Posts Tagged ‘Disbility’

Protest at its Last Extreme: The Bodies of the Dead accuse their Political Murderers

February 6, 2014

Stalin Famine

Cartoon Showing Stalin responsible for the deaths of millions through his famines

I’ve been reading the descriptions of the suffering of the Russian people during the artificial famine caused by Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture in the 1930s In Alex de Jonge’s biography of Stalin. It’s truly horrifying stuff. Whole villages were found dead of starvation, while those pitiful souls, who made it into the town suffering from scurvy, boils and sores were rounded up by the authorities and thrown into cattle trucks, to be taken to the edge of the town. They were then dumped and left to die.

De Jonge also states that the peasants had a ‘fashion’ ‘that will appeal to those for whom only the blackest humour will do.’ He then describes how starving Soviet citizens took the bodies of dead friends or even strangers and arrange them at the feet of the statues of Lenin erected in many Soviet cities’.

You can either see this as a ghastly, morbid joke by a brutalised and dying people. Or you can also see it as a last, desperate protest by people, for whom all other forms of protest were closed and denied. Stalin had absolute control of the media and the Communist party itself. He had forced out of office any and all Communist politicians, who had any sympathy whatsoever with the peasants, such as Bukharin. Bukharin was particular unpopular with the rest of the Communist party as he was a vocal supporter of the Lenin’s New Economic Policy, which established a mixed economy, and had made a speech to the peasants telling them to ‘enrich themselves’. Needless to say, after he was forced from office he later died in one of Stalin’s purges.

The pyramidal structure of Soviet politics meant that ordinary Soviet citizens did not have any political power. There had been armed resistance to the collectivisation programme. De Jonge states that in one area there were 150 peasant uprisings, as the smallholders rose up against the regime and its officials, who wished to take away their land, crops and livestock. These were described as ‘women’s rebellions’, and put down ruthlessly.

And so ultimately the only form of protest the peasants and other citizens of the USSR had against a regime that was killing them in their millions was to lay the bodies of the dead at Lenin’s feet as the last, most powerful, mute accusation.

There’s also another similarity between the Coalition’s attack on the disabled and poor, and the Communist apparatchiks who robbed and killed the starving of the USSR under Stalin. Both regimes blame the victims. The Soviet officials in charge of collectivisation blamed the peasants themselves for the famine, claiming that they were deliberately withholding food in order to bring down the Communist system. This accusation reached its most paranoid, ludicrous extreme in the January 1930 edition of the Ukrainian Communist magazine, Collective Farm Activist. This rag hysterically accused the peasants of deliberately starving themselves to death to undermine the Soviet state: ‘they have grain [but] deliberately starve themselves and their families to death in order to sow discontent among other collective farm workers’.

ukraine-great-famine-2011-11-26-11-31-19

A Ukrainian woman reads the names of the victims of Stalin’s famine in her country during a special ceremony to commemorate them in November 2011.

The Coalition and many of their apparatchiks at Jobcentre Plus and the Department of Work and Pensions similarly blames the disabled and unemployed themselves for their condition. They are able to work, they’re just feckless layabouts. At the last interview I had at the Jobcentre Plus here in Bristol, at Eagle House, I was more or less told by a young woman, ‘Arti’, that I should stop coming in as I was ‘not allowing us to help you’. She also asked me rhetorically if I was continuing to come in to make a point. She would have been brilliant in the purges.

‘Are you guilty?’
‘Very guilty, O Stalin!’
‘Then let the mad lice be shot!’

Cameron Pic

David Cameron, whose cuts to benefits have resulted in the deaths of as perhaps as many as 38,000 per year. Not as much as Stalin, but getting there.

I wondered if a far milder form of this protest could be used to protest the ruthless policies of Cameron and Clegg and their lackeys Ian Duncan ‘Matilda’ Smith and Esther ‘McLie’ McVie. People are dying in their tens of thousands now, in 21st Century Britain, due to despair and starvation as the Coalition throws them off benefit. The true figures are not released, and the extent of the deaths little reported by a largely Right-wing media. I’ve reblogged a piece by Sue Marsh from Diary of a Benefits Scrounger on her experiences of being bounced back into the audience, mendacious editing, and simply being cancelled on various television shows purporting to investigate the condition of the disabled. Benefits Street on Channel 5 was merely the latest of these. Her piece is very well worth reading, as she presents a ream of statistics about the cuts to benefits for the disabled that is very definitely not reported. Mike over at Vox Political has also repeatedly blogged on the right-wing bias of the BBC’s reporting on the cuts under Jonty whatever-his-name-is, the current gauleiter in charge of the gleichschaltung of BBC News for the Tories. There’s a real problem in that the protests against the cuts aren’t reported by the Beeb or the rest of the media.

Maggie Cartoon

Anti-Maggie Cartoon. The caption reads ‘Never have so many been robbed of so much for the benefit of so few’.

I wondered if one way of making the point that this Coalition is murdering people in the tens of thousands is use similar imagery to that of the starving in Stalin’s Russia. Stilloaks on his blog has a list and potted biographies of 45 or so people, who have so far died through having their benefit removed by ATOS. It seems to me that one way of waking people up to the way the Coalition’s policies are killing people would be to organise a demonstration, where model coffins or candles, with the names of some of the deceased, were carried by the protesters and laid at an image or statue of David Cameron, or, for real shock value, Margaret Thatcher. After all, she was the ultimate architect of the free-market attacks on the welfare state that Cameron has merely continued and extended. And as we’ve seen from demands by some of the madder Tory politicos, there’s a real cult of Maggie just as great on the Right as Lenin was for the Communist faithful. After all, one of them wanted the May Day Bank Holiday to be renamed in Thatcher’s honour. Previously they just wanted to be restored to St. George’s Day, so that the English can have a national holiday like the Welsh, Scots and Irish. So the cult of Maggie even trumps patriotism. The names and photographs of some of the deceased should be carried, read out and laid at Cameron’s feet.

I’ve no doubt that protests like this have probably been done already, but I think it really needs to be repeated again and again to make the point inescapable. If nothing else, it should show how closely the Coalition of Cameron and Clegg resembles another doctrinaire and murderous regime, which they despise so much and whose despicable utilitarian attitudes to its workers they fully share.

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Paul Foot on the Insurance Company Unum and Cuts to Disability Benefit in Private Eye from 1995

August 12, 2013

Paul Foot, the journalist brother of Labour leader Michael Foot, had a regular column in Private Eye until his death. Entitled ‘Footnotes’, this documented the abuse of corporate and political power, and Right-wing attacks on welfare, the poor, the disabled, minorities and the working class. After his death it became ‘In the Back’, and is one of the features that lift the Eye above being merely another humour magazine making cheeky comments about politicians and celebs. One of the companies standing behind the Coalitions cuts to disability benefit and the welfare state is the American private insurance company, Unum. Paul Foot turned his gaze on the company way back in the Eye’s issue for the 16th June 1995, when they were hired by Major’s Social Services Secretary, Peter Lilley. The article went as follows:

Doctor on Call

To help him in his bid to save £2 billion a year by slashing the benefits of disabled people, Peter Lilley, social services secretary7, has hired the vice-president of a big multinational insurance company which is usinig the benefit cuts to boost its sales.

Overcoming the xenophobia to which he so often gives voice at Tory party conferences, Mr Lilley has appointed an American.

Founded in Portland, Maine, in 1848, the Unum Corporation describes itself as “the world’s leading light in disability insurance”. Unum Ltd, its British arm, is based in Dorking, Surrey. It issued its annual report last September, when chairman Ward E. Graffam enthused about “exciting developments” in Britain.

He explained: “the impending changes to the State ill-health benefits system heralded in the November 1993 Budget will create unique sales opportunities across the entire disability market and we will be launching a concerted effort to harness the potential in these”. In January, the full extent of Lilley’s plans to replace invalidity benefit with incapacity benefit revealed to the Commons. Estimated “savings” for the year 1995-1996 were £410 million; for 1996-97 £1.2 billion; and for 1997-98 an astonishing £1.7 billion.

Obviously, with so much less government money going to sick and disabled people, the opportunities for private disability insurance were enormous. No longer could people rely on benefit income if they became ill or disabled. They would have to fend for themselves. Accordingly, UNUM Ltd, as its chairman had promised, “launched a concerted effort to harness the potential”. In April this year, a glamorous and expensive advertising campaign coincided with the new rules for incapacity benefit.

One UNUM ad warned: “April 13, unlucky for some. Because tomorrow the new rules on state incapacity benefit announced in the 1993 autumn budget come into effect. Which means that if you fall ill and have to rely on state incapacity benefit, you could be in serious trouble”. Lurid tables estimating weekly outgoings for an average family at £276, and benefit under the new rules at £100, urged people to “protect yourself with a Long Term Disability policy from UNUM”.

Crucial to the new rules were tougher medical tests to find out if people really are incapacitated. The Benefits Agency Medical Services (BAMS) recruited a new corps of doctors to carry out new “all-work tests”. The basic change in the tests was simple. In the past, disabled or sick people were entitled to benefit if they could no longer do their job. From now on, people are entitled to benefit only if they can do no work at all.

The new medical tests were fundamental to the “savings” Lilley hoped for. If the tests were too lax – if doctors were allowed to slide into sentimental slackness in assessing peoples’ ability to do any work at all – the whole purpose of the tests would be thwarted. So Lilley’s department set up an “incapacity benefit medical valuation group” to “monitor and validate the quality standards for the doctors involved in the all-work assessments”.

The most famous member of the group is Dr John Le Cascio, second vice-president of the Unum Corporation, who has recently been seconded to the company’s British arm. Dr Le Cascio was also invited last year by Lilley’s department to help in the extensive training of doctors in the new techniques of testing. The DSS stresses that “the doctors don’t decide the incapacity benefit – that is done by an adjudication officer”. No doubt; but the officer makes a decision on the expert medical information provided by the tests.

No press release was issued about Dr Le Cascio’s appointment. No one told taxpayers that the DSS is shelling out £40,000 to Unum Ltd for D Le Cascio’s services in the year from October 1994 to September this year. A DSS spokeswoman explained: “this comes down basically to a daily rate of £440 a day. That’s cheap for a consultancy, actually.”

The Eye asked Dr Le Cascio if he agreed there was an absolutely obvious conflict of interest in his position as validator and monitor of tests for a benefit, the cutting of which was being exploited to the full by the advertisements for his company. He replied:

“Well, I don’t feel that way of course, and if I did I wouldn’t have accepted the job. I was brought in for a specific reason, and that is to teach some of the medical principles which are contained in the design of the new test – that’s what I do, that’s my area of expertise. I’m a technical person and I can do that. To me, there is no sort of conflict as long as I do that job. I feel comfortable doing it, and I assume that those n the department feel comfortable with my contribution. The reason they’ve turned to me is because the commercial insurers have been working with this sort of valuation system for a long time and that’s where the knowledge lies”.

And in that article you can see the origins of the whole modern benefits system. The use by the government of a private company, in this case Unum, that stands to profit from cuts to the welfare system and the recruitment of new corps of professionals by BAMS to make the tests more difficult. The only difference is that BAMS has now gone and been replaced by ATOS. It’s another example of the way Blair merely inherited and developed a system that was put forward by the Tories.

Graffam

Graffam

Lilley

Peter Lilley