Posts Tagged ‘Conditionality’

G.M. Trevelyan and the Promotion of Victorian ‘Workhouse’ Values in the 20th Century

February 24, 2016

I’ve put up a few pieces in the past few days tracing Thatcher’s ‘Victorian values’ and the modern Tories’ emphasis on conditionality in welfare support – or what’s left of it – to the doctrine of less eligibility that insisted that welfare relief should be made as hard and uncomfortable as possible in order to dissuade the able-bodied poor from going on it. The recommendation of the Tory think-tank, Reform, that the disabled should be paid the same amount of relief as those without disabilities very strongly echoes the classic statement of the principles of ‘less eligibility’ as articulated by a Victorian Poor Law Commissioner.

G.C. Peden in his book, British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher (Deddington: Philip Allan Publishers Ltd 1985) describes how laissez-faire individualism was central to Victorian economic attitudes. He notes that it became a philosophy that permeated politics and social studies, and discusses the rise of the doctrine of ‘less eligibility’ and the 1834 Poor Law establishing the workhouses. He also mentions the work of the historian, G.M. Trevelyan, in continuing to promote the workhouse and the ideology behind it into the Twentieth century, writing

One man acting as a bridge between the centuries was G.M. Trevelyan, who was born in 1876 and who was Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge from 1927 to 1940. His British History in the Nineteenth Century and After first appeared in 1922 and was still being printed as a paperback in the 1960s. In it, Trevelyan gave a classic defence of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Before that date magistrates in England and Wales had had the power to supplement inadequate wages out of local rates – a form of relief which Trevelyan describes as destructive of self-respect and self-help, virtues which could be restored to what he called the ‘cringing poor’ only by the ‘intellectually honest’ if ‘harsh’ reform of 1834. (Trevelyan 1965, pp. 248-9). (p. 4). (My emphasis).

Trevelyan was one of the leading historians of that period, and my guess is that many schoolchildren and students studying history in the early and middle twentieth century were brought up on at least some of his works. My mother, for example, has a copy of one of them, though she certainly doesn’t share his attitudes. My guess is that Trevelyan’s works form the intellectual background to Thatcher’s ‘Victorian values’ and their re-emergence in the Tory party. Of course, she was greatly taken with von Hayek, slapping to down in front of her cabinet colleagues to say ‘This is what we all believe now’, but I think Trevelyan’s influence was already strong, at least in preparing the intellectual ground for von Hayek, Friedman and the like. And it’s disgusting that what should have gone the way of the 19th century is still blighting life in the early 21st.

The Victorian Ancestors of Alf Garnett and the ‘Thatcherite Workers’

February 24, 2016

John Stevenson, in his chapter ‘From Philanthropy to Fabianism’ in Fabian Essays in Socialist Thought, ed. by Ben Pimlott, (London: Heinemann Educational 1984) remarks on how the improvement of living and working conditions by municipal councils in Victorian and Edwardian England were often opposed, not so much by the upper classes, but by the lower middle and upper working classes. These parts of the lower classes were bitterly opposed to further rises in the rates, and so bitterly criticised the sections of the working classes below them.
He writes

Although growing national wealth meant that rateable values were increasing, providing greater funds for local government, there was already evidence that rate-payers, particularly at the lower end of the scale where they included some of the better paid workmen, self-employed artisans, shopkeepers and other sections of the lower middle class, were often opposed to demands for greater expenditure through the rates. Often, the most damning indictments of the poor came not from the rich, but from the ‘shopocracy’ and ‘respectable’ sections of the working class. (p. 25)(My emphasis). This is the ‘aristocracy of labour’, whose emergence Marx believed had interrupted the increasing impoverishment and radicalisation of the working classes, holding up the emergence of Socialism and the coming revolution.

Alternatively, you can see here the emergence of working class Conservatism, the ‘Alf Garnett’s and ‘Thatcherite workers’ that hated and continue to hate the people below them, despising them as the undeserving poor and all too eager to find ways to stop any expenditure on them. Maggie Thatcher was very definitely a member of the ‘shopocracy’, and it was the central plank in her claim to be somehow ‘working class’, even though she wasn’t. It’s roughly the strata of society that reads the middle-market tabloids, the Daily Mail and the Express. And its roughly the kind of people New Labour targeted as the ‘swing voters’ they need to get into power by taking over elements of Conservatism – the worship of Maggie Thatcher and the free market as universal panacea, welfare cuts and conditionality, all while loudly talking about ‘aspiration’. Well, very many people have aspirations, and they’ve seen them blocked by the Thatcherite attitudes espoused by very many individuals in this section of society. It’s time these class attitudes were tackled and removed, for the good of everyone.

Andreas Whittam Smith on the Tories: ‘Nasty, Stupid and Clumsy’

November 10, 2014

Mike over at Vox Political has an article on the Independent’s Andreas Whittam Smith’s description of the Tory party as ‘nasty, stupid and clumsy’, for their policies which penalise and impoverish the poor, the sick and the disabled. Smith notes that, contrary to their propaganda, the conditionality imposed by them on welfare payments does not help them into work. The barriers that prevent people from finding and holding a job are those of opportunities, lack of skills or training, illness and childcare problems.

Mike goes on to discuss how these issues are further expanded and explored in a report compiled by scholars at Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Stirling, discussed on Alan Wylie’s A Working Class Man blog. This also describes how working people have been forced further into poverty by the Tories’ welfare reforms. It also concludes that the conditionality of the Tories’ welfare system does not tackle the problems people really face finding and getting into work.

Furthermore, in order to make work pay, the Tories are going to remove further welfare benefits, including from those in work, thus making both working people and the unemployed worse off.

Mike’s article begins:

Independent luminary Andreas Whittam Smith reckons the Conservative Party in its current form is both nasty and stupid – and also clumsy, if his latest article is to be believed.

Nasty because of its aggressive behaviour – such as the decision to withdraw support for rescue operations that save thousands of migrants from drowning as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Or because of benefit assessment policies that mean people living with progressive and degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and rheumatoid arthritis are being subjected to what a group of charities describes as “upsetting and unnecessary” examinations to see whether they will recover enough to look for work in the future – a pointless exercise because their conditions are flagged up from the start as progressive and degenerative; they’re never going to get better.

Or because, after the Resolution Foundation found that one-in-five employees (4.9 million people) earned less than the living wage, George Osborne is promising that if the Conservative Party wins next year’s general election, then most welfare payments that the working poor rely on – including child benefit, tax credits, jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and income support – will be frozen in April 2016 for two years. They are currently rising by 1 per cent a year. He will make the working poor poorer.

This is all very Hobbsian. Thomas Hobbes was the 17th century philosopher, who believed that people were basically violent, predatory and rapacious, and if led to their own devices, society would degenerate into ‘the war of each against all’. He therefore championed a strong monarchy, or other central authority, to preserve peace, and the citizens’ lives and property. It’s been said that the American, and particularly the Neo-Con, view of society is essentially a Hobbesian one of cut-throat competition. It was Hobbes, who said that ‘in the state of nature the life of man is poor, nasty, brutish and short’. This succinctly describes the Tory vision for British society, and they have been very successful in putting into practice. For most working people, their lives are poorer, nastier, and their treatment more brutal, and their lives shorter every day the Conservatives are in power.

Mike’s article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2014/11/09/the-conservative-party-nasty-stupid-and-clumsy/