Posts Tagged ‘Lewis Wolpert’

The Continuing Scandal of the DWP Asking the Depressed Why They Haven’t Committed Suicide

March 18, 2017

Mike this week put up a piece reporting and commenting on the admission by Maximus that they do indeed ask depressed people questions about suicide as part of the Work Capability Assessment. See are several questions. The first questions simply ask them if they have had thoughts about suicide, and the frequency and severity of these thoughts. These are, in my view, reasonable questions. Or rather, it would be if it were part of a genuine medical examination as part of a real programme to make that person well again. Depression isn’t a case of being ‘a bit down’. It is, as the British medical scientist, writer and Humanist, Lewis Wolpert described it in the title of his book, ‘A Malignant Sadness’. Clearly, if someone does have thoughts about suicide, they are extremely unwell and desperately need help.

The other questions, however, is unwarranted and frankly dangerous. The depressed person is then asked

“And what is it that stops you from acting on the thoughts that you have?

“Can you think of any reason that you’re not doing that? Is it friends or family support?”

Now it should be clear to anyone with the most meagre level of intelligence that asking people, who are already mentally fragile and have admitted they think of doing themselves injury or actually killing themselves, why they haven’t done so is extremely dangerous. My guess is that the way it is phrased in particular makes the question seriously unethical, as it seems to assume that the depressed person is not seriously troubled by these thoughts unless he or she has tried to act them out.

I don’t know, but I can imagine that if a social scientist or medical professional doing research amongst the clinically depressed asked the question, they could be hauled up before their relevant bodies overseeing professional standards for ethics violations or misconduct. As part of their training, social scientists are told not to phrase questions in the form of ‘You’re not…are you?’ And the Hippocratic Oath, a form of which doctors were required to take until recently, contained the provision ‘And I shall do no harm.’ These questions seem close enough to the first question, at least in spirit, to make them also unethical, while violating that provision of the ancient doctor’s Oath in that they could seem to some to be suggesting that they should.

The Work Capability Test itself is a scientific travesty. It is based on spurious and scientifically invalid research supposedly linking recovery to illness to mental attitude. The whole wretched test was introduced by Blair and his coteries on the recommendation of the American insurance fraudster, Unum, in a conference in the first years of this century. It is based on the attitude, shared by the Blairites and the Tories, that nearly everyone claiming invalidity or sickness benefit is a malingerer, despite the fact that such fraud only counts for 0.7 per cent of such claims.

The question also shows the immense double standards about health that persists between us and our rulers. It’s assumed that asking a severely ill person why they haven’t harmed themselves or committed suicide is acceptable. But heaven help anyone, who asked the same question of a captain of industry or leading politician why they haven’t tried to commit suicide, and you can imagine the feeding frenzy from an outraged press.

For example, the Blairite contender for the Labour leadership and flagrant liar, Angela Eagle, was asked by Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics about Tony Blair and whether the vile warmonger should face trial for leading Britain into an illegal war. Tellingly, she said no, as ‘Tony’s been through the wringer’. Thus showing that she cared more for the Dear Leader’s anguish than for the real horror he has inflicted on hundreds of thousands, of not millions of innocent people, who have been killed, tortured and forced out of their homes through the carnage he and that other malignant creature, George Dubya Bush, have created through their war. I don’t know what Neil’s response was, but can you imagine the outrage that would have resulted if Neil had said, ‘Well, he can’t be going through too much trouble, ’cause he’s still walking’.

Or if one of the other interviewers asked the same question of one of the Tories, like Theresa May, David Cameron, or the people directly responsible for the question: Ian Duncan Smith and Damian Green. There would have been fury directed at the ‘left-wing’ BBC. How dare they suggest that a minister of the realm isn’t doing his job if he hasn’t committed suicide for his failures! Or even the suggestion that they have failed in their job, which the Tories have, spectacularly.

But if it is acceptable to ask a gravely disturbed person why they haven’t acted out their desires to harm themselves, then by the same standard it should be acceptable to ask the same questions of anyone, including and particularly the ministers that have formulated that question.

Now I am not suggesting that Blair, May, Cameron, aIDS or Damian Green should be asked these questions, or otherwise be told to kill themselves, for precisely the same reason I don’t think anyone should be asked these questions. I am merely trying to point out the double standards involved here.

Now I imagine that if they were asked about this question, Damian Green or his predecessor, the Gentleman Ranker (and a right ranker he truly was) would say, in their inimitably patronising manner, that they are only trying to gauge the severity of the illness. This is rubbish. The whole test is structured so that the government can find some pretext to deny paying the ill person disability benefit on the grounds that they’re still somehow fit for work.

And Mike and many other bloggers and disability activists also see something much more sinister here. Many tens of thousands of people have committed suicide, or died in poverty and misery after being thrown off benefit, although the DWP continues to deny it. See Stilloaks website and the blog, ATOS Miracles, for further coverage of this and the biographies and individual cases of some of the victims. For Mike and people like Jeff Davies, one of the long term commenters on my blog this is evidence of a covert, secret genocide of the disabled. The government wants them dead, because that way they don’t have to pay out to support them. They can continue lowering the taxes of their rich donors.

This is how it’s beginning to look to very many of us, whether we’re disabled or fit. The presenters of the Channel 4 comedy review show, The Last Leg, even said so themselves. There should be mass outrage about these questions and the test itself. That there isn’t is a major disgrace in itself.

Unemployment and Health in the 1980s

March 15, 2016

Earlier this morning I put up a piece urging people to look at an article on Mike’s blog, over at Vox Political, in which he discusses composing and sending in a form letter from claimants with depression. This, he argues, would make the connection between benefit sanctions and increased rates of depression and anxiety irrefutable. Despite numerous protests and warning from disability and mental health groups, and the medical profession, Ian Duncan Smith still refuses to accept that his wretched welfare reforms are pushing people into suicide and depression. As I said, he has no arguments against this. When pressed, he simply blusters about his beliefs, or goes into a huge rant about how no-one else is doing anything to solve the problem of long-term unemployment. He did this when he appeared on an edition of Question Time with Owen Jones, when the author of the classic book on the demonization of the working class took the bald brute to task for his callous and destructive policies. A foam-flecked angry rant followed.

Psychologists have presented statistics showing that over a quarter of a million benefit claimants have been pushed into depression and anxiety because of the DWP’s sanctions regime. 590 have died in poverty, of neglect, starvation and horrifically by their own hand. This on its own should be sufficient proof that IDS’ policies aren’t working. But it isn’t. Hence the need, so Mike argues, for the form letter.

In support of Mike’s argument, I quoted a piece from Eric Hopkins’ social history, The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes 1918-1990. He notes that in the depression of the 1930s, two unemployed men committed suicide every day. Later in the book he discusses the depression of the 1980s. He states that ‘How far real depression was suffered is impossible to quantify, and would depend on individual circumstances’. He also states that

(U)nemployment in itself does not appear to have contributed much to sickness rates. The Economist Intelligence Unit 1972 survey found that the unemployed were no more likely than the employed to visit the doctor, though slightly more on average were liable to have a long-standing illness; and there were higher rates of chronic sickness among manual workers who (as we have seen) were more subject to unemployment than skilled workers. (P. 20).

However, the Economist Intelligence Unit published some statistics in 1982 that shows that people’s self-respect and mental health were being damaged by unemployment.

About a fifth of those interviewed (19 per cent) confessed to being miserable or unhappy since losing their jobs; 17 per cent to being restless and bad-tempered, 15 per cent to being less patient and tolerant, and 13 per cent to being easily upset or snappy. Interviewees often mentioned becoming more aggressive, emotional and ashamed. As for material disadvantage, 13 per cent said they had been affected very badly, and 24 per cent that they were affected ‘fairly badly’; 32 per cent said they had not been affected at all (presumably they had been on low wages). Answers on this topic varies according to length of unemployment; of the long-term unemployed, 20 per cent said they had been badly affected, and 30 per cent affected ‘fairly badly’. (P. 218).

My guess is that if IDS is basing his denials on anything other than simple belief, it’s the statistics from the 1980s, as these would seem to confirm his own prejudices that no-one was being harmed by unemployment. Like most of the Tories, he believes that the unemployed are simply idle and workshy, and need to have a good dose of poverty in order to force them to get a job or work harder.

The problem for using the stats from the 1980s in this way is that conditions are now rather different. Those statistics come from a time when there were either no, or a much less rigorous system of benefit sanctions. The conditions unemployment benefit could be received was being cut. For example, I can remember that one of the conditions Maggie scrapped was unemployment provision for those going on holiday. However, it wasn’t quite like the absolute denial of income there is now, although there were certainly justifiable fears at the time that this would be the final result. And undoubtedly, many people were suffering genuine poverty.

The Gentleman Ranker is also basing his claim on discredited arguments about the existence of a dependency culture, largely coming from the American Republicans. When I found a booklet published by his moronic Social Justice Centre a few months in a second hand book shop, many of the arguments seemed to be based on experience in America. The blurb on the back declared that when benefits had been cut in America, welfare dependence had fallen in some cases by 40 per cent. That’s entirely possible, of course. It doesn’t, however, tell you whether those people then got a job, or if they just starved to death or subsisted on scraps from friends and relatives. And IDS can’t tell you either. All he does is rant about how it’s ‘what he believes’. Well, Smith can also believe that the Earth is flat, and Maggie was a titan of political insight and acumen, but that doesn’t make them true either.

The overwhelming evidence is that benefit sanctions are pushing the unemployed and disabled into anxiety and the ‘malignant sadness’, as the scientist Lewis Wolpert described depression in the title of his book on it. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone, given the statistics from the Economist Intelligence Unit on the way unemployment was affecting people’s minds and moods. But the evidence of statistics and medical professionals is, apparently, not enough to sway the mind of Ian Duncan Smith. This says all you need to know about the rationality of this government, and Smith’s own glaring unfitness for office.

Poverty Journalism and the Media Patronisation of the Poor

March 9, 2014

Thackeray Snob Cover

W.M. Thacheray’s The Book of Snobs (Alan Sutton 1989)

I’ve just reblogged Jaynelinney’s article criticising the media’s use of the poor as a kind of zoo, who can be patronised on camera by visits from ostensibly well-meaning celebrities and TV producers, expressing concerns about their plight. Her piece was inspired by the article, to which she links, in ‘Independent Voices’ in the Indie, about how the middle classes have been regularly traipsing into slums and working class poverty to see how the ‘other half’ live for almost 200 years now. That article mentions, amongst others, Henry Mayhew, the author of London Labour and the London Poor, and George Orwell’s classic, The Road to Wigan Pier, as well as more recent works by Polly Toynbee. Orwell comes in for something of a bashing as he undertook his journey to the heart of industrial darkness as a journo in search of a subject, not as a social campaigner. The book that followed annoyed a member of the National Unemployed Union so much, that he wrote his own book, tracing the journey in reverse, so that he travelled from the depressed areas to the leafy suburbs of Epsom. For the writer of the Independent article, what we need are fewer middle class writers patronising the working class, and more working class writers casting acerbic, jaundiced prose and writing at the Middle and Upper classes and their lives of wealth and luxury.

Thackeray and Snobs, Ancient and Modern

This would, actually, be an interesting experiment, and could produce something really radical. In the hands of a good writer, it could produce something like Thackeray’s The Book of Snobs, but with added social bite. Thackeray was, of course, solidly middle class, and certainly didn’t deny it. The book is subtitled ‘By One of Themselves’. It was originally published by Punch, when it was still slightly subversive, more like Private Eye today than the eminently respectable, establishment organ it later became. Each chapter describes a particular class of snob, who were defined as ‘someone who meanly admires mean things’. Reading it I was struck by how modern it still sounds, despite having first seen print in 1846-7. For example, Thackeray’s chapter on ‘University Snobs’ has this to say about the ‘Philosophical Snob’.

The Philosophical Snob of the 1840s and Their Modern University Descendants

Then there were Philosophical Snobs, who used to ape statesmen at the spouting-clubs, and who believed as a fact that Government always had an eye on the University for the selection of orators for the House of Commons. There were audacious young free-thinkers, who adored nobody or nothing, except perhaps Robespierre and the Koran, and panted for the day when the pale name of priest should shrink and dwindle away before the indignation of an enlightened world.

If you think of the earnest young people, who discovered radical politics at university, or who joined the Student Union and the various political associations with a view to starting a career in politics, or simply read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Uni before joining the staff of an MP on graduation as a researcher, then Thackeray’s description above actually isn’t that different from what goes on today. Robespierre, of course, was the leader of the dreaded Committee for Public Safety, responsible for killing hundreds of thousands during the French Revolution in the name of republicanism, democracy and Deism, so you can easily see a parallel there between the snobs earnestly reading his works, and some of the radicals in the 1960s, who joined the various Communist parties and loudly hailed Mao’s Little Red Book. As for the free-thinkers, who used to toast the day when the last king would be strangled in the bowels of the last priest, that reminds me of the various atheist and secularist societies that sprang up on campuses a few years ago, all talking earnestly about the threat of religion to science and quoting Richard Dawkins and Lewis Wolpert.

the Upper Classes at Uni, and the Perils of their Lower Class Imitators

But it is the poor university students who try to copy their far wealthier social superiors, about whom Thackeray is most scathing. He states:

But the worst of all University Snobs are those unfortunates who go to rack and ruin from their desire to ape their betters. Smith becomes acquainted with great people at college, and is ashamed of his father the tradesman. Jones has fine acquaintances, and lives after their fashion like a gay free-hearted fellow as he is, and ruins his father, and robs his sister’s portion, and cripples his younger brother’s outset in life, for the pleasure of entertaining my lord, and riding by the side of Sir John And though it may be very good fun for Robinson to fuddle himself at home as he does at College, and to be brought home by the policeman he has just been trying to knock down-think what fun for the poor old soul his mother!-the half-pay captain’s widow, who has been pinching herself all her life long, in order that that jolly young fellow might have a university education.

Unfortunately, little also seems to have changed here in the last nearly 170 year since Thackeray wrote that. I did some voluntary work a few weeks ago for M Shed here in Bristol. Many of the other volunteers were also university students and graduates, who were hoping to find a career in museum work. Discussing the country’s problems, one older lady stated very forcefully that the problem was that none of the country’s leaders now came from the working class. Just about everyone agreed with her on this point. One of the university students made the point very many have also made, about politicians coming directly from Oxford, where they studied PPE, and haven’t done a proper day’s work in their lives. The girl told us that one of her friends, who was ‘a little bit posh’, had gone to Oxford and been shocked at how dominated it was by the aristocracy. And have I heard of students, who have managed to irritate their fellows by copying the manners of Oxford upper crust.

Domination of Society by the Upper Classes, regardless of Merit

As for the chapter ‘What Snobs Admire’, where Thackeray describes the life and career of a fictional snob, Lord Buckram, who goes and gets flogged at Eton, studies at Oxford, and then marries well on graduation to a rich heiress, before taking his place among the gilded youth. Thackeray could be describing modern snobbery in all its pomp today, especially, but not exclusively, amongst the cabinet:

Suppose he is a young nobleman of a literary turn, and that he published poems ever so foolish and feeble; the Snobs would purchase thousands of his volumes: the publishers (who refused my Passion-Flowers, and my grand Epic at any price) would give him his own. Suppose he is a nobleman of a jovial turn, and has a fancy for wrenching off knockers, frequenting gin-shops, and half murdering policemen: the public will sympathize good-naturedly with his amusements, and say he is a hearty, honest fellow. Suppose he is fond of play and the turf, and has a fancy to be a blackleg, and occasionally condescends to pluck a pigeon at cards; the public will pardon him, and many honest people will court him, as they would court a housebreaker if he happened to be a Lord. Suppose he is an idiot; yet, by the glorious constitution, he is good enough to govern us. Suppose he is an honest, high-minded gentleman; so much the better for himself. But he may be an ass, and yet respected; or a ruffian, and yet be exceeding popular; or a rogue, and yet excuses will be found for him. Snow sill still worship him. Male snobs will do him honour, and females look kindly on him, however hideous he may be.

Snobbishness Revived, and Britain Going Back to 19th century

This just about describes the social privileges and the expectations of immediate public deference of the entire Tory front bench. All this was, of course, supposed to have been done away in the ‘white heat’ of the ’60s, when, along with the development of new technology, and new classlessness was supposed to have swept through the nation. Well, that may have been the case then, but things have since gone backwards. There are now fewer Labour MPs, who come from a working class background, than there were before the ’60s. Hugh Massingberd, in one of his essays in the Times in the 1980s, celebrated the revival of the fortunes of the aristocracy and the country house under Maggie Thatcher as ‘a new social restoration’. The Libertarians have emerged from out of the Union of Conservative Students to preach Von Hayek and Von Mises’ revival of classical economics, with all its faults, with the exception that in general the 19th century economists approved of trade unions. Well, the new classlessness of the 1960s has thoroughly died down, and the Coalition is leading us forward into the 19th century.

Blog of Interest: Depression’s Collateral Damage

July 14, 2013

I’ve added a new blog to the links here. It’s Depression’s Collateral Damage. It’s the blog of two people, who live with depressed spouses and have written books about coping with the situation. I’ve added it because unfortunately depression is rising in the UK. As I’ve blogged about before, there have been recent reports that depression is increasingly affecting children. According to a report in the Independent, some kids as young as eight now have thoughts of suicide. A few years ago there was a report that one quarter of university students will suffer from depression at some time during their studies. This is taken seriously by the universities themselves. On some university lecturer training courses they include this for those students wishing to pursue careers teaching in academia. It’s one reason why a student’s work may be poor. Rather than being lazy, which also occurs, they may actually be ill and finding life and work difficult.

The condition affects all manner of people, from all sections of society.The scientist and atheist polemicist, Lewis Wolpert, for example, has written an account of his own experience with depression following the death of his mother, A Malignant Sadness. The perception that people with genuine depression are somehow malingerers can also be very harmful. I’ve known individuals with a very strong work ethic, who have found it at times difficult, if not impossible to work. This has actually exacerbated their condition, as they’ve panicked, fearing that they will never get a job. There are campaigns here in the UK to encourage greater understanding of mental illness, which obviously includes depression. I also recall that a few years ago, the BBC soap Eastenders ran a series of stories in which one of the characters suffered from depression. After the episodes a voice stated that there was an advice line open for those, who had been touched by this story. I have to say that if there is anything more likely to make you even more depressed and miserable than you already area, it’s probably the unending squalor and misery in Eastenders and the other soaps. The BBC was, however, providing a service here, and attempting to make people take the disease seriously. This is always welcome. There are some very good books to help sufferers, and I strongly advise those with it to seek medical help. It is not like ‘feeling a bit down’, and sufferers cannot ‘pull themselves together’ and get over it. To return to the above blog, I don’t know how helpful it may be, but I’ve included it just in case.