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An Analysis of British Welfare Reform

  • Published: 2015-02-16 (Revised/Updated 2016-06-11) : Author: Paul Dodenhoff : Contact: p.dodenhoff@lancaster.ac.uk
  • Synopsis: Paul Dodenhoff writes on austerity, liberal ideology and the institutionalized oppression of the disabled in the U.K..

Quote: "The application of sanctions, or to put it another way, the disqualification of help to welfare claimants if they fail to meet very strict conditions and regulations, has been controversial."

Main Document

A report recently released by one of Britain's most respected universities, entitled' Do punitive approaches to unemployment benefit recipients increase welfare exit and employment? A cross area analysis of UK sanctions in reforms', indicate that the policy of welfare 'sanctions' applied within the UK, have succeeded in excluding some unemployed claimants from state welfare. This study found that between 2005 and 2014, the application of adverse sanctions upon unemployment benefit claimants had a very strong correlation with people leaving the benefit system completely, people who did not go into employment of any kind.

In economics, austerity describes policies used by governments to reduce budget deficits during adverse economic conditions. These policies may include spending cuts, tax increases, or a mixture of the two. Austerity policies may be attempts to demonstrate governments' fiscal discipline to their creditors and credit rating agencies by bringing revenues closer to expenditures; they may also be politically or ideologically driven.

While the report doesn't go as far as to state that the application of sanctions upon the unemployed and the disabled are policies deliberately designed to deter some from claiming state welfare, this has been the effect.

The Application of Benefit 'Sanctions'

The application of sanctions, or to put it another way, the disqualification of help to welfare claimants if they fail to meet very strict conditions and regulations, has been controversial. While some argue that benefit sanctions are simply a kind of 'tough love' implemented by government in order to motivate a genuine search for employment, others argue that sanctions are little more than 'state' approved bullying of the vulnerable and the powerless. Bullying solely aimed at removing people from the benefit system, and forcing them to take on employment, or more specifically, low paid employment - the jobs that nobody really wants.

The actual numbers of unemployed benefit claimants removed from the welfare system by sanctions are reported to be as high as 500,000, meaning that 500,000 of the unemployed are also excluded from the UK's official unemployment statistics. In both circumstances, rather a helpful political situation come General Election time in May 2015 when Britain's political parties fight each other for public support for their policies.

Additionally, a request made to the Department of Works and Pensions by a British disability organization in 2014, under the freedom of information act , revealed that between 2008 and 2013, 172,750 sick or disabled claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were referred for sanctions. Of those, 76,300 actually received an adverse decision, meaning that their welfare benefits were cut or stopped completely. Of course, many of these decisions were overturned as unfair after many months of appeals, and after many months of stress.

Pretty scary stuff, especially when we remind ourselves that the Department of Works and Pensions is currently investigating the deaths of at least 60 disabled people, disabled people who committed suicide sometime after having their benefits sanctioned. However, reports indicate that far more than 60 people have died after having their benefits reduced or removed by the current government.

All European countries apply benefit sanctions, although Britain stands out in its application of welfare rules and regulations that are by far the strictest in Europe. There has been many reports from both the unemployed and the disabled that life is made highly intolerable by those administering the welfare system on behalf of the state, through the actions of bullying and harassment that many believe to be 'state' endorsed. Other reports have come from the gatekeepers of those benefits themselves, indicating that many state employees agree that they are being pressurized from 'above' into sanctioning as many people as possible, in order to meet Government targets in reducing the numbers of people claiming benefits. Government naturally deny that such a top-down policy exists.

Austerity or Ideology

While recent handling of Britain's welfare system has undoubtedly at best been heavy handed, it has often been portrayed as being orchestrated purely in order to save the 'state' money in a time of austerity, austerity motivated by the global financial crisis of 2008. However, we should be careful not to see the changes taking place in the UK as purely about reducing the national debt alone. These changes are in fact a continuation of the socio-economic policies implemented under both previous Conservative and New Labor administrations since the 1980's, policies motivated to a large extent by an outdated political ideology, rather than the 'national debt', but an ideology that has dominated the political landscape of Britain since the eighteenth century.

When asked, students of British politics will easily identify a number of broad traditions of political and social thought prominent over the centuries, including most importantly the ideologies of liberalism and socialism. These ideologies can also be aligned with Britain's various political parties.

For example, classical liberalism emerged in the early nineteenth century and is typically associated with a cluster of 'laissez-faire' ideas, notions of individualism and freedom from state involvement in the affairs of the individual. From this political perspective (or philosophical tinkering) individuals are viewed as not only as ideally self-responsible, but also self-interested citizens. And it is this self-responsibility and self-interest that eventually results in beneficial (if quite unintended) consequences for all, by the creation of wealth that trickles down to others via the creation of jobs and the innovation of products or services.

These notions are roughly underpinned by the concept of the 'free market economy', and intellectuals and politicians coming from a liberal perspective religiously promote that the role of the state should be therefore minimal and reduced as much as possible in order not to interfere in (and regulate) the affairs of the individual and the free market. Therefore, the role of the state is to secure the general welfare of the population by providing government and a framework of law that defend life and property only. Not to interfere in the workings of the free market nor its economic exchanges between free individuals.

Consequently, classical liberals also believe that the state should not provide 'welfare' to the poor, as welfare is argued to be best promoted by allowing individuals themselves to freely associate with each other through the free-markets, in which goods, skills and services can be exchanged, or provided free through some kind of voluntary action if need be. This is argued to encourage individual self-help and self-reliance, notions and Ideals that both the British Conservative Party and the British Liberal Party have traditionally been associated with to various degrees, and themes that can still be picked out by analysing the speeches, arguments and rhetoric that we see or hear almost on a daily basis from many of our most prominent or senior politicians within the UK.

In contrast, in the latter part of the nineteenth century Britain, intellectual critique of laissez-faire policies and of unregulated capitalism developed, leading eventually to the reforming Liberal governments of 1906-14 - reformists who are often regarded as laying the foundations of the modern welfare state. Reformists who considered that the state should have a more active role in the lives of ordinary individuals, but a role that increased their self-development. Note, that these reformists were not 'socialists' fighting for equality or social rights, but Liberal intellectuals and politicians who thought that the economic wealth and security of the nation was best protected by citizens who were relatively fit and healthy (both physically and morally). And therefore not too unhealthy to fight wars or too lazy to work, as was beginning to be a common perception during the late 1800's to early 1900's. In short, reforms that where considered as a necessary defense against the 'moral panics' that sporadically cropped up from time to time over the physical or moral health of the poor - concerns of the relatively well off.

Socialism emerged in the nineteenth century too, arising out of the harsh, dangerous working conditions, ill health, poor housing and low pay associated with factory industrialization, conditions that eventually give rise to a number of grass roots social movements such as trades unions and various political parties. Socialism was intended to be radically reformist, by offering a different critique of capitalism than reformists from the liberal tradition proposed.

This type of reform was based upon social democratic thinking, which was more in line with the concepts of equality and social rights, as well as sympathetic to the idea of community and collective action. Collective action where public agencies provide essential services and goods, rather than a sole dependency upon individual self-interest and economic exchange generated via the free market.

I remember a few years ago listening to an illuminating TV interview featuring Tony Benn, a prominent political figure for many years within the British Labor Party, and a figure who was often considered as being part of the 'loony' (socialist) left wing of British politics. Asked if the Labor Party would ever return to its socialist roots, he argued that the Labor Party had never actually been a socialist party, and while there may have been socialists attracted to the party, the party had never at any time been 'socialist' in terms of its ideology nor its policies. And that is a very important point.

Tony Benn knew full well that Labor's policies and ideology have always fallen predominately within the philosophic realm of 'liberalism'. Albeit a softer, watered down version of classical liberalism, but one that has much more in common with reformist liberal thinking of the early 1900's, than socialism.

Liberal Ideology and the British Labor Party

When talking about socialism within Britain, we often automatically draw a connection between socialism and the Labor Party, but as I've argued above, this is a problematic connection. Like other political parties, Labor have always been and still is a broad coalition of various interests and points of view. Points of view that may at times be broadly representative of the interests of the working classes and the poor, compared to other political parties. However, this is dependent on which strand of liberalist ideology is dominant within the party and its leadership, at any given time.

As Tony Benn argued, socialists gravitate towards the Labor Party and become members, but that alone does not make Labor a socialist Party as such. Like all political parties within the UK, Labor is subject to power battles between its various interest groups and various ideological standpoints, but standpoints that generally stick by the old liberal standards of self-responsibility and more importantly, the work ethic.

Reinstating classical liberalism

The strict application of welfare benefit sanctions upon the unemployed and the disabled by the present Conservative government are in part a reinstatement of classical liberalist notions. Notions that are a continuation of what has become the most dominant ideas within British politics over the centuries, and a way of thinking that is always going to be detrimental to social groups such as the disabled.

Classical liberal ideology and its overarching ideals of self-reliance and self-responsibility will always fit uneasily with 'disability', because there are always going to be a substantial number of the disabled who will need some level of help and support in order to become self-responsible and self-reliant. Therefore, in many cases, self-responsibility and self-reliance can only ever come to fruition with the help of the state - an alien concept to those who place their faith in liberalist ideology taken to its most logical conclusion. An ideology where all citizens are expected to adhere to and display the traits of work ethic, self-reliance and self-responsibility, via the free market.

So, if the labor party are also purveyors of liberalist thinking (even at its most reformist) what will happen if a future Labor government comes into power later this year, at the next general election? What will happen to welfare benefit sanctions

Are benefit sanctions here to stay

The simple answer is yes. Labor have publicly stated that they are committed to keeping welfare sanctions applied to the unemployed and the disabled in place. This is not absolutely shocking news because as I argued earlier, sanctions are also applied to the provision of state welfare in most other European countries, countries similarly dominated by liberalist ideology. However, what the Labor Party is also committed to, is the removal of sanction 'targets', something that the present government deny are in operation. But how can a future Labor administration remove something that at present is said not to even exist

The introduction of 'sanction targets' into the workplaces of those who actually administer the benefit system on behalf of the state, are actually only symptomatic of the main underlying problem. Specifically, the way outdated liberalist philosophy concerning the work ethic and the free market dominate not only political opinion, but feed into the attitudes and behavior of ordinary individuals themselves, particularly attitudes towards disability.

Liberal ideology, Work Ethic and Disability

Arguably since its conception, liberal Ideology has always been and always will be out of step with the reality of life for most disabled people. This is because its primary focus is ultimately upon the 'work ethic', a work ethic based solely upon labor and toil in exchange for monetary compensation - thereby creating wealth (and primarily for others). However, it is a work ethic underpinned by the ideals of self-reliance and self-responsibility.

Liberal ideology at its very foundation is therefore not geared up to being sympathetic to the concept of 'disability', because under these beliefs the disabled are perceived as displaying deviant traits that widely contradict the ideals of self-responsibility, self-reliance and work ethic. For example, many of the disabled are perceived as being either unable to work, or not able to be productive enough in the work place. Perceptions that make the disabled of less value to the ideals of self-interest and wealth creation than say, the able-bodied.

'State' provision of social welfare

Welfare provision within Britain came into being after the Second World War and originated solely in order to appease a public keen not to go back to the old social order of pre-war Britain, and its immense poverty and squalor. Therefore, in order to keep the British public firmly focused on the war effort, in 1942, the Liberal politician William Beveridge was set the task by government of discovering what kind of Britain people wanted to see after the war ended.

Beveridge highlighted five problem areas that any government needed to resolve in order to reconstruct Britain - squalor, poverty, disease, ignorance and idleness. Therefore, in order to rebuild Britain after war, the Beveridge report recommended that a 'welfare state' comprising of social security, a national health service, free education, council housing and full employment needed to be implemented. In the years after the war, the newly formed Labor government tried to make the Beveridge report come true. However, by the 1980's, the welfare state was argued by classical liberalists to have grown far too large, eroding not only the concepts of self-responsibility and self-reliance, but the work ethic itself.

We can see from reading the Beveridge report, a report that laid the foundations for the modern welfare state within Britain, that Beveridge himself still had an overriding concern with 'idleness' - something that liberalists within the establishment always have concerns about. However according to Beveridge 'idleness' could be reduced by providing widespread employment for its citizens. Something that was to cause immense concern amongst classical liberalists, who argued that encouraging full employment also stimulated higher wages as a direct consequence of having less competition for jobs, a by-product of state interference.

Liberal ideology can therefore be seen to swing from a classical position (its most extreme) to a much softer and more socially aware position, and one that becomes more appropriate to the mood of the times. However, this is often out of necessity, originating out of establishment fears of public unrest if things remain as they are. As I have argued above, it was liberal reformists operating within the softer realms of liberalism that actually laid down the foundations of Britain's welfare system, not 'socialists', but welfare with strings attached. Welfare those strings were still firmly attached to the ideals of self-responsibility and work ethic.

The provision of welfare - rules and obligations

At best, practitioners of liberalist ideas will provide some kind of basic welfare package for those who cannot work through no fault of their own, but in return will still demand adherence to the work ethic, and to strict rules and regulations that monitor any inability to work. This is the underlying logic that has been in place within Britain under its national welfare system for many years, where both 'sick pay' (paid leave from work due to ill health) and unemployment benefit are closely administered and monitored.

However, practitioners of classical liberalist ideals will want to make those rules and regulations so severe and intolerable that only those considered desperate enough will be encouraged to ask for help. This has been witnessed throughout Britain's social history with the implementation of 'poor laws', 'correction houses' and 'workhouses' of the 1600's to the 1800's, and with the same logic underlying the implementation of sanction targets (if they indeed exist!). State influenced policies designed to support those in poverty considered deserving of help, but aimed at discouraging those who are not deserving of help (those considered too lazy to work).

However, in a supposedly modern and enlightened society, ideas and notions based upon antiquated and highly simplistic political ideology such as liberalism, come dangerously close to eroding the basic human rights of those in need. Firstly, the sick and disabled within Britain are 'leaving' the welfare system, purely because they are they being bullied out of it, and not because they have found employment or that their life circumstances have improved. Secondly, most of these people have nowhere else to turn, except towards charity, which puts intolerable strain on the voluntary sector, and almost to breaking point.

State oppression of the disabled

In 1990, Iris Marion Young developed a model of 'oppression' that social groups may suffer, breaking the concept of 'oppression' down into its component parts of oppression, exploitation, marginalization, cultural imperialism and violence. For Young, social injustice and disadvantage not only originate at the very top of society, within its political system and institutions, but seeps into the daily interactions between ordinary people.

The concept of 'oppression' used in this context can therefore be described as stemming from the intentional or unintentional behavior of people that reduce the potential for other's to be fully human - or to put it another way, actions and behavior that may make people feel less human. However, this isn't just about behavior that treat people in an overtly dehumanizing manner, it also concerns the denial of access to resources such as welfare, education, housing or employment, and access to other opportunities that may help social groups like the unemployed and the disabled become fully human in both mind and body.

Certainly, we can argue that the application of strict rules, regulations or sanctions towards unemployment benefit or disability benefit may be described as a form of oppression, for we don't see the same level of negative rhetoric nor self-obsessed monitoring of behavior applied to other social groups who also happen to receive state welfare within Britain, such as pensioners and working families.

However, we hear daily from our politicians and our media about the need to end Britain's 'something for nothing culture' , about 'some' people not being self-responsible enough, and about the need of government to support 'hard working families' - policies that encourage the philosophy of 'hard work', not erode it. While at the same time subtlety insinuating that both the unemployed and the disabled are social groups who contain certain 'rogue' elements that need weeding out - scroungers, spongers and layabouts. Negative terminology, phrases and rhetoric that help to further marginalize both the unemployed and the disabled within British society.

It is an approach while aimed solely at gathering support amongst the general public for cuts to welfare spending, also actively position the unemployed and the disabled in the public mind as those within society who do indeed receive something for nothing, and who are not deserving of such privilege . Unfortunately, we see this type of rhetoric also coming from certain sections of the Labor Party too, a party seeking to gain support from all walks of British society in order to regain power.

Cultural imperialism - Protecting the work ethic

As well as marginalizing the disabled further with society, benefit sanctions and reassessments of disability by state agencies, display a kind of ideology that Young would perhaps describe as 'cultural Imperialism' - where the culture, beliefs and desires of the most dominant within society get established as its 'norm'. As we have seen above, British politics is influenced by various levels of liberal ideology, notions of the free market, self-interest, self-reliance and self-responsibility. Notions that also seep into the public consciousness to become the 'norm' that people regulate their behavior by, and monitor the behavior of others.

While the disabled make up a significant proportion of the UK population (and it's working population) the disabled are generally considered as people who deviate from the expected norms of society - by deviating from its established standards and measures of ability or behavior that are set in place via scientific, medical and political discourse. These norms and expectations also feed dangerously into public attitudes about the disabled, and become displayed daily within our interactions.

However, traditionally within the UK, the world of employment was something that was generally regarded amongst the ordinary British public as an area where the disabled were largely excluded from through no fault of their own. Within recent times there has been a visible sea change in terms of public attitudes and beliefs regarding disability and employment, where arguably, many now believe that exclusion from the world of employment may largely be a fault of the disabled themselves. A group of people who collectively display deviant attitudes and/or behavior, and who now also avoid hard work. And in some cases, fake disability completely.

We hear of many wheelchair users within the UK who complain that they now have to make a conscious effort not to move their limbs too vigorously while in their wheelchairs, in case they are deemed to be 'faking' impairment. Behavior that may attract abuse and harassment from a general public who fervently monitor those amongst the disabled who actually dare to make themselves visible in public. Behavior arguably motivated by a fear concerning the erosion of the work ethic, and of some people getting something for nothing. Fears that are generated at the very 'top' of society, from within its political and social institutions, but also seep down to the 'bottom' - into the daily interactions of ordinary people.

The strict rules and regulations concerning obligations that both the unemployed and the disabled have to meet in order to obtain state welfare, are therefore only symptomatic of a continuing phobia over the 'work ethic'. A fear that has been seen to split the poorest citizens within British society into two categories - people who are either deserving of state help and those not deserving of state help. A fear that has been prevalent within the dominant social classes of British society for many years, and a fear that gained fresh expression during the rolling back of state welfare that began in the early 1980's under Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. A continuous plan to roll back state welfare provision that was said to have not only become too large and inefficient over the years, but irresponsible. Irresponsible, because it effectively creates a 'nanny state' where self-help, self-responsibility and work ethic are eroded.

Self-responsibility or self-interest

These concerns were and still are articulated by those social groups that are amongst the most dominant within society, and those who are often the ones to gain the most out of pushing the concept of the 'work ethic'. For these are the ones who predominately own or co-own the means of production, or control and run the means of production on behalf of its owners. A production process geared up to making the most or doing the most in the shortest possible time, and a process constantly dominated by monitoring. The monitoring of performance by strictly controlled targets and measurements, procedures that are in place primarily to assess how 'hard' people are working.

The application of strict rules and regulations to the welfare benefits of those who cannot work or find work, therefore the mirror the rules and regulations that are found generally within the workplace itself, and are symptomatic of a society that seeks to cynically push the concept of the 'work ethic' for its own self-interest. Actions that often have devastating effects on those already pushed out to the margins of society, through no fault of their own, where many fail to meet obligations tied into the welfare system. Particularly when such strict obligations are applied to those with learning difficulties, medium to severe physical disabilities and people suffering from serious illness.

Within Britain, we have seen reports of people being sanctioned and benefit payments stopped for breaking the most minor of rules, even when claimants are actually too ill to meet those obligations, such as when claimants are terminally ill and dying from illnesses such as cancer.

'Legitimated' state bullying of the disabled

Negative governmental rhetoric and media rhetoric surrounding unemployment and disability, create or reinforce a very clear distinction of negative 'difference' within the public mind between those who 'work' and those that don't. Rhetoric generated from those within society who are seen to be its leaders and authoritative figures - its 'experts' and therefore those supposedly 'in the 'know'. It is information that carry an air of authority and legitimacy, and arguably information in which many believe to be largely reliable and accurate.

Interestingly for me, the study of welfare sanctions mentioned at the beginning of this article, indicate that my local area of Preston and Chorley (towns that suffer from high levels of unemployment and poverty) actually have higher rates of benefit sanctions applied to them than many other places within the UK. Just as interestingly, The Preston Learning Disabilities Forum point out that locals with a learning disability or a mental health problem have been found to be disproportionately represented amongst those facing benefit sanctions. Mirroring concerns mentioned earlier that people with learning difficulties may face sanctions after breaking strict rules and obligations through no real fault of their own, as a direct consequence of their impairment.

Last year, a national study commissioned by the Church of England, the Trussell Trust food bank network, Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group, found that cuts to Britain's welfare system, as well as the application of sanctions, were one of the most commonest factors in forcing people to turn to their food banks for help. This study also found that at least half of all food bank users have had their welfare benefits stopped for one reason or another.

In Preston itself, some food banks such as those run by the Salvation Army are now receiving up to 4,000 referrals a month for their help. At present I have no indication of the numbers of disabled people using food banks after having benefits cut or stopped - but it can safely be assumed that this will be happening, as what else can people do when they have no income.

What we do know is that many disabled people have committed suicide in recent times after having benefits stopped or threatened. Additionally, a request to the Government under the freedom of information act in 2012 by disability activists, indicated at the time that at least 32 disabled people were dying per week after failing the new disability assessment tests put in place to monitor benefit claims. Tests put in place primarily because of government concerns and media claims that too many people were simply just not disabled enough or sick enough to claim state welfare.

Most recently, a prominent daily British newspaper has been accused of fabricating stories aimed at stirring up hostility against disability welfare benefit claimants. Over the past few years this same newspaper has also come under fire from disability organizations for repeatedly publishing news and comment pieces that misrepresent official statistics concerning disability welfare, and by which, activists say has helped stir up hate crime committed towards disability.

Official statistics recording hostility, abuse, harassment and violence committed towards the disabled are not reliable enough to for us to say that 'hate crime' committed towards the disabled is motivated by such negative media presentations of disability. However, nor can we say that it doesn't - we simply don't know. What we do know is that as far back as 2007, a national British Social Attitudes survey indicated that the general public believed that at least 35% of all benefit claimants were fraudsters.

However, if disabled people are being constantly harassed and abused by members of the general public, then there are routes they can go down in order to try to stop this from happening. However, if the state itself and/or its media associates are actually generating this abuse and harassment themselves, and primarily in order to reduce the provision of state welfare, where can the ordinary person turn

Additionally, what does it mean for a country that along with America often sets itself up as the world's policeman, moral guardian or defender of human rights? A rather hollow image that is easily shattered by the reality of modern life, in modern Britain.

Bullying or Fascism

Many years ago, the author and social commentator George Orwell, in a debate over the definition of 'fascism', described it as a synonym for 'Bullying'. Most chillingly, Britain now seems to be going down a continuous road were the bullying of its poor, its sick, its unemployed and its disabled become legitimate tactics used by the state apparatus in order to push through further cuts in welfare provision - and not for reasons of 'austerity' but for deep rooted ideological reasons. But how long does it need to be before the British public actually wake up and see this behavior for what it really is

Last year I wrote a piece for Disabled-World entitled, 'Would you work for £2 an hour, Lord Freud' It was an article commenting on remarks made at the time by Lord Freud, a British government welfare reform minister who suggested at a fringe meeting during last year's Conservative Party conference, that some disabled workers are simply 'not worth' the UK national minimum wage and should be paid just £2 an hour.

The logic of Lord Freud's comments are based upon common 'liberalist' perceptions that disabled people and particularly those with learning difficulties are considered by employers as not productive enough or far too problematic in the workplace to be employed - even at the lowest legal pay band. Thereby, the national minimum wage deters British employers from employing social groups like the disabled, but who may do so if they actually cost less to employ.

The line of Lord Freud's argument reflects precisely what I have been saying all the way through this article. Dominant political thinking based upon liberal ideology propose that the state should leave the workings of the employment market to the individuals involved, i.e., the employer and the prospective employee, and not interfere in that relationship. The argument is that a disabled person should work for whatever a prospective employer wants to offer them, no matter how low those wages happen to be. That is the basic philosophy of the 'free market', a market place where goods and skills are not only exchanged for money, but where people compete with each other for employment.

Therefore, according to classical liberal ideology, the state has interfered by setting a national minimum wage as a legal standard, unbalancing the relationship between prospective employer and employee, deterring the employer from employing somebody with a disability simply because they can just as easily employ somebody 'better' for the same cost. Somebody generally perceived as being more productive and less problematic - an abled-bodied person.

This situation is often argued to be compounded by the provision of state welfare, a system that is supposed to act as a safety net in times of hardship, but may also interfere in the relationship between prospective employer and employee if state welfare provision is seen as being too 'generous' (thereby reducing the motivation to work).

Ok, but is a reality check called for here

In my opinion yes. Liberalist arguments at their most extreme are not only based upon highly simplistic notions, but are completely out of touch with the reality of life for most people, pandering primarily to the greed and self-interest of individuals who build a dominant position for themselves within society. The concepts of work ethic, self-responsibility and self-reliance are fine in themselves, but are put forward by people predominantly in privileged positions and who have little or no experience of poverty, disadvantage and in most cases, little knowledge or experience of disability.

Commenting on Lord Freud's suggestions (a former welfare adviser also to the Labor Party) I suggested that Lord Freud should perhaps swop his healthy salary as a Government Minister for the £2 an hour he suggested for disabled workers, an action that may help to shake Lord Freud and his ilk out of their Eighteenth century thinking and into the present era. That would perhaps have provided Lord Freud with at least some knowledge and experience of poverty.

While the 'free market' may appear to be the save-all for liberalist thinkers, it is also a system if left unregulated and uncontrolled becomes dominated by self-interest and 'legalized' exploitation - the creator of immense poverty and inequality, not just the creator of wealth.

What Lord Freud was actually considering (remarks that he has now retracted and apologized for) was the 'legal' exploitation of disabled people and exploitation primarily orchestrated to appease free market economics. A system that will happily pay people as little as possible or make working conditions as intolerable as they can, just because they can. Particularly if people have no other choice but to accept them.

And that is the point of this article. If we really want people to be self-responsible, self-reliant and to adhere to the 'work ethic', then the best way to secure these principles is to provide people with the means, the tools and the support to do so. Not cynically remove those means in order to force people, particularly disabled people, away from welfare and towards free market economics where they are basically left to sink or swim. Left unprotected to the whims and desires of the unscrupulous and the greedy.

At present, more than 50% of the British public (working or not) depend on welfare benefits of some kind. That is because Britain is a relatively high unemployment, low waged and low skilled economy. An economy dominated by the principles of the 'free-market' but one in which the taxpayer effectively subsidizes the employer to order to keep their wage bill low.

Perhaps liberalist ideals of self-responsibility and self-reliance would better be directed at the 'fat cats' within British society, the privileged ones who milk this skewed system purely out of self-interest, for their own self-promotion and for their own insatiable greed. Propped up by an outdated political system with outdated 'ideals' that are still firmly rooted within philosophy taken from the 1700's and 1800's - not within the civilized and modern world.

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