Monday, 3 March 2014

The illogicality of 'welfare abuse' within an abusive system


Iain Duncan Smith:
one face of an abusive system
Discussions about welfare and benefits will often have someone pronounce the familiar line: "Yes, but what about those who abuse the system?"

The 'logic' behind this question may range from liberal angst to indignant rant, from the protests of the 'heavy burdened tax-payer' to the angry denunciation of 'miscreant benefit cheats'. 

Rarely in political, media or reflected common usage does one find 'abuse' used to signify the deeply abusive nature of the system.

How conditioned we are to the message that not only is such 'abuse' taking place, but that the system is only subject to abuse.

Yet, consider how, under the pretext of 'welfare reform', zealous exponents of the system have crafted the most abusive and vindictive policies ever inflicted on the poor and sick.

In the latest instance of system-serving callousness, a leaked report suggests that the DWP plan to charge sanctioned claimants for the cost of their appeals.

As noted at the Guardian, this proposal comes as an apparent effort to quell the number of appeals being raised due to the staggering rise in people being sanctioned:
Earlier this week figures showed that in the past year nearly 900,000 people have had their benefits stopped, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker's allowance was introduced in 1996. In recent months, however, 58% of those who wanted to overturn DWP sanction decisions in independent tribunals have been successful. Before 2010, the success rate of appeals was 20% or less. One welfare legal adviser said the number of appeals being lodged at independent tribunals would be decimated if the government introduced a charge.
As with the bedroom tax, only already system-abused minds could have contrived such an idea.

This is the system at its most abusive towards the poorest and most vulnerable, part of a wicked larceny to pay for mass banker bailouts and protection of the rich; a system that, whatever party is in office, forces poverty and desperation upon those with the least in order to protect those with the most.

The term 'austerity policy' is often used to describe this process. But it too is ideologically loaded and misleading, denoting a measure of hardship 'beyond the norm'; that which, whether defended as a 'necessary measure' or 'unnecessary extreme', still fixates on 'abuse of the system' rather than an actual system of abuse. In truth, the entire system is built on abusive austerity.

The commonly-used 'welfare reform' fits well here as another false and constrained term, whether in its ConDem distortion or its liberal call for less harshness in the system.  

This is where Guardian-type reformism fails as a counter discourse, as in Polly Toynbee's castigating of Iain Duncan Smith and urging Ed Miliband not to endorse George Osborne's austerity and cuts. 

While Toynbee rightly condemns the "perversity in this brutal system" of benefit assessments and sanctions, it's still but a micro-liberal view of the human effects rather than radical recognition of a more structurally abusive system, and the vital role of all neoliberal-driven parties, Labour crucially included, in sustaining it.     

A well-meaning Toynbee may be displaying admirable compassion. Yet, such plaintive appeals to corporate-serving leaders like Miliband to deliver a 'fairer deal for the poor' only reinforce the flawed notion of 'meaningful change' under this 'politically-abused-but-still-decent' system.

Other liberal minds make similar valid distinctions on abuse of the system, notably the token amounts of benefit fraud compared to mass tax fraud.

It's a fair and potent point. But even this is a false rationalisation, just another way of saying that there's still that 'problematic abuse' of the system, thereby acknowledging its basic 'neutrality' and legitimacy.

Similar system-upholding can be seen in parliamentary committee 'grilling' of top corporate tax evaders, a posturing theatre which is vital in promoting the 'bad apples' line, and feeding the myth that the system is inherently good if, alas, subject to serious 'corporate abuse'.

Never will you hear such 'public servants' suggest that corporate power and a subservient political class is collectively and systematically abusive in itself.

So, while people struggle for basic necessities, and exist on meagre benefits, a liberal commentariat can only appeal for an easing of the pain rather than radically indict the abusive system that inflicts it, thus effectively shielding the core cause of such human detritus and a landscape of despair. 

While a system-serving media laud the vast profits of corporate grocers, people go hungry. Where's the headline discussion of a system which permits that kind of abuse?  

Recently, one of Scotland's biggest food banks was forced to close its doors after soaring demand from needy recipients saw its shelves run completely empty.

Following church leaders' denunciation of government policies, a vicar is going on hunger strike in solidarity with Britain's poor.

Food aid from the European Union has been blocked by a ConDem government, claiming this is 'interference' with its welfare policies.

For those surviving on the street and in doss houses, it's a grim existence of fear, violence and Dickensian squalor.

And, of course, the number of fragile souls driven to their deaths by a brutal government 'medical assessment' process continues to grow at an alarming rate.

With this level of organised cruelty, what kind of ideology persuades us that people are wilfully abusing the system rather than the system wantonly abusing people?

Answer: an ideology that depends on fear, suspicion and greed. 

One that urges us to deny or limit our compassion.

One that, as seen in Benefits Street, fosters ugly prejudice and pushes us to turn on struggling people like benefit claimants and immigrants.

One that has a vested interest in sustaining a top elite's enormous wealth and privilege through the fiction that, 'individual rogues' apart, the system proper is still there to facilitate all of our 'fair and competitive' aspirations.

Crucial to this is a corporate media which might 'alert' us to a certain 'corporate abuse' of the system, but never the more damning truth of the corporate system as serially abusive.

We read much about criminal and predatory abuse of people, yet rarely consider the way in which capitalism as a system is constituted, directed and managed as a criminal, predatory and abusive enterprise.

That's a pretty effective kind of hegemony; one that can still get us to believe that such a system is essentially benign and shouldn't be abused.

Which returns us to that illogical question, "Yes, but what about those who abuse the system?"

The logical answer: you can't abuse something that's already pathologically abusive.


Anonymous said...

A strong case well made.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Serious people support spending on wars, and belt-tightening for the riff-raff, of course!

P.S. I see Millibrand is to blame for the Ukraine.

Funny, when I was typing that in the search, google wanted to help me with "Labour to blame for floods."