Posts Tagged ‘Benefits Street’

New BBC Series Next Week on Universal Credit

January 28, 2020

The BBC is screening a new documentary series next week on Universal Credit. Titled ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State’, the first installment is on BBC 2, on Tuesday 4th February at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In-depth look at the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentres and claimants, during the implementation of the biggest change to the benefits system in a generation. This edition focuses of Peckham Jobcentre in south London. Rachel left a 27-year caareer in the NHS to care for her elderly parents. She’s been struggling to pay her rent and bills while paying back an advance she took out while waiting for her first Universal Credit payment. Jobcentre staff member Karen works tirelessly to support claimants but is frustrated that she has to supplement her low earnings with a second job. (p. 86).

An additional piece about the show by David Butcher a few pages earlier, on page 84, also says

There’s a key scene in this first episode of a series about benefits, where the civil servant in charge of Universal Credit, Neil Couling, shows us a whiteboard in the Department for Work and Pensions called the “motherboard”. Among the grids and numbers is a piece of paper stuck on that says, “Pay claimants the right amount of money and on time”. It seems a modest aim but, as Couling tells us, “It has defeated the benefits system for the last 35 years.”

The series helps us understand why. Its strength is that we meet not just those at the top of the benefits bureaucracy but those at the bottom – officials at a Jobcentre in Peckham, south London, known as “work coaches”, and their claimants or “customers”. In their sometimes testy encounters we see how Jobcentres have become a one-stop shop, helping claimants with food bank vouchers, housing and childcare. As unemployed labourer Declan says, unhappily, “It’s like they’ve got a hold of your life.”

I think this programme has been expected. If I recall correctly, there has been some discussion whether it would accurately reflect conditions in the DWP and the misery and despair Universal Credit has inflicted on claimaints. There were fears that it would follow the path set by a similar documentary a few years ago. This was also made with the help of the DWP, but presented a very sanitised view of the Department as government-sanctioned propaganda.

It’s to be hopedthat this will be different from the previous series, and from the ‘poverty porn’ produced by Mentorn Television like ‘Benefits Street’. But considering the massive bias on the BBC news desk against the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, and its general bias towards supporting austerity and the Conservatives, that may be too much to expect.

Violence and the Conservative Campaign of Hate against the Disabled

December 31, 2019

Mike and the other disability bloggers and campaigners have posted any number of articles about the massive increase in violence towards disabled people. This has its origins in the Conservatives’ vilification of them as welfare cheats or spongers, along with other underprivileged and marginalised groups like asylum seekers, the unemployed and the poor. This connection and the massive rise in hate crimes and violence against both immigrants and the disabled is described by Jon Burnett in his chapter, ‘Austerity and the Production of Hate’ in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity.  While the attacks on immigrants and the disabled are separate issues and are managed separately, they are linked by an underlying ideology. Burnett writes

Such campaigns are organised separately. But they feed off and into each other. And they are replicated day after day to the point where they have become a routine aspect of popular culture. Both are voyeuristically treated in television programmes like Benefits Street and Immigration Street. Those programmes stem from the same ideological enterprise: to reduce their subjects to objects of ridicule and contempt, turning human struggles into a sneering form of entertainment. (p. 217)

He notes that David Cameron, dubbed by Paxo ‘the worst Prime Minister since Lord North’, explicitly linked migration with the British welfare system. He said that we need immigrants to do work that the welfare system encouraged British people not to do, and that therefore the welfare system needed to be reformed.

Migrants are filling gaps in the labour market left wide open by a welfare system that for years has paid British people not to work. That’s where the blame lies – at the door of our woeful welfare system, and the last government who comprehensively failed to reform it… So immigration and welfare reform are two sides of the same coin. Put simply, we will never control immigration properly unless we tackle welfare dependency. (p. 219).

Burnett states that five years later, this is now Tory orthodoxy. It, and the Tory policies based on it, have reduced immigrants to units of labour denied social rights, while welfare reforms are also reducing British workers into an expendable workforce. Immigration is a separate issue I shall tackle elsewhere. In this piece I’ll just talk about how the Tories’ rhetoric of hate against the disabled has resulted in an horrific increase in violence against them. Burnett writes of this

And when resentment to welfare and free movement is legitimised, hate becomes normalised. As campaign groups, support centres and self-organised networks have repeatedly shown, certain forms of violence have intensified under the rubric of austerity. But they are rarely given official recognition. In a survey published by the Disability Hate Crimes Network in 2015, ‘scrounger rhetoric’ was highlighted in the testimonies of around one in six of 61 disabled people who described themselves being verbally or physically assaulted in disability hate crimes. Six charities in 2012 stated that a narrative of ‘benefit scrounging’ or ‘faking’ was fuelling hostility. Discussing an increase in disability hate crimes coming before the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) between 2008/9 and 2013/14, one of the co-founders of the activist group Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) remarked that the figures were ‘no doubt fuelled by the constant media-fuelled campaign against benefit claimants.’ There were around 62,000 disability-related hate crimes each year in 2012/13 and 2013/14, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). In 2014/15 the last year for which figures are available, 2508 offences were recorded by the police – and increase of 15 per cent from two years earlier. (pp. 219-20).

There can be absolutely no doubt about it. The Tories are generating a violent hatred against immigrants and the disabled. And Mike’s also right that they aren’t going to make conditions any better. Because they enjoy causing suffering and misery to the poor and disabled.

 

Why Do People Ignore the Suffering of the Disabled and Unemployed?

December 19, 2019

It’s just a few days into the new reign of Boris Johnson, and already he’s hitting those on the benefit, including and particularly the poor and unemployed. Mike put up a piece a few days ago listing all the reforms Labour would have brought in, which would have ended this. And it began with a heartfelt cry of despair by Mrs. Mike.

“Basically now we are all buggered.

“No hope left for me as I’m disabled and they’ve messed me about so much already.

“I don’t see any compassion for people like myself and all the others like me out there – and to all the ones who have already taken their lives because of cuts cuts cuts cuts n more cuts.

“I’m so disappointed in people in general because of all the hatred towards different groups of people.

“And it’s now going to get worse. Thanks a bunch.”

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/17/faced-with-five-more-years-of-tory-persecution-disabled-people-are-losing-hope/

Mrs. Mike is not alone. I know some readers on this blog with health issues were afraid that the Tories would win before the election result, and what it would mean for them. And this feeling is likely to be shared by the disabled, long-term sick and unemployed generally. So why have people ignored them, and voted for a government which actively persecuted them?

I don’t quite have all the answers, but here’s some ideas I have. Firstly, I think most people are unaware of the problems those hit by New Labour’s and the Tory’s welfare reforms have in making ends meet. And they almost certainly don’t know how biased and humiliating the ‘fitness for work’ tests and the Jobcentre can be.  Unless they’ve actually been in an interview with a disabled person, and see it all happen for themselves, or personally experienced it, it has no meaning for them. The newspaper reports are just that. Something that’s in the paper. And it’s out of their minds as soon as they turn the page.

And the Tories and Tory press have been very good at framing the narrative in Orwellian terms to hide and distort the truth. Left-wing bloggers and advocacy groups have pointed out that, thanks to papers like the Heil, the general public now believes that 27 per cent of welfare claims are fraudulent. The reality is that it’s only 0.7 per cent.  And if you talk to people, there’s always someone they know, who’s managed to work the system. Sometimes it’s personal, sometimes it’s just an individual or group of people they’ve seen on TV, particularly in ‘poverty porn’ shows like Benefits Street. This is used to maintain the attitude that the state really is supporting people and giving cheats more than enough money, and to dismiss the genuine suffering of others.

Older people may also be more inclined to dismiss or ignore stories of rising poverty because of conditions they endured when they were younger. I remember that even in the 1970s, when the affluent society supposedly was just beginning, it could be a real struggle for working/ lower middle class people. This was ameliorated in many cases through the greater sense of community, where neighbours and relatives helped each other out. That sense of community seems to have vanished as society has in general become more affluent and individualistic. And so some older people ask how the younger generation can really be poor and need to use food banks when they can afford luxury items like satellite & cable television, computers, mobile phones and so on. In fact, computers now aren’t a luxury item. I don’t know about primary schools, but some universities at least expect their students to write their assignments on computer. Computers are used to search out information for homework, and so for many school pupils and students, they’re a necessity. But nevertheless, the attitude among some people is that if people are poor, it’s because they’re ‘feckless’, to use Gordon Brown’s notorious term. They’re profligate with their money, frittering it away of luxuries which they never had in their youth. Being poor, to them, means being dirt poor and definitely not being able to afford the goods and services which are now taken as part of normal, everyday life.

This is reinforced by the Tory press, which seeks to divide those in work but struggling from those on welfare. The line pushed here is that the virtuous, thrifty but insecure are being penalised through high taxes to support scroungers.

The Tories and the compliant press are also devious in the way they present their reforms. Mike and others have posted pieces pointing out exactly what it means for the disabled when the Tories abolish the need for doctor’s note for decisions on whether a disabled person is fit for work. This means that the assessor can arbitrarily decide that a person is able to work based on their own prejudices or pressure from those higher in the administrative chain without needing to consult their doctor, who obviously may have a far better understanding of that person’s needs and disabilities than they do. It leaves disabled people vulnerable to being considered ‘fit for work’ and thrown off benefits when they are in no such state. But as Mike has shown, the headlines about it in the Tory press present it positively. The sick and disabled, it proclaims, are freed from the burden of having to make a doctor’s appointment. Less bureaucracy! Less hassle! I doubt many people like having to make medical appointments like that, but they have to be done. But the Tory spin is that it saves people from unnecessary trouble without mentioning how vulnerable this makes them.

And it’s through lies and spin like this that the British public is gulled into believing that the Tories aren’t destroying the welfare state, just making it more efficient. Giving more to honest claimants while weeding out the fraudsters. 

But there are very few real fraudsters, and the Tories are destroying the welfare state. Just like the Blairites also wanted. Fighting back means directly tackling and refuting the lies and poisonous attitudes.

130,000 people have already been killed by Tory welfare reforms. And if the Tories carry on, there’ll be at least a hundred thousand more. All denied by the Tories and their collaborators in the press, and justified by smooth lies and evil smears.

The Culpable Silence over the Genocide of the Disabled

March 20, 2017

Two weeks ago Mike over at Vox Political posted a piece about how he had praised on Twitter the Last Leg for its hosts describing the Tory government’s lethal policy of throwing disabled people off benefits for what it was: a disabled genocide. Alex Brooker and the show’s main man, Adam Hills had said of the policy

“At first these cuts looked like a good plan experiencing teething problems, then it started to feel like a badly executed system but now – it’s beginning to look a lot like disabled genocide.”

“This government is slowly killing off a generation of disabled people.””

He continued: “The only question is are they doing it on purpose? Because if you are, why stop at sanctions?

”Why not round us up put us on a reservation and sterilise the drinking water because that is literally more humane than what you’re doing right now. For any Conservatives watching that is not a genuine suggestion.”

Brooker and Hills then urged the government committee meeting to examine the issue not to issue bonus for swift assessments, but to punish people when they do so wrongly.

Mike makes the point that his blog had also been describing the Tory policy as a genocide for years. Mike also hoped this would spark a debate, but noted that the social media was far too much a minority pursuit to do so on its own. He hoped mentioning the Last Leg, a popular comedy news review show on Channel 4, would do something to get more people interested. Unfortunately, Mike was disappointed. After only a couple of days, the story had been overtaken by the controversy surrounding Emma Watson showing much of her bosom in one of the fashion magazines.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/05/praise-for-the-last-legs-attack-on-disabled-genocide-but-was-it-only-words/

I am not surprised there has been this silence over the organised murder of the disabled. Much of the supposed news content of the mass media is, as Mike and the other bloggers have pointed out time and again, ad nauseam, about provoking hatred and demonising those on benefits and particularly the disabled. Mike has frequently cited the statistic that while fraud accounts for only 0.7 per cent of benefit claims, the general public seem to have swallowed the media’s lie so that they believe 25 per cent of all benefit recipients are scroungers and malingerers. One of the worst offenders in this regard is the Daily Hail, where these stories are a constant staple of its ‘journalism’. The TV companies aren’t much better, however. Over the past few years we’ve also seen the emergence of ‘poverty porn’ TV series, like Channel 4’s Benefits Street, looking at the lives of Britain’s poorest people on welfare. These series also regularly show amongst their cast of real-life characters, at least one person, who is committing fraud. It wasn’t a coincidence that one of these series was produced by the TV company owned by Esther McVie, Cameron’s ‘Wicked Witch of the Wirral’, who was briefly in charge of throwing the disabled out off benefits and out of their homes when she was at the DWP.

The media’s and general public’s lack of reaction to the claim that Britain’s disabled people are being systematically targeted for extermination by an uncaring government reminded me of the controversy in America way back in the late 1980s and early 1990s about claims that there was a secret government plot to exterminate the Black population. Many Black Americans were so convinced of this, that Jack White, a journalist at Time magazine, wrote an article rebutting it with the title ‘Genocide Mumbo Jumbo’. Harry Allen, the ‘media assassin’ with the Black rap outfit, Public Enemy, was then asked to write a response to it. Adam Parfrey included the resulting article ‘How to Kill: Are Afrikan People Subjects of a Genocidal Plot?’ in his book Apocalypse Culture (Los Angeles: Feral House 1990) 229-44.

Apocalypse Culture is an anthology of essays and articles on fringe and extreme issues in America during the late ’80s and first year of the ’90s. Many of the articles are written from an occult perspective, or that of new religious movements, the paranormal, and extreme or fringe political movements so that the authors include the late head of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey and the founder of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammed, as well as Oswald Spengler, the conspiracy theorist John Shelby Downard and the chronicler of weird phenomena, Charles Fort, and the Red Brigades. This is genuinely transgressive writing. While I don’t agree with the occult and am not a member of a new religious movement or hold the extremist political views of some of the authors, this does not mean that I don’t think that some of the writers have a point.

Allen in his article interviewed Jack White and Asiba Tukahache, a First Nation American woman, who stated that she’d been aware of the genocide of Black people since 1973. Clearly the organised campaigns that have been inflicted on Black people and Indigenous Americans are different from the British government’s attacks on the disabled. Nevertheless, some of the observations Tupahache and White make do seem to parallel some of attitudes and the process of discrimination that disabled people on this side of the Pond are experiencing. For example, Tupahache remarks on the way racist portrayals of Blacks were still considered acceptable on television, and the way monuments to her people on Long Island were being obliterated in the 70s, at the same time Roots was on TV and everyone was talking about slavery. She said that what first brought this issue to her attention was

‘Seeing an ‘Inky’ Warner Bros. cartoon caricature on television. I was just amazed that the cartoon was still being shown, and just how easy it was for that to be shown, and no one objected. No one seemed to think anything was wrong. I started making photographs, taking pictures, shooting off the television-Flintstones cartoons, shooting ads out of magazines, billboards and everything. Just feeling like there was something I was going to do with it, just to tell everybody how wrong it was and how abnormal it was to pretend, or at least not know, that anything was wrong, when it really was a very hurtful thing. I didn’t what I was gonna do, I knew I was gonna do something, and I just started collecting stuff, and it turned into boxes…

I think the turning point was when some land markers were going to declare on (sic) of our ancestral areas Long Island’s first Black national land mark. It kind of flipped my brain inside out, trying to deal with the panic and outrage of my relatives, while at the same time trying to understand and cope with deaf, dumb and blindness of a public, who I thought wanted to know the truth, but who, in fact, only wanted to know what they wanted to hear. 1977, right after Roots was televised, and everybody was slave wild. And it was bicentennial time, and nobody wanted to hear about this obscure idea of a people called Matinecoc getting in the way of their slavery revelry and their bicentennial minutes.

Tupahache was nevertheless successful in bringing the issue to a large number of people, and said in the interview that she was overwhelmed by the public’s response. She stated that it had received

Very positive reactions, for those who have seen it. And I guess that’s probably what really overwhelmed me the most. The first week I sold a hundred copies of it, after a radio discussion on a show called Night Talk. I didn’t really understand the impact that it made on people, but it did [make one]. And just the process of sending them out to people, then finding it had been understood and useful was kind of a transition right there, because I had spent all the time gathering the evidence, figuring it out, writing it all out, and then sending it out. Saying goodbye to it.

She also makes the point that many people in Nazi Germany also did not believe that their government was trying to exterminate people because of their race.

Well, you have an environment of extreme terror. People are responding in terms of genocidal acts of aggression against them, because of how brutal things are and can be. And also, as DePres has said in his book, that a lot of people refused to believe that it was going on in Nazi Germany too.

And it was just that people who, quote, ‘live decently’, unquote, don’t want to think that there is anything going on around them that could mean a guilt on their part, or an examination of their lives, or a questioning of their own motives or failure to do something about it. But that has its opposite reaction: For all of that denial, you also have that very same panic and fear. Not that the fears of the people are unfounded, when I talk about panic, but from the absolute fright of what’s going on =which is so obvious to them, but is totally deniable and invisible to others who seem to wilfully not want to address it or change it.

There’s another form of absolute terror! When you totally rearrange what’s going on around you into “Mumbo Jumbo”, or to trivialise it, to the point of contempt, is another form of denial. To say it isn’t rue, to trivialize.

White and Tupahache also differed in their attitude to whether genocide was possible in a democracy. Tupahache did not believe it was, while White admitted it could. When asked if it was possible in the United States, he replied

Well, I think it’s probably unlikely. But sure, why not? I mean, probably not in the United States, but you’re asking in principle, right? In theory? Sure, I think it’s possible. I think that’s why in societies like this one we have constitutional protections: To protect minorities, because I think it’s always possible. I mean, the mass hysteria that attended the rise of Nazism in Germany could conceivably take rise in any society in the world, if had sufficient friction, and the right ethnic group, and the right sort of numbers involved. Again, I say, I don’t think that pertains to the United States, but it’s conceivable it could occur somewhere else, and probably has. I don’t know that it has but it probably has.

Some of the difference between White’s and Tupahache’s view of whether there is a Black genocide in America comes from their difference in attitude to what constitutes it. For White, it seems to be a matter of the use of physical force. For Tupahache, it comes through a system of racialization that denies people their nationhood and connection to the land, which makes them other than human, and which also leads the victims to blame themselves for the brutality that is inflicted upon them.

Reading these different, it’s clear from Tukahache’s experience that disabled people in Britain are not alone in finding that a public that considers itself liberal and informed does not want to hear about or discuss the way they are being systematically discriminated and killed through the withdrawal of the support they need. People don’t see it, because, like the racist images of Black people in mainstream culture, they don’t see anything wrong with it and don’t connect it to mass death.

The public is being told by the mass media that welfare recipients, and particularly the disabled, are all scroungers and malingerers, so they think that if people are being thrown off benefit, they’ve only themselves to blame, because they’re obviously a scrounger or malingerer. And like the Nazis, the Tories have been very carefully to keep the numbers of people they’ve killed from reaching the public. You look at the articles posted by Mike over at Vox Political about his struggle to get the information from IDS’ DWP. The Department refused again and again, decried his requests as ‘vexatious’, and did everything it could to block or evade answering the question. And it’s still doing so.

And my guess is that much of this indifference also comes from the was accusations of Fascism have become so routine, that there is a tendency not to take it seriously. For example, one of the people, who took the opportunity to pose on the empty fourth plinth as a public work of art, was a disabled woman in a wheelchair. She dressed in Nazi costume, and sat in her chair, on top of the plinth, as a protest against the government’s treatment of the disabled. This was reported in the Independent, and then, I think, forgotten. Yet another person from a minority making an hysterical and inflated claim to persecution.

My guess is that for most of the public, discrimination against the disabled is probably connected with issues of accessibility and jobs. These are issues of frustration and injustice, yes, but not at the same level as being herded into gas chambers, shot, or dragged into reservations or forced labour camps. And because of that – because the organised campaign to deny disabled people the funding they need to live, let alone live with dignity – it is easy for the public and the media to dismiss any complaints about genocide as grossly exaggerated. More inflated hyperbole from grievance-mongers.

Except that this is a genuine grievance, and the disabled are being genuinely killed by the government’s callousness and determination to save money, even if it means death to those refused it.

As for the issue of racial genocide, I’m afraid that now, after a quarter of a century, that seems far more possible in Trump’s America than it did when the article was first published. Trump’s administration is racist in its determination to deport and ban Latin American and Muslim immigration, and it includes people, who are genuinely racist and hold views that could reasonably be considered Fascist and White supremacist, like Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer and Sebastian Gorka. They need to be stopped, before they start killing people.

As for raising awareness of the genocide against the disabled in this country, Stilloaks, Atos Miracles and DPAC are publishing details of the people the government are victimising and throwing off benefit. I hope the Last Leg will continue to cover this issue, and persist in calling it what it is so that the Tories can’t get away with denying what they’re doing. There are artists out there, who’ve also made it the subject of their work. Johnny Void had on his site a few years ago a picture made up of smaller photos of some of the victims of the government’s policy. I hope they also carry on, and are joined by more artists, journalists and commenters. And perhaps what we need here is for a few more people on talk radio to cover this, and not be satisfied by the smooth, patronising lies of Damian Green, Iain Duncan Smith, Cameron or May.

Chunky Mark Asks What Cameron’s Legacy Will Be

July 14, 2016

This is another rant by the Artist Taxi Driver, in which he asks the question, what David Cameron’s legacy will be. He asks will it be the way he has given a banquet for the rich, and more poverty and misery for the poor, and then goes on to list nearly every wretched policy Cameron has passed, such as:

Shaming the poor on benefits, like the wretched TV show, Benefits Street, cutting services, selling off the libraries, parts of the fire service; the privatisation and marketization of the NHS; the academisation of our schools, tripling tuition fees, cutting benefits for the disabled; the work capability test, workfare, zero hours contracts, his shameless tax evasion and tax cuts for the rich, the Panama papers, the ability to lie without blinking, fracking, the Katie Hopkins-style demonization of refugees fleeing war in their homelands, including the vilification of those poor souls, who didn’t make it, and now lie dead at the bottom of the sea; state surveillance, selling people’s data, workers’ rights, the abandoning of human rights, Brexit and the consequent small-minded racist isolationism, knocking down social housing, a ‘home-owning democracy’, in which few, in fact, can afford their own homes; the sale of the land registry, and the land itself, to billionaires resident in the Cayman Islands; his relationship with Rupert Murdoch, Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson; a man sent to jail for stealing a Toblerone; another man dying of exposure after being evicted for squatting; being part of that whole Eton, Bullingdon-boy culture, and wandering around during the 2012 riots wearing loafers.

This is just about everything, absolutely everything Cameron has done and stands for. It’s a catalogue of just how much Cameron has brought down the country, although in fairness, it’s not all his fault. He’s just continued with the privatisation of the NHS, following on from Tony Blair, who followed on from Major, who took up where Thatcher left off. The work capability assessment was also another idea taken over from New Labour. And all the administrations since Thatcher, with the exception of John Major, were all over Rupert Murdoch. Major would have liked to have been too, but Murdoch switched his loyalty to the Warmonger of Islington.

What, therefore, is going to be David Cameron’s legacy? After this long, list of evil and iniquity, the Chunky One concludes that it’ll be Cameron inserting his private member into the mouth of a dead pig.

Secular Talk: Fox News Attacks Minimum Wage Worker, Who Couldn’t Afford Food

February 28, 2016

This shows just how low and bitterly anti-poor Fox News is. In this piece from Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski discusses a segment from Fox News in which the host, Sandra Smith, invited on to talk cosily with Stefanie Williams, the author of an internet piece attacking Talia Jane. Jane was a worker on the minimum wage, who had written a piece on Yelp stating that despite working full time for her employer, she still could not afford to buy food, as 80 per cent of her income was spent on rent. She stated that she was tired of working for an employer that did not watch her back, and included her paypal address and an appeal for people to help her pay her rent. This piece got her the sack from the company’s CEO.

Smith congratulates Williams for writing her piece attacking Jane, stating that millennials have an undeserved sense of entitlement. Williams preens herself on receiving so many letter from other people, who believe she has spoken up for them, and stating that they have had trouble making ends meet, but have buckled down and worked harder. She also criticises Jane for having a paypal account and wanting people to help her pay her bills.

Kulinski rightly describes this as ‘a new low’. He observes that Williams and others like her are all ‘useful idiots’ for the millionaires and billionaires, who have rigged the economy in their favour. For example, the richest people in America are the Walton family, a group of about six people. They have more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent of Americans. And this money is largely inherited. Globally, the richest 62 people on the planet have more money than the bottom 3.7 billion. Williams and the others have internalised the idea that America is a meritocracy, and all you need to do is work harder to succeed. Talia Jane’s case shows that this isn’t true, as the woman was already working a full time job.

As for the millennials’ sense of entitlement, the anger stems from the fact that the previous generation has wrecked the economy. They produced the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the recession, and created the conditions where few can now afford mortgages and the only jobs are in the low paid sectors. And now they’re blaming the younger people for complaining about the recession and poor economic prospects they’ve created. This is, as Kulinski says, ‘victim blaming 101’. The whole argument is based on the idea that if you don’t succeed in meritocratic America, then it’s because there’s something wrong with you morally.

Now this is another piece that’s clearly American, but it has implications for us over here in Britain as well. Channel 5 is already doing this kind of criticism of the poor with its ‘poverty porn’ shows, like Benefits Street. Murdoch, who owns Fox with a Saudi billionaire, wants to have the Beeb privatised, so he can move into the vacuum created by the demise of the public service broadcast. The Beeb isn’t perfect, and it’s right-wing bias infuriates me as well, but it is not as right-wing as Fox. And if Murdoch got his way, that’s all you’d get for your daily news. More right-wing, Conservative, hate and bile at the poor.

A few days ago Mike at Vox Political posted up a video made by a young woman in the Guardian, about what life is really like for the poor. She’s right to do so, and I’ll get round to reblogging that soon. But Fox is the people, who want to shout these voices down.

Explaining the Coalition’s War on the Poor and Disabled

February 4, 2014

Stow Rich Poor

A rich man ignoring a beggar’s cries for charity, from Bateman’s Chrystal Glass of Christian Reformation of 1569

The Coalition is responsible for some of the harshest and punitive legislation directed at the poor, the unemployed and the disabled in recent years. Under the pretext of trying to pay off the immense debt created by the bank bailout, Cameron and Clegg have together passed highly illiberal legislation intended to pare down the welfare state to its barest minimum. The result has seen as massive resurgence in poverty in the UK, with thousands now reduced to relying of food banks or scavenging in skips for food. This has been accompanied by a concerted campaign of vilification and demonization directed at the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. The middle market tabloids, the Daily Mail and Express, are notorious for their attacks on single mothers, unemployed ‘scroungers’ and immigrants, whom they scream – one cannot, in all decency, describe their shrill headlines with anything as mild as ‘allege’ or ‘contend’ are here to claim Britain’s generous welfare payments. The BBC and Channel 4 have both screened documentaries purporting to show the reality behind those claiming job seekers allowance. The most recent of these was ‘Benefits Street’ on Channel 4. These have singled out and portrayed the unemployed as, at best, idle scroungers, and at worst a criminal or semi-criminal underclass living by fraud and theft in an underworld of drug taking and violence.

This viciousness even extends to the disabled. The pseudoscientific assessment practised by ATOS on behalf of the government is designed to declare as many of the disabled to be as fit for work as possible. The result has seen severely and terminally ill people thrown off benefit. Thousands have taken their lives in despair as a result. Stilloaks has compiled a list over that his site, and the Void and Mike over a Vox Political, and many, many other have also blogged on this. As many as 38,000 people may have died as a result of benefit sanctions inflicted by the Department of Work and Pensions and the policies of Ian Duncan ‘Matilda’ Smith and Esther ‘McLie’ McVey. These are just guesses, however, as the DWP will not release the figures for the years after 2011. This indicates that the statistics are truly shaming, even for a department run by those two callous incompetents.

I know a number of disabled people and their families, who believe that society is now much less considerate in its treatment of the disabled personally. One man I know, whose wife is sadly confined to a wheelchair, told me that he and his wife have, at times, experienced rudeness and sometimes abuse from members of the public. He initially put this down to the influence of Little Britain, where one character only feigns his disability and is, when his brother’s back’s turned, perfectly fit, well and active. My own feeling is that things are rather more complicated, and that such attitudes probably spring as well from media reports exposing some of those who have notoriously feigned disability in order to collect benefits. The reporting of such crimes is out of all proportion to the amount of fraud that actually goes on. In reality, it’s negligible – less than 1 per cent. nevertheless, this has formed another pretext for cutting and ending benefits and services to the disabled.

This situation needs explanation. Almost everyone would agree that a truly civilised society is one that extends help to its poorest, most disadvantaged citizens. Why, then, does this government, and the right-wing media that back it, support such severe attacks on the very poorest members of society.

There appear to be several causes to this. They are

1. An attitude towards poverty, derived from the Victorian, but dating from the Middle Ages, that sees poverty as the fault of the poor themselves through their own immorality.

2. A fear that the poor somehow represent a dangerous drain on public resources and a threat to the social order. State support must be limited in order to prevent them increasing.

3. An appeal to popular selfishness, by which government ministers and their media supporters present taxes levied to support the poor as being an unwelcome imposition on the good, self-sufficient moral public. These in turn are described as being somehow penalised for their sturdy self-sufficiency. Hence the comments by politicians of capping benefits so that ‘strivers’ are not upset by the sight of their unemployed neighbours living well on benefits.

Behind these attitudes are the class interests of the upper and upper middle classes. The Coalition’s administration has marked one of the most extreme shifts of wealth from the poorest to the richest since that of Margaret Thatcher. The Tories in particular have enacted a series of policies designed to break organised working class resistance and open the poor up to further exploitation by the multinational firms, who constitute their paymasters. The tax breaks enacted by the Coalition have benefitted the very richest the most. Furthermore, the denial of state support to the poor and the privatisation of the NHS is designed to open them up as a potential market for private health care and insurance. In this, provoking hatred by the insecure but working towards the unemployed and disabled is a useful tool, as it prevents the two groups developing a solidarity that could challenge and potentially overturn such policies.

The punitive attitude to the unemployed can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Then as now there was a debate between theologians and political writers on whether charitable support should be given to the unemployed. The outbreaks of mass poverty caused by the Enclosures and depressions in 16th century England also created the fear amongst the ruling class of the threat to social order posed by roving bands of masterless men. Hence the harsh legislation against vagabonds and the general unemployed. One law, which became a dead letter, state that if an employer offered a job to an unemployed man, he had to take it. If he did not, the prospective employer could seize him and force him to work for free. These days, it’s simply called workfare. Under George Osborne, the unemployed can now be forced to work for big business in order to get their benefits. A further piece of legislation dreamed up by Gideon, sorry, George, means that even those, whose benefits have been stopped by sanctions, must perform workfare for free.

Vlad Dracula

Vlad Dracula of Wallachia, the model for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He had all the beggars in his principality burned to death at a banquet. IDS and McVie haven’t done anything that obvious yet, but they’re trying their best to match his killing of the poor and unemployed.

This fear of the threat posed by unemployed and disabled beggars was taken to its most brutal extreme by Prince Vlad Dracul of Wallachia, the Romanian prince, who provided Bram Stoker with the historical model for Count Dracula. Concerned by the increase in beggars in his principality, Vlad organised a feast to which they were all invited. When all the beggars had entered the hall in which it was to be held, Vlad ordered the doors closed and barred, and had the place burnt down. The Coalition haven’t done anything as blatant as that, but with the poor and disabled dying of despair and starvation by the tens of thousands at their hands, the effect is the same.

Medieval ideas of the deserving and undeserving poor, and the fear of the political dangers posed by them, also underlie the Victorian ideas about respectability and its opposite. The historian Eric J. Evans describes these ideas in The Forging of the Modern State, 1783-1870

‘An important distinction in mid-Victorian Britain was between respectability and non-respectability. Respectability consisted in earning a degree of independence by one’s own efforts, in self-discipline (especially in sexual and bibulous matters), and in veneration for home and family as the basic social organism from which all other virtues flowed. The non-respectable could not provide for their families without State or charitable aid, were sexually promiscuous, regularly drunk, failed to put enough aside for rainy days and flitted from one rented tenement to another, as often as not to avoid paying their dues…

… Moral imperatives were necessary not just for reasons of ostentatiously sanctimonious piety (though the Victorians had their full share of such qualities) but to prevent a grand explosion. The Victorians dubbed those who did not live by their rules ‘the dangerous classes’ and they meant the phrase to be taken literally. The idle, drunken, rootless lower orders represented more than a moral affront; they threatened progress.’ (p. 280).

Thomas Malthus believed that state assistance to the poor was wrong, as if they were given such aid, their numbers would only increase to be a further burden on society. Hence the principle of ‘less eligibility’ in the Liberals New Poor Law of 1833 that established the Workhouses. The Angry Yorkshireman at Another Angry Voice has covered this particularly well. This was the view that conditions in the workhouses should be so harsh, that the poor would not take up such assistance unless they were driven by absolute necessity.

This attitude also extended to private charity. Margaret Thatcher the rest of the transatlantic New Right extolled the virtues of private charity over state aid, as they felt it was more effective than state benefit. It also had the advantage of being purely voluntary. The Victorians had a slightly different view. They were worried about the extent of the provision of charity in terms that are strikingly similar to Conservative American criticisms of ‘cradle to grave’ socialism. Dr Stallard declared at a meeting of the National Association for the promotion of Social Science in 1868 that ‘There is not a want, or form of human wretchedness, for which provision is not made in more or less degree … from the cradle to the grave, benevolence steps in to offer aid’. The year after he made this speech, the Charity Organization Society was set up to rationalise the amount of money given away to the poor. The ‘vicarious and indolent charity’ targeted by the Society was that which simply did not benefit the recipient. The Society therefore distinguished between the deserving and undeserving poor, and attempted to ensure that the donations given were both uplifting and actually improved those who received it. These were frequently taught the error of their ways, so that they did not return to relying on charity.

These policies have re-entered British politics through the influence of the American sociologist Michael Harrington and the welfare policies of Richard M. Nixon. Harrington was concerned about the existence of extreme poverty in America’s Black ghettos. His classic study of them, The Other America, was designed to stimulate discussion of the roots of such poverty and persuade the government and charities to act. Unlike left-wing critics of poverty, he did not trace the causes of such deprivation in the wider structure of American society and its economy, but believed the fault lay in the poor themselves. They were kept poor by a ‘culture of poverty’ that made them Other from the moral, industrious and prosperous rest of America. This attitude in turn influence the expansion of the welfare state constructed by Tricky Dicky. These were designed to combat poverty by providing state assistance, but this was to be made so humiliating that the poor would try to get off them as soon as possible.

This bourgeois ethic of respectability and hard work was also shared by the working class, and was seen by them and their rulers as they key to prosperity. Just before his death in 1865, Palmerston told a meeting of artisans that ‘Wealth is, to a certain extent, within the reach of all … you are competitors for prizes .. you will by systematic industry, raise yourselves in the social system of the country – you will acquire honour and respect for yourselves and your families. you will have, too, the constant satisfaction of feeling that you have materially contributed to the dignity of your country’. It sounds exactly like something Cameron or Gove would say today.

Despite a rising class consciousness amongst some working class radicals, there was considerable disunity amongst the British working class, which had strong feelings about the proper place each part had in the social hierarchy. One working class author stated in 1873 that

‘Between the artisan and the unskilled labourer a gulf is fixed. While the former resents the spirit in which he believes the followers of genteel occupations look down upon him, he in turn looks down upon the labourer. The artisan creed with regard to the labourer is, that they are an inferior class, and that they should be made to know, and kept in their place’.

This sounds very much like the ‘aristocracy of labour’, which Marx developed to explain why, contrary to his earlier expectations, the workers in Britain did not form a homogenous class ready to revolt against their masters and exploiters. Evans in the above book considers that this disunity arose through ‘the heterogeneity of Britain’s industrial base’ which ‘worked against the transmission of shared feelings of deprivation or exploitation despite the endeavours of bourgeois intellectuals to conceptualise economic development in terms of inevitable class struggle.’ (p. 173).

Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic and their supporters in the press have attempted to play on the variety and disunity of common feelings of solidarity in the working and lower middle classes by stoking fears of the unearned privileges experienced by certain groups of employees. Last year, for example, the Daily Mail followed American Conservatives in stoking resentment of state employees, by starting a campaign against the larger pensions civil servants supposedly enjoyed over those in the private sector. This was evidence of civil servant’s greed, rather than the result of the repressive wage structures of private industry. It served to distract attention away from the economic and political causes of deteriorating wages in the private sector by stirring up resentment of better paid employees.

Hence, too, the demonization of the poor and disabled as feckless scroungers, as this prevents the development of dangerous sympathies to them that would also upset the system of unfettered private industry loudly demanded and promoted by Cameron, Clegg and their lackeys.

And the attack on the welfare state has opened some very lucrative, captive markets for private welfare provision. Private Eye a little while ago produced an in-depth pull-out section demonstrating that the ludicrously expensive and exploitative ‘Private Finance Initiative’ was first proposed under Margaret Thatcher by, I believe, Peter Lilley, as a way of opening up the NHS to private industry. Mike over at Vox Political and Another Angry Voice have blogged repeatedly and provided a wealth of details about the connections the Tories and Lib Dems have to the firms seeking to profit from the NHS’ privatisation. This includes, no surprise! – Ian Duncan Smith. Other policies that seek to transfer state benefits to the private sector include the Workplace Pensions now being lauded by Nick Hewer in the government’s ads. A little while ago there was also talk about introducing private ‘unemployment insurance’ for those worried about the state provision they would receive if laid off. I don’t think that got very far, but it’s symptomatic of the way the private financial sector sought to exploit the increasing gaps in state welfare provision.

The Coalition’s vitriolic war on the unemployed, the poor, sick and disabled draws on notions of the deserving and undeserving poor in order to further bolster and expand the wealth and power of the extremely rich, and create a divided and powerless workforce oblivious to its exploitation and resentful of its more successful, and apparently less deserving neighbours. It opens the poor further up for commercial exploitation by insurance companies and private health care providers, like Unum. In this war to expand and entrench their own class interests, those now forced to scavenge from bins or die in poverty and despair are the true victims of an increasingly harsh and exploitative upper class, which needs their demonization to force their reforms through.