Sunday, 20 October 2013

Channel 5's billionaire chairman calls out the unemployed for not having jobs

Billionaires advice to unemployed: "go get a job"
On the 15th October, Liverpool Claimant Network tweeted a response to Channel Five’s brutal unemployed-bashing documentary ‘On Benefits and Proud’. We said:

"'On Benefits & Proud' is part of @RichardDesmond's pro-tory benefit-bashing septet of media outlets feeding into State's Welfare agenda.

"Desmond also owns the Express newspapers, the Daily Star and a trio of gossip magazines allowing Desmond to duplicate & cross-publish benefit-bashing content to maximise reach and generate support for the tories. In return, Desmond’s Northern & Shell media Co. will receive favourable industry treatment by the State (prob in the form of peerages).

"'On Benefits & Proud' exploits myths of the undeserving to establish characters in show as origin of 'how bad this country has become’, when in reality it’s the structural, economically driven make-up of society that is responsible.

"People in 'On Benefits & Proud' face multiple exploitations by viewer, producers & media outlets for social, political, economic gain and Desmond, the neoliberal philanthropist fuckspleen is laughing all the way to the bank. "

The twitter response, on Sunday, from self-identified "Media Mogul" and owner of Channel 5, Richard Desmond, was:

"go get a job"

We fucking love it when billionaires call out the unemployed for not having jobs, because it reaffirms the chasm between fuckends like Desmond and the rest of us struggling to make ends meet. By tweeting "go get a job" Desmond confirms the contempt that he has for working class people battered by the motives of the so-called ‘elite’, contempt he can no longer conceal behind his philanthropic turns. It also confirms that Channel 5’s output is influenced by Desmond’s political agenda, an agenda that runs in parallel with the tories.

He also holds a similar disdain for people who’ve been fortunate enough to hold on to their jobs. When his own staff sought a pay rise, he told them to jog on and offered them a one-off payment. He also turned round and offered all his staff weekly Health Lottery tickets "so you can all share the fun of playing and winning." For fucks sake.

And do we really have to mention the vomit that he publishes in his tabloids, The Daily Star and Express? No, we don’t. The bloke is a vile shitbag masquerading as a charitable do-gooder who clearly has no idea or doesn’t want to have any idea what struggling working class people are facing, except if it can marginally boost viewing figures or sell more papers.

Cheers to everyone who piled in on the scumbag. For those who haven't done so: @RichardDesmond

Look forward to your next tweet, Desmond, you fuckin’ prick.


Monday, 7 October 2013

The DWP Shame Machine: Lowering Self-Esteems Since 1997*

image via lucas adams (for display purposes only)

One component of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) unofficial ‘toolkit’ we must resist is shame, a deeply felt anxiety that rips through the psychology of anyone who’s on the dole. It is used as a behaviour modifier that can be detected in the verbal and written discourses we have with the Jobcentre and the DWP, and can be triggered in various ways.

Whether you’re being grilled about your jobsearch diary not being complete, chided for being 5 minutes late for an appointment, doubted on your jobseeker’s agreement, sanctioned for 4 weeks for refusing workfare, questioned on the authenticity of a disability, interrogated on the life choices you’ve made, openly humiliated in a work programme provider’s office, sat waiting in a church for a food handout, stood waiting in a phone box for a crisis loan, shame is there punching at your mental health. And the DWP, or in a broader context the State, know it.

The DWP rely on shame, as both motivator and de-motivator, to coerce the unemployed by associating shame with unemployment —or ‘joblessness’, as the DWP like to call it —and the poverty that stems from unemployment.

The DWP’s deployment of shame as a coercive tactic is an act of psychological violence working in conjunction with the violence implicit in the sanctions regime. It draws on the indoctrinated/ing unemployment-related shaming present within society (passed from community, neighbour, peer) and maintains this shame at and beyond the interaction (interview, appointment, assessment) between individual and state department.

There are similar coercive, shaming tactics used throughout society: in schools, prisons, work, —it is part of a disciplinary process that individualises the potential for collective struggle, limiting the scope of organizing against punitive measures.

The cycle of shame, not the absence of work itself, is something that must be combated outside of the idea employment is some sort of cure for misery and poverty —it isn’t; combating shaming is part of a process of fighting back; it’s about changing how we look at the DWP (or the State), the letters they send, the threats they make, and the buildings they are based in, and seeing them as areas where we can resist, both clandestinely and openly, the imposition of work, workfare and sanctions. In other words, we begin to take back control of our lives.

This is a process that will open up further questions about the nature of work and our relationship to it — ioo, the absence of employment from our lives is nothing to be ashamed of—, but for the moment we can start with combating the psychological attacks on ourselves by organizing together, rejecting the shame of non-work and attacking the shamers by whatever means we have available.  

No doubt the situation is more complex than just shame on its own; and the complexity of circumstances will define how we individually and collectively defend ourselves, but if we can identify shaming as a tactic used and imposed upon us by the DWP then we can begin to break their psychological control and refigure it towards our direct action.

(Thanks to lucas adams for the image & subtitle borrow)
*2001, if we're being completely accurate

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Violence of Sanctions

This is a section from a longer essay, written in 2012, on State attempts to enforce behaviours on the unemployed.

Every week claimants are subjected to violence, but this violence is not the ‘typical’ physical violence we associate with the word violence, —although physical attacks on claimants, spurred on by right-wing media campaigns ( see the Sun’s declaration of war on benefit scroungers: ) have been on the increase, and with tragic consequences— it’s a violence based on power.

If you claim Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA), which will be replaced by Universal Credit in 2013, you can be ‘sanctioned’, meaning you lose your JSA for a week to 26 weeks depending on why the sanction was applied in the first place. A sanction is financial, but it has a social element to it as well: it is meant to regulate your behaviour. By threatening you with loss of allowance, benefit, or support, sanctions are supposed to modify you and your relationship to work; by threatening those who are in poverty, with poverty, the State expects you to comply or perish -what use are you, economically, if you cannot or, maybe, will not to work? It is through these ‘sanctions’ that the State wields power over the unemployed (& employed), and it is through this power that violence against the claimant is committed.

The World Health Organization (WTO) defines violence as:

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.[1]

Power is a form of violence that can cause, according to the WTO, injury, death, psychological harm or deprivation. Whether a sanction is actually applied or not, the intention is to threaten you with the possibility of not being able to pay the electricity bill, or buy food, or make up the difference in your rent; the intention is to put you in a position that causes significant trauma (threatened or actual), so that you don’t resist the terms of the agreement you signed in order to receive your benefit. It is to deprive you of the necessities of life so you prefer to be put to work and have your labour exploited.

In the quarter ending November 2011 there were 309 thousand referrals for JSA sanctions where a decision was made, of which 153 thousand were adverse (i.e. a sanction or disallowance was applied).[2]

In just 4 months, ending in Nov 2011, 153,000 sanctions were applied to claimants, resulting in a loss of Job Seeker’s Allowance.

In 2011, over 10,000 sanctions were applied to claimants of Employment Support Allowance (ESA), an allowance that can be claimed if you have an “illness or disability”.[3]

On the 21st May 2012, 124,000 single parents were forced from Income Support onto JSA, where they face the threat and application of sanctions.[4]

This is the extent of regulation of the unemployed on JSA; this is the extent of regulation of sick & disabled people on ESA; this is the extent of modification of behaviour by the State; and the extent to which violence is used against the poor and vulnerable.

And this violence can have tragic consequences:

In June 2010, Scottish Writer Paul Reekie was found dead in his home surrounded by “letters informing him that his welfare benefits were to be halted”.[5]

In February 2011, Elaine Christian committed suicide over her disability benefits being cut.[6]

In November 2011, Helen & Mark Mullins were driven to suicide, unable to live on the £57.50 a week Mark was collecting in JSA. Helen had been refused JSA because she was unfit for work, but could not claim Incapacity Benefit (IB) because she had not been officially diagnosed with a condition. Although Helen wasn’t sanctioned, the refusal of benefits, no doubt, precipitated a fatal act of violence by the State.

In January 2012, a claimant died of pneumonia six weeks after his Incapacity Benefit was stopped[7]

In May 2012, a claimant walked into Birkenhead Jobcentre, Wirral, and slashed his wrists.[8]

These are just a few reported cases of what could be described as poverty-related deaths or suicides (in one case attempted) invoked by the threat or actual application of increased poverty by financial sanctions or adverse benefit decisions. Although most of the cases relate to benefits being stopped, as opposed to benefits being sanctioned, they highlight the actions of a state that perpetuates violence and its preparedness for the consequences of that violence, as evidenced in a six-point plan sent to Jobcentres, by the Department for Work & Pensions, warning staff of potential increases in suicides:

 "Some customers may say they intend to self-harm or kill themselves as a threat or a tactic to 'persuade', others will mean it. It is very hard to distinguish between the two … For this reason, all declarations must be taken seriously."[9]

When violence is mentioned in this text, in relation to power, it is not an abstract. When you go to sign on at the Jobcentre and end up being threatened with sanctions, it’s a very real situation; when you are mandated to perform unpaid work as part of the Work Programme, for instance, or you lose your benefit, it’s a very real situation; when you’re a single parent with a young child being forced to look for work or face sanctions, it’s a very real situation; and it’s important to recognise these situations as attacks, as acts of violence, perpetrated by the State against you and your behaviour.