Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Smiles’

Samuel Smiles’ Condemnation of the Evils of Laissez-Faire

September 26, 2019

Samuel Smiles was the author of Self-Help, a 19th century manual on how the working classes could escape poverty by helping themselves. He’s been seen as a cornerstone of Conservative values, to whom Maggie Thatcher harked back when she promoted her attack on the welfare state as giving people more self-help. Andrina Stiles’ discusses how Victorian philanthropy is seen by some historians as an attempt to create ‘a docile, subservient working class out of a large, ill-educated and potentially revolutionary mass of people’ and that ‘the whole basis of Victorian involvement in charitable enterprise as an exercise in social control based on Samuel Smiles’ teaching about self-help’ in her book, Religion, Society and Reform 1800-1914 (London, Hodder & Stoughton 1995). But she also states that this view has been challenged by other historians. These argue that while he moderated his views on laissez-faire in later life, he did not believe it adequate to tackle social problems. And she provides as proof a passage from Smiles in which he bitterly condemns it. She writes

But other historians now believe these views to be a travesty of Samuel Smiles’ teaching. Although his book Self-Help was not published until 1859, they point out that its contents had been delivered as a series of lecturers to working-class audiences in Leeds 14 years earlier at a time of social conflict; and that in those lectures Smiles was not preaching quiescence but radicalism. Although he later moderated his political views and came to agree with laissez-faire in economic matters, he never accepted it was the right policy in dealing with social abuses, writing passionately of the need for outside intervention where self-help by the poor was obviously an inadequate remedy:

When typhus or cholera break out they tell us Nobody is to blame. That terrible Nobody… Nobody adulterates our food. Nobody poisons us with bad drink… Nobody leaves towns undrained. Nobody makes thieves, poachers and drunkards. Nobody has a dreadful theory – laissez-faire – leave alone. When people are poisoned with plaster of Paris mixed with their flour ‘let alone’ is the remedy … Let those who can find out when they are cheated. When people live in foul dwellings, let them alone, let wretchedness do its work; do not interfere with death. (p. 98).

So much for Thatcherite ‘Victorian values’. They killed people in the 19th century, and they’re killing them now as the Blairites and the Tories make obtaining welfare benefits for the unemployed and disabled as difficult and humiliating as possible. The result is that over a quarter of a million people are only kept from starvation by food banks, tens of thousands of disabled people have died after being thrown off benefits due to being assessed as fit for work, and there is a chronic housing shortage through Maggie’s determination to sell off council housing and forbid the building of any more.

But the Tories and the Libertarians keep singing the old refrain. Things will be better with more self-help, less state reliance and regulation. Private enterprise and capitalism will make everything better. A few months ago Dave Rubin and Candace Owens of the American right-wing group, Turning Point, tried to convince Brits when they came over to push their vile, outmoded views on this side of the Pond. Libertarianism was devised by extreme right-wing businessmen, most notably the Koch brothers, in order to defend depriving working people of state support and trade union power, whilst enriching big business. It always was close to Nazism. In the 1970s the American Libertarian rag, Reason, even published an issue pushing Holocaust Denial. Over this side of the Atlantic, the Libertarian organisations, like the National Association For Freedom, or the Freedom Association as it became, used to support the South American dictators. This included Paul Staines, of the Guido Fawkes blog, who was a member of one of these societies. One year the guest of honour at their annual dinner was the head of one of Central American dictator Rios Montt’s death squads. When Staines wasn’t out of his head raving with the machine elves on psychoactive chemicals, of course.

Laissez-faire in its Conservative and Libertarian versions brings nothing but poverty, sickness and death to the masses. Smiles knew this and condemned it. But the Thatcherites are still pushing it, because it keeps the poor poor and very much under the control of the rich.

Lies and Double-Talk by Atos and the DWP

February 21, 2014

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The nation-wide protests against Atos on Wednesday were covered ITV Meridian. They reported on demonstrations at Brighton and Canterbury, interviewing Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Paviliion, and Wayne Humphries, a leukaemia sufferer, whose assessment has been repeatedly delayed by the company. They also went to Atos and the DWP for their comments on the protests. Inevitably they got the usual lies and double talk.

The news report by ITV Meridian can be found at http://www.itv.com/news/meridian/update/2014-02-19/anger-at-atos/.

Atos’ statement is at 1 minute 44 seconds. They claimed

It’s not, nor has it ever been, the role of Atos to make decisions on who can or cannot receive benefits. We carry out assessment following strict guidelines and criteria written by the government.

And so Atos attempted to wash their hands of their involvement in the persecution of the disabled. We wuz only following orders!

This is unacceptable. Atos perform their assessments in the full knowledge that those they fail will be thrown off benefits and forced either to find work or starve. And all too many have been victims of the latter. Furthermore, they have in very many cases deliberately falsified the results of the assessments to have the claimant thrown off their benefit. They complicit in the government’s cruel treatment of the disabled and cannot disavow their responsibility.

Atos was right, however, in that they don’t set government policy, so there was some small truth in what they said. The DWP’s response, however, was even more mendacious. It’s on the report at 2 minutes 2 seconds. They said

It’s right to see what work people can do with the right support, rather than write people off on out-of-work sickness benefits as sometimes happened in the past.

Well yes, absolutely. It’s a statement with which no-one can reasonably disagree. Unfortunately, it has absolutely nothing to do with DWP policy.

The statement implies that the Department of Work and Pensions supplies needed support for those disabled people able to find work. This is, frankly, a lie. There are some benefits available to allow the disabled to live independently. This was, after all, the whole purpose of the Disability Living Allowance. There were grants available for disabled people and their families to adapt their homes so that the disabled could continue to live in them. These grants and benefits were, however, set up by previous governments. The current administration is re-organising them and introducing cuts so that fewer people qualify. All in the interest of making savings, as commanded by Osborne. This has been accompanied by a lot of bluster about concentrating resources on where it’s most needed, but the reality is that it’s done with the deliberate intention of throwing as many people off benefit as possible, regardless of whether they can actually work.

The simple fact is that the government gives absolutely no support for those workers they and Atos declare fit for work. The assessment is based simply on physical ability, and is designed to ensure that all but the extremely disabled – the virtually bed-bound – are ineligible. The DWP’s statement about helping people into work with the right support implies that the support is there. Frankly, it isn’t. I haven’t heard of the DWP providing any service advising people on what jobs might be suitable for people with particular disabilities, or providing any support for those keen to enter employment. I used to work twenty years ago in the Inland Revenue. One of the other members of staff had a severe back complaint. They were therefore given an orthopaedic chair in which to work. At one time the government also supported businesses that employed a certain proportion of disabled people. I have seen no evidence of similar policies under the Coalition, and in fact, if I recall correctly, the legislation encouraging the employment of disabled people has been under attack. I’ve got a feeling it’s been criticised for not being cost-effective or some such rubbish.

I have also not heard of any kind of comprehensive government policy provide advice for individual disabled people on what work might be suitable for them, nor of them being awarded grants to support themselves learning new skills or acquiring the specialist equipment they might need in order to function in the workplace. There are programmes to teach the disabled and the unemployed in general IT skills. I was on one about a decade or so ago. The course also included a scheme in which the blind were also taught to use a computer using special speaking machines. Unfortunately, the reality is also frequently the opposite of the what the government has claimed. The Coalition has closed down the Remploy workshops that employed disabled workers. The teaching of IT skills seems to be the catch-all solution to getting the unemployed and the disabled back into work, rather than providing any comprehensive and coherent programme to provide the disabled with the proper, individual skills and support they need. There is some help and support provided by various charities, but you do need considerable help simply finding it.

The DWP’s statements about ‘help’ and ‘support’ are simply more of the double-talk and perversion of language Orwell described in 1984, where ‘war’ equals ‘peace’ and so forth. Some of this came in with Thatcher. When she announced she was cutting services, she described it as ‘more self-help’. Well, Samuel Smiles, the working-class radical, who wrote the original book of that title later stated he regretted having done so. Unfortunately, right-wing governments have been banging on about self-help ever since. And as this government’s policies have shown, self-help in the majority of cases means no help at all.