Category: Political ideology

Amber Rudd’s masterclass in Doublespeak

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Yesterday, heartless Amber Rudd was accused of shrugging off ‘heartbreaking’ Universal Credit experiences and stories by suggesting they are about only “one or two” people. 

This is a government who tell us with a straight face that inflicting absolute poverty on the poorest citizens is somehow going to make them less poor. This ideological framework is also imposed upon people in low paid work, struggling to meet their basic living costs. So the government slogan “making work pay” is meaningless Orwellian tosh, as is the Conservative’s longstanding ‘culture of dependency’ thesis and ideological justification narrative for inflicting devastating cuts on those who can least manage to get by. 

The Work and Pensions Secretary made the outrageous comments after being confronted by the Mirror about flaws in Universal Credit.

For years many of us have published articles ranging from flaws in the social security system, affecting millions, to struggling readers who’ve been forced to food banks, as well as administrative ineptitude and bullying that has often had catastrophic consequences. The roll out of Universal Credit has caused hunger, destitution, deaths and suicides, let’s be frank and pay some attention to the empirical evidence, rather than expedient ideological soundbites.  

Amber Rudd told the Mirror: “Some of the criticisms that have come from various publications have been based on one or two particular individuals where the advice hasn’t worked for them.”

That statement flies in the face of empirical evidence. On this site alone there are MANY individual accounts of the harms arising as a result of Universal Credit. And to claim the reason for these harms is because “the advice hasn’t worked or them” is a serious and disgusting trivialisation of the psychological distress and trauma, the deaths, suicides, rising numbers of those facing hunger, hardship, and destitution that Universal Credit, combined with such systematic government denial and indifference, is causing.

She added: “But in the vast majority of cases, and I would urge everybody who hasn’t to take the opportunity to speak to work coaches, the sort of support that individuals get is a completely different approach to what they had previously.”

Yes. It’s not actually support. It’s a programme of discipline, coercion and punishment.

However it isn’t work coaches who have to live with the consequences of a system that was designed to be an increasingly standardised Conservative hostile environment. The government seem to believe that publicly funded public services should serve as a deterrent to people needing support from the public services they have paid into. 

What matters most is the accounts of citizens, which tell their experiences of the system, not of those administrating it. But citizens’ voices are being intentionally stifled, edited out and worse, their accounts are being re-written by politically expedient civil servants and government ministers. This presentation of ideological fictions and the use of gaslighting techniques is usually the preserve of totalitarian regimes, it’s not the behaviour one would expect of a democratic government in a so-called liberal society. 

Governments with such limited social intelligence don’t lie very convincingly, but they do tend to be hard faced and tenacious. The real horror is their utter indifference and lack of responsiveness: that they really don’t care. They continue to demand our suspension of belief and dizzying cognitive dissonance. The relationship between citizen and state is one of abuse, founded on gaslighting strategies.

Rudd added: “And it is delivered with professionalism and care and compassion.”

Sure. The kind of “professionalism, care and compassion” that leaves a terminally ill man without sufficient support to meet his most basic needs, or that leaves a pregnant mother in extreme hardship, homeless, and resulting in the loss of her unborn child. Or one that pushes people towards suicide.

There is very little empirical evidence of the “professionalism, care and compassion” that Rudd claims. Furthermore, the trivialisation and persistent denials of the harm, distress and extreme hardship that is being inflicted on people because of government policies are all utterly unacceptable behaviours from a government minister, reflecting a profound spite within policy design, a profound lack of political accountability and a profound indifference for the consequences of these behaviours on the lives of ordinary people.

In fact, former Universal Credit staff reveal call targets and ‘deflection scripts, which means staff having to block or deflect vulnerable claimants, telling them that they would not be paid, or would have to submit a new claim, or have a claim closed for missing a jobcentre appointment, or be sanctioned – a penalty fine for breaching benefit conditions – or go to the food bank.

One whistleblower said that her role often felt adversarial. She said: “It was more about getting the person off the phone, not helping.” That’s a very strange kind of “compassion.”

As researchers have concluded, Universal Credit is a complicated, dysfunctional and punitive’ system that makes people increasingly anxious, distressed, with some of the most vulnerable citizens in the UK being pushed to consider suicide, and it ‘simply doesn’t work.’ (See Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchersfor example).

devastating National Audit Office report last year about Universal Credit concluded that the DWP was institutionally defensive and prone to dismissing uncomfortable evidence of operational problems. Welfare secretary at the time, Esther McVey, felt the need to make a speech in July in which she promised that where problems arose in future the department would “put our hands up, [and] admit things might not be be going right”.

It’s also clear – in the words of the public accounts committee – that there is a “culture of indifference” within the DWP and wider government.

It’s time that government ministers started to listen to citizens’ voices, to service users – as well as campaigners, researchers, charities and the opposition Parties. And the United Nations – instead of presenting denials that policies are seriously harming people. But there is every indication that they won’t. 

Universal Credit’s malign effects are obvious to anyone who actually looks, and is willing to listen to the voices of those affected by this punitive, mean-spirited and fixated, theory-laden, ideologically driven, miserly provision, that was, at the end of the day, paid for by the very public who are claiming it.

Labour MP Maria Eagle flatly stated that Rudd’s comments are “not true” and are “out of touch”.

She said: “The entire design of the system puts people in debt and the benefit cuts accompanying its introduction have made it far worse.” 

Rudd was questioned by the Mirror after she said yesterday: “Maybe things that were  proposed previously weren’t effective or weren’t compassionate in the way that I want them to be.”

Mirror journalists asked if she could, ‘hand on heart’, say it was “compassionate” to double UC claimants this year, keep the two-child limit and keep the benefit freeze until 2020.

Rudd did not respond to the question, instead replying: “The overall product that is Universal Credit is absolutely compassionate.”

Product? That’s a very odd word to use for lifeline support – the public services that are our social insurance which people have paid into for those times when they need it. 

And using key words from a government strategic comms crib sheet – James Cleverly among others has also opted for the word ‘compassionate’ to describe the welfare ‘reforms’ – does not make those narratives the reality experienced by citizens who need to access support from public services. Saying it does not make it real. This is something the Conservatives seem to have overlooked – that their narratives don’t match people’s realities. That’s the problem with telling lies – the empirical evidence catches up with you sooner or later.

Starving people and leaving them in destitution is not ‘compassionate’. Using a publicly funded public service to deliver punitive and a blunt, coercive, authoritarian behavioural modification programme is not ‘compassionate’. These are the actions and narratives of a government dipping a toe into the realms of totalitarianism.

Rudd claimed that UC needs to be ‘improved’, including to make it fairer to woman, but also said it was a “vital reform delivering a fair and compassionate welfare system”, “by far the most important and crucial reform” and a “force for good”.

Yesterday, the high court concluded that the Universal Credit assessment is illegal. The first judicial review verdict of Universal Credit found that the cutting of severe disability premiums from those who had previously claimed ESA was discriminatory.  How many more legal changes will it take to make the government act with some decency and observe basic laws and human rights?

Ideological mythologies

Rudd went on to claim, somewhat incoherently, that the ‘old system’ was “broken”, “not a utopia that we should return to” and under Labour someone unemployed could receive “£100,000 housing benefit per year.”

The charity Fullfact submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to the DWP in 2012, following the same claims from David Freud, among other Conservative minsters, that people claiming social security support were receiving £100,000 housing benefit per year. The figures in the response showed that over four out of every five Housing Benefit claims are below £100 per week (the equivalent of £5,200 per year) according to the September 2010 figures, while only 70 out of over 4.5 million recipients claimed over £1000 per week, around 0.001% of the total.

Even this is likely to overstate the number claiming £100,000 per year however, as a family would need to claim over £1,900 per week to hit this total. Previous FoI responses from the Department have suggested around five families were awarded this amount.

Ministers and the media repeatedly failed to highlight what is such a small number of the total, and printed screaming and misleading headlines that were inaccurate, without putting this into a wider context. While the evidence suggests that there are a small number of Housing Benefit claims of more than £100,000 per year –  around five – these cases are very much the exception rather than the rule. Focusing exclusively on these outliers without first putting them into context, where over 80% of claims are below £100 per week, has [intentionally] distorted the debate about welfare, aimed at de-empathising the public and providing a justification narrative for cuts.  

Other information drawn from the FoI request found that larger claims tended to come from larger families, and the average household size for people claiming over £40,000 was six. For more details, do check out the numbers in the request itself, which is available here.

People weren’t suffering profound distress, hunger, destitution, suicide ideation and dying because of the ‘old system’.

Perhaps ‘utopias’ are relative. What we are currently witnessing is not “compassionate” or a “force for the good”: it is the dystopic system of an authoritarian state inflicting punishment, discipline and coercion on our most vulnerable citizens.

It’s a state programme that dispossesses citizens, with catastrophic human costs, to fund the tax cuts demanded by a handful of powerful and wealthy vultures, who live lavishly within a culture of entitlement, while the rest of us are increasingly impoverished.

facade-welfare

Amber Rudd claims that Universal Credit is ‘compassionate’. She must have been taking lessons in Doublespeak again.

 

I originally published this as part of a larger article. 

 


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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The DWP left a terminally ill man penniless until after he died

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Jill Fennell and her partner Mark Scholfield. She says: “The benefits system is barbaric and inhumane.” (Image: Jill Fennell/Facebook).

A man who was terminally ill with cancer was forced to spend his final days penniless as he waited for a Universal Credit payment that cruelly arrived the day after he died.

Mark Scholfield was made to endure an eight-week delay for the social security payment before he died, aged just 62, of mouth cancer.

Mark’s partner, Jill Fennell, who was with him for 23 years, said: “When you’ve been given a devastating blow, being told you have terminal cancer, money is the last thing anyone should be worrying about.

“The benefits system is barbaric and inhumane.”

Jill, also 62, said self-employed musician, Mark, was unable to work for two months before he had his diagnosis in February 2017. He was told his condition was terminal, she said, and initially, he was  encouraged to apply for fast-track Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to help him meet the costs of living and pay bills.

However, because he lived in Camberwell, South London, where the government’s controversial flagship failure – Universal Credit – was being rolled out, he was told that he did not qualify for ESA.

Instead he had to apply to Universal Credit (UC). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) often use Credit Reference Agencies to verify the identity citizens making a claim, but Mark had never had credit, and he was told that must visit a Jobcentre with ID.

Jill said that despite his failing health and diagnosis of terminal cancer, Mark was forced by the DWP to go through a health and work assessment over the phone. She  said that she was distraught, and  left “screaming hysterically down the phone”, asking “did they realise he was dying?”

After five weeks Mark received his first payment, which just about covered rent and council tax, but left him with little to live on. But for the next eight weeks he did not receive any more money, and died on July 19, 2017.

It was only after Mark’s death that Jill discovered an ESA payment had been made a day later, as well as a UC payment.

She said: “Mark had needed the money while he was alive to live his final months in some level of comfort and dignity, but he was denied that.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Scholfield’s friends and family.

“While Mr Scholfield was receiving Universal Credit, we are extremely sorry for the delay in his ESA payment which should have been fast-tracked.”

That response is simply unacceptable. Because this kind of glib, standardised apology for an apology is happening far too frequently, it to reflect any shred of sincerity, meaning, reflection or learning on the part of the DWP.  

Linguistic behaviourism: cruelty is compassion, indifference is care

Yesterday, heartless Amber Rudd was accused of shrugging off ‘heartbreaking’ Universal Credit experiences and stories by suggesting they are about only “one or two” people. 

This is a government who tell us with a straight face that inflicting absolute poverty on the poorest citizens is somehow going to make them less poor. This ideological framework is also imposed upon people in low paid work, struggling to meet their basic living costs. So the government slogan “making work pay” is meaningless Orwellian tosh, as is the Conservative’s longstanding ‘culture of dependency’ thesis and ideological justification narrative for inflicting devastating cuts on those who can least manage to get by. 

The Work and Pensions Secretary made the outrageous comments after being confronted by the Mirror about flaws in Universal Credit.

For years many of us have published articles ranging from flaws in the social security system, affecting millions, to struggling readers who’ve been forced to food banks, as well as administrative ineptitude and bullying that has often had catastrophic consequences. The roll out of Universal Credit has caused hunger, destitution, deaths and suicides, let’s be frank and pay some attention to the empirical evidence, rather than expedient ideological soundbites.  

Amber Rudd told the Mirror: “Some of the criticisms that have come from various publications have been based on one or two particular individuals where the advice hasn’t worked for them.

That statement flies in the face of empirical evidence. On this site alone there are MANY individual accounts of the harms arising as a result of Universal Credit. And to claim the reason for these harms is because “the advice hasn’t worked or them” is a serious and disgusting trivialisation of the psychological distress and trauma, the deaths, suicides, rising numbers of those facing hunger, hardship, and destitution that Universal Credit, combined with such systematic government denial and indifference, is causing.

“But in the vast majority of cases, and I would urge everybody who hasn’t to take the opportunity to speak to work coaches, the sort of support that individuals get is a completely different approach to what they had previously.”

Yes. It’s not actually support. It’s a programme of discipline, coercion and punishment.

However it isn’t work coaches who have to live with the consequences of a system that was designed to be an increasingly standardised Conservative hostile environment. The government seem to believe that publicly funded public services should serve as a deterrent to people needing support from the public services they have paid into. 

What matters most is the accounts of citizens, which tell their experiences of the system, not of those administrating it. But citizens’ voices are being intentionally stifled, edited out and worse, their accounts are being re-written by politically expedient civil servants and government ministers. This presentation of ideological fictions and the use of gaslighting techniques is usually the preserve of totalitarian regimes, it’s not the behaviour one would expect of a democratic government in a so-called liberal society. 

Governments with such limited social intelligence don’t lie very convincingly, but they do tend to be hard faced and tenacious. The real horror is their utter indifference and lack of responsiveness: that they really don’t care. They continue to demand our suspension of belief and dizzying cognitive dissonance. The relationship between citizen and state is one of abuse, founded on gaslighting strategies.

There is very little empirical evidence of the “professionalism, care and compassion” that Rudd claims. Furthermore, the trivialisation and persistent denials of the harm, distress and extreme hardship that is being inflicted on people because of government policies are all utterly unacceptable behaviours from a government minister, reflecting a profound spite within policy design, a profound lack of political accountability and a profound indifference for the consequences of these behaviours on the lives of ordinary people.

Rudd added: “And it is delivered with professionalism and care and compassion.”

Sure. The kind of “professionalism, care and compassion” that leaves a terminally ill man without sufficient support to meet his most basic needs, or that leaves a pregnant mother in extreme hardship, homeless, and resulting in the loss of her unborn child. Or one that pushes people towards suicide.

And former Universal Credit staff reveal call targets and ‘deflection scripts, which means staff having to block or deflect vulnerable claimants, telling them that they would not be paid, or would have to submit a new claim, or have a claim closed for missing a jobcentre appointment, or be sanctioned – a penalty fine for breaching benefit conditions – or go to the food bank.

One whistleblower said that her role often felt adversarial. She said: “It was more about getting the person off the phone, not helping.” That’s a very strange kind of “compassion.”

As researchers have concluded, Universal Credit is a complicated, dysfunctional and punitive’ system that makes people increasingly anxious, distressed, with some of the most vulnerable citizens in the UK being pushed to consider suicide, and it ‘simply doesn’t work.’ (See Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchersfor example).

A devastating National Audit Office report last year about Universal Credit concluded that the DWP was institutionally defensive and prone to dismissing uncomfortable evidence of operational problems. Welfare secretary at the time, Esther McVey, felt the need to make a speech in July in which she promised that where problems arose in future the department would “put our hands up, [and] admit things might not be be going right”.

It’s also clear – in the words of the public accounts committee – that there is a “culture of indifference” within the DWP and wider government.

It’s time that government ministers started to listen to citizens’ voices, to service users – as well as campaigners, researchers, charities and the opposition Parties. And the United Nations – instead of presenting denials that policies are seriously harming people. But there is every indication that they won’t. 

Universal Credit’s malign effects are obvious to anyone who actually looks, and is willing to listen to the voices of those affected by this punitive, mean-spirited and fixated, theory-laden, ideologically driven, miserly provision, that was, at the end of the day, paid for by the very public who are claiming it.

Labour MP Maria Eagle flatly stated that Rudd’s comments are “not true” and are “out of touch”.

She said: “The entire design of the system puts people in debt and the benefit cuts accompanying its introduction have made it far worse.” 

Rudd was questioned by the Mirror after she said yesterday: “Maybe things that were  proposed previously weren’t effective or weren’t compassionate in the way that I want them to be.”

Mirror journalists asked if she could, ‘hand on heart’, say it was “compassionate” to double UC claimants this year, keep the two-child limit and keep the benefit freeze until 2020.

Rudd did not respond to the question, instead replying: “The overall product that is Universal Credit is absolutely compassionate.”

Product? That’s a very odd word to use for lifeline support – the public services that are our social insurance which people have paid into for those times when they need it. 

And using key words from a government strategic comms crib sheet – James Cleverly among others has also opted for the word ‘compassionate’ to describe the welfare ‘reforms’ – does not make those narratives the reality experienced by citizens who need to access support from public services. Saying it does not make it real. This is something the Conservatives seem to have overlooked – that their narratives don’t match people’s realities. That’s the problem with telling lies – the empirical evidence catches up with you sooner or later.

Starving people and leaving them in destitution is not ‘compassionate’. Using a publicly funded public service to deliver punitive and a blunt, coercive, authoritarian behavioural modification programme is not ‘compassionate’. These are the actions and narratives of a government dipping a toe into the realms of totalitarianism.

Rudd claimed that UC needs to be ‘improved’, including to make it fairer to woman, but also said it was a “vital reform delivering a fair and compassionate welfare system”, “by far the most important and crucial reform” and a “force for good”.

Yesterday, the high court concluded that the Universal Credit assessment is illegal. The first judicial review verdict of Universal Credit found that the cutting of severe disability premiums from those who had previously claimed ESA was discriminatory.  How many more legal changes will it take to make the government act with some decency and observe basic laws and human rights?

Rudd went on to claim, somewhat incoherently, that the ‘old system’ was “broken”, “not a utopia that we should return to” and under Labour someone unemployed could receive “£100,000 housing benefit per year.”

The charity Fullfact submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to the DWP in 2012, following the same claims from David Freud, among other Conservative minsters, that people claiming social security support were receiving £100,000 housing benefit per year. The figures in the response showed that over four out of every five Housing Benefit claims are below £100 per week (the equivalent of £5,200 per year) according to the September 2010 figures, while only 70 out of over 4.5 million recipients claimed over £1000 per week, around 0.001% of the total.

Even this is likely to overstate the number claiming £100,000 per year however, as a family would need to claim over £1,900 per week to hit this total. Previous FoI responses from the Department have suggested around five families were awarded this amount.

Ministers and the media repeatedly failed to highlight what is such a small number of the total, and printed screaming and misleading headlines that were inaccurate, without putting this into a wider context. While the evidence suggests that there are a small number of Housing Benefit claims of more than £100,000 per year –  around five – these cases are very much the exception rather than the rule. Focusing exclusively on these outliers without first putting them into context, where over 80% of claims are below £100 per week, has [intentionally] distorted the debate about welfare, aimed at de-empathising the public and providing a justification narrative for cuts.  

Other information drawn from the FoI request found that larger claims tended to come from larger families, and the average household size for people claiming over £40,000 was six. For more details, do check out the numbers in the request itself, which is available here.

People weren’t suffering profound distress, hunger, destitution, suicide ideation and dying because of the ‘old system’.

Perhaps ‘utopias’ are relative. What we are currently witnessing is not “compassionate” or a “force for the good”: it is the dystopic system of an authoritarian state inflicting punishment, discipline and coercion on our most vulnerable citizens.

It’s a state programme that dispossesses citizens, with catastrophic human costs, to fund the tax cuts demanded by a handful of powerful and wealthy vultures, who live lavishly within a culture of entitlement, while the rest of us are increasingly impoverished.

facade-welfare

Amber Rudd claims that Universal Credit is ‘compassionate’. She must have been taking lessons in Doublespeak again.


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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The government prioritises corporate welfare at the expense of social welfare

facade welfare

The welfare ‘reforms’: public policies for private profit

It’s widely assumed that public services are organized and delivered for the benefit of citizens. The reality, however, is very different. The more we scrutinise the role and function of different government departments and programmes, the clearer it becomes that they are being redesigned to bring direct and indirect benefits to private businesses.

In 2014, Aditya Chakrabortty wrote in the Guardian: “[…] as the Tory faithful cheered on George Osborne’s cuts in benefits for the working-age poor, a little story appeared that blew a big hole in the welfare debate. Tucked away in the Guardian last Wednesday, an article revealed that the British government had since 2007 handed Disney almost £170m to make films here. Last year alone the Californian giant took £50m in tax credits. By way of comparison, in April the government will scrap a £347m crisis fund that provides emergency cash for families on the verge of homelessness or starvation.

“Benefits are what we grudgingly hand the poor; the rich are awarded tax breaks. Cut through the euphemisms and the Treasury accounting, however, and you’re left with two forms of welfare. Except that the hundreds given to people sleeping on the street has been deemed unaffordable. Those millions for $150bn Disney, on the other hand, that’s apparently money well spent –whoever coined the phrase “taking the Mickey” must have worked for HM Revenue.”

Ministers have admitted this week that more than 4,500 disabled people were wrongly stripped of their benefits despite having a good reason for missing reassessments. The Department for Work and Pensions has now acknowledged the ‘blunder’ – more than one year after a court ruling that the disability living allowance (DLA) payments should not have been stopped. The grossly unfair withdrawal of support happened when disabled people were being transfered from DLA to the government’s cost cutting replacement benefit, personal independent payments (PIP). Disabled people had their lifeline payments stopped entirely.

“We expect around 4,600 people to gain as a result of this review exercise,” a statement from Sarah Newton to MPs says.

But those disabled people are not “gaining” anything. They are simply being paid what they should have been paid.

The admission was slipped out as MPs left Westminster for their Christmas break, as one of a dozen last-day announcements. The disability equality charity Scope described it as “deplorable”.

The latest mistake comes in the wake of the DWP admitting to £970m of underpayments to people being migrated onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) between 2011 and 2014. Ministers were accused of creating a “hostile environment for sick and disabled people” following the blunder, which occurred when claimants were transferred onto the main sickness benefit, ESA.

Both PIP and DLA are designed to help people with the extra costs of disability, or long-term health conditions, yet any award is reluctantly made, and all too often people have to go to court to challenge extremely inaccurate assessment reports and enormously unfair decision-making.

If the British public are to fund corporations, they should expect and demand that those businesses observe certain conditions of basic fairness. It’s difficult, however, to challenge what is hidden from view.

In his article, Chakraborrty discusses the work of Kevin Farnsworth, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of York, who has spent the best part of a decade studying corporate welfare – delving through Whitehall spreadsheets and others, and poring over Companies House filings. He’s produced the first ever comprehensive audit of the British corporate welfare state.

Chakrabortty says: “Farnsworth has achieved something extraordinary: he has yanked into the open an £85bn subsidy that big business and the government would rather you didn’t know about.

“Thinking over this giant corporate bung, two responses immediately suggest themselves. First, it shows up the stupidity of all those newspaper spreads and BBC discussions constantly demanding “What would you cut?”, like some middlebrow ransom note (“Choose now: or the lollipop lady gets it”). It’s a question you’ll be hearing more and more in the run-up to the election. Perhaps next time, as well as mentioning schools, fire services and benefits, some brave Radio 4 presenter will mention the business coaching and marketing and advocacy services provided by the Department for Business (annual cost: nearly £5bn).”

But it was more a case of “choose now and disabled people still got it.” The cuts to the welfare support for the poorest citizens – paid for by the public FOR the public – were carefully planned and coordinated. Private companies were hired to fulfil a role of  discrediting disabled people’s accounts of their disability, and to engage in very bad report writing, with an ultimate aim of resource gatekeeping. At the same time, legal aid was withdrawn to prevent citizens from accessing justice and seeking redress.

Meanwhile, the government and media constructed a narrative to demonise and condemn the poorest citizens, labelling them as undeserving “scroungers” and would be “fraudsters.”

The state’s costly private gatekeepers of public funds

The government has awarded at least £1.4billion of outsourcing contracts linked to the roll-out of Universal Credit and other welfare reforms since 2012.

As Universal Credit continues to be rolled out, forcing the poorest citizens into debt, food poverty and rent arrears, new data has shown the  private companies that have profited from implementing the government’s social security reforms.

The data, which was obtained by HuffPost UK,  was generated by searching Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) public contract tenders for Universal Credit and related keywords. It reveals the vast sums the DWP has spent carrying out health and disability assessments on disabled people claiming support.

The information has prompted mental health and disability charities to call for the DWP to urgently review the failing system of assessment.

Among the companies that have won contracts are global consultancy giants. Some of the firms’ names are known to the public, but details of the awarded contracts are not.

A huge £595million contract was awarded to American consultancy group Maximus to provide health and disability assessments, the largest single DWP contract related to welfare reform since 2012, according to the data.

Atos and Capita also won contracts totalling £634million to carry out assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a disability benefit.

Consultancy firm Deloitte was awarded a £750,000 contract for work to support the Universal Credit programme and a £3million deal was signed with IT firm Q-Nomy to develop an appointment booking service for the social security payment, which is intended to simplify working-age benefits.

Recap: “Deloitte were responsible for advising Carillion’s board on risk management and financial controls, failings in the business that proved terminal. Deloitte were either unable to identify effectively to the board the risks associated with their business practices, unwilling to do so, or too readily ignored them.” Frank Field

Another £60,000 contract was awarded for the purchase of MacBooks for Universal Credit to Software Box Limited.

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at mental health charity Mind, told HuffPost UK: “Despite the vast amounts the government spends on benefits assessments – delivered by companies like Atos, Capita and Maximus – we hear every week from people with mental health problems who get the wrong decision, leaving them without support.

“We’ve long been calling for an overhaul of benefits assessments so that they work for those being put through them. For many people with long-term mental health problems, there’s no need to be put through the stress and pressure of repeated reassessments.”

Geoff Fimister, of the Disability Benefits Consortium, which represents 80 charities, added: “These are very large amounts of public money to be spending on services that are falling short.”

The DWP has awarded 76 separate contracts related to welfare reform since 2012, totalling £1.4billion.

But it is estimated that the true figure will be higher as prior to 2015 some government procurement tenders were not published publicly. This changed from 2015 onwards when new rules under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 meant all tenders had to be made public.

Four of the contracts also show a £0 value and do not include the contract amount.

Tussell’s figures show the DWP has awarded £4.7billion in outsourced contracts across all areas of its work since 2012.

It is clear from the information publicly available that contracts relating to Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) constitute the vast majority of the DWP’s sub-contracting pre-2015. 

But from 2015 onwards, when the data is more robust, this trend was reversed.

Since January 2015, only about 2% (£66million) of DWP contract awards relate to Universal Credit or other welfare reforms of a total £2.8billion bill.

The most valuable contract since 2015 was an £8.2million award to Serco to manage a call centre for claimants of the disability benefit PIP.

The second was a £6million award to Advanced Personnel Management Group to provide healthcare staff to help conduct work capability assessments for Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance. 

Also included are multiple contracts awarded in 2017 regarding Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance scheme, which offers support to those claiming Universal Credit to become self-employed and start businesses.

A contract of £8.2million has been awarded to Serco to deliver a new claims telephony service for Personal Independence Payments.

Gus Tugendhat, founder of Tussell, said: “With the controversial rollout of Universal Credit still very much a work in progress, contract notices analysed by Tussell provide insight into some of the challenges the government is facing, including with IT systems and recruiting healthcare professionals for assessments.

“While the challenges are many, the government deserves credit for its transparency which we hope to see maintained.”

Universal Credit is being introduced to replace six existing benefits with one monthly payment and the government says it is a more streamlined system that will ‘help move people into work.’ 

But it is rather more expensive to deliver.

The DWP said that technical support was vital to carry out a digital delivery on the scale of Universal Credit and said the department operates within strict procurement guidelines to ensure maximum value for money.

The DWP claim that while Universal Credit will cost £1.7billion to deliver, the new system will bring about £8billion a year in economic benefits when fully rolled out. 

A DWP spokeswoman told HuffPost UK: “This is a random selection of some of our contracts spanning six years covering a range of DWP services and benefits, used by hundreds of thousands of people, that offer support to jobseekers to move into work, while having the right care in place for those that cannot work.”

The 10 highest value contracts awarded by DWP linked to Universal Credit and welfare reforms since 2012

  • £595million to Maximus People Services Ltd for health and disability assessment services. 
  • £207million to Atos for Personal Independence Payments assessment service Lot 1 contract extension (Lot numbers refer to different geographical areas)
  • £184million to Atos for Personal Independence Payments assessment service Lot 3
  • £122million to Capita for Personal Independence Payments assessment service contract extension Lot 1
  • £122million to Capita for Personal Independence Payments assessment service contract Extension Lot 2
  • £90million to Atos for a medical services IT contract
  • £8.2million to Serco to deliver a new claims telephony service for Personal Independence Payments
  • £6million to Advanced Personnel Management Group to provide healthcare staff to conduct work capability assessments for Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance
  • £3.9million to Pinnacle People Limited for Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in the north east to support people into self-employment and to start their own businesses
  • £3.3million to Ixion Holdings (Contracts) Limited for Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in London and the home counties

Source: Tussell

Farnsworth’s research should have triggered a public debate about the size and uses of the corporate welfare state.

In his article about corporate welfare, Aditya Chakrabortty goes on to say “[…] what you get on the issue is silence. A very congenial silence for the CBI and other business lobby groups, who can urge ministers to cut benefits for the poor harder and faster, knowing their members are still getting their bungs.

“An agreeable silence for Osborne and David Cameron, who still argue that the primary problem in Britain is that the public sector “crowds out” private enterprise, without ever acknowledging how much the public subsidises business.”

Most of all, a silence at the very centre of our democracy.

Personally, I agree with Chakrabortty’s conclusion: I’ll believe we’re getting somewhere when Channel 4 puts on Corporate-Benefits Street – with White Dee replaced by the likes of Amazon founder and inveterate tax-dodger Jeff Bezos, or the sweatshop  king pension-swindling crook, Philip Green.

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Studies find higher premature mortality rates are correlated with Conservative governments

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In 2014, public health experts from Durham University denounced the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s policies on the health and wellbeing of the British public in research which examined social inequality and injustice in the 1980s.

The study, which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

The research shows that there was a massive increase in income inequality under  the Thatcher government – the richest 0.01 per cent of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and UK poverty rates went up from 6.7 per cent in 1975 to 12 per cent in 1985.

Thatcher’s governments wilfully engineered an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain by dismantling traditional industries such as coal and steel in order to undermine the power of working class organisations, say the researchers. They suggest this ultimately fed through into growing regional disparities in health standards and life expectancy, as well as greatly increased inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

Co-author Professor Clare Bambra from the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University, commented: “Our paper shows the importance of politics and of the decisions of governments and politicians in driving health inequalities and population health. Advancements in public health will be limited if governments continue to pursue neoliberal economic policies – such as the current welfare state cuts being carried out under the guise of austerity.”

Housing and welfare changes are also highlighted in the paper, with policies to sell off council housing such as Right to Buy and to reduce welfare payments resulting in further inequalities and causing “a mushrooming of homelessness due to a chronic shortage of affordable social housing.” Homeless households in England tripled during the 1980s from around 55,000 in 1980 to 165,000 in 1990.

And while the NHS was relatively untouched, the authors point to policy changes in healthcare such as outsourcing hospital cleaners, which removed “a friendly, reassuring presence” from hospital wards and has ultimately led to increases in hospital acquired infections. 

Co-author Professor David Hunter, from Durham University’s Centre for Public Policy and Health, said: “Taking its inspiration from Thatcher’s legacy, the coalition government has managed to achieve what Thatcher felt unable to, which is to open up the NHS to markets and competition.”

The study, carried out by the Universities of Liverpool, Durham, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh, is published in the International Journal of Health Services.

The backwards future

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An increase in UK infant mortality over the past two years, after more than a century of a decline, is the starkest indicator of how, as a society, we are regressing, failing to support the physical and mental wellbeing of children and young people. In October, the frightening implications for individual families and the long-term pressures on the public sector were highlighted by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which had published its projections of likely outcomes for child health up to 2030.

The study compares the UK with the EU15+, comprising 15 long-standing EU members plus Australia, Canada and Norway. It shows that by 2030 the UK infant mortality rate will be 80% higher than the EU15+, even if the country resumes its previous downward path. If we carry on as we are, the rate will be 140% higher. As always, the impact is greatest among the poorest citizens. To put this into persepctive, the United Nations’ estimates of infant mortality indicate that only around six other countries have had increases over the past two or three years. We are now comparable with countries such as Dominica, Grenada and Venezuela.

The brutal cuts to local government have increased the risks facing the most vulnerable. Child protection services are increasingly being driven to wait until a child is in crisis before intervening. This puts children in danger, increases family break-ups and drives up the long-term costs to public services as people struggle to cope in later life with the aftermath of avoidable trauma.

Problems associated with poverty are compounded as children grow. As many as 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres may have closed since 2010, stripping away early years support for children from the poorest homes. Remaining centres struggle to cope. 

Cuts in services addressing domestic violence and addiction put more children in danger. The repeal of child protection policies that the last Labour government brought in – Every Child Matters – has hardly helped, too. Michael Gove repealed the policy the day after he took office in 2010.

A more recent study, published in the medical journal Lancet Public Health, has revealed that people living in the most deprived regions of the country die up to ten years earlier than their wealthier counterparts.

According to the study, the life expectancy between rich and poor citizens has increased from six years in 2001 to eight years in 2016 for women, and from nine to ten years for men. The research was carried out by the Imperial College London.

The researchers say that stagnant wages and cuts to social security are among the main causes for the growing life expectancy gap, they warn that the their findings are a “deeply worrying indicator of the state of our nation’s health”.

The study also reveals that child mortality rates are higher among deprived communities, with the poorest children more than twice as likely to die before they reach adulthood, compared to children born into well-off families.

The researchers said people from the most deprived sections of society are at a far greater risk of developing diseases like heart disease, lung and digestive cancers, and respiratory conditions – despite the fact that most of these conditions are avoidable and treatable.

Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author of the research from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “Falling life expectancy in the poorest communities is a deeply worrying indicator of the state of our nation’s health, and shows that we are leaving the most vulnerable out of the collective gain.

“We currently have a perfect storm of factors that can impact on health, and that are leading to poor people dying younger.

“Working income has stagnated and benefits have been cut, forcing many working families to use foodbanks.

“The price of healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables has increased relative to unhealthy, processed food, putting them out of the reach of the poorest.

“The funding squeeze for health and cuts to local government services since 2010 have also had a significant impact on the most deprived communities, leading to treatable diseases such as cancer being diagnosed too late, or people dying sooner from conditions like dementia.”

Jonathan Ashworth MP, the Labour party’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “This is latest evidence of stark differences in life expectancy, which should act as an urgent wake up call for ministers ahead of the long term NHS plan.

“The shameful truth is women living in poorer areas die sooner and get sick quicker than women in more affluent areas.

“It’s why as well as ending austerity, Labour recently announced we’d target growing health inequalities and implement a specific women’s strategy in government to ensure the health and wellbeing needs of women are met.”

The ideologically prompted and systematic dismantling of public services has stalled our progress as a society, transforming it into a social Darwninist dystopia. The  inequalities in mortality between haves and have nots is proof that the government has abandoned and intentionally economically excluded growing numbers of citizens, causing harm, premature death, and leaving them in profound in distress and deprivation, while inequalities in wealth, inclusion, wellbeing and opportunity are being pushed even higher. 

If a parents neglect children child, intentionally leaving them without food, warmth and shelter, punishing them because of some unevidenced theory about ‘incentives’ and their attitude, behaviour and motivation, we would say that is abuse. When the state neglects children and treats them this way, we call it welfare ‘reform’. 

The public have paid into social security funds and other public services. It is citizen-funded provision FOR citizens when or if they need it. It is not the government’s moeny to take from ordinary people and hand out to millionaires.

Dying prematurely because you are poor is the most unfair outcome of all. As a society, we should all be concerned about the growing divergence in rich-poor life expectancy and the fact that this divergence is damaging citizens. It should also be a cause for substantial public concern that inequalities are being wilfully engineered and fuelled by the UK government.

 


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Select Committee launch inquiry into ‘effectiveness of welfare system’ as UN rapporteur condemns Conservative policies

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The Work and Pensions Select Committee have launched an inquiry into ‘effectiveness of welfare system.’ The Committee say the inquiry was launched as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty makes an investigative visit to the UK, and it will consider how effectively our welfare system works to protect citizens against hardship and chronic deprivation.

The Committee have noted that the UK’s welfare system is currently undergoing fundamental reform, in the transition to Universal Credit alongside other major and largely untested reforms like benefit sanctions and the benefit cap. 

Image result for universal credit roll out cartoon

The Committee’s latest work on Universal Credit examined how Government will (or won’t) safeguard some of the most vulnerable members of our society as it implements this huge programme of change.

After the recent Budget, Members from across the House expressed concerns on this issue, including some senior MPs telling the Government that continuing the freeze on benefits in place since 2010 was “immoral”.

Previously, the Work and Pensions Committee inquired into the local welfare safety net in response to changes in the Welfare Reform Act 2012—which replaced several centrally administered schemes with locally run provision—and further changes in the Summer 2015 Budget.

The Committee looked at whether these changes represented “localism in action” as claimed, or rather, created a postcode lottery of service provision, with people falling through the gaps or “holes” in the welfare safety net and the costs shunted on to local authorities, services and charities.

The Committee concluded that welfare ‘reforms’ risk leading people into severe hardship and called on the government to:

  • Ensure reforms such as the benefit cap do not inadvertently penalise groups who cannot actually adapt to it or offset its effects, and that appropriate mitigation strategies are in place.

    For example, some people cannot find or move to cheaper housing, because none is available, or cannot move in to work because they are a single parent and there is no appropriate childcare in their area. 
  • Conduct robust, cross-departmental evaluation on the impact of local schemes on the most vulnerable households 
  • Co-ordinate with local government better to ensure more consistent quality of provision

Since then indicators strongly suggest that chronic deprivation is on the rise. These include numbers of households in temporary accommodation, rough sleepers, and people referred to foodbanks, says the Committee.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“We are now seeing the grim, if unintended, consequences of the Government’s massive welfare reforms across several major inquiries. Policy decision after policy decision has piled the risks of major changes onto the shoulders of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and then onto local authorities, services and charities scrambling to catch them if and when they fall.

The welfare safety net ought to be catching people before they are plunged into debt, hardship and hunger. Instead it appears to be unravelling before our very eyes. The Committee now wants to find out whether the Government’s policies are sufficient to save people from destitution—and, if not, what more needs to be done.”

We do have to wonder how much evidence it will take before the government concedes that its draconian welfare policies are discriminatory, ideologically driven,  empirically unverified in terms of their efficacy and profoundly damaging; creating poverty and extreme hardships for historially marginalised groups. 

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has discussed a ‘Government in denial’ in his scathing report. He draws pretty much the same conclusions that many of us have over the last few years. He says that “key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned.”

Much of the contract has been dismantled, including access to justice via legal aid, as well as universal welfare, health care, social housing and many other social gains and safety net provisions that were a fundamental part of the post war democratic settlement.

This is a consequence of the Conservative’s coordinated and sustained attack on democracy, public services and establised ideas about universal rights and citizenship, since 2010. It’s very difficult to see this as anything else but an ongoing and intentional attack. 

The government’s ‘mean spirited’ welfare policies have intended outcomes. They are codified expressions of how a government thinks society ought to be structured.

Alston draws the same conclusions as I have since 2012; that the harms and suffering being inflicted on the most politically disadvantaged citizens is part of “a radical social re-engineering’, and nothing to do with any economic need for austerity.”

In other words, the all too often devastating consequences of Conservative welfare policies are deliberate and intended. 

Alston says that the government’s policies and drastic cuts were “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting “unnecessary” hardship in one of the richest countries in the world.

“When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits,” he said.

Yet another example of  the government’s strategy of loud and determined denials and sustained use of techniques of neutralisation.

When it was announced that the UN was investigating the impact of government policies and severe poverty in the UK, Conservative Minister for the 17th Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said: “Surely the UN has better ways of wasting money?”

A government gaslighting  spokesman said: “We completely disagree with this [Philip Alston’s] analysis. With these Government’s changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.

“Universal Credit is supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.

“We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.”

Of course, the empirical evidence does not support this government statement.

Send the Committee your views

The Committee is now inviting evidence, whether you are an individual, group or organisation, on any or all of the following questions. 

Please send your views by 14 December 2018.

  • How should hardship and chronic deprivation be measured?
  • What do we know about chronic deprivation and hardship in the UK?
  • Is it changing? How?
  • Why do some households fall into poverty and deprivation?
  • What factors best explain the reported increases in indicators of deprivation like homelessness, rough sleeping and increased food bank use? 
  • What about the local variations in these markers of deprivation?
  • Do Jobcentre Plus procedures and benefit delays play a role?
  • What role does Universal Credit play in in relation to deprivation, or could it play in tackling it?
  • Is our welfare safety net working to prevent people falling into deprivation?
  • If not, how could it better do so?
  • What progress has been made on addressing the issues identified in the Committee’s 2016
    Report, (described above / link)?
  • What are the remaining weaknesses, how should these now be addressed?

Send a written submission

Related

Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchers

 


 

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The Centre for Social Justice say Brexit is ‘an opportunity’ to introduce private insurance schemes to replace contribution-based social security

Image result for demolition of welfare state UK kittysjones

I’ve written two lengthy pieces about the new report and submission this month to the UNCRPD – UK Independent Mechanism update report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (published October 2018 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission) – which provides an independent assessment of the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM) on the “disappointing” lack of progress by the UK governments to implement the UN’s recommendations since August 2017. You can access the articles here and here

The UKIM report says that the government “has not taken appropriate measures to combat negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including the government’s own claims that ‘dependency’ on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment.” 

This is important because it shows just how embedded traditional Conservative prejudice is in policy design and within the practices that social security administration has come to entail. 

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The idea that welfare somehow creates the problems it was designed to alleviate, such as poverty and inequality, has become almost ‘common sense’ and because of that, it’s a narrative that remains largely unchallenged. The Conservatives believe that generous welfare provision creates ‘perverse incentives’. Yet international research has shown that generous welfare provision leads to more, better quality and sustainable employment. 

Moreover, this ideological position has been used politically as a justification to reduce social security provision so that it is no longer an adequate amount to meet citizens’ basic living needs. The aim is to discredit the welfare system itself, along with those needing its support. The government have long wished to replace the publicly funded social security provision ultimately with mandatory private insurance schemes.

The idea that welfare creates ‘dependency’ and ‘disincentivises’ work has been used as a justification for the introduction of cuts and an extremely punitive regime entailing ‘conditionality’ and sanctions. The governenment have selectively used punitive behavioural modification elements of behavioural economics theory and its discredited behaviourist language of ‘incentives’ to steadily withdraw publicly funded social security provision.

However, most of the public have already contributed to social security, those needing support tend to move in and out of work. Very few people remain out of work on a permanent basis. The Conservatives have created a corrosive and divisive myth that there are two discrete groups in society: tax payers and ‘scroungers’ – a class of economic free riders.

This intentionally divisive narrative of course is not true, since people claiming welfare support also pay taxes, such as VAT and council tax, and most have already worked and will work again, given the opportunity to do so. For those who are too ill to work, as a so-called civilised society, we should not hesitate to support them.

The government’s mindset is very disciplinarian. In their view, everyone else needs ‘corrective treatment’ to ensure that society is shaped and ruled the way they think it ought to be. The government believes that rather than addressing social problems – many of which are created and perpetuated by their own policies, such as growing inequality and absolute poverty – can be addressed by ‘incentivising’ people to ‘behave’ differently. In other words, they believe that people can be punished out of poverty, being ill, being out of work, and from being less “competitive”, cost effective citizens, letting down the Conservative’s constructed, overarching neoliberal state.

The ’round table’ report from the Centre for Social Justice 

Public policies that are supposed to address fundamental human needs arising from sickness and disability are tainted by a neoliberal idée fixe. The leitmotif is a total corporacratic commodification of human needs and relationships. This has entailed the government permitting private companies to build toll gates to essential support services, building hierarchies of human worth within the closed and entropic context of a competitive market place, where resources are “scarce” and people are being herded; where the only holding principle that operates is profit over human need.

In a report from the Centre for Social Justice (an Orwellian title if ever there was one) called REFORMING CONTRIBUTORY BENEFITS (2016), David Cameron is quoted in the introduction: 

“We have already come a long way in the last 5 years. In the last Parliament we created Universal Credit so that work would always pay. We capped benefits so we struck the right balance between incentivising work and supporting the most vulnerable. And we set up the largest programme to get people into work since the 1930s with over a million people coming off themain out of work benefits and over 2 million getting into work. But when it comes to reforming, we still have further to go …” David Cameron, June 2015.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is a neoliberal right wing think tank, founded by Iain Duncan Smith. The CSJ has played an important role in the design and development of Universal Credit. 

In the opening paragraph, the report says: “William Beveridge’s original blueprint for a welfare state had personal contributions at its core. Indeed, there is widespread consensus that the contributory principle inculcates a degree of responsibility and ownership in a system that has been criticised for breeding dependency.” (My emphasis).

These are views widely held by neoliberal Conservatives, not everyone else.

As UKIM pointed out in their report, the term “welfare dependency” is itself controversial, often carrying derogatory connotations that the recipient of welfare support is unwilling to work. This narrative has diverted attention from the structural factors that cause and entrench poverty, such as government policy, labour market conditions and economic change. Instead of focusing on how to tackle the root causes of poverty, the Conservatives have focused instead on attacking the supposed poor character, morals and psychology of those needing social security support.

This narrative transforms individual experiences of  social inequality and being in poverty into a personal failing, rather than a failure of the state. The ideas came from political writers such as Lawrence M. Mead. In his 1986 book Beyond Entitlement: The Social Obligations of Citizenship, Mead argued that American welfare was too permissive, giving out benefit payments without demanding anything from poor people in return, particularly not requiring the recipient to work. Mead viewed this as directly linked to the higher incidence of social problems among poor Americans, more as a cause than an effect of poverty. Neoliberal governments in both the US and UK found these ideas appealing, and the government of Margaret Thatcher imported several other similar US ideas. 

Charles Murray argued that American social policy ignored people’s inherent tendency to ‘avoid hard work’ and to be ‘amoral’, and that from the ‘War on Poverty’ onward the government had given welfare recipients disincentives to work, marry, or have children in wedlock. His 1984 book Losing Ground was also highly influential in the welfare reforms of the 1980s and 90s, and remains so among neoliberal Conservatives. 

Murray exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast. Murray’s culture of poverty theory popularised notions that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities, poor character and level of abilities.

Of course, this perspective also assumes that the opposite is true: wealthy and “successful” people are so because they are more talented, motivated and less lazy, and are thus more deserving. Just like the widely discredited social Darwinism of the Victorian era, proposed by the likes of Conservative sociologist Herbert Spencer, (who originally coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and not Darwin, as is widely held) these resurrected ideas have a considerable degree of popularity in upper-class and elite Conservative circles, where such perspectives provide a justification for extensive privilege. In addition, poor communities are seen as socialising environments where values such as fatalism are transmitted from generation to “workshy” generation.

Charles Murray and Lawrence Mead clearly made an impact on the international policy debate in the 1980s, partly due to the legitimisation that they received from the support of the Reagan and Thatcher administrations for their central claims. They were particularly influential in the growth of work fare and a welfare system based on punishment and psycho-compulsion. Murray claimed the underclass of poor people avoid work because of the “overgenerous” nature of welfare benefits. Mead argued that a “culture of poverty” meant that workfare policies are required to ‘reintegrate’ and ‘incentivise’ the ‘unemployed poor.’ 

This toxic brand of neoliberal anti-welfarism, amplified by the corporate media, has aimed at reconstruction of society’s “common sense” assumptions, values and beliefs. Class, disability and race narratives in particular, associated with traditional prejudices and categories from the right wing, have been used to nudge the UK to re-imagine citizenship, human rights and democratic inclusion as highly conditional.  

Leaving the European Union provides an opportunity for the government to shift what is left of social security from public to private provision

The round table paper discusses the ‘further reform’ to welfare that Cameron hinted at:

One of the reasons why this has not happened so far has been the commitment to EU rules on maintaining a benefit programme that is exportable. The British Government succeeded in establishing that Universal Credit would not be exportable as long as contributory benefits were.

Had contributory benefits been abolished whilst UK social security was bound by EU law, this would have exposed Universal Credit (the significantly larger budget) to exportability. In light of the British vote to leave the EU, however, there is now the possibility of reforming contributory benefits without breaching EU law.” 

The authors of the report say reforming welfare would mean “[a] new insurance model would also allow competition, greater diversification and, finally, the opportunity for claimants to take control over their long term financial support.” 

During the roundtable discussion, participants discussed a “potential solution”  put forward by private company Legal & General. The report itself carries legal & General’s logo. 

The suggestion was to replace the contributory benefits system with a low premium social insurance scheme delivered by employers through an auto-enrolment structure. This new social insurance scheme would take the form of a ‘rainy day guarantee’, where beneficiaries would make regular payments into the scheme, which would protect against the risk of “future income shocks as a result of long term sickness or unemployment.”

The target for the new social insurance scheme would be individuals from “the professional and skilled class who have fewer transactional experiences with Government. They are less likely to suffer a shock to income from illness or sudden unemployment and often need support  infrequently and for less than six months.”

“The infrastructure of this new social insurance scheme could replicate that of the auto-enrolment pension products that have been phased-in under the previous and current Governments. Employers could offer new employees access to a ‘social insurance product’ that could be administered by a private sector organisation, though partially facilitated by the Government.”

The authors also say: “During the roundtable discussion, a significant question emerged over whether a new social insurance product would be compulsoryor voluntary. One concern raised in discussion was that a voluntarysystem risks not gaining a critical mass that enables it to function,whereas a compulsory programme could undermine public confidence in the state welfare system.”

Yes, the one that most citizens have already contributed to. It is not ‘state’ welfare, it is publicly funded welfare.

The report continues: One of the barriers to wide-spread acceptability of a private insurance model ahead of a state-contributory benefits model is the emotional reaction by claimants who have paid taxes but are no longer entitled to a benefit payment. Many trust the system to pay out – any alternative outcome could undermine trust in the state welfare system.

“Herein lies a problem: many people place a high degree of trust inthe welfare system, only to be disappointed when it delivers less than they expect it to. Part of the challenge in proposing an insurance model, therefore, is to communicate the benefits compared to the state system.”

The benefits to whom, exactly? Legal & General and the wider private insurance sector ?

More of the rub: “Another challenge is the extent to which a new social insurance model could be extended to include both unemployment and sickness support currently covered by ESA and JSA contributory benefits. PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) has estimated that the annual cost of sickness absence in the UK is almost £29 billion. (Hyperlinks added by me). 

“Insurance premiums are calculated on risk and probability, such that if the risk and the probability are high,the premiums will also be high. From an insurance perspective, unemployment is seen as a greater long-term risk than sickness. Company efforts to mitigate the risk may thus mean premiums riseto an amount greater than the £11 per month previously stated.” 

Prioritising private business profit over collective human needs: the neoliberal model

In their conclusion and policy recommendations, the authors say:  

“As this report has discussed, the contributory benefits system is ripe for reform and the proposition of a social insurance model poses a potential solution. With regards to the implementation of a social insurance programme to replace contributory benefits  participants at the roundtable discussion made the following conclusions: 

  •  Premiums should be treated as income in the Universal Credit system, promoting use of the social insurance system.  
  • The notion of a social insurance model must be communicatedcorrectly; Lessons can be learned from past government announce-ments on, for example, privately run prisons.
  • The support of business is essential, and communication must be clear as this is another product that sits alongside auto-enrolled pensions, the new lifetime ISA, and the apprenticeship levy
  • High opt-out rates risk destabilising the functionality of a voluntary model, and will therefore determine the necessity of a mandatory system or at the least an opt out model.
  • Individuals who do not draw down on their insurance pot could be offered financial recourse in the form of either a savings or pensions benefit.

“Overall, the opportunity to reform contributory benefits has arrived,the political and economic climate allows for it, and the presence of a strong alternative policy makes it possible and practical.”

You can read the full report here.

Some thoughts

The government says it believes that:

  • the current [welfare] system is too complex
  • there are insufficient incentives to encourage people on benefits to start paid work or increase their hours

The government are aiming to:

  • make the benefit system fairer and more affordable
  • reduce poverty, worklessness and welfare dependency
  • reduce levels of fraud and error. 

However,  ‘worklessness’ and ‘welfare dependency’ are contested categories based on assumptions and not empirical evidence. 

Our welfare state originally arose as a social security safety net – founded on an assurance that as a civilised and democratic society we value the well-being and health of every citizen.

There was a cross-party political consensus that such provision was in the best interests of the nation as a whole at a time when we were collectively spirited enough to ensure that no one should be homeless or starving in modern Britain.

As such, welfare is a fundamental part of the UK’s development –  our progress – the basic idea of improving people’s lives was at the heart of the welfare state and more broadly, it reflects the evolution of European democratic and rights-based societies.

Now the UK “social security” system is anything but. It has regressed to reflect the flawed and discredited philosophy underpinning the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, to become a system of punishments aimed at the poorest and most marginalised social groups. The Poor Law principle of less eligibility – which served as a deterrence to poor people claiming poor relief is embodied in the Conservative claim of Making work pay: benefits have been reduced to make the lowest paid, insecure employment a more appealing option than claiming benefits.

Back in the 1970s, following his remarks on the cycle of deprivation, Keith Joseph established a large-scale research programme devoted to testing its validity. One of the main findings of the research was that there is no simple continuity of social problems between generations of the sort required for his thesis. At least half of the children born into disadvantaged homes do not repeat the pattern of disadvantage in the next generation.

Despite the fact that continuity of deprivation across generations is by no means inevitable – the theory is not supported by empirical research – the idea of the cycle of “worklessness” has become “common sense.” Clearly, common perceptions of the causes of poverty are (being) misinformed. The individual behaviourist theory of poverty predicts that the same group of people remain in poverty. This doesn’t happen.

However, the structural theory predicts that different people are in poverty over time (and further, that we need to alter the economic structure to make things better). Longitudinal surveys show that impoverished people are not the same people every year. In other words, people move in and out of poverty: it’s a revolving door, as predicted by structural explanations of poverty.

Therefore the very ideological premises of Conservative welfare policy is unevidenced and fundamentally flawed.

Problems with social security provision delivered through private insurance schemes

The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) provides cash benefits for sickness and disability,  unemployment, the death of a partner, retirement, and so on. Citizens already  earn entitlement to these benefits by paying National Insurance contributions;

  • The National Health Service (NHS), which provides medical, dental and optical
    treatment and which is normally available free of charge only to people who live in
    Great Britain and Northern Ireland; 
  •  The child benefit and Child Tax Credit schemes, which provide cash benefits for
    people bringing up children; 
  •  Non-contributory benefits for certain categories of disabled persons or carers; 
  •  Other statutory payments made by employers to employees entitled to maternity,
    paternity and adoption leave.

The government’s ‘low tax low welfare view of society, coupled with a decade of very low wages and rising costs of living has created ‘tax constraints’ that conflict with the demands made on the welfare state, the government says. Substituting private insurance for tax-financed welfare provision is being touted as some kind of painless way out of those self imposed ‘constraints’.  

However, in general, switching from tax-financed social security to private insurance, where premiums are related to each individual’s risk status, will be ‘regressive’, that is, it will benefit the better-off at the expense of the less well-off. Certain citizens will not be offered cover because their level of risk is too high to make it profitable and economic for private insurance companies. This will also add to the regressive effects. Certain risks will be excluded from cover as a result of the nature of the insurance market.  

If the state still provides some kind of safety net, it may end up with all of the ‘downside risk’ but none of the ‘upside gain’: if things turn out badly and insurers are unable to meet their commitments, the state has to fill the gap created, but if things turn out well, it is the insurers who keep the surplus and profit.

In discussing the future of the welfare state, the question of whether the private sector should take on some of the insurance functions currently provided by social security has  almost inevitably arisen. However, much of this debate has a purely ideological basis.

Switching from social security to private insurance generally increases costs for those on low incomes; premium levels for products mean that those with average incomes and average risk also lose. For many insurance products, women, older people and those in poor health lose the most. 

For many with higher incomes, the role of permanent health insurance is already filled by long-term occupational sick pay while for those with lower incomes, affording enough cover to get clear of means-tested benefit entitlement is difficult. 

Uncertainty over future long-term care needs and costs makes policies virtually impossible to assess, for both consumers and providers, making reliance on private insurance a dubious proposition. The nature of the risks leads to policies which limit coverage and exclude some groups, including those without good employment records and people with disabilities.

Tax-financed provision offers not only the most equitable but also the most efficient solution, minimising costs to average-risk as well as high-risk and low-income ‘consumers’ and preserving the advantages of unified public finances.

Furthermore, it retains the integrity of the original aims of the welfare state and ensures a democratic state.

UKIM’s report to the UNCRPD raised other concerns about the potentially negative impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people, which you can read about here.

 

Related

This explores the overlapping neoliberal ideas aimed at the reform of both welfare and health care in the UK – Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame 

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

 The government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

A critique of benefit sanctions:  the Minnesota Starvation Experiment and  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative character divination

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles and to provide support to others.

My response to the Conservative Chairman’s invitation to join the Conservative party

Image result for Tory psychographic profilingAn 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 the profiles of companies that the government hire for their election campaigns.

I received the following email from Brandon Lewis, the Conservative Chairman, today. I have set out (and sent) my response below:

Dear Sue,
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.
Agree with our decision to increase pay for our dedicated public-sector workers? Then join the Conservative Party today.
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.
Yours sincerely,
Brandon Lewis, The Rt. Hon. Brandon Lewis MP
Conservative Party Chairman 

My response:

Dear Brandon, 

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,

Sue Jones

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