As I’ve written in earlier posts, the Tories stigmatised lone mothers in the 1990s, blaming them for the economy and portraying them as irresponsible, undeserving benefit cheats. Right now, they’re doing the exact same thing to people who are claiming state benefits – despite the fact that 93% of Housing Benefit claimants are in working households. The media and political rhetoric that is prevalent now is designed to turn the employed against the unemployed.
The discourse of the Jobcentre and the DWP more generally is of assistance – helping jobseekers find jobs. However, help is only help when it is asked for or needed. Otherwise, it is stigma and harassment. This actually reminds me of the German single parents’ campaign “Help! I am being helped” which asserted that framing people as needing help is humiliating. And, come on people – seriously, how can we believe the DWP’s system is designed to help us back into work? The new laws mean that if you forget to apply for a single job your advisor orders you to, you can have your benefit stopped for up to three years – even if you applied for all the other jobs he ordered you to, and 20 other jobs your advisor didn’t tell you to apply for.
Foucalt wrote much on state control of the body, and the DWP has turned this into a fine art. Firstly, if you’re unemployed then you have to go to the Jobcentre to see your advisor and sign in every week. If you can’t make it or forget, they will stop your benefits for weeks or months. There’s no way to avoid this, as agreeing to apply for a job creates a verbal, legally-binding contract which is stored on the computer system. If you don’t agree to apply for the job, your benefits will also be stopped.
The advisor’s role is to verbally humiliate jobseekers and make them feel bad about being unemployed. The advisor can’t help you get a job – they just check that you’ve been looking for work (which of course you have, as the form you have to fill in every week will attest). The advisor can only look on a single website to tell you about any jobs advertised there, instead of you looking on the site at home. And they only use one site (directgov.uk) while jobseekers tend to use several sites or newspapers. Advisors also monitor your jobsearching by checking your form. So we can see that advisors don’t actually help you at all. You could do much better jobsearches at home instead of wasting time sitting in the Jobcentre.
Secondly, forgetting or refusal to go to even one group session at the Jobcentre will also mean that your benefits are stopped for months. Even if your bus was cancelled, or you were ill but didn’t manage to get a GP’s note in time, etc, etc. Again, not agreeing to go would also result in benefits being stopped.
This isn’t help. This is forcing people to go to places and interfering with their freedom of movement. Help isn’t coerced. Help isn’t forced, systematized, relentless.Help doesn’t involve monitoring and sanctioning.
This is punishment and humilation.
The DWP treats everyone – from PhDs to over-50s to graduates – as benefit-cheating scum who don’t want to work and aren’t looking for jobs.
The recession is the fault of the government (for failing to regulate properly) and the banks’ owners and top-level executives. But they aren’t affected, it’s the Joe Bloggs of society who get laid off or can’t get a job when they leave university. Yet, we’re being punished for the government and the wealthy people’s irresponsibility.
The new laws mean a much stricter regime in Jobcentres – right at the time when they should be more lenient, because of the recession. When there are a lot of jobs, not having a job is suspicious. But when there are less jobs, not having a job is the norm.
Oh, and recently the head of the DWP said that retired people should be forced to volunteer, or their pensions get stopped…which would mean no retirement age, and we work until we die.
And there’s a few petitions you can sign on the directgov.uk site against the cuts to disability benefits.
On an even more disturbing note, a disabled man who posted a comment against the cuts to disability allowance on Facebook was arrested and had his house searched by the police. This violation of freedom of speech may have implications for censoring speech from now on.
Now, limbless people – even veterans who lost limbs while in Iraq or Aghanistan aren’t entitled to disability benefits and have to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance, which means they get monitored and harassed, having to go to the Jobcentre at inconvenient times and wasting their time seeing advisors. What a great reward the government is giving them for their sacrifice in the wars the government started.
It was Victorian ideals that gave us the welfare state that now is crumbling around us. Influential Victorians – of which Charles Dickens was one – didn’t approve of punishing people for being poor, or the classical liberal (libertarian) view of laissez-faire, which often meant leaving the poor to die. But now we are marching backwards into pre-Victorianism.