Public interest issues, policy, equality, human rights, social science and analysis
Author: Kitty S Jones
I’m a political activist with a strong interest in human rights. I’m also a strongly principled socialist. Much of my campaign work is in support of people with disability. I am also disabled: I have an autoimmune illness called lupus, with a sometimes life-threatening complication – a bleeding disorder called thrombocytopenia.
Sometimes I long to go back to being the person I was before 2010. The Coalition claimed that the last government left a “mess”, but I remember being very well-sheltered from the consequences of the global banking crisis by the last government – enough to flourish and be myself. Now many of us are finding that our potential as human beings is being damaged and stifled because we are essentially focused on a struggle to survive, at a time of austerity cuts and welfare “reforms”.
Maslow was right about basic needs and motivation: it’s impossible to achieve and fulfil our potential if we cannot meet our most fundamental survival needs adequately.
What kind of government inflicts a framework of punishment via its policies on disadvantaged citizens? This is a government that tells us with a straight face that taking income from poor people will "incentivise" and "help" them into work. I have yet to hear of a case when a poor person was relieved of their poverty by being made even more poor.
The Tories like hierarchical ranking in terms status and human worth. They like to decide who is “deserving” and “undeserving” of political consideration and inclusion. They like to impose an artificial framework of previously debunked Social Darwinism: a Tory rhetoric of division, where some people matter more than others. How do we, as conscientious campaigners, help the wider public see that there are no divisions based on some moral measurement, or character-type: there are simply people struggling and suffering in poverty, who are being dehumanised by a callous, vindictive Tory government that believes, and always has, that the only token of our human worth is wealth?
Governments and all parties on the right have a terrible tradition of scapegoating those least able to fight back, blaming the powerless for all of the shortcomings of right-wing policies. The media have been complicit in this process, making “others” responsible for the consequences of Tory-led policies, yet these cruelly dehumanised social groups are the targeted casualties of those policies.
I set up, and administrate support groups for ill and disabled people, those going through the disability benefits process, and provide support for many people being adversely affected by the terrible, cruel and distressing consequences of the Governments’ draconian “reforms”. In such bleak times, we tend to find that the only thing we really have of value is each other. It’s always worth remembering that none of us are alone.
I don’t write because I enjoy it: most of the topics I post are depressing to research, and there’s an element of constantly having to face and reflect the relentless worst of current socio-political events. Nor do I get paid for articles and I’m not remotely famous. I’m an ordinary, struggling disabled person. But I am accurate, insightful and reflective, I can research and I can analyse.
I write because I feel I must. To reflect what is happening, and to try and raise public awareness of the impact of Tory policies, especially on the most vulnerable and poorest citizens. Because we need this to change. All of us, regardless of whether or not you are currently affected by cuts, because the persecution and harm currently being inflicted on others taints us all as a society.
I feel that the mainstream media has become increasingly unreliable over the past five years, reflecting a triumph for the dominant narrative of ultra social conservatism and neoliberalism. We certainly need to challenge this and re-frame the presented debates, too. The media tend to set the agenda and establish priorities, which often divert us from much more pressing social issues. Independent bloggers have a role as witnesses; recording events and experiences, gathering evidence, insights and truths that are accessible to as many people and organisations as possible. We have an undemocratic media and a government that reflect the interests of a minority – the wealthy and powerful 1%. We must constantly challenge that. Authoritarian Governments arise and flourish when a population disengages from political processes, and becomes passive, conformist and alienated from fundamental decision-making.
I’m not a writer that aims for being popular or one that seeks agreement from an audience. But I do hope that my work finds resonance with people reading it. I’ve been labelled “controversial” on more than one occasion, and a “scaremonger.” But regardless of agreement, if any of my work inspires critical thinking, and invites reasoned debate, well, that’s good enough for me.
“To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all” – Elie Wiesel
I write to raise awareness, share information and to inspire and promote positive change where I can. I’ve never been able to be indifferent.
We need to unite in the face of a government that is purposefully sowing seeds of division. Every human life has equal worth. We all deserve dignity and democratic inclusion. If we want to see positive social change, we also have to be the change we want to see. That means treating each other with equal respect and moving out of the Tory framework of ranks, counts and social taxonomy. We have to rebuild solidarity in the face of deliberate political attempts to undermine it. Divide and rule was always a Tory strategy. We need to fight back. This is an authoritarian government that is hell-bent on destroying all of the gains of our post-war settlement: dismantling the institutions, public services, civil rights and eroding the democratic norms that made the UK a developed, civilised and civilising country.
Like many others, I do what I can, when I can, and in my own way. This blog is one way of reaching people. Please help me to reach more by sharing posts.
At today’s Global Disability Summit, the government will present itself as a leader on disability rights – disabled people know that it is anything but.
Today the government will host the Global Disability Summit in London but the Tories are no world leaders on disability rights – their record is abysmal.
The government’s hypocrisy is no more clearly demonstrated than in the fact that the Secretary of State hosting the summit – which is aimed at guaranteeing “the rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion” of disabled people – is Penny Mordaunt, who was herself minister for disabled people when a UN report found that the government had violated disabled people’s rights.
The UN published this report two years ago, after the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had taken the unprecedented step of investigating one of its signatories – the UK government – for breaching its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The committee’s findings were unambiguous: The government had caused “grave and systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights. The committee chair described austerity as having led to a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.
These judgements were hardly news to the millions of disabled people who had been struggling under government policies.
The hypocrisy of the government is staggering. The Minister for Disabled People recently had the audacity to claim that she was “utterly committed” to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, yet the government is still yet to even provide a detailed response to the UN Committee’s more than 80 recommendations, and it rejected the UN’s damning judgement out of hand.
This hypocrisy is starkly evident in the summit’s “Charter for Change”, which takes as its cornerstone the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Since the Secretary of State overseeing the summit was a former Minister for Disabled People in a government that was condemned by the UN for breaking that convention, how can she talk with a straight face to world leaders and disabled people’s organisations about this?
The charter includes 10 commitments for participants to agree to, 8 of which the government has itself clearly violated (and one of which is empty posturing).
For example, it calls on countries to commit to “gather and use better data and evidence to understand and address the scale, and nature, of challenges faced by persons with disabilities”.
Yet one of the major recommendations from the committee is for the government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of its tax and social security changes since 2010, something the government has stubbornly refused to do.
We know this can be done – the Equality and Human Rights Commission has done it, finding that those changes had a particularly damaging impact on disabled people.
Another call of the charter is for countries to “eliminate stigma and discrimination through legislation”. This will sound like a bad joke to the estimated 220,000 disabled people wrongly denied social security support due to what the High Court called “blatantly discriminatory” changes to Personal Independence Payments.
The charter concludes with a commitment to “hold ourselves and others to account for the promises we have made here today.” For this commitment to be made by Mordaunt’s department – under whose watch the government excused itself from promises it was committed to as part of the UN Convention – beggars belief.
This government treats disabled people with disdain and contempt. From the Bedroom Tax to swingeing cuts to Personal Independence Payments, government cuts have been felt most acutely by those already struggling.
The Department for Work and Pensions charge sheet of failures is long, including an “error” that led to more than 70,000 ill and disabled people being underpaid thousands in Employment and Support Allowance, with what a public accounts committee recently described as a “culture of indifference” leading to it taking six years for this error to begin to be corrected.
The government’s Work Capability Assessments, carried out by profit-driven private companies, have been linked to a dramatic increase in the number of disabled people attempting suicide.
At the Global Disability Summit, the government will try to present itself as a world leader on disability rights. But disabled people know that it is anything but.
Let us remind them of the verdict of the United Nations: “Grave and systematic” rights violations, a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.
On behalf of all those disabled people whose voices have been ignored, we cannot and will not let the government escape the truth. Their record on disability rights shames this country.
I write voluntarily, and do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights. I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other disabled people going through ESA and PIP assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
An example of audience segmenting, according to a psychographics methodology. I wonder what category data analysts think that I fit into. Whichever it is, they most definitely got me wrong. Note the dehumanising labels (objectification: “the struggler, “the resigned”) and stereotyping. I struggle on little income, don’t consume junk food or very much alcohol, though I have an occasional glass of red wine with a meal. I’m not aimless, I have academic qualifications, but no physical skills as I am disabled because of an illness. I am certainly someone who fits with “the reformer” description but I am not “at the leading edge of society”.
Psychology has always been used as a tool for political manipulation, particularly in authoritarian regimes. Psychographics uses ‘personality type’ to predict behaviour. The data is gathered from online activity, surveys and other sources. It is then analysed and segmented. Strategic communications are then tailored to fit with each category. For example, those identified as having traits of anxiety may be targeted with political messages aimed at generating fear. Those with materialistic traits may be targeted with political messages about promised tax cuts, and those with progressive tendencies may get a political message claiming that public services are valued and public sector workers are going to have a pay raise after almost a decade of exploitatively low pay.
It’s not a brand-new concept; in the documentary Century of the Self, Adam Curtis shows how researchers from the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) used psychology to understand personality types and so predict political behaviour of the US public during the 1980s. The SRI sent out a huge survey to build an understanding of personal motivations. Strategic political communications are tailored to fit the profiled ‘audience segments.’
What is interesting about this is a friend of mine also had an email asking him to join the Conservative party, but his message was rather more about generating fears regarding a future Labour government. My friend suffers from an anxiety disorder. I think it is highly likely the Conservatives are using psychographics and microtargeting techniques. This would certainly fit with theprofiles of companies that the government hire for their electioncampaigns.
I received the following email from Brandon Lewis, the Conservative Chairman, today. I have set out (and sent) my response below:
Today we’ve announced the biggest public sector pay rise in almost a decade, recognising the vital work that teachers, the police, our armed forces, prison officers, doctors and dentists do.
This year an early career teacher will get a pay rise of £800.
A typical police constable will see £760 a year more.
The average soldier will get a £680 pay increase, plus a one-off payment of £300 this year.
This has only been possible because of our balanced approach to the public finances.
Getting debt falling, while investing in our vital services and keeping taxes low.
Backing businesses to help to grow our economy and pay the taxes which fund our public services.
These pay rises couldn’t have happened under a Labour government because they don’t know how to handle the economy.
Labour would mean more debt, higher taxes, fewer jobs – and less money available for our public services.
Brandon Lewis, The Rt. Hon. Brandon Lewis MP
Conservative Party Chairman
It’s not enough to adopt progressive language, as that simply attempts to muddy the waters and target persuasive, nudge type at progressives like me with blatant lies. No matter how you try to dress this appeal, your lies are still are still lies. I am not persuaded by this superficial and glib ‘strategic communication’ from you. Your policies are still draconian and have been for the past seven years. Nothing you say to me, no matter how carefully constructed, will change either your authoritarian policies or the wake of terrible consequences of those harmful and socially damaging policies.
A Labour government would never treat our public sectors so badly. You say that this is the biggest public sector pay rise in almost a decade, and also, that you value our public sector workers’ vital work. This is a contradiction, because if you genuinely recognised and valued that vital work, you would not have waited almost a decade to reward that work. Under your government, we have witnessed hard-working nurses having to rely on food banks. We have seen doctors, nurses and other medical professionals striking in protest of their poor pay and conditions. When a government truly values public sector workers, they don’t have a need to strike and protest.
As for Labour not knowing how to handle an economy, well I must disagree. When you took office, may I remind you that the last Labour government had steered the UK out of the global recession by the last quarter of 2009. Your government put us back in recession in 2011 with your ill-conceived austerity programme, which shrunk the economy and led to those you targeted with the unfairest of burdens of cuts suffering so you could hand out tax cuts to the millionaires.
As of Q1 (the first quarter of) 2018, UK government debt amounted to £1.78 trillion, or 86.58% of total GDP, at which time the annual cost of servicing (paying the interest) the public debt amounted to around £48 billion (which is roughly 4% of GDP or 8% of UK government tax income.
For a government that platformed itself on the idea of economic competence, promising to eliminate the deficit, I have to say the reality does not match your rhetoric. You stated in 2010 that you would eliminate the deficit by the 2015/16, and by 2014, admitted that the structural deficit would not be eliminated until the financial year 2017/18. This forecast was also pushed back to 2018/19 in March 2015, and then again to 2019/20 in July 2015, before the target of a return to surplus at any particular time was finally abandoned by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in July 2016.
It was a Tory-led government that lost the Moody’s Investors Service triple A grade, despite your pledges to keep it secure. Moody’s credit ratings represent a rank-ordering of creditworthiness, or expected loss. The Fitch credit rating was also downgraded due to increased borrowing by the Tories, who have borrowed more in 8 years than Labour did in 13. In fact it has been said that since 2010, your government has borrowed more than every Labour government combined. Quite an achievement.
The Conservatives have seized an opportunity to dismantle the institutions you have always hated since the post-war social democratic settlement – institutions of health, welfare, education, culture and human rights which should be provided for all citizens. . Offering and inflicting only regressive policies and devastating cuts, the your party lies you dismantle our social democracy, our public services, fundamental rights and the very basis of our basic civilisation.
Furthermore, the Conservatives have a track record of mismanaging the UK economy. Thatcher and Major also caused recessions in the UK, these were not because of global conditions, but because of their policies.
Tell me, what is the point of a government in an “economically stable”and wealthy first world country that does not ensure that all citizens can meet their basic needs, and that fails to observe and fulfil basic human rights obligations?
Finally I draw your attention to the growing numbers of people living in poverty, with more than half of those people in work. Whatever your notion of a growing economy actually is, we don’t share it, because we expect that citizens actually benefit from a growing economy, rather than propping it up for the wealthy few.
Meanwhile your government have blatantly and systematically violated the human rights of disabled people, among other groups, and now you claim that the economy has grown, you still have yet to remedy the harm and distress caused to those of us on the receiving end of your draconian policies which are founded on traditional Conservative prejudices against historically marginalised groups.
A growing economy is of no value to ordinary people when its benefits are hoarded by the very wealthiest minority, when public our wealth is transformed into private profit and placed offshore, leaving a large hole in our economy, that your own government attempts to fill by imposing more and more cuts on those with the very least.
I have over 700 pieces of work that documents your policies and the consequences of those, collated from my own research, other academic research, and importantly, from citizens’ own accounts. Let me know if you want me to present you with this evidence of how your government has seriously mismanaged the economy and public funds, though as a government that claims to be accountable, to date you have shown a remarkable and woeful disinterest in serious challenges to your neoliberal dogma, with its incompatibility to established human rights frameworks and democracy. Your answer to a failing neoliberal system is to apply even more aggressive neoliberal policies. Those policies are killing people, causing distress and suffering. That is inexcusable.
I am a Labour party member. I support Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, and will be continuing to campaign for a Labour government, and to vote for the many, not the few.
Very sincerely, and in considerable restraint,
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
Despite Theresa May’s claims that the Conservative party had adopted the full definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), thei party rulebook mentions neither antisemitism nor the IHRA’s definition.
A worldwide coalition of 40 Jewish groups from 15 different countries has issued a joint statementcondemning attempts to stifle criticism of Israel with false accusations of antisemitism. The statement has been published in the Independent.
The statement is timely, as the UK Labour Party is currently facing pressure to adopt the full guidelines accompanying a definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Labour adopted the 38-word definition long ago. They include two controversial examples of antisemitism, which are directly connected to criticism of Israel.
The guidelines have already been used to target organisations campaigning for Palestinian rights. Supporters of Israel have called on government to stop the annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” on university campuses on the grounds that it breaches the IHRA. The guidelines suggest that “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” could itself be racist. Secondly, it’s claimed that “applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected of any other democratic nation” is potentially antisemitic.
Maliciously or perversely labelling critics of this ethnic-based discrimination as “antisemitic” also silences Palestinians who object to Israel’s historic and ongoing commandeering and occupation of their land, and who are experiencing violations of their fundamental human rights as a consequence.
One of the key principles of the IHRA guidelines is that it is the victim of racist (or antisemitic) words and behaviour who has the right to say this is unacceptable and must stop, not the perpetrator. The problem is that has given rise to people insisting that they have experienced antisemitism, when it has been quite clear that they haven’t. On more than one occasion, the alleged perpetrator has not been given space to defend themselves against individuals who have used this principle in malice.
Supporters of Israel have already used the idea of “double standards” to attack the BDS movement. Supporters of Israel claim that unless all nations that violate human rights are boycotted, there must be some antisemitic intent underpinning calls for BDS. Of course this isn’t a reasonable argument.
The IHRA definition states that holding Jewish people collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel is antisemitic. I agree. However, this at least recognises the potential for a state to act in ways that may attract international criticism, such as ethnic discrimination.
The “double standards” clause, however, and some interpretations of “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” – bearing in mind that Israel has expanded beyond internationally agreed boundaries – may be used to exempt Israel from international norms and human rights obligations.
There is a world of difference between denying Jewish people “the right to nationhood” and recognising that Israel is systematically denying Palestinians the right to nationhood. We must ensure that antiracism guidelines are not used to permit and excuse other forms of racism, too. Human rights are, after all, universal.
Another problem is that our own government offers military, financial and diplomatic support to Israel and are therefore deeply complicit in Israel’s human rights violations. Implementing a boycott strategy in the UK therefore is no different in terms of motivation as the boycott of South Africa was – on which BDS is modelled – which helped to bring an end to apartheid there.
In conclusion to their letter, the authors say: “BDS is indeed working, as worried pro-Israel groups themselves acknowledged last year. Due to the success of the movement, a global response by Israel’s supporters is in full swing, with legislation to repress the boycott initiated in many countries.
“What is happening in the UK is but one example of attempts to redefine antisemitism to include criticism of Israel. In the US, the Antisemitism Awareness Actdoes the same.
“On the contrary, we believe that by dangerously conflating opposition to Israel’s discriminatory policies with anti-Jewish racism, IHRA politicises and harms the fight against antisemitism as well as the struggle for justice for Palestinians.
“We take the threat of antisemitism seriously. Indeed, from our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of increasingly racist governments and political parties. The rise in antisemitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part of that broader trend.
“It is profoundly wrong to label the Labour party “antisemitic” for refraining to adopt IHRA guidelines in their entirety. Criticising Israeli policies – or indeed the tenets of Zionism – must be allowed to be part of political debate. That’s why Labour’s national executive committee has found aspects of the IHRA guidelines wanting.
“Leading lawyer Hugh Tomlinson QC has criticised the IHRAon these grounds. Civil liberties champions Liberty recently cautioned public bodies that it could constitute a threat to freedom of expression. Tellingly, even US lawyer Kenneth Stern – a key figure in crafting early incarnations of the IHRA – has warned that it could “encourage punishments of legitimate expressions of political opinion.
“Last weekend, two Palestinian teenagers in Gaza were killedby an Israeli air strike. Since the beginning of the Great Return March protests on 30 March, more than 130 people have been killed – including 25 children. These are just the most recent examples of why we call for a non-violent boycott of Israel until it complies with international law.
“With Jewish and Israeli organisations across the globe that have varying approaches to the BDS movement, we stand united against harmful definitions of antisemitism and together for human rights and the freedom to protest.”
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, will undertake an official visit to the UK and Northern Ireland from 6 to 16 November 2018. His visit will focus, in accordance with his mandate, on the interconnections between poverty and the realisation of human rights in the UK
The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, made up of 47 Member States, responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the world. The United Kingdom is a Member of the Council.
Special Rapporteurs are selected on the basis of their expertise and experience in the area of their mandate, personal integrity, independence and impartiality and objectivity. They are not employed by the United Nations and receive no remuneration for their UN work.
Philip Alston is a Professor of Law at New York University, and he works in the field of international law and international human rights law. He has extensive experience as an independent UN human rights expert. He previously chaired the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for eight years (1991-98) and was United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions (2004-10).
The Special Rapporteur is part of a system of so-called UN Special Procedures, made up of independent experts who regularly undertake country visits around the world to report on human rights issues. The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has, since 2014, undertaken country visits to Chile, Romania, Mauritania, China, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Ghana. Every country is different, and each faces its own human rights challenges. The Special Rapporteur thus adapts his approach in accordance with the specific circumstances of each country.
An overview of visits by all UN Special Procedures to the United Kingdom and other countries since 1998 can be foundhere.
Visits to a country are based on extensive preparations by the Special Rapporteur and his team and are supported by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. They involve extensive study of topics relevant to the issue of poverty and human rights as well as interviews with civil society organizations, experts and affected individuals before a visit.
The visits usually last for about two weeks and include meetings between the Special Rapporteur and government officials, members of the legislature and judiciary, state institutions, civil society organizations, academics, and individuals who have experienced poverty. During his visit the Special Rapporteur will travel to various parts of the UK, but a final decision on his itinerary will not be made until close to the start of the visit.
Regular updates about the visit to the United Kingdom in November will be posted on the website of the Special Rapporteur and via his Twitter and Facebook pages.
On the last day of the visit, November 16, 2018, the Special Rapporteur will hold a press conference in London where he will present a statement regarding his initial findings. He will subsequently submit a final report which he will present to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2019.
The Special Rapporteur would like to invite all interested individuals and organizations in the United Kingdom working on issues related to poverty and human rights, including representatives of civil society organizations, experts and academics, to provide input for the preparation of his visit to the United Kingdom in November 2018.
Please note that the Special Rapporteur is also open to receiving input via browser-based encrypted email. Please contact the Special Rapporteur and his team via the email address above about how to further communicate via encrypted email.
Submissions are limited to a maximum of 2,500 words. However, additional reports, academic studies, evidence and other types of background materials can be attached as an annex to the submission.
All input will be treated confidentially by the Special Rapporteur and his team and for the sole purpose of preparing for the country visit.
If you would like your written submission to be published on the website of the Special Rapporteur, please explicitly indicate this is in your submission.
While all submissions are welcome and the questions below are by no means meant to be exhaustive, it would be greatly appreciated if the submissions can focus on one or more of the following thematic issues:
(1) What is the definition of poverty and extreme poverty that your organization employs in the context of the United Kingdom and to what extent do official definitions used by the state adequately encompass poverty in all its dimensions?
(2) What is your view on the current official measurement of poverty by the government, what are the shortcomings of the current measurement and what alternatives would be feasible?
(3) What are the most significant human rights violations that people living in poverty and extreme poverty in the United Kingdom experience? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law.
(4) Could you specify how poverty and extreme poverty in the United Kingdom intersect with civil and political rights issues (such as for example the right to political participation or the right to equality before the law)? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law.
(5) Could you specify how poverty and extreme poverty in the United Kingdom intersect with economic and social rights issues (such as the right to education or the right to health care)? Please exemplify by referring to specific cases and relevant norms of international human rights law.
(6) Which areas of the United Kingdom should the Special Rapporteur visit in light of the poverty and human rights situation in those locations?
(7) Which individuals and organizations should the Special Rapporteur meet with during his country visit to the United Kingdom?
Since 2010, successive governments have engaged in fiscal consolidation, the process of reducing the amount of fiscal deficit of the United Kingdom. This process is popularly referred to as ‘austerity’ or ‘budget cutting’.
(8) To what extent has austerity been necessary given the fiscal outlook of the United Kingdom in the last decade?
(9) Have austerity measures implemented by the government taken adequate account of the impact on vulnerable groups and reflected efforts to minimize negative effects for those groups and individuals?
(10) What have the effects of austerity been on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom in the last decade?
(11) Have the human rights of individuals experiencing poverty been affected by austerity measures?
(12) How have local governments been affected by austerity measures in the last decades? If possible, please specify the impact on public services such as police and fire departments, public libraries, and the administration of the welfare system by local authorities.
(13) What alternatives to austerity might have been considered by governments in the last decade? Could any such alternatives have had a more positive impact on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom?
(14) What are the potential implications of Brexit on austerity measures in the coming years?
C. UNIVERSAL CREDIT
Universal Credit, which was first announced in 2010, is a key element of welfare reform in the United Kingdom. Its stated aims are to simplify and streamline the benefits system for claimants and administrators, to improve work incentives, to tackle poverty and to reduce fraud and error. The Special Rapporteur is interested in learning more about Universal Credit, including its impact on poverty in the United Kingdom and on the human rights of those living in poverty. Below are some of the questions the Special Rapporteur has in that regard:
(15) To what extent has the Universal Credit been able to achieve the goals identified above?
(16) What has the impact of Universal Credit been on poverty and the lives of the poor in the United Kingdom until now? It would be helpful to also distinguish the specific impact of Universal Credit on specific groups, including for example children, persons with disabilities, women and other groups which may be more vulnerable on the basis of their identity and circumstances.
(17) Claimants apply for Universal Credit online. What has been the impact of Universal Credit being a ‘digital-only benefit’ on the ability of potential claimants to apply for this benefit? How does this relate to broadband internet access in the UK and the so-called ‘digital divide’? What is the role of public libraries and Jobcentres in enabling access to broadband internet for those applying for Universal Credit and have these public services been adequate for the purpose?
(18) What has the impact been of various forms of ‘welfare conditionality’ in the context of Universal Credit in terms of ‘incentivizing’ work?
(19) To what extent has the introduction of Universal Credit reduced the incidence of fraud and error in the welfare system?
D. NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN THE WELFARE SYSTEM
The Special Rapporteur is interested in learning more about the impact of new technologies including the use of ‘big data’, artificial intelligence, algorithms and automated decision-making processes on the human rights of those living in poverty in the United Kingdom, especially in terms of the functioning of the welfare system. Below are some of the questions the Special Rapporteur has in that regard:
(20) What use does the national government, as well devolved governments and local governments, make of such new technologies in the context of decision-making in the welfare system? A recent report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on ‘Algorithms in decision-making’ (May 2018) concluded that the central government does not currently produce, publish or maintain a list of algorithms it uses for public purposes, despite the fact that some of the new technologies that are employed, for example in welfare fraud and error investigations, can may have major negative human rights implications, especially for the poor. The Special Rapporteur is especially interested in learning more about concrete examples of the use of such new technologies by governments in the welfare system.
(21) What is the relevant regulatory framework for the use by government of such new technologies, especially in the context of the welfare system, and are there any shortcomings in the current legal framework?
(22) Which government agencies and departments are responsible for and have oversight over the use of new technologies by governments in the UK, especially in the context of the welfare system? Are their respective responsibilities clearly defined and delineated and are they able to effectively perform their responsibilities?
(23) What are the relevant policies of the central government vis-à-vis the use of these new technologies by the government, including especially in the context of the welfare system, and do these policies take into account the potential impact of the use of these technologies on the human rights of those living in poverty?
(24) What are the potential human rights issues faced by individuals living in poverty as a result of the use of new technologies in the UK welfare system?
E. CHILD POVERTY
(25) What is the extent of child poverty in the United Kingdom, and how has it evolved over the last decade?
(26) What are the implications of child poverty for the rights enumerated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
(27) What are the main causes of child poverty in the United Kingdom, what have been the main government responses, and how effective have they been?
(28) What are the potential implications of Brexit for the situation of those living in poverty in the United Kingdom?
(29) What are the potential implications of Brexit in terms of protecting the human rights of low-income groups and of persons living in poverty?
(30) To what extent does government planning for Brexit explicitly address the issues arising under questions 28 and 29 above?
Human rights are universal. That is the point of them.
My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But if you like, you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write freely accessible, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide welfare support to others.
The government claim they value “evidence-based policy”. However, no-one knows exactly what evidence was found to justify Universal Credit, or how and why it may be applied to dismantling publicly funded social security provision for the public.
A grieving family have been forced to pay their loved one’s rent for three weeks following his death.
Ronnie Cowan, the MP for Inverclyde, has spoken out in parliament about the shocking treatment of one of his constituents because of callous Universal Credit rules concerning bereavement.
The Department for Work and Pensions have decided that if a Universal Credit claimant dies, regardless of when, they are classed as having died from the start of their four week assessment period, which can result in families being liable for their rent payments, and possibly council tax. This means that the government is outrageously clawing money from people for up to three weeks before they die and from their bereaved families.
Cowan said: “Once again, we witness the callous nature of the Department for Work and Pensions, which classes as person as dead from the beginning of their assessment period, even if they die towards the end of that period.
“This means that family members had to meet the cost of the housing rent for a period of three weeks as the payment was stopped from the beginning of the assessment period.
“This is fundamentally wrong and highlights the cruel nature of the current system which is not fit for purpose.”
The MP has asked the government how many more families have been affected in this way because of the Universal Credit bereavement regulations.
These latest concerns follow a recent critical report from the National Audit Office (NAO) that raises questions about Universal Credit being ‘value for money.’
Employment minister Alok Sharma wrote a letter to Cowan offering his sympathies to the family involved and explained the system they use.
Not surprisingly, Cowan says that all social security powers should be passed to the Scottish Government so that a more compassionate system can be put in place.
He added: “This is something which is clearly lacking from this UK Government.
“I will be writing to the minister to ask that they sort out this issue.”
A spokesperson for Department for Work and Pensions told me: “The death of a claimant is a relevant change of circumstances affecting entitlement to Universal Credit. When a single claimant dies there are no further payments due. For the purpose of the award calculation, the death is treated as if it occurred at the beginning of the assessment period.
“If an overpayment is caused because one member of a couple dies, an overpayment decision should be made as usual. The overpayment will be recoverable from the surviving partner.”
“In some circumstances, payment of Universal Credit that would otherwise reduce or stop following bereavement can continue for a short time. This is called a Bereavement run-on. For example, following the death of a:
partner child person for whom the claimant was carer, see Claimant with regular caring responsibilities Non-dependants
Payment of Universal Credit continues as if the person had not died for the assessment period in which the death occurs and the following two assessment periods.
The surviving member of a couple will receive a 3 month run-on for:
the assessment period in which their partner dies two subsequent assessment periods
When the 3 month run on period has ended, the surviving member of the couple will need to re-declare their circumstances. This is so a single award of Universal Credit can be made (without the need for a new claim).”
That would be a reasonable and humane approach.
However, later in the subsection entitled “Debt and deductions after death”, there is no further mention of the bereavement run-on. It looks as if someone with an incapacity for human compassion has amended the guidance and neglected to take out the original kinder version of the regulation guidelines. The document says:
“If an overpayment is caused because one member of a couple dies, an overpayment decision should be made as usual. The overpayment will be recoverable from the surviving partner.
“An overpayment of housing costs paid direct to a landlord can occur due to the death of the claimant. The overpayment is only recoverable from the landlord if they had failed to disclose the death of their tenant.
“An example is if they were aware of the death and failed to report it. Otherwise, the overpayment would be recoverable either from the estate of the deceased or any surviving partner of the Universal Credit claimant.
“The death of a claimant is a relevant change of circumstances affecting entitlement to Universal Credit. When a single claimant dies there are no further payments due. For the purpose of the award calculation, the death is treated as if it occurred at the beginning of the assessment period.”
The document also says that the Department for Work and Pensions conduct a search for an estate in respect of all ‘customers’ who die while in receipt of Universal Credit. A comparison is then made between the information provided for the Universal Credit claim and the assets declared in their estate.
If a person dies with outstanding debt and they leave an estate, the Department becomes a creditor of their estate. As a creditor, a claim is normally made from the estate for debts such as:
recoverable overpayment Administrative Penalty Social Fund loan
People pay tax and national insurance to contribute towards public services, including their social security, should they fall on hard times and require support from public funds. The Conservative government now expect people to pay twice for a barely adequate provision administered within a punitive framework, and delivered within a hostile environment.
We really need to question such an openly hostile and dehumanising system of social security that not only fails to support people, it also fails to recognise, acknowledge and accommodate the actual date that a person dies, and it fails to afford their loved ones some respect, solicitude, support, dignity and time to grieve in peace. Private moments of grief and emotional space are being heartlessly hijacked by the relentless machinery of the state.
This level of disgraceful dystopic bureaucracy potentially transforms the time in the immediate aftermath of the loss of a loved one from one of private grief and adjustment into one of inexcusable state intrusion and surveillance, and a profoundly distressing struggle for bereaved families.
The government claims that Universal Credit is designed to make sure that “work pays” and is aimed at “incentivising” people to move into work. The Conservatives clearly think that this may be achieved by ensuring conditions for people needing support are made unbearable. Conservative ministers have also claimed that welfare “puts in place barriers to people fulfilling their potential.”
This is a poltitically expedient reversal of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Punitive measures and a hostile environment cannot “help” people into work, nor can it alleviate poverty. It can only increase poverty and make people’s lives even more difficult, disempowering them further because of the additional burden of state inflicted cruelty on them.
History and the social sciences have provided ample empirical evidence that it is poverty, rather than a “lack of incentives,” which reduces people to an inescapable struggle for survival, preventing them from fulfilling their potential.
If people cannot afford shelter, food and fuel – basic survival requirements – how can any rational person expect that those citizens will somehow manage to extend their already very stretched, all-consuming cognitive priority and motivation for basic survival to also meet state demands for meeting unreasonable conditionality, job searching or work requirements?
At the start of the year, Mr James Moran from Harthill in my constituency qualified as an HGV driver and managed to find work on a zero-hours contract as a driver while also receiving universal credit—exactly the sort of scenario under which universal credit was supposed to work better. Not long after gaining employment, however, Mr Moran was sanctioned, despite being in employment. As he started the process of appealing the sanction, he suffered a stroke, which meant that he was no longer able to work as a driver.
As the sanction was still in place, he returned home from hospital with no means of receiving an income. Despite getting some help from his elderly parents, Mr Moran struggled with no money whatever for more than a month. He then suffered a second stroke.
Mr Moran has advised me that the doctors who treated him in hospital at the time of his second stroke admission told him that the low blood pressure that caused the second stroke was almost certainly caused by malnourishment. That malnourishment was a direct result of a DWP sanctioning error, forcing Mr Moran to live without an income—to live on fresh air.
I wrote to the Secretary of State about the case on 1 September and have repeatedly chased his office for a reply, but I have received nothing in return to date. The six-week minimum wait appears to be built into the Secretary of State’s correspondence turnaround as well. I do not take that personally, because I gather from press reports that the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions has had similar problems with getting the Secretary of State to put pen to paper. Perhaps he will now chase a reply.
A little later in the debate, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, Iain Duncan Smith shamefully alleged that the opposition were largely “‘scaremongering’ about the way in which the [Universal Credit] system has been designed.”
Universal Credit is clearly NOT an “evidence-based” policy, as claimed, since its architects and other government ministers refuse to recognise any evidence that contradicts their narrow ideological prejudices and assumptions.
As Gordon Allport once commented, a prejudice, unlike a simple misconception, is actively resistant to all evidence that would unseat it.
I don’t make any money from my work. But you can make a donation if you wish 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.
National Action, a far-right group that was banned in 2016 by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd over its support of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed to death in 2016 by neo-Nazi Thomas Mair. The group was not disbanded, however and continued to operate under the cover of front groups.
“A prejudice, unlike a simple misconception, is actively resistant to all evidence that would unseat it.” Gordon W. Allport
The plot to murder Rosie Cooper
The leader of a neo-nazi group was arrested following a police investigation into a murder plot to target Labour MP Rosie Cooper. He has been given an eight year sentence.
Cooper, the MP for West Lancashire, has thanked a former neo-Nazi group member for saving her life after he exposed the far-right terrorist plot to murder her with a machete.
The National Action group is a far-right neo-Nazi organisation based in the UK. Founded in 2013, the group is secretive, and has rules to prevent members from talking openly about the organisation. “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” became a slogan for the group after being said in court by Thomas Mair, who was glorified in online propaganda calling for “murders.”
Police had no intelligence that the extremist National Action member was preparing to kill Rosie Cooper until one of the group members, Robbie Mullen, sounded the alarm to a campaign group, Hope Not Hate, who passed the information on to Rosie’s fellow Labour MP Ruth Smeeth. The group’s former chair and plotter, Jack Renshaw, was later arrested.
The 23-year-old extremist Renshaw has admitted plotting to kill his local Labour MP and had already bought a 19 inch machete, which investigators found hidden in an airing cupboard at his home. He had also researched his targets’ movements.
Cooper said: “I think it’s awful that any public servant – teacher, nurse, doctor, police, MP – should be targeted and threatened with violence simply because of the job they do. To that end, I’d like to thank Robbie Mullen whose information saved my life.
“I’d also like to thank Lancashire and Merseyside Police and the counterterrorism police who have supported me greatly, and who have kept me, my staff and the general public safe.”
Mullen had been in contact with Hope Not Hate for several months as he tried to find a way out of the terrorist organisation, which went underground following the government ban.
His fears that its repulsive rhetoric against Jews, non-whites and “race traitors” would tip over into bloody action were confirmed when the group met in a Warrington pub on 1 July last year. Renshaw felt antagonised after being arrested on suspicion of sexually grooming a child and for stirring up racial hatred with two of his speeches in Blackpool and Leeds. Seeking revenge on both the police and “establishment”, he told fellow fanatics of a plot to kill both Rosie Cooper and a female officer who had investigated him.
Mullen said that Renshaw felt that police officers were “destroying his life and trying to make it sound like he was a paedophile”.
Jack Renshaw pleaded guilty to preparing to engage in an act of terrorism by buying a knife to kill the politician and threatening a police officer. Renshaw, from Skelmersdale in Lancashire, has also been convicted of inciting racial hatred in speeches in 2016.
He was accused of being a member of National Action, but the jury failed to reach a verdict.
They also failed to reach verdicts on Andrew Clarke, 33, and Michal Trubini, 35.
Garron Helm, 24, was acquitted of the same charge.
National Action is the first extreme right-wing group to be banned by the government since World War Two and had recruited up to 100 members.
The court heard that the group planned to “wipe out” non-white people” by “any means necessary”.
Head of Investigations for Counter Terrorism Policing in the North West, detective superintendent Will Chatterton, said: “Today’s result has enabled the spotlight to be shone on the sickening activities of the banned extreme right-wing organisation National Action.
“During the trial, one of those jailed today stood before the court and openly denied the Holocaust had taken place – an unimaginably horrific event that resulted in the murder of millions of Jews at the hands of the Nazi regime.
“Today’s result is a body blow to extreme right-wing organisations such as National Action.
“It sends out a clear message that counter-terrorism officers and partner agencies will rigorously identify and investigate any violently extreme individual or group who seek to bring a reign of terror to our shores.”
London’s Old Bailey heard: “Renshaw stated that if he was charged, he was going to kill Rosie Cooper, his local MP. He explained his plan was then to take some people hostage in a pub and when the police arrived he would demand to speak to DC Victoria Henderson.
“When the officer arrived, he would kill her. Renshaw said that after he had killed Ms Henderson he would then commit ‘suicide by cop’ by pretending to have a suicide vest on.”
Prosecutors said the would-be terrorist intended to make a “white jihad” video stating that the attack was carried out in the name of National Action that would be released after his death.
Another National Action member, Matthew Hankinson, said Renshaw should target a synagogue – even if there were children inside – because “all Jews are the same, they’re all vermin”. During the conversation, Renshaw said that he had purchased a machete to use in the attack, which was found days later hidden in a cupboard at a home where he was staying in Skelmersdale.
After stating his intentions, he wrote a series of ominous Facebook posts saying he was “past caring” and “it will all be over soon”.
One comment said: “I’ll laugh last but it may not be for the longest.”
Matthew Collins, the Hope Not Hate researcher who was contacted by Mullen, said police “knew absolutely nothing” of the plot. He told the Independent:
“They didn’t monitor them [after the ban on National Action], “They thought that because they were a bunch of skinny little white boys that when they banned them they would go to bed like naughty children. But they had an ideology that developed like a sickness, they developed a lust for violence and an attack was inevitable.”
Renshaw admitted the plot, while fellow neo-Nazis Christopher Lythgoe and Hankinson were also jailed for terror offences. Lythgoe declared himself national leader of the terrorist group, while Hankinson organised security and gave a speech calling for Nazis to “split the people into two groups, the racially loyal nationalists and the traitors”.
A jury deliberated for 20 hours to find Lythgoe guilty of membership of National Action but clear him of involvement in the terror plot, which he was alleged to have approved by telling Renshaw not to “f*** it up”.
Jailing the 32-year-old for eight years, Mr Justice Jay said he “did nothing to stop or discourage” the plot to kill Ms Cooper, adding: “You are a fully-fledged neo-Nazi complete with concomitant, deep-seated racism and antisemitism.”
The judge described National Action as having a “truly evil and dystopian vision” of waging a race war and said that without Lythgoe’s obsessive determination it would have “withered and died on the vine”.
“Fortunately… the truly evil and dystopian vision I am describing could never have been achieved through the activities of National Action, a very small group operating at the very periphery of far-right wing extremism. The real risk to society inheres instead in the carrying out of isolated acts of terror inspired by the perverted ideology I have been describing.”
Hankinson, 24, of Newton-le-Willows in Merseyside, was also found guilty of being a prominent member of the terrorist group and was jailed for six years. The Old Bailey jury acquitted Garron Helm, 24, of Seaforth in Merseyside, of being a member of National Action after it was made a proscribed organisation.
It failed to reach verdicts on Renshaw, Andrew Clarke, 33, and Michal Trubini, 35, from Warrington, for the same charge.
Cooper, who was in court for the verdicts, later thanked Jeremy Corbyn, the prime minister and “every single member of this house for the kindness they have shown me” in an emotional address to parliament.
Theresa May replied: “Can I first of all say how very good it is to see her in her place and I know from the response that is a view that is shared across the whole of this house.”
However, I have written previously more than once about how the extremely divisive approach of Conservative governments has provided a space for far-right groups to flourish. The Thatcher era also saw the rise of neo-Nazi groups like the National Front. White supremicist thinking, be it from the likes of academics like Charles Murray or ordinary UKIP members, seems to be a key symptom of a broader disease – competitive individualism, which lies at the heart of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a system that enables a handful of ‘winners’ and many more ‘losers’. That is, after all, the nature of competition.
However, the public would be unlikely to accept a socioeconomic system that benefits so few people unless it was sold to them with the idea that anyone may benefit, providing they deserve to do so. Neoliberalism is therefore sold as a system of opportunities. We are led to believe that there is room at the top for everyone, and those at the bottom are there because of their own personal flaws, rather than because the system itself inevitably distributes opportunities very unequally and demands the establishment of a hierarchy comprised of a few ‘winners’ and many more ‘losers.’ Furthermore, it’s a system that enables winners to keep on winning. This continued winning is facilitated by dispossessing everyone else.
Neoliberalism, competitive individualism and racism
“What is familiar tends to become a value.” Gordon W. Allport
The myth of meritocracy – the idea that an individual’s personal qualities, skills and character may justify social inequality is itself an endorsement of the differential values placed on social groups by government and society, establishing a hierarchy of human worth. Notions of meritocracy have whitewashed historical forms of dispossession. Individuals are blamed for their poverty or held in esteem for their wealth and power, even when at least a third of very wealthy people inherited their wealth, regardless of their personal qualities and character.
These justifications of inequalities have been normalised since the Thatcher administration, though Conservatives have traditionally been elitist. Institutional discrimination has somehow sidestepped the issue of traditional marginalisation and dispossession of some social groups, and the hate crimes with which it is historically associated. The culture of individualism itself is both a blind justification for and an explanation of social injustice and inequality.
Neoliberal ideology demands that every aspect of social life is brought (or bought) within the competitive market place, including relationships, thus objectifying and dehumanising, transforming norms, moral and ethical values, culture, ideals and principles – such as democracy and even the environment – very planet we live on.
It is the basis of how neoliberal ideology determines worth, allocates a category, a numerical and moral value, depending on how a person, human group, resource or geographical area stand up to the neoliberal test – their potential exploitability for profit. Justice, health, welfare, education, opportunity, the means to meet basic human needs and human potential itself are reduced to commercial commodification.
Within this overarching neoliberal framework, we have witnessed the rise of ‘us’ and ‘them’, the reoccurrence of virulent parochialism and nationalism, of pathologising, scapegoating and dispossession of disadvantaged groups and the rapid expansion of injustice and inequality. The world in its entirety exists solely for the benefit of the neoliberal market. Those not buying are being sold.
The ability to deflect public anger away from the architects of inequality and direct it at a variety of politically constructed scapegoats, demonstrates the consistent pattern for neoliberal demagogues – the government perpetually blames others for the failings of neoliberal dogma and policy.
Anti-racist scholar Robin J DiAngelo has argued that the discourse of individualism functions to: deny the significance of race and the advantages of being white; hide the accumulation of wealth over generations; deny social and historical context; prevent a macro analysis of the institutional and structural dimensions of social life; deny collective socialisation and the power of dominant culture (media, education and so on to shape our perspectives and ideology; function as neo-colourblindness and reproduce the myth of meritocracy; and make collective action difficult.
Furthermore, being viewed as an individual is a privilege only available to the dominant group. He argues that while we may be considered individuals in general, white insistence on individualism in discussions of racism in particular functions to obscure and maintain racism. Racists tend to see others as a threat to individualism, their perceptions and their own culture. Individualism tends to undermine regard for communities.
From internationalism to nationalism
The Conservatives (and those further right) have parochialised both explanations of and responses to the global economic crisis, reducing us to a gossiping around the parish-pump type of politics. Parochialism entails neglect of the interests of identified “outsiders”, and this kind of isolationist tendency has also provided a political platform for nationalism.
Parochialism tends to support inter-group hostilities, and it tends to lead to violations of human rights, as we are currently witnessing. Parochialism directly opposes a fundamental set of [internationally agreed] principles that constitute these rights: namely that all humans beings are of equal worth, and that human rights are universally applicable – they apply to everyone.
Even to the social groups that you may not like.
The whole point of human rights is that they apply universally, and that they are not simply provision for the already wealthy and powerful. They are a mechanism that is designed to hold the wealthy and powerful accountable.
The Conservatives have suspended the human rights of some disadvantaged communities, and made a “hostile environment” the norm for its policy strategies directed at marginalised social groups. The policies that extend the hostile environment are founded on the government’s traditional prejudices. In doing so, the government have normalised those prejudices, legitimised discrimination and role modelled behaviours and attitudes that are not only fundamentally unacceptable. They are dangerous.
The subtext of discriminatory policies permits the open expression of social prejudices. The message presented to the public is that some communities should not be included in our society, they are not worthy of human rights, nor should they be treated with dignity and respect. Furthermore, the punitive nature of Conservative policies aimed at disadvantaged groups signals that punishing others is acceptable.
The Conservatives have historically hated trade unions, and have launched a raft of laws to disempower the trade union movement. Recently, the far-right launched an unprovoked violent attack on senior RMT official Steve Hedley after he and thousands of other anti-fascists had turned out in central London to oppose a “free Tommy Robinson” march.
It seems extraordinary that working class Tommy Robinson supporters are turning acts of violence on an official of an organisation that promotes working class rights and solidarity, and fights oppression.
Sometimes the oppressed are very oppressive too.
Steve Hedley, following the unprovoked violent attack last weekend
However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that fascists never stop at discriminating against and persecuting the one social group of your choice. Fascists are fascists and tend to discriminate almost indiscriminately. However, fascists generally spare the establishment, curiously enough. Pastor Martin Niemöllerfamously observed public complicity and the consequences of bystander apathy and silence when he wrote: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist…”
Of course Britain is not divided by race and culture: it’s divided by wealth inequalities fueled by the government’s ideology, policies and austerity programme. Blaming people who are unemployed, sick and disabled, refugees and immigrants for the failings of the government has fueled misperceptions that drive support for the far-Right. People complain they can’t get council houses, surely the only really honest question an honest politician ought to ask is: “Why aren’t there more council houses?”
And when there are large numbers of people receiving unemployment benefit or tax credits, then the only honest question to ask is: “Why is the economy failing to provide enough jobs, or ensure that employers pay adequate wages?”
As a society that once promised equality and democracy, we now preside over massive inequalities of wealth: that’s a breeding ground for racism, classism and other vicious resentments.
Hate crime directed at disabled people has risen over the past five years, and is now at the highest level it’s ever been since records began. That’s the kind of society we have become.
Austerity cuts and the steady and deliberate erosion of democratic inclusion have served to awaken the disgruntled beast within people, the one that feeds on anger, disempowerment, demoralisation, fear, resentment and uncertainty. And loss of a sense of meaning and identity.
And wherever antipathy and a degree of enmity exist, the far-Right have always tried to perpetuate, exploit and increase public rancour. The fascism of the 20s and 30s gained prominence because it played on wider public fears, manipulating them, and deflecting attention, as ever, from those who are truly to blame for dire social conditions: the ever-greedy elite. There’s a well-established link between political extremism, economic hardship and recession and social cleavages, with the far-Right “anti-system” parties now deceitfully winning the support of those who would never previously have thought of themselves as extremists.
The political right have always sought to divide sections of the poor and middle class and set them to fight one against the other; to have us see enemies in our midst which do not exist, so that we see economic policies – the Tory-rigged “free market” competition – as the solution rather than the cause of our problems.
Many people are disgruntled because of our socioeconomic circumstances. Prejudiced discourse is being used politically to divert attention from the fact that our socioeconomic organisation is the problem, rather than those that have been diminished and denigrated by it.
When you just feed the disgruntled beasts, you only end up with beasts.
Thatcher’s government was no different. Now Conservatives need to take some responsibility for what that kind of context does to people’s sense of identity and mental health, to social solidarity and community cohesion. They need to take some responsibility for transforming what was a diverse and reasonably tolerant culture into one of labeling and bullying, and ultimately into one of murder and plots to murder. Perhaps the Conservatives need to read Gordon Allport’s work about how prejudice escalates and as a reminder from history about the terrible social consequences of that, again.
Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processesthat create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes sociopolitical processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.
Decades of research findings in sociology and psychology inform us that as soon as a group can be defined as an outgroup, people will start to view them differently. The very act of demarcating groups begins a process of ostracisation.
The process always begins with the political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as the Other: an“enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, extermination of the group being targeted.
Economic recession, uncertainty and political systems on the authoritarian -> totalitarian spectrum contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice.
Prejudice requires the linguistic downgrading of human life, it requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising sociopolitical system using a dehumanising language, and it has now become familiar and all-pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives. Because we permitted it to do so.
The government (and the media) have shown contempt for rational debate, democracy and for the opposition. They role model appallingly authoritarian, abusive and bullying behaviour for the public to see. Their language is dehumanising, referring, for example, to the left as a “cult”, and these strategies permit others to engage in the same behaviours.
The Conservatives have also tended to lump reasonable opposition, challenges, legitimate democratic dialogue and action into the same category as examples of abuse.
The government made a strategic decision to discredit, smear and delegitimise the official opposition, portraying Labour’s left supporters as “extremists”, “dangerous”, and “terrorist sympathisers”. Such an attack tactic has some very chilling and profoundly anti-democratic implications, because it leaves the left exposed as a dangerous internal enemy, which legitimises radical right wingers’ belief that the left needs to be “eliminated”.
The Conservatives then claim that the “hard left” are abusive to divert attention – this “abuse” accusation is one of many techniques used by the right to police the boundaries of “acceptable” political thought.
Jo Cox was murdered. This has been linked to the rhetoric employed by hardcore right-wing Brexit campaign. Others, including myself, have also linked it with a growth in wider social prejudice, and the social divisions which have been politically fostered, motivated and manipulated by the Conservatives. Lynton Crosby’s dog whistle racism and negative campaigning strategies have been a key feature of elections over recent years and have normalised below the radar “coded” racist messaging, with the inbuilt “safeguard” of plausible deniability.
Dog whistling is designed to trigger previously indoctrinated prejudice, bigotry and hatred without being recognised by outsiders as hateful speech in prejudiced communities. The legitimising of sentiment which has previously been considered inappropriate is one of Crosby’s trademarks, and this approach has steadily pushed at public moral boundaries, making hate speech and hate crime much more likely.
Of course intolerant speech is that which creates categories of outgrouped others, and this process of othering hasn’t been confined to ethnic minorities. The Conservatives have also stigmatised disabled people, social security claimants more generally, trade unions, public sector workers, among others and have systematically demonised and personally discredited critics, opposition (including charities and academics), and especially, those on the left.
The government has consistently sent out a broader message, in the form of a series of coded emotive appeals and sometimes, quite explicitly stated, that the left has/will take your taxes and give it to “undeserving” minorities. Those “minorities” are disabled people, people in low paid work, people who have lost their job, as well as asyum seekers and migrants.
As opposed to tax cheating millionaires and rogue multinationals.
This is a government that has sneeringly labelled those reasonably calling for an end to austerity, adequate funding for our public services and adequate social security protection for disabled people as “unrepentant Marxists”, “Trots”, “the Hard Left”, “the Loony Left”, and who ran almost all of their election campaign as a strategic, pointed, deeply personal smear attack on Jeremy Corbyn and some of the shadow cabinet.
The Conservatives ran an election campaign that was almost entirely about character assassinations and smearing the opposition, rather than offered policies. It was also about telling the electorate who they must and must not vote for. They seem to have forgotten that it is the public who decide who is “fit” to run the country, not the increasingly authoritarian incumbent government. We live in a democracy, after all, not a one-party state.
We need to recognise their moral and rational boundaries are being politically manipulated and systematically pushed. That has consequences. Increasing inequality, poverty, prejudice, discrimination and social injustice and social isolation, decreasing democracy, social inclusion and civic rights are just some such consequences. There are many more, some happening at a profoundly existential level. All at a time when supportive provision is being steadily withdrawn, public and mental health services are in crisis because of the Conservative cuts to funding. And many people are dying as a consequence.
Against this backdrop, it’s also become almost normal for the far right to murder and plot to murder left-wing politicians. Those of us who object and challenge the way things have become are dismissed and labelled with derogatory terms like “scaremonger”, “virtue signaller” and so on.
Jo Cox was a dedicated Labour MP, who fought tirelessly for social justice. She was just 41 and was taken from a husband and two young children, as well as her friends and constituents. Her final words were “my pain is too much.” Jo’s grieving husband, Brendan, has urged us to “fight the hatred that killed her.” We must.
It must be time to recognise that each and every one of us bears some responsibility and has some positive contribution to make to the kind of society we live in.
To make it the one we want to live in.
And surely that society is not the one we witness today.
I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.
Kit Malthouse, the new housing minister, thinks that homeless people can be simply “incentivised” out of their homelessness.
The new Conservative Housing Minister has a very controversial record on homelessness, during his tenure at Westminster City Council – in that he wasn’t fond of there being any homeless people within Westminster and tried to clear them from the City. He once claimed that homeless people in the UK are “too comfortable” sleeping on the streets and suggested that “hosing them out of doorways” was the ‘right’ policy approach, it has been reported.
He’s not much of a housing enthusiast, evidently. Malthouse was previously elected to the London Assembly seat of West Central, and within days was also appointed by Boris Johnson as Deputy Mayor for Policing, a role in which he served for four years. In 2012 he was moved to become the first Deputy Mayor for Business and Enterprise, with a brief to improve employment figures in the capital.
Callous Christopher Laurie ‘Kit’ Malthouse, a former work and pensions minister, was appointed as Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by Theresa May, after Dominic Rabb was announced as the new Brexit Secretary in the wake of a rebellion and resignations over the Prime Minister’s approach to leaving the EU.
Anyone hoping for a softer and more humane approach to Britain’s homelessness crisis are likely to be disappointed, because Malthouse has a shameless history of contempt and animosity towards homeless citizens.
As Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council, Malthouse was accused of being “ruthless” towards homeless people and rough sleepers, including supporting the idea of “hosing them out of doorways”, according toMirror Online.
In April 2008 he boasted: “We certainly instituted a policy of making life – it sounds counterintuitive and cruel – more uncomfortable; that is absolutely right.”
He added: “One of the targets [I was] set was to [remove] more than halve the number in Westminster.
“Working with a number of charities and groups across Westminster we analysed the problem, and one of the issues was that in many ways – it sounds counterintuitive – life was too comfortable on the street.
“I know that sounds an awful thing to say but let me finish the argument, OK?.”
It sounds a Conservative thing to say. The Conservatives have approached the social problems that their own policies have created, such as increasing poverty and destitution – by blaming and punishing those affected by neoliberal policies. That approach isn’t ‘counterintuitive’, it’s brutal, callous and dishonest. This approach, dressed up in the language of nudge, is an attempt at propping up a failing system, and justifying Tory dogma. It’s a government that’s fond of meaningless management jargon and boardroom psychological woo woo.
I have yet to hear of a homeless person who stopped being homeless because they were made to face even more ordeals. The idea that gratuitously punishing (euphemised as “incentivising”) poor and homeless people ‘out of’ poverty and homelessness is utterly barbaric . Punitive and hostile policies simply present people with further barriers to escaping dire circumstances and perpetuate the misery of poverty and homelessness.
Malthouse continued: “There were, at the time, plenty, well-funded – we managed to get quite a lot of funding – night shelters and night centres; we managed to extract a cheque for £130,000 for St. Martin’s so it could stay open all night.
“The difficulty was getting rough sleepers into those centres so that they could be interacted with, their needs could be met.”
He has also been reported as saying: “The idea that everyone begging is down on their luck is a fantasy”, and claimed in the run up to the last General Election that people who are forced to visit foodbanks do so because they ‘cannot properly manage their finances.’
Malthouse, now MP for North West Hampshire, described the council’s campaign of “positive and negative incentives” as an attempt to reduce ‘begging’ in the area.
After 27 homeless people were arrested by police in 2004, Malthouse argued that his “zero tolerance” approach to homelessness should be adopted by other local authorities.
Alexandra Morris, Managing Director of online letting agent MakeUrMove, said: “It is hugely disappointing that the housing brief is once again the poor relation. We’re staring down the barrel of a very real housing crisis.
“The Government needs to make housing a priority, and this starts with appointing an expert on housing with a firm commitment to the role.”
Malthouse was told to resign in 2016 as patron of the MS Society, the national charity that campaigns on issues surrounding multiple sclerosis, and was no longer seen as “suitable” for the position after he voted in favour of cuts to ESA that would see people with multiple sclerosis among hundreds of thousands of disabled people to lose critical allowances.
The charity Crisis was among those to take exception to Malthouse’s approach – called Operation Loose Change – which was enacted by Westminster Council and the Met Police.
A spokesperson for the charity said: “All this will create is a series of additional barriers for people wanting to escape homelessness for good.
“The vast majority of people who beg are homeless and all are vulnerable. What they desperately need is support to deal with their problems and find a route back into society. Ignoring these problems and embarking on costly crackdowns is a waste of public money and grossly demeaning to homeless people.”
It’s worth noting that according to TheyWorkForYou, Malthouse has voted:
Consistently for new High Speed Rail infrastructure (HS2) (2 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
Consistently for reducing funding to local governments (3 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
Generally voted against increasing powers to local government (4 for – 11 against – 0 abstentions)
Consistently voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
Consistently voted for charging a market rent to high earners renting a council home (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions).
Malthouse’s statement following his appointment at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government: “I am delighted to be appointed as Minister of State for Housing.
“Building the homes this country needs is a top priority for this government. I am keen to build on the real progress that has been made and start working with the sector so we can deliver more homes, restore the dream of home ownership and build a housing market fit for the future.”
“I’m also committed to continuing the important work of supporting those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and ensuring people are safe, and feel safe in their homes.”
I can’t help but wonder, given his last paragraph, what “real progress” he is referring to.
Neoliberalism is based on competitive individualism. In such a competitive system it’s inevitable that there will be a few “winners” and many “losers”. That’s what “competition” means. It means no rewards for most people – inequality and poverty for the many, wealth for a few. It’s not possible to “work hard” to change this. Inequality is entrenched because of the system of governance and policy choices. Therefore it’s hardly fair or appropriate for a government to blame and punish people for the failings of their own imposed ideology – a political and economic mode of organisation – which most ordinary people did not intentionally choose.
My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can help support my work on Politics and Insights if you like, by making a donation. This will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support and advice to others who are going through disability claims, assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.