Tag: social darwinism

Hell of a state: What the tragic story of Don Lane tells us about Tory Britain

By Daniel Margrain

Don Lane

Don Lane, who suffered from diabetes, earned his living by delivering parcels to peoples’s homes and businesses throughout the country. Although Mr Lane was paid a salary by the giant courier company he worked for, according to the law, he was “self-employed”.

The amount he was paid depended on how many parcels he delivered. Mr Lane received no holiday or sick pay and was under constant pressure to meet targets. Drivers for the company get fined by them for rounds they miss. Mr Lane was recently fined for attending a medical appointment to treat his diabetes where tragically he collapsed and died.

The scandal that underlies the story is one which the bosses and shareholders of giant multinational companies like the one Don Lane worked “self-employed” for, have seen their dividends and pay go through the roof, while workers at the bottom, have experienced a real terms drop in their income over many years. The ideology that drives this “gushing up” of wealth towards the top, is called neoliberalism.

Before its onset four decades ago, the UK was a much more equal society than it is at present. The available data shows that the share of income going to the top 10 per cent of the population fell over the 40 years to 1979, from 34.6 per cent in 1938 to 21 per cent, while the share going to the bottom 10 per cent rose slightly.

As measured by the Gini Coefficient (see below), the redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest, rose sharply under the Thatcher government in 1979. The trend continued, albeit less drastically, under successive Tory and Labour governments where it reached a peak in 2009-10.

Figures show that GDP, adjusted for inflation, has grown over the last 60 years from £432bn in 1955 to £1,864bn in 2016. This increase in wealth, however, has become increasingly concentrated in fewer hands.

Inequality

SourceIFS 2016

Impact of inequality

report by Oxfam highlights the significant role neoliberalism plays in perpetuating inequality and suggests that the societies most affected are more prone to conflict or instability. The report also points out that extremes of inequality are bad for economic growth, as well as being related to a range of health and social problems including mental illness and violent crime.

Moreover, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of the book, The Spirit Level. argue that other impacts of inequality include drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer well-being for children.

Left Foot Forward has cited studies that illustrate the close correlation between inequality and unhappiness. The tendency to equate outward wealth with inner worth means that inequality colours our social perceptions. It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to, and treat, each other.

But rather than introducing socioeconomic policies that help reduce inequality, the Conservative government under Theresa May, has deliberately and consciously continued with the failed high borrowing-low investment/high debt economic neoliberal model that gives rise to it. Under the guise of austerity, the government have instead turned on workers, the sick and the disabled. The result has been increasing rates of depression, anxiety and suicides.

Fragmented

The existence of fragmented and atomised communities outside the confines of the workplace, the reduction in organised labour within it (illustrated by the long-term decline in trade union membership) and the lack of any safety net, means that ordinary people are increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of “market forces”.

The ideology that underpins the neoliberal assault is the pseudo-science concept known as biological determinism, the legitimacy of which rests on the assertion that the social order is a consequence of unchanging human biology, as opposed to the result of inherited economic privilege or luck.

Thus, biological determinism reinforces the notion that inequality, injustice and the existence of entrenched hierarchical social structures of government, media and commerce are “natural”.

But it also highlights the artificial limits that a system driven by profit imposes. Any rejection of biological determinism and the rigged market system that reinforces it, is regarded by its promoters as being the fault of the individual, not the social institutions or the way society is structured.

Thus, according to evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists and those within the elite political and media establishment, the solution to overcoming inequality and injustice is not to challenge existing social structures upon which “reality” is based, but rather to alter the chemical composition of the human brain to accommodate it to this reality.

In extreme circumstances it has been used to justify the elimination of individuals altogether who challenge the prevailing orthodoxy and/or whose values are perceived to be a “drain on the taxpayer”.

Social Darwinism

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’ or ‘low hanging fruit’. These ideas are a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories.

The said theories 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.

Intellectual challenges to neoliberalism and evolutionary psychology help undermine the notion that rigid social stratification, inequality and injustice used to justify them, are inevitable. Indeed, prominent economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Dani Rodrik and Jeffrey Sachs have for a long time been raising their voices against the neoliberal experiment.

What is self-evidently clear is that the current rigged economic system in which power is increasingly concentrated at the top, is not sustainable. The only thing preventing our ability to tackle extreme inequality is political will.

At the next election voters will be faced with a clear choice – either to maintain the status quo by returning the Conservatives to power or, alternatively, to engender a paradigm shift by electing a Labour government. If future Don Lane’s are to be avoided, then we have no alternative other than to ensure a Corbyn victory.

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21st Century Victorian Holocausts

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 the starving, poor, sick, mentally ill and disabled whose suffering the vast majority of the political-media class are attempting to wipe from the pages of history.

One rare exception is the Daily Mirror who occasionally report on the plight of world’s “unpeople”. I will never forget, for example, their courageous coverage of the Iraq WMD debacle or the fact they were the only corporate daily paper at the time to give prominence to John Pilger’s insightful journalism. Also, to their credit, shortly before the last General Election, they 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’s revelations underpinned the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refusal to release figures highlighting the number of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claimants who had died between November, 2011 and May, 2014. It was only after concerted political pressure from below that the government 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 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”. It was subsequently revealed that WCA assessors “used 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 the attempts by WCA assessors to ‘nudge’ people off benefits towards work, almost certainly represents the tip of an enormous ice berg.

In an an attempt to humanize some of those who died in this way, concerned citizens have recorded the personal details of some of the individuals and the circumstances that led to their untimely deaths. This information can be viewed here, here, here and here. It’s particularly shocking to this writer that in Britain in 2017 many of those listed died of starvation.

Deception

The recent 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 spoke repeatedly of dishonesty, “fraudulent conduct” and “lie after lie after lie” told by assessors in their reports, on which DWP decision-makers based their decisions on their eligibility for Personal Independence payments (PIPs).

This comes on top of the introduction (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“.

The DNS findings also come a few days after their revelation of new plans which indicate that the Tory genocide against the sick and disabled is set to accelerate. The news service have revealed that new government reviews into PIPs means that disabled people are constantly in fear of having their payments cuts or, worse, halted.

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 last month (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.

Life unworthy of life

While all decent people rightly regard this ‘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’ whose value was measured solely in terms of their perceived negative impact on the ‘taxpayer’.

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.

Off benefits into coffins

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

What independent journalist, Mike Sivier, correctly, in my view, described as a preventable “war of attrition” amounts to an ideological attack on those who are least able to defend themselves. This war is continuing under the current DWP minister, Damian Green, after it was recently revealed that the government reversed Tribunal rulings that would have extended financial support to 160,000 people with disabilities.

The attempts by the Tories to humiliate and inflict immense suffering on the weakest in society, is what film-maker Ken Loach described as the British governments “conscious cruelty” towards them.

Historical continuum

The ethnic cleansing of the poor by stealth is not, of course, limited to British citizens but forms an integral part of an historical continuum that extends throughout the world. The Nazi Genocide was an extreme version of the ruling classes attitude towards ‘undesirables’.

The symbiosis that exists between the UK government, M15/6, the vice-chair of the BBC Trust and British arms manufacturer, BAE Systems (ie the industrial-military complex or ‘Deep State’), is a contemporary expression of how this ‘conscious cruelty’ is being played out in relation, for example, to the killing fields of Yemen.

UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia exceed the amount given in aid to Yemen by a factor of ten and is indicative of how imperial power, whose corollary is the industrial-military complex, is actively complicit in a famine that is engulfing the country. As Chris Murphy, citing a Huffington Post article, put it: “I feel like a broken record, but please read this – we are plunging Yemen into famine – on purpose.” Even the Economist concedes that famine which is menacing millions of people throughout the country, is a consequence of war, not drought.

Not only is the UK government providing the Saudi regime with the BAE bombs that are being dropped on Yemeni civilians but, as historian Mark Curtis has shown, it has a long collaborative history of training and funding Jihadist Islamist groups in its various proxy wars in countries that include Libya, Iran, Pakistan, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Bosnia. The famine in Yemen is directly linked to the UK governments collusion with radical Islam as part of its strategy to extract resources from the country.

Expendable

In essence, the poor and weak are viewed by imperial power as nothing more than expendable objects to be dehumanized, stigmatized and exploited as part of the imperial game of profit maximization. Whether it’s the culling of ‘useless eaters’ in Britain, the historical asset-stripping of Africa, the contemporary conflicts in Syria and Iraq or the famine in Yemen, the principles and objectives are invariably the same – the theft of resources, the exploitation of the poor and weak and the undermining of basic human rights.

These ideas would not have come as any surprise to the politicians of the Victorian era who would have shared with Tory Work and Pensions Secretary, Damian Green, Chancellor, Philip Hammond and Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, an ideological commitment towards ending ‘welfare dependency’ and promoting ‘humanitarian interventionism’ and the ‘responsibility to protect’. Then, as now, lofty sounding morals are regularly evoked.

One of Hammond’s prominent 19th century counterparts was ‘India’s Nero’, Lord Lytton. Like Hammond, Queen Victoria’s “favourite opium-smoking poet”, vehemently opposed efforts to interfere with “market forces”. In 1877-78 Lytton 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”.

Free market zealot

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 ‘cheque book euthanasia’ policy of the modern day Tories.

The tragedy of the famine is commemorated each year by people from all over the world. Later next month (May 20, 2017), those gathered will descend on the beautiful County Mayo coastline in the west of Ireland to take part in the 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 the country 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.”

Pleading

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.”

Resonates

The famines of the Victorian era continue to resonate today throughout Africa. Then, as now, they were 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 killed 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 a morally justifiable “salutary cure for over-population.” Today, over three 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 deeply embedded today as it was a century and a half ago.

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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Useless Mouths

Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify its ‘involuntary euthanasia’ program. Theorists argued that certain categories of people were nothing but a burden on society and therefore had no ‘right’ to life.   These ideas were 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.

Of course there was nothing ‘natural’ about these ideas, or the malignant ways that the Nazis made use of them.   In Nazi ideology, the state killing of the disabled, the sick and the mentally-ill was the beginning of a conveyor belt that led to the wholesale extermination of the Jews and ‘inferior races’ Slavic races during World War II.

Nazism may have been a unique political evil, but the influence of Social Darwinism should remind us that not all of its ideas were entirely original, and that Nazi Germany was not the only country to categorize certain peoples according to strictly utilitarian notions of their perceived usefulness to society.

Consider our own government.  This week it was revealed that nearly 4,000 people died within weeks of being declared fit for work by the DWP.  This ought to be a cause of massive, sustained outrage and disgust, and should certainly be enough to bring down the minister responsible.   Instead Iain Duncan Smith – the sneering face of Tory cruelty –announced new plans to force disabled people into work. Why?  Because Duncan Smith wants ‘to ensure everyone has the opportunity to transform their lives by getting into work’ – even if that transformation only applies to the few days or weeks before they die.

The fact that these deaths have caused very little outcry is a disturbing indication of how low UK society and its political class have sunk these last years.   Quietly, effortlessly, and with very little opposition, Britain has become a society in which certain categories of people are regarded in practice if not in principle, as ‘useless mouths’ whose value to society is measured solely in terms of their perceived negative impact on ‘the taxpayer’.

The government, with the feeble cooperation of a supine opposition, with the help of its tabloid allies and the shameful depravity of TV companies engaging in poverty porn, has been able to characterize people receiving state benefitsas ‘scroungers’  and parasites, rather than people who need the same help from the state that current taxpayers may one day need themselves.

This ideological assault has been so successful that even providing state assistance to the sick and the disabled is regarded as an unnecessary and unfair burden on the taxpayer, and the ability to work is treated as the sole benchmark of social usefulness. Once you begin to accept these parameters, it becomes very easy to force sick people to work, even though their deaths make it clear that they were are so ill that they should not be working at all.

Now some of you ought there might still be naive or sentimental enough to fell a little revulsion at the notion that sick and terminally-ill people should be put through the stress of having to look for work, or losing their state support in the last weeks of their lives.  But you are not getting the point: in the view of this government only people who work have any social value and the state should not be obliged to support the ‘useless mouths’ who don’t work.  Come on now, it’s not rocket science.

I’m not suggesting that we are ruled by Nazis.  Our government doesn’t deliberately kill the people it regards as useless.   Most of the time it merely torments them, and creates a situation in which death becomes more likely.   But its fanatical obsession with measuring usefulness solely in terms of the perceived benefits to ‘the taxpayer’ has created a society in which suffering and death can be regarded with complete indifference and produce nothing more than a collective shrug of the shoulders and a weary shake of the head.

The same ideology also applies to the scroungers who call themselves refugees or asylum seekers, who the government regards as nothing more than ‘health tourists’ and another unjustified burden on ‘the taxpayer’.   That’s why we have just passed a law which will reduce ‘failed’ asylum seekers and their children to destitution and hunger even if they can’t return to their countries of origin.   It’s why the Home Office has declared Eritrea a safe country on the basis of a discredited report by the Danish government.  It’s why we have allowed less than 200 Syrian refugees into the country.

If you enforce restrictions like these, there is always the possibility that people will die trying to evade them.  Our government knew that last year, when it argued against search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean on the grounds that such operations would increase the ‘pull factors’ that brought migrants here.   The unspoken corollary of this argument is an acceptance of death and suffering as a necessary consequence of border enforcement and immigration restrictions.

If you believe, as the government has again and again invited the public to believe, that the men, women and children who are coming to Europe have no other objective or motivation except to take advantage of our ‘generous’ benefits system – another burden on the taxpayer – then it becomes possible to accept any level of death, pain and injury with a sense of tragic equanimity, as though such deaths were the result of a natural disaster or force majeur.

Of course, the government doesn’t want migrants to die.   But like the European Union and so many European governments, it has helped create a situation in which death is likely and almost certain to occur.  In order to justify this,  it has relentlessly dehumanized and caricatured stateless people to the point when they are regarded as ‘surplus people’ whose lives have less value or significance than ours and who somehow threaten us.

This summer we have seen enough unnecessary death to make us sick.  In the last two months eighteen people have died in Calais trying to ‘break into Britain’.   Only this week nearly 200 people drowned in the Mediterranean, some 50 of whom may have suffocated to death in the hold of the boat they were travelling on, and another  71 men, women and children have suffocated to death in the back of a lorry.

In the face of these horrors, the German government has called on European countries to accept quotas of refugees in response to the gravest refugee crisis since World War II.   The British government has not budged, and there is very little possibility that it will budge without serious domestic pressure.

That requires a transformation in the way that migration is perceived.  But for such a transformation to occur we need to reject the neo-liberal variant of Social Darwinism practiced by this government that is turning Britain into something cruel and monstrous, and remember that our society will be defined by the way we treat those who need our help, whether they come from inside our borders or beyond them.

The above article was originally posted on Matt Carr’s Infernal Machine