Category: Political ideology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CBT technocratic sticking plaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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George Osborne has always been something of an editor: he’s very conservative with the truth

Chancellor George OsborneGeorge Osborne, the financial adviser, after-dinner speaker, author, Kissinger Fellow, chairman of the Northern Powerhouse project, newspaper editor and MP.

Here in the UK, a sitting MP, and a member of the party in office, is the editor of London’s only newspaper. It becomes an almost farcical situation when one considers that London, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, is the most Labour supporting region in the UK. It’s about to have its only local newspaper read like pages from ConservativeHome. The plot sickens.

I seriously doubt that the Standard’s political editor will be pitching a story about the Crown Prosecution Service currently reviewing the Conservatives’ electoral spending, amid the growing evidence of serious electoral fraud, any time soon.

Oh hang on, wasn’t Baronet Osborne one of the key strategic masterminds behind the general  election? The same Osborne who regarded the UK social security budget – in particular, the financial safety net that supports disabled people – as disposable income for his equally privileged millionaire peers? He was only forced to climb down over his proposed 4.4 billion of spending cuts to disability benefits after the surprising resignation of the hard faced Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who also likes to abandon sinking ships.

Osborne is so hated in London and elsewhere that he was booed by crowds at the Paralympics when handing out medals

Any suggestion that Britain is still a great bastion of first world liberalism and democracy makes me laugh until I cry these days.

Osborne was widely criticised for his decision not to quit his Tatton seat in north-west England since it was announced that he would take up the position as editor of the Evening Standard. He has already rattled the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) – which is an ethics committee that aims to decide whether job roles for former ministers present a conflict of interest – by announcing the appointment before they were given any time at all to review any potential conflict with his duties as MP and his former role as chancellor. Ex-ministers are supposed to submit their requests and then wait for the committee’s guidance before accepting something and announcing it to the public.

The committee assessing Osborne’s post-ministerial roles is usually given at least a month to carry out research into what contacts a former minister had in his or her department that could constitute a conflict of interest in any new role, but it is understood that some members of the committee were informed less than an hour before Osborne’s appointment was made public. They are now expected to give advice within two weeks.

It’s understood that the committee will be actively considering a call for the former chancellor to delay or decline the role.

Osborne defended his new job on Monday, telling the House of Commons that parliament benefited from members bringing in experience of different sectors alongside their constituency work. He was responding to an urgent question from Labour’s election co-ordinator, Andrew Gwynne, over a potential conflict of interest.

Osborne facetiously remarked “I thought it was important to be here, though unfortunately we have missed the deadline of the Evening Standard

In my view, Mr Speaker, this parliament is enhanced when we have people from all walks of life and different experience in the debate and when people who have held senior ministerial office continue to contribute to the debate.

He’s not exactly a man that cares much for integrity. He seems to think we have forgotten that it was under his chancellorship that the UK lost the Moody’s Investors Service triple A grade, despite Osborne’s key pledge 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. In fact they borrowed more in 4 years than Labour did in 13. Now they have borrowed more than every single Labour government ever, combined. 

Osborne was rebuked by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) for telling outrageous lies that Labour left the country “close to bankruptcy” following the global recession. However, the economy was officially recovered and growing following the crash, by the last quarter of 2009. Baronet Osborne, the high priest of austerity, put the uk back into recession within months of the Coalition taking office.

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Baronet Osborne is not deemed a member of the nobility, but rather, entitled gentry. The rank of a Baronet is a hereditary title awarded by the British Crown. One’s position in an order of precedence is not necessarily an indication of functional importance.

It’s remarkable that despite Osborne’s solid five-year track record of failure, the Tories still mechanically repeat the “always cleaning up Labour’s mess” lie, as if Labour increasing the national debt by 11% of GDP in 13 years, mitigated by a global recession, (caused by bankers and the finance class), is somehow significantly worse than Osborne’s unmitigated record of increasing the national debt by at least £555 billion.

Osborne has ironically demonstrated that it is possible to dramatically cut spending and massively increase debt. At least Labour invested money in decent public service provision, the Conservatives have simply ransacked every public service, handed out our money to their private sector buddies and steadily dismantled the gains we made as a society from the post-war settlement.

Who could forget in September 2007, ahead of the publication of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, Osborne pledged that the Conservative Party would match Labour’s public spending plans for the next three years. He promised increases in public spending of 2% a year,calling Labour charges that the Conservatives would cut public spending “a pack of lies”. He also ruled out any “upfront, unfunded tax cuts.” 

Then there were the expenses scandals, he even had the cheek to claim £47 for two copies of a DVD of his own speech on “value for taxpayers’ money.

Gosh, what, with Osborne being so conservative with the truth, I can really see the Evening Standard taking a credible objective turn.

Sorry, that was a sarcasm typo, I meant authoritarian turn.

However, it has to be said that it’s not as if  Osborne will be editor of a left leaning paper. Who could forget the Evening Standard‘s headlines during the London Mayoral campaigns: Exposed: Sadiq Khan’s family links to extremist organisation – the front page story about Khan’s former brother-in-law once coincidently attending the same rally as a hate preacher – and Why Sadiq Khan cannot escape questions about extremists, a  hit and sneer piece that only just stopped just short of accusing Khan of being a terrorist. But I seriously doubt Osborne will have a liberalising impact on the screaming headlined nonsense of this tabloid.

Among the Tory MPs defending Osborne in the Commons was his former cabinet colleague and Times columnist Michael Gove, a former journalist who himself has been tipped as a potential future newspaper editor. He said: “Is it not the case that we believe in a free press and that proprietors should have the right to appoint who they like to be editor, without the executive or anyone else interfering with that decision?

And isn’t it also the case that who represents a constituency should be up to its voters, not the opposition or anyone else?”

Osborne’s appointment will be subjected to wider scrutiny. On Tuesday, the economy committee of the London Assembly will be considering whether the appointment could “affect the neutrality and objectivity of news coverage in London”.

In addition, Osborne will face questioning by his constituents in Tatton, Cheshire, on Friday, when he is expected to attend his local Conservative Association’s annual general meeting. A petition signed by more than 175,000 people was delivered to his constituency office on Monday, calling on the MP to “pick one job and stick to it”.

Andrew Gwynne amongst others in the Labour party, have called for an inquiry. Gwynne wrote to John Manzoni, the permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, urging him to examine whether there was a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct (which was amended yet again last year by Theresa May, following the previous editing in 2015.)

In his letter, he said former ministers must refer any new jobs to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) to “counter suspicion” and ensure ministers are not “influenced” by private firms while in government. 

Gwynne, Labour’s national elections and campaign coordinator, added: “Disregarding these rules deeply undermines public trust in the democratic processes and does a disservice to those Members that ensure they follow the rules laid out on these matters.”

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It’s time to stop the revolving door reflecting political/corporate interests that spins the news.

Politics and Insights is proud to join other independent media journalists, writers, collectives and organisations across the UK to condemn the appointment of George Osborne as the new editor of the Evening Standard.

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

We are not constrained by the interests of society’s major power-brokers.

“For an effective democratic system, we need a vibrant public sphere fuelled by varied independent broadcast and print media. We do not need the ex-Chancellor benefitting from the editorial control of a free London daily which benefits from city-wide circulation to publicise the divisive rhetoric of a right-wing government. When a crisis of representation, fed by a culture of nepotism already plagues so many establishments, Osborne’s appointment is a step in completely the wrong direction.

We write this as independent journalists, committed to holding the powerful to account. We will continue to fight for better representation and healthier political analysis in our media channels, and we will continue to produce the journalism that is missing from the corporate-owned outlets which dominate our newspapers and televisions today.”

Politics and Insights condemns George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard in joint independent media statement


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

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New discriminatory regulations for PIP come into effect today

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A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson has denied allegations that people with mental health conditions claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are being treated differently to those with physical disabilities: “At the core of PIP’s design is the principle that mental health conditions should be given the same recognition as physical ones”, the spokesperson said.

“In fact, there are more people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than the DLA equivalents.

This Government is also investing more in mental health than ever before – spending more than £11 billion this year.”

However, following two independent tribunal rulings that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the scope and eligibility criteria of PIP, which helps both in-work and out-of work disabled people fund their additional living costs, the government is rushing in an “urgent change” to the law to prevent many people with mental health conditions being awarded the mobility component of PIP. The court held that people with conditions such as severe anxiety can qualify for the enhanced rate of the mobility component, on the basis of problems with “planning and following a journey”, or “going out”. 

The government’s new regulations will reverse the recent tribunal ruling and will mean that people with mental health conditions such as severe anxiety who can go outdoors, even if they need to have someone with them, are much less likely to get an award of even the standard rate of the PIP mobility component. The regulations also make changes to the way that the descriptors relating to taking medication are interpreted, again in response to a ruling by a tribunal in favour of disabled people.

The first tribunal said more points should be available in the “mobility” element for people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone. The second tribunal recommended more points in the “daily living” element for people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition. 

It’s worth noting that the Coalition Government enshrined in law a commitment to parity of esteem for mental and physical health in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In January 2014 it published the policy paper Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health (Department of Health, 2014), which sets out 25 priorities for change in how children and adults with mental health problems are supported and cared for. The limiting changes to PIP legislation does not reflect that commitment.  

PIP is defined by Capita, the private company employed by the government to carry out “functional assessments of disabled people as “a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these.” It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as socially and economically inclusive, active and independent lives as possible.

Who will be affected by the reversal of the tribunal rulings?

As I reported previously, from 16 March (today)  the law will be changed so that the phrase “For reasons other than psychological distress” will be added to the start of descriptors c, d and f in relation to “Planning and following journeys” on the PIP form. 

New guidelines circulated by the DWP instruct assessors to disregard the physical impact of mental illness, in relation to how the impairments affect a person’s mobility in completing a journey unaccompanied, which will effectively exclude them from eligibility to the higher mobility component of PIP.

This means that claimants with severe mental illness that impacts on their mobility will be refused the same level of financial support as people with physical disabilities.

It effectively means that people suffering with debilitating mental health conditions are to be denied equal access to the disability benefits system.

People with the following conditions are likely to be affected by the reversal of the independent tribunal’s ruling regarding PIP mobility awards, with conditions in the general category of “severe psychological distress”:

Mood disorders – Other / type not known, Psychotic disorders – Other / type not known, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Phobia – Social Panic disorder, Learning disability – Other / type not known, Generalized anxiety disorder, Agoraphobia, Alcohol misuse, Anxiety and depressive disorders – mixed Anxiety disorders – Other / type not known, Autism, Bipolar affective disorder (Hypomania / Mania), Cognitive disorder due to stroke, Cognitive disorders – Other / type not known, Dementia, Depressive disorder, Drug misuse, Stress reaction disorders – Other / type not known, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobia – Specific Personality disorder, Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

A case study is included in the new guidance, which says: “Sukhi has sought an award under mobility descriptor 1f as she cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person.

However, the [decision maker] determines that because of the wording of mobility descriptor 1f (“for reasons other than psychological distress, cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, an assistance dog or an orientation aid”), any problems following the route due to psychological distress are not relevant.”

PIP consists of two separate components – a daily living component and a mobility element – each paying a standard or enhanced rate, with the enhanced rate paying more than the lower rate. 

In response to the rulings, government have simply chosen to rewrite the law in a way that denies higher PIP payments for those claimants who would have benefited from the rulings, without consulting medical experts, disabled people, advocacy organisations and MPs – including the Work and Pensions parliamentary committee.

Responding to the new guidelines, Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: “The purpose of PIP is to cover the extra costs people incur because of a disability – decisions makers shouldn’t discriminate between disabilities on the basis of their cause, but decisions should be based on the impact of the disability.

People who struggle to leave the house without support may face the same costs whether their difficulties arise from, for example, a sensory disability or severe anxiety or other mental health problems.

Yet those making decisions about the level of support someone will receive will now be explicitly told to disregard those barriers if they are a result of someone’s mental health problem.”

He added: “This move undermines the Government’s commitment to look at disabled people as individuals, rather than labelling them by their condition, and completely goes against the Government’s commitment to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health.

Meanwhile, the government’s own expert welfare advisors have said that the changes to PIP – affecting the mentally ill – should be delayed until they have been properly tested and “clearly understood”. 

The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) said in their report that they are “particularly concerned” that overturning the tribunal’s ruling will cause confusion. They warn it is “not clear” how assessors will interpret the changes, raising concerns over a real possibility that claimants will not be “consistently treated”.

The committee have disputed ministers’ claims that emergency legislation must be rushed through today, suggesting the feared increase in costs has been “over-hyped”.

The government claimed the tribunal ruling would cost at least £3.7bn over the next five years – money which should go to “really disabled people who need it”, according to one minister.

The committees’ damning conclusions have sparked angry exchanges in the Commons, with some Tory MPs joining Labour and the Liberal Democrats in criticising the impact of the PIP regulations on some of the most vulnerable citizens.

However, Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary, refused to allow MPs to vote on the changes – insisting that was “above my pay grade”.

Green also acknowledged “a handful of people” could now have their PIP payments cut, having been awarded higher sums in the last few months.

Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s Work and Pensions spokeswoman, said that contradicted repeated assurances – including by Theresa May – that no disabled people would lose money, with only new claimants affected.

And she said: “The Government’s decision to change the law on PIP is a clear example of the way people with mental health conditions are not given equal treatment.”

The SSAC have urged the DWP to consider “testing the proposed changes with health care professionals and decision makers to ensure the policy intent behind the regulation is clearly understood”.

They concluded: “The department should both (a) consult more widely with representative bodies and health care professionals; and (b) improve the estimate of likely impact before the changes are introduced.”

Answering an urgent question in parliament, Mr Green insisted the SSAC was “not challenging the decision” to tighten the criteria for PIP.

But he added: “We think there may be a handful of people whose appeals have gone through the courts in this very, very small period.”

While “that money will not be clawed back from them” they would receive lower PIP payments once those appeals were struck out by the new regulations.

In their recent Equality Analysis PIP assessment criteria document, the government concede that: “Since PIP is a benefit for people with a disability, impairment or long-term health condition, any changes will have a direct effect on disabled people. The vast majority of people receiving PIP are likely to be covered by the definition of “disability” in the Equality Act 2010.

By definition, therefore, the UT [upper tribunal] judgment results in higher payments to disabled people, and reversing its effect will prevent that and keep payments at the level originally intended. The difference in income will clearly make a real practical difference to most affected claimants, and (depending on factors such as their other resources) is capable of affecting their ability to be independently mobile, access services etc – all matters covered by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as set out at the start of this Analysis.”

It goes on to say in the document: “However, this does not necessarily mean that the increased payments that would result from the judgment are a fair reflection of the costs faced by those affected, or represent a fair approach as between different groups of PIP claimants.” 

I think it’s much less likely that the government’s decision to subvert the ruling of the upper tribunal reflects any consideration of a fair reflection of costs faced by those affected, or a “fair approach” between different groups of PIP claimants. 

The purpose of Upper Tribunals

The government introduced the restrictive regulations after losing two cases at tribunals, showing an utter contempt for the UK judiciary system. However, the UK tribunal system is part of the national system of administrative justice. 

Administrative law is the body of law that governs the activities of administrative agencies of government. It is designed to independently review the decisions of governments, and as such, it provides protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms for citizens.

The Upper Tribunal is a superior court of record, giving it equivalent status to the High Court and it can both set precedents and can enforce its decisions (and those of the First-tier Tribunal) without the need to ask the High Court or the Court of Session to intervene. It is also the first (and only) tribunal to have the power of judicial review. (The Conservatives have a historical dislike of judicial review. See for example: The real “constitutional crisis” is Chris Grayling’s despotic tendencies and his undermining of the Rule of Law.)

The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 created a new unified structure for tribunals and recognises legally qualified members of tribunals as members of the judiciary of the United Kingdom who are guaranteed continued judicial independence. This means that the judiciary is kept discrete from other branches of government. That is so that courts are not subjected to improper influence from the other branches of government, or from private or partisan interests.

Judicial Independence is vital and important to the idea of separation of powers. The intent behind this concept is to prevent the concentration of political power and provide for checks and balances. It has been significantly influenced by judicial independence principles developed by international human rights constitutional documents. in the application of the European Convention on Human Rights in British law through the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in the UK in 2000.

The government’s new regulations are a particularly autocratic move, aimed at simply overturning two legal rulings that the government did not like, partly because their zealotry concerning their anti-welfarism and “small state” neoliberal ideology has been challenged. The regulations were ushered in and imposed so that they would not be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and debate or democratic dialogue with disabled people or groups and organisations that support and advocate for those with disability. 

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Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green

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Two EDMs have been tabled to stop Tory cuts to disability support, with cross-party endorsement


 

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

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Generous welfare benefits increase the work ethic. The government is wrong about ‘perverse incentives’

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The UK establishment have intentionally created a scapegoating project. A dominant political and cultural narrative has targeted people needing social security support, constructing welfare folk devils and generating moral panic. This is to justify the dismantling of the welfare state, and to de-empathise the public to the plight of the poorest citizens. The government have misled the public, claiming social security provision leads to a “culture of dependency”. International research shows this is untrue.

Comparative research at an international level has undermined the government claim that the UK welfare state encourages “widespread cultures of dependency” and presents unemployed people with “perverse incentives”. 

study, which links welfare generosity and active labour market policies with increased employment commitment, was published in 2015. It has demonstrated that people are more likely to look for work if they live in a country where welfare provision is generous and relatively unconditional. Empirically, the research includes more recent data, from a larger number of European countries than previous studies.

The research also compared employment motivation in specific sub-sections of communities across countries: ethnic minorities, people in poor health, non-employed people and women, and adds depth to previous studies. It has been concluded that comprehensive welfare provision is increasingly seen as a productive force in society (Bonoli, 2012), that stimulates employment commitment (Esser, 2005) and supports individual inclusion and participation in society and the labour market, particularly among disadvantaged groups

Sociologists Dr Kjetil van der Wel and Dr Knut Halvorsen, from Oslo and Akershus University College, Norway, examined responses to the statement “I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money” presented to the interviewees for the European Social Survey in 2010.

In a paper published in the journal Work, employment and society, (published by the British Sociological Association and SAGE) titled The bigger the worse? A comparative study of the welfare state and employment commitment, sociologists compare the responses with the amount the country spent on welfare benefits and employment schemes, whilst taking into account the population differences between states.

The researchers found that the more a country paid to unemployed and disabled people, and invested in employment schemes, the more its population were likely to agree with the statement, whether employed or not.

They found that almost 80% of people in Norway, which pays the highest benefits of the 18 countries, agreed with the statement. By contrast in Estonia, one of least generous, only around 40% did. It’s also the case that the countries with the highest levels of financial support for those in need also have the highest employment rates, which challenges neoliberal antiwelfare narratives regarding so-called “perverse incentives” and their highly controversial and stigmatising “scrounger” rhetoric.

The UK was then considered average in terms of our generosity of benefit levels, and the percentage of subjects agreeing with the statement was almost 60%.  However, this research was carried out in 2010, prior to the radical changes to the UK social security system that happened with the Coalition Welfare Reform Act in 2012 and subsequent Conservative policies.

The researchers also found that government programmes which intervene in the labour market to support unemployed people in finding work made it more likely that those people agree that they wanted to work even if they didn’t need the money. In the countries with the most interventionist states, around 80% agreed with the statement and in the least around 45%. The UK’s response, though one of the least interventionist then (and is even less positively interventionist now), was around 60%.

In the article, the researchers say: “Many scholars and commentators fear that generous social benefits threaten the sustainability of the welfare state due to work norm erosion, disincentives to work and dependency cultures. 

A basic assumption is that if individuals can obtain sufficient levels of well-being – economic, social and psychological – from living off public benefits, compared to being employed, they would prefer the former. When a ‘critical mass’ of individuals receive public benefits rather than engaging in paid work, the norms regulating work and benefit behaviour will weaken, setting off a self-reinforcing process towards the ‘self-destruction’ of the welfare state. The more people are recipients of benefits, the less stigmatizing and costly in terms of social sanctions it is to apply for benefits.

However, other commentators suggested that because employment rates are higher in countries with generous welfare states, more people will have positive experience of work. People who receive generous benefits when out of work may feel more inclined to give something back to the state by striving hard to find work.

This article concludes that there are few signs that groups with traditionally weaker bonds to the labour market are less motivated to work if they live in generous and activating welfare states.

The notion that big welfare states are associated with widespread cultures of dependency, or other adverse consequences of poor short term incentives to work, receives little support.”

On the contrary, employment commitment was much higher in all the studied groups in bigger welfare states. Hence, this study’s findings support the welfare resources perspective over the welfare scepticism perspective.”

The UK government launched an unprecedented range of cuts on public services which happened between 2010 to 2015. However, the UK’s millionaires were awarded substantial tax cuts over that time period. George Osborne handed out a cut in tax that rewarded millionaires with £107, 000 each per year at the same time the welfare “reform” bill became policy.

The biggest percentage of cuts affected social security benefits and local government, which has adversely impacted on housing, local authority services and ultimately, on ordinary people in local communities. The cuts in social care and welfare fall disproportionately on two groups that overlap: people in poverty and disabled people. They fall hardest of all on people with the most severe disabilities, who need both benefits and social care.

Using an extremely divisive justification narrative peppered with words such as “workshy” and “scrounger”, and redefining what is “fair”, the government made out that UK tax payers were a discrete group from people needing welfare support, and that the latter group were a kind of economic free rider, sharing a “something for nothing culture”.  The government intentionally fostered resentment in employed people “paying taxes to carry the burden of those who won’t work”.

The Conservatives have persistently claimed that there are moral hazards and adverse behavioural consequences attached to providing poverty relief. This is a view shared by other neoliberal nation states, such as the US.

Policies represent perceptions and establish state instructions regarding how various social groups ought to be perceived and treated. They reflect how a government thinks society should be organised. They encode messages about how people ought to behave and how our individual degree of freedoms are defined, extended or restricted. Policies are always intentional acts that shape socioeconomic organisation.

The government have colonised left wing rhetoric, and conflated social justice and inclusion with work, making citizenship and human rights conditional, and contingent on a person’s economic productivity. They claimed to be “the party of workers”, yet the Conservatives have legislated more than once to undermine collective bargaining and trade unionism more generally. There has been a marked downward shift in wage levels and working conditions over the past six years, as well as drastic reductions in welfare support.

The word “reforms” is now a euphemism for cuts. Words like “support” and “help” are used as techniques of neutralisation, to divert people from the coercive, punitive and targeted elements of the “reforms”. These are semantic shifts of Orwellian proportions. 

The majority of unemployed people move in and out of work, indicating that policy, the economy and labour market conditions, rather than personal failings and dubious “cultures”, are the reason why people become unemployed. The tax payer/benefit claimant dichotomy is a false one. Everyone contributes to welfare, that is why national insurance was introduced: to pay for support provision that you may need in the future.

Furthermore, unemployed people pay taxes, and stealth taxes such as VAT contribute a significant amount to the Treasury. When social security benefits were originally calculated, they covered only the costs of food and fuel. It was assumed that people claiming support were exempt from council tax and paying rent. That is no longer the case, but benefit levels have not risen to adjust for this. 

The highest welfare spending has actually been on pensions, followed by in-work benefits. The latter subsidises employers paying low wages that don’t support families in meeting the costs of living. However, under the new Universal Credit, in-work support will be conditional and significantly reduced, especially for those families on low pay with children. 

The Conservative’s austerity cuts have disproportionally targeted the very people that a fair and civilised society should protect. This was justified partly by the global economic recession, though not everyone was expected to “live within their means” and contribute to reducing the national deficit. Remarkably, those that caused the recession appear to have got off free from obligation to contribute to the reduction of the debt, in a “low tax, low welfare society.”

The Conservative cuts were also justified by the perpetuation of a dominant neoliberal discourse based on small state ideology, antiwelfare myths and the purposeful creation of welfare folk devils and moral panic.

One consequence of the Conservative’s “reforms” has been the return of absolute poverty in the UK – some people cannot meet their basic needs and are going without adequate food and fuel. Many people have suffered distress, harm and some have died as a result of the government’s welfare regime. 

The Samaritan’s recent study – Dying from Inequality – links suicidal behaviours with socioeconomic deprivation. Their report says: “Suicide risk increases during periods of economic recession, particularly when recessions are associated with a steep rise in unemployment, and this risk remains high when crises end, especially for individuals whose economic circumstances do not improve. Countries with higher levels of per capita spending on active labour market programmes, and which have more generous unemployment benefits, experience lower recession-related rises in suicides.”

There is also a further extensive cost to human potential. As Abraham Maslow indicated, if people cannot meet their basic physical needs, they are not likely to fulfil psychosocial ones.

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Graphic courtesy of Dr Simon Duffy,  The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Related

A bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment, say UK’s top psychologists

Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour – report from Samaritans

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment provided empirical evidence that demonstrates clearly why welfare sanctions can’t possibly work as an “incentive” to “make work pay”


 

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

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A brief view of the budget

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He’s not very bright our chancellor, is he? Self-employed people face an increase in their National Insurance (NI) contributions as the Chancellor says he wants to “tackle the unfair burden on people in employment”. Presumably he means self employed people are not in employment. Yet they certainly aren’t included in unemployment figures, either. Last time I checked, employment means “the state of having paid work.”

That’s yet another broken manifesto pledge.

Gutto Bebb, Conservative Welsh minister, hit out at the proposals and called on the Government to “apologise.” Iain Duncan Smith added his voice to calls for a rethink of proposed changes to the National Insurance contributions after Hammond suggested that Brexit is responsible for the Government’s tax raid – conveniently mentioning Brexit for the first time regarding his budget. But he later denied that self-employed workers were paying the price for Brexit. Hard to keep up with what passes as the Conservative brand of reasoning and justification. It certainly makes me feel dizzy and nauseous, that’s for sure.

Hammond could have simply reduced the rate of NI that employees pay instead. He’s a bit of a wally. We did have a period of economic growth last year, second to only Germany, apparently. Good old Tories, eh?  Hurrah!

But I wonder who will benefit from that, assuming it’s really a growth in the economy? It won’t be disabled people claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with severe psychological distress who can’t leave the house, that’s for sure. Or those suffering epilepsy, both types of diabetes and blackouts who need support with managing their treatments and monitoring their health conditions.

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A period of Orwellian growth. The economy is currently being propped up by increasing personal debt.  

All of these conditions in fact: Diabetes mellitus (category unknown), Diabetes mellitus Type 1 (insulin dependent), Diabetes mellitus Type 2 (non-insulin dependent), Diabetic neuropathy, Diabetic retinopathy, Disturbances of consciousness – Nonepileptic – Other / type not known, Drop attacks, Generalised seizures (with status epilepticus in last 12 months), Generalised seizures, (without status epilepticus in last 12 months), Narcolepsy, Non epileptic Attack disorder (pseudoseizures), Partial seizures (with status epilepticus in last 12 months), Partial seizures (without status epilepticus in last 12 months), Seizures – unclassified Dizziness – cause not specified, Stokes Adams attacks (cardiovascular syncope), Syncope – Other / type not known.

And these:  Mood disorders – Other / type not known, Psychotic disorders – Other / type not known, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Phobia – Social Panic disorder, Learning disability – Other / type not known, Generalized anxiety disorder, Agoraphobia, Alcohol misuse, Anxiety and depressive disorders – mixed Anxiety disorders – Other / type not known, Autism, Bipolar affective disorder (Hypomania / Mania), Cognitive disorder due to stroke, Cognitive disorders – Other / type not known, Dementia, Depressive disorder, Drug misuse, Stress reaction disorders – Other / type not known, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobia – Specific Personality disorder, Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

What kind of government cuts support for those needing help to manage medication, monitor a health condition, or both?

What kind of government cuts mobility support for people who can’t leave the house alone?

It seems that most people who are actually ill won’t be eligible for PIP. I wonder which people the government have in mind when they say “those in greatest need”?

Oh, it’s the millionaires again. Phew! Silly me.

From the Equality Trust:

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The poorest people lose out from the budget yet again, of course. The distribution of wealth won’t change, with many households in the lowest deciles being worse off. The graph above does not show the full extent of the difference between the richest and the rest of society. This is because the top 1% have incomes substantially higher than the rest of those in the top 10%. In 2012, the top 1% had an average income of £253,927 and the top 0.1% had an average income of £919,882.

If you earn a few hundred thousand, you are set to do rather well yet again from another Tory budget. It’s remarkable how those need it least always get the financial “incentive” isn’t it?  Carrots for the fat cats.  It’s the delux model of “incentives”.

Meanwhile those who need it most pay for those who need it least. Poor people get the budget premium “incentive”, which includes standing on the naughty step, and thinking about what you have not done.

The Tories like wielding a stout stick and giving out a good thrashing for those who dare to fall ill. 

And just to clarify, social justice, equality and inclusion are NOT the same thing as work. They should exist independently of someone’s employment status. Otherwise, “inclusion” takes an Orwellian turn to the far right. We know from history that work doesn’t really set us free. People “enjoying the security and dignity of work” does not entail ensuring those who can’t work or who lost their job are utterly insecure, hungry or destitute. 

The government’s “pledge” to increase adult social care funding is being paid for by increases in council tax, some of which will be paid by those previously exempted from council tax because they are sick, disabled or unemployed. Social security was originally calculated to meet only the cost of fuel and food on the assumption that people needing support would be exempt from rent and council tax. That no longer is the case.

The rises due to come into force from April will not be sufficient to avoid strapped for cash councils having to make deep cuts to essential services, including road repair, parks, children’s centres, leisure centres and libraries. All of this in a time of “economic growth”. It looks like austerity is to be a permanent feature of Conservative neoliberal policy-making.

For many families who are just about managing, the withdrawal of state support for those who are in low paid work is hardly an incentive to “make work pay”. Of course Hammond has ignored the scandal of in-work poverty. This is one of the other austerity measures that he has chosen to keep. Introducing sanctions for those claiming social security because their employers don’t pay them enough to live on is simply a big bully’s stick, which would be better aimed at exploitative and miserly big business employers. Fancy punishing people because profit driven businesses pay as little as possible. 

It’s all the same peevish and spiteful mentality as “making work pay.” Instead of ensuring workers get a decent rate of pay, like you’d think from the Tory claim, the truly nasty party cut benefits and decided to impose punishing conditions on people who need state support indiscriminately, regardless of the reason, instead.

That’s pure upper class prejudice and malice.

And greed. 

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Meet Brexit, by the way, he’s the big elephant in the room, Mr Hammond


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness  and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Two EDMs have been tabled to stop Tory cuts to disability support, with cross-party endorsement

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I reported last week that the Liberal Democrats were planning an Early Day Motion (EDM) to halt the government’s authoritarian Personal Independence Payment (PIP) regulations. The new regulations are designed by the government to disregard the rulings of two upper tribunals regarding the scope of eligibility criteria for disabled people claiming PIP. However, upper tribunals are part of a body of administrative law that governs the activities of the administrative agencies of government. It is designed to independently review the decisions of governments, and as such, it provides protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms for citizens.

The Upper Tribunal is a superior court of record, giving it equivalent status to the High Court and it can both set precedents and can enforce its decisions (and those of the First-tier Tribunal) without the need to ask the High Court or the Court of Session to intervene. It is also the first (and only) tribunal to have the power of judicial review. (The Conservatives have a historical dislike of judicial review. See for example: The real “constitutional crisis” is Chris Grayling’s despotic tendencies and his undermining of the Rule of Law.)

The first EDM has already gained excellent cross-party support. It’s primary sponsor is Tim Farron. Signatories include Jeremy Corbyn, Debbie Abrahams and a number of other Labour Party MPs, Caroline Lucas (Green Party), Jonathan Edwards (Plaid Cymru) and Scottish National Party MPs.  

It says: “That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (S.I., 2017, No. 194), dated 22 February 2017, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23 February, be annulled.”

From 1 April 2017, further cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are to be introduced, again via statutory instrument (which are usually reserved for non-controversial policy amendments only). The new regulations mean that claimants who are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) will lose around £30 a week, receiving the same rate of payment as those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and the equivalent in Universal Credit.

Another EDM was tabled by the Labour Party, with the primary sponsor being Jeremy Corbyn, which says: “That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional and Savings Provisions) Regulations (S.I., 2017, No. 204), dated 23 February 2017, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27 February, be annulled.”

Disabled people have already carried a disproportionately large burden of austerity cuts.

 

 

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The cuts to disability support have been widely opposed, yet the government apparently pays little heed to the need for democratic accountability. 

You can support disabled people who are being targeted by ever-increasingly punitive Conservative policies that are having an extremely damaging impacon us by emailing your MP and asking them to sign both EDMs. (Contact details here).

 

Related

A black day for disabled people – disability benefit cuts enforced by government despite widespread opposition

House of Lords debate: ESA – Monday 07 March 2016 (From 3.06pm)

MP attacks cuts hitting disabled people – Debbie Abrahams

Leading the debate against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – 3rd reading – Debbie Abrahams

My speech at the Changes to Funding of Support for Disabled People Westminster Hall Debate – Debbie Abrahams

Man leaves coroner letter as he fears Work Capability Assessment will kill him

The government need to learn about the link between correlation and causality. Denial of culpability is not good enough.

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

Stephen Crabb’s obscurantist approach to cuts in disabled people’s support

A Critique of Conservative notions of “Social Research”

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control


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

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Government rebuked again for misusing statisics – this time on homelessness

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Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Rosalind Grender, has submitted a formal complaint to the UK Statistics Authority about the government’s misuse of homelessness statistics in press notices and parliamentary debates.

In a letter responding to her concerns, Ed Humpherson, the Authority’s director general, said he agreed with her complaint. He described the Department’s use of the figures as “disappointing” and that it was “potentially misleading” to the public.

It’s not the first time the government has been reprimanded officially, for trying to mislead the public. Who could forget David Cameron being rebuked by the statistics watchdog over national debt claims – The PM said the government was “paying down Britain’s debts” in a political broadcast, even though the debt was rising (and continues to increase).

Then there was Iain Duncan Smith’s unforgettable misuse of benefit statistics – he was rebuked by Office for National Statistics (ONS) for his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap which was found to be “unsupported by the official statistics.” 

Later in that same month, Duncan Smith also drew criticism and a reprimand for claiming around 1 million people have been “stuck on benefits” for at least three of the last four years “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”. However, the figures cited also included single mothers, people who were seriously ill, and people awaiting assessment.

Anyone would think that the Conservatives are trying to hide the damaging consequences of their draconian policies. (See: The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control.) 

The UK Statistics Authority disputed figures announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which claimed last year that homelessness had been more than halved since 2003.

However, the government’s claim was based on a very narrow statutory definition of homelessness which included only those who authorities are obliged to help. The number did not take into account homeless people who were given assistance under other schemes.The overall number of people facing homelessness has not dropped. The government also did not explicitly include the statutory homelessness definition in parliamentary debates in the House of commons and Lords, or in press releases.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We’re aware of the issue raised and have taken steps to make sure this does not arise in future.”

Baroness Grender welcomed the finding saying that the Government “has been caught out playing a numbers game, rather than accepting there is a problem, and getting on with the important work of finding solutions”.  

“It is time to stop spinning the statistics and start solving the problem,” she said.

 

Looks like my list from 2014  – A list of official rebukes for Tory lies – needs updating.

 

Related

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

Labour Party To Refer Groundless Iain Duncan Smith Claim To Statistics Watchdog Again

 


 

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

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