Posts Tagged ‘Workhouses’

End Workfare Now! Part 1

June 20, 2017

This is the text of another pamphlet I wrote a year or so ago against the highly exploitative workfare industry. As the pamphlet explains, workfare, or ‘welfare to work’, is the system that provides industry with cheap, unemployed temporary labour under the guise of getting the jobless back into work by giving them work experience. If the unemployed person refuses, he or she is thrown off benefit.

These temporary jobs go nowhere, and it’s been proven that the unemployed are actually far better off looking for jobs on their own than using workfare. And it’s very similar to other systems of supposed voluntary work and forced labour, such as the labour colonies set up in Britain in 1905, the Reichsarbeitsdienst in Nazi Germany, and the use of forced labour against the ‘arbeitscheu’ – the ‘workshy’, as well as the compulsory manual labour required of all citizens in Mao’s china during the Cultural Revolution, and the Gulags in Stalin’s Russia.

Mike over at Vox Political has blogged against it, so has Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman of Another Angry Voice, and many other left-wing bloggers. It’s another squalid policy which New Labour and the Tories took over from Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to get rid of the work capability tests. I hope also that under him, the Labour party will also get rid of this vile policy, so that big corporations like Poundland and supermarkets like Tesco’s will have to take on workers and pay them a decent wage, rather than exploiting desperate and jobless workers supplied by the Thatcherite corporate state.

End Workfare Now!

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. In 1979 the Tory party ranted about the need to ‘restore the will to work’. Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that ‘The Government and the vast majority of the British people want hard work and initiative to be properly rewarded and are vexed by disincentives to work’. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

Those forced into workfare are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections.’ Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed. In June that year David Cameron also declared that there was a need to end ‘the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays. Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Forced Labour for the Unemployed in History

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state
support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Weimar Germany in the 1920s and ’30s also developed a system of voluntary work to deal with the problems of mass unemployment. This was taken over by the Nazis and became compulsory for all Germans from 19-25 as the Reicharbeitsdienst, or Imperial Labour Service It was mainly used to supply labour for German agriculature. Because of its universal nature, the Reicharbeitsdienst had no stigma attached to it, and indeed was seen as part of the new, classless Germany that was being created by Hitler. In a speech to the Service’s workers, Hitler declared that there would be no leader, who had not worked his way up through their ranks. Much harsher was the Nazi’s treatment of the serially unemployed. They were declared arbeitscheu – the German word, which forms the basis of the English ‘workshy’. These individuals were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a special badge on their pyjamas, just like those marking out Jews, gay men, Socialists and trade unionists, and so on.

Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The Workfare Scheme

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick. Mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists, have also released reports attacking the detrimental effect the stress of these tests are having on the mentally ill. So far they have estimated that upwards of a quarter of a million people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have had their condition made worse – sometimes very much worse – through the stress of taking these tests.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

Labour to End Tory Persecution of Sick, Disabled and Poor

May 16, 2017

This is excellent news for anyone on a low income, or who suffers from a long term sickness or is or cares for a disabled person. And it’s going to send the Tories, the Blairites and the parasites in the private insurance industry, who recommended the current high persecutory disability policies, absolutely incandescent with fury.

Mike over on his blog has reported that Labour have made the following promises in their manifesto:

* to scrap the work capability assessments and Personal Independence Payment assessments.

* to stop the endless reassessments of people with severe long term conditions.

* Scrapping sanctions.

* Scrapping the bedroom tax.

* Increasing ESA for people in the work-related activity group, and reversing the cuts in UC LCW.

* Uprating carers allowance.

* reinstating housing benefit for young people under 21.

* Reversing the cuts to the bereavement support payments.

* Reviewing the cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit.

* Reviewing the decision to limit tax credits and Universal Credit to the first two children in a family. Which is, as Mike points out, the Rape Clause. This odious piece of legislation was defended in Scotland by an equally odious piece of work, Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tories up there.

Mike states

The Labour Party manifesto, released today (May 16) has confirmed what we all saw in the leaked version last week – a bonfire of the cruel legislation that has led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of vulnerable people.

But remember – this is only what Labour would do, if elected back into office on June 8.

With the mass media lining up to attack Labour over any slightest quibble, that will be hard to achieve.

So please make sure all 12 million sick and disabled people, and all of the unemployed and under-employed get to see this.

He also applauds Labour’s promises to end the way the Jobcentre staff and the benefit system itself demonises those with disabilities and the unemployed, so that it becomes more supportive and enabling.

He gives due credit to Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, saying that this confirms what he has known about her, that she is a woman of strong professional integrity, who will act on her promises.

Mike concludes

If YOU have a long-term illness or disability, this is all the reason you need to vote Labour on June 8. If you don’t, but know somebody who does, please share this information with them.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/16/confirmed-labour-will-end-tory-persecution-of-the-sick-disabled-and-poor/#comments

I agree with Mike on just about every line of this. And I won’t be remotely surprised when the Tories and their lapdogs in the press and media go absolutely insane at this.

It is a direct reversal of the welfare policies introduced by Blair and the Tories, at the behest of American private healthcare firms and insurers. The wretched work capability tests were recommended by John Lo Cascio, the head honcho of the American insurance fraudster, Unum. This was based on bogus science, that has now been comprehensively refuted. I’ve reblogged material from Johnny Void and Kitty S. Jones and many, many others over the years, which provide a very detailed critique which absolutely demolishes its pretension to scientific fact. But still the Tories tout it.

And Labour’s pledge to stop the demonization of the sick and poor is a direct attack on one of the fundamental principles of Thatcherism: that those dependant on welfare payments, the sick, disabled and unemployed, must be humiliated as much as possible, in order to deter them from becoming a burden to the taxpayer. Meaning the rich, who must be given tax breaks and corporate subsidies at every opportunity.

It’s called the principle of Less Eligibility, and it was the reason why the workhouses were such places of degradation and misery. But Thatcher celebrated it as one of her ‘Victorian values’, which she really wanted to call ‘Victorian virtues’, but her spin doctors wouldn’t let her.

Like the Tories, the Blairites are Thatcherites, who adopted her vicious, spiteful and punitive attitude to poverty.

This is also a comprehensive rebuttal to the refrain you also hear from Tory voters when the work disability assessments are criticised: no, they’re not going to vote Labour, ’cause Labour introduced them.

Well, they can’t use that excuse now, because Labour’s committed to scrapping them.

This will be bitterly resented by the Tory press, not just because it is a strong attack on decades of Tory policies, but because newspapers like the Torygraph make their money from advertising, and are afraid to do anything that will offend their advertisers. The Torygraph is particularly sensitive to this, as they’ve been spiking stories that would offend their advertisers. It was the reason one of the columnists, Peter Oborne, walked out and very publicly denounced them in the rest of the media, including Channel 4, a few years ago. As the Torygraph seems determined to lock itself into a death spiral of continuing cuts and sackings in order to maintain its share price, while its readership plummets, I’m not remotely worried if these policies help put another boot into the Tory paper.

And, of course, it’s going to inflame the already fevered tempers over at the Daily Mail massively. The Heil has been one of the papers that has been at the very forefront of demonising people on disability benefit as scroungers. Mike has shown that the true statistics for benefit fraud is 0.7 per cent – a vanishingly small amount. But thanks to the Tories and the lies of the press, the British public believe that it’s 27 per cent.

And the rich, who have been pushing for these policies so they can enjoy ever greater profits and tax breaks are afraid.

How else can you explain today’s headline in the I, which screams that Labour intends a ‘tax grab on the rich’. The term ‘tax grab’ seems to show a little panic on the part of the editor, no doubt on behalf of the Russian oligarch who owns the paper.

So don’t be deceived by the lies and hysterical denunciations of these policies. Unlike the rubbish spouted by May, these are sincerely meant, and if implemented will lead to a better, fairer, and healthier Britain.

Because the destruction of the sanctions regime and the work capability tests will stop people dying. Look at Stilloak’s website and the site Atos Miracles to see how many have died in poverty, misery and starvation due to these vile and evil policies.

So please vote Labour on May 8.

Vox Political: Teen Bullied by DWP Commits Suicide; DWP Staff enjoy £140 million Bonuses

December 7, 2016

Mike today also posted a couple of stories today, which together show how disgraceful and corrupt the DWP is. Apparently, over the last three years the DWP has awarded £140 million in bonuses to its civil servants, of which £124.37 million went to the Department’s senior managers.

Mike is understandably outraged by this, and asks if this includes money awarded through schemes like the ‘Space Invaders Game’ set up in one office for getting people of benefits, or the Sheriff’s Stars, which Johnny Void stated were set up to reward clerks, who sanctioned people in others.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/06/almost-140-million-in-bonuses-for-dwp-staff-for-sanctioning-people-off-benefits/

These bonuses have been awarded for the bullying of claimants either to get a job, or stop claiming benefit. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, have died of desperation, neglect and starvation after being sanctioned by the DWP. They have included a diabetic ex-serviceman, an elderly couple, and a young woman, who killed herself and her infant child. Stilloaks has compiled a list of the people, who’ve been killed. Johnny Void has also in his blog published an extensive list of the DWP’s victims. And now it seems the DWP has claimed another one.

Mike today also reported that an 18 year-old man, David Brown, from Eston in North Yorkshire, committed suicide after being belittled by Job Centre Staff. He was looking to get an apprenticeship in welding, but the Job Centre put him on pressure to find a job. An inquest was told that before he killed himself, he told his mother

“The way the Jobcentre treat people, it is no surprise people commit suicide.”

Mike comments that it seems harsh, but the question has to be asked: who received the bonus for getting him off the DWPs books.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/07/teen-committed-suicide-after-being-belittled-by-job-centre-staff/

These are more vile policies that can be traced back to Maggie Thatcher and John Major. It was Maggie and Major who, in my experience, introduced ‘performance related pay’ into the civil service. And I got the distinct impression it was done as part of a policy to keep the staff working as hard as possible for little pay. Instead of a proper pay rise, there was just the promise that if you worked hard, you might get a bonus. Might. In fact, the bonuses were always going to go to the bosses, just as the captains of industry constantly award themselves massive pay rises as ‘bonus-related pay’ for closing down factories and shops and laying people off. And it was the same with the DSS and Benefits Agency. That came in when Anderson Consulting decided that the Benefits Agency and Inland Revenue should be rationalised, so that local offices would be closed down, and all the decisions concentrated in regional centres instead. Which is a good reason why ordinary civil servants should hate and despise Anderson Consulting, or whatever it now describes itself.

As for the deaths of humiliated and sanctioned benefit claimants, this all comes from the principle of ‘less eligibility’. This is the ‘Victorian value’ of the workhouse, which was taken over by Maggie Thatcher, then by Blair, and his successors Cameron, Clegg and May. The idea is that you make welfare so humiliating, that it acts as a deterrent – people are supposed to want to do anything to find a job and avoid the hardship. And people are suffering from it. Apart from those, who’ve died, I know many people personally, who’ve been very reluctant to sign on because of the way they’ve been picked on and abused by DWP staff.

There has been talk about prosecuting the DWP for such cases. I don’t know if you can do it, but this seems to me to be a clear case where the Department was guilty of culpable negligence, possibly even breach of a duty of care towards a clearly vulnerable young man. But I don’t know for sure. Except that this vile system needs to ends now, and those responsible punished to the fullest extent of the law.

The Young Turks on 7 Million Teens Turning to Crime and Prostitution because of Starvation

September 20, 2016

This is truly an outrage. In this video from The Young Turks, they report on an academic study which shows that 7 million teenagers in America are turning to crime, prostitution and selling drugs to get money for food. The report cites one of the study’s authors, Popkin, who says that what they found surprising wasn’t that kids were doing it – it’s been done on a smaller scale for a very long time – but the sheer scale of the problem. When the researchers inquired why these children didn’t use the state welfare system instead, like the SNAP and food stamp programmes, they were told by their young informants that they were too ashamed. The Turks’ anchors are naturally angry at this, pointing out what a disgusting scandal that 7 million children should be forced to become prostitutes or starve in the richest country in the world.

I’ve reblogged a number of videos about American politics in the past where they’ve had direct relevance to similar political situations here in Blighty. This is another of these. The Tories’ ‘welfare reforms’ – their euphemism for cutting benefits and letting people starve – is copied very much from America, although attacks on the welfare state have always been part of Tory policy. Maggie Thatcher, John Major and the rest took their view, hawked by the Tory press, that there were large pockets of intergenerational poverty in Britain, where some families had never had a job for three generations, from the Republicans in America. It was rubbish over there, and it’s rubbish over here. But that hasn’t stopped it being repeated by Iain Duncan-Smith, the former Minister for Killing the Disabled.

About a year ago I found a pamphlet put out by Duncan-Smith’s wretched Centre for Social Justice – a complete oxymoron coming from the Tories – arguing for welfare cuts based precisely on this stupid, spurious view of poverty. It raved about how changes to welfare legislation in America had wiped millions off the welfare budget.

At the same time, the Tories have been very impressed by the Victorian doctrine of ‘less eligibility’. As many bloggers have stated, including Another Angry Voice, Johnny Void and myself, this was the Victorian principle behind the workhouse. The idea was that you make conditions as harsh and humiliating as possible so that people don’t go to the state for aid. There are even quotes from Thatcher herself talking about how she admired the Victorians for it. It’s why, despite the Tories keenness to show the staff at the Jobcentre as helpful, with smiling, grateful claimants, the opposite is true: you are frequently treated with grave discourtesy and contempt by staff, who are themselves treated like dirty by their superiors. All with the deliberate intention of making the whole experience of signing on as unpleasant as possible.

And that’s the result. 7 million children are forced to steal, peddle drugs, or sell their bodies to get enough to keep body and soul together.

There are 4.7 million people in ‘food poverty’ in this country. Hundreds of thousands are being kept from starvation by food banks. Stilloaks in his blog, Johnny Void, Tom Pride, and so many, many others, including Vox Political, have put up the figures of the number of disabled people, who have starved to death through benefit cuts. It was something like 590 last time I checked. It’s probably many, many more now. And if you go to Stilloak’s blog, you can see the names and biographies of those, who have died. Be warned: it’s a harrowing read. It’s why Mike has referred to this policy by the Tories as ‘chequebook genocide’.

And it’s a cert the same thing is happening over here.

I can remember back in the 1980s, when Thatcher was throwing everyone out of work, the media woke up to the existence of rent boys. I don’t think they could really do anything else, as a number of MPs, mostly Tories, had been caught using them, like Harvey Proctor. I can remember reading an article on them at the time, which said that the majority were actually heterosexual. They were doing it to make money to buy consumer goods. Quite apart from the poor kids, who have been forced into it by the monsters running the care homes and social services in corrupt local authorities, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a spike in it now, of teenage boys forced into it along with their sisters for exactly the same reasons – to buy enough food.

Reagan and Thatcher have led us down a social, political and economic dead end. It is neoliberalism that is the threat to western civilisation, not liberalism, socialism or Islam. It is Reagan’s and Thatcher’s policies that are seeing millions of people in debt and grinding poverty. The time’s long, long past when their heirs in both the parties of the Right and nominal Left should have been kicked out long ago.

In Defence of Left-Wing Anger

August 17, 2016

I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest for a little while now. One aspect of the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs that really annoys me is the hypocrisy that comes with their constant playing at being the victims of terrible abuse by Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn. Every so often they make pleas for political discourse and exchange to be made kinder or more genteel, while showing precious little of such qualities themselves. Jess Philips, according to the Groan, is having a panic room installed at her constituency office. But Mike’s already stated that she herself is an abrasive character online. This doesn’t justify any threats against her, but it doesn’t make her quite the innocent victim she claims either.

I’ve reblogged a video several times made by a couple in Angela Eagle’s constituency pointing out that Eagle’s story about the brick being thrown by Jeremy Corbyn supporters through her constituency window is a load of hogwash. It begins with footage of Eagle giving her story to the press. She concludes by saying that ‘We need a kinder, gentler style of politics’, before turning smartly on her heel and marching off, surrounded by her aids. This little piece has infuriated me ever since I’ve seen it. Firstly, it seems more than a little imperious. It’s bit of ‘I, the Great One, am speaking. Mortals listen!’ I also object to it on the grounds that it seems to be trying to deny the fact that her critics and opponents just might have entirely justifiable reasons for their anger. She seems to want to have the kind of exchange where everything is calm and mild. Now this is the kind of exchange I prefer. I honestly don’t like abuse and trolling. But on certain issues, if people do become abusive, it can be because the issue they’re discussing has all too real implications and consequences for them.

And many of the policies enacted by the Blairites have had terrible consequences for Britain as a nation, and specifically for the poor and working class. Let’s go through them.

Firstly, Blair took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq. The country had not threatened us, and at the time we invaded, Saddam Hussein was pretty much a joke to the rest of the Middle East. He was a thug, but he was contained. And the country over which he ruled was relatively prosperous, and with an advanced welfare state and educational system, at least for the region.

This has all changed. A quarter of a million Iraqis have died, and the country degenerated into a bloodbath of competing factions. Their economy has been wrecked, and ISIS and related death squads have terrorised its population. Our squaddies have been sent to fight and die, not to keep the world safe, but to produce even greater profits for the oil companies and American multinationals wishing to get their mitts on the country’s appetising state industries. Domestically it reinforced the view of many Muslims that the country was being targeted simply because it was Islamic. So it’s increased more racial and religious friction and intolerance over here. Is the Iraq invasion a good reason for people to get angry. Yes.

Then there’s the privatisation of the NHS. Blair, Brown and the others in New Labour took over the Private Finance Initiative and massively expanded it as official labour policy. They also began to split up the NHS into different commissioning groups, with the intention of creating competition. These commissioning groups were to provide healthcare not only from the NHS, but also from private healthcare companies. Hospitals and doctors surgeries have been taken over by private hospital chains. More than half of all hospital treatment is now commissioned from private healthcare providers. The ‘walk-in’ centres, or polyclinics, that were set up were also intended to be privately run. New Labour took as their care model a private American company, Kaiser Permanente. These policies have been taken over and further extended by the Tories after they won the 2010 election. Now it’s almost set to be totally privatised. Frankly, this makes me absolutely furious.

Let’s take the Work Capability Test. This was adopted by Blair and co. because they uncritically swallowed the Tory rubbish about most disabled people, the long term sick were malingerers and scroungers. They took over a tick-box questionnaire approach to examining people’s health pioneered by Unum, an American health insurance company that was guilty of some of the biggest insurance frauds prosecuted by the American state. The questionnaire used, and its underlying assumptions, are scientific nonsense. The policy is so notorious, that Atos decided to throw in the towel early, and were released from their contract a year before it was due to expire.

But the policy goes on, and it has had terrible real world consequences. Seriously ill people have been thrown off their benefits, and in some cases, have actually starved to death through lack of an income. Those with mental health problems, like anxiety and depression, have become worse, often much worse. As an example of how farcical this is, you consider some of the worst incidents, where people terminally ill in comas have been told they should find a job. Or when an amputee was asked when they expected their limbs to grow back. People are suffering and starving because of this. This isn’t a case of abstract policy, an interesting intellectual puzzle, which has no clear consequences for people’s lives. It makes a different over whether people are actually able to put food on their tables, or have a roof over their head, or can live out their lives with dignity.

It’s the same with the issue of benefit sanctions. Thanks to them, and the flexible employment policies Blair and Brown were so keen to employ, there are about 4.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’ in this country. There are cases where mothers are starving themselves, because it’s the only way they can afford to feed their children. And I can remember an incident I read on one of the other blogs, about how people in one town came to the aid of a young man, after he broke down in tears outside the Jobcentre, because they wouldn’t help him. As with the Work Capability Test, this is an issue that all-too real consequences for millions of people. And when nearly five million are going hungry in the fourth richest country in the world, you bet people have a right to be angry.

You can expand this to include the way the treatment of jobseekers has been deliberately made as humiliating and degrading as possible, with the imposition of workfare, capitalist forced labour brought to you by Sainsbury’s and the myriad other firms using it to cut down on labour costs. This was introduced as part of Margaret Thatcher’s return to ‘Victorian values’, which in this case meant the same values on which the workhouse system was established. The DHSS and the Benefits Agency always had an element of danger with them, because claimants naturally got angry with the state bureaucracy that could deny them money. People are left angry, despairing and furious with their treatment by the Jobcentre. But they also have a right to direct this rage at the politicians, who created the system.

And here New Labour have also shown themselves to be despicable. Cameron introduced workfare, but Ed Miliband ordered his cabinet not to oppose it, in case the Labour party should be seen to be soft on ‘benefit scroungers’ by the Tory press. Again, people have a very definite right to be angry.

I also think part of what makes me angry about Eagle’s behaviour, is her manner. It’s as if she seems to be completely insulated from the grim reality of the suffering New Labour have inflicted. She sounds to me like a bureaucrat or manager, completely obsessed with administering the policies that have been set, and getting irritated because somebody, somewhere, has had the temerity to object to it. I’ve remarked before that many of the Blairites seem to come from affluent, privileged, middle class backgrounds. My guess is that they genuinely don’t appreciate the harm they’re doing, because they’ve never experienced it themselves. They’ve only ever seen these policies from the vantage point of people, who’ve taken on the task of carrying them out. And they find it confusing and intensely infuriating when the masses don’t just accept what’s being done is for their good.

I am not saying that people have a right to abuse politicians or Jobcentre staff, or threaten them, let alone attack them or try to damage their property. I am very definitely against all of that. But people do have a right to be enraged at what has been done to them by the Thatcherites, both in the Tories and in New Labour.

And anger, as John Lydon sang, is an energy.

The gaol should now be to use this anger, this resentment against an unfair and deliberately cruel and exploitative system, to argue, research, expose and organise and keep the pressure on relentlessly to overturn these policies.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 1

August 8, 2016

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Mike over at Vox Political, Johnny Void, the Angry Yorkshireman, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

They are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities.

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections. Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed.

Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

The Chartists’ Shops to Punish Opposing Shopkeepers

April 25, 2016

I spent this weekend reading up on the Chartists. This was the early 19th century movement, which roughly ran for the decade between 1837 and 1848, which campaigned for the vote for every working man. There were also female Chartist organisations, and some Chartists were so radical as to wish to extend the franchise to women. It had a very mixed membership ideologically. Some were Socialists, others supporters of Free Trade. Some wanted the repeal of the Corn Law, while some were for keeping them. Many were against the New Poor Law and the Workhouses, but some, like Francis Place, supported it. There were Christian Chartists and atheist Chartists. Some, like Richard Oastler, were Tories, others Liberal. It has been regarded as a kind of early Labour party. This view has since been challenged, but certainly the Labour party politicians, who won the 1945 General Election saw themselves very much as part of the same tradition of working class political radicalism, and the contemporary heirs of the Chartists, as well as Tom Paine, the author of the Rights of Man.

Some Chartists believed, like Marx, that ‘the emancipation of the working class should be the task of the working class’, and wished to avoid contaminating the movement with contacts with the middle classes, who they felt would betray them. Nevertheless, the movement did have many middle class supporters, including Anglican priests, Nonconformist ministers, factory masters, and so on. One of the tactics the Chartists used, which I found particularly interesting, was that they opened shops to compete with and punish those shopkeepers that opposed the extension of the franchise to the hoi polloi.

The British working and lower middle classes are again becoming disenfranchised in the 21st century. And some of this is through the tactics used by the rich supermarkets to drive the small shopkeeper out of business, screw their suppliers, and drive down wages for employees. Quite apart from the various businesses that exploit unpaid workers under the ‘workfare’ system.

I think it would be superb if someone could come up with a similar system of shops to compete and punish these businesses, but I’m not sure how it could be done at a time of depression, when 4.7 million of us are in ‘food poverty’, and the trade unions are fighting for survival. The anarchists have tried similarly tactics, and these generally have failed. But perhaps there is a way. If there is, then it’s one I’d like to see pursued.

The One Show and Ian Hislop on IDS’ Crying over the Unemployed

April 8, 2016

Yesterday, the Beeb screened the documentary, showing Ian Duncan Smith, the Minister for Culling the Disabled and Unemployed, crying his crocodile tears. Presented by Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop, and entitled Workers or Shirkers, it aimed to tell the story of how there had been a constant tension in British politics between offering state aid to the poor as unfortunates requiring help on the one hand, and a much tougher line demanding that they look after themselves on the other. The interview between Hislop and aIDS, in which the Gentleman Ranker shed his tears, was a discussion about Victorian attitudes to poverty.

I didn’t watch the programme, for the very good reason that I thought it would make me angry. There was also no need. Hislop himself was on The One Show Wednesday evening to talk about it, and they showed the clip of aIDS crying then. I wasn’t impressed. Usually I’ve got quite a lot of respect for Hislop. I’ve used material from Private Eye to attack the Tories, and particularly their privatisation of the NHS and the vicious and murderous sanctions regime by the DWP, ATOS and Maximus. But his comments and the lack of them about this incident left me somewhat disappointed.

Let’s be clear from the start that IDS did not break down in floods of tears. He was merely talking to Hislop about a 19 year old girl, who’d given up on finding a job. So his voice broke, and he dabbed his eye. Several times. He then said, ‘I’m sorry, but she reminded me of my daughter.’ It wasn’t open weeping so much as when some people stop themselves when they’re beginning to well up, and then try to excuse this sudden show of emotion by saying that ‘they’ve just got something in their eye’. Or other such words to maintain their dignity.

Now, I follow Mike, and probably most left-wing commenters on this government, that IDS’ performance, whatever it was, was certainly not a genuine display of grief. Or if it was, it was only that he’d so far managed to kill so few. IDS has presided over a regime that has killed about 490 odd people from neglect, starvation and by their own hand, after having them thrown off benefits. Over a quarter of a million more have had their mental health exacerbated – sometime severely – by the sanctions regime. And far from expressing any remorse, IDS has simply had a guffaw about it in parliament with David Cameron. He laughed about it when some of the cases histories of those, who had suffered were read out in the House of Commons.

And then he has the gall to pretend that he is somehow ‘caring’.

What I disliked was that neither the presenters of the One Show nor Hislop, who should, and probably does know better, didn’t challenge the authenticity of this performance. The Show’s regular female presenter said sympathetically, ‘You can tell that was genuine’. When asked about his reaction, Hislop said that he was surprised, and didn’t expect it from the Ranker. He seemed prepared to give Smith the benefit of the doubt. He said that if it had been someone like Tony Blair, he would have expected there to have been an onion. The presenters then asked why he didn’t try to comfort Smith, at which Hislop laughed, ‘No! It is Ian Duncan Smith’.

Now Hislop’s failure to tackle the authenticity or lack thereof of Smith’s tears is serious. I’m assuming that Hislop was aware about the jolly chuckle Smith had about the suffering his policies had caused in parliament. It should have been mentioned, as it puts into perspective not just Smith’s, but this entire government’s attitude towards poverty and unemployment. But he didn’t. You’re left wondering about how far Hislop’s own sympathies are with Smith, and the Beeb’s bias towards the Conservatives. Or it may simply be any case of the weird code of Omerta amongst some journalists – that you don’t push politicos too hard, or they’ll stop giving you the interviews you need.

I also wasn’t impressed by some of the other comments Hislop made which were purely historical. For example, he talked about how Edwin Chadwick, who invented the workhouse system, was later castigated and reviled because of its horrors. Hislop, however, says that at the time workhouses were accepted, and the hatred merely came later. In my experience, this simply was not the case. When they were set up the workhouses were denounced by the poor and the radical press as ‘the new Bastilles’, prisons where the poor would be incarcerated like criminals, like the infamous prison for political prisoners under the ancien regime in France before the Revolution. Some parishes were so horrified by them that they flatly refused to build any. If anything, the workhouses only became accepted after a notorious case in the 1880s when inspectors found the inmates in one were so starving, that they were cutting open the bones to be ground for fertiliser in order to get at the marrow bone inside. That incident started a parliamentary inquiry into the terrible conditions in the Workhouses, resulting in some improvement in conditions. And even then, there were contemporary folk songs and popular ballads attacking them.

So after seeing this rather biased view of the historical reality behind the workhouse, and Hislop’s failure to tackle Ian Duncan Smith, I simply didn’t feel that I wanted to see the documentary. Perhaps the next one will be better. I hope so, but after that, I’m not sure.

The Principle of Less Eligibility in the Words of the Poor Law Commissioners

February 15, 2016

Bloggers such the Angry Yorkshireman, Mike over at Vox Political, Johnny Void and very many others have pointed out that the dominant ideology behind the Tory cuts is essentially the principle of less eligibility. This was the idea behind the New Poor Law, which saw the creation of workhouses across the UK, in which the poor were incarcerated. Conditions were made so unpleasant in order to deter what would be known now as ‘welfare dependency’. They were to stop people entering them unless they were in absolutely dire need.

I found this statement of the principle from one of the 1832 commissioners responsible for the ‘New Bastilles’ in Pat Young’s Mastering Social Welfare (Basingstoke: MacMillan 1989).

Every penny bestowed, that tends to render the condition of the pauper more eligible than that of the independent labourer, is a bounty on indolence and vice. But once the condition of the pauper is made more uncomfortable than that of the independent labourer then new life, new energy, is infused into the constitution of the pauper; he is aroused like one from sleep, his relation with his neighbours high and low is changed; he surveys his former employers with new eyes. He begs a job – he will not take a denial, he discovers that everyone wants something done. (p. 71).

This was the principle that saw families split up, husbands separated from wives, and punished if they even kissed each other in the morning. And it resulted in terrible suffering and hunger, such as the scandal which erupted when the inmates in one workhouse were found to be so starving that they were eating the marrow from the bones they were supposed to be cutting for fertiliser.

It’s the principle that Maggie espoused in her wretched ‘Victorian Values’, or as she called them, ‘Victorian Virtues’. It’s the appalling system of values that has seen 590 people die in despair, neglect, starvation and through their own hand, and 290,000 suffer mental problems, through benefit sanctions and the stress of the odious ‘work capability’ tests.

It’s also interesting that tonight, on the regional current affairs programme for the Bristol area, Close Up West, that they mentioned self-reliance as a factor in the high rate of male suicide. Suicide is the leading killer of men under 50. Five times more men commit suicide than women. In Bristol the rate is even higher: it’s six times more. The hospitals in Bristol and Bristol uni are taking steps to counter and treat this. Among the factors cited for the high suicide in my fair city by one of the female doctors interviewed was the current economic climate. Joblessness, and immense debt incurring while studying, which also didn’t give you a job after you graduated, were important factors. Women were better able to cope because they were more open and had more ‘networks of support’, in the sense of sympathetic friends. Men suffered because they tended not to go to the doctor. And part of this was the need to be self-reliant. If you’re a bloke, you can’t be so ready to be weak, or seen as weak and unable to cope. And so it destroys those who need help, and can’t cope. Like one in four British citizens in their lifetime.

The Victorians had a lot of virtues. They were clever, inventive, worked hard, and at their very best had a very strong sense of moral responsibility and social consciousness. Among the men and women, who campaigned against slavery, were people who lived, worked and worshipped with the people they were sworn to champion, and they suffered from it at the hands of the bigoted and privileged. Marxism as a political theory is deeply flawed, but Marx himself was fired by a genuine, burning outrage at the poverty and squalor he saw around him. As were F.D. Maurice and many of the Christian Socialists he disparaged. But ‘less eligibility’ is a vile doctrine, that should have gone out along with the Poor Law and the Workhouse. It should have no place in the 21st century.

‘Less Eligibility’ and Maggie Thatcher’s ‘Victorian Values’

February 14, 2016

Very many bloggers have commented on the roots of the current Tory policy of denying the poor, the sick and the disabled proper welfare benefits ultimately stem from the Victorian principle of ‘less eligibility’. This was the doctrine behind the ‘new bastilles’ of the workhouses erected under the Liberal ‘New Poor Law’. It was the idea that while some support should be provided, it should be made so humiliating, uncomfortable and harsh that no-one would willingly take it unless they absolutely had to. Bloggers like the Angry Yorkshireman, Johnny Void and Mike over at Vox Political have shown, again and yet again, how this doctrine is behind the benefit cuts, the degrading and humiliating treatment handed out to benefit claimants, and the determination of Atos and now Maximus to find the flimsiest pretext to throw a claimant off benefit, no matter how ill they are.

New Labour introduced the ‘welfare to work’ tests, devised by John LoCascio and the fraudsters of Unum. But the ultimate origin of the doctrine as a whole, as it was introduced into the modern welfare system, should lie fairly and squarely with Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was infamous for her espousal of ‘Victorian values’, which many commenters and critics rightly saw as her rationale for turning the clock back to the very worst aspects of the Victorian era. And Thatcher, in her 1993 book, The Downing Street Years, talks about how she got her ideas about forcing people off welfare, from those same Victorian values. She wrote

I was an individualist in the sense that I believed that individuals are ultimately accountable for their actions and must behave like it. But I always refused to accept that there was some kind of conflict between this kind of individualism and social responsibility. I was reinforced in this view by the writings of conservative thinkers in the United States on the growth of an ‘underclass’ and the development of a dependency culture. If irresponsible behaviour does not involve penalty of some kind, irresponsibility will for a large number of people become the norm. More important still, the attitudes will be passed onto the children, setting them off in the wrong direction.

I had a great regard for the Victorians for many reasons … I never felt uneasy about praising ‘Victorian values’ or – the phrase I originally used ‘Victorian virtues’ … They distinguished between the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving poor’. Both groups should be given help; but it must be help of very different kinds if public spending is not just going to reinforce the dependency culture. The problem with our welfare state was that … we had failed to remember that distinction and so we provided the same ‘help’ to those who had genuinely fallen into difficulties and needed some support till they could get out of them, as to those who had simply lost the will or habit of work and self-improvement. The purpose of help must not be to allow people to live a half-life, but to restore their self-discipline and through that their self-esteem. (My emphasis)

From Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of the Britain’s Welfare State 1948-98 (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2002) 54.

There you have it, in her own words. She doesn’t say ‘less eligibility’, but it’s clearly there, nonetheless. And so all the 590 people who have died of starvation, neglect or by their own hand in the depths of despair, and the 290,000 or so who’ve suffered severe mental illness because they too have been thrown off benefit, have ultimately been killed because of her and her precious Victorian values.

When she met Blair, she pleaded ‘Do not undo my work.’ Well, yes, please! All of her ideas have been shown to be rubbish, from the free market, to the removal of mortgage limits, the sale of council houses, all of it. Maggie and her specious intellectual legacy should long ago have been consigned to the political dustbin.