The government claim they value “evidence-based policy”. However, no-one knows exactly what evidence was found to justify Universal Credit, or how and why it may be applied to dismantling publicly funded social security provision for the public.
A grieving family have been forced to pay their loved one’s rent for three weeks following his death.
Ronnie Cowan, the MP for Inverclyde, has spoken out in parliament about the shocking treatment of one of his constituents because of callous Universal Credit rules concerning bereavement.
The Department for Work and Pensions have decided that if a Universal Credit claimant dies, regardless of when, they are classed as having died from the start of their four week assessment period, which can result in families being liable for their rent payments, and possibly council tax. This means that the government is outrageously clawing money from people for up to three weeks before they die and from their bereaved families.
Cowan said: “Once again, we witness the callous nature of the Department for Work and Pensions, which classes as person as dead from the beginning of their assessment period, even if they die towards the end of that period.
“This means that family members had to meet the cost of the housing rent for a period of three weeks as the payment was stopped from the beginning of the assessment period.
“This is fundamentally wrong and highlights the cruel nature of the current system which is not fit for purpose.”
The MP has asked the government how many more families have been affected in this way because of the Universal Credit bereavement regulations.
These latest concerns follow a recent critical report from the National Audit Office (NAO) that raises questions about Universal Credit being ‘value for money.’
Employment minister Alok Sharma wrote a letter to Cowan offering his sympathies to the family involved and explained the system they use.
Not surprisingly, Cowan says that all social security powers should be passed to the Scottish Government so that a more compassionate system can be put in place.
He added: “This is something which is clearly lacking from this UK Government.
“I will be writing to the minister to ask that they sort out this issue.”
A spokesperson for Department for Work and Pensions told me: “The death of a claimant is a relevant change of circumstances affecting entitlement to Universal Credit. When a single claimant dies there are no further payments due. For the purpose of the award calculation, the death is treated as if it occurred at the beginning of the assessment period.
“If an overpayment is caused because one member of a couple dies, an overpayment decision should be made as usual. The overpayment will be recoverable from the surviving partner.”
“In some circumstances, payment of Universal Credit that would otherwise reduce or stop following bereavement can continue for a short time. This is called a Bereavement run-on. For example, following the death of a:
partner child person for whom the claimant was carer, see Claimant with regular caring responsibilities Non-dependants
Payment of Universal Credit continues as if the person had not died for the assessment period in which the death occurs and the following two assessment periods.
The surviving member of a couple will receive a 3 month run-on for:
the assessment period in which their partner dies two subsequent assessment periods
When the 3 month run on period has ended, the surviving member of the couple will need to re-declare their circumstances. This is so a single award of Universal Credit can be made (without the need for a new claim).”
That would be a reasonable and humane approach.
However, later in the subsection entitled “Debt and deductions after death”, there is no further mention of the bereavement run-on. It looks as if someone with an incapacity for human compassion has amended the guidance and neglected to take out the original kinder version of the regulation guidelines. The document says:
“If an overpayment is caused because one member of a couple dies, an overpayment decision should be made as usual. The overpayment will be recoverable from the surviving partner.
“An overpayment of housing costs paid direct to a landlord can occur due to the death of the claimant. The overpayment is only recoverable from the landlord if they had failed to disclose the death of their tenant.
“An example is if they were aware of the death and failed to report it. Otherwise, the overpayment would be recoverable either from the estate of the deceased or any surviving partner of the Universal Credit claimant.
“The death of a claimant is a relevant change of circumstances affecting entitlement to Universal Credit. When a single claimant dies there are no further payments due. For the purpose of the award calculation, the death is treated as if it occurred at the beginning of the assessment period.”
The document also says that the Department for Work and Pensions conduct a search for an estate in respect of all ‘customers’ who die while in receipt of Universal Credit. A comparison is then made between the information provided for the Universal Credit claim and the assets declared in their estate.
If a person dies with outstanding debt and they leave an estate, the Department becomes a creditor of their estate. As a creditor, a claim is normally made from the estate for debts such as:
recoverable overpayment Administrative Penalty Social Fund loan
People pay tax and national insurance to contribute towards public services, including their social security, should they fall on hard times and require support from public funds. The Conservative government now expect people to pay twice for a barely adequate provision administered within a punitive framework, and delivered within a hostile environment.
We really need to question such an openly hostile and dehumanising system of social security that not only fails to support people, it also fails to recognise, acknowledge and accommodate the actual date that a person dies, and it fails to afford their loved ones some respect, solicitude, support, dignity and time to grieve in peace. Private moments of grief and emotional space are being heartlessly hijacked by the relentless machinery of the state.
This level of disgraceful dystopic bureaucracy potentially transforms the time in the immediate aftermath of the loss of a loved one from one of private grief and adjustment into one of inexcusable state intrusion and surveillance, and a profoundly distressing struggle for bereaved families.
The government claims that Universal Credit is designed to make sure that “work pays” and is aimed at “incentivising” people to move into work. The Conservatives clearly think that this may be achieved by ensuring conditions for people needing support are made unbearable. Conservative ministers have also claimed that welfare “puts in place barriers to people fulfilling their potential.”
This is a poltitically expedient reversal of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Punitive measures and a hostile environment cannot “help” people into work, nor can it alleviate poverty. It can only increase poverty and make people’s lives even more difficult, disempowering them further because of the additional burden of state inflicted cruelty on them.
History and the social sciences have provided ample empirical evidence that it is poverty, rather than a “lack of incentives,” which reduces people to an inescapable struggle for survival, preventing them from fulfilling their potential.
If people cannot afford shelter, food and fuel – basic survival requirements – how can any rational person expect that those citizens will somehow manage to extend their already very stretched, all-consuming cognitive priority and motivation for basic survival to also meet state demands for meeting unreasonable conditionality, job searching or work requirements?
At the start of the year, Mr James Moran from Harthill in my constituency qualified as an HGV driver and managed to find work on a zero-hours contract as a driver while also receiving universal credit—exactly the sort of scenario under which universal credit was supposed to work better. Not long after gaining employment, however, Mr Moran was sanctioned, despite being in employment. As he started the process of appealing the sanction, he suffered a stroke, which meant that he was no longer able to work as a driver.
As the sanction was still in place, he returned home from hospital with no means of receiving an income. Despite getting some help from his elderly parents, Mr Moran struggled with no money whatever for more than a month. He then suffered a second stroke.
Mr Moran has advised me that the doctors who treated him in hospital at the time of his second stroke admission told him that the low blood pressure that caused the second stroke was almost certainly caused by malnourishment. That malnourishment was a direct result of a DWP sanctioning error, forcing Mr Moran to live without an income—to live on fresh air.
I wrote to the Secretary of State about the case on 1 September and have repeatedly chased his office for a reply, but I have received nothing in return to date. The six-week minimum wait appears to be built into the Secretary of State’s correspondence turnaround as well. I do not take that personally, because I gather from press reports that the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions has had similar problems with getting the Secretary of State to put pen to paper. Perhaps he will now chase a reply.
A little later in the debate, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, Iain Duncan Smith shamefully alleged that the opposition were largely “‘scaremongering’ about the way in which the [Universal Credit] system has been designed.”
Universal Credit is clearly NOT an “evidence-based” policy, as claimed, since its architects and other government ministers refuse to recognise any evidence that contradicts their narrow ideological prejudices and assumptions.
As Gordon Allport once commented, a prejudice, unlike a simple misconception, is actively resistant to all evidence that would unseat it.
I don’t make any money from my work. But you can make a donation if you wish and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
Karl Riley, who is recovering from double brain surgery, says he’s been struggling to pay bills after his benefits were suspended three months (Photo: Karl Riley)
A man who has an inoperable brain tumour has condemned the government after his benefit support was stopped, leaving both his partner and himself with just £5 a week to feed themselves.
Karl Riley says that he’s been living below the bread line since his Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and housing benefit were taken away three months ago when he moved in with his partner, whose income is just a few hundred pounds a month.
Karl, who is 32, says that he has a tumour that is embedded in his brain stem. This has caused him to suffer severe neurological symptoms, such as permanent limited mobility, double vision, memory loss, confusion, extreme anxiety, depression, nausea, insomnia, tinnitus and facial paralysis.
Despite his health problems, Karl manages a few hours of self-employed work each week. He manages a band part-time, but isn’t capable of working full-time. He says he risks losing his house now that his benefits have been stopped.
Karl has also been waiting seven months for NHS physiotherapy treatment.
He told i News: “I feel like I’m getting no help from either the government or the NHS. My partner and I can’t feed ourselves and pay other living expenses on just £5 a week. Who can survive on that? I understand now why so many people are going to food banks. This government leaves people to starve.”
Karl found out by accident about his non-cancerous tumour when he had a brain scan as part of a medical trial in 2012. At the time he had no symptoms and he was told that doctors would take a ‘wait and see’ approach.
He continued to work for nearly five years but early last year took a turn for the worse, becoming symptomatic. A scan showed the lump had grown to four times its original size. “I was fine at first. They said it wasn’t appearing to grow much and I carried on managing my five bands.” he explained. “But then the neurological symptoms started.”
Karl had emergency brain surgery last March to drain a build up of fluid, followed by a second operation in July, when doctors told him the tumour was too embedded in his brain, making it inoperable.
Karl said: “I was bad after the second operation. It caused me a lot more problems and I had to relearn how to walk.” He then had to undergo six weeks of radiotherapy in a bid to reduce the mass, and says he was vomiting every day and continues to feel the side-effects.
Karl, who then lived with his partner Samantha Neale, 27, had some savings to fall back on at the time, but when they ran out of money, each of them were forced to move back with their parents.
Karl had been struggling with his mobility. So in December, he made a claim for ESA. He was awarded £73.10 a week, which is the Support Group level of award, for those who cannot work because of illness or disability, plus he was awarded a basic award of £54 a week when he claimed Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which replaces Disability Living Allowance. Then in March, Karl and Samantha decided to live together again, renting the cheapest place they could find for £425 a month. However, Samantha became ill herself and was unable to work. She currently receives statutory sick pay.
Karl said: “We wanted to live together again, I was stuck in my parents’ tiny box room which wasn’t ideal for me with mobility problems. My partner is essentially my carer, and she’s had a lot of problems in the past, then there was my illness on top of them and she just couldn’t cope anymore.”
Karl had declared the move as a change of circumstances, and says the that government asked to look at Samantha’s payslips and took one that showed a higher than normal payment to be their regular income.
Karl explained: “Samantha is getting £380 a month in sick pay, but for one month in May she was paid nearly £600 because her April payment was under at £280 due to a processing problem.
“But despite explaining this the benefits people decided her regular income is £600. Our council tax reduction has stopped too and we can’t claim housing benefit.” So Samantha’s back payment – money she was owed – was taken as her income as well.
Once Karl’s ESA was stopped, he was told to claim working tax credits, but his award didn’t include the disability element.
This means that he now has to pay for his rent in full and has no council tax reduction. Karlsays that after paying their rent and bills, there’s now so little left that he’s had to resort to setting up a GoFundMe appeal, because he feels so desperate.
“It’s disgraceful, it feels like begging, but I had no other option or we will lose the roof over our heads,” he said.
“I’ve worked hard all my life, and I can’t help having a brain tumour. The government also make it all so complicated with form after form to fill in, which is hard because I suffer short-term memory problems. It feels like a slap in the face.
He added: “I would love to be able to work more but I desperately need physiotherapy and occupational therapy. I don’t blame Breightmet Health Centre for that, I blame the government for the cuts and leaving NHS resources so stretched.” (Breightmet is an area of Bolton.)
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We’re committed to ensuring that people with health conditions get the support they’re entitled to. Decisions for ESA are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist. Anyone who is unhappy with a decision can appeal.
“People with long-term health conditions may also be eligible for support through other benefits such as PIP.”
It takes months to get a tribunal date, and before people can appeal, they have to go through a mandatory review first, where the government decides whether their original decision was correct. The mandatory review has no time limit, and an average of six weeks is usual for people to wait for the second decision.
Meanwhile, people are left without an adequate income to meet their basic living needs, and an average of nine months wait for their appeal to be heard.
I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. I co-run a group that supports disabled and ill people going through ESA and PIP claims, assessments and appeals.
Any donation is very much appreciated – thank you.
See the world through the eyes of society’s weakest members, and then tell anyone honestly that our societies are good, civilised, advanced, free.” Zygmunt Bauman.
Every Child Matters was Labour’s comprehensive and effective child welfare and protection policy that the Conservatives scrapped the day after they took office in 2010. The phrase “Every Child Matters” was immediately replaced with the phrase “helping children achieve more”. This reflects a fundmental change of emphasis from a rights-based society, for which both government and citizen share responsibility, to one where the individual is held solely responsible for their circumstances, regardless of structural conditions and the impact of political policies.
What was a “Children’s Plan” under the last Labour government is now a “free market education plan”, marking the Conservatives shift from free schools to “for profit” schools.
The price of having more children than the state deems acceptable
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics released today show that more than 70,000 low-income families lost at least £2,800 each last year after having their entitlement to benefits taken away as a result of the government’s “two-child policy”.
The joint analysis conducted by the DWP and HMRC shows that from 6 April 2017, just under 865,000 households with a third or subsequent child were claiming child tax credits or Universal Credit. Of these, DWP and HMRC claim that 70,620 reported a third or subsequent child after 6 April 2017, and that consequently they weren’t receiving benefit support for at least one child. Around 38% of those families affected were lone parents –26,800 of them in total. A court ruling in June 2017 deemed the policy as discriminatory towards lone parents with children under two.
The two-child policy means that households claiming child tax credit or universal credit, who have a third or subsequent child born after 6 April 2017, are unable to claim a child element worth £2,780 a year for those children. Iain Duncan Smith has said that the draconian policy has been designed to “incentivise behavioural change”, reflecting the government’s keen embrace of wonk behavioural economics in order to prop up a failing neoliberal administration.
Presumably Duncan Smith doesn’t think that people on low incomes who need social security support should have children. However, 59% of those families affected by the cruel an uncivilised imposed cut in their low income are in work. Financially punishing them for having a child isn’t going to change the profiteering behaviours of the draconian government, exploitative employers or the precarious conditions of the labour market. These are events and circumstances beyond the control of families and their children.
Many people have children when they are relatively affluent, and may then fall on hard times through no fault of their own. It’s hardly “fair” to punish people for the structural conditions that are largely shaped through government policies based on neoliberal economics. However, Duncan Smith claimed, nonetheless, that the policy would force claimants to make the “same life choices as families not on benefits, and ‘incentivise’ them [imported US managementspeak, which means ‘to motivate’] to seek work or increase their hours.”
The Conservatives have seemingly overlooked the fact that when people struggle to meet their basic needs, they are rather less likely to be able to improve their socio-economic situation, since necessity rather than choice becomes their key motivation. Punishing people who have little income by taking away even more cannot possibly help them to improve their situation. It can only serve to inflict further suffering and distress.
The statistics also showed that 190 women were “exempted” from the eugenic policy, which the government has insisted is “working” and had been “delivered compassionately,” after they were forced to prove to officials their third child was conceived as a result of rape. The women have had to disclose rape in order to claim benefits under the government’s two-child benefit policy, according to the official DWP stats released today. That’s 190 women forced to disclose being sexually assaulted just to feed their children.
The so-called rape clause has been widely condemned by campaigners, who say it is outrageous a woman must account for the circumstances of her rape to qualify for support. The SNP MP Alison Thewliss called it “one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall”.
A government spokesperson said: “The policy to provide support in child tax credit and universal credit for a maximum of two children ensures people on benefits have to make the same financial choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.”
Adding ludicrously: “We are delivering this in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards in place.” GeorgeOrwell’s dystopian novel became a government handbook of citizen “behavioural change”.
The rollout of universal creditwill increase the number of families affected. All new claims for the benefit after February 2019 will have the child element restricted to two children in a family, even if they were born before the policy was introduced.
Personal decision-making and citizen autonomy is increasingly reduced as neoliberal governments see human behaviours as a calculated investment for future economic returns. Now, having a child if you happen to be relatively poor invites the same outraged response from the right as those we saw leading up to the welfare ‘reforms’ regarding the very idea of people on welfare support owning flat screen TVs and Iphones.
Apparently, people struggling to get by should do without anything that would make their life a little more bearable. You can only have public and political sympathy and support if you lead the most wretched life. Perish the thought that you may have bought your TV during better times, when you had a job that paid enough to live on. Or decided to have a child.
However, it is profoundly cruel and dehumanising to regard children as a commodity. Economic ‘efficiency’ and the ‘burden on the tax payer’ are excuses being used to justify withholding public funds for fundamental human necessities, for dismantling welfare and other social safety nets.
Campaigners have said that the number of families affected by the policy would drive up UK poverty levels, putting an estimated 200,000 children into hardship.
In April this year, 60 Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders condemned the policy, arguing it would lead to a rise in child poverty and abortions.
Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”
“Our analysis with IPPR last year found 200,000 children will be pulled into poverty by the two-child limit. Today’s DWP statistics now show it’s already having a damaging impact – and at a fast pace. These are struggling families, most of them in work, who will lose up to £2,780 a year – a huge amount if you’re a parent on low pay.
“An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy. Even when times are tough, parents share family resources equally among their children, but now the government is treating some children as less deserving of support purely because of their order of birth.”
The curtailment of benefits for mothers and chilren is a form of negative eugenics, as is using financial ‘incentives’ to ‘nudge’ women claiming welfare support to use contraception.
Frederick Osborn defined eugenics as a philosophy with implications for social order. The Conservatives see eugenics as a political concern for governance. The view arises from a focus on neoliberalism and particularly, with competitive individualism. It is linked with the Conservatives’ views concerning economic productivity, and managing resources and wealth. The Conservatives believe that poverty arises because of ‘faulty’ perceptions, cognitions and behaviours of poor people. The two-child policy is aimed at maintaining the socio-economic order. Modern eugenics is market-based and austerity driven.
Eugenics rejects the doctrine that all human beings are born equal and redefined moral worth purely in terms of genetic fitness. However the UK government is more concerned with economic “fitness”. The doctrine challenges the idea of human equality and opens up new forms of discrimination and stigmatisation.
Eric Hobsbawm (1996) among others has pointed out in The Age of Capital 1848-1875, mounting concentrations of wealth were coupled with the massive displacement of populations and socio-economic disruption on a previously unimaginable scale. At the core of this process of destructive change is the commodification process, which has transformed human needs into marketable goods.
As the welfare state and social protection systems are being dismantled, neoliberal governments have called forth a new social imaginary of ‘functional’ and ‘dysfunctional’ people. The ‘dysfunctional’ are simply those that haven’t managed to any accumulate wealth – which is the majority of us. The deployment of terms such as ‘deserving’, ’empowerment’, ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ in policy discourses and the way these are being used to pathologise service users and to reconstruct the relationship between the state and citizens indicates an authoritarian government that seems determined to micromanage the psychology, self perceptions and characters of those it deems ‘dysfunctional’.
This idea, which also underpins the pseudoscientific discipline of behavioural economics is one way of justifying huge wealth inequality and maintain the status quo. It also serves to createa utopian free-market order with the power of the state and to extend this logic to every corner of society. As sociologist Loïc Wacquant said, neoliberalism represents an “articulation of state, market and citizenship that harnesses the first to impose the stamp of the second onto the third.”
Childrens’ worth, for the Conservatives, may be counted out in pounds and pence or not at all.
The Conservatives believe it is necessary to govern through a particular register, that of the economy. The government offers economic ‘opportunities’ for only the ‘right kind’ of people. As a neoliberal form of governmentality, we are witnessing the construction of a new meritocratic ‘common-sense’ in which the rule of the ‘brightest and best’, those with the highest level of cognitve functioning, is presented simply as a form of rational economic ‘natural selection’. The two-child policy reflects this view of a marketised ‘natural selection’ mechanism.
A major criticism of eugenic policies is that, regardless of whether “negative” or “positive” policies are used, they are susceptible to abuse because the criteria of selection are determined by whichever group is in political power at the time. Furthermore, negative eugenics in particular is considered by many to be a violation of basic human rights, which include the right to reproduction. Another criticism is that eugenic policies eventually lead to a loss of genetic diversity,
The political restriction of support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming social security year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are ‘structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive ‘deficits’.
The Conservatives have always held an elitist view of humanity – wealthy people are seen as worthy, noble and moral, and poorer people are regarded as biologically-driven, impulsive and crassly sexualised. This set of prejudices justifies a harsh set of social policies that aims to abolish government assistance to the ‘undeserving’ poor, while preserving and enhancing the privileges accorded to their ‘deserving’ betters.
These ideas can be traced back in part to an 18th-century English clergyman—and Thomas Robert Malthus, who was one of the founders of classical economics. Malthus wanted an end to poor relief and advocated exposing unemployed people to the harsh disciplines of the market.
Malthus maintained that despite a ‘generous’ welfare system, poverty in England kept increasing. He also believed that welfare created ‘peverse incentives’ – Conservatives echo these claims that support to unemployed citizens always creates more of the poverty it aims to alleviate. From this view, receiving ‘unearned’ resources ‘incentivises’ unemployed people not to seek work, thus perpetuating their own condition.
Central to Malthus’s ‘scarcity of resources thesis’ (paralleled with the Conservatives’ austerity programme an ‘deficit reduction’) is the idea that hunger and deprivation serves to discipline the unemployed people to seek work and control childbirth. Apparently, cruelty is the key to prosperity.
The Conservatives are contemporary Malthusians, who endorse removing benefits as a necessity to compel citizens to work, and when in work, to work even harder, regardless of whether their children suffer in the punitive process of imposed deprivation.
Malthus believed that poor people procreate recklessly, whereas wealthy people excercise ‘moral restraint’. The Conservatives’ draconian social policies also depend on the endorsement of divisive cultural prejudices and dehumanising views of poor and vulnerable citizens.
The two-child policy is an indication of the government’s underpinning eugenicist ideology and administrative agenda, designed to exercise control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of ‘faulty’ individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socio-economic policies.
Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without. This reveals the government’s bleak and dystopic view of a society where financial outcomes override all other considerations, including human lives.
Conservatives’ two-child policy violates human rights
I wrote in 2015 about some of the implications of the two-child policy. Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two-child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.
If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits? It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born.
And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to.
Restriction on welfare support for children will inevitably directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority freedom to continue having children as they wish, while aiming to curtail the poorest citizens by ‘disincentivising’ them from having larger families, by using financial punishment. It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, it openly discriminates against the children of larger families .
People who are in favour of eugenic policies believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups. The government’s notion of “behavioural change” is clearly aimed at limiting the population of working class citizens. And taking public funds from public services.
Any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable”, regardless of the reason, and which formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights, is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are overtly expressed as “eugenics” or not.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory,states:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
An assessmentreport by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider imposing the deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans at the time to repeal the UK’s Human Rights Act.
Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.
England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:
“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”
It’s noted in the commissioner’s report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention – the best interests of the child are paramount:
“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.
The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:
For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.
1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.
3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.
States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of internationalco-operation.
States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.
2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article then you can contact Turn2usfor benefits advice and support, or BPAS for pregnancy advice and support, including help to end a pregnancy if that’s what you decide.
I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
A mother of two children who were murdered by her husband says she fears being made homeless, after the heartless Department for Work and Pensions stopped her disability benefit support, despite being aware of the severe trauma she had experienced and the devastating impact it has had on her mental health.
June Martin, who has been diagnosed as suffering withpost traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) and depression, was considered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to be ineligible forPersonal Independence Payment (PIP), following an assessment by Independent Assessment Service – formerly known as Atos Healthcare.
June has challenged the accuracy and fairness of the PIP assessment process. She told the Sunday Postthat the assessor only “wanted to know if I could spell ‘world’ backwards and hold my arms above my head.”
She said “I’ve been treated like some kind of scrounger and put on trial, although I’ve done nothing wrong.
“My former husband, who murdered our children, doesn’t have to worry about keeping a roof over his head or where his next meal is coming from but now I do.
She added, tragically: “I’ve been made to feel a burden on society. Maybe it would be better if I wasn’t here.”
On Saturday, May 3, 2008, June walked into her home in Buckhaven, Fife, and found the bodies of disabled Michelle and her little brother Ryan while their father, who had stabbed them 26 times, lay on his bed, pretending to be dead. June’s former husband, Rab Thomson, was found guilty of stabbing 25-year-old Michelle and 7-year-old Ryan and given a life sentence in 2008.
However, despite her struggle to cope with the terrible trauma, the benefits assessment report describes her mental state examination as “unremarkable”.
She said: “I’m now terrified I will lose my rented flat because I can’t keep up the £35 a week I have to find to make up the difference to housing benefit.
“I must have moved over a dozen times because I haven’t been able to settle somewhere I feel safe.
“Just when I finally found a little peace and somewhere I can feel safe, I fear it’s all going to be taken from me now.
“I’ve tried far too many times to take my own life because I just feel there is nothing for me to live for and this has left me feeling like that again.”
MP Patricia Gibson described the case as “shocking” and said: “This is yet another example of the DWP letting down vulnerable people when they most need support. Those living with mental health challenges are poorly understood by DWP assessor and this has to change.”
Left bereft, extremely distressed and suicidal, June has struggled to rebuild her life. She has never recovered from her ordeal, which is absolutely understandable. She had been in receipt of £55.10 a week in disability benefits before being reassessed for PIP.
However, an independent tribunal has unbelievably upheld the DWP decision.
A spokesperson said: “Whilst the tribunal accepts Ms Martin has mental health problems and balance problems, the nature and extent of the resulting limitations are insufficient to score therequired number of points.
“As a result Ms Martin does not qualify for either component of Personal Independent Payment.”
That someone who has faced such a deeply traumatic event as the murder of her children has to then “score a required number of points” to be considered eligible for lifeline support indicates just how profoundly dehumanising and utterly unfit for purpose the disability benefit assessment process is.
June said “Neither the assessor or the tribunal last week seemed to want to know about the trauma I suffer daily reliving finding my children posed as if they were asleep in their beds, or pulling back the covers to find them stabbed to death,” she said.
“I’ve battled so very hard to try and go on, but I’ve had to accept I’ll never get over finding my babies murdered, their blood on the walls and over their toys and teddy bears.
“My disabilities are invisible. They cannot be tested by spelling a word backwards or holding my arms above my head.
“Questions were thrown at me, one after the other. I couldn’t think straight to answer them properly. I’m a mess. I don’t stand up well to questioning. I just blurt things out and I panic.
“I’d written on the official forms that my children were murdered and I found them, but I don’t remember being questioned about that or my inability to live anything like a normal life.”
June also said that the assessor and DWP failed to take into account how her mental health fluctuates from day to day.
June continued: “I don’t know from one day to the other how I will feel, sometimes from one hour to the other”, she said.
“I can get up and go to the supermarket for a loaf of bread one day, but if I hear a child crying it takes me back to the murder scene.
“A smell, a song, someone laughing like my Michelle used to laugh, brings it all back and I have to run away from it.”
A DWP spokesperson offered the usual meaningless and standardised platitudes, saying: “This is a sensitive and distressing set of circumstances and our thoughts remain with Ms Martin.
“We will continue to ensure Ms Martin is receiving all the benefits she is entitled to and gets the support she needs.”
The support that June needs is the reinstatement of her Personal Independence Payment, and an adequate level of support to meet her housing costs, not gaslighting from the DWP.
We live in an age of ubiquitous measurement, where our health and eligibility for support is defined and decided by metric based judgments, and our behaviours and expectations are expected to conform to the government’s notion of an overarching competitive model of the market. In this horrifically cruel, impersonal and dehumanising neoliberal world, eligibility for support depends on whether you score enough points that measure arbitrary criteria of what the state thinks should be measured.
Can you say a “world” backwards? Can you touch your knees? Can you raise an arm? This framework of meaningless tick box criteria bears little resemblance to the many actions and decisions you have to make during your everyday life, and it doesn’t show anything of how someone copes or doesn’t cope. It doesn’t indicate if someone has a network of support, help from other agencies, or if they are completely isolated.
It tells us nothing of whether or not someone can consistently perform one of these prescribed and contradistinctive tasks at an assessment for lifeline support in real life. The more of these meaningless and detatched-from-everyday-living tasks you are perceived as able to perform, the less points you are awarded. If you fail to score enough points, you aren’t considered ‘eligible’ for support, regardless of how much you happen to need it.
The accounts presented in disability assessment reports based on the rigid, inadequate point scoring system and the actual realities of disabled people’s lives are incommensurable.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee said earlier this year that it had an “unprecedented” response when it asked members of the public to get in touch with their experiences of being assessed.
Some people said reports of their assessments included the results of physical examinations that hadn’t happened. Some reports left out crucial information provided during the interview, and some seemed to refer to entirely different people. Publishing their findings, the MPs said the number of ‘mistakes’ taking place, and the number of decisions eventually overturned on appeal, had created “a lack of trust in both benefits” and led to fears the system is deliberately rigged against claimants.
Stephen Brown, head of North Ayrshire Council’s health and social care partnership, said: “The benefits system often fails to recognise the impact of trauma and its long-term debilitating nature. Our psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers have known this for years and much of their time is spent supporting people to rebuild their lives.”
To rebuild lives, we must first ensure people can meet the costs of their basic living needs – such as for food, fuel and keeping roof over their head.
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.
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the Universal Credit (UC) rules which will leave many disabled people who are new claimants, who experience a change in circumstances or a break in their claim, without their Disability Income Guarantee.
Two disabled people decided to take the government to court over the brutal cuts to their income, which has caused them severe hardship.
Earlier this month, in a landmark judgment, the High Court ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they claimed Universal Credit.
Lawyers representing the men said the ruling showed that the new benefit system was “not working” for the disabled or other claimants, and urged the government to halt the roll-out and overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs and not “condemn them to destitution”. The two claimants, known only as TP and AR, had both previously been in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at ensuring the additional care and needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer are met.
Both people were required to make a claim for universal credit when they moved into new local authorities where the controversial new benefit was being rolled out. According to both the men, they were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change. Yet despite repeated assurances from the government that “no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to universal credit where circumstances remain the same”, both men saw an immediate drop in their income of around £178 a month when they were moved over to UC.
When they asked for the top up payments promised by the DWP, they were told that Government policy was that no such payments would be paid until July 2019 when managed migration is due to begin.
As both claimants testified to the court, the sudden drop of income had a devastating impact on them, both physically and psychologically. TP, a former City banker who suffers from a terminal illness, has been struggling to address his care needs, and AR, who suffers from severe mental health issues, has been unable to afford basic necessities.
Earlier this month, the DWP committed the government to ensuring that no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be made to move onto universal credit until transitional protection is in place and also, made a commitment to compensate those like the claimants who have lost out.
Despite this, following the judgment, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has sought permission to appeal, maintaining that there was “nothing unlawful” with the way the claimants were treated.
Their lawyer, Tessa Gregory from the human rights team at Leigh Day, told the Court: “Nothing about either of the claimants’ disability or care needs changed, they were simply unfortunate enough to need to move local authorities into a Universal Credit full service area.”
The judge said the impact on the individuals was “clear”, and said the way they were transferred onto universal credit was “manifestly without reasonable foundation” and “failed to strike a fair balance”.
Following the ruling, Ms Gregory said: “This is the first legal test of the roll out of Universal Credit and the system has been found to be unlawfully discriminating against some of society’s most vulnerable.
“Whilst we welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that no one in our client’s position will now be moved onto Universal Credit until top up payments are in place, it comes too late as it cannot make up for the months of suffering and grinding poverty our clients and many others like them have already had to endure.
“We call upon Esther McVey to compensate our clients and all those affected without any further delay, and urge her to focus on fixing Universal Credit rather than wasting more public funds appealing this court decision.
“Today’s decision shows again that Universal Credit is not delivering what was promised at the outset. It is not working. It’s not working for the disabled, it’s not working for parents, it’s not working for low-income and part-time employees and it’s not working for the self-employed.
“The government needs to halt the rollout and completely overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs, not condemn them to destitution. If this doesn’t happen further legal challenges will inevitably follow.
“Disability premiums are not a luxury. They play a crucial role in helping disabled people pay for essentials like food, clothing and bills. The needs of the people involved in this case haven’t changed, and yet they have lost more than £170 per month in support. This isn’t fair.
“Until the Government fully addresses these issues, it will unfairly penalise disabled people for moving over to universal credit.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “The court found in our favour on three of the four points raised by the claimant. We will be applying to appeal on the one point the court found against the Department. This government is committed to ensuring a strong system of support is in place for vulnerable people who are unable to work.”
Clearly the government is committed to trying it on by paying people as little as they can possibly get away with from the public fund. Deliberately cutting money from disabled peoples’ crucial lifeline support can hardly be described as “ensuring a strong system of support is in place”. This response indicates quite clearly that the cut was fully intentional on the part of the government.
The spokesperson added: “Last week, the Secretary of State announced that we will be providing greater support for severely disabled people as they move onto universal credit. And we have gone even further, by providing an additional payment to those who have already moved onto the benefit.”
Yes, because the cut has been ruled as discriminatory and unlawful, not because a choice was actually made to do so. Only the Conservatives could turn prejudice, discrimination and breaking the law into some kind of virtue.
Again this response indicates clearly that these were intended changes, and not merely a consequence of administrative incompetence. There was not a shred of regret expressed by the government regarding the severe hardship these cuts have caused for disabled people.
And this still leaves disabled people claiming the disability support component of Universal Credit for the first time without the Disability Income Guarantee. That is also discriminatory.
The Department for Work and Pensions have claimed UC means that support is “focused on those who need it most”, but a government removing Severe Disability Premium and Enhanced Disability Premium, which is support designed to help severely disabled people who live without a carer – is pulling a basic safety net from citizens with the greatest needs. The premiums were also designed in part to address the problem of cumulative poverty for severely disabled people who cannot work, or who face disadvantage in the labour market because of additional needs and barriers.
This cut will also potentially affect disabled lone parents who may rely on their benefit support to pay for support to shop, cook and wash, for example. The cut may mean that they will be forced to rely on their own children as carers.
Austerity has been carried disproportionately by disabled people
The UC system has made an estimated £11bn in savings, mainly through Treasury cuts to the original set level of universal credit rates – most notably through reductions to work allowances, which will save around £3bn, and the removal of £2bn in disability premium payments – but UC planning and delivery has also incurred £8.5bn in expenses.
Government statistics published last year show 47 per cent of people who were formerly receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) saw their support fall or stop altogether when they were reassessed for Personal Independent Payment (PIP).
Of a total of 947,000 claimants who were reassessed in the year up to October 2017, 22 per cent saw their support reduced, while a quarter were disallowed or withdrawn altogether — meaning 443,000 people will have had their claims reduced or removed.
However, the success rate for claimants when appealing Personal Independence Payments (PIP), for example, was 65% in 2016/17. The Mirror has recently reported that the rate of PIP appeal success has hit an all-time high of 71% for the first quarter of 2018.
Labour MP Rosie Duffield secured a debate (her first) which took place a couple of days ago (20 June) about the report by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The report said successive UK governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the committee said the government had created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people. (You can read the full debate here).
The debate addressed last autumn’s report on the UK’s implementation of UNCRPD, and the conclusion of the UN’s disability committee that the UK government should make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.
In a briefing prepared ahead of the debate, the Equality and Human Rights Commission the other official and independent bodies responsible for monitoring the UK’s progress in implementing the convention – had called on the UK government to describe how it would “comprehensively address” the UN committee’s findings. However, the government has not made any commitment to implementing the committee’s recommendations.
During the debate, Labour MPs accused Sarah Newton, Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, and the government, of making disabled people a “forgotten class”; of allowing the DWP to “endlessly mistreat” them, and of creating a “national scandal”.
Newton dismissed Labour’s comments,using techniques of neutralisation that I’vewritten about before.In short, Newton used a tactic that the Conservatives have used many times before – an indignant and outraged denial. She actually accused the opposition of ‘scaremongering’ again, (and by default, she attempted to discredit disabled citizens’ accounts of their own experiences, which of course flies in the face of democratic accountability).
The Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying the victims and condemning the condemners.
Newton said: “I utterly refute the allegations that have been made today: that we are discriminating against disabled people; that we are systematically undermining and violating their human rights, or worst of all that we are targeting their welfare support.”
In her attempt to defend her government’s appalling record on cuts to social security, she also told MPs that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”.
Although disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are exempt from the benefits freeze – which is set to last to 2020 – there is no exemption for the main component of ESA and the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, which continues to be frozen.
Newton claimed that the UN, opposition and again, by default, disabled citizens, were making “irresponsible” allegations. And the courts. Again, this is a technique of neutralisation called “condemning the condemners”, used to ‘switch off ‘someone’s conscience when they plan, or have done, something to cause harm to others. The technique may also be used to push at the normative and moral boundaries of groups and the wider public. (*See below for a full outline of the techniques).
Newton also said that the government was “very disappointed” that the UNCRPD did not “take on board […] the evidence that the government gave them. They did not acknowledge the full range of support.” That’s because it isn’t there.
The UNCRPD report presented extensive, meticulous evidence with their thorough report, gathered from disabled people that have been affected by the welfare cuts, campaign groups, charities and research academics. It also condemned the UK government’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements.”
It isn’t ‘scaremongering’ to express concern about punitive policies that are targeted to reduce the income of social groups that are already struggling because of limited resources, nor is it much of an inferential leap to recognise that such punitive policies will have some adverse consequences.
Political denial is oppressive – it serves to sustain and amplify a narrow, hegemonic political narrative, stifling pluralism and excluding marginalised social groups, excluding qualitative and first hand accounts of citizen’s experiences, discrediting and negating counternarratives; it sidesteps democratic accountability; stultifies essential public debate; obscures evidence and hides politically inconvenient, exigent truths. Denial of causality does not reduce the probability of it, especially in cases where a correlation has been well-established and evidenced. The government have no empirical evidence to verify their own claims that their punitive policies do not cause harm and distress.
Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizen’s accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.
However, in the UK, the way that policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the Government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion and neutralisation to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.
Damian Green, who was the work and pensions secretary at the time the UN report was published. dismissed the highly critical findings . He said, shamefully, that the report was “patronising and offensive” and presented an outdated view of disability in the UK. He said Britain was “a world leader in disability rights and equality”.
But many of us – disabled citizens, disability activists, campaigners, charities and researchers – welcomed the report, saying it accurately highlighted the real economic and social hardships faced by disabled people after years of harsh spending cuts to social security and social care.
The shadow work and pensions secretary at the time, Debbie Abrahams, said the UN report was “crystal clear” in its identification of UK government failures. “It confirms that, despite Theresa May’s warm words, this government is failing sick and disabled people,” she said.
The UN committee said a range of measures introduced since 2010, including the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets, had disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.
Spending cuts had negatively affected the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work and to achieve an adequate standard of living, the report said. The UN urged UK ministers to ensure the rights of disabled people were upheld.
Green said: “At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings. The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people. Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst taking care of those who can’t.”
The government said at the time that it spent about £50bn a year to support sick and disabled people – a bigger proportion of GDP than countries including Canada, France and the US.
However, this is plainly untrue. In 2015, the government’s own figures show that even before some of the cuts were implemented, the UK was ninth out of 28 countries, when ranked in terms of the size of its social protection expenditure as a proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP).
In fact Newton’s highly selective statistical ‘data’ was contradicted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) who also reported that the UK actually spends less than France, as well as Norway, Germany and Spain on disability benefits.
Furthermore, Newton’s figure includes amounts that are not directly related to disability benefit, such as carers’ allowance, housing benefit, council tax allowance, and it also includessome NHS spending.
The government actually spent £39 billion on disability, incapacity and industrial injury benefits in 2017/18. That’s 76% of the total £51 billion that Newton claimed was spent.
Abrahams said the report echoed warnings Labour had been making since 2011 about the effects of the government’s policies on disabled people. It certainly echoed warnings many of us have been making – in my own case, since the welfare “reforms” in 2012.
“The UN committee is clear that its report examines the cumulative impact of legislation, policies and measures adopted from 2010 to October 2016, so the government’s claim that it is outdated does not stand up to scrutiny.
“I am also concerned that the government is labelling the report as patronising, when they are the ones dismissing the concerns raised by disabled people who helped instigate the inquiry in the first place.”
This dismissal is despite being presented with evidence from a wide range of organisations as well as disabled citizens, to whom Conservative policies are causing harm and distress. Yet the government continue to distance themselves from the consequences of their own decision-making, opting to deny them instead. Those are not the reasonable actions of an accountable, democratic government.
Decades of findings in sociology and psychology tell us that as soon as a social group are defined as an outgroup, the public start to see them differently. Because politicians have stereotyped people who claim welfare support, portraying only negative characteristics, the public also perceive only those characteristics. The government, with the help of the media, has purposefully portrayed people claiming welfare support as folk devils: lazy, dishonest, stupid and as scroungers, and so on. This is profoundly dehumanising.
The people being harmed by policies have become outsiders, they’ve been pushed out of the circle of our moral community. The government clearly don’t think of the people enduring terrible distress and hardship as experiencing the same range of autonomy, needs, thought, emotion and motivations that they do; they don’t imagine them feeling things in the same way that they do. This disconnection – a failure to recognise common human characteristics in the other – means that they are denied some measure of empathy, and consequently a sense of ethical and democratic obligation and inclusion.
The Conservatives talk a lot about “evidence-based policy”, but they don’t walk the talk. A weight of evidence has highlighted the cruel, draconian effects of the Tories’ social polices. The government have chosen to deny and ignore it.
This lack of appropriate response indicates a deliberately prejudiced, vicious attack on a significant minority of the population, which the government has absolutely no intention of stopping or putting right any time soon.
You can watch the whole debate that was secured by Rosie Duffield here:
* Techniques of neutralisation:
Used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others.
They identified the following psychological techniques by which, they believed, delinquents justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust:
1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.
2. Denial of harm and injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.
3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. Or they may claim that there isn’t a victim.
4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, ‘scaremongering’ or they are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly.
5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the ‘greater good’, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a social group/nation, or benefits to the economy/ social group/nation.
6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, stigma, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudicemay ultimately result in genocide.
Any one of these six techniques may serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice and aggression to the extent that when they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, discrimination, exclusion of citizens, hatred and ultimately, in genocide.
In accusing citizens and the opposition of ‘scaremongering’, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying distress; denying the victims and condemning the condemners.
I write voluntarily, to do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights. I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other disabled people going through ESA and PIP assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.
I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
Social security was originally designed to ensure that everyone was protected from the worst ravages of unfettered capitalism. To say that we have regressed as a society since then is an understatement.
‘Behavioural economics’ are currently embedded within our current welfare system. This is a technocratic solution to essentially politically created problems. It addresses social problems by simply shifting the blame and responsibility from state to individual. This has led to an increasingly punitive social security system, aimed at pushing people into employment, regardless of whether or not they are able to work. ‘Nudge’ is increasingly being used by an authoritarian Conservative government to ensure citizens behaviours are aligned with neoliberal ideology and policy outcomes.
People who are chronically ill are suffering terribly because of the government’s anti-welfare ideolology. Yet most of us have paid tax and National Insurance to ensure that we have access to social security if or when we need it, only to find that the hostile environment created by by the government has made claiming support an ordeal.
Many people have described a “revolving door” process of endless assessment, ceased ESA claim, (based on an outcome of almost invariably being wrongly “assessed” as fit for work), appeal, successful appeal outcome, benefit reinstated, only to find just three or four months later that another assessment is required.
The uncertainty and loss of even the most basic financial security to meet the bare necessities to survive that this process creates, leading to constant fear and anxiety, is having a damaging, negative impact on the health and wellbeing of so many. It’s appalling that in a first world so-called liberal democracy, sick and disabled people are being punished for being ill and disabled by a system that was originally intended to support them in meeting their most basic living costs.
Five years on, nothing has changed. People are still dying because of a system that is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose. The government are not listening to us.
I write all too regularly about disabled citizens who have been treated brutally because of Conservative policies, many who have died as a consequence of a system that is intentionally designed to punish people for their need.
I’m saddened to report that disabled woman has died from a heart attack after she was repeatedly refused vital financial support following disability assessments carried out by a private benefits firm, Atos, over a five year period.
Sandra Burns, who lived in Luton, was found dead at the bottom of the stairs at her home on 16 April. She was surrounded by letters from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and overdue utility bills, having suffered what is believed to be a massive heart attack.
Sandra’s brother, Ian, toldLuton Today:“She was found dead at the foot of her stairs, apparently of a massive heart attack.
“She was surrounded by letters informing her that the gas, electricity, water, telephone and television were all in danger of being cut off.”
“This debt and anxiety lay all around her on the floor”.
Ian also said that the stress of the process had a degenerative impact on Sandra. He says that the work assessments were “punitive” and that they “ignored the comments of her GP”.
“These appeals would take six to eight months. Every single time, she won the appeal and got a backdated payment. But in that period, she would get into debt and lose her credit rating.
“And then she’d get back on an even keel until the next year, when the same thing would happen,” he added.
Sandra, who was 57, had worked in retail for 30 years before severe back pain caused by five fused vertebrae in her spine forced her to give up working. She had failed a number of work capability assessments over a five year period but had successfully challenged each decision at appeal.
The disability assessments were carried out at the time by Atos, on behalf of the DWP, who withdrew from a contract to carry out assessments for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) following widespread failures and mounting criticism.
Each time she failed an assessment, Sandra found herself looking at a growing mountain of debts while she fought to have the harsh decisions overturned at appeal.
In a letter sent to the DWP before her death, Sandra wrote: “I am old school and would still be working if I could do it. Do you think I would be silly enough to do this? I have always worked.”
“Why do they think it’s ok to treat me like this? It’s not acceptable”.
Her Brother Ian said the difficulties of living with a chronic health condition, coupled with having to repeatedly fight for the benefits she desperately needed, caused her health to deteriorate.
He says that Atos“based their assessment on the fact she could walk the five or six steps of the stairwell to the interview room”.
“She could walk small distances and couldn’t stand for long”, he said.
“Every time ATOS assessed her, they judged her fit for work.”
“She described how one man said, ‘I’ve been watching you walk from the waiting room and as far as I’m concerned, you’re fit for work’.”
Ian Burns, who lives in Denmark, said his sister had become reclusive during the last year of her life, adding that he had last spoke to her on 3 April.
Having not heard from his sister for some time, Ian asked a friend and neighbour to check up on her.
He said: “They knocked on the door and went around the back. Through the kitchen window, they could see piles of dishes.
“The police came quarter of an hour later. They got through the back door and found her at the bottom of the stairs.”
Ian came to his sister’s home the following day. “I came the next day … all around the sofa was a pile of letters and debts.
“It was terrible heartbreak and I just feel it could have all been avoided… everyone is treated as cheats or maybe the DWP have an agenda.
“Whatever it is, it’s putting people like Sandra under incredible amounts of stress.”
A DWP spokesman, offering the usual discordant platitudes, said: “Our thoughts are with Ms Burns’ family. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people get the support they’re entitled to.
“Assessments are carried out by qualified healthcare professionals who look at how someone’s disability or health condition impacts them on a day-to-day basis.”
Disabled people protesting about the punitive disability assessments in Parliament
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article and need support, please contact theSamaritans free on 116 123 (UK).
I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.
Last year I wrote an article about how the social security system in the UK has been re-structured around “ordeals”, which were introduced by the Conservative government in order to discipline and “disincentivise” citizens from claiming welfare support, by undermining any sense of security people may have of fulfiling their most basic needs. Welfare support is extremely conditional and precarious. Ordeals are intrinsic to a system of punishment that the draconian Conservatives claim will “change the behaviours” of underpaid, unemployed and disabled people. By creating a hostile environment, the government are somehow claiming that it’s possible to simply punish people out of poverty.
“The British public have reacted to “a sense of betrayal of that so-called British value of fairness”(The hostile environment? Britain’s disabled people live there too, the guardian.com, 26 April). This “sense of betrayal” was only possible because the national press reported the plight of the Windrush scandal, but this is not always the case. Some of the press were happy to promote the exaggerated claims of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which, during five years of coalition government, knowingly misled the public regarding “fake” claimants of disability benefit. Coincidentally, disability hate crimes increased by 213% during the coalition’s term in office.
Influenced by a US healthcare insurance “consultant”, who funded DWP-commissioned research used to justify welfare reforms, the work capability assessment (WCA) adopted the bio-psychosocial model of assessment which has failed all academic scrutiny. The WCA is used by the DWP to resist access to the employment and support allowance (ESA) sickness and disability benefit, which is the financial equivalent of jobseeker’s allowance, so there is no financial incentive when claiming ESA.”
This DWP assessment totally disregards diagnosis, prognosis, past medical history and all medical opinion. Deaths of genuine claimants were always inevitable. There is a reason why the DWP has refused to publish updated ESA mortality totals since February 2014, as suicides linked to the ESA assessment climb. It’s time for this ideological DWP tyranny to end, and for the national press to stop disregarding another national atrocity impacting on disabled people.”
The letter was signed by:
Mo Stewart Independent disability studies researcher Professor Woody CaanEditor, Journal of Public Mental Health Dr Tanya TitchkoskyProfessor of disability studies, University of Toronto Professor Peter BeresfordProfessor of citizen participation, Essex University Dr Marion Hersh Senior lecturer, biomedical engineering, Glasgow University Dr Dominic Griffiths Senior lecturer in Inclusive Education and SEN, Manchester Metropolitan University Dr Anne DaguerreAssistant professor in work, employment and welfare, Middlesex University Dr Simon DuffyDirector, Centre for Welfare Reform Vin WestChair, Arfon Access Group, and others.
I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.