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

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