the social security system.” 

In fairness to the BIT, the report does say on page nine, among the listed areas of proposed future research: “A significant portion of behavioural science research focuses on improving the decisions of end-users – in this case people in poverty. But what about the decisions of service providers and policymakers? How can we improve the quality of their decisions to support people escape poverty? And how can we build their empathy with those whose opportunities are at stake?”  

But who is nudging the nudgers?  I would think nudgers are “incentivised” by those providing the contracts that pay their salaries, on the whole. The government part-own the nudge unit.

Researchers from a variety of universities across the UK, using qualitative longitudinal interviews with nine groups of welfare service users from across England and Scotland, aim at determining longer-term effects of sanctions. The first wave findings from this collaborative ongoing study regarding the effects and ethics of welfare conditionality were released last year 

It was found that linking continued receipt of benefit and services to mandatory behavioural requirements has created widespread anxiety and feelings of disempowerment. The impacts of benefit sanctions are universally reported by service users as profoundly negative, having severely detrimental financial, material, emotional, psychological and health impacts. Some individuals disengaged from services, some were even pushed toward “survival crime”.  

The most surprising thing about these findings was the general lack of surprise they raised.

A recurring theme is that sanctions are grossly out of proportion to “offences”, such as being a few minutes late for an appointment. Many reported being sanctioned following administrative mistakes. The Claimant Commitment was criticised for not taking sufficient account of individuals’ capabilities, wider responsibilities and vulnerabilities. Many saw job centres as being primarily concerned with monitoring compliance, imposing discipline and enforcement, rather than providing any meaningful support. 

Power relations, class and economic organisation have now completely disappeared from public conversations about poverty. Neoliberal anti-welfarism, amplified by a corporate media, has aimed at reconstruction of society’s “common sense” assumptions, values and beliefs. Class, disability and race narratives in particular, associated with traditional prejudices and categories from the right wing, have been used to nudge the UK to re-imagine citizenship, human rights and democratic inclusion as highly conditional.  

This is not just about shifting public rational and moral boundaries to de-empathise the electorate to the circumstances of politically defined others. It also obscures the consequences more generally of increasingly non-inclusive, anti-democratic, prejudiced and extremely punitive policies.  

The bottom line is that government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizens’ accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter. 
However, in the UK, the way that policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies: euphemisms, superficial glittering generalities and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from aims and consequences of ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs. 

For example, the state has depoliticised disadvantage, making it the private responsibility of citizens, whilst at the same time, justifying a psychopolitical approach that encodes a punitive Conservative moral framework. 

According to the behavioural economist theorists, in their highly jargonised and fairly meaningless report, government policies are reducing so-called “cognitive bandwidth” or “headspace” of the people they were designed to help.

That the government  imposes additional “cognitive costs”, as well as material and financial ones, on low-income groups is hardly a groundbreaking revelation. 

I can put it much more plainly, and strip it of neoliberal psychobabbling: imposing sanctions on people who already have very limited resources is not only irrational, it is absurdly unjust, damaging, distressing and spectacularly cruel. 

See also:

Benefit Sanctions Can’t Possibly ‘Incentivise’ People To Work – And Here’s Why

Two key studies show that punitive benefit sanctions don’t ‘incentivise’ people to work, as claimed by the government

Welfare, Conditional Citizenship and the Neuroliberal State – Conference Presentation



The compliance framework: Concentrix’s ‘reign of terror’ and ever-decreasing tax credits


A US outsourcing company, Concentrix, which was awarded a £75m contract by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – the department responsible for collecting taxes and paying out certain benefits – has been accused of exercising a “reign of terror” over people who claim tax credits.

The private company was contracted to “reduce fraud and error” in the tax credit system, and to carry out “compliance checks” in a bid to save the government money. More than 500 civil servants have been deployed to help the private company resolve problems it caused by stopping people’s tax credit payments. This includes tax credit awards for the children of both in work and out of work parents, as well as child care payments.

The company has issued an apology for failures that have left many people with no benefit payments for up to two months, leaving them without money for essentials. The US firm has been accused of “incorrectly” withdrawing tax credits. 

Officials from HM Revenue and Customs told a committee of MPs that a breakdown in customer services at Concentrix had resulted in only 10% of calls being answered on some days.

Many thousands of people had their tax credits stopped after Concentrix said they were making “fraudulent claims”. In what can at best be described as Kafkasque taunting, one poor woman was told she was in a relationship with a chain of newsagents, another with the philanthropist and poverty researcher, Joseph Rowntree, (who died in 1925,) according to a BBC report. A teenage single mum receiving tax credits was told she was married to a dead pensioner, after having her child tax credit withdrawn. Another mother was told she was living with the previous tenants of the house that she had lived alone in for two and a half years with her son, after her child tax credit was also withdrawn. 

It’s difficult to conceive that these allegations could possibly have been made in genuine error. Mumsnet, an online forum for parents, has had over a thousand comments from parents who received letters from Concentrix demanding evidence out of the blue that they live alone. This was just on one page of ten on the site about the unreasonable demands for “compliance” that the company has been making of parents.

Many have been forced to print off documents like utility bills which were online, or pay for numerous backdated bank statements, to provide endless evidence of their circumstances. This is a costly process for people who need additional support in the first place, and many had already had their payments ended. The main reason for “compliance checks” has been suspicion of an “undisclosed partner,” challenging the legitimacy of a single claim, based on other data indicating that another adult is living at the address. 

In October 2010, HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions released a joint error and fraud strategy. As a result, HMRC increased its compliance activity across the tax credits system and introduced the use of data from credit reference agencies to inform compliance decisions. Through this process, single claims were identified where there was an indication that there may be a second adult living with the claimant – an “undisclosed partner”. However, credit reference agency data is notoriously unreliable.


The “compliance framework” is a government method of preempting and preventing “non-compliance”, based on data collection and “analysis” by private companies that are hired by the public service sector. Instead of being “reactive” and acting after a “transaction”, the private companies are using “insights” to calculate “high risk” claimants. Ultimately, the aim is to cut costs, “through real-time auditing and prevention of fraud and error, agencies can collect the right amount of taxes to help ensure the right people receive the benefits they deserve.” (My bolding).

And: “Services can be embedded in processing functions to prevent non-compliance.” 

The rationale: “Struggling with increasing demand for services amid widespread economic constraint, human services organizations face a major dilemma—how to minimize costs while improving services and ensuring accurate benefit distribution.

By using analytics, forward-thinking human services organizations are rising above this challenge. They are preventing, detecting and mitigating transactions where there is error, fraud or abuse. And they are using information gleaned from analytics to significantly reduce operating costs and drive business results.” (From: Accenture Intelligent Processing Services).

I’ve discussed elsewhere that the increasing use of a narrative of “objectivity” and emphasis on “analytics”, detachment and quantification, associated with small state ideology and austerity, tends to place some social groups at a psychological distance from administrators, and objectifies them, as if people claiming support because they can’t work, or because their wages are low and exploitative, are a homogenous group of people, bound by characteristics rather than circumstances in a context of political decision-making.

It becomes easier to disassociate from someone you view “objectively” and to distance yourself from the impact of your calculated and target-led decision-making, constrained within a highly political framework. Such an objectification of a person or group of people serves to de-empathise us, which is a key characteristic requirement of neoliberal ideology, embedded in inhumane “small state” policy and extended via administrative (and outsourced, privatised) practices. It leaves us much less likely to relate to the circumstances, emotions or accept the needs and choices of others. Such interactions become much more open to bureaucratic abuse and political exploitation.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have previously undertaken research into the costs of compliance on individuals, and their report refers to the time, money and psychological costs that are being imposed on applicants for, and recipients of, benefits and tax credits and on others by meeting all the various rigid requirements placed on them by social security and tax credit law and statutory authorities.

However, this study was undertaken before the Conservatives increased conditionality and compliance requirements further, in the radical Welfare Reform Act 2012. The burdens on those needing welfare support have grown substantially since the research was completed. (See: Understanding the Compliance Costs of Benefits and Tax Credits. )

Some of the people affected gave emotional testimonies, as they told the work and pensions select committee that they had been forced to borrow money and go to food banks as a result of the hardship caused by Concentrix’s actions.

The committee was told that of the 45,000 payments stopped, nearly 15,000 had appealed so far and that “90% – 95%” had been successful in overturning the decision.

HMRC officials said they first became concerned of problems at Concentrix in August when they started receiving reports that only 10% of calls were being answered within five minutes – the target was 90%.

Jon Thompson, chief executive of HMRC, said “a collapse in basic customer service” had occurred caused by too few staff being on hand, and that he’d personally taken the decision not to renew Concentrix’s contract. It ends in March next year.

Frank Field, the chair of parliament’s work and pensions committee, has said that a company’s “reign of terror” over tax credit recipients will be drawing to a close, after HMRC decided not to renew its contract.

On Thursday, the work and pensions committee heard from claimants who wrongly had their tax credits stopped and suffered the distress and humiliation of having to borrow money or visit food banks to feed their children.

The committee also heard that, at the height of the crisis, only 1% of the calls being made to Concentrix were actually being answered.

The committee issued a comment on the “extraordinary” evidence it heard, from four single parents who had wrongly had their tax credits stopped, senior staff from Concentrix, including senior Vice President Philip Cassidy, and HMRC, including Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary Jon Thompson.

Claimant humiliation and appalling customer service

The Committee heard about:

  •  The humiliation of claimants who were forced to borrow money from friends and family in order to feed their children as they were left without benefits, to which they were ultimately found to be entitled, for up to seven weeks
  • Appalling customer service which saw claimants calling up to 70 times to get through as just 1% of calls were answered by Concentrix at the height of the crisis. One claimant finally waited 90 minutes to speak to a Concentrix adviser on an 0845 number, at great personal expense
  • Appeal success rates of 73% according to HMRC or 90-95% according to Concentrix; either way a terrible indictment of the original decision-making process
  • Refunds to claimants taking place over a series of months. In one case, a single mother lost housing benefit because a refund of wrongly withdrawn tax credits took her over an income threshold. Others will have taken on debts in the meantime
  • Repeated buck-passing between Concentrix and HMRC, who signed the contract, as to who was responsible
  • HMRC Permanent Secretary Jon Thompson was unable to explain what had gone wrong and why
Committee to seek clarifications from Concentrix and HMRC

The Committee has agreed to write to both Concentrix and HMRC demanding urgent information regarding:

  • How the performance of Concentrix was monitored by HMRC
  • Levels of staffing at Concentrix, in particular during August 2016, and the training provided to staff
  • Steps HMRC will take to compensate claimants, ensure they are not further disadvantaged, and review decisions taken by Concentrix
  • Assurance that Concentrix will not be compensated for HMRC taking much of their responsibilities back in-house

The Committee also plans to issue a report into the scandal.

Chair’s comment

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:

“The Committee was astonished by the extraordinary evidence we heard. From Concentrix we saw a company desperately out of their depth and unable to deliver on the contract awarded to them by HMRC. From senior HMRC officials we saw a palpable disregard for the human implications of this gross failure of public service. From the tax credit claimants we saw dignity in the face of appalling and traumatic experiences.

We have no doubt that many people similarly affected have been unable to come forward. I welcome HMRC’s swift action on the Concentrix contract, but that does not excuse them for ever having allowed this to happen.”

You can listen to the work and pensions committee meeting about the Concentrix and tax credits controversy here:


See also:

The government’s tax credit Claimant Compliance Manual

Tax credits: undisclosed partner interventions – Child Poverty Action Group

I don’t make any money from my work. But you can help by making a donation and support me in continuing to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. I’m disabled because of my illness (lupus) and  co-run support groups for other disabled people going through the assessment and appeals processes. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
DonatenowButton cards


Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’


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

Personal Independence Payment is a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these. It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as full, active and independent lives as possible.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have issued a guidance document for providers carrying out assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which was updated last month. It can be found here: PIP Assessment Guide.

The DWP Chief Medical Officer states that this is a supplementary guidance, in addition to “the contract documents agreed with providers as part of the commercial process, providing guidance for health professionals [HPs] carrying out assessment activity and for those responsible for putting in place and delivering processes to ensure the quality of assessments.”

Words like “fair”, “quality”,  “support”, “reform” and even “objective” have been given a very subjective, highly specific Conservative semantic make-over, to signpost and reference a distinctive underpinning ideology, and to align them with neoliberal and New Right anti-welfare outcomes, over the last five years.

There is some preemptive dodging of criticism and patronising get-out clauses in the document, for example: “It must be remembered that some of the information may not be readily understood by those who are not trained and experienced HPs.”

So if you fundamentally disagree with any of the approach outlined in content of the document, or the policy, it’s just because you “fail to comprehend it”, simply because you haven’t trained as a HP. 

I had no idea that HPs are the only people who can work out policy outcomes and who recognise government cuts, small state ideology and general cost-cutting measures for what they are, despite the use of Orwellian semantic shifts and language use that is all about techniques of neutralisation (where the rhetoric used obscures or “neutralises” the negative aims and harmful consequences of the policy.)

Firstly, the HPs are not so much “health professionals”, but rather, “re-trained disability analysts.” Their role entails assessing the impact of illness and disability on the “functional capacity” of individuals in direct relation to justification or refusal of a PIP award only. Furthermore, it is the decision of the HP to “determine whether any additional evidence needs to be gathered from health or other professionals supporting the claimant.”

From the document: “The assessment for PIP looks at an individual’s ability to carry out a series of key everyday activities. The assessment considers the impact of a claimant’s health condition or impairment on their functional ability rather than focusing on a particular diagnosis. Benefit will not be paid on the basis of having a particular health condition or impairment but on the impact of the health condition or impairment on the claimant’s everyday life.”

This process of assessment, however, is a very speculative one, with inferences drawn from seemingly unrelated questions and assumed circumstances, such as “do you have a pet?” This translates into “can bend from the waist to feed a cat/dog” on the HP’s report to the DWP.

From the document: “The HP should check the consistency of what is being said by using different approaches, asking questions in different ways or coming back to a previous point. When considering inconsistencies, HPs should bear in mind that some claimants may have no insight into their condition, for example claimants with cognitive or developmental impairments.”

I know of a lady who wore a gold locket. It was simply assumed at her assessment that despite her extremely arthritic fingers, and information about her pain and the lack of movement in her hands from her GP, that she had sufficient dexterity to fasten and unfasten the clasp. Had she been asked, she would have informed the HP that she never took the locket off, even in the shower. 

This approach – “checking for inconsistencies” by using indirect questioning and assumption is NOT “objective”. It is a calculated strategy to justify a starting point of disbelief and skepticism regarding the accounts provided by ill and disabled people about the impact of their conditions and disabilities on their day-to-day living. As such, it frames the entire assessment process, weighting it towards evidence gathering to justify refusing awards.

This approach is also mirrored in the Work Capability Assessment, reflecting Conservative cynicism and prejudice towards sick and disabled people. (See: What you need to know about Atos Assessments – it provides a good overview from a whistle-blower of how responses to seemingly casual observations and apparently conversational questions are re-translated into “inconsistencies” which are then used to justify refusing a claim.)

The introduction of PIP was framed by New Right anti-welfarism

Secondly, “PIP is replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which has become outdated and unsustainable. The introduction of PIP will ensure the benefit is more fairly targeted at those who face the greatest barriers, by introducing a simpler, fairer, more transparent and more objective assessment, carried out by health professionals” [All boldings mine].

In other words, PIP is aimed at cutting welfare costs and support for people who would previously have been eligible for Disability Living Allowance (DLA). We are told that it’s no longer possible as a society to support all disabled people who need help with the additional costs that they face simply because they are ill and disabled, so the government propose to establish those “with the greatest need” by using a more stringent assessment process, which is claimed to be fair and more “objective”.

A recent review led the government to conclude that PIP “doesn’t currently fulfil the original policy intent”, which was to cut costs and “target” the benefit to “those with the greatest need.” That originally meant a narrowing of eligibility criteria for people formerly claiming Disability Living Allowance, increasing the number of reassessments required, and limiting the number of successful claims.

Controversially, the cuts to disability benefits (including the £30 per week cut from those claiming ESA in work related activity group) will fund tax cuts for the most affluent – the top 7% of earners. The chancellor raised the threshold at which people start paying 40p tax, in a move that will probably see many wealthier people pulled out of the higher rate of income tax. Osborne said he wanted to “accelerate progress” towards the Conservative’s manifesto pledge of raising the threshold for the 40p rate to £50,000 in 2020. .

Prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced. Of course the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” simply reflects a government that has made a partisan political decision to cut disabled people’s essential income to fund a financial gift to the wealthiest citizens. There is no justification for this decision, nor is it “fair.”

Fiona Colegrave, who is chief medical adviser, clinical governance and in charge of training for PIP at Capita, says: “As a disability assessor (DA), you are required to assess objectively how someone’s health conditions affect them and submit a report that is fair, reliable and can be justified with evidence because, if necessary, it may need to be scrutinised through an appeals process.

For these reasons, it is essential we equip DAs with the skills required to manage the assessment process, including: time management; questioning techniques; non-advocacy; collating all available evidence and identifying contradictions; and using an analytical but empathetic approach.

It is important for DAs to establish a rapport with the claimant, so that claimants feel like they have been able to express, in their own words, how their disability affects them and so they know that a DA will produce a report that accurately reflects their functional ability.”

Only “feel like”? Feedback from “claimants” says that DAs do NOT accurately reflect their “functional ability” in reports. And note the reductive use of the word  claimant” – language use that places the other at a psychological distance from the author and administrators, objectifying them, as if people claiming PIP and other benefits are a homogenous group of people, bound by characteristics rather than circumstances in a context of political decision-making.

It becomes easier to disassociate from someone you view “objectively” and to distance yourself from the impact of your calculated and target-led decision-making, constrained within a highly political framework. Such an objectification of a person or group of people serves to de-empathise us, which is a key characteristic requirement of neoliberal ideology, embedded in inhumane “small state” policy and extended via administrative (and outsourced, privatised) practices. It leaves us much less likely to relate to the circumstances, emotions or accept the needs and choices of others.

Surely a considerable part of our experience of being objectively diagnosed as ill and/or disabled, in any case, is a person’s subjective experience of it, rather than categories and counts; quantifiable, reductive and speculative statements about how we may perform highly specific tasks.

Quantitative medical evidence is important, because it does often give a general indication of conditions that would entail loss of function. But considering medical evidence isn’t a central part of the assessment process. Whether or not we can perform certain tasks, and inferences drawn from that are the central considerations for PIP eligibility.

Many conditions “fluctuate” – they vary so much that it’s difficult to assess performance of specific tasks consistently. Many conditions become progressively worse at a varied pace, often leaving little scope for a person developing coping strategies and adapting their everyday lives to the changes as they happen, such as a progressive loss of mobility, cognitive impairment, mood changes, anxiety, depression, sleep disruption and other psychological impacts, and the increasing pain and fatigue that they may experience.   

If the process were genuinely “fair, accurate and objective” then there would be no need for mandatory reviews and scrutiny through the appeals process. The introduction of the mandatory review – another layer of bureaucracy and a barrier to justice, where the DWP decide whether their first decision should be changed – has deterred many from appealing wrong decisions.

Those making the decisions about PIP awards are: “trained DWP staff who are familiar with the legislation governing PIP, but who do not have a healthcare background. The HP enables CMs to make fair and accurate decisions by providing impartial, objective and justified advice.

The PIP assessment is geared towards looking for “inconsistencies” in “functional limitations”. For example, if you say you can’t sit unaided for half an hour, but then say that you watch soaps on TV, it will be assumed you sit unaided for at least half an hour to watch TV, and that will be classed as a “discrepancy between the reported need and the actual needs of the claimant.”

The whole assessment is set up and designed to look for “inconsistencies.” In other words, the assessor is looking for any excuse to justify a decision that you are not among those in “greatest need” for a PIP award. The entire process happens within a framework of reducing welfare costs, after all. This makes a mockery of the government’s fondness for using the word “objective.”

What can we do to try to counter the state bias towards political cost-cutting, which is embedded in the assessment process? 

Well, we can use the guidelines and existing legislation to ensure that we are heard clearly. We can also raise awareness that, whilst most ill and disabled people tend to emphasise how well we cope, and remain positive about what we can do independently, and we often tend to understate our needs for support, in assessment situations, that tendency is likely to be used to trivialise the impact of our condition and disabilities on day-to-day “functioning.”


The government says in the PIP handbook: “For a descriptor to apply to a claimant, they must be able to reliably complete the activity as described in the descriptor. Reliably means whether they can do so:

 safely – in a manner unlikely to cause harm to themselves or to another person, either during or after completion of the activity

 to an acceptable standard

 repeatedly – as often as is reasonably required, and

 in a reasonable time period – no more than twice as long as the maximum period that a non-disabled person would normally take to complete that activity.” 

If you cannot complete an activity reliably, safely and repeatedly, as outlined, then you must be regarded as unable to complete that task at all.  The reliability criteria are an important key protection for disabled people claiming both PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

From the document: “Symptoms such as pain, fatigue and breathlessness should be considered when determining whether an activity can be carried out repeatedly. While these symptoms may not necessarily stop the claimant carrying out the activity in the first instance, they may be an indication that it cannot be done as often as is required.”

And: “The following situations highlight examples where an individual may be considered unable to repeatedly complete a descriptor in the way described due to the impact this would have:

A person who is able to stand and move 20 metres unaided, but is unable to repeat it again that day cannot do it repeatedly as you would reasonably expect people to move 20 metres more than once a day • A person who is able to prepare a meal, but the exhaustion from doing so means they cannot then repeat the activity at subsequent meal times on the same day. This means they cannot complete the activity repeatedly as it is reasonable to expect people to prepare a meal more than once a day.”

This also applies to people with mental health conditions, which may also impact on a person being able to carry out tasks reliably, repeatedly and safely.

Time periods, fluctuations and descriptor choices

The document says: “The impact of most health conditions and disabilities can fluctuate. Taking a view of ability over a longer period of time helps to iron out fluctuations and presents a more coherent picture of disabling effects. The descriptor choice should be based on consideration of a 12-month period.

This should correlate with the Qualifying Period and Prospective Test for the benefit – so in the 3 months before the assessment and in the 9 months after. A scoring descriptor can apply to claimants in an activity where their impairment(s) affect(s) their ability to complete an activity, at some stage of the PIP regulations.

 The following rules apply: If one descriptor in an activity is likely to apply on more than 50% of the days in the 12-month period – the activity can be completed in the way described on more than 50% of days – then that descriptor should be chosen.

If more than one descriptor in an activity is likely to apply on more than 50% of the days in the period, then the descriptor chosen should be the one that is the highest scoring. For example, if D applies on 100% of days and E on 70% of days, E is selected. Where one single descriptor in an activity is likely to not be satisfied on more than 50% of days, but a number of different scoring descriptors in that activity together are likely to be satisfied on more than 50% of days, the descriptor likely to be satisfied for the highest proportion of the time should be selected.

For example if B applies on 20% of days, D on 30% of days and E on 5% of days, D is selected. If someone is awaiting treatment or further intervention, it can be difficult to accurately predict its level of success or whether it will even occur. Descriptor choices should therefore be based on the likely continuing impact of the health condition or disability as if any treatment or further intervention has not occurred.

The timing of the activity should be considered, and whether the claimant can carry out the activity when they need to do it. For example, if taking medication in the morning (such as painkillers) allows the individual to carry out activities reliably when they need to throughout the day, although they would be unable to carry out the activity for part of the day (before they take the painkillers), the individual can still complete the activity reliably when required and therefore should receive the appropriate descriptor.”

Again, “fluctuating conditions” include many mental health conditions.

Risk and safety

“When considering whether an activity can be carried out safely it is important to consider the risk of a serious adverse event occurring. However, the risk that a serious adverse event may occur due to impairments is insufficient – the adverse event has to be likely to occur.”

Even if complex probability calculations were used – and I am certain HPs are unlikely to have been trained to use such formulae – there is no “objective” way of calculating risk of serious “adverse” events over time.

However, it is not such a big inferential leap to recognise that continually cutting essential lifeline support for sick and disabled people will ultimately lead to harm, distress, hardship and other negative consequences for individuals and will have social, cultural  and economic “adverse” consequences, too.


“Making work pay” for whom?

See also:

PIP Assessment Guide A DWP guidance document for providers

Personal Independence Payment handbook

Government Toolkit of information for support organisations


PIP and the Tory monologue

Government plans further brutal cuts to disability support

Consultation as government seek to limit disabled people’s eligibility for Personal Independence Payment

Second Independent Review of Personal Independence Payment assessment


I don’t make any money from my work. I’m a disabled person with lupus, and I’m stuggling to get by. But you can help by making a donation and enable me to continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability benefit assessment processes and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton cards

Dr. Robert J. Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform, cult thinking and neoliberalism

Dr Robert J. Lifton is a psychologist who studied and identified the techniques of mass persuasion and groupthink used in propaganda and in cults (from political to religious). I found his interesting article about the eight criteria for “thought reform” on the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) site.

What struck me immediately about Lifton’s criteria is how easily they may be applied to neoliberalism – a totalising, authoritarian New Right ideology, imposed by an elite of very financially secure and powerful oppressors. Over the last few years, much of the rest of the population in the UK have experienced growing inequality and increasingly precarious socioeconomic circumstances, exacerbated by class-contingent neoliberal austerity and “small state” policies.

The neoliberal approach to public policy has become naturalised. Political theorist Francis Fukuyama, announced in 1992 that the great ideological battles between “east and west” were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed. He was dubbed the “court philosopher of [post-industrial] global capitalism” by John Gray.

In his book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama wrote:

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

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

He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand: “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit social Darwinist notions long held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the conditions of the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives, and as we know, the market is rigged by the invisible hand of government.

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

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

Neoliberalism requires an authoritarian approach to public administration. Rather than an elected government recognising and meeting public needs, instead, we now have a government manipulating citizens to adapt their views, behaviours and circumstances to meet the politically defined needs of the state. This turns democracy on its head. It is also presents us with a political framework that is incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations and equality legislation. 

Government policies have become increasingly irrational.  We have a government that has decided work is a health outcome, for example. In an absurd world where medical sick notes have been politically redefined as fit notes, sick and disabled people are apparently no longer exempt from work, which is now held to be a magic “cure”. The only way out of the politically imposed punitive and increasing poverty for those who cannot work is… to work. (See: Let’s keep the job centre out of GP surgeries and the DWP out of our confidential medical records.) 

Neoliberalism has become a doxa in the Western world. Here in the UK, citizen behaviours are being aligned with politically defined neoliberal outcomes, via policies that extend behaviour modification techniques, based on methodological behaviourism. Policies that “incentivise” have become the norm. This is a psychocratic approach to administration: the government are delivering public policies that have an expressed design and aim to act upon individuals, with an implicit set of instructions that inform citizens how they should be

Aversives and punishment protocols are most commonly used. Coercive welfare policies are one example of this. The recent eugenics by stealth policy entailing the restricting of welfare support to two children only is another. Both were introduced with the explicitly stated political intention of “changing behaviours” of poorer citizens. Those that cannot or will not conform are politically stigmatised and outgrouped, as well as being being further “disciplined” by state-imposed economic sanctions.

Another particularly successful way of neutralising opposition to an ideology is to ensure that only those ideas that are consistent with that ideology saturate the media and are presented as orthodoxy. Every Conservative campaign has been a thoroughly dispiriting and ruthless masterclass in media control.

Communication in the media is geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo. (See also: Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism.)

As a frame of analysis, Lifton’s criteria are very useful in highlighting parallels between cult thinking and how political dogma may gain an illusion of consensus; how it becomes a dominant paradigm and is accepted as everyday “common sense.” 


Lifton’s criteria for “thought reform” are:

  1. Milieu Control.  This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

  2. Mystical Manipulation.  There is manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement or some special gift or talent that will then allow the leader to reinterpret events, scripture, and experiences as he or she wishes. (This can include “natural order” ideas and political doxa.) 
  3. Demand for Purity.  The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection.  The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here. (Stigma and political outgrouping is used to deter and exile non-conformists.)
  4. Confession.  Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group.  There is no confidentiality; members’ “sins,” “attitudes,” and “faults” are discussed and exploited by the leaders. (Mainstream media have bombarded us with “confessions” of “scroungers”, for example. The lives and experiences of those out of work have become public moral “property.”)
  5. Sacred Science.  The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute.  Truth is not to be found outside the group.  The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism. (Ties in with Conservative notions of a “natural social order”)
  6. Loading the Language.  The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand.  This jargon consists of thought-terminating cliches, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking. (See Glittering Generalities and The Conservatives are colonising progressive rhetoric.)
  7. Doctrine over person.  Member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group. 
  8. Dispensing of existence.  The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not.  This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology.  If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the  members.  Thus, the outside world loses all credibility.  In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.  (Lifton, 1989)

*Italics in blue added by me.


Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions: a state experiment in behaviour modification

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

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


Link: The Government Communication Service guide to communications and behaviour changegcs-guide-to-communications-and-behaviour-change1

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

DonatenowButton cards