Osbourne’s Obfuscations

The Observer reports on a secret exchange of letters between Osbourne and Duncan-Smith which targets ESA (Employment Support Allowance –the successor to Incapacity Benefit).

To quote the article which, in turn, quotes the leaked letter

“Reform to the employment support allowance is a particular priority and I am pleased that you, the prime minister and I have agreed to press ahead with reforms to the ESA as part of the spending review that will deliver net savings of at least £2.5bn by 2014-15.

Employment Support Allowance is specifically targeted at people who are unable to work for health reasons. To qualify there are a number of hoops and assessments that need to be jumped through with sufficient points but I’m no expert on benefits rules – especially benefits for adults of working age – as that is an area I have no experience of.

The details can’t be commented on because they don’t exist yet – although we’ll know soon enough – what I find particularly despicable is Osbourne, the multi-millionaire, public school educated, aristocrat who has never held a proper job in his life before politics – criticising the so-called ‘benefits lifestyle’ and cutting further money from the benefits bill on top of that already announced.

I wonder what Osbourne and his advisers know about the ‘benefits lifestyle’. I wonder if he actually, personally, speaks to people who are trapped in an inefficient benefits system and who are struggling to maintain dignity despite the governments’ rumblings. I wonder if he has ever met anyone ‘poor’ and actually spoken to them face to face. The problem is that decision-making is so far removed from the people the decisions most affect.

There has also been some very intentional obfuscation of the details of Disability Living Allowance and the announcement of more testing to ‘proof’ ones’ entitlement smacks of pulling it into the group-think of ‘benefits bad’, ‘disability bad’, that is veering on discriminatory. Of course, legally, all the bases will be covered but socially, this kind of talk DOES stigmatise disabled people. Who would be encouraged to put a claim in that they are wholly entitled to if they feel that the government and the media and by extension the ‘general public’ are castigating them for not being as fit and  healthy as everyone else.

The obvious comment as well is that jobs are more difficult to find now.

I have no doubt, in fact, I’ve met a few people who don’t work and have no intention of every finding work, but that doesn’t mean that people who are entitled to the benefits that exist should feel guilty about having to claim what they are entitled to. A few people (and it IS a few people – make no mistake) do not create a ‘rule’.

There are far more people who would benefit a lot more by being supported and encouraged through the periods of time that they might have to claim state benefits to live than by being continually hounded, harangued and ostracised by the government itself buying into a media frenzy of targeting people on benefits.

It is a horrible middle-class sport to play on the ‘superiority complex’ of those who have to gloat over those who have little. We can snigger from behind our copies of the The Telegraph or The Mail at people who live in poverty  and rail about how much they might cost ‘the system’ but I begrudge them far less than those who live in their Knightbridge mansions and snigger while shifting millions into off-shore accounts and playing the tax systems through their use of skilful accountancy. It is no better morally but we are allowed to target the poor and the disabled as if it were a blood sport?

But no-one is asking me.

I did not vote for a government to make a sport of taunting people who are least able to defend themselves.

I did not vote for a government to cut disability and sickness benefits.

Yes, the system of benefits needs to change but it needs to change by stripping away or means testing some of the ‘middle-class’  benefits. Universal child benefit? Seriously. Universal Winter Fuel Allowance. Scrap it as well. It should go to those who actually need it. I don’t understand tax credits at all so can’t comment on them!

The change needs to come and was supposed to come through the introduction of a ‘fairness’ principle and perhaps if we could see some more evidence of that before we hear about all the cuts being made, it might help but to be honest it isn’t just about the cuts being made. I know they need to be made. It is about the narrative that they are couched in. ‘Benefits lifestyle’ ‘scroungers’ ‘cheats’ – all the language creates an artificial divide and a social agenda that speaks very clearly to one narrow section of society while alienating another. The language is not one of reconciliation and support. It is one of stigmatisation.

This same government that scorns the people who live on ‘benefits lifestyle’ don’t want to pay for their own residential, nursing and domiciliary care costs by selling the properties they own. Is that not the same thing another way around?

I know it’s not quite the same but it isn’t a massive leap to see that there are different ‘rules’ and ‘expectations’ according to where you might figure on the social scale.

I wonder if Marx had a point.

4 thoughts on “Osbourne’s Obfuscations

  1. I lived through the Thatcherite eighties and thought something so evil would ever happen in government in my lifetime again.I saw businesses go to the wall daily.I saw unemployment rise to previous unparalleled levels.I saw the beginning of household economics in government.
    Other countries like Germany kept there engineering ticking over,so when the recession ended they could go back into production again.We sold of all our machinery to places like China and lost our manufacturing base.Short sighted thinking by the Government.We closed down the coal mines,probably revenge for them going on strike in the name of economics.What savings did that make.We had massive overtime bills for the Police in what many called Thatchers private army because the miners were striking about pit closures.We paid out large redundancy payments to the Miners.We then paid to keep them on the dole because there were no jobs.Whole communities became run down with few if any prospects.Their children turned to crime and anti social behaviour because of social deprivation.
    Now,even though there are few jobs for the fit,they are targeting the weak and disabled.The most vulnerable in society.
    Why not go after or vilify those that undertake tax avoidance.There is much more money to be clawed back there.Or is it all about social engineering.
    Make the poor really poor so we will take on jobs so low paid we can compete with China and India.So that we will be grateful for whatever pittance they will give us.What next,no benefits and food stamps.
    Remember that this sort of thing Kicked of the Brixton and Toxteth riots.What with cutting back on Police and lessening the numbers in jail.Are we heading for a state of emergency were those in charge can use emergency powers and declare a Police State.Sounds far fetched but who would have thought this would be happening a few years ago.
    And as for the Financial crisis.This was caused by the Bankers and Wealthy,why are they not being punished.

  2. I think you have hit the spot on this issue CB. Quite simply what we have is a regime which is ideologically committed to trimming down the welfare state. This is contrary to popular belief easier said than done, even Thatcher only managed a minuscule reduction in welfare spending (something like 1%) and only dared tinkering with the NHS in her third term (The 1990 act).

    One reason why it is so hard to target the NHS in particular (and why the Govt constantly re-iterates NHS funding will be ring-fenced) is because it is universal, we all benefit from it. This makes it particularly hard to demonise or stigmatise someone for using the NHS, going to hospital or visiting their GP. You mention paying benefits to the middle classes, but this is actually the best way to deliver good services, say the NHS was only used by the poorest, it would be far easier to stigmatise users and logic dictates to then cut funding.

    This is want it all comes down to the more users of a service are marginalised and stigmatised the easier it is to roll back the (welfare) state. The cuts are not being made through financial necessity but are an ideological choice, namely neo-liberalism. If it were just a question of finance there would surely be no Trident and a drastically reduced military capability as well as has been pointed out attempts made to rein in losses from tax-evasion.

  3. Thanks Silver and Neil

    You are, of course, right, Neil about the need for ‘middle-class’ benefits but I was quite angry when I wrote this so wasn’t thinking about the global implications but I find the ostracisation and pillorying of the those on benefits to be so utterly abhorrent.
    I was reading an article, I think it was in the New Statesman, about how NHS Direct was a type of ‘pander’ to the middle classes who were worried about their health and it was to try to ensure that that ‘type’ of person retained their support for the NHS.
    Who knows what’s going to happen with that now and to be honest, I am a little ambivalent about NHS Direct itself but I do worry about the way the government is headed but more importantly, about the shifts in ‘acceptable’ targets and increased stigmatisation.
    Will we see people on the streets? Demonstrations? General Strikes? I would have scoffed a year ago – now, I’m at the stage where I’d be happy to join one..

  4. Definitely there is much more stigmatisation happening now, the real difference between Labour and the Conservatives is in the use of stigmatisation, yes Labour did do some posturing on things like benefit fraud, long-term unemployment and sickness benefit, in an attempt to look tough to that half of the electorate, but the Conservatives stigmatise with a real relish.

    In many ways I blame Labour for not effectively making the case for the welfare state by which has left it in a weaker position now power is in the hands of people with a real disdain for it. In the past I’ve debated with people on neo-liberal blogs. A rather depressing experience as rather than any critique being met with informed points it was a case of nasty tabloid stereotype after nasty tabloid stereotype being thrown at me.

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