Poverty and Patrimony – the Evil Legacy of the Tories.

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If we look back through history, we see that in any period of time when persecution and punishment of the poor, and destruction of the integral bonds of our society reflects the dominant paradigm, that paradigm is scripted by harsh, shrill ideologues and economic liberals. The Poor Law of 1834 is a very good historical example. That also was also about “making work pay”, by ensuring, through the principle of less eligibility, that those without a job were far more miserable and had much less than the lowest paid worker.

Owen Jones recently claimed that: “The political right is the inevitable, rational product of an unequal society”. I disagree. Unequal society is and always has been the rational product of Conservative Governments.

If Toryism is simply about rationalising from the relative isolation of a privileged background, and a belief that “hard work” means prosperity – those old mythological meritocratic principles – then how is it so that unemployment and poverty grows and extends under EVERY Tory Government? And why would such rationalisation include persecution and punishment of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society? And such WILFUL denial of their suffering, and even death, because of Tory policies?

And since when did the aristocracy work hard for their own wealth? Self-reliance, from a Tory perspective is only for those who have no money. Making work payis one of the biggest and most malicious lies the current Tory-led Government have told, to justify raiding our tax-funded welfare provision and using it to provide handouts to the very wealthy – £107, 000 EACH PER YEAR in the form of a tax cut for millionaires. The Conservatives claim that it is “unfair” that people on benefits are “better off” than those in workBut the benefit cuts are having a dire impact on workers as well. Wages have decreased in value and are now at an all time low, while the cost of living has risen steeply. Making work pay for whom?

That calculated lie isn’t a product of “rationalisation” from Tory upbringing and background: we are not simply products of our life experiences, because we have intentionality and a degree of free will to shape those experiences and relate to others. It is therefore wilful greed, theft and deliberately inflicted punishment on the most vulnerable. It is the destruction of a once civilised society that represented ideals which were from the very best of us as a species – altruism, mutual aid, cooperation, compassion and empathy.

Human rights enshrined these ideals and human qualities. Our welfare, social support programs  and National Health Service embedded these ideals. Sixty years of human social evolution and progress is being unraveled wilfuly and deliberately by the Tories. If that isn’t evil, then I don’t know what is.

Poverty is not simply about being on a low income and going without – it is also to do with being denied health, justice, education, adequate housing and social activities, as well as basic autonomy, self-esteem and a sense of identity.

It is about being marginalised and excluded from society. It’s also about stigmatisation and minoritization. This part of the process is blatantly deliberate and wilful. It is undertaken by the wealthy and politically powerful. To justify the calculated impoverishment of others for the gain of a few. It’s what David Harveydescribes  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.  

I wonder how we should characterise the socioeconomic period we have seen ushered in by the Tory-led Coalition? It’s one that will certainly change the life course and character of more than one generation. It will leave an indelible imprint on so very many. It has already plunged many communities into a despair not seen for many decades, and my fear is that ultimately it is likely to warp our politics, culture and the character of our society for many years to come. It is change propelled by loss for the majority of people. It isn’t simply a material loss, it’s so much worse.

Shocking Key findings from the Poverty and Social Exclusion Project, in The Impoverishment of the UK report, reveals that:

• Over 30 million people (almost half the population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity.
• Almost 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions.
• Roughly 14 million cannot afford one or more essential household goods.
• Almost 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities considered necessary by the majority of the population.
• About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing.
• Around 4 million children and adults are not properly fed by today’s standards.
• Almost 4 million children go without at least two of the things they need.
• Around 2.5 million children live in homes that are damp.
• Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.

For me, the grim figures and statistics understate the magnitude of the real crisis, though they do provide us with some quantitative proof of the catastrophic loss, and the wilful destruction of our civilised public services and civilising social support mechanisms. But it’s the qualitative changes that I am considering, too. I think that the collective psyche has changed as a result the new political authoritarianism that goes hand in hand with neoliberal policies, incremental impoverishment and micro-management of the population, ethical relativism and moral impoverishment, political scandal and lies, distortions of language and contortions of rationale, and a subversion of democracy that we are going through. Sorry, being subjected to

And we’re different as a result.Yet somehow we have let all of this this happen. The term bystander apathy refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses.

There are two major factors that contribute to the bystander effect. First, the presence of other people creates a diffusion of responsibility. Because there are other observers, individuals do not feel as much pressure to take action, since the responsibility to take action is thought to be shared among all of those present. So who will step forward?

The second reason is we seem to have the need to behave in socially normative, “acceptable” ways. When other observers fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate.

But who defines “socially normative”? The media? Our parents? Social institutions? Isn’t that ultimately down to us?  Don’t we have a capacity for making choices, don’t we have a degree of free will and intentionality, each of us?  So who will take some responsibility?

I don’t believe in the simplistic “economic entropy” model that we have been provided with as a means of explanation for the draconian social policies we are currently witnessing. The Coalition continue to deny that alternatives to austerity are viable. But we know that austerity is damaging our economy, and it is simply a front for an enormous wealth transfer from the taxpayer to private interests, and the very wealthy. The case for austerity is not even convincing: it hasn’t worked. It has not reduced borrowing. The Government borrowing is likely to come out at £120bn this year, exactly where it’s been for the previous two years. The Coalition has borrowed more in three years than the previous Government borrowed in thirteen.

Surveys and lab experiments show that, for better or worse, Schadenfreude is a powerful psychological force: at any fixed level of income, people are somehow happier when the income of others is reduced. However, that Schadenfreude becomes more apparent generally in those with the greatest power and wealth. This is a fundamental quality that the Tory-led Coalition have both fueled and drawn on to justify their crass redistribution of our public wealth to private bank accounts. Whilst they repress our most positive human qualities: caring, cooperation and altruism. Well…they try.

But it’s a terrible fact that whilst those who don’t experience empathy, such as psychopaths, can’t generally learn to, those who can may be switched off. Dehumanising language and dehumanising metaphors, narratives that emphasise prejudice and construct the other and political outgrouping can all serve to de-empathise the general public. As Wittgenstein once said, the limits of my language are the limits of my world. 

Social qualities are so rarely acknowledged by Tories because the implications counter the dominant narrative of meritocracy, competition, free markets, hierarchies, outgroups and legitimated authority figures. The view exemplified by Ayn Rand, that any kind of altruism is actually bad is found at the core of Conservative ideology, and manifests in their social Darwinist policies. She argued that thinking about the needs of others is an enemy of freedom, strength and self-expression. Whose freedom, strength and self-expression does Rands’ recommendations of competitive individualism and individual selfishness suppress? Oh yes, the most vulnerable and poor. Hello America.

The real catastrophe is that we have collectively allowed the associations between people, society and politics to become unravelled. We are truly alienated from decision-making about how our society is, and should be. But we opted out. We let go of our responsibility to each other. Research shows that some 70% of the public supports the welfare cuts. That includes many labour party supporters.

Tory rhetoric has succeeded in creating and justifying monetary apartheid. But this is the reality of the situation: poverty is now more acutely absolute, and becoming more widespread because of an enormous wealth transfer from the taxpayer to private interests, and a bogus ideological austerity programme, presented as a fait accompli. But how do you sell such a thing to civil society? How are the Tory-led Government getting away with such blatant theft and lies?

The battle is being won by the calculated use of techniques of persuasion. Disability hate crime is up by 25% after the Government’s attacks on disabled people needing to claim benefits. The government insinuated that they are all committing benefit fraud, that these are people pretending to be ill to avoid work. Negative day-to-day reporting, with political endorsement and open support from malevolent individuals such as Mark Hoban and Iain Duncan Smith, constantly portrays people with a disability and those facing unemployment as a burden or drain on society.

This method of constructing “Otherness” by the politically powerful colluding in dominant social narrative, commonly via the mainstream media, is a recognised method of social exclusion, minorization and marginalisation. Constructing “Other” social identities involves highlighting difference, rather than acknowledging our common, shared human qualities, characteristics and needs, and typically involves the demonisation and dehumanisation of specific groups, which further justifies political attempts to “civilise” and exploit these “inferior” others. It is a method of propaganda that is commonly employed by authoritarian Governments to justify atrocities such as ethnic cleansing.

A recent TUC study in the UK revealed people’s perceptions about the scale of the welfare bill and welfare fraud were entirely unrelated to the reality. This method of crass negative labelling, demonisation and scapegoating clearly works, as attempts to justify the dismantling of our social security and support for the vulnerable. That is an outrage.

The same type of dehumanising rhetoric that the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust, ultimately. And for those itching to cry 

This deliberately misleading rhetoric concerning those who have to seek support from the welfare state, such as the contrived contrast between “strivers” and “shirkers”, underpinned by the anachronistic, discredited notions of “deserving” and “undeserving” –  and other similar, not so subliminal betrayals spilt into legislative cruelty, of an underlying brand of authoritarian and elitist egoism –  is undermining that trust and, with it, one of the key foundations of our society. We have welfare to protect the poorest; those with least power, to ensure that no-one has to live in absolute poverty. Well, at least we did.

Now we have a Government that regards public funding for our welfare provision as their very own reward pot, disposable income for the already wealthy. Whilst the poorest people in our society have seen their only safety net (self funded via taxes) snatched away by this vicious, misanthropic brood of schadenfreuders. 

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Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The minimum cost of living has soared by a quarter- 25% –  since the start of the economic downturn, according to a report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which details the true inflationary pressures facing low income households. The research finds families are facing an “unprecedented erosion of household living standards” thanks to rapid inflation and flat-lining wages.

Cuts to benefits and tax credits have exacerbated the problem over the past 12 months, according to the report. Now we are seeing the hard evidence that the Coalition’s “reforms” are pushing employed people in low paid work and unemployed people into absolute poverty, as our welfare system is no longer meeting basic living needs, and Government policy has distorted the original purpose of our social security, using rhetoric about costs to “the tax payer”, whilst carefully excluding the fact from their monologue that most benefit recipients are also tax payers.

A terrible and frightening consideration is that this report doesn’t include the latest round of benefit cuts – the very worst of them to date – that were implemented in April of this year. The report was produced prior to then, covering the period up to April, but doesn’t include it.

A quarter of households in the UK already fell short of the income required to reach an adequate standard of living – for them a 25% increase in costs intensifies the everyday struggle to make ends meet. The  price of food and goods we need for an acceptable living standard has risen far faster than average inflation. This has combined with low pay increases to create a widening gap between income and needs.

The freeze in child benefit, the decision to uprate tax credits by just 1% and the increase in the cost of essentials faster than inflation mean that a working couples with children an  working lone parents will lose out, making a mockery of the Coalition’s claim of ” making work pay”.

Over the past five years:

• Childcare costs have risen over twice as fast as inflation at 37%.
• Rent in social housing has gone up by 26%.
• Food costs have increased by 24%.
• Energy costs are 39% more.
• Public transport is up by 30%.

Since 2010, wages have been rising more slowly than prices, and over the past 12 months, incomes have been further eroded by cuts to benefits and tax credits. Ministers argue that the raising of the personal tax allowance to £10, 000 for low income households will help, however, the report says its effect is cancelled out by cuts and rising living costs.

I would add that for many who are low paid, and the increasing numbers of part-time workers, this political gesturing is meaningless. The policy only benefits those who earn enough to pay tax. Most of this group are affected by the benefit cuts – many have to claim housing benefit and council tax benefit, and they are therefore likely to be affected by the bedroom tax and the poll tax-styled reductions to benefits under the Localism Bill, to compound matters.

It has to be said  that the greatest percentage change in net income from the personal tax free allowance of £10,000 is seen by those on the upper end of the income scale – not, as is often claimed, low earners. This does explain the policy. Increasing the personal allowance serves to increase the gap between the those on the lowest incomes and those on  middle range incomes, resulting in low income households falling further into poverty.

At the low paid end of salaried work there are a cohort of workers trapped in a cycle of very poorly paid, low – skilled work, zero hour contracts, with few, if any, employee rights. They tend to work for a few months here and there, in work is often seasonal. There is no opportunity for saving money or hope of better employment prospects. This group of workers tend to live hand to mouth from one pay day to the next, so have no opportunity to build a reserve when the contract ends, there is nothing in reserve.

The net result is that it is increasingly very difficult for low-to-middle income families to balance the weekly budget. There is now a widening gulf between public expectations of a minimum decent living standard and their ability to earn enough to meet it. I would add that the gap between  low and middle income families is widening, and will continue to do so because of the impact of policies that have recently been implemented.

Welfare support is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. All developed countries have such support for the vulnerable, and the less developed ones are striving to establish their own. Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations. In the UK, the poorest people not only pay taxes, they also pay the highest taxes.

Statisticians hold two basic definitions of poverty – relative poverty is a measure which looks at those well below the median average of income (60% of income) – who are excluded from participating in what society generally regards as normal activities. This kind of poverty is relative to the rest of society, and is the type that we have seen and measured since the welfare state came into being.

Absolute poverty refers to a level of poverty beyond the ability to afford the essentials which we need simply to live and survive. People in absolute poverty cannot afford some of the basic requirements that are essential for survival. It is horrifying that this is now the fastest growing type of poverty in Britain, according to research bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  When the IFS produced its report on growing child poverty, David Cameron’s callous, calculated  and unflinching reaction was to question the figures, rather than accept the consequences of his Government policies.

And it IS calculated and deliberate legislative spite. The Government’s own impact assessment has demonstrated that the 1% uprating in the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Act will have a disproportionate effect on the poorest. Families with children will be particularly hard hit, pushing a further 200,000 children into poverty. In addition, those with low to middle earnings and single-earner households will be caught by the 1% limit on tax credit rates. These new cuts come on top of the cumulative impact of previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts which have already meant the equivalent to a loss of around 38% of net income for the poorest tenth of households and only 5% for the richest tenth.

According to a TUC report, average wages have dropped by 7.5 per cent since the Coalition came into office. This has a direct impact on child poverty statistics, which the government has conveniently ignored in its latest, Iain Duncan Smith-endorsed, child poverty figures.

Child poverty is calculated in relation to median incomes – the average income earned by people in the UK. If incomes drop, so does the number of children deemed to be in poverty, even though – in fact – more families are struggling to make ends meet with less money to do so.

This is why the Department for Work and Pensions has been able to sound an announcement that child poverty in “workless” families (which translates from Tory propaganda-speak to “victims of the Government- induced recession”) has dropped, even though we can all see that this is nonsense. As average incomes drop, the amount received by  families not in work – taken as an average of what’s left – appears to rise, even though, as we know, the increase is not even keeping up with inflation any more.

Liam Byrne said: “The IFS report shows that the price of ministers’ failure on child poverty isn’t just a million more children growing up poor – it’s a gigantic £35 billion bill for the tax payer. It’s not just a moral failure, but an economic disaster.

“Ministers should be doing everything they can for struggling families but instead they are slashing working families’ tax credits whilst handing a massive tax cut to the richest people in the country. That tells you all you need to know about this Government’s priorities.”

“Not only is there a cost attached to rising levels of child poverty but the trend is illegal. Left unabated child poverty will reach 24% in 2020, compared with the goal of 10% written in law.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the welfare and pensions secretary, has publicly questioned whether poverty targets are useful – arguing that “feckless” parents only spend money on themselves. The spirits of Samuel Smiles, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, they of the workhouse mentality, speak clearly through Iain Duncan Smith from across the centuries.

And of course the Department for Work and Pensions ludicrously continue to blame the previous Administration. We know, however, that the research here shows starkly that poverty has risen under this Government, and we are now seeing cases of childhood malnutrition, such as scurvy. The breakfast clubs established under the previous Labour Government, as a part of the Extending Schools program and Every Child Matters Bill often provided crucial meals, particularly  for children who relied on school provision  – in fact, for one in four of all UK children, school dinners are their only source of hot food. Malnutrition is rising and schools see children coming in hungry.

The previous Government recognised the importance of adequate nutrition and saw  the link between low educational attainment, behavioural difficulties and hunger in school. The breakfast club provision also helped parents on low incomes in other ways, for example, the free childcare that these wrap-around services provided is essential to support them to keep on working.

There are further issues worth a mention from Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review, that are not in the report. They are worth a mention not least because they tell you all you need to know about the Coalition. They speak volumes about Tory-led intention, malice and despicable aims. They expose the lie once again that the Tories “support” the most vulnerable citizens.

I’m very concerned about Osborne’s plans to set a cap on benefits spending. This cap will include disability benefits, but exclude spending on the state pension. Disabled people have already faced over £9 billion of cuts to benefits they rely on, with at least 600,000 fewer expected to qualify for the new Personal Independence Payment, which is replacing disability living allowance, and over 400,000 facing cuts to their housing benefit through the bedroom tax. Disabled people of working age have borne the brunt of cuts, and the Government is once again targeting those who can least afford to lose out.

By including “Disability Benefits” in the cap, the Government have signalled clearly that they fully intend severing any remaining link between social security and need. We are hurtling toward a system that is about eradicating the cost of any social need. But taxation hasn’t stopped, however, public services and provisions are shrinking.

Barely a month now passes without one of David Cameron’s ministers being rebuked for some act of statistical chicanery (or, indeed, the Prime Minister himself). And it’s not just the number crunchers at the UK Statistics Authority who are concerned. An alliance of 11 churches, including the Methodist Church, the Quakers and the Church of Scotland, has written to Cameron demanding “an apology on behalf of the Government for misrepresenting the poor.”

Many people have ended their lives. Many people have died because of the sustained attack from our Government on them both psychologically and materially, via what ought to be unacceptable, untenable and  socially unconscionable policies. People are going without food. People are becoming homeless. There are people now living in caves around Stockport The UK is the world’s six largest economy, yet 1 in 5 of the UK population live below the official poverty line, this means that they experience life as a daily struggle for survival.

And this is because of the changes this Government is making. And we are allowing them to do so. Unless we can form a coalition with other social groups in our society, we are unlikely to influence or  produce enduring, positive political change.

The author of the Joseph Rountree Doundation report, Donald Hirsch, says the cumulative effect is historically significant:

From this April, for the first time since the 1930s, benefits are being cut in real terms by not being linked to inflation. This combined with falling real wages means that the next election is likely to be the first since 1931 when living standards are lower than at the last one.” 

For most of us. The millionaires, however, are celebrating a rise in their already lofty standard of living. That’s not mentioned in the JRF report, so I thought I would mention it. Just so you know where our money is going, why poverty is rising and where the real ‘culture of entitlement’ label belongs: with the rich.

Further reading: 

Chris Mould, a former NHS chief executive, now the director of food bank charity the Trussell Trust, is scathing about how the state can coldly impose benefit penalties on vulnerable individuals while “knowing that no one will actually die of starvation because someone else – the voluntary sector – is looking after them”. In some ways, Trussell may be regarded as embodying the government’s “big society”, by Cameron, but Mould himself is a member of the Labour party – A question of responsibility 

Food poverty ‘puts UK’s international human rights obligations in danger

“A DWP spokesperson said: “Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the universal credit simplifying the complex myriad of benefits and making 3 million people better off.”

That comment left me dumbfounded. How can welfare CUTS  (not “reforms”) improve the lives of some of the poorest families?  Once again we see the enormous chasm between Government rhetoric and stark, terrible reality. The conservatives’ idea of “helping” people who are struggling is to take money from them,to  punish and stigmatise and to deny and negate the subsequent devastating experiences of their poor victims. Tory gaslighting.

It is grossly irresponsible and hateful that journalists and politicians collude in this manner to create a climate that engenders hatred, hostility and abuse towards people for whom life is already so difficult. This would be true at any time, but especially at a time of such uncertainty, when people are fearful of the future and looking for others to blame for their misfortune.

Many people have ended their lives. Many people have died because of the deliberate, sustained attack from our Government on them both psychologically and materially, via what ought to be unacceptable, untenable and  socially unconscionable policies. People are going without food. People are becoming homeless.

And this is because of the changes this Government is making. And we are allowing them to do so. Unless we can form a coalition with other social groups in our society, we are unlikely to influence or produce enduring, positive political change.

Iain Duncan Smith’s most shocking statistical lie yet: Child poverty 
The demonisation of the disabled is a chilling sign of the times
Constructing the Other
Holocaust and Genocide Studies: Visualising Otherness
Why tackling poverty is crucial in achieving a truly tolerant society
According to the Tories, economic terrorism is the new humanism.The Conservative-led government IS evil, Owen Jones – even if its supporters aren’t
Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant memes


 

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