Tag: cheque book euthanasia

Disabled people: marginalised, dehumanised & declared fit to work

 

By Daniel Margrain

This time next month, council tax bill increases that average five per cent will have arrived on the door mats of millions of people. The low paid, unemployed and pensioners with fixed incomes will be among the hardest hit. But there is another group of people – the disabled – who will be hit even harder. This increase will likely push many of the most vulnerable of our citizens over the edge of an already gaping precipice that began widening following drastic reforms to the welfare system that followed the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. Further drastic cuts occurred four years later following the passing of the Welfare Reform and Work Act which, it has been estimated, will have cut nearly £28bn of social security support to 3.7m disabled people by 2018.

What film director Ken Loach described as the “conscious cruelty” of the Tory government seems to know no bounds. A few days before the May, 2015 General Election, 100 disabled people from a variety of backgrounds – ranging from nurses to actresses, academics to museum managers – signed and published a letter addressed to the British electorate – saying they believe that “if the Conservative Party was to form the next government, either our own lives or the lives of others in our community would be in profound danger”. The letter continued: “Disabled people have been hit by spending cuts nine times harder than the general population, and those needing social care have been hit 19 times harder…Now we read of £12 billion more cuts.”

This ought to have been the cause of massive, sustained outrage and disgust, and should certainly have been sufficient enough to have brought down not only the minister responsible at the time, Iain Duncan Smith, but the entire Tory government. But not only were the government under Cameron re-elected, but Duncan-Smith’s revised plans to transform disabled people’s lives by getting them into work, ended up killing many more of them in the days, weeks and months that followed.

Cheque book euthanasia

On August 27, 2015, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures revealed that between December 2011 to February 2014, 2,650 people died after being told they should find work following a “Work Capability Assessment” (WCA). 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 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.”

Not only did the Conservative government try to cover-up the figures, but have continued with a policy strategy that has resulted in the killing of hundreds or possibly thousands more people after they have been deemed “fit for work.”

Such a policy can reasonably be described as ‘cheque book euthanasia’ in as much as it is clear that the intention to kill is deliberate, conscious and systematic. While researching for the film I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s script-writer, Paul Laverty referred to a statement made to him by a civil servant who described the victims of this cheque book euthanasia as “low-lying fruit”, in other words the easy targets. Several whistle blowers he met anonymously said they were “humiliated how they were forced to treat the public.”

While all decent people rightly regard this ‘involuntary euthanasia’ strategy to be deeply shocking, it should be noted that it is not 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 its killing of ‘undesirables’. As was the case with the Nazi’s, the underlying narrative of the Tories is that the long-term unemployed, sick and disabled are a ‘drain on society’ whose value is measured solely in terms of their perceived negative impact on the ‘taxpayer’.

Social Darwinism

These ideas are a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories, which adapted Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest to describe 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.

Many people might opine that to compare modern day Tories to Nazi’s is far-fetched. While they may have a point, it’s nevertheless undeniable that similar disturbing parallels and types of trends that blinded Germans to the potential of Adolf Hitler can be found in contemporary society. For example, both Nazi Germany and the Conservative government over time, created – through a strategy of divide and rule – a climate in which the marginalization and the dehumanization of targeted minorities were blamed for societies ills.

What is also undeniable, is that a universal social security system that has at its basis the proposals set out in the Beveridge Report (1942), has been in steady retreat from the mid- 1970s with a greater emphasis on means-testing and exclusion. The Conservative government under David Cameron, and now Theresa May, seem to be taking this ethos several stages further with their Dickensian ‘back to the future’ strategy not experienced since the Poor Law of the 19th century and before.

Civilized society?

Emboldened by what some perceive as a weakness in the Labour opposition to bring the Tories to account, the May government appears to be testing the limits by which civilized society is measured. Recently announced government measures intended to undermine the basis of legal rulings will, if successful, result in around 160,000 disabled people being stripped of their right to access Personal Independent Payment (PIPs).

These measures also undermine mental and physical health parity, contradicting a speech by PM Theresa May in which she promised to transform attitudes to mental health by reducing the stigma attached to it. This contradiction was underlined further after Tory MP George Freeman stated that benefits should only go to the “really disabled.”

The attempt to strip some of the most vulnerable people in society of their basic humanity in these ways are, in the words of the shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, “a step too far, even for this Tory government.”

Fine words. But will a future Labour government reverse these cruel Tory policies? Under a Corbyn government one would hope so. But judging by the actions of some other prominent members of the party in the recent past, this is not guaranteed. The acting Labour leader prior to the election of Jeremy Corbyn, Harriet Harman, for example, supported the principle of the Tory Welfare Cap.

Imaginary wheelchair woman

But Harman’s actions were put in the shade by those of Yvette Cooper. While Secretary of State for Work and Pensions under the previous Labour government, Cooper had drawn up plans that would almost certainly have met with the approval of Iain Duncan-Smith.

This is the relevant part of an article from April 13, 2010, which suggests that Cooper’s policy outlook is no different to that of the Tories she supposedly despises:

“Tens of thousands of claimants facing losing their benefit on review, or on being transferred from incapacity benefit, as plans to make the employment and support allowance (ESA) medical much harder to pass are approved by the secretary of state for work and pensions, Yvette Cooper.

The shock plans for ‘simplifying’ the work capability assessment, drawn up by a DWP working group, include docking points from amputees who can lift and carry with their stumps. Claimants with speech problems who can write a sign saying, for example, ‘The office is on fire!’ will score no points for speech and deaf claimants who can read the sign will lose all their points for hearing.

Meanwhile, for ‘health and safety reasons’ all points scored for problems with bending and kneeling are to be abolished and claimants who have difficulty walking can be assessed using imaginary wheelchairs.

Claimants who have difficulty standing for any length of time will, under the plans, also have to show they have equal difficulty sitting, and vice versa, in order to score any points. And no matter how bad their problems with standing and sitting, they will not score enough points to be awarded ESA.

In addition, almost half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which points can be scored are being removed from the new ‘simpler’ test, greatly reducing the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion, depression and anxiety.

There are some improvements to the test under the plans, including exemptions for people likely to be starting chemotherapy and more mental health grounds for being admitted to the support group. But the changes are overwhelmingly about pushing tens of thousands more people onto JSA.

If all this sounds like a sick and rather belated April Fools joke to you, we’re not surprised.  But the proposals are genuine and have already been officially agreed by Yvette Cooper, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. They have not yet been passed into law, but given that both Labour and the Conservatives seem intent on driving as many people as possible off incapacity related benefits, they are likely to be pursued by whichever party wins the election…..”

If this wasn’t bad enough, it should also be noted that during Cooper’s challenge for the Labour leadership, she accepted an undisclosed sum of £75,000 from businessman Dan Jarvis which contributed to the New Labour enthusiasts campaign.

The mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to that scandal at the time, nor did they highlight Coopers subsequent hypocrisy and nastiness. Following what columnist Fraser Nelson described tellingly as “the terrifying victory of Jeremy Corbyn’s mass movement” at staving off the coup attempt against him, the Corbyn critic and New Labour MP for Normanton, Ponefract, Castleford and Nottingley tweeted the following:

Congratulations re-elected today. Now the work starts to hold everyone together, build support across country & take Tories on

Clearly, a day is a long time for liars to avoid tripping over their own pronouncements. Less than 48 hours after her insincere message on Twitter, the Blairite MP engaged in a media publicity stunt intended to draw a deeper wedge between the PLP and the membership.

Sisterly love?

Cooper’s crude ‘politics of identity’ strategy was to infer that shadow chancellor John McDonnell was a misogynist for his use of emotionally charged language in defending the “appalling” treatment of disabled people by the last government.

The context in which McDonnell made his remark was set against a backdrop in which former Tory secretary of state for work and pensions, Esther McVey, planned to cut the benefits of more than 300,000 disabled people. That Cooper rushed to the defence of a Tory 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 was the media’s obvious double-standards. A few days prior to their reporting of McDonnell’s comment, Guardian journalist Nicholas Lezard called for the crowdfunded assassination of Corbyn. Needless to say, there was no media outrage at this suggestion.

Selective outrage is what many people have come to expect from a partisan anti-Corbyn media. In May, 2015, independent journalist, Mike Sivier reported on Cooper’s criticism of those “using stigmatising language about benefit claimants”.

But as the article highlighted above illustrates, while in office as Labour’s secretary of state for work and pensions, Cooper had drawn up plans that were as brutal as any Tory.

Indeed, the policy plans she drew up were subsequently adopted by the Coalition government under the tutelage of Esther McVey. In policy terms, it would thus appear Cooper has more in common with McVey than she does with McDonnell. This, and her disdain towards both Corbyn and McDonnell and the mass membership they represent, explains her outburst. She was not motivated by sisterly love.

Cooper’s deeds and words are yet another illustration as to the extent to which the ideological consensus between the New Labour hierarchy as represented by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on the one hand, and the ruling Tory establishment on the other, is structurally embedded within a dysfunctional system of state power that is no longer fit for purpose.

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‘I, Daniel Blake’: A tale of Dickensian cruelty in Tory Britain

By Daniel Margrain

The mismanagement of the UK economy by both the New Labour and Tory governments’ that followed the global crash of 2008 led to the poorest and weakest in society disproportionately picking up the pieces by way of savage cuts and austerity resulting from this incompetency. This is the context in which British film director Ken Loach denounced what he described as the UK governments “conscious cruelty” towards the poor following the screening of his latest film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ at the Cannes Film Festival five months ago. Loach’s questioning of the narrative which suggests that the poor are to blame for an economic predicament beyond their control rather than the vagaries of the capitalist system, is a notion that is widely accepted within the hierarchy of government.

Loach’s film, whose red carpet London premier two days ago (October 18) was attended by Jeremy Corbyn, is story about a skilled working class man who, after having suffered a heart attack, is at the end of his tether as a result of his attempts to navigate an uncaring, remote and labyrinthine ‘work capability assessment’ process integral to the UK benefit system. The scenario is one in which many of us would have experienced directly or known of friends or family who have/are going through a similar nightmare.

Loach’s denunciation of the Tory governments approach to welfare, is predicated on its unnecessary commitment to a supply-side economic strategy centered on ideology rather than pragmatism. Indeed, given the governments awareness of the causal link between their anachronistic work capability assessment programme and suicide rates, the hatred they have towards the poor can be said to be pathological.

Cheque book euthanasia

The governments strategy of ‘cheque book euthanasia’  is, in principle, similar to the way Nazi Germany, over time, created – through a strategy of divide and rule – a climate in which the marginalization and the dehumanization of targeted minorities were blamed for the ills of society. In Germany it was the Jews who bore the brunt of this treatment as the Nazi state methodically marked them out for destruction, first by innuendo, next by legal sanction and finally by the direct action of rounding them up and exterminating them.

Other groups including gypsies, communists, homosexuals and those with permanent disabilities were labeled as being ‘undesirables’, a drain on society and likewise a target for elimination. The process by which the Final Solution was implemented was as gradual as it was deliberate. By cultivating the notion that the unemployed and disabled are somehow ‘undeserving’ is to implant within the wider public consciousness the notion that some human beings are less worthy than others, are not a legitimate part of society and are therefore ‘sub-human’.

I’m not suggesting a direct comparison between Nazi Germany and the contemporary British state under the Tories currently exists. I am, however, arguing that there are disturbing parallels and similar types of trends that blinded Germans to the potential of Adolf Hitler which can be found within our society today. What is certain, is that a universal social security system that has at its basis the proposals set out in the Beveridge Report (1942), has been in steady retreat from the mid 1970s with a greater emphasis on means-testing and exclusion. The Conservative government under David Cameron, and now Theresa May, seem to be taking this ethos several stages further with their Dickensian ‘back to the future’ policy not experienced since the Poor Law of the 19th century and before.

Poor Law

The Poor Law was first established in Elizabethan times as the means of providing relief from local funds for those unable to provide for themselves. In the 19th century it became a national system of state support under which those who could prove they were destitute would receive public assistance on the condition that this assistance included a direct incentive to seek alternative self-support. It was provided on a more punitive (‘less eligible’) basis than the conditions of those in the worst paid employment. This early form of social security often took the form of the harsh conditions of the state institution known as the workhouse. The intention was to make the conditions in the workhouse so harsh that the ‘able-bodied’ unemployed would do virtually anything rather than apply for relief.

The only objective difference between then and the present is there is currently no workhouse in existence. However, there is no logical reason to think that the political establishment will not consider the re-introduction of a variation of the workhouse in the foreseeable future. History has shown that large swaths of the middle classes have been only too willing to succumb to the divide and rule strategies of the ruling elites by pointing their fingers at those less fortunate than themselves as long as they are not deemed to be directly affected by such strategies.

The middle classes of the mid-19th century, for example, had been willing to tolerate the poor living in overcrowded squalor and dying of disease or hunger. But by the late 19th century they understood how diseases could spread from poor to rich neighbourhoods and so pushed for the building of sewage systems, the clearing of overcrowded city centres, the supply of clean water and the provision of gas to light streets and heat homes. Then, as now, the ruling class attitude towards the poor was, at best, indifferent.

Women and children provided the cheapest and most adaptable labour for the spinning mills, and they were crammed in with no thought for the effect on their health or on the care of younger children. If capital accumulation necessitated the destruction of the working class family, then so be it! By the 1850s, however, the more far-sighted capitalists began to fear that future reserves of labour power were being exhausted. In Britain in 1871, the Poor Law inspectors reported:

“It is well established that no town-bred boys of the poorer classes, especially those reared in London, ever attains…four feet ten and a half inches’ in height or a chest of 29 inches’ at the age of 15. A stunted growth is characteristic of the race.”

The Mansion House Committee of 1893 drew the conclusion that “the obvious remedy…is to improve the stamina, physical and moral, of the London working class.”

Robert Malthus

A succession of laws restricted the hours which children could work, and banned the employment of women in industries that might damage their chances of successful pregnancy. In terms of the unemployed, sick and disabled, the ruling and middle classes of the Victorian era argued that they were justified in treating these groups in the manner that they did because they perceived them as a ‘drain on society’ – an argument that was reinforced by the pseudo-scientific writings of the 18th century Anglican clergyman, Robert Malthus.

According to Malthus, population growth will inevitably lead to resource depletion because, he claimed, there is a tendency for the mass of the population to reproduce at a greater rate than the ability of existing populations to produce food under conditions where living standards exceed the bare level of subsistence. It is little wonder that Malthus’s theory of population was invoked by 19th century capitalists and their apologists in order to justify paying workers their bare subsistence and no more. This myth continues to shape the decision-making processes of numerous contemporary social policy-makers and, moreover, legitimized, in part, the thinking that underpinned Hitler’s extermination policy.

Malthus’s theory also provides some insight as to why many people misguidedly believe that the world is over-populated and therefore that the “conscious cruelty” outlined by Ken Loach that continues to result in the deaths of the poor and weak, is deemed to be a price worth paying. Malthus’s theory, in other words, proffers the kind of justification for the attacks by the Tories, their apologists and supporters against some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It is the cruelty and pathological hatred of the disadvantaged by the Cameron and May governments depicted in I, Daniel Blake that won the film the prestigious Palm d’Or at Cannes.

Low-lying fruit

It is this kind of cruelty and pathological hatred of the working class by the ruling class that has continued to resonate throughout the centuries and which Loach has managed to capture so movingly on film. During the press conference at Cannes, Loach related the themes in I, Daniel Blake to a quotation by Bertolt Brecht – ”and I always thought the simplest of words must suffice. When I say what things are like, it will break the hearts of all”.

Loach said that what he tried to do in the film “was to say what things are like, because it not only breaks your heart, but it should make you angry… He continued, “In the places where…[the governments ‘work capability’ assessments] take place, some people who work there have been given instructions on how to deal with potential suicides, so they know this is going on… It is deeply shocking that this is happening at the heart of our world… the heart of it is a shocking, shocking policy.”

Script writer, Paul Laverty said:

“The people who are disabled, have suffered six times more from the cuts than anyone else, and there was a remarkable phrase by one of the civil servants we heard who talked about the cuts, who said “low-lying fruit”, in other words the easy targets. So this story could have been much harsher, it could have been somebody with mental health difficulties… we could have told a story from someone who is much more vulnerable, much more heartbreaking.”

Laverty continued:

“I think it’s very important to remember too the systematic nature of it….talking to whistle blowers, people who worked inside the Department of Work and Pensions… there are several people we met, and they spoke to us anonymously…They said they were humiliated how they were forced to treat the public. So there is nothing accidental about it, and it is affecting a huge section of the population.”

The commercial and critical success of I, Daniel Blake is a testament to the growing awareness of the repugnant way in which the political establishment in Britain treat many of their citizens. Whether the film will be as influential in affecting positive social change as one of Loach’s earliest films, Cathy Come Home, remains to be seen. We can only hope it does.