Category: dwp

Britain’s Eternal Shame

By Daniel Margrain

An article from April 13, 2010, highlights that while in office as Labour’s Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Yvette Cooper had drawn up plans that would almost certainly have met with the approval of Iain Duncan-Smith and the current Secretary of State for Work a Pensions, David Gauke. Indeed, the policy plans outlined by Cooper were subsequently adopted by the Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition government under the tutelage of the former Tory Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey.

The plan agreed by the Tories and Labour was to cut the benefits of more than 300,000 disabled people. That Cooper rushed to the defence of McVey, who presided over some of the most wicked policies of arguably the most reactionary and brutal right-wing government in living memory, is extremely revealing. What was also revealing were Cooper’s attacks on Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, for his “sexist” attack on McVey’.

Double standards

The media’s double standards in response to Cooper’s setting in motion the Tories regime of welfare cuts and system of testing to the sick and disabled, many of whom would have been Labour voters, was extraordinary. A few days prior to the media’s onslaught against Corbyn’s close ally, McDonnell, Guardian journalist Nicholas Lezard called for the crowdfunded assassination of the Labour leader. Needless to say, there was no media outrage at this latter suggestion, nor at Cooper and McVey’s connivance.

The media’s double standards continued last year, after Channel 4 engaged in an undercover smear campaign against the pro-Corbyn grass roots organisation, Momentum. No similar campaign has been undertaken against, their right-wing Tory counterparts, Activate, whose young members have explained how they would like to gas “spice homo chavs”, “introduce compulsory birth control” and “run some medical experiments on them.” These are the kind of perverse neo-fascist sentiments that reflect the mentality of the Tory establishment and many of their voters.

Cover-up

Shortly before the last General Election, the Daily Mirror availed their readers of the attempts by the Tories to cover-up rates of suicide among Britain’s sick and disabled people who the government deem “fit for work.” The Mirror revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to release figures highlighting the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support (ESA) claimants who have died. It was only after concerted political pressure from below that the government was forced to admit that nearly 100,000 sickness benefit claimants died between January 2011 and February 2014.

The then DWP Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, who admitted that his department have a “duty of care” to benefit claimants, disingenuously insisted that there was no evidence of a ‘causal link’ between the governments work capability assessment (WCA) and the subsequent 590 recorded deaths from suicide. This was contradicted by the coroners findings which stated that all of the deaths “certainly aren’t linked to any other cause”.

Conscious cruelty

It was subsequently revealed that the “conscious cruelty” adopted by the WCA assessors included the “use of psychological ‘nudge’ techniques to push the mentally-ill and those with disabilities towards suicide in order to reduce the ‘burden on society’ caused by these ‘useless eaters’.”

The recorded figures of avoidable deaths resulting from this technique, almost certainly represents the tip of an enormous ice berg. Using ESA figures, independent investigative journalist and campaigner, Mike Sivier compared the number of deaths per year with the number of governments sanctions.

Sivier states that:

“In 2011, the number of people on ESA who were adversely sanctioned totalled 4,462 – 33 per cent of the 13,490 who died that year. In 2012, there were 12,710 adverse sanctions – 64 per cent of the 19,940 who died that year. And in 2013, there were 22,560 adverse sanctions – 82 per cent of the 27,370 who died that year.”

Frances Ryan in the Guardian reported:

“More than 70,000 people on the out-of-work sickness benefit (employment and support allowance) ESA had their benefits stopped between December 2012 and December 2016. More than 5,000 had them stopped for at least six months. That’s wheelchair users and people with learning difficulties left with bare cupboards and cold homes.

The vast majority of recent ESA sanctions – more than 90% since December 2015 – have been a punishment for people failing to take part in “work-related activity”: anything from skills training or drawing up a CV to community work placements. Disabled people going through the system repeatedly report this can mean being sanctioned for not going to a meeting despite being in too much pain to get out of bed.

This is not a coincidence but, rather, reflective of a political culture that has fetishised getting disabled people into work at any cost.

It’s the same thinking that from April resulted in many people on ESA permanently losing £30 a week under the guise that it would give them an “incentive to work”.

Two years ago, there were warnings sanctions were unfair, excessively punitive, and causing destitution. Whitehall’s official spending watchdog has found there is no evidence sanctions actually work. Yet barely any modification has been made. In July, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that people with mental health conditions who have their jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned will now be eligible for immediate access to hardship payments – as if not leaving a young mum with depression without food for two weeks is vast progress.

Social policy reform based on the premise of removing the money people need in order to live is always shameful. But to do this to disabled people – who are receiving benefits because they are not well enough to work – is a stain on the national conscience.”

Excess deaths

With thirty-thousand ‘excess deaths’ in 2015 linked to cuts in health and social care, in addition to the preventable Grenfell Tower tragedy, it is clear that the Tories are actively engaged in the killing by stealth of the poor, disabled and weak.

In an an attempt to humanize some of those who have been socially murdered by the Tories, concerned citizens have recorded the personal details of a select few of the individuals and the circumstances that led to their untimely deaths. This information can be viewed hereherehere and hereIt’s particularly shocking to this writer that in Britain in 2017 many of those listed died of starvation.

Deception

The personal testimony of commentator Stewart Bailey provides a graphic insight into how assessors are encouraged to push claimants off-benefits towards serious hardship. Mr Bailey’s account which highlights a series of misrepresentations and falsehoods made by assessors in relation to his health condition, is supported by the findings of the Disability News Service (DNS) who have collected evidence as part of a lengthy investigation.

The DNS allege widespread dishonesty by assessors working for the outsourcing giants Capita and Atos. Claimants repeatedly cite dishonesty, “fraudulent conduct” and “lie after lie after lie” told by assessors in their reports, on which DWP decision-makers base their decisions on their eligibility for Personal Independence payments (PIPs).

The DNS point out that nearly half (45%) of PIP claimants who had a planned review of their award in 2016 either saw it cut or lost it entirely based on the absurd pretext that cutting benefits to the long-term disabled will help them into work.

Joe Whittaker, chair of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said:

“The imposition of yet another stage in the already oppressive process to ‘support disabled people into employment’, cynically named a ‘health and work conversation’, is another pernicious attempt to weaken the rights of disabled people.”

Caroline Richardson, one of the authors of a report on last years green paper for the Spartacus Network of sick and disabled campaigners published in March, 2017, said:

“The plans show a total ignorance of the level of sickness or disability that the claimant may be experiencing, and will subsequently lead to huge stress and deprivation at what may be a crisis point in people’s lives”.

The Spartacus report accused ministers of using the green paper as a “smokescreen” to disguise their intention to cut support and force sick and disabled people into inappropriate work.

Genocide

The DNS findings came a few days after they revealed new plans which indicate that the Tory genocide against the sick and disabled is set to accelerate. Recent government reviews into PIPs mean that disabled people are constantly in fear of having their payments cuts or, worse, halted.

I, myself, as well as some of my close relatives, can personally attest to the veracity of the DNS findings. We have all had similar experiences in which non-specialized Capita or Atos staff during the interview process have asked irrelevant questions, have failed to refer to any of the medical evidence supplied and requested that we engage in inappropriate movements of feet and hands.

We were all left with the distinct impression that the system has been deliberately set up to fail those who rely on it for financial support and the relative peace of mind that comes with it. One of my disabled relatives has a proven degenerative condition and yet the DWP insisted that one year after granting him his PIP award, he undertake a second WCA “interview”.

Arbitrary

We are currently waiting for the result of the “interview”, but judging by what can only be described a farce, we are not confident that the outcome will be a satisfactory one. It is obvious that unqualified private assessors are being financially incentivized to meet targets. The decisions that are made, in other words, are arbitrary and biased, predicated on the fulfillment of quotas. They do not accurately reflect the medical conditions of the individuals being accessed.

The system is inherently flawed because the default position of the DWP is that the sick and disabled are assumed to be deceitful and need to prove the extent of their illness by satisfactorily addressing completely irrelevant straw man points.

One author in the Independent comments section stated:

“My wife is in tears of pain and emotional distress most days and has overdosed once already due to an extreme pain condition which is commonly called suicide disease. She gets nothing and was basically called a liar by Capita and the DWP.”

Another said:

“My brother in law, now about 60yrs has some form of extremely painful joint issues. He has now contested findings of a lady physio who declared him perfectly fit – giving him about 30 points out of a much higher required number. Can hardly walk, has injections. One specialist wants him to have an operation to fuse his wrists, basically to create two paddles instead of hands.

His house has been fitted with numerous things like bath lifts, handles etc etc. She specified that no adjustments by Social Services had been carried out, ignored specialists notification of this impending operation, (and she was supposed to be a Physio?? ). He has submitted about 10 letters now from the various surgeons and specialists. Absolute stupidity on board assessments part and this person who is supposed to be qualified should be struck off.

Sorry I am not aware of correct illness but do know – have you ever seen a grown man cry etc and he on most days can hardly walk due to the pain, cannot drive now as he cannot grip the wheel or gear stick etc. Shameful.”

Many sick and disabled claimants appeal these kinds of injustices and, as Mike Sivier points out, the government lose the vast majority of these appeals. When claimants go to independent tribunals, 58% of appeals succeed for ESA, and 63% for PIP. Extremely conservative estimates put the cost to the tax payer at £39m to enable the Tories to defend its decision to stop benefits to the most vulnerable.

United Nations

Last year, the UN slammed the government for their “grave and systematic violations of the rights of disabled people”. Moreover, the current situation is creating what the UN described in their latest report as a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

Tracey Lazard, CEO of Inclusion London, described the UN report as “a damning verdict….on the UK governments failure to protect and uphold disabled people’s rights.”

Three of the governments flagship welfare policies are illegal because of the impact they are having on disabled people, but the Tories continue with these policies regardless. This is the politics of punishment, vindictiveness, cruelty and hate.

All this comes on top of the introduction in April 6, 2017, of the governments policy to reduce tax credits to families with two children meaning 116,000 households will be affected, pushing an additional 387,000 children into poverty. Levels of welfare payments in the UK are so low that they have been described by the Council of Europe as “manifestly inadequate“.

Life unworthy of life

While all decent people rightly regard the Tories ‘involuntary euthanasia’ strategy to be deeply shocking, it should be noted that it is far from being a new one. Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify their killing of ‘undesirables’ who like the Tories they regarded as a ‘drain on society’ and whose value was measured solely in terms of their perceived negative impact on the ‘taxpayer’.

These and similar ideas of the kind articulated by the members of Activate, who posit that the weak and poor are vermin to be tested on, are a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories, which adapted Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest. This describes relationships within society or between nations and races as a perpetual evolutionary struggle in which the supposedly weaker or defective elements were weeded out by the strongest and the ‘fittest’ by natural selection.

Off benefits into coffins

Following Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation over a scandal in which the Tories were initially exposed for pushing people off benefits into coffins, many people were hopeful of a change in policy direction under his successor, Stephen Crabb. But these hopes were dashed after the latter announced a further six years of “welfare reforms” (euphemism for £12 billion of cuts to the most in need).

What Mike Sivier correctly described as a preventable “war of attrition” amounts to an ideological attack on those who are least able to defend themselves. This war continued under Duncan Smith’s successor, Damian Green, after it was revealed that under his auspices the government reversed Tribunal rulings that would have extended financial support to 160,000 people with disabilities.

Conclusion

The systematic killing of the weakest and most vulnerable in our society by stealth is being legally sanctioned by government policies that display many of the characteristics of fascist ideology. With a mainstream corporate media that has been virtually silent in their criticism, or have failed to acknowledge that government policies are killing the sick and disabled, its incumbent on people to search out information for themselves.

It’s no longer acceptable for the public to claim ignorance of the cleansing among the weakest and most vulnerable of our fellow citizens happening around them. Let me be clear about this. Anybody who votes for the Conservatives at the next General Election will be complicit in the social murder of sick and disabled people.

But as Blairites like Yvette Cooper have shown, evil is not restricted to the Tories. With Jeremy Corbyn in the ascendancy, now is the ideal opportunity to force through the compulsory re-submission of candidates to members who are energized by a very different set of priorities to self-serving politicians like Cooper.

Those motivated primarily by money will disappear by stealth into the ether. But in order for this to happen, Corbyn needs to grab the bull by the horns by cleverly negotiating the tide of optimism sweeping throughout the grass roots of the party. The Blairites are currently on the defensive and Corbyn should exploit this situation to the maximum by taking control of the hierarchy of the party.

The contradiction between Cooper’s deeds and words outlined in the introduction of this article, highlight the extent to which the ideological consensus between the New Labour hierarchy and the ruling Tory establishment, is structurally embedded within a dysfunctional system of state power that is no longer fit for purpose. Corbyn’s task in changing this situation around is difficult but not impossible. He should resist all calls to bring ‘heavyweights’ like Cooper back into the fore. The sick and disabled depend on it.

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No Man Is An Island: Why UBI Would Benefit Society

By Daniel Margrain

survival-500-white

Last year the Dutch government introduced an experimental universal basic income (UBI) system which is paid to the residents of Utrecht and 19 other Dutch municipalities. Unemployed people receive the equivalent of about £150 a week. If successful, the pilot will include payments to all citizens whether working or not. The aim is not to penalize the unemployed for finding work because they will receive their employment income in addition to the universal income payment. The Finnish government is planning to roll out the latter comprehensive model later this year.

Chris Dillow has done rough sums for the UK and comes up with £130 a week (around $200). Charles Murray had a look at it for the US and went for $10,000 a year, a remarkably similar sum. These are the sorts of amounts that could be paid within our current societies and wouldn’t act as a disincentive to employment because, as Tim Harford argues, people would want to supplement it.

Writer and blogger Tim Worstall has posited that traditional welfare schemes create a disincentive to work, because they typically cause people to lose benefits at around the same rate that their income rises (a form of welfare trap where the marginal tax rate is 100 percent). He has asserted that this particular disincentive is not a property shared by basic income as the rate of increase is positive at all incomes.

Money-saving

In an era when intelligent machines will soon replace human workers in all sectors of the economy, the hope is that a UBI scheme will prevent the government having to spend extra money on the vast array of related services connected to the bureaucratic elements of the state that are dependent on the unemployed for their existence.

This covers everything from unemployed benefit snoopers to the administering of homeless shelters. Then there are the knock-on affects that stem from inequality such as health, poverty and crime. Writing in the Guardian, John O’Farrell astutely points out the benefits of such a system to the UK:

“Since the decline of the unions, workers have been increasingly powerless to refuse longer hours and less money with only the food bank to fall back on if they walk away from an exploitative job. With a guaranteed state income to keep the wolf from the door, employees would be given the bargaining power to demand civilized working conditions and reasonable rates of pay….Our labyrinthine system of benefits and tax credits would disappear and all the stigma of signing on with its degrading culture of blame and humiliation for those at the bottom of the pile.”

The benefit system currently in use in the UK is punitive. Humiliation is cast on those at the bottom of the pile enabling the majority in the middle, to feel better about themselves. O’Farrell  concludes:

“For all the apparent expense of the UBI, we would save the small fortune that the state currently spends mopping up the mess of social problems caused overwhelmingly by chronic poverty. Of course, there are complex reasons for increasing homelessness, for bulging prisons, for growing mental health problems – but desperate financial pressure is a major factor in all of them. Every decade sees us spending increasing billions trying to tighten the lid of the boiling cauldron. It might be so much cheaper just to turn down the temperature a bit.”

Nurturing talent

The long-term socioeconomic and health benefits related to the kind of progressive and enlightened policy adopted by the Dutch and Finns is palpable, not only to the poorest in society but it also has some benefits to those at the top. As Richard Wilkinson put it: “There seems to be some truth in John Donne’s “No man is an island.”

Rather than the punitive strategy of coercion adopted by the British and other governments by which the ‘stick’ is preferred to the ‘carrot’, the introduction of the UBI – based on economic pragmatism rather than state vindictiveness – will almost certainly result in the nurturing of talents and creativity that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily come to fruition.

It’s almost certainly no coincidence that what was arguably the peak of working class creativity in the arts occurred during the 1960s when, underpinned by a universal system of welfare provision, the class in question was at its most confident – a confidence that has been in decline from the mid 1970s onward marked by the ending of the post-war settlement between capital and labour.

Over the last 40 years, ordinary people have found it increasingly difficult to focus on doing things they really like because they tend to spend most of the productive part of their lives working at something they hate often for no other a reason than to maintain the necessities of life – namely securing a roof over their head and ensuring they have access to enough food.

Since the Callaghan government, punishment has been the overriding factor that has guided the social policy of successive UK administrations’ – both Conservative and Labour. The purpose has been to foster a lack of any sense of entitlement. This has involved the gradual removal of a social security safety net to enable the government of the day to maintain a level of social stratification in order that the demands set by unfettered capital be established.

The Dutch and Finnish models, intended to be correctives to the lack of universal provision, is in principle similar to that adopted by the Green Party as outlined in their previous General Election Manifesto. The rationale underpinning the introduction of a system of UBI is that it would not only end the kinds of state bureaucracy and inefficiencies described, but would also be cheaper to administer and hence save the tax payer money. Third, it would boost local economies because poor people would have greater income at their disposal with which to spend on goods and services.

Reduction in inequality

But arguably the greatest benefit is that such a policy would lead to a reduction in inequality whose affects, as Richard Wilkinson has shown, are divisive, harmful and socially corrosive. Research indicates that the world’s richest 1 percent of people own the same amount of wealth as the rest. As Oxfam shows this kind of extreme wealth confers political power that can be used to influence rules and systems in favour of an elite at the expense of everyone else.

However, the more equitable and egalitarian the society, the greater the control people have over their lives. More equal and fair societies provide the conditions by which a system of equality of opportunity can be put into place. Workers, as participants in a scheme of cooperation that contribute toward national income, would then have a claim to a fair share of what they have helped to produce.

Richard Wilkinson shows that a correlation exists between income inequality within countries (not between them) and social gradients in terms of a multitude of indicators. These include health, life expectancy, literacy/numeracy, infant mortality rates, homicide rates, proportion of the population in prison, teenage birthrates, levels of trust, obesity, mental illness – which in standard diagnostic classification includes drug and alcohol addiction – and social mobility.

What the data shows is that in the more equal countries – Japan, Finland, Norway, Sweden – the top 20 percent are about three and a half to four times as rich as the bottom 20 percent. But on the more unequal end – U.K., Portugal, USA, Singapore – the differences are twice as big. On that measure, the UK is twice as unequal as some of the other successful market democracies.

According to research measured by the Gini coefficient, which is widely regarded as the best measurement of income inequality, Holland is the fourth most equal society within the EU while the UK is ranked way down at twenty-one. What impacts on society does this level of inequality point to?

Wilkinson collected internationally comparable data on problems with social gradients – the kind of problems that are more common at the bottom of the social ladder of the kind outlined above – and weighted them equally by putting them all in one index. The data shows an extraordinarily close correlation between inequality and the kinds of social problems described. The same correlation equally applies to children who also perform worse in the more unequal societies.

Data, in its totality

What the data in its totality indicates, is that the average well-being of our societies is not dependent any longer on national income and economic growth. Wilkinson elaborates further:

“That’s very important in poorer countries, but not in the rich developed world. But the differences between us and where we are in relation to each other now matter very much. I’m going to show you some of the separate bits of our index. Here, for instance, is trust. It’s simply the proportion of the population who agree most people can be trusted. It comes from the World Values Survey. You see, at the more unequal end, it’s about 15 percent of the population who feel they can trust others. But in the more equal societies, it rises to 60 or 65 percent. And if you look at measures of involvement in community life or social capital, very similar relationships closely related to inequality.”

In terms of mental illness:

WHO put together figures using the same diagnostic interviews on random samples of the population to allow us to compare rates of mental illness in each society. This is the percent of the population with any mental illness in the preceding year. And it goes from about eight percent up to three times that — whole societies with three times the level of mental illness of others. And again, closely related to inequality.”

The overriding factor that emerges from Wilkinson’s research into inequality are it’s psycho-social effects and how this relates to the kinds of values inherent to a capitalist system in which society is driven by consumerism and competition that leads to status insecurity. The potential for the onset of chronic stress and depression from social sources in turn:

“affect the immune system, the cardiovascular system. Or for instance, the reason why violence becomes more common in more unequal societies is because people are sensitive to being looked down on….I should say that to deal with this we’ve got to…constrain income, the bonus culture incomes at the top. I think we must make our bosses accountable to their employees in any way we can. I think the take-home message though is that we can improve the real quality of human life by reducing the differences in incomes between us.”

With regards to social mobility, Wilkinson states bluntly that “if Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark.”

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Victorian Holocausts & the Tory killing machine

By Daniel Margrain

Author Milan Kundera’s aphorism that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” might well have been written for Britain’s poor, mentally ill and disabled who lately have slipped from the media headlines and hence the consciousness of the wider public. To their credit, shortly before the last General Election, the Mirror newspaper reminded their readers how many ordinary mentally-ill and disabled people who had nothing to do with causing the financial crisis had committed suicide which the Tory government had attempted to cover-up.

Although initially the opposition from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to releasing figures highlighting the number of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claimants who had died between November 2011 and May 2014 was solid, increasing political pressure from below meant that they were eventually forced into releasing the information by the Information Commissioner (IC). The DWP Secretary at that time, Iain Duncan Smith, who admitted that his department has a “duty of care” to benefit claimants, disingenuously insisted that there was no evidence of a ‘causal link’ between the governments work capability assessment (WCA) and the subsequent 590 recorded deaths from suicide, despite the fact that the coroners findings stated that all of the deaths “certainly aren’t linked to any other cause”.

It’s clear that the DWP under Iain Duncan Smith practiced ‘chequebook euthanasia’  in which “WCA assessors used psychological ‘nudge’ techniques to push the mentally-ill towards suicide in order to reduce the ‘burden’ on society caused by these “useless eaters”.  A year down the line, and with Duncan Smith gone, many people hoped that there would be a change in policy direction. But this has been to no avail. After announcing that the government had “no further plans” for benefit cuts in March of this year, Duncan Smith’s replacement, Stephen Crabb has recently said to have gone back on his word.

Crabb has implied that six years of “welfare reforms” (euphemism for £12 billion of cuts) look set to continue for the sick and disabled which will almost certainly result in yet more unnecessary deaths among some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Mike Sivier has correctly, in my view, described this Tory policy as a “war of attrition” that “may clearly be seen as a genocide”. This form of ‘chequebook euthanasia’ would not be possible without the intervention of Chancellor, Gideon Osborne, who oversees the writing of the cheques.

The attempts by the Tories to humiliate and inflict immense suffering on the weakest in society, in what film-maker Ken Loach described as the British governments “conscious cruelty” towards them, would not have come as any surprise to Osborne’s Victorian counterparts. These Victorian politicians would have shared with the Tory Chancellor an ideological commitment towards ending ‘welfare dependency’ which then, as now, lofty sounding morals were regularly evoked.

One of Osborne’s prominent 19th century counterparts was ‘India’s Nero’, Lord Lytton. Queen Victoria’s ‘favourite opium-smoking poet’, vehemently opposed efforts to interfere with ‘market forces’. In 1877-78 he rubber-stamped the export of a record amount of wheat grain to Europe rather than relieve starvation in India. During the late 19th century, India, under Lytton, had effectively become a Utilitarian laboratory where millions of lives were wagered against dogmatic faith in omnipotent markets overcoming the “inconvenience of dearth”.

A similar Utilitarian laboratory had been established by Britain in Ireland during this late Victorian period. Under the tutelage of free market zealot, Chancellor Lord Charles Trevelyan, the Irish famine ‘relief effort’ was put into place that resulted in a politically-induced genocide no different in principle to the ‘chequebook euthanasia’ policy of the modern day Tories. The tragedy of the famine is commemorated by people from all over the world who, next Saturday (May 21), will descend on the beautiful County Mayo coastline in the west of Ireland to take part in the annual ten mile Famine Walk from Doo Lough to Louisburgh – the town where on the night of March 30, 1849, hundreds of starving people arrived seeking relief and workhouse shelter.

They were met at the shelter by the local Poor Law guardians whose role was to ‘inspect’them as certification for their ‘official pauper’ status. This would then supposedly entitle them to a ration of food to be eaten the following morning at a fishing establishment called Delphi Lodge owned by the Marquess of Sligo, ten miles away. Many didn’t arrive at their destination having died from exposure to the harsh elements or through starvation. The few that did make it were refused the relief they were told they were entitled to and they died on their homeward journey, with the bodies remaining where they fell.

Such tragedies were common in Ireland in the mid-19th century. By 1871 the population of Ireland had halved, with at least 1.5 million dead. Two million fled to America, many of them dying during the voyage or on arrival. The historian and critic, Terry Eagleton, describes the famine as “the greatest social disaster of 19th century Europe, an event with something of the characteristics of a low-level nuclear attack.”  In echoing the kind of detached but scornful class-based attitude the contemporary ruling elite have towards their working class minions Trevelyan, in a rather casually racist manner, said of the Irish:

“The great evil with which we have to contend, is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.”

Lord Clarendon, an establishment Anthony Wedgewood (Tony) Benn, of his day, pleaded with the Liberal PM, Lord Russell to intervene, stating:

“Surely this is a state of things to justify you asking the House of Commons for an advance. For I don’t think there is another legislature in Europe that would disregard such suffering as now exists in the west of Ireland, or coldly persist in such a policy of extermination.”

Clarendon’s call for Russell to intervene wasn’t heeded and neither were similar calls to prevent famines in other nations during the Victorian colonial era – China, India, Egypt, Korea, Brazil, Russia, Ethiopia and Sudan. In the latter two countries alone, an estimated one-third of the populations died. The European empires, together with Japan and the United States, rapaciously exploited the opportunity to wrest new colonies, expropriate communal lands, and tap novel sources of plantation and mine labour. As Mike Davis points out:

“What seemed from a metropolitan perspective the nineteenth century’s final blaze of imperial glory was, from an Asian or African viewpoint, only the hideous light of a giant funeral pyre. The total human toll…could not of been less than 30 million victims. Fifty million dead might not be unrealistic.”

The famines of the Victorian era continue to resonate today. Then, as now, they are a symptom of social and economic policies that result in unnecessary deaths. Even in the 19th century this was well understood. The radical journalist and humanitarian, William Digby, principal chronicler of the 1876 Madras famine, as well as famed naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, for example, both viewed mass starvation as an avoidable political tragedy not ‘natural’ disaster. Published in 1898, Wallace characterized the famines in India and China, together with the slum poverty of the industrial cities, as “the most terrible failures of the century.”

Millions died, not outside the capitalist system but in the very process of being forcibly incorporated into its economic and political structures. Indeed, they were murdered by the theological application of the sacred principles of Smith, Locke, Hobbes, Bentham, Malthus and Mill in much the same way as hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of today’s poor, mentally ill and disabled have, under the Tories, died as a result of the neoclassical economic Chicago School’s application of the sacred principles of Friedman and Stigler. The consensus view among the ruling class of the Victorian era was that famine was deemed to be morally justifiable as a “salutary cure for over-population.”

Today, over 3 million of the world’s children die (needlessly) from hunger. Indebted countries are forced to export food as a ‘free-market’ commodity while the producers are denied their own produce and many of them go hungry, and their children starve. That is what happened in Ireland and India. In Trevelyan and Lytton’s day it was known as Liberalism. Today it is known as ‘neoliberalism’. “England made the famine”, wrote the Irish socialist, James Connolly, “by a rigid application of the economic principles that lie at the base of capitalist society.” In essence, nothing has changed. The ruling class attitude towards the poor and sick who suffer as a result of the political consequences and actions of those who rule over them, is as embedded today as it was a century and a half ago.

‘I Was Only Following Orders.’

By Daniel Margrain

I was only following orders of my superiors” was a not an adequate defense for Nazi war criminals”. The legal precedent set by the Nuremberg Principle IV states:

“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

Back in December The Poor Side of Life made the following observation:

I was stopped by a homeless chap who wanted to congratulate us on our hard work. He said that he hated this Job Centre. His friend who lived on the streets with him had been sanctioned after being taken off the sickness benefits that he was on and was put on Job seekers Allowance. He had severe mental health and addiction problems. He was sanctioned, and without warm clothes and very little food he fell asleep on the streets and never woke up. He died of hypothermia. People had passed him and thought that he was asleep. He didn’t stand a chance. And what do the Job Centre staff say? “We are only following orders.” 

On August 27 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that the number who died while claiming incapacity benefits between January 2011 and February 2014 was a shocking 91,740. This represents an increase to an average of 99 deaths per day or 692 per week, between the start of December 2011 and the end of February 2014 – compared with 32 deaths per day/222 per week between January and November 2011. DWP figures also show that some 2,380 people have died after being found fit for work and losing benefits.

Canadian Disability Studies specialist and disability activist Samuel Miller, has been communicating frequently and voluntarily, since January 2012, to senior United Nations officials, on the welfare crisis for the United Kingdom’s sick and disabled. The campaigning seems to have worked as the U.N seems likely to set up an inquiry into the sheer brutality and callousness of Iain Duncan Smith and his department.

Duncan Smiths attacks on the most vulnerable in society are being undertaken on the basis of the Tory support for austerity which is one of the greatest ever confidence tricks perpetuated on the British public. The reality is austerity under the behest of civil servants’ following orders, kills the poorest whilst the pockets of the wealthiest get fatter.