Some arguments about the UK government's welfare reform programme - They do not want, at all, to reduce welfare dependency
- Category: Analysis
- Published on Tuesday, 21 October 2014
- Written by Richard Atkinson
- Some arguments about the UK government's welfare reform programme
- 1. They are not trying (very hard) to reduce welfare expenditure
- 2. They do not want, at all, to reduce welfare dependency
- 3. They are not interested in getting people into work...
- 4. ... because they don't know what to do with people when they are working
- 5. They are not, exactly, aiming to abolish the welfare state
- 6. … not least because the present welfare state is their own, neoliberal, creation
- 7. They are converting the DWP into a punitive arm of the state
- 8. They are looking to create a low waged, unskilled, precarious workforce
- 9. They are enforcing a patriarchal discipline on women and families by means testing
- 10. They are winning ...
- 11. ... and Universal Credit will seal their victory for a generation
- 12. They have a problem with pensioners, which they have yet to sort out
- 13. Labour are as deeply committed to these aims as the Tories
- 14. Why it’s Welfare, not Social Security
- 15. Why it’s back to 1601 not 1834
- 16. No-one asked for welfare
- 17. Against welfare: for class independence
- ADDENDUM - On proposals for an Unconditional Basic Income.
- All Pages
2. They do not want, at all, to reduce benefit dependency
They want to increase benefit dependency (if benefit dependency means being dependent on benefits). They have been doing so systematically, forcing more and more people in work to become claimants, since the Thatcher government introduced rent allowances (a precursor to housing benefit) in 1981 and Family Credit in 1985. Now they are proposing to transfer millions of people from Tax Credits, administered by the HM Revenue and Customs, and housing benefit, administered by local authorities, onto universal credit, a means tested, DWP administered benefit. They are content to leave the forces driving new benefit claims - unemployment, poor health and disability, low paid, insecure work and escalating rents - untouched: indeed they are enforcing substantial rent increases throughout the social housing sector, attacking health and social care provision, cutting jobs and driving down wages wherever they can. They are fully aware that these factors will increase the numbers claiming both in work and out of work support and their actions show that they are fully content to let this happen.
But that is not what they mean when they denounce benefit dependency. They do not actually have a problem with people being dependent on benefits. In fact they like people being dependent on benefits because they are then - precisely - dependent. The last thing our ruling class and its politicians want is an independent, self-reliant working class - they had enough of that in the 1970’s.
Benefit dependency is, first of all, a deliberately created, purely ideological, confection rather than a reflection or real economic and fiscal relationships, which are much more subtle and complicated. Taxation reverses many of the apparent effects of a fortnightly ESA payment while benefits like JSA can, in many cases, can be better considered as deferred wages, an analysis commonly applied to pensions but never to working age benefits. The effective end of most contributory benefits leaves no route open to arguments that your benefit is not a state dole but an entitlement you have paid for. - which is why the Tories have consistently cut contributory benefits, since the 1980’s, and Labour have never restored any of them.
But benefit dependency is also an increasingly brutal fact - a power relation requiring that the claimant subjugates themself to state examination and assessment at regular intervals and accepts that they can have no control over most of the major decisions in their life. This again is a situation neoliberalism is deliberately creating and will make strenuous efforts not to abolish. The usual terms of debate about benefit dependency in fact need to be reversed: it is the left, the working class who should be seeing to abolish dependency on state welfare; it is the ruling class who are determined to maintain it.
So what they really mean by benefit dependency is an attitude problem. They mean anyone who thinks that claiming benefit is a right. “On Benefits and Proud”, as the TV programme puts it. They mean anyone who does not cringe and take down their hoodie in their dealings with the state. They mean anyone who does not recognise that their only purpose and the only meaning to themselves and their lives is that they work, or work towards work, or work on the concept of work, even when there is no work. They mean, in long, anyone who does not accept that “the sole duty of man in a commercial society” is “never to leave off conjugating the Imperative Mood, Present Tense, of the verb To keep always at it. Keep thou always at it. Let him keep always at it. Keep we or do we keep always at it. Keep ye or do ye or you keep always at it. Let them keep always at it” as Mr Pancks put it in his great peroration to Bleeding Heart Yard, the Benefits Street of 150 years ago. For unless we are kept always at it we might do something useful, and what would happen then, pray, to the circulation of value?