Monday, March 05, 2007

Marketising misery....

“The recommendations are designed to reduce the number of the most socially disadvantaged people in the country at minimal effective cost and risk to the state”. (David Freud – ‘Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work’)

Once upon a time in the near future….a very possible scenario.

Ms X lost her benefit under Section 17 (Disqualification) of the Welfare Reform Act. She needed help in fighting this decision so she visited her local advice centre where she was turned away because of cut-backs. So alas, Ms X, falls through the cracks and instead of landing on a supportive safety net she falls onto hard concrete.

When the Bill goes through Parliament (possibly Spring) and also the Carter proposals accepted then this story could become a reality.

It is all under the pretence of “rights and responsibilities” and creating a “citizen based” society which will be rid of the “dependency culture” that the unholy trio of Jim Murphy, John Hutton and Gordon Brown loathe so much. But does that help Ms X? Nope....

Gee whizz, Gordon Brown, just what kind of hard faced even more class ridden society do you want to create? A society which is being sold off and asset stripped maybe…..

The Freud review was published today and strip it down to the basics includes attacks on lone parents being forced back into the workplace, greater input by private companies in providing benefits, proposals to streamline and simplify benefits.

Benefits have not risen in line with inflation and when New Labour came in power in 1997 they followed the lead of the Tories. Benefits will continue to fall in real terms. Sickness rates are down by 64,000, to its lowest over a decade. So why does the government see fit to attack the poor with this draconian and vicious Bill?

Well, it is the continuation of the marketisation of public services driven by a neo-liberal ideology (prison service, welfare benefits, legal aid and so on....) In the latest Legal Action (sub only unfortunately) there is a fascinating and informative piece by Dexter Whitfield on the marketisation of legal services (but it can be extended to the whole of the public sector).

He explains the 5 methods of Marketising services that include:

  • Commodification of services
  • Commercialising of labour - changes in terms and conditions etc.
  • Privatisation of assets,
  • Changing of language i.e. service users = consumers
  • Business interests becoming embedded in the public sector.

With the changes to welfare and the Carter Review (introduction of fixed fees and competitive tendering) we are seeing ongoing marketisation and “Tescoisation” of advice with the myth of “consumer choice”. Advice is already shrinking before our very eyes and the Carter proposals will only make things much much worse. Legal aid is a cornerstone of an equitable society as everyone has a chance of justice but with these changes it will be justice for anyone who can afford it.

It took many years to create the legal aid system we have today. It will take only a matter of months to destroy it”.

The people who will feel the brunt of these attacks will be the poor and they will be devastating. Even writing this I am extremely angry as I have experienced the minefield of the welfare benefit system in the past as someone who has been through the mental health system and also experienced advice from various agencies. Without the support of these agencies I would have been, to put it bluntly, screwed.

Where will people be able turn to when the vile Welfare Reform Bill becomes law? Who will represent you and advocate on your behalf when your benefit is snatched away? The Bill will scare and distress many vulnerable people with the increased “conditionality” requirements. Where people will have to jump through hoops to get meagre benefits and where pressure will put on people to go back into the job market. No mention of tightening up the Disability Discrimination Act or making the job market more flexible for people or making sure there is free universal childcare available.

Oh I forget, there’s an abdication of “rights and responsibilities” from New Labour. The onus is always on the powerless.

Gordon Brown will accelerate marketisation and privatisation of public services once he is leader. And why have gutless TU leaders only shown lukewarm opposition to this Bill or the current trend in privatisation? Brown promised them the world if they keep schtum? Stupid fools. He wants to turn the clock back and snatch away NI based benefits and make it all means tested (probably including pensions).

Is Brown thinking welfare state? No, he is thinking Workfare: the US system that forces people into taking the worst jobs going while giving them benefit levels of income instead of proper salaries.

Campaigns fighting against the Welfare Reform Bill include:



Campaign against the Carter Review and the attacks on legal aid:

Access to Justice. There is a week of action planned in May 2007.


Renegade Eye said...

In the US the welfare system was destroyed by Bill Clinton, more callously than Reagan or Bush could get away with. It was called welfare of new kind.

Keep up the fight.

AN said...

Certainy this is sober reading for anyone who beleives Brown will be better than Blair.

BUt it rasies the question in my mind, that if these are the polices of labour, after ten yeasrs of government, then is this evidennce that labour have fundmanetally ceased to be a social democratic party?

Louisefeminista said...

Renegade Eye, thanks for the support!

Sure will keep up the fight, comrade!! I am sure there will be activities coming up against the Welfare Reform Bill and I know of various activities around the Carter Review and legal aid.

John Hutton has been visiting Australia and getting tips from them re: welfare reform and something called the "Star Rating" where, "where high-performing providers are clearly identified and benefit from a simpler contracting process"....

I do think Workfare is on the cards and Brown will move swiftly to that plus snatching away NI based benefits and everything will be means tested (I am sure pensions will be in the firing line as well). It is a case of turning back the clock. The idea of streamlining and simplifying benefits isn't for the claimant's benefit but for the state (Frank Field, for example, has been arguing for a single style of benefit)

Oh and in the Welfare Reform Bill there is still a section on housing benefit and "anti-social" behaviour (that too came from Field back in 2002).

And Workfare is away of getting people to work for their meagre benefits, who have no rights and it is an attack on unionisation (Mmmm. wonder what the TU bureaucrats say to that?)And they have no choice to turn up to work and their bosses make a killing in profits....

I bet Brown is eager as anything to get those "work shy lay-abouts" back in the workplace. He's "thinking the unthinkable" (he says)