Tag: conservatives

Summary of key problems with the DWP’s recent survey of claimant satisfaction

The Department for Work and Pensions Claimant Service and Experience Survey (CSES) is described as “an ongoing cross-sectional study with quarterly bursts of interviewing. The survey is designed to monitor customers’ satisfaction with the service offered by DWP and enable customer views to be fed into operational and policy development.”

The survey measures levels of satisfaction in a defined group of ‘customers’ who have had contact with the Department for Work and Pensions within a three-month period prior to the survey. The research was commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions and conducted by Kantar Public UK –  who undertake marketing research, social surveys, and also specialise in consultancy, public opinion data, policy and also economy polling, among other things

One problem with the aim of the survey is that satisfaction is an elusive concept – a subjective experience that is not easily definable, accessible or open to precise quantitative measurement. The selection of responses available to participants and how these are measured and presented also affected the survey outcome.

For example, two categories of responses were conflated on the main report, with ‘satisfied’ and ‘fairly satisfied’ being presented as just one category – which gives the impression that people are fully satisfied. However, a ‘fairly satisfied’ response indicates that it is to some degree or extent but not fully, very or extremely satisfied. The presented survey findings, therefore, don’t distinguish between those who are fully satisfied with their interaction with the Department and those satisfied only to a moderate extent. Conflating these responses doesn’t provide us with the accurate ‘measurement’ of claimant satisfaction that the report claims. 

Furthermore, statistics that are not fully or adequately discussed in the survey report – these were to be found tucked away in the Excel data tables which were referenced at the end of the report – and certainly not cited by Government ministers, are those particularly concerning problems and difficulties with the Department for Work and Pensions that arose for some claimants. 

It’s worrying that 51 per cent of all respondents across all types of benefits who experienced difficulties or problems in their dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions did not see them resolved. A further 4 per cent saw only a partial resolution, and 3 per cent didn’t know if there had been any resolution.

In the job seeker’s allowance (JSA) category, some 53 per cent had unresolved problems with the Department and only 39 per cent had seen their problems resolved. In the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) group, 50 per cent had unresolved problems with the Department, and in the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) group, 57 per cent of claimants had ongoing problems with the Department, while only 33 per cent have seen their problems resolved. 


–  means the sample size is less than 40. 

Government officials have tended to select one set of statistics from the whole survey: “The latest official research shows that 76% of PIP claimants and 83% of ESA claimants are satisfied with their overall experience.” (Spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions.)

One problem with this is firstly it overlooks the problems outlined above, giving the impression that people don’t have any problems with the Department. Secondly, the survey conflates two sets of responses to come up with the overall percentages.

The positive categories for responses are “satisfied” and “fairly satisfied”. Given the problem of interpreting and precisely expressing subjective states like satisfaction, there is also the problem of measuring degrees of subjective states. There is some difficulty with “fairly satisfied” responses, as they may simply indicate that people experienced some difficulties, but these were handled politely by the Department. There may be varied reasons why people chose this category.

Some people are more likely to try to see situations positively. It tells us nothing about outcomes for those people. The questionnaires were closed – meaning responses were limited to a small number of simple response categories. So the responses don’t have a particularly helpful context of meaning to help us understand them. 

Some basic problems with using closed questions in a survey:

  • It imposes a limited framework of responses on respondents
  • The survey may not have the exact answer the respondent wants to give
  • The questions lead and limit the scope of responses 
  • Respondents may select answers which are simply the most similar to their “true” response – the one they want to give but can’t because it isn’t in the response options – even though it is different
  • The options presented may confuse the respondent
  • Respondents with no opinion may answer anyway
  • Does not provide us with information about whether or not the respondent actually understood the question being asked, or if the survey response options provided include an accurate capture and reflection of the respondents’ views.

Another problem which is not restricted to the use of surveys in research is the Hawthorne effect. This is a well-documented phenomenon that affects many areas of research and experiment in social sciences. It is the process where human subjects taking part in research change or modify their behaviour, simply because they are being studied. This is one of the most difficult inbuilt biases to eliminate or account for in research design. This was a survey conducted mostly over the telephone, which again introduces the risk of an element of ‘observer bias.’

Furthermore, the respondents in this survey had active, open benefit claims or had registered a claim. This may have had some effect on their responses, since they may have felt they were being scrutinised by the Department for Work and Pensions. Social relationships between the observer and the observed ought to be assessed when performing any type of social analysis and especially when there may be a perceived imbalanced power relationship between an organisation and the respondents, in any research that they conduct or commission.

Given the punitive nature of welfare policies, it is very difficult to determine the extent to which fear of reprisal may have influenced peoples’ responses, regardless of how many reassurances participants were given regarding anonymity in advance. 

The important bit about sampling practices: the changed sampling criteria impacted the results

The report states clearly: “The proportion of Personal Independence Payment customers who were ‘very dissatisfied’ fell from 19 per cent to 12 per cent over the same period. 

Then comes the killer: “This is likely to be partly explained by the inclusion in the 2014/15 sample of PIP customers who had a new claim disallowed who have not been sampled for the study since 2015/16. This brings PIP sampling into line with sampling practises for other benefits in the survey.

In other words, those people with the greatest reason to be very dissatisfied with their contact with the Department for Work and Pensions  – those who haven’t been awarded PIP or ESA, for example – are not included in the survey. 

This introduces a problem in the survey called sampling bias. Sampling bias undermines the external validity of a survey (the capacity for its results to be accurately generalised to the entire population, in this case, of those claiming PIP and ESA). Given that people who are not awarded PIP and ESA make up a significant proportion of the PIP customer population who have registered for a claim, this will skew the survey result, slanting it towards positive responses.

Award rates for PIP (under normal rules, excluding withdrawn claims) for new claims are 46 per cent. However, they are higher for one group –  73 per cent for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) reassessment claims. This covers PIP awards made between April 2013 and October 2016. Nearly all special rules (for those people who are terminally ill) claimants are found eligible for PIP. 

If an entire section of the PIP claimant population are excluded from the sample, then there are no adjustments that can produce estimates that are representative of the entire population of PIP claimants.

The same is true of the other groups of claimants. If those who have had a new claim disallowed (and again, bearing in mind that only 46 per cent of those new claims for PIP resulted in an award), then that excludes a considerable proportion of claimants registering across all types of benefits who were likely to have registered a lower level of satisfaction with the Department because their claim was disallowed. This means the survey cannot be used to accurately track the overall performance of the Department or monitor in terms of whether it is fulfilling its customer charter commitments. The survey excludes the possibility for monitoring and scrutinising Department decision-making and clamaint outcomes when the decision reached isn’t in the claimant’s favour..

The report clearly states: “There was a revision to sample eligibility criteria in 2014/15. Prior to this date the survey included customers who had contacted DWP within the past 6 months. From 2014/15 onwards this was shortened to a 3 month window. This may also have impacted on trend data.” 

We have no way of knowing why those peoples’ claim was disallowed. We have no way of knowing if this is due to error or poor administrative procedures within the Department. If the purpose of a survey like this is to produce a valid account of levels of ‘customer satisfaction’ with the Department, then it must include a representative sample of all of those ‘customers’, and include those whose experiences have been negative.

Otherwise the survey is reduced to little more than a PR exercise for the Department. 

The sampling procedure is therefore a way of only permitting an unrepresentative  sample of people to participate in a survey, who are likeliest to produce the most positive responses, because their experiences have been of a largely positive outcome within the survey time frame. If those who have been sanctioned are also excluded across the sample, then this will also hide the experiences and comments of those most adversely affected by the Department’s policies, decisions and administration procedures, again these are claimants who are the likeliest to register their dissatisfaction in the survey. 

Measurement error occurs when a survey respondent’s answer to a survey question is inaccurate, imprecise, or cannot be compared in any useful way to other respondents’ answers. This type of error results from poor question wording and questionnaire construction. Closed and directed questions may also contribute to measurement error, along with faulty assumptions and imperfect scales. The kind of questions asked may also have limited the scope of the research.

For example, there’s a fundamental difference in asking questions like “Was the advisor polite on the telephone?” and “Did the decision-maker make the correct decision about your claim?”. The former generates responses that are relatively simplistic and superficial, the latter is rather more informative and tells us much more about how well the DWP fulfils one of its key functions, rather than demonstrating only how politely staff go about discussing claim details with claimants. 

This survey is not going to produce a valid range of accounts or permit a reliable generalisation regarding the wider populations’ experiences with the Department for Work and Pensions. Nor can the limited results provide meaningful conclusions to inform a genuine learning opportunity and support a committment to improvement for the Department.

With regard to the department’s Customer Charter, this survey does not include valid feedback and information regarding this section in particular:

Getting it right

We will:
• Provide you with the correct decision, information or payment
• Explain things clearly if the outcome is not what you’d hoped for
• Say sorry and put it right if we make a mistake 
• Use your feedback to improve how we do things

One other issue with the sampling is that the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) groups were overrepresented in the cohort. 

The sample was intentionally designed to overrepresent these groups in order to allow “robust quarterly analysis of these benefits”, according to the report. However, because a proportion of the cohort – those having their benefit disallowed – were excluded in the latest survey and not the previous one, so cross comparision and establishing trends over time is problematic. 

Kantar do say: “When reading the report, bear in mind the fact that customers’ satisfaction levels are likely to be impacted by the nature of the benefit they are claiming. As such, it is more informative to look at trends over time for each benefit rather than making in-year comparisons between benefits.” 

With regard to my previous point, Kantar also say: “Please also note that there was a methodological change to the way that Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment customers were sampled in 2015/16 which means that for these benefits results for 2015/16 are not directly comparable with previous years.” 

And: “As well as collecting satisfaction at an overall level, the survey also collects data on customers’ satisfaction with specific transactions such as ‘making a claim’, ‘reporting  a change in circumstances’ and ‘appealing a decision’ (along with a number of other transactions) covering the remaining aspects of the DWP Customer Charter.These are not covered in this report, but the data are presented in the accompanying data tabulations.” 

The survey also covered only those who had been in touch with DWP over a three month period shortly prior to the start of fieldwork. As such it is a survey of contacting customers rather than all benefits customers.

Again it is problematic to make inferences and generalisations about the levels of satisfaction among the wider population of claimants, based on a sample selected by using such a narrow range of characteristics.

The report also says: “Parts of the interview focus on a specific transaction which respondents had engaged in (for example making a claim or reporting a change in circumstances). In cases where a respondent had been involved in more than one transaction, the questionnaire prioritised less common or more complex transactions. As
such, transaction-specific measures are not representative of ALL transactions conducted by DWP”.

And regarding subgroups: “When looking at data for specific benefits, the base sizes for benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseeker’s Allowance (circa 5,500) are much larger than those for benefits such as Carer’s Allowance and Attendance Allowance (circa 450). As such, the margins of error for Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseeker’s Allowance are smaller than those of other benefits and it is therefore possible to identify relatively small changes as being statistically significant.”

Results from surveys are estimates and there is a margin of error associated with each figure quoted in this report. The smaller the sample size, the greater the uncertainty.

In fairness, the report does state: “In the interest of avoiding misinterpretation, data with a base size of less than 100 are omitted from the charts in this report.” 

On non-sampling error, the report says: “Surveys depend on the responses given by participants. Some participants may answer questions inaccurately and some groups of respondents may be more likely to refuse to take part altogether. This can introduce biases and errors. Nonsampling error is minimised by the application of rigorous questionnaire design, the use of skilled and experienced interviewers who work under close supervision  and rigorous quality assurance of the data.

Differing response rates amongst key sub-groups are addressed through weighting. Nevertheless, it is not possible to eliminate non-sampling error altogether and its impact cannot be reliably quantified.”

As I have pointed out, sampling error in a statistical analysis may also arise from the unrepresentativeness of the sample taken. 

The survey response rates were not discussed either. In the methodological report, it says: “In 2015/16 DWP set targets each quarter for the required number of interviews  for each benefit group to either produce a representative proportion of the benefit group in the eventual survey or a higher number of interviews for sub-group analysis where required. It is therefore not strictly appropriate to report response rates as fieldwork for a benefit group ceased if a target was reached.” 

The Government says:This research monitors claimants’ satisfaction with DWP services and ensures their views are considered in operational and policy planning.” 

Again, it doesn’t include those claimants whose benefit support has been disallowed. There is considerable controversy around disability benefit award decisions (and sanctioning) in particular, yet the survey does not address this important issue, since those experiencing negative outcomes are excluded from the survey sample. We know that there is a problem with the PIP and ESA benefits award decision-making processes, since a significant proportion of those people who go on to appeal DWP decisions are subsequently awarded their benefit.

The DWP, however, don’t seem to have any interest in genuine feedback from this group that may contribute to an improvement in both performance and decision-making processes, leading to improved outcomes for disabled people.

Last year, judges ruled 14,077 people should be given PIP against the government’s decision not to between April and June – 65 per cent of all cases.  The figure is higher still when it comes to ESA (68 per cent). Some 85 per cent of all benefit appeals were accounted for by PIP and ESA claimants.

The system, also criticised by the United Nations because it “systematically violates the rights of disabled persons”, seems to have been deliberately set up in a way that tends towards disallowing support awards. The survey excluded the voices of those people affected by this government’s absolute callousness or simple bureaucratic incompetence. The net effect, consequent distress and hardship caused to sick and disabled people is the same regardless of which it is.

Given that only 18 per cent of PIP decisions to disallow a claim are reversed  at mandatory reconsideration, I’m inclined to think that this isn’t just a case of bureaucratic incompetence, since the opportunity for the DWP to rectify mistakes doesn’t result in subsequent correct decisions, in the majority of cases, for those refused an award. 

Without an urgent overhaul of the assessment process by the Government, the benefit system will continue to work against disabled people, instead of for them.

The Government claim: “The objectives of this research are to:

  • capture the views and experiences of DWP’s service from claimants, or their representatives, who used their services recently
  • identify differences in the views and experiences of people claiming different benefits
  • use claimants’ views of the service to measure the department’s performance against its customer charter”

The commissioned survey does not genuinely meet those objectives.


There is an alternative reality being presented by the other side. The use of figures diminishes disabled peoples’ experiences.”

You can read my full analysis of the survey here: A critique of the government’s claimant satisfaction survey



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.



From the abstract to the concrete: urban design as a mechanism of behaviour change and social exclusion

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I rarely venture into large retail areas and shopping centres. They make me feel unwell. I’m rather claustrophobic to begin with. I also have lupus, one of my symptoms is a quite extreme photosensitivity. The lighting in these places quite often triggers an attack of vertigo, nausea, incapacitating disorientation, co-ordination difficulties, muscle rigidity, temporary and severe visual distortions and a very severe headache.

However, I visited one recently with a friend, who was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping. He promised we would visit just two shops, and that our visit would be over quickly.

What struck me straight away is how much retail design is now just about revenue-producing. Shopping malls are unforgiving, soulless and unfriendly places. I was reminded of something I read by David Harvey, about the stark reality of shrinking, privatised and devalued public spaces. Neoliberal marketisation has manifested ongoing conflicts over public access to public space, where profiteering reigns supreme.

My experience of a shopping mall was deeply alienating and physically damaging. It brought with it a recognition of how some groups of people are being coerced and physically situated in the world – how citizens think and act is increasingly being determined by ‘choice architecture’ –  which is all-pervasive: it’s situated at a political, economic, cultural, social and material level. Hostile architecture – in all of its forms – is both a historic and contemporary leitmotif of hegemony. 

Architecture, in both the abstract and the concrete, has become a mechanism of asymmetrically changing citizens’ perceptions, senses, choices and behaviours – ultimately it is being used as a means of defining and targeting politically defined others, enforcing social exclusion and imposing an extremely authoritarian regime of social control. 

Citizens targeted by a range of ‘choice architecture’ as a means of fulfiling a neoliberal ‘behavioural change’ agenda (aimed at fulfiling politically defined neoliberal ‘outcomes’) are those who are already profoundly disempowered and, not by coincidence, among the poorest social groups. The phrase choice architecture implies a range of offered options, with the most ‘optimal’ (defined as being in our ‘best interest’) highlighted or being ‘incentivised’ in some way. However, increasingly, choice architecture is being used to limit the choices of those who already experience heavy socioeconomic and political constraints on their available decision-making options. 

The shopping mall made me ill very quickly. Within minutes the repulsive lighting triggered an attack of vertigo, nausea, co-ordination and visual difficulties. I looked for somewhere to sit, only to find that the seating was not designed for actually sitting on. 

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The public seating that’s just a prop.

This radically limited my choices. In order to sit down to recover sufficiently to escape the building, the only option I had was to buy a drink in a cafe, where the seating is rather more comfortable and fulfils its function. I needed to sit down in order to muster myself to head for the exit, situated at the other end of the building. 

At this point it dawned on me that the hostile seating also fulfils its function. In my short visit, I had been ushered through the frightfully cold, clinical and unfriendly building, compelled to make a purchase I didn’t actually want and then pretty much rudely ejected from the building. It wasn’t a public space designed for me. Or for the heavily pregnant woman who also needed to sit for a while. It didn’t accommodate human diversity. It didn’t extend a welcome or comfort to all of its guests. The functions and comforts of the building are arranged to be steeply stratified, reflecting the conditions of our social reality. The only shred of comfort it offered me was conditional on making a purchase.

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When the purpose of public seating isn’t taking the weight off your feet and providing rest.

Urbanomics and the cutting edge of social exclusion: what is ‘defensive architecture’ defending?

Social exclusion exists on multiple levels. The distribution of wealth and power, access to citizenship rights and freedoms, political influence and consideration are a few expressions of inclusion or exclusion. It also exists and operates in time and space – in places. 

Our towns and cities have also increasingly become spaces that communicate to us who ‘belongs’ and who isn’t welcome. From gated communities and the rise of private policing, surveillance and security to retail spaces designed to fulfil pure profiteering over human need, our urban spaces have become extremely anticommunal; they are now places where an exclusive social-spatial order is being defined and enforced. That order reflects and contains the social-economic order.

Retail spaces are places of increasing psychological and sensual manipulation and control. Hostile architecture is designed and installed to protect the private interests of the wealthy, propertied class in upmarket residential areas and to protect the private profiteering interests of the corporate sector in retail complexes.

The very design of our contemporary cities reflects, directs and amplifies political and social prejudices, discrimination and hostility toward marginalised social groups. Hostile architectural forms prevent people from seeking refuge and comfort in public spaces. Places that once reflected human coexistence are being encroached upon, restrictions are placed on access and limits to its commercial usage, demarcating public and private property and permitting an unrestrained commodification of urban spaces and property.

In 2014, widespread public outrage arose when a luxury London apartment building installed anti-homeless spikes to prevent people from sleeping in an alcove near the front door. The spikes, which were later removed following the public outcry, drew public attention to the broader urban phenomenon of hostile architecture.

Anti-homeless spikes in London

Dehumanising ‘defensive architecture’ – ranging from benches in parks and bus stations that you can’t actually sit on, to railings that look like the inside of iron maidens, to metal spikes that shriek ‘this is our private space, go away’ – is transforming urban landscapes into a brutal battleground for the haves and socioeconomically excluded have-nots. The buildings and spaces are designed to convey often subtle messages about who is welcome and who is not.

Hostile architecture is a form of urban design that aims to prevent people from lingering in public spaces. The anti-homeless spikes here, for example, were installed to deter beggars and those sleeping rough.

Hostile architecture is designed and installed to target, frustrate deter and ultimately exclude citizens who fall within ‘unwanted’ demographics.

Although many hostile architecture designs target homeless people, there are also a number of exclusion strategies aimed at deterring congregating young people, many of these are less physical or obvious than impossibly uncomfortable seating, which is primarily designed and installed to prevent homeless people from finding a space to sleep or rest. However, the seating also excludes others who may need to rest more frequently, from sitting comfortably – from pregnant women, nursing mothers with babies and young children to those who are ill, elderly and disabled citizens.

Some businesses play classical music as a deterrent – based on an assumption that young people don’t like it. Other sound-based strategies include the use of high-frequency sonic buzz generators (the ‘mosquito device’meant to be audible only to young people under the age of 25.

Some housing estates in the UK have also installed pink lighting, aimed at highlighting teenage blemishes, and deterring young males, who, it is assumed, regard pink ‘calming’ light as ‘uncool’. There is little data to show how well these remarkably oppressive strategies actually work. Nor is anyone monitoring the potential harm they may cause to people’s health and wellbeing. Furthermore, no-one seems to care about the psychological impact such oppressive strategies have on the targeted demographics –  the intended and unintended consequences for the sighted populations, and those who aren’t being targeted.

                   Blue lighting in public toilets via Unpleasant Design

Blue lighting has been used in public toilets to deter intravenous drug users; the colour allegedly makes it harder for people to locate their veins. It was claimed that public street crime declined in Glasgow, Scotland following the installation of blue street lights, but it’s difficult to attribute this effect to the new lighting. Blue may have calming effects or may simply (in contrast to yellow) create an unusual atmosphere in which people are uncomfortable – actingout or otherwise. So questions remain about causality versus correlation. Again, no-one is monitoring the potential harm that such coercive strategies may cause. Blue light is particularly dangerous for some migraine sufferers and those with immune-related illnesses, for example, and others who are sensitive to flickering light. 

Hostile architecture isn’t a recent phenomenon

Charles Pierre Baudelaire wrote a lot about the transformation of Paris in the 1850s and 1860s. For example, The Eyes of the Poor captures a whole series of themes and social conflicts that accompanied the radical re-design of Paris under Georges-Eugène Haussmann‘s controversial programme of urban planning interventions.

Baron Haussmann was considered an arrogant, autocratic vandal by many, regarded as a sinister man who ripped the historic heart out of Paris, driving his boulevards through the city’s slums to help the French army crush popular uprisings. Republican opponents criticised the brutality of the work. They saw his avenues as imperialist tools to neuter fermenting civil unrest in working-class areas, allowing troops to be rapidly deployed to quell revolt. Haussmann was also accused of social engineering by destroying the economically mixed areas where rich and poor rubbed shoulders, instead creating distinct wealthy arrondissements.

Baudelaire opens the prose by asking his lover if she understands why it is that he suddenly hates her. Throughout the whole day, he says, they had shared their thoughts and feelings in the utmost intimacy, almost as if they were one. And then:

“That evening, feeling a little tired, you wanted to sit down in front of a new cafe forming the corner of a new boulevard still littered with rubbish but that already displayed proudly its unfinished splendors. The cafe was dazzling. Even the gas burned with all the ardor of a debut, and lighted with all its might the blinding whiteness of the walls, the expanse of mirrors, the gold cornices and moldings…..nymphs and goddesses bearing on their heads piles of fruits, pates and game…..all history and all mythology pandering to gluttony.

On the street directly in front of us, a worthy man of about forty, with tired face and greying beard, was standing holding a small boy by the hand and carrying on his arm another little thing, still too weak to walk. He was playing nurse-maid, taking the children for an evening stroll. They were in rags. The three faces were extraordinarily serious, and those six eyes stared fixedly at the new cafe with admiration, equal in degree but differing in kind according to their ages.

The eyes of the father said: “How beautiful it is! How beautiful it is! All the gold of the poor world must have found its way onto those walls.”

The eyes of the little boy: “How beautiful it is! How beautiful it is! But it is a house where only people who are not like us can go.”

As for the baby, he was much too fascinated to express anything but joy – utterly stupid and profound. 

Song writers say that pleasure ennobles the soul and softens the heart. The song was right that evening as far as I was concerned. Not only was I touched by this family of eyes, but I was even a little ashamed of our glasses and decanters, too big for our thirst. I turned my eyes to look into yours, dear love, to read my thoughts in them; and as I plunged my eyes into your eyes, so beautiful and so curiously soft, into those green eyes, home of Caprice and governed by the Moon, you said:

“Those people are insufferable with their great saucer eyes. Can’t you tell the proprietor
to send them away?”

So you see how difficult it is to understand one another, my dear angel, how incommunicable thought is, even between two people in love.”

I like David Harvey‘s observations on this piece. He says “What is so remarkable about this prose poem is not only the way in which it depicts the contested character of public space and the inherent porosity of the boundary between the public and the private (the latter even including a lover’s thoughts provoking a lover’s quarrel), but how it generates a sense of space where ambiguities of proprietorship, of aesthetics, of social relations (class and gender in particular) and the political economy of everyday life collide.”  

The parallels here are concerning the right to occupy a public space, which is contested by the author’s lover who wants someone to assert proprietorship over it and control its uses.

The cafe is not exactly a private space either; it is a space within which a selective public is allowed for commercial and consumption purposes.

There is no safe space – the unrelenting message of hostile architecture

What message do hostile architectural features send out to those they target? Young people are being intentionally excluded from their own communities, for example, leaving them with significantly fewer safe spaces to meet and socialise. At the same time, youth provision has been radically reduced under the Conservative neoliberal austerity programme – youth services were cut by at least £387m from April 2010 to 2016. I know from my own experience as a youth and community worker that there is a positive correlation between inclusive, co-designed, needs-led youth work interventions and significantly lower levels of antisocial behaviour. The message to young people from society is that they don’t belong in public spaces and communities. Young people nowadays should be neither seen nor heard.

It seems that the creation of hostile environments – operating simultaneously at a physical, behavioural, cognitive, emotional, psychological and subliminal level – is being used to replace public services – traditional support mechanisms and provisions – in order to cut public spending and pander to the neoliberal ideal of austerity and ‘rolling back the state’. 

It also serves to normalise prejudice, discrimination and exclusion that is political- in its origin. Neoliberalism fosters prejudice, discrimination and it seems it is incompatible with basic humanism, human rights, inclusion and democracy.

The government are no longer investing in more appropriate, sustainable and humane responses to the social problems created by ideologically-driven decision-making, anti-public policies and subsequently arising structural inequalities – the direct result of a totalising neoliberal socioeconomic organisation.

For example, homeless people and increasingly disenfranchised and alienated young people would benefit from the traditional provision of shelters, safe spaces, support and public services. Instead both groups are being driven from the formerly safe urban enclaves they inhabited into socioeconomic wastelands and exclaves – places of exile that hide them from public visibility and place further distance between them and wider society. 

Homelessness, poverty, inequality, disempowerment and alienation continue but those affected are being exiled to publicly invisible spaces so that these processes do not disturb the activities and comfort of urban consumers or offend the sensibilities of the corporate sector and property owners. After all, nothing is more important that profit. Least of all human need.

Homelessness as political, economic and public exile

Last year, when interviewed by the national homelessness charity Crisis, rough sleepers reported being brutally hosed with water by security guards to make them move on, and an increase in the use of other ‘deterrent’ measures. More than 450 people were surveyed in homelessness services across England and Wales. 6 in 10 reported an increase over the past year in ‘defensive architecture’ to keep homeless people away, making sitting or lying down impossible – including hostile spikes and railings, curved or segregated, deliberately uncomfortable benches and gated doorways.

Others said they had experienced deliberate ‘noise pollution’, such as loud music or recorded birdsong and traffic sounds, making it hard or impossible to sleep. Almost two-thirds of respondents said there had been an increase in the number of wardens and security guards in public spaces, who were regularly moving people on in the middle of the night, sometimes by washing down spaces where people were attempting to rest or sleep. Others reported noise being played over loudspeakers in tunnels and outside buildings.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said he had been shocked by the findings. He said: “It’s dehumanising people. If people have chosen the safest, driest spot they can find, your moving them along is making life more dangerous. 

“The rise of hostile measures is a sad indictment of how we treat the most vulnerable in our society. Having to sleep rough is devastating enough, and we need to acknowledge that homelessness is rising and work together to end it. We should be helping people off the streets to rebuild their lives – not just hurting them or throwing water on them.”

‘Defensive architecture’ is a violent gesture and a symbol of a profound social and cultural unkindness. It is considered, calculated, designed, approved, funded and installed with the intention to dehumanise and to communicate exclusion. It reveals how a corporate oligarchy has prioritised a hardened, superficial style and profit motive over human need, diversity, complexity and inclusion. 

Hostile architecture is covert in its capacity to exclude – designed so that those deemed ‘legitimate’ users of urban public space may enjoy a seemingly open, comfortable and inclusive urban environment, uninterrupted by the sight of the casualities of the same socioeconomic system that they derive benefit from. Superficially, dysfunctional benches and spikes appear as an ‘arty’ type of urban design. Visible surveillance technologies make people feel safe.

It’s not a society that everyone experiences in the same way, nor one which everyone feels comfortable and safe in, however.

Hidden from public view, dismissed from political consideration

Earlier this month, Britain’s statistics watchdog said it is considering an investigation into comments made by Theresa May following complaints that they misrepresented the extent of homelessness and misled parliament.

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) confirmed that concerns had been raised after the prime minister tried to claim in Parliament that ‘statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour government and is down by over 50 per cent since then.’ Official figures show that the number of households in temporary accommodation stood at 79,190 at the end of September, up 65% on the low of 48,010 in December 2010. Liberal Democrat peer Olly Grender, who made the complaint, also raised concerns last year about the government’s use of the same statistics.

Grender said: “It seems particularly worrying, as we learn today of the increase in homelessness, that this government is still using spin rather than understanding and solving the problem.”

Baroness Grender’s previous complaint prompted UKSA to rebuke the Department for Communities and Local Government. The department claimed homelessness had halved since 2003 but glossed over the fact this referred only to those who met the narrow definition of statutory homelessness, while the overall number of homeless people had not dropped. 

May was accused of callousness when Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan recently raised questions about homelessness and the rise in food bank use. The prime minister responded, saying that families who qualified as homeless had the right to be found a bed for the night. She said: “Anybody hearing that

will assume that what that means is that 2,500 children will be sleeping on our streets. It does not.

“It is important that we are clear about this for all those who hear these questions because, as we all know, families with children who are accepted as homeless will be provided with accommodation.”

Finger wagging authoritarian Theresa May tells us that children in temporary accommodation are not waking up on the streets.

However, Matthew Downie, the director of policy at the Crisis charity for homeless people, said: “The issue we’ve got at the moment is that it’s just taking such a long time for people who are accepted as homeless to get into proper, stable, decent accommodation. And that’s because local councils are struggling so much to access that accommodation in the overheated, broken housing market we’ve got, and with housing benefit rates being nowhere near the market rents that they need to pay.”

He said that while May highlighted a decline in what is categorised as ‘statutory homelessness’, rough sleeping had increased by 130% since 2010.

The category of ‘statutory homelssness’ has also been redefined to include fewer people who qualify for housing support.

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

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

However, there are a few causes that the prime minister seems to have overlooked, amid the Conservative ritualistic chanting about ‘personal responsibility’ and a ‘culture of entitlement’, which always reflects assumptions and prejudices about the causal factors of social and economic problems. It’s politically expedient to blame the victims and not the perpetrators, these days. It’s also another symptom of failing neoliberal policies.

It’s a curious fact that wealthy people also experience ‘complex issues’ such as addiction, mental health problems and domestic abuse, but they don’t tend to experience homelessness and poverty as a result. The government seems to have completely overlooked the correlation between rising inequality and austerity, and increasing poverty and homelessness – which are direct consequences of political decision-making. Furthermore, a deregulated private sector has meant that rising rents have made tenancies increasingly precarious.

Last year, ludicrously, the Government backed new law to prevent people made homeless through government policy from becoming homeless. The aim is to ‘support’ people by ‘behavioural change’ policies, rather than by supporting people in material hardship – absolute poverty – who are unable to meet their basic survival needs because of the government’s regressive attitude and traditional prejudices about the causes of poverty and the impact of austerity cuts.

Welfare ‘reforms’, such as the increased and extended use of sanctions, the bedroom tax, council tax reduction, benefit caps and the cuts implemented by stealth through Universal Credit have all contributed to a significant rise in repossession actions by social landlords in a trend expected to continue to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrinks.

Housing benefit cuts have played a large part in many cases of homelessness caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.

The most recent National Audit Office (NAO) report on homelessness says, in summary:

  •  88,410 homeless households applied for homelessness assistance
    during 2016-17 
  • 105,240 households were threatened with homelessness and helped to remain in their own home by local authorities during 2016-17 (increase of 63%
    since 2009-10) 
  • 4,134 rough sleepers counted and estimated on a single night in autumn
    2016 (increase of 134% since autumn 2010)
  • Threefold approximate increase in the number of households recorded
    as homeless following the end of an assured shorthold tenancy
    since 2010-11
  • 21,950 households were placed in temporary accommodation outside the local
    authority that recorded them as homeless at March 2017 (increase
    of 248% since March 2011)
  • The end of an assured shorthold tenancy is the defining characteristic of the increase in homelessness that has occurred since 2010

Among the recommendations the NAO report authors make is this one: The government, led by the Department [for Housing] and the Department for Work and Pensions, should develop a much better understanding of the interactions between local housing markets and welfare reform in order to evaluate fully the causes of homelessness.

Record high numbers of families are becoming homeless after being evicted by private landlords and finding themselves unable to afford a suitable alternative place to live, government figures from last year have also shown. Not that empirical evidence seems to matter to the Government, who prefer a purely ideological approach to policy, rather than an evidence-based one. 

The NAO point out that Conservative ministers have not evaluated the effect of their own welfare ‘reforms’  (a euphemism for cuts) on homelessness, nor the effect of own initiatives in this area. Although local councils are required to have a homelessness strategy, it isn’t monitored. There is no published cross-government strategy to deal with homelessness whatsoever. 

Ministers have no basic understanding on the causes or costs of rising homelessness, and have shown no inclination to grasp how the problem has been fuelled in part by housing benefit cuts, the NAO says. It concludes that the government’s attempts to address homelessness since 2011 have failed to deliver value for money.

More than 4,000 people were sleeping rough in 2016, according to the report, an increase of 134% since 2010. There were 77,000 households – including 120,000 children – housed in temporary accommodation in March 2017, up from 49,000 in 2011 and costing £845m a year in housing benefit. 

Homelessness has grown most sharply among households renting privately who struggle to afford to live in expensive areas such as London and the south-east, the NAO found. Private rents in the capital have risen by 24% since the start of the decade, while average earnings have increased by just 3%.

Cuts to local housing allowance (LHA) – a benefit intended to help tenants meet the cost of private rents – have also contributed to the crisis, the report says. LHA support has fallen behind rent levels in many areas, forcing tenants to cover an average rent shortfall of £50 a week in London and £26 a week elsewhere.  This is at the same time that the cost of living has been rising more generally, while both in-work and out-of-work welfare support has been cut. It no longer provides sufficient safety net support to meet people’s basic needs for fuel, food and shelter. 

It was assumed when welfare amounts were originally calculated that people would not be expected to pay rates/council tax and rent. However, this is no longer the case. People are now expected to use money that is allocated for food and fuel to pay a shortfall in housing support, and meet the additional costs of council tax, bedroom tax and so on. 

Local authority attempts to manage the homelessness crisis have been considerably constrained by a shrinking stock of affordable council and housing association homes, coupled with a lack of affordable new properties. London councils have been reduced to offering increasingly reluctant landlords £4,000 to persuade them to offer a tenancy to homeless families on benefits.

Housing shortages in high-rent areas mean that a third of homeless households are placed in temporary housing outside of their home borough, the NAO said. This damages community and family ties, disrupts support networks, isolates families and disrupts children and you people’s education.

London councils are buying up homes in cheaper boroughs outside of the capital to house homeless families, in turn exacerbating the housing crisis in those areas. 

Polly Neate, the chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said: “The NAO has found what Shelter sees every day, that for many families our housing market is a daily nightmare of rising costs and falling benefits which is leading to nothing less than a national crisis.”

Matt Downie, the director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “The NAO demonstrates that while some parts of government are actively driving the problem, other parts are left to pick up the pieces, causing misery for thousands more people as they slip into homelessness.”

Meg Hillier MP, the chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said the NAO had highlighted a ‘national scandal’. “This reports illustrates the very real human cost of the government’s failure to ensure people have access to affordable housing,” she added. 

More than 9,000 people are sleeping rough on the streets and more than 78,000 households, including 120,000 children, are homeless and living in temporary accommodation, often of a poor standard, according to the Commons public accounts committee.

The Committee say in a report that the attitude of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to reducing homelessness has been ‘unacceptably complacent’.

John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said: “This damning cross-party report shows that the Conservatives have caused the crisis of rapidly rising homelessness but have no plan to fix it.

“This Christmas the increase in homelessness is visible in almost every town and city in the country, but today’s report confirms ministers lack both an understanding of the problem and any urgency in finding solutions.

“After an unprecedented decline in homelessness under Labour, Conservative policy decisions are directly responsible for rising homelessness. You can’t help the homeless without the homes, and ministers have driven new social rented homes to the lowest level on record.”

Surely it’s a reasonable and fundamental expectation of citizens that a government in a democratic, civilised and wealthy society ensures that the population can meet their basic survival needs. 

The fact that absolute poverty and destitution exist in a wealthy, developed and democratic nation is shamefully offensive. However, Conservatives tend to be outraged by poor people themselves, rather than by their own political choices and the design of socioeconomic processes that created inequality and poverty. The government’s response to the adverse consequences of neoliberalism is increasingly despotic and authoritarian.

The comments below from Simon Dudley, the Conservative Leader of the Maidenhead Riverside Council and ironically, a director of a Government agency that supports house building, (Homes and Community Agency (HCA)) reflect a fairly standardised, authoritarian, dehumanising Conservative attitude towards homelessness.

Note the stigmatising language use – likening homelessness and poverty to disease – an epidemic. Dudley’s underpinning prejudice is very evident in the comment that homelessness is a commercial lifestyle choice, and the demand that the police ‘deal’ with it highlights his knee-jerk authoritarian response:

Dudley uses the word ‘vagrancy’, which implies that it is the condition and characteristics of homeless people who causes homelessness, rather than social, political and economic conditions, such as inequality, low wages, austerity and punitive welfare policies. The first major vagrancy law was passed in 1349 to increase the national workforce and impose social control following the Black Death, by making ‘idleness’ (unemployment) and moving to other areas for higher wages an offence. The establishment has a long tradition of punishing those who are, for whatever reason, economically ‘inactive’: who aren’t contributing to the private wealth accumulation of others.

The Vagrancy Act of 1824 is an Act of Parliament that made it an offence to sleep rough or beg. Anyone in England and Wales found to be homeless or begging subsistence money can be arrested. Though amended several times, certain sections of the original 1824 Vagrancy Act remain in force in England and Wales. It’s main aim was removing undesirables from public view. The act assumed that homelessness was due to idleness and therefore deliberate, and made it a criminal offence to engage in behaviours associated with extreme poverty. 

The language that Dudley uses speaks volumes about his prejudiced and regressive view of homelessness and poverty. And his scorn for democracy.

The 1977 Housing (Homeless Persons) Act restricted the homeless housing requirements so that only individuals who were affected by natural disasters could receive housing accommodation from the local authorities. This was partly due to well-organised opposition from district councils and Conservative MPs, who managed to amend
the Bill considerably in its passage through Parliament, resulting in the rejection of many  homeless applications received by the local government because of strict qualifying criteria.

For the first time, the 1977 Act gave local authorities the legal duty to house homeless people in ‘priority’ need, and to provide advice and assistance to those who did not qualify as having a priority need. However, the Act also made it difficult for homeless individuals without children to receive accommodations provided by local authorities, by reducing the categories and definitions of ‘priority need’. 

Use of the law that criminalises homeless people may generally include:

  • Restricting the public areas in which sitting or sleeping are allowed.
  • Removing the homeless from particular areas.
  • Prohibiting begging.
  • Selective enforcement of laws.

Murphy James, manager of the Windsor Homeless Project, branded Cllr Dudley’s comments ‘disgusting’ and described the Southall accommodation offered by the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead as ‘rat infested’. 

He said: “It shows he hasn’t got a clue. He has quite obviously never walked even an inch in their shoes.

“It is absolutely disgusting he is putting out such an opinion that it is a commercial life choice.”

James added the royal wedding should not be the only reason for helping people on the streets.

“I am a royalist but it should have zero to do with the royal wedding,” he said.

“Nobody in this country should be on the streets.” 

Dudley should pay more attention to national trends instead of attempting to blame homeless people for the consequences of government policies, as many in work are also experiencing destitution.

This short film challenges the stereoytypes that Dudley presents. This is 21st century Britain. But still there are people without homes, still people living rough on the streets, including some who are in work, even some doing vital jobs in the public sector, low paid and increasingly struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Central government doesn’t keep statistics on the ‘working homeless’. But we do know that overall the number of homeless people is once again on the rise.

Meanwhile, figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request by the Liberal Democrats from 234 councils show almost 45,000 people aged 18-24 have come forward in past year for help with homelessness. With more than 100 local authorities not providing information, the real statistic could well be above 70,000.

As Polly Toynbee says: “Food banks and rough sleeping are now the public face of this Tory era, that will end as changing public attitudes show rising concern at so much deliberately induced destitution.”

While the inglorious powers that be spout meaningless, incoherent and reactionary authoritarian bile, citizens are dying as a direct consequence of meaningless, incoherent and reactionary Conservative policies.


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The Electoral Commission has opened yet another inquiry into Momentum’s election spending

The Electoral Commission has launched another investigation into whether campaign group Momentum breached rules on spending at the last General Election.

The Commission issued a statement, which says:

“The rules governing spending at UK Parliamentary general elections by permitted participants, including non-party campaigners, are set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA).

The investigation will look at:

  • whether or not Momentum spent in excess of the spending limits for an unauthorised non-party campaigner in the UK Parliamentary general election;
  • whether or not Momentum submitted a return that did not include accurate donation information and/or the required declaration stating that the donation return was complete and accurate;
  • whether or not Momentum submitted a return that was not a complete statement of payments made in respect of controlled expenditure;
  • whether or not Momentum submitted a return that did not include all invoices for payments of more than £200.

It is possible that during the course of the investigation, the Commission will identify potential contraventions and/or offences under PPERA other than those set out above.

All the Commission’s investigations are conducted in accordance with our Enforcement Policy.”

Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission’s Director of Political Finance and Regulation and Legal Counsel, said:

“Momentum are a high profile active campaigning body. Questions over their compliance with the campaign finance rules at June’s general election risks causing harm to voters’ confidence in elections. There is significant public interest in us investigating Momentum to establish the facts in this matter and whether there have been any offences.

“Once complete, the Commission will decide whether any breaches have occurred and, if so, what further action may be appropriate, in line with its enforcement policy.”

Rules for non-party campaigners

Rules have been in place since 2000 for all campaigners that spend money on regulated campaigning activities. These rules include campaigners and campaigning organisations which are not political parties but whose activities can be reasonably regarded as intending to influence voters in the run-up to an election.

The law enables non-party campaigners which wish to undertake ‘targeted spending’ – intended to influence people to vote for one particular registered political party or any of its candidates – to do so within prescribed spending limits. These are £31,980 in England; £3,540 in Scotland; £2,400 in Wales; and £1,080 in Northern Ireland. These limits apply during the regulated period which is 9 June 2016 to 8 June 2017.

Registered non-party campaigners are only entitled to spend above these limits if they have the authorisation of the political party that they are promoting. If that party provides authorisation, the registered non-party campaigner can spend up to the limit authorised by the political party. It is an offence to spend above the statutory limits without the party’s authorisation. Should the party provide authorisation for a higher spending limit, any spending by that non-party campaigner up to that limit would count towards the party’s national spending limit.

A spokesperson for Momentum said: “Momentum put a lot of effort and resources into detailed budgeting and financial procedures during the election to ensure full compliance.

“Our election campaign was delivered on a low budget because it tapped into the energy and enthusiasm of tens of thousands of volunteers across the country.

“Much of the Electoral Commission investigation refers to administrative errors that can be easily rectified. We have a good working relationship with the Electoral Commission, and will fully comply with the investigation going forward.”

Momentum have been under almost continuous investigation since 2015, following various complaints ranging from data mining to sending unsolicited emails. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), however, found no evidence to substantiate what was a handful of complaints. A disclosure from the ICO states: 

The ICO made enquiríes around Momentum using personal data to contact Labour part members following a small number of complaints December 2O15.

We did not find any breach of the Data Protection Act. 

Consequently there is no strong evidence in this case to indicate that Momentum has breached the DPA. We do not, therefore, intend to look further into this concern unless you can provide some evidence to indicate that Momentum did in fact obtain your personal data from the Labour Party. 

We are aware of media reports about this matter but the ICO works on the basis of evidence and to date we have not been provided with any such evidence. I should also explain that we do not have any wider concerns about Momentum’s information rights practice at this point. Therefore we have not raised your concern with Momentum on this occasion and are not taking any further action in relation to your concern.

However, your concern will be kept on file and this will help us over time to build a picture of Momentum’s information rights practices.

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.
Yours sincerely
Joy Corne
Lead Case Officer
Information Commissioner’s Office.

Following the General Election in July, the Electoral Commission highlighted “troubling” reports that a number of people (students) had voted twice in the election, saying evidence had emerged of people admitting to the offence online. 

An election analyst had cast doubt over claims that some Conservatives could have lost their seats in the General Election due to double-voting by students. 

More than 1,000 emails were sent to the watchdog by members of the public over the issue, while 38 Conservative MPs also complained about the alleged crimes. Of course the Commission found no evidence of double-voting.

It’s as if the Conservatives deliberately refuse to understand that some people don’t want to vote for them, especially groups that have been targeted for draconian Conservative policies. The Tories have not been kind to young people.

The Conservatives also have longstanding form in smearing and discrediting their opponents in the most outrageous manner. Disabled people can testify to that. As can jeremy Corbyn. Just a glance at the right-wing press tells you all you need to know about Conservative rumour-mongering, lies and utterly psychopathic ruthlessness.

Here is the outcome of a previous ECO inquiry:

Most media outlets have reported this second inquiry. The timing certainly draws a little fire away from the current catastrophic punch-drunk and incoherent stumblings of the Government. I predict that once the media have finished beating their drums, the matter will simply vanish from the public news radar, finally coming to rest in that graveyard where all dead cat strategies end up bouncing to. 

It’s in a tiny village in a City called ‘distraction’, a called ‘no evidence’ , where people speak the language misdirection.


More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy


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Work as a health outcome, making work pay and other Conservative myths and magical thinking

Originally I wrote much of this in a very long article about Unum’s involvement in the government’s Work, Health and disability Green Paper, earlier this year. Sometimes, though, some points get lost in the volume of other issues raised, so I thought I would make sure these particular issues have more visibility in this shorter article.

There is plenty of evidence that indicates government policy is not founded on empirical evidence, but rather, it is ideologically framed, and often founded on deceitful contrivance. A Department for Work and Pensions research document published back in 2011 – Routes onto Employment and Support Allowance said that if people believed that work was good for them, they were less likely to claim or stay on disability benefits.

So a political decision was made that people should be “encouraged” to believe that work was “good” for their health. There is no empirical basis for the belief, and the purpose of encouraging it is simply to cut the numbers of disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by “helping” them into work.

Another government document from 2014 – Psychological Wellbeing and Work – says: We know that being in work is good for wellbeing and that mental health problems are an increasing issue for the nation and so the Minister for Welfare Reform and the Minister for Care and Support jointly sought to expand the evidence base on common mental health problems.  

A number of Government programmes assess and support those with mental health difficulties to work, but it is internationally recognised that the evidence base for successful interventions is limited. 

The Contestable Policy Fund gives ministers alternative avenues to explore new thinking and strategies that offer cross-Government benefits. This report was commissioned through this route.” 

And: “Within the time and resources available for this study the research team did not undertake extensive assessment of the quality of the evidence base (eg assessing the research design and methodology of previous studies)”

The government have gone on to declare with authoritarian flourish that they now want to reinforce their proposal that “work is a health outcome.” Last year, a report by the Mental Health Task Force and chaired by Mind’s Paul Farmer, recommended that employment should be recognised as a “health outcome”.  I’m just wondering how people with, say, personality disorders, or psychosis are suddenly going to overcome the nature of their condition and successfully hold down a job for a minimum of six months.

Mind those logical gaps… 

This has raised immediate concerns regarding the extent to which people will be pushed into work they are not able or ready to do, or into bad quality, low paid and inappropriate work that is harmful to them, under the misguided notion that any work will be good for them in the long run.

The idea of the state persuading medical professionals to “sing from the same [political] hymn sheet”, by promoting work outcomes in health care settings is more than a little  Orwellian.

Gaslighting narrative has become common political practice. Sick and disabled people who have their lifeline support cut are being “supported” into work. People who are too ill to work are said to have “fallen out of employment”and “parked on benefits”, as if these are not rational decisions made by competent people who know that they cannot work any longer, and that quite often, to continue doing so would place themselves and/or others at risk.

Benefits are paid for by people when they work as a social security, for in case they encounter difficult times. People tend to claim what they need, rather than becoming “parked” on benefits.

The idea that work will somehow set us free from illness is a very dangerous one.

Conservative narratives are comprised of glib, intentionally misleading, disdainful and patronising language from an utterly ruthless elite running the country into the ground, leaving such an unkind and uncaring society for the next generation, with nothing left of the “from the cradle to the grave” provision that previous generations have relied on. 

Sick notes have been renamed “fit notes” and disability benefit is now “employment and support allowance”, emphasising the linguistic behaviourism and ultimate priorities of a “small state” neoliberal government. 

Work is the only route out of poverty. If you can’t work, that’s just too bad.

Some people’s work is undoubtedly a source of wellbeing and provides a sense of purpose and security. That is not the same thing as being “good for health”.

For a government to use data regarding opinion rather than empirical evidence to claim that work is “good” for health indicates a ruthless mercenary approach to fulfill their broader aim of dismantling social security and to uphold their ideological commitment to supply-side policy.

From the first document“The belief that work improves health also positively influenced work entry rates; as such, encouraging people in this belief may also play a role in promoting return to work.”

The aim of the research was to “examine the characteristics of ESA claimants and to explore their employment trajectories over a period of approximately 18 months in order to provide information about the flow of claimants onto and off ESA.”

The document also says: “Work entry rates were highest among claimants whose claim was closed or withdrawn suggesting that recovery from short-term health conditions is a key trigger to moving into employment among this group.”

“The highest employment entry rates were among people flowing onto ESA from non-manual occupations. In comparison, only nine per cent of people from non-work backgrounds who were allowed ESA had returned to work by the time of the follow-up survey. People least likely to have moved into employment were from non-work backgrounds with a fragmented longer-term work history. Avoiding long-term unemployment and inactivity, especially among younger age groups, should, therefore, be a policy priority. ” 

“Given the importance of health status in influencing a return to work, measures to facilitate access to treatment, and prevent deterioration in health and the development of secondary conditions are likely to improve return to work rates”

Rather than make a link between manual work, lack of reasonable adjustments in the work place and the impact this may have on longer term ill-health, the government chose instead to promote the cost-cutting and unverified, irrational belief that work is a “health” outcome. Furthermore, the research does conclude that health status itself is the greatest determinant in whether or not people return to work. That means that those not in work are not recovered and have longer term health problems that tend not to get better.

The fact that government policy papers lack coherence, consistent logic and rationale is very troubling, because it indicates plainly that government policy is being driven by assumption, prejudice and ideology.

The government mantra “making work pay” was nothing to do with improving falling or stagnating wages and job insecurity, or poor working conditions. It was all about making sure that the conditions attached to social security eligibility are so punitive and wretched that only those people who are absolutely desperate will put themselves through the harshly punitive and stigmatising claim and conditionality process.

“Making work pay” is really all about making social security appear unsustainable and untenable. It’s about a governments’ priorities and choices expressed in Orwellian soundbites. It’s about a “business friendly” government that will always make sure your employer makes a hefty profit at your expense. It’s about the introduction of ordeals in order to deter people from claiming the welfare support that they paid for, for when they need it. It’s ultimately about dismantling the gains of our post-war settlement. It’s about the neoliberal small state and Conservative dogma. 

Work does not “cure” ill health. To mislead people in such a way is not only atrocious political expediency, it’s actually downright dangerous.

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

The political de-professionalisation of medicine, medical science and specialisms (consider, for example, the implications of permitting job coaches to update patient medical files), the merging of health and employment services and the recent absurd declaration that work is a clinical “health” outcome, are all carefully calculated strategies that serve as an ideological prop and add to the justification rhetoric regarding the intentional political process of dismantling publicly funded state provision, and the subsequent stealthy privatisation of Social Security and the National Health Service. 

De-medicalising illness is also a part of that process:

“Behavioural approaches try to extinguish observed illness behaviour by withdrawal of negative reinforcements such as medication, sympathetic attention, rest, and release from duties, and to encourage healthy behaviour by positive reinforcement: ‘operant-conditioning’ using strong feedback on progress.” Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton in Concepts of rehabilitation for the management of common health problems. The Corporate Medical Group, Department for Work and Pensions, UK. 

This is the dangerous, irrational, savage and neoliberal mindset behind the cuts to disability support. Medication, rest, release from duties, sympathetic understanding – remedies to illness – are being redefined as “perverse incentives” for “sickness behaviours”, yet the symptoms of an illness necessarily precede the prescription of medication, the Orwellian (and political rather than medical) “fit note” and exemption from work duties.

Notions of “rehabilitation” and medicine are being redefined as behaviour modification: here it is proposed that operant conditioning in the form of negative reinforcement, which the authors seem to have confused with punishment, will “cure” ill health. Imagine trying to sell the bordering-on-psychopathic idea that medicine provides perverse incentives which encourage “sickness behaviours” in patients to doctors, preventing them from recovering in a timely manner so they can promptly return to work.

I’m sure that oncologists everywhere will be relieved to see that their cancer patients simply needed to be told to pull themselves together, and that what they need is a stiff talking to, instead of the soft options entailing mollycoddling, chemotherapy and surgery. 

This is the same kind of thinking that lies behind the broader welfare sanctions, which are state punishments entailing the cruel removal of lifeline income for “non-compliance” in narrowly and rigidly defined “job seeking behaviours.” Sanctions are also described as a “behavioural incentive” to “help” and “encourage”people into work. People who are ill, it is proposed, should be sanctioned, too, which would entail having their lifeline basic health care and money for meeting their basic needs removed. 

Many qualitative accounts from first hand witnesses, extensive research and empirical evidence has repeatedly demonstrated that welfare sanctions make it less likely that people will find employment: taking essential support from people with very limited resources profoundly demotivates, distresses and harms people, rather than “incentivising” them to find work. (See also: Benefits sanctions: a policy based on zeal, not evidence and The Nudge Unit’s u-turn on benefit sanctions indicates the need for even more lucrative nudge interventions, say nudge theorists.)

The darker meaning of David Cameron’s comments about “ending a culture of entitlement” back in 2010 has become clearer. He wasn’t only talking about perceived attitudes and referencing erroneous, unverified and unfounded notions of “welfare dependency”: his party’s aim was and still is about reducing public expectations of a supportive and rights-based relationship with the publicly funded state – one that has evolved from the post-war settlement to ensure that everyone in the UK can meet their basic human needs. It’s no coincidence that we have witnessed the savage reduction of social security and rationing within our national health care systems since 2010.

This government is serious threat to all of those institutions and public services that contribute to make us a civilised society. In 2017, I should not have to say that poor and ill people cannot be simply punished, bullied, harassed (or “nudged”) out of being poor or ill. As politically inconvenient as poverty and disability are, no amount of authoritarian state gaslighting, abuse, bullying and harassment will “cure” those of us afflicted with either. 

The government’s new behavioural medicine is rather old news, sociologists abandoned the sick role concept decades ago

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Behavioural medicine was significantly influenced by American sociologist Talcott Parsons’ The Social System,1951and his work regarding the sick role, which he analysed in a framework of citizen’s roles, social obligations, reciprocities and behaviours within a wider capitalist society, with an analysis of rights and obligations during sick leave.

From this perspective, which is an essentially socially conservative one, the sick role is considered to be sanctioned deviancewhich disturbs the function of society and the moral economy . (It’s worth comparing that the government are currently focused on economic function, enhancing the supply side of the labour market and the moral economy within a neoliberal framework.)

Behavioural medicine more generally arose from a view of illness and sick role behaviours as characteristics of individuals, and these concepts were imported from Functionalist sociological and sociopsychological theories.

However, perhaps it should be pointed out that there is a distinction between the academic social science disciplines, which include competing and critical perspectives of conflict and power, for example, and the recent technocratic “behavioural insights” approach to public policy, which is a monologue that doesn’t recognise the need for citizens’ democratic consent to behavioural change, nor does it recognise controversy or include critical analysis. It serves as prop for neoliberalism, conflating citizen’s needs and interests with narrow, politically defined economic outcomes. 

We have a government that has regularly misused concepts from psychology and sociology, distorting them to fit a distinct framework of ideology, and justification narratives for draconian policies. Parsons’ work has generally been defined as sociological functionalism, and functionalism tends to embody very conservative ideas. From this perspective, sick people are not productive members of society; therefore this deviation from the norm must be policed. This, according to Parsons, is the role of the medical profession.

More recently we have witnessed the rapid extension of this role to include extensive State policing of sick and disabled people.

It seems many of the so-called psychosocial model advocates have ignored the rise of  chronic illnesses and the pathologisation of everyday behaviours in health promotion. Parson’s sick role came to be seen as a negative referent (Shilling, 2002: 625) rather than as a useful interpretative tool. Parsons’ starting point is his understanding of illness as deviance.

Illness is the breakdown of the general “capacity for the effective performance of valued tasks” (Parsons, 1964: 262). Losing this capacity disrupts “loyalty” to particular social commitments in specific contexts such as the workplace.

Theories of the social construction of disability also provide an example of the cultural meaning of certain health conditions. The roots of this anti-essentialist approach are found in Stigma by sociologist Erving Goffman (1963), in which he highlights the social meaning physical impairment comes to acquire via social interactions.

The social model of disability tends to conceptually distinguish impairment (the attribute) from disability (the social experience and meaning of impairment). Disability cannot be reduced to a mere biological problem located in an individual’s body (Barnes, Mercer, and Shakespeare, 1999).

Rather than a “personal tragedy” that should be fixed to conform to medically determined standards of “normality” (Zola, 1982), disability becomes politicised. The issues we then need to confront are about the obstacles that may limit the opportunities for individuals with impairments, and about how those social barriers may be removed.

From a social constructionist perspective, emphasis is placed on how certain illnesses come to have cultural meanings that are not reducible to or determined by biology, and these cultural meanings further burden the afflicted (as opposed to burdening “the tax payer” , the health services, those with profit seeking motives, or the state.)

So to clarify, it is wider society and governments that need a shift in disabling attitudes, perceptions and behaviours, not disabled people.

The insights that arose from the social construction of disability approach are embodied in policies, which include the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which included an employers’ duty to ensure reasonable adjustments/adaptations; the more recent Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, which provides an important tool for disabled people to use to challenge discrimination, violations to their human rights and unacceptable treatment.

In contrast, Parsons invokes a social contract (an idea which Cameron ran with when he described the “big society” with increased citizen responsibility) in which society’s “gift of life” is repaid by continued contributions and conformity to (apparently unchanging, non-progressive) social expectations.

For Parsons, this is more than just a matter of symbolic interaction, it has far more concrete, material implications: “honour” (deserving) and “shame” (undeserving) which accompany conformity and deviance, have consequences for the allocation of resources, for notions of citizenship, civil rights and social status.

Parsons, like the contemporary Conservatives, never managed to accommodate and reflect social change, suffering and distress, poverty, deprivation and conflict in his functionalist perspective. His view of citizens as oversocialised and subjugated in normative conformity was an essentially Conservative one. Furthermore, his systems theory was heavily positivistic, anti-voluntaristic and profoundly dehumanising. His mechanistic and unilinear evolutionary theory reads like an instruction manual for the neoliberal state.

Parsons thought that social practices should be seen in terms of their function in maintaining order and social structure. You can see why his core ideas would appeal to Conservative neoliberals and rogue multinational companies. Conservatives have always been very attached to tautological explanations (insofar that they tend to present circular arguments.

One question raised in this functional approach is how do we determine what is functional and what is not, and for whom each of these activities and institutions are functional. If there is no method to sort functional from non-functional aspects of society, the functional model is tautological – without any explanatory power to why any activity is regarded as “functional.” The causes are simply explained in terms of perceived effects, and conversely, the effects are explained in terms of perceived causes). 

Because of the highly gendered division of labour in the 1950s, the body in Parsons’ sick role is a male one, defined as controlled by a rational, purposive mind and oriented by it towards an income-generating performance. For Parsons, most illness could be considered to be psychosomatic.

This “mind over matter” dogma is not benign; there are billions of pounds and dollars at stake for the global insurance industry, which is set to profit massively to the detriment of sick and disabled people. And billions to be saved and redistributed to big business and to fund tax cuts for the wealthy from our increasingly rationed and rapidly disappearing social security and NHS.

The eulogised psychosocial approach is evident throughout the highly publicised UK PACE Trial on treatment regimes that entail Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and graded exercise. By curious coincidence, that trial was also significantly about de-medicalising illnesses. Another curious coincidence is that Mansel Aylward – who co-authored the document I cited earlier – sat on the PACE Trial steering group. 

From 1996 to April 2005 Aylward was Chief Medical Adviser, Medical Director and Chief Scientist of the UK Department for Work and Pensions and Chief Medical Adviser and Head of Profession at the Veteran’s Agency, Ministry of Defence. He was on the board of the Benefits Agency Medical Service in the 1990s.

He was involved in the establishment of the Work Capability Assessment test. When he left the department he headed the UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research, at Cardiff University,

Aylward has been heaviliy criticized for providing unwarranted academic credibility to the biopsychosocial model (with a heavy  emphasis on the “psychological” element) which became both the basis and justification for the Conservative government’s disability support cuts.

The government seem to have convinced themselves that for the poorest citizens, illness is all in the mind. Disability that entails additional needs and costs is really all about people simply conforming to roles, normative expectations, and academically constructed stereotypes.

For example, a contemporary interpretation of Parsons’ functionalist perspective of the sick role: “Diagnosis elicits the belief the patient has a serious disease, leading to symptom focusing that becomes self-validating and self-reinforcing and that renders worse outcomes, a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if the label is a biomedical one like ME. Diagnosis leads to transgression into the sick role, the act of becoming a patient even if complaints do not call for it, the development of an illness identity and the experience of victimization”. Simon Wessely and Marcus S.J. Huibers: The act of diagnosis: pros and cons of labelling chronic fatigue syndrome. Psychological Medicine 2006: 36

In 1993, Mansel Aylward invited psychiatrist Simon Wessely to give a presentation on his biopsychosocial approach to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome before the then Minister for Social Security. Wessely claimed:As regards benefits:- it is important to avoid anything that suggests that disability is permanent, progressive or unchanging. Benefits can often make patients worse.” 

Benefits can often make patients worse.” Ensuring that people can meet their basic survival needs is apparently a bad thing. Have you ever heard such utter nonsense?

It’s much more likely that patients who become more severely ill require welfare support. Despite there being no empirical evidence whatsoever for Wessely’s claims, the Minister for Social Security was looking to cut spending, so self-styled “experts” like Wessely and Aylward were more useful to an expedient government than rigorous research, empirical evidence and common decency.

I think it would be true to say that without social security, many people who are disabled because of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and other chronic illnesses that cause disability would experience MUCH worse symptoms,  and many would undoubtedly die without lifeline support to enable them to meet the cost of their basic survival needs. 

And actually, that is precisely what is happening in the 6th wealthiest, so-called democratic nation in the world. 

Image result for sick roleImage result for disability cuts causing death

Image result for disability cuts causing death

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Austerity is “economic murder” says Cambridge researcher

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A research report, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open – the Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis, concludes that austerity cuts are correlated with an increase in mortality rates, confirming what many of us have proposed for some time. The research revealed that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led “efficiency savings” than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels.

The new study strongly suggests that austerity policies will have caused 120,000 deaths by 2020. 

The joint research was conducted by Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, and it makes clear links between cuts in government health and social care spending and higher mortality rates in England. 

Cambridge University’s Professor Lawrence King, who contributed to the study, said: “Austerity does not promote growth or reduce deficits – it is bad economics. It is also a public health disaster. It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder.”

The authors point to cuts in public spending and the drop in the number of nurses since 2010, all of which has contributed to place over-60s and care home residents most at risk of premature death.  

Between 2001 and 2010 the number of nurses rose on average 1.61% a year. From 2010 to 2014, under the Conservatives, the rise was just 0.07% – 20 times lower than the previous decade.

The Royal College of Nursing chief, Janet Davies, said: “All parts of the NHS and social care system do not have enough nurses and vulnerable and older individuals pay the highest price.”

2015 saw the largest annual spike in mortality rates in England in almost 50 years. These changes in mortality rates are associated with an indicator of poor functioning of health and social care, for which funding has been cut despite rising demands since 2010.

Earlier this year, another research report concluded that an unprecedented rise in mortality in England and Wales, where 30,000 excess deaths occurred in 2015, is likely to be linked to cuts to the NHS and social care, according to research which drew an angry response from the government, who deny the established link.

The highly charged claim was made by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Oxford University and Blackburn with Darwen council, who said that the increase in mortality took place against a backdrop of “severe cuts” to the NHS and social care, compromising their performance.

The government – which will casually spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of public funds to fight Freedom of Information requests regarding mortality data – claim we cannot afford to support sick and disabled people, unless we “target” those “most in need” because otherwise, our publicly funded social security is “unsustainable.”

It’s become very clear that the cost cutting system imposed by the Conservatives does not “target” many of those most in need, and that government policies are causing harm, distress, hunger, destitution, an increase in suicide and premature deaths, yet discussing the deaths of its citizens in a democratic, transparent and accountable way is something that the government have consistently refused to do.

Instead, public funds and energy are invested in denying a “causal link” between the austerity programme, punitive policies and increasing hunger, destitution and desperation, and apparently, no prioriy at all is given to monitoring policy impacts or concern: the government refuse to ask why these premature deaths and suicides have occurred (and continue to occur) in one of the wealthiest nations. 

It would be reasonable to assume that, even if a government vigorously denied responsibility for more than 120,000 excess deaths, (with a proportion of the mortalities including those assessed as “fit for work” by the state), they would at least have the decency to ask basic questions as to where the responsibility lay, and how this has happened.

Of course, in denying a “causal link” between their policies and a substantial increase in mortality, and levelling the charge that research findings and campaigners’ qualitative accounts are merely “anecdotal evidence” that fail to  provide “empirical evidence” of a “causal link”, the government doesn’t seem to recognise that its’ own claims are completely unevidenced, and there is no “causal link whatsoever between their evident indolence, politically contrived and expedient narrative and the facts.

This isn’t simply a matter of a government being undemocratic and unaccountable. It’s much more serious than that. It’s a matter of the state either casually playing roulette with the very lives of its own people. Or worse.

Perhaps it’s a matter of a state intentionally and systematically killing its citizens with austerity policies that target marginalised social groups.

It’s not as if previous Conservative government policies have been benign. Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal policies have also been condemned for causing “unjust premature death” in the UK. Public health experts from Durham University have denounced the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s policies on the health and wellbeing of the British public in research which examines social inequality 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.

This research shows that there was a massive increase in income inequality under Baroness Thatcher – 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.

The report goes on to say that 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.

Her critique of UK social democracy during the 1970s and her adoption of key neoliberal strategies, such as financial deregulation, trade liberalization, and the privatization of public goods and services, were popularly labeled “Thatcherism.” Thatcher’s policies were associated with substantial increases in socioeconomic and health inequalities: these issues were actively marginalized and ignored by her governments. In addition, her public sector reforms applied business principles to the welfare state and prepared the National Health Service for subsequent privatization.

The current government have simply continued and extended Thatcher’s neoliberal programme, without any consideration of, or reference to, the body of empirical research that demonstrates the terrible social costs of  neoliberalism, as a result of  the social and economic inequalities it creates.

Meanwhile, a Department of Health spokesman has said of the latest study: “This study cannot be used to draw any firm conclusions about the cause of excess deaths.”

However, as I’ve already pointed out, any government statement of denial regarding empirical research cannot be used to draw any firm conclusions about the cause of excess deaths.

It may only be used to draw firm conclusions that the government has no intention of investigating the link between a significant increase in mortality rates and their own policies, or of changing those policies to meet public needs and to ensure that citizens’ fundamental and equal right to life is upheld.


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Work and Pensions Committee publishes “damning” evidence of the impact of Universal Credit

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Committee Chair Frank Field MP calls evidence submitted to the Committee by Halton Housing Trust the “most damning” he has ever read on what he describes as Department for Work and Pensions “maladministration.”

Food bank referrals double

The Halton Trust has accumulated over £400,000 of arrears as a direct result of the rollout of Full Service Universal Credit. This means that just 18% of its tenants owe 55% of all its arrears. Over the last 12 months the number of referrals the Trust has made to local food banks has more than doubled.

The Trust reports on the frequent wrong categorisation of benefit claimants’ eligibility for Advance Payments while Universal Credit is being processed.

In a sample of 1,252 tenants the Trust found that the majority of claimants were eligible for a Benefit Transfer Advance as they were moving from a so-called legacy benefit (like Jobseeker’s Allowance) onto Universal Credit. This is paid back during the first 12 months of a Universal Credit claim.

Advance payments issues

Those claimants who were offered Advance Payments were offered a New Claims Advance that had to be paid back within 6 months: the submission details the even bigger financial problems this caused for families. In addition, the evidence reports:

  • The Department for Work and Pensions refuses to amend the recovery period of the Advance Payment, from 6 months to 12 months, even in the instances where they acknowledge that the claimants should have had a Benefit Transfer Advance.
  • Recovery of the Advance Payment commences immediately with the first Universal Credit payment. This means claimants are continuously playing catch up and are instantly put in debt when the repayment is deducted.
  • As the Advance Payment of either kind are recovered directly from the Universal Credit award, they are being given priority over other essential/actual priority outgoings.
  • When Advanced Payments have been provided there is a lack of any explanation to the customer that this includes a personal allowance and housing cost element. In many cases customers are unsure as to what the money they are receiving is for or what the levels of Advance will be.

Personal budgeting advice unavailable

Despite the Department for Work and Pensions advertising the availability of personal budgeting advice:

  • Halton Housing Trust found that this advice was not available to the vast majority of applicants. This is despite it being an essential element for many applicants at the start of the Universal Credit application process.
  • Local Authorities have been awarded funding to offer Personal Budgeting Support. Despite this, the number of referrals made by the Department locally in Halton has been very low.

Lack of coordinated approach

Further examples cited by the Trust include:

  • Many employers choose to pay their employees early before the Christmas period. The Universal Credit regulations consider this as an increase in income and not an early payment. This triggers a review of their claim, with no payments being made until the end of the subsequent month (January).
  • A lack of coordinated approach between the NHS and DWP. The Trust has recently supported a tenant who received a £50 fine for ticking the “JSA” box on a prescription form, because the form has not been updated with a “Universal Credit” option for receiving free prescriptions, and there are no plans to do so 
  • The Universal Credit application prompts a cessation of Healthy Start vouchers if the claimants were previously in receipt along with their legacy benefit. The Healthy Start system does not yet recognise Full Service Universal Credit.

‘Throwing claimants’ finances into chaos’

Committee Chair, Rt Hon Frank Field MP, said:

“It would be difficult to think, in all my period of Chair of the Select Committee, of a piece of evidence that is so damning on the DWP maladministration which is mangling poorer people’s lives. This maladministration is throwing Universal Credit claimants’ finances into chaos.”


More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy

The Conservative Party are facing another investigation from the Electoral Commission following evidenced allegations that they operated a secret call centre during the general election campaign, breaching electoral law, an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed. 

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured work at Blue Telecoms, a company in Neath, South Wales. In an area plagued by unemployment and low wages, the call centre hired up to a hundred people on zero-hours contracts. For weeks, they contacted thousands of potential voters in marginal seats across the UK. 

The hired callers were told to say they were working for a market research company called “Axe Research”. No such company is registered in England and Wales. Furthermore, callers were instructed to say that the call centre was situated in Cardiff, rather than Neath.

The investigation has uncovered underhand and potentially unlawful practices at the centre, in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. These allegations include:

Paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates – illegal under election law.

● Political cold calling to prohibited numbers

● Misleading calls claiming to be from an “independent market research company” which does not appear to exist

The Conservative Party have admitted it had commissioned Blue Telecoms to carry out “market research and direct marketing calls” during the campaign, and insisted the calls were legal.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Political parties of all colours pay for market research and direct marketing calls. All the scripts supplied by the party for these calls are compliant with data protection and information law.”

Under the Representation of the People Act, it is illegal to employ someone “for payment or promise of payment as a canvasser for the purpose of promoting or procuring a candidate’s election”.

Call centre employees working on behalf of the party used a script that certainly appeared to canvass for support on film, rather than conduct market research. On the day of the election, call centre employees contacted voters to promote individual candidates.

Anya Proops, a QC specialising in information law, told Channel 4 that political parties had to ensure that third parties working on their behalf followed the law.

“It’s an illegal practice, it’s prohibited under the legislation and in so far as it’s something which has tainted the overall result in favour of a political candidate, then it can void that result.” 

Blue Telecoms is run by Sascha Lopez. He told The Guardian: “In relation to the Conservative party project, I am unable to comment on the content of the scripts or calls to TPS [Telephone Preference Service] numbers, as the scripts and lists of who to call and when to call were given to us by Conservative campaign HQ in London and were not influenced by my team.”

However, a whistleblower at the call centre told Channel 4 News that they had been making potentially unlawful phone calls to voters. 

Undecided voters were fed key Conservative campaign messages, including references to the Brexit negotiations and warnings about a hung parliament.

On the day that voters went to the polls, undecided voters were told that: “the election result in your marginal constituency is going to be very close between Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. Callers were also recorded quoting media articles that were pro-Conservative. Operating from a script, the staff claimed they were carrying out calls for “market research” and “polling”. 

One caller is recorded saying: “It was reported in the Daily Mirror in September last year that Jeremy Corbyn is not concerned about the numbers of people coming to live in the UK and it was reported on Sky News this year that Theresa May has restated her pledge to reduce net Migration.”

People were then asked: “Just thinking about these reports in the media and the reports that you live in a marginal constituency that may determine who is prime minister. So does knowing that you live in a marginal constituency that will determine who is prime minister for the Brexit negotiations, does that make you a lot more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate or a little more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate, or are you still unsure, or does it not make a difference?”

The broadcaster’s evidence suggests that on the day of the election, staff called voters in 10 marginal seats, including Bridgend, Gower, Clwyd South and Wrexham.

As the election campaign started, the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, wrote to all the major political parties reminding them of the law around telephone calls and data protection. She said that calling voters to promote a political party was “direct marketing” and was regulated by law.

A week before the election, the same call centre staff started saying they were calling on behalf of Theresa May’s Conservatives.

The Conservative party said the call centre was conducting “market research” on its behalf, and was not canvassing for votes. The call centre confirmed it was employed by the party, but has so far denied canvassing on its behalf. 

The Channel 4 undercover reporter has captured evidence that certainly seems to refute that claim. 

The use of ‘big data’ and psychographic targeting

Teams of statisticians and behavioural psychologists who subscribe to the burgeoning practice of “psycho­graphic targeting” have designed their own version of a Myers-Briggs personality test. The original test explores “the basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgement.”

The test data is supplemented by recent issue surveys, and information from online surveilance, together they are used to categorise political supporters, who then receive psychologically tailored canvassing messages, social media targeting, phone calls and doorstep visits. The micro-targeting of voters has been around for a while, but the Conservative operation has deepened the intensity of the effort and the use of vast resources of psychological data.

This is the campaign approach from a government that claims to advocate a “small state” and “minimal interventions”. However the methods being used which entail the manipulation and management of public perceptions and voting behaviours resemble those of authoritarian regimes, not a healthy liberal democracy. 

Authoritarian propagandists attempt to convey power by defining reality. The reality they portray is usually very simple. The account of reality is offered with the primary goal of switching voters’ value systems to align with the authoritarian value system.

This whole approach is the logical conclusion of the libertarian paternalists‘ “behavioural change” agenda that has been embedded in policies designed by the nudge unit since 2010 in the UK. The political misuse of psychology has been disguised as some kind of technocratic “fix” for a failing neoliberal paradigm, and paraded as neutral “science”. However, its role as an authoritarian prop for an ideological imposition on the population has always been apparent to some of us, especially given the more visible evidence of political narratives and the stage management of our democracy via an extremely manipulative mainstream media over recent years.

The Conservatives’ behaviour change agenda is designed to align citizen’s perceptions and behaviours with neoliberal ideology and the interests of the state. However, in democratic societies, governments are traditionally elected to reflect and meet public needs. The use of “behaviour change” policy involves the state acting upon individuals, and instructing them how they must be. This is profoundly undemocratic. In fact it turns democracy completely on its head. 

A dark message for democracy

Political “dark” advertising that is only seen by its intended recipients is a much greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation, because it is invisible to everyone but the person being targeted. This means that the individually tailored messages are not open to public scrutiny, nor are they fact checked.

A further problem is that no-one is monitoring the impact of the tailored messages and the potential to cause harm to individuals. The dark adverts are designed to exploit people’s psychological vulnerabilities, using personality profiling, which is controversial in itself. Intentionally generating and manipulating fear and anxiety to influence political outcomes isn’t a new thing. Despots have been using fear and slightly less subtle types of citizen “behaviour change” programmes for a long time. 

The right wing media’s blatant propaganda approach to election campaigning on behalf of the Tories had already contributed significantly to a serious erosion of democratic norms in the UK, the undermining of public trust, to such an extent that profoundly anti-democratic alternatives suddenly seem perfectly acceptable here.

The reality is that often, authoritarians construct an incongruent, flimsy and meaningless language of democracy in order to erect a fact proof screen around an undemocratic reality.  They offer a lot of glittering generalities to the public. However, those apparently incoherent, meaningless slogans are especially designed to signal intents to groups from which the government wants to gain approval. Dog whistling and wedge issues are used extensively by the right.  

Dog whistling is closely associated with a broader wedge strategy, whereby the political party introduces a divisive or controversial social issue into a campaign, aligning its own stance with the dissenting faction of its opponent party, with the goal of causing vitriolic debate inside the opposing party, defection of its supporters, and the legitimising of sentiment which had previously been considered inappropriate. Political campaigns use wedge issues to exploit tension within a targeted population, and undermine unity. 

In light of this, it’s hardly a shocking revelation that an authoritarian government is also using highly tailored and underhanded “dark adverts” to target individuals online, on the basis of information gathered about them and then applied to a process of extensive psychological profiling in order to influence voting behaviours, and the election outcome.

UK voters are being targeted with highly specific and manipulative messages in an attempt to influence their vote.

The shadowy world of online political advertising has until recently gone largely unmonitored, despite the huge power and reach of Facebook and despite social media messaging now thought to have contributed to the election of Donald Trump and the Vote Leave victory.

The new forms of psychological electioneering are invisible to all but the individual people they are designed to reach and influence. 

During the EU referendum, Vote Leave spent a whopping 98 per cent of its £6.8m budget on digital advertising, mostly via Facebook. In the 2015 election, the Conservatives spent £1.2m on digital campaigning, compared with Labour’s £160,000. This meant that the Conservatives reached 17 million people per week, while Labour reached only 16 million in their best month. Facebook claimed that the Conservatives had been able to serve adverts to 80 cent of the site’s users in key marginals. It also boasted that the company “played a part on a highly targeted campaign, helping the Conservatives to speak to the right people over and over again.”

The private companies and individuals who are stage managing our democracy

Dr Simon Moores, visiting lecturer in the applied sciences and computing department at Canterbury Christ Church University and a technology ambassador under the Blair government, said the Information Commisioners Office’s recent decision to shine a light on the use of big data in politics was timely. He said:

“A rapid convergence in the data mining, algorithmic and granular analytics capabilities of companies like Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is creating powerful, unregulated and opaque ‘intelligence platforms’. In turn, these can have enormous influence to affect what we learn, how we feel, and how we vote. The algorithms they may produce are frequently hidden from scrutiny and we see only the results of any insights they might choose to publish.”

He goes on to say: ”They were using 40-50,000 different variants of an ad every day that were continuously measuring responses and then adapting and evolving based on that response.”

Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) is a British behavioural science company. The SCL Group, that once advised Nato on so-called “psy-ops”, is a private British behavioural research and strategic communication company. The company describes itself as “global election management agency”.  SCL’s approach to propaganda is based upon a methodology developed by the associated Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDI). Nigel Oakes founded the latter and also set up Strategic Communication Laboratories and using the new methodology from BDI, ran election campaigns and national communication campaigns for a broad variety of international governments. BDI say: “The goal of the BDI is to establish Behavioural Dynamics as a discipline for the study of group behaviour change.”

There isn’t much information around about BDI‘s connection with military operations, though links with NATO are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change science, for example. From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL on the other hand, has a clearly defined defence and military division who: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL has different “verticals” in politics, military and commercial operations. All of those operations are based on the same methodology (Target Audience Analysis) and, as far as can be discerned from the outside, SCL and affiliates have very obscure corporate structures with confusing ownership.

In the United States, SCL has gained public recognition mainly though its affiliated corporation Cambridge Analytica (CA). It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company (the SCL Group,) to participate in US politics. In 2014, CA was involved in 44 US political races. Their site says: Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior.” 



“More effectively engage and persuade voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate.”

And: “Leveraging CA’s massive team of data scientists and academics, CA is able to provide optimal audience segments based on big data and psychographic modeling. Then, using a sophisticated electronic data delivery system, CA is able to provide TV advertising campaign data that may be used to inform media buyers about shows that have the highest concentrations of target audiences and the least amount of waste; all of which leading to higher media ROI [return on investment] and more voter conversions.”

The company is heavily funded by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge-fund billionaire. I’ve mentioned Mercer in a previous article about the right’s undue influence on the media and on voting behaviour. Mercer made his money as a pioneer in the field of Computational Linguistics.

Mercer later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets. 

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees’ money, is the most successful in the world – generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns – all Republican – and another $50m to non-profits – all right wing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is trying to reshape the world according to his personal interests, beliefs, wishes and wont. He is an advocate of the neoliberal right, who seek to combine a market economy and economic deregulation with the traditional right wing beliefs in patriotism, élitism, and law and order, delivered within an authoritarian framework. Mercer is known for his anti-welfare and right libertarian views.

To give you a flavour of Mercer’s interests, you only need to follow the money trail: he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute, and he likes to disrupt the mainstream media. In this aim, he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, self-declared “economic nationalist”, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its paranoid, anti-progressive mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his pet media projects. He has also worked as vice president of Cambridge Analytica‘s board, the private data-analytics that is owned largely by the Mercer family

Mercer and his family are major donors to Conservative political causes such as Breitbart News. He is the principal benefactor of the Make America Number 1 political action committee (Super PAC). Around 2012, Mercer reportedly invested $5 million in the British data science company, the SCL Group. Most political campaigns run highly sophisticated micro-targeting efforts to locate voters. SCL promised much more, claiming to be able to manipulate voter behaviour through psychographic modeling. This was precisely the kind of work Mercer values.

SCL claimed to be able to formulate complex psychological profiles of voters. These, say the company, would be used to tailor the most persuasive possible message, acting on that voter’s personality traits, hopes or fears.

Of course Mercer was a major supporter of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president and Brexit in the UK. Mercer donated the services of the data analytics company Cambridge Analytica to Nigel Farage and UKIP. The company was able to “advise” and influence Leave.eu through harvesting data from people’s Facebook profiles in order to target them with individualised persuasive messages to vote for Brexit. However, Leave.eu did not inform the UK electoral commission of the donation, contrary to the law which demands that all donations valued over £7,500 must be reported. 

When SCL Elections formed Cambridge Analytica in 2013, the company hired researchers from Cambridge University, hence the name. CA collects data on voters using sources such as demographics, consumer behaviour, internet activity, and other public and private sources. CA is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users’ permission or knowledge. The company is also trying to change people’s perceptions and behaviours without their consent.

The company maintains offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and London.

Cambridge Analytica claim to predict not just peoples’ voting intentions and preferences, but also their personality types. The company is proprietorial about its precise methods, but says large-scale research into personality types, based on hundreds of thousands of interviews with citizens, enables them to chart voters against five main personality types – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. With its head office in London, the company is “A global election management agency, skilled in applying behavioural modeling and microtargeting solutions to political campaigns.”

The marketisation of democracy: the highest bidder wins all, while claiming to speak for the “ordinary person”

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist and the intellectual force behind his nationalist agenda, said in February that the new administration is locked in an unending battle against the media and other globalist forces to “deconstruct” an “outdated system of governance”. Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post writes:

“’They’re going to continue to fight,’” Bannon said of the media, which he repeatedly described as ‘the opposition party,’ and other forces he sees as standing in the president’s way. ‘If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.’

Atop Trump’s agenda, Bannon said, was the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’ — meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president and his advisers believe stymie economic growth and infringe upon one’s sovereignty.

For those who doubted Trump-Bannon’s determination to destroy the liberal international order that has kept world war at bay and promoted global prosperity since the end of World War II, this will come as a rude awakening. Bannon’s simultaneous attack on the media suggests that it is not simply about trade or immigration policy.”

So data technology, surveilance, psychology and social media and manipulative messaging campaigns are being combined in a powerful new way to sway opinions and win elections without people’s knowledge. In essence, a new, dark, subliminal propaganda war is being waged against citizens by those who wield power, serving the narrow interests of those who do and who are funded by a hidden few who want to weild power also.

Lynton Crosby has been a close advisor in the Conservative election campaigns of Australia, Canada and the UK, and is well known for his racist dog whistling and wedge strategies, influential at an international level.

“In a campaign, what you try to do is either change or reinforce some perceptions that people have in order to influence their behaviour,” says Crosby. 

Crosby’s emphasis is on “below the radar” campaigning, and the targeting of marginal constituencies with highly localised campaigning, latching on to local issues and personalities. To find such divisive and potentially diversionary issues, Crosby’s business partner Mark Textor runs focus groups to find which social groups to target with what questions. Crosby is said to focus on delivering simple messages, targeting marginal constituencies and the use of lots of polls and data. 

 Lynton Crosby, second left, at the party’s annual conference in 2015 with, from left, Lord Feldman, Jim Messina (former Obama campaign chief also hired by the Tories) and then party chairman Grant Shapps. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex

“In a campaign, what you try to do is either change or reinforce some perceptions that people have in order to influence their behaviour,” Crosby says.

Their site commentary highlights whose “democratic” interests Crosby and Textor serve:

“We combine decades of experience in research, political campaigns, strategic communications, media, and corporate intelligence to deliver winning strategies at the highest levels of business and government.

Having worked on successful election campaigns across four continents, we understand the need for timely, actionable intelligence, so our clients can focus the right message and resources on their most persuadable ‘swing voters’ to get the results they want.”

Note the reference to “behaviour changing messages”.


Crosby Textor also claim that: “the team are specialists in advising major companies in how to position themselves to ensure they are integral to government decision-making.”

It was Crosby that created the campaign for the Conservatives with the slogan “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”: a series of posters, billboards, TV commercials and direct mail pieces with messages such as “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration” and “how would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?” focused on hot-button issues like “dirty” hospitals, landgrabs by “gypsies” and restraints on police behaviour.

In April 2016, Mayor of London and Conservative, MP Boris Johnson, was accused of “dog whistle racism” by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and Labour MP John McDonnell, when Johnson suggested US President Barack Obama held a grudge against the United Kingdom due to his “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” as a result of his “part-Kenyan” heritage after Obama expressed his support for the UK to vote to remain in the European Union ahead of the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Crosby also tried to link Sadiq Khan with terrorist organisations –  the Conservative mayoral candidate’s campaign, was run by Crosby Textor

Mark Textor, co-founder of the private company, was mentored by the late Richard Wirthlin, a pollster who was chief strategist to US President Ronald Reagan. Someone else with past connections to the Wirthlin Group is Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s election campaign manager and now counsellor to the president, serving alongside Steve Bannon, assistant to the President and White House chief strategist.

All singing from the same crib sheet.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Conway has been embroiled in a series of controversies, including using the phrase “alternative facts, making reference to a “Bowling Green massacre” which never occurred, (Conway “cited” it as justification for a travel and immigration ban from seven Muslim-majority countries enacted by Trump), claiming Michael Flynn had the full confidence of the president hours before he was dismissed, and publicly endorsing commercial products associated with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. As a result, a number of media outlets have called her credibility into question, with some refusing her requests for one-on-one interviews.

When such manipulative tactics are exposed from time to time, it’s like a curtain shifting temporarily to give you a glimpse into another dimension, populated by billionaires and a handful of mercenary henchmen who drew up the machinations of a war being waged on democracies, in order to terraform political landscapes to suit the dystopic interests of one percent of the global population, at the expense of the needs of the ninety nine percent. You would be forgiven for thinking that the world and the media are being run almost exclusively by a small number of elitist, pan-nationalist aliens. It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s a reality.

Jim Messina is a political adviser who was the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011 and served as the campaign manager for Obama’s highly successful 2012 re-election campaign. Messina was hired as a campaign strategy adviser to the UK Conservative Party in August 2013. Messina operated from the US during the 2015 general election campaign. He has made statements about his personal admiration for David Cameron. Theresa May has also added him to her team of strategists. 

Gone are the days when it was expected that the public decided who to vote for because of the policies on offer from each party. Now the government focuses on the use of private political masters of the dark campaign arts, who use “political-voter surveillance” techniques, along with a combative and emotional approach to messaging, rather than a rational and reasonable one, and a level of cunning that most definitely treads around the very outer edges of ethics. 

One of Messina’s key strategic methods is finding and targeting swing voters through the meticulous gathering and monitoring of voter information using private polls, and the use of social media “targeting”.  He uses social networking techniques and social media, having sought and received advice from top names in the tech world including Steve Jobs.

Messina uses micro-targeting based on online data. His approach is based on the in-depth psychometrically profiling of people, using publicly available data, including their Facebook “likes” and group memberships. This information is used to create effective and directed digital dark advertising to target millions of voters and manipulate their psychological tendencies and play to their traits.  

Messina has developed a private consulting firm –The Messina Group, which “works with organizations in the private, public, and social sectors to achieve their strategic goals.” The company has an office in London, on Old Park Lane. It says on the site says:

“Using state of the art data and analytics, The Messina Group can harness and amplify the reach of your social network. We accurately model your organization’s likely supporter, voter, or consumer, and – by overlaying that with your existing social media base – we can develop a targeted list of potential new supporters. This targeted, person-to-person sharing is the future of advertising in a fundamentally digital and social world. The Messina Group will ensure that your organization is ahead of the competition.” 

One tactic integrated in this method is aimed at generating a bandwaggon effect, which I have discussed at length elsewhere. The bandwagon effect occurs in voting: some people vote for those candidates or parties who are likely to succeed (or are proclaimed as such by the media). The bandwagon propaganda technique has been applied to situations involving majority opinion, such as political outcomes, where people alter their opinions to the majority view. 

Such a shift in opinion can occur because individuals draw inferences from the decisions of others, which shapes an informational cascade. A cascade develops when people “abandon their own information in favour of inferences based on earlier people’s actions, regardless of how irrational that may be. Bandwaggon propaganda draws on our natural tendency towards social conformity.

During the 2015 general election, the government were accused of trying to “buy the general election” by quietly raising the legal spending limit by £6.2 million to £32.7m in the face of concerns from the Electoral Commission over “undue influence”. The party has reportedly amassed a war chest of more than £70 million. The change to the law on candidates’ election spending, passed without parliamentary debate.

A new project called Who Targets Me, has been attempting to address the lack of transparency of targeted election messaging, by recruiting social media users to share information on what political adverts they are seeing.

It says on their site: “Analysing the aggregated data will allow us to draw out insights about exactly which demographics are being targeted and the exact media and language that campaigners are using to influence your vote.”

In an effort to do something about the lack of transparency, Who Targets Me built a browser extension for Facebook users to download that will then report live to that individual when a political advert is being targeted at them. It also tracks that information in its database. You can sign up to be a Who Targets Me volunteer here.

Given the instability of the government, following the general election delivering a hung parliament, it’s likely that political advertising will continue. You will need to use the Chrome browser and install the Who Targets Me extension.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has already launched a wide-ranging investigation over possible breaches of UK data laws. The Conservatives have so far refused to supply examples of adverts the party is sending to individual voters on Facebook, despite the growing concern over unregulated online election activity.

One problem is money. There are no spending limits on digital advertising and, put simply, the more you spend the more people you reach. Until now, that means it is primarily the wealthier, Conservative campaigns that have benefited.

Another is that psychological influences are different from transparent attempts at rational, reasoned and material persuasion, because they operate outside of conscious awareness. Hiding in plain sight, they trigger involuntary emotive responses in the human subconscious that most people are powerless to resist – and that happens even when they know they’re being influenced. Much of the material being used to “persuade” is dishonest, and aimed at simply smearing the opposition and generating irrational and unfounded fears, rather than open discussion, about political and socioeconomic alternatives to neoliberalism and social conservatism. 

Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of the public’s beliefs an behaviours and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions to maintain a profoundly unbalanced, increasingly pathological and authoritarian status quo. Such tactics deployed in manufacturing consensus are widely used, and combined, they also serve to reduce public expectation of opposition and in doing so establish diktats: it’s a way of mandating acceptance of ideology, policies or laws by presenting them as if they are the only viable alternative.

There is a much needed public debate to be had about the distinction between political “persuasion” and “manipulation”.

And another about undue political influence. In their summary of electoral offences, the electoral commission says: “A person may also be guilty of undue influence if they impede or prevent any voter from freely exercising their right to vote – even where the attempt is unsuccessful.

Also: “It is an illegal practice to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate in order to affect the return of a candidate at an election.”

“Certain offences relate specifically to election campaign publicity material. Election campaign publicity material must contain an imprint, not resemble a poll card and not contain a false statement as to the personal character or conduct of another candidate.”

The Conservatives have certainly taken advantage of our basic tendency to be more motivated by the threat of something presented and subsequently perceived as “bad” than by the presented opportunity for examining positive alternatives.

This is not just a story about the political and commercial misuse of social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in the context of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. The public.

David Miller, a professor of sociology at Bath University and an authority in psyops and propaganda, says it is “an extraordinary scandal that this should be anywhere near a democracy. It should be clear to voters where information is coming from, and if it’s not transparent or open where it’s coming from, it raises the question of whether we are actually living in a democracy or not.”


Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudge-based strategies


The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked

Negative campaigning, emotions and political participation

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism

What I don’t understand about Conservatism

‘Tory Election Fraud’ Investigation Sees Conservatives Fined £70,000 By Electoral Commission

Political polls, think tanks and propaganda: the antidemocratic writing on the wall

Strategies and motives for resistance to persuasion: an integrative framework

How To Use 10 Psychological Theories To Persuade People


How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwauld

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government 

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