Boris Johnson Wins: But a Conservative Administration Still Pose a Considerable Existential Risk to British Disabled People
Published 2020-01-07 15:34:00 - (A month ago). Last updated 2020-01-23 12:25:43 - (4 weeks ago).
Author: Paul Dodenhoff - Contact : Via Disabled World
Outline: Paul Dodenhoff discusses Boris Johnson and the British Conservative Party win in the UK 2019 general election and what it means for Britain's disabled people.
As predicted, Boris Johnson and the British Conservative Party have won a majority in the 2019 general election, again extending their term of office that originally began in 2010. However, it was a thumping victory and that perhaps wasn't quite expected, certainly not on the scale of an 80 seat majority. Arguably, the political wrangling over Brexit had a huge impact on the electorate's decision, but we can't ignore that this was a massive rejection of a broadly left-wing agenda of reform offered by Britain's Labour Party. Including equalising the playing field for disabled people. What this means for disabled people certainly needs to be discussed but the election of a PM who has a track record of dishonesty and general incompetence is worrying for all of us. Clearly, this a massively disappointing result, with a government that still seems hell-bent on not only conducting a war on disability but a continuous war on disabled people themselves.
While I'm not going to analyse the details of the election results here, if we take the vote as a whole we still find more people voting against this government than actually for them. So, that is a positive at least and despite the victory we should not allow ourselves to be convinced that the war is suddenly lost. The British fighting spirit survives as witnessed by a sudden spike in donations just days after the election, to charities that look after the most vulnerable in British society - such as Shelter, Refuge, the Trussell Trust and the Biscuit Fund. A rather telling move on the British public's behalf. Britain is still clearly a divided nation despite the political and media rhetoric, split not just in terms of political beliefs and ideology, but split in terms of finding solutions to many of the UK's perceived ills. While, Britain's toxic media has revelled in the election result, championing it has a major shift in support from the 'working classes' for both the Conservative Party and its policies, I think the next round of council elections will really test out that theory. Elections which will certainly not be influenced by Brexit to the same degree but more by traditional issues.
The Boris Brand of Disability Rights
But what is the 'brand' of conservatism that is being offered by Boris Johnson, a man who calls himself a 'one-nation' Tory - a softer version of Conservatism when compared to say, Thatcherism. Let's be clear that this was a huge victory for the man and on the surface a vindication of his rather divisive approach to politics, and a victory not seen in the UK since Margaret Thatcher's 1987 re-election. And posing something of an existential issue for many disabled people, considering the thousands who have already died since 2010 after being targeted as being fit and capable for employment. Let's just refresh ourselves of some of the detail.
- Welfare reform Act 2012. Benefits claimants required to undertake a greater number and greater range of actions to find work.
- In 2012, Six per cent of doctors reported in a survey by Exaro that they have experienced a patient who has attempted or committed suicide as a result of undergoing or fear of undergoing the Government's fitness to work test. 14 per cent had patients who had self-harmed as a result of the test.
- In 2015 figures revealed by government highlighted that around 90 people a month had died after being declared as being 'fit for work'.
- In 2017, the United Nations criticised the British government for failing to uphold the rights of disabled people. Creating what the UN called, a 'human catastrophe' for disabled people in the UK
- In 2017, an analysis of NHS statistics highlighted that 43% of people claiming out-of-work disability benefit had attempted suicide.
- Government statistics published in 2017 highlighted a 47 per cent of people who were formerly receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) saw their support fall or stop altogether when they were reassessed for Personal Independent Payment (PIP).
- A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2017 argued that Government policies may have accounted for 120,000 deaths of vulnerable people - predicted to rise to 200,000 by 2020. Research that identified mortality rates in the UK falling steadily from 2001 to 2010 but reversing sharply after Government austerity came in.
- A 2018 analysis of the impact of universal credit, compiled by the Policy in Practice Group argued that the disabled were amongst the hardest hit under the government's reformed benefits system.
- In 2018 a study commissioned by Gateshead Council found that people claiming Universal Credit, including those with disabilities and health problems were being forced into debt, rent arrears and extreme hardship.
- In 2018, the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported to the United Nations that one in five British people were suffering an erosion of their human rights because they are disabled.
- 2019 the Institute for Public Policy Research, estimated there were 130,000 deaths of vulnerable people in England between 2012 and 2017 that could have been prevented.
- 2019 figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) showed that the average waiting time for new disability benefits claimants is 14 weeks - and a rise of 4 weeks since March 2018.
- 2019 figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions showed that 17,070 disability claimants had died while waiting for decisions on their personal independence payment (PIP) claims since 2013.
- 2019: In his final report on the impact of austerity in the UK, the UN Rapporteur accused the Government of being in a state of denial about the impact of its austerity and welfare reform policies.
- 2019: Newly released DWP stats showed more than 650,000 people on disability benefits had their payments cut or stopped totally under government reforms.
And that is not all, but I'm sure you get the gist. While Boris Johnson had been London Mayor for much of that time, he has played an active role in Government since 2016 and must therefore share some of the blame for the above nightmare. Since becoming an MP in 2015 Boris has primarily voted against legislation that promotes equality and human rights, and has always voted for a reduction of spending on welfare benefits. Including voting against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability. So, if there is blood on hands, Boris will certainly have some on his too.
Of course, although a rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled groups can be verified from 2010 onwards both Government and Johnson dispute that these have been caused by welfare reform. Research generally shows that it is quite common for disabled people to struggle with mental health issues such as depression, therefore issues of suicide are not rare. The argument is therefore that 'we' can't prove conclusively to a 100% level that such people would have not have taken their own lives regardless of any interaction with the state or its institutions. However, there is a counter-argument to be put, that we can never prove anything in the world to such a degree anyway, so why move the goalposts to an unachievably high ground where sick and disabled people are concerned? I've argued in the past that politicians themselves take decisions without having a cast-iron degree of absolute certainty. Decisions based upon the best available evidence at the time and sometimes on evidence that is either incomplete or found to be inaccurate at some future date. Similarly, Scientists and Social Scientists look for correlations and relationships between variables, but even if they are found can never say for certain that something is actually proven to be true - to a 100% level. For example, an inbuilt error rate of 1%, 5% or 10% exists within all the statistical evidence that we often regard as being concrete 'proof' of a scientific relationship between a factor and an outcome. A cancer is considered 'cured' if it doesn't reoccur within 5 years of treatment, but that doesn't mean to say that it won't unfortunately strike again after that 5 year period. In fact, there is currently no 'cure' for cancer only remission, yet how many people think otherwise? And in a court of law, a Judge may accept a non-unanimous verdict from a Jury in order to convict somebody of a crime, send them to jail on behalf of the state yet convicted by a jury where a number of its members still remain unconvinced of any guilt.
Of course it is impossible to prove 'conclusively' that somebody committed suicide directly because of any negative experiences they may have had with Britain's benefit system. But what we are really saying is that Government intervention has exasperated an already complex problem regarding the mental health of vulnerable people receiving welfare benefits. Something that may indeed contribute to their eventual decision to kill themselves. Not an unreasonable assertion in the grand scheme of things. Sure, the stats indicate a rise in the problem and correlate with welfare reform, yet don't offer 100% proof of the cause. But as a minimum, if thousands of people are also being inaccurately assessed as being 'fit for work' when they are quite clearly not, then that in itself is a huge issue. It is not just the numbers of deaths, suicides and attempted suicides that simply raises concern, but ongoing political strategy that seems deliberately aimed at treating sick and disabled people in the cruellest manner as possible. It certainly classifies as an abuse of state power, as the United Nations itself has pretty much surmised over the past couple of years.
Especially when we consider a 'sanctions' regime that now affects an increasing number of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, those who are too ill or disabled to work currently but whom the DWP consider will be capable of work at some time in the future. Sanctions that have according to the National Audit Office have risen dramatically since 2010 and to their highest levels ever, reducing welfare benefits by up to 100% for failing to comply with particular conditions and rules. We should also consider that Jobcentres have often been alleged to have 'targets' set by central Government for applying such sanctions, although the evidence is often a bit mixed on that score and may need further investigation. What may actually be happening is that some job centre managers 'feel' under pressure to censure as many people as possible, rather than actual targets being set by central office. But there has certainly been a number of ex-employees who have come forward claiming that their former bosses indeed have targets to censure as many people as possible.
In 2018, a Commons Select Committee looked into the application of benefit sanctions and indeed found a number of 'systemic failings'. However, rather than systemic failings, I would call these failing systematic, procedures and rules that continue to this day and in spite of the warnings. So, whether sanction targets are deliberately set up at the highest level or not, the system is still highly flawed. The Committee highlighted two cases in particular:
"Luke has epilepsy and was in the "all work-related requirements" conditionality group while claiming Universal Credit. He was sanctioned for 21 days when he failed to attend a work-focused interview. But three days before this appointment he was hospitalised owing to multiple seizures. Despite providing evidence of his illness and time in hospital, the decision to sanction him was upheld at Mandatory Reconsideration, concluding "Mr Luke O'Donnell has not shown good reason for missing his appointment". Luke tweeted about his experience, which "went viral" and was reported in the press. Not long after, Luke received a second letter from the DWP saying he did in fact have good reason for failing to attend his appointment and the decision to impose a sanction had been overturned."
"Jen was claiming JSA when she was sanctioned for failing to attend a jobcentre appointment. She had phoned in advance and visited in person to tell the jobcentre she would not be able to attend because her appointment clashed with an A level exam (it was later revealed that Jen had been put on the wrong benefit in the first place and should not have been claiming JSA because she was still in full-time education). Although she was told "okay, that's fine. We'll put that on your record", she was still sanctioned. With the help of "an amazing advocate" she successfully challenged the sanction, received a backdated payment and was moved onto the correct benefit. But this did not take away from the fact that Jen had gone without benefits for almost a year. She had had to leave her temporary accommodation and sofa-surfed, stayed with friends, or slept in the school library through the rest of her A levels."
Work or Die: Britain's Dirty & Dishonest Politics
Let's not beat about the bush here, when a government talks about reforming welfare in order to 'incentivize' and 'motivate' more people into work, and by the arbitrary cutting or stopping of welfare benefits, you get the real reasoning behind the reforms. Work or starve. Particularly when we consider that according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the Treasury's independent forecasting unit, welfare reform has currently cost more money than it has saved. So, if welfare reform isn't necessarily about saving taxpayers money, then we indeed need to look elsewhere for the primary motivation behind them. If you look back throughout British history, right back to the Victorian workhouse or even up to the days of Henry VIII himself, brutal treatment of the sick, the disabled and the poor by the state can be found as a matter of course. And usually based around an establishment fear that the 'work ethic' is being eroded. What this means in practice is that help and support for those who need it is often designed to be so intolerable and so hostile, that only the very desperate will venture forward to claim it. But of course, you won't find any of that publically admitted to by the DWP.
Yes, both government and the media will always come up with facts and figures that 'prove' millions of Brits are simply lazy, ripping off the welfare system and that whole generations of families in the UK have never worked. But delve into these stories and they quickly become little more than fairy tales, half-truths and propaganda. No real evidence has ever been presented that indicate a Britain full of scroungers and fakers, an illusion or fantasy that primarily exists in the heads of those who seem forever fearful over the work-ethic of their own citizens. Of course, the statistics surrounding poverty and what the sick and disabled have had to endure since 2010 take some swallowing, but when you get into individual cases themselves we get a real glimpse into the level of suffering disabled people are being put through - and primarily to appease political ideology. So, let's take a look at some more cases.
In 2018 Mark Barber, a gardener with debilitating disabilities committed suicide almost immediately after learning his welfare benefits would be cut by £20 a week ($26 US dollars). When he was found, his washing machine was held together only by Sellotape and the posted notes he left showed how he had just spent £12 on phone calls to the DWP themselves - in trying to state his case. Then there is Jodey Whiting, a mother of nine who suffered both physical and mental health issues, including curvature of the spine and a brain cyst. Jodey took her life in 2017 after her benefits were stopped because she missed a capability assessment due to suffering from pneumonia. In this case, an independent inquiry found the Department for Work (DWP) had breached its own rules and was ordered to apologise and pay compensation. And finally, Kevin Dooley in 2018, who suffered breathing problems caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and attempted suicide after being declared fit-for-work and his benefits cut - dying 3 days later in hospital. A fit-for-work decision that contradicted Mr Dooley's own doctor who said that he was too sick to return to his job as a painter and decorator.
And there are literally thousands of similar stories, so these are not just unfortunate and spurious cases. A Labour administration therefore offered a glimmer of hope for disabled people, a hope in winning back some of the ground lost under the Conservatives since 2010 as regards equality and human rights. However, that hope has now gone up in smoke for the time being. Yep, Boris Johnson has talked about uniting the country but many of us suspect that these were nothing more than empty words. Over the past couple of weeks, Government is alleged to have already back-tracked on some of its election promises, including a guarantee to alleviate Britain's social care crisis or guarantees of air transport accessibility for disabled people. Arguably, Boris Johnson's record and reputation for dishonesty usually goes before him and at best he is someone who appears consistent only in the fact that he is generally inconsistent. For example:
- One minute he is for remaining in the EU - then against it. He supports a customs union, then opposes it.
- A supporter of the 'sugar tax' when he was mayor of London in 2016, introducing his own version - a 10p charge added on sugary soft drinks. As PM he intends to review such taxes, complaining that they are part of a creeping 'nanny state'.
- Resigned from his Cabinet position under Theresa May in protest of her Brexit strategy and voted against her deal twice in the Commons. However, changed his mind and decided he would back that Withdrawal Agreement.
- Said he would be prepared to lie down in front of bulldozers in order to prevent a third runway being built at Heathrow Airport. However, when it came down to the crunch, he avoided a vote on the building of a new runway by conveniently flying to Afghanistan for a meeting.
So, at least we can see that he 'flip-flops' around to some extent. In public he comes across as a bumbling oaf and according to those who have worked alongside him, someone who also holds no real grasp of detail, comes unprepared for most things and consequently is often accused of being quite liberal with the truth. Our very own Donald J Trump, no less.
For example, during the election campaign he promised that he was in the process of building 40 new hospitals. Yet, as the fact checkers repeatedly pointed out, the reality is that he hadn't earmarked any money to build one new hospital never mind 40 - and was simply upgrading six old ones. He hold us that he would recruit 50,000 extra nurses to Britain's NHS hospitals, but when quizzed about the detail in a TV interview he was forced to admit that 19,000 of those were existing nurses who he hoped to persuade not to leave the profession (due to retirement, stress and overwork). Then, he went into Whipps Cross hospital, London just a number of weeks ago before the election and when confronted by a distressed father who accused him of using the hospital visit simply as a press stunt, he argued that there was no press present. Only for the father to simply point towards the bank of cameras that were following Boris around, recording his every move. On the surface, a typically comedic bungling Boris moment, but one that has an uncomfortable and incredibly dark side to it. Does Boris think we are all just stupid?
Delve beneath the surface of the man and you can also find someone who has likened Muslim women wearing the burka to 'letter boxes' and 'bank robbers', referred to gay men as 'tank topped bum-boys' and Black African's as 'piccaninnies' - a racist term for a dark-skinned African child. A man who hid in a milk fridge just days before the election date in order to dodge media questions, and one who also pocketed a reporter's mobile phone when trying to avoid genuine photographs showing a seriously sick four-year-old boy forced to sleep on a British hospital floor because of a shortage of beds. Now this might all be a jolly wheeze to some Brits but when you add in the mix his sackings for dishonesty as a journalist, allegations of 'semi-corruption' during his time as London Major and the current investigation (on hold) by the police watchdog for criminal 'misconduct' in public office. Then all Brits have a right to be worried that this man is arguably not fit for public office.
But What Does This Really Mean for Disabled People?
My argument is largely that Boris de Pfeffel Johnson will carry on with this 'war' upon disabled people - and exactly where his predecessors left off. Sick and disabled people are pretty much an easy target for anything this new government wants to do. Couple that with a negative political ideology or deep-rooted fear surrounding the work ethic of the poor, something still firmly rooted in the 16th and 17th centuries, then it is hard to see anything good coming along. Certainly, this 'new' government got off to a bad start on when Sally Ann Hart was also elected MP for the constituency of Hastings and Hove. Yet another Conservative who sparked outrage recently by suggesting that people with learning difficulties should work for less than the minimum wage. And the reason, because they have no understanding of money.
Arguably, it is reflective of the current state of modern Britain to witness the good church-going people of Hastings electing somebody who is not only prejudiced against those with learning disabilities, but who was also being investigated by her own party over alleged Islamophobia and antisemitism. Perhaps her version and Hastings version of equality? But that old chestnut about disabled people needing to be paid less than the abled-bodied keeps on resurfacing time and time again, and simply because disabled people are perceived to be so unproductive that employers need plenty of encouragement in order to take more disabled people on.
While not many of us would argue against the need to see more disabled people in work, exploitation by unscrupulous employers is arguably not the best way of doing it. With Britain's obsession with both employment and trade deregulation, anti-trade union legislation and a generally erosion of workers' rights from 1979 onwards, you don't need to be psychic to envisage a future with whole sweatshops of disabled people being exploited in their masses - or at best, being thought of as cheap, disposable labour. Particularly, when the free movement of European workers has completely ended and with employers increasingly complaining about having employment vacancies unfulfilled.
But what about Boris himself? What does he really think of disabled people? In his first speech after becoming Prime Minister earlier in 2019, Johnson brought up the need to fix the crisis in social care, yet only talked about the elderly and completely failed to mention disabled people at all. Including those of working age who depend upon social care and where around half of local authority spending is indeed spent on social care for working-age adults. As I mentioned earlier, election promises of fixing the social care crisis soon became downgraded to simple cross-party talks. The commitment of Boris Johnson to take the UK out of the European Union (EU) has also raised much concern amongst disabled people and carers, many who see the EU as having a great deal for disability rights. For example:
- Introduced the Framework Directive for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation in 2000. Legislation which set out to protect workers against discrimination on account of race, sexual orientation, religion and, of course, disability.
- European Disability Strategy 2010. Aimed at eliminating barriers across Europe, allowing disabled people full rights to inclusive education, employment, health and so much more.
- Brought in legislation to access air travel, which includes assistance getting on and off planes.
- The European health insurance card, which includes catering for those with complex health problems.
- Created the European Social Fund
So, you don't need to think too long or too hard to see why many disabled people are fearful of the UK's departure from the European community. But apart from the actions the EU have taken, Brexit itself may cause many problems for Britain that have the potential to impact upon Britain's disabled. Including the end of freedom of movement that will undoubtedly lead to a shortage of NHS and social care staff, possible recession and a fall in tax revenue. All of which are realistic events that have been highlighted by think-tanks and academics. In addition, one in five people in the UK have a disability yet at no time up to the present day has government actually assessed the impact that Brexit will have on disabled people. However, we've had official documents outlining general delays in food or medical supplies and the possibility of general and widespread social unrest. So, we know an ill-wind is indeed likely to be on its way.
As regards other policy. Seven years ago, a group of Tory MPs published a book entitled 'Britannia Unchained' that argued that Britain 'rewards laziness', that British workers were 'the worst idlers in the world', and that 'too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work'. At least four of those contributors of this prejudiced tripe, Priti Patel, Kwasi Kwarteng, Elizabeth Truss and Dominic Raab were chosen by Boris to form his first cabinet back in June. A rabble that also supported the proroguing of Parliament in October, an undemocratic act that was subsequently overturned by the courts as being unconstitutional and unlawful. A prorogation where Mr Johnson is also argued to have lied to the Queen.
In 2013, as London Mayor, Boris was accused of displaying 'unpleasant elitism' after insulting the low-paid, suggesting that some people struggle to get on in life simply because of their low IQs. During this speech to the Centre of Policy Studies, Johnson declared that inequality was 'essential' in order to foster the spirit of envy and greed that act as a valuable spur to economic activity. Claiming that 'shaking a cornflake packet hard' was sometimes the best way of getting the very best in society to rise to the top. Not a good sign for us cornflakes stuck at the bottom of the packet. People also tend to ignore the fact that the London riots of 2011 happened under Boris Johnson's watch as London Major - who also initially refused to curtail his holiday in order to deal with the crisis. Then in a panic, defied advice by purchasing second hand water cannons that were actually not licensed for use in the UK. By the time Boris left public office as Mayor, the numbers of police officers in London had fallen, homelessness had grown by 130%, while facing down claims of corruption and that he had wasted nearly £1bn of taxpayer's money on either failed projects or vanity projects.
Did he do any better as foreign secretary? Nope. During his time as foreign secretary there were repeated calls for his resignation, primarily from his own side. For example, during a 2017 select committee hearing the then-foreign secretary falsely stated that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (while on holiday) was being detained in Iran for allegedly plotting to topple the government - was actually out there training journalists. Soon afterwards Zaghari-Radcliffe was immediately hauled in front of an Iranian court and told her sentence was to double because of the new evidence.
In addition, Boris repeatedly breached House of Commons rules by failing to declare outside earnings or a financial interest in property, acts that the Commons Standards Committee accused him of displaying 'an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the house'. He insulted Muslim women in his weekly columns for the Daily Telegraph. Upset Sikh's in a Bristol temple after talking to them about increasing whisky exports to India, despite alcohol being forbidden in the Sikh faith. And accused the EU of wanting to inflict Nazi-style 'punishment beatings' on the UK because of Brexit. Etc., etc., etc...
Britain still seems a little deflated and quiet as I write this. It's as if something extremely embarrassing has happened in the political world and we are all in a sense of shock and bewilderment. Even supporters of both Government and Brexit seem bewildered. It's as if they have committed a multi-million pound robbery in the broad light of day and can't believe that they have seemingly got away with it.
Then again, for most of us putting a serial buffoon like Boris Johnson in charge of this country for five years seems not only a mind-blowingly dumb thing to do, but one certainly doomed to spectacular failure. Judging by past evidence. Clearly, Boris has a chance to unite the country by doing exactly the opposite of what most of us think he will do. But as I've outlined above, he hasn't exactly made a good start at it. The man is also a proven liar, is proven to be incompetent, has little respect for convention or the law and therefore could tear this country apart in a way we have never seen before.
He says himself that he is not averse to 'shaking' the cornflake packet in order to get the best to rise to the top, with the obvious consequence of those who not up to the task being completely left at the bottom of the box. What that means for disability is that this is yet another extremely dangerous period for British disabled people. Perhaps the most dangerous so far since 2010 and with many more people sure to die over the next five years as a consequence of both government action and inaction. So, I just want readers to reflect on what may be key issues for Britain's disabled over the coming months and years.
A Hostile environment towards disability
The deliberate creation and continuation of a hostile environment towards disabled people that is aimed at systematically withdrawing welfare and social support in order to motivate sick and disabled people to be more independent and responsible.
Take a look at the UK Windrush scandal and we see a pattern of hostile institutionalised state behaviour rolled out to 'immigrants' that is remarkably similar in tone to the treatment disabled people have been receiving since 2010. But one aimed at making conditions so intolerable that some 'illegal' immigrants will go home on their own accord or at the very least, get flagged up to the authorities and sent home if they don't meet new policy requirements. While government deny any deliberate wrongdoing towards sick and disabled people, the Windrush scandal at least highlighted that British governments can and do act in malevolent ways towards its own citizens, if and when it chooses. It also casts light on a shadowy political world that often operates without the full knowledge nor direct support of the electorate. While it is certainly done in our name and on our behalf, rarely are we consulted nor are we listened to when we raise concerns. Mistakes happen and lessons have been learnt is the usual government mantra. Coded political speak for - "yes, you rumbled us, now shut up about it". We all know about the thousands and thousands of sick and disabled people hounded out of existence by the DWP. In the case of Windrush, more than 80 Brits were deported for being 'illegal' immigrants. So, in both cases, that is something we shouldn't and will never shut up about.
Prejudice & bias as a driver of discrimination, hate crime & welfare reform
Of course, a hostile 'environment' towards both disabled people and the British Windrush generation has existed in some shape of form at a micro-level long before the British state decided to also get in on the act. As we arguably witness with 'hate crimes' committed daily towards both race and disability, together with the spectre of discrimination that many other people still live under. We Brits arguably like to romanticise our 'Britishness' as being a tolerant, easy-going and all-inclusive 'race'. But trace Britain's social history of disability and we find that a hostile social environment that has always existed to some degree - leading to both the marginalisation and widespread expulsion of disabled people from society in the not too distant past. Trace the discrimination and hostility meted out towards the Windrush generation from day one of arriving in Britain after WWII and you also find a different narrative to the rather sanitised one you often find in the press or the political world. A world where people were told to 'go home' or beaten up and abused simply because they were the wrong colour.
Of course, that doesn't mean that good things don't happen in the UK nor that its governments don't legislate in order to limit prejudice, discrimination and inequality. Arguably, the things I'm discussing here is also alien to many Brits who have no contact and no knowledge of such matters. That process may in itself lead us to imagine that we therefore live in a completely equal society and one where everybody is perceived to have the same rights and opportunities - rather than still something largely dependent on the luck of the draw. For me, it is a world view based on mere assumption and faulty perception, where there is often a vast discrepancy between the real experiences of people in poverty or of colour, and this rather romanticised view of tolerance and inclusivity that many of us undoubtedly think exists.
Speak to many Brits today and Britain has indeed become a soft touch for immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, the lazy, the scroungers and the fakers. A Britain where all you need to do is turn up at the doors of the Department of Works and Pensions one morning to be instantaneously rewarded with a free house and an income the size of a chief executive of a multi-national bank. Then patted on the back and sent off on your merry way to live a wonderful life. However, if you have no or limited experience of these issues, then ignorance will not only be glorious bliss but highly dangerous to the rest of us.
Certainly, if you focus on the research, what the British public generally believe and what is reality doesn't always match up. That is a huge concern that has serious implications for our democracy. If our politicians and the media are telling us one thing and the reality is somewhat different, you can only draw your own conclusions, not only about why but where all this will eventually lead.
For many years I have considered hate crime and discrimination against disabled people to be simply two sides of the same coin, both driven by a deep-rooted and long-held public fear, bias or prejudice towards disabled people. Despite the efforts of some people in trying to eradicate bias and prejudice from the debate over disability hate crime altogether, I would like people to consider that bias and prejudice not only as being a key driver of disability hate crime, but also of discrimination and ultimately, welfare reform itself. So, rather than two sides of a coin, we perhaps should be considering hate crime, discrimination and welfare reform in the same breath, as being three sides of a rather dangerous clock.
Certainly, trace the concept of welfare provision and charity in the UK back a few hundred years and you will find the poorest in society being split off into two basic camps - the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. Where children, the sick, the disabled and the elderly have always been considered deserving of help. Today, that help seems much more tied into if you are of working age or not and if your actions (if not also the actions of your parents) have contributed to your downfall. In other words, you are doubly stuffed if the powers that be think a lack of morality or work ethic is the real reason why you and your children live in poverty. These days if you are of working age, there is absolutely no excuse for you not to be in work of some description.
While that concept is not new in itself, perhaps sick and disabled people are not automatically considered as being 'deserving' of help like they once where? And if you are sick or disabled, you can most certainly do more than you say you can, a key premise of the Work Capability Assessment. With the introduction of the Work Capability Assessment itself in 2008, we have arguably also witnessed a change in the way the 'sick role' has changed and is now policed. The 'sick role' being a concept developed in the 1950's by American sociologist Talcott Parsons, who argued that being sick means that the sufferer enters a temporary role of 'sanctioned deviance'. This is because a sick individual is perceived as not being a productive member of society and that deviance therefore needs to be policed - a role handed out to the medical profession.
However, while disabled people were once removed completely from any state obligation of being 'sick' if their disability was seen as being either permanent and/or as a block to being a productive member of society, that is something that has arguably changed from the early 2000's onwards. Today, both sick and disabled people are faced with intensified state monitoring that focus on not what you cannot do at present but what you still can. Processes that are also solely policed and monitored by work capability assessors instead of medics, people employed by private companies who are running such services on behalf of the state - but solely for profit. Medical opinion and advice now therefore play little role in the process of deciding if somebody is 'fit for work' or not. But if medical opinion isn't a key factor in deciding on fitness for work, one has to wonder what is and how this primarily subjective process can ever be free from human prejudice or political interference. As we saw with the cases of Luke and Jen above, both were treated rather harshly by a 'system' that seemed more geared up for censure and punishment, than assessing cases in an objective and logical manner.
Disability and the different faces of oppression
I would to state that while I'm saying that hate crime, discrimination and disability welfare reform may all originate from the same pool of prejudice, negative stereotypes, social representations, general assumption or sweeping conjecture that may be present within society, I am not saying that one causes the other. Certainly at a very basic level, hate crime, discrimination and welfare reform may all have the same consequences for disabled people. If abuse, harassment or violence stops you from going out in public, then not getting a job due to discrimination or having your welfare benefits cut or stopped, will all have the same effect in the end. Particularly, where mobility issues are involved. They all marginalise and exclude people from society.
In 1990, Iris Marion Young put forward an analysis and model of 'oppression' that many social groups suffer, breaking the concept of 'oppression' down into its component parts of Oppression, Exploitation, Marginalization, Cultural Imperialism and Violence. I personally found this model extremely useful for initially analysing 'hate crime' that both physically and mentally impaired people may face. But is very easy to apply this model to both discrimination and welfare reform. I'll let people work out for themselves how that may be done, but if you take the concept of 'responsibility' first and look at how often that dominates political and media discourse in the UK today, then that should be a good start.
But apart from cultural imperialism, political ideology and policy that not only marginalises disabled people from society but helps to push some into contemplating suicide, then that should certainly be considered to be a form of state violence. Who needs death camps and goon squads to bump people off when there are much more subtle ways of getting rid of those who are troublesome and unwanted? And that is not just a facetious statement because in a Britain that is so dominated by work and the work ethic, if you can't work for any particular reason you may simply hold no or little value to those who dominate society. Meet someone for the first time and the question of 'What do you do for a living?' will be always be offered within a few short minutes. Of all the questions in the world that we could ask each other, this is always one of the first that we all use. And a situation that we should reflect upon and consider why we do so?
As the UK continues to suffer from acute labour shortages, yet increasingly dependent upon having a steady stream of cheap and flexible workers, sick and disabled people will therefore become under even more pressure to work, regardless of ability or circumstance. Yes, disabled people may still be perceived generally as not being as 'productive' as the able-bodied, but all that will go out of the window once company profits take a real nose-dive. Since 2010, disabled people may have indeed become perceived by government as being a 'reserve' labour force in waiting, and one that they can call on as and when it suits. And primarily by welding the big stick. Recently the Financial Times reviewed official and other data to identify five sectors of the British economy that are grappling with the most acute labour shortages: Hospitality, IT, Construction, Healthcare & Leisure. Problems that will become even more acute when freedom of movement has ended for European citizens.
While I'm not saying that sick and disabled people will be filling all of those vacancies, over the years we've had many Conservative politicians increasingly eying up disabled people as being in need of incentivising and motivating into work of any type. And in many cases, working for less than the minimum wage. We've also had suggestions that pensioners should also be forced to work for their state pension because of such a shortage of labour, by becoming 'fruit-pickers' for example. So, you don't need to be a weather forecaster to know which way the wind is blowing on that political score. Politicians are not just in relative positions of power compared to the rest of us but are also in a position to set the agenda for public debate. And once the general public also start to stick their ill-informed boot in, metaphorically speaking, we are usually in for a rocky ride.
Disability hate crime & its unique features.
Disability hate crime is at least one area that is certain to not be going away anytime soon, certainly not over the next five years. My own research on disability hate crime quickly highlighted the complexity of the topic, and where hate crimes committed towards disability can be both similar yet somewhat different to hate crimes perpetrated against other social groups. Over the years, hate crime research has tended to lump everything together into one big pot and what applies to one social group automatically considered or assumed to apply to all. However, my research indicated to me that while hate crimes committed towards race or religion are considered to be primarily opportunistic and transient crimes, hate crimes perpetrated against disability can often be more targeted and much more sustained.
That is obviously one argument I want other people to discuss and to also investigate further if in a position to do so. In addition, if you look at physical disability and intellectual disabilities as being separate entities, we find that hate crimes for each specific group can also take on its own special favour. That said, I find it interesting that some academics have actually tried to move away from considering disability hate crime as being motivated by bias and prejudice at all and primarily concentrate on the 'vulnerability' of the victim as being a chief motivator of abuse, harassment and violence. Yet, some of whom still seem to fervently support bias and prejudice as being a motivator of racial and religious hatred? Talk about moving the goal posts for disabled people. A shift in position that also seemed to come around about the same time when disabled people started arguing that some of these hate crime incidents were actually being motivated by the increasing amount of negative political and media rhetoric surrounding benefits and welfare fraud. A rather interesting coincidence.
However, no one is arguing that a disabled victim may not be targeted for criminal activity because of their perceived vulnerability - but surely all crime can be argued to be motivated by 'vulnerability' to some extent. A house with its windows or doors left open and unattended may be more likely to attract opportunistic criminal behaviour than a house secured like Fort Knox. However, what is the real underlying motivation for the criminal? Is it the 'vulnerability' of the house compared to others or is it the thought of quick economic gain by nicking as many valuable items as possible and in the easiest possible manner? Even computer hackers look for vulnerabilities in data systems before they break into them. So, all I'm saying is that these are complex issues that can't just be pinned onto 'vulnerability' alone. That is something indeed worthy of further investigation.
If you take something like 'mate crime' for example, a form of disability hate crime committed not only by strangers but by friends, relatives or carers of the victim. Yes, economic gain or any other personal gain may act as a motivator for such behaviour, but certainly all of those factors seemingly override any ounce of respect for the victim. And in some cases the victim is not just systematically robbed or exploited - but tortured and killed. If we argued that a Black person was systematically robbed, exploited, tortured and killed simply because their skin colour made them 'vulnerable' as an easy target - would we get away with it? Doubtful.
Welfare reform and 'Punishment' of the poor
When I started my hate crime research into disability many years ago as a part-time PhD project, it was simply in order to highlight the issues I felt where being overlooked to a great degree by conventional academia, particularly as regards the motivation to commit abuse, harassment and violence. So, my research was always intended to be low level and just to get the ball rolling. I certainly had no intention of writing about this stuff years later nor looking at discrimination or welfare reform as a consequence. And I will hold my hand up, I arguably had no intention primarily because I had absolutely no idea what I was actually getting myself in to. As a mature, able-bodied man I always considered myself to be worldly wise and fairly knowledgeable about the world, both the good aspects and the not so good. However, step into the shoes of someone with a disability for a second and you really get a sharp lesson into the often hidden harshness and brutality of British society - and how that seemingly permeates into society at all of its levels.
Meet up with someone with a disability in order to discuss something like a hate crime incident or rather a series of incidents, and that isn't all you get. Despite the sometime difficult, painful and sensitive nature of interviewing disabled people over hate crime, particularly those with physical disfigurements or intellectual disabilities, both discrimination and welfare reform will also often be raised at such meetings. In some cases, I would say that welfare reform and the Work Capability Assessment had caused almost a similar amount of anxiety and psychological damage as abuse, harassment or even violence often did. That was something I certainly could not ignore.
From my own experience and all these years later, I still feel that traditional academia in Britain has been deliberately low-key on many of the issues disabled were and are still facing. Not just hate crime or discrimination, but also concerning institutional prejudice and of course, welfare reform. Or more than likely, academics and universities may arguably too scared to research such issues just in case somebody decides to turn off the research funding tap. Funding not in abundance in the UK at the best of terms - certainly not for sociology. Luckily for me at least, there has been some level of academic interest and moral support from the international community. But clearly, point a finger at the behaviour of any British government in today's political climate and that may cause more than a few academic bottoms to undoubtedly twitch in uncontrollable panic. Particularly, if we point that finger at political policy and claim that it is mainly motivated by bias and prejudice.
But for me, it doesn't seem such a giant leap of faith to link current UK welfare reform to political prejudice of some kind. As I said earlier, take a look at the Victorian workhouse or the early 'poor laws' of the 1600's and any understanding of poverty back then was largely driven by similar arguments that you can hear in Britain today. That poverty is caused by laziness, by immorality and subsequently by bad choices. That welfare or charity provision is far 'over-generous' and only encourages dependency. And that we therefore need to 'incentivise' people back into work because they have little or no work ethic. Now, if that is not some kind of prejudice and misunderstanding towards millions of people living in abject poverty, then what is?
Talk to disabled people, talk to homeless people, talk to those with mental health issues, talk to those with drug and alcohol issues, etc., etc. and all these people ever want is a hand-up. Not a hand out. Most people I've met over the years had worked at some point and losing the ability to work for whatever reason had a dramatic effect not only on mental health but identity. Talk to ex-servicemen and women and it is their ex-job that caused the majority of their problems, not laziness and a lack of motivation. I for one certainly don't think any of the above really deserve to be taking lessons in morality off the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Iain Duncan Smith, David Cameron nor Boris Johnson. People whose world view seems firmly stuck in the 1600's and 1700's.
In the days of Henry VIII, he used to incentivise those of working age back into work by publically humiliating them, while beating them into a pulp at the same time. Punishment in other words. Therefore, we should actively challenge British politicians when they use terms such as 'incentivise' or 'motivate' while talking about the aims of welfare reform - because what they may really mean is punishment of the poor. Take welfare benefits off some of the poorest and the most vulnerable in society and it becomes nothing more than a highly simplistic way of punishing these people into doing exactly what you want them to do. In this case, find a job and go to work. And despite the continual tinkering with the unemployment statistics, the illusion of having low unemployment in Britain means little to those at the top of society who are continually concerned about an eroded work-ethic and that British businesses can't find all the workers they need.
Exploitation, Accusation, Incarceration and Entertainment.
Not a great revelation I would imagine but after trawling through interview transcripts, numerous emails outlining incidents and various other sources passed onto me, these sort of themes can be picked out within hate crimes committed towards disability. Patterns such as exploitation, accusation, incarceration or entertainment. Of course, these elements may occur in isolation if not all together at the same time.
But at a macro-level of society we could also argue that discrimination against disability is primarily driven by an accusation of some kind, such as disabled people not being as 'productive' as the able-bodied. Likewise, welfare reform often seems driven by accusation, with disabled people often being accused of laziness, fakery and all manner of misdemeanours, particularly in the application of benefit sanctions. But taking money away from people already living in extreme poverty, people who may need it to pay for carers, wheelchairs, mobility cars, taxi's and public transport, not only isolates and marginalises but can often literally incarcerate people in their own homes. I've even heard of cases where people who did work having to give up employment because they simply couldn't afford to travel to work anymore after having a reduction in benefits they may have been receiving in order to help with mobility issues.
Then we have politicians continually pushing forward the notion that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage, something many of us consider as simply being a pathway to exploitation. Not to mention the Work Capability Assessment itself, which undoubtedly provides some entertainment to assessors who have disabled people performing tasks in front of them like performing seals in a circus. When disabled people talk distressingly to you about feeling humiliated by such tests, the idea of getting disabled people to perform tasks for benefits is not that far removed from the medical voyeurism of the 18th and 19th century or the Victorian entertainment 'freak-shows'. At least, that is what some disabled people have equated the WCA to.
While most disabled people seem to agree that the benefit system should be indeed policed, there are ways and means of doing so. But if a system is designed primarily to act as 'punishment' or indeed as an 'incentive' to perceived good behaviours, then that may tell us more about the serial deviance of the originators than any perceived wrongdoing by welfare claimants.
When inequality equals equality
Finally, let's shake up the cornflake packet ourselves. What if Boris Johnson and his ilk genuinely believe that welfare reform is nothing untoward and that inequality itself is nothing to complain about? Clearly, the facts and the statistics speak for themselves over the problems disabled people have encountered over welfare reform. However, in the past we have heard Johnson promoting the notion that greed and envy is not such a bad thing but in fact a key motivator to achievement. While promoting the idea that inequality becomes inevitable when some people are clearly less motivated to work hard (or have a lower IQ) when compared to others. In this mind set, inequality is clearly your own fault and nothing to do with structural factors, discrimination, income inequality or a lack of human rights. But arguably, these ideas are not that far removed from traditional liberal economics of the 18th century that also perceived the desire for wealth as being a key motivator of innovation and technological advancement, advances that benefit us all in the long-run. It is the innovators, the movers and shakers that therefore create the wealth that the rest of us may benefit from as a by-product, so why shouldn't they enjoy that wealth?
First of all, I don't think there is anything wrong in people wanting to make money, provided it is done fairly and squarely. What is a problem is when people like Boris Johnson mistakenly believe that bullying the poor, the sick and disabled people into work (or working harder) becomes little more than a form of tough love. It is certainly not perceived to be an abuse of state power nor the continuing oppression or exploitation of social groups that have always been oppressed and exploited in society, going back many centuries. From his own words there is some kind of admission at least, that some people in life are naturally going to be dominant over others, one way or another. Therefore, in the echelons of power, dominance of one social group over another therefore tends not to be seen as a bad state of affairs in itself - it is just the way things are.
Certainly, take a close look at Conservative ideology in Britain and the overall message is clearly one where individual's should indeed be free from government interference to do what they wish, particularly in business; that human nature is naturally imperfect and cannot be easily changed; and that the social position you have in society is basically one of your own creation and hard work. Translate that ideology into policy and you get something that means there should be very few rules where money making is concerned; that those who are wealthy are wealthy solely because of their own hard work; and that everybody is actually born equal from day one, it is just that some make the most of their opportunities. Speak to Conservatives at all levels and arguably the concept of 'equality' itself becomes interpreted simply into something that means little more than everybody should be paying the same taxes. Doesn't matter about income or income inequality, everybody should pay the same. Now that's equality.
What I want people to consider here is that many Brits may now believe that inequality and dominance is not only inevitable but indeed perfectly normal. Just make sure you are on the right side of it. When I first started thinking about disability hate crime, I was largely attracted to the methods and tools offered by Structuration theory, a concept in sociology originally developed by Anthony Giddens that offered a fairly fresh perspective on human behaviour based on a synthesis of structure and agency. Giddens thought human behaviour could best be analysed by looking at how an individual's autonomy is not only influenced or constrained by 'structure' such as social relationships or institutions, but how those structures are maintained and adapted though the exercise of human agency. It is certainly one way in which we can trace how human behaviour and social relationships change (or not) over time and space.
Some of the interesting things of structuration theory for me is how Giddens viewed 'power' and 'dominance'. Giddens pretty much viewed both as being resources that were neutral in themselves, where all social actors could access and use as and when required. From this perspective, power and dominance is therefore not automatically considered to be negative entities par sec and not permanently in the hands of one group over another. But is that really the case in Britain when you trace the influence one social group seemingly has over other social groups and how those relationships are seemingly being reproduced without much effort from one century to another, and from one decade to another?
What I really want to highlight is that Giddens was also a key architect of New Labour's third way politics in the 1990's, itself an attempted synthesis of right-wing and left-wing politics that advocated a varying synthesis of centre-right economic thinking with centre-left social policies. One of the criticisms of Socialism or Marxism by such 'third-way' thinkers is that they (or we) don't have any real understanding of how the economic world works, particularly an increasingly competitive and globalised one. Therefore in order to provide any kind of welfare to the masses, there not only needs to be a strong economy but one that constantly adapts to both globalisation and international competition. An adaption that arguably includes a low paid and an ever increasingly flexible workforce, limited worker's rights and a population that should also understand its responsibilities and social obligations as regards welfare provision. Something sure to increase income inequality in the long run and therefore the dominance of the most powerful groups within British society. And if we look back at the demise of New Labour in 2010, inequality between the very poorest and the very richest within the UK had indeed grown to record proportions.
Yet, this is again the argument put forward by former Prime Minister Tony Blair recently in response to Labour's election 2019 defeat. In short, Jeremy Corbyn just didn't understand what the British public indeed now get regarding this new globalised world. That we Brits can't just kick back at privatisation, that we can't renationalise resources such as gas, electric, water or own our train services just because we feel like it. And no doubt also understanding that our workers indeed need to be constantly kept in check, with the sick and disabled particularly monitored and reminded daily of their responsibilities (just in case they are ripping off the system).
But rather than arguing that the British public 'get' this globalisation thing, I would argue that the British public looks pretty much brain-washed to high heaven to me, meekly falling in line with any old tosh that our betters want to spout out. Bearing in mind that we Brits can't even dare to think about owning our own transport services or our water supply without being called loony-left extremists. Yet foreign governments are allowed to whole big slices of our public services without a murmur from politicians, the media nor the public at large. Bonkers? Yes we are.
If you look at various definitions of globalization, the majority mean little more than a process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence, operating on an international scale. Yet what that translates into for most politicians in the UK is simply a continual drive for greater work productivity and lower business costs. As international companies continue to travel around the globe replacing cheap labour and ground rents with even cheaper labour and cheaper rents - while often receiving large state subsidies to help them on their merry way. But arguably within this globalization fever, the concept of the 'work ethic' is never far from the surface as being one of the key things we Brits still need to change in order to survive in this new brave competitive world. Here's Tony Blair speaking in 2002:
"In welfare, for too long, the right had let social division and chronic unemployment grow; the left argued for rights but were weak on responsibilities. We believe passionately in giving people the chance to get off benefit and into work. We have done it for 1¼ million."
"But there are hundreds of thousands more who could work, given the chance. It's right for them, for the country, for society. But with the chance, comes a responsibility on the individual - to take the chance, to make something of their lives and use their ability and potential to the full."
"That is the key to Job Centre Plus. It embodies on the one hand the enabling welfare state, spreading opportunity - and on the other our reform of public services, as a new responsive service focused on the jobless. But for it to work, it has to be founded on mutual responsibility."
"Government has a responsibility to provide real opportunities for individuals to gain skills and to get into work that pays. But individuals also have a responsibility to grasp those opportunities."
"All of our reforms have the same underlying principles - opportunity, fairness and mutual responsibility. We want to give people the chance to fulfil their potential. We want to raise people's expectations and their self-belief, by giving them the tools to help themselves."
A speech rather top heavy on personal responsibility and motivation, plus a clear signal that us 'lefties' are indeed considered 'weak' on such things. I beg to differ but the only things I remember us lefties were saying way back in 2002 was actually the same things people have been saying in Britain since the industrial revolution began - protect workers' rights and give people a fair days pay. Do that and people can indeed look after themselves and their families. Of course, that completely ignores Tony's chief lesson about globalisation. That if an employer suddenly wants to change your work conditions or contracts for something worse or indeed dump you completely in order to find cheaper workers elsewhere - you should simply just suck it up. That's the lesson that we all really need to take from Mr Blair's constant sermonising - that you will do exactly what your betters tell you to do, no complaints and no questions asked.
Compare his speech to an interview given by Margaret Thatcher in 1987:
"I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with It. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."
Similar themes about responsibility, social obligations and of course dependency, but words from two leading British politicians who both invoked the 'globalisation' card in order to drive through extremely challenging economic and social reforms - where a few lucky people substantially gained form but many also lost out on. Therefore, the concept of globalisation in British politics seems to play a similar role to the way the story of the bogyman does in getting naughty children to behave themselves after dark - "Now settle down darlings or the bogyman will get you for being naughty." Globalisation therefore becomes little more than a stick to beat you up with and primarily in order to stop you daring to ask for more - like little Oliver Twist did. And like Oliver Twist, the only reason people ever really ask for more is because they are bloody hungry.
So, in conclusion, the UK under Boris Johnson is pretty much sure to continue a downward spiral of inequality that one that is pretty much of its own choosing and design. In short, for those in dominant positions of society, income inequality at least, is not a bad thing. And it's all your own fault anyway if you are poor, so stop bloody whinging about it. If anything, it's all about PR and the way you sell or market these policies to the British public, a public who can often seem more interested in TV soap operas and the sports pages of the tabloids, than anything our beloved politicians get up to. And I don't think that is being unfair. From Thatcherism onwards, the UK has set its cap firmly against those seemingly up against it in life, such as the low paid, single mums, the sick, the disabled and the homeless, perceiving them to nothing more than simply part of a deviant underclass of people who are just immoral, shiftless and lazy. People who are not only irresponsible and take all the wrong decisions but then 'expect' the state to bail them out. Pick up a newspaper in the UK today and you still be sure to find a story about how somebody has been ripping off the system. However, the research constantly highlights that while some unscrupulous people will undoubtedly always find ways to cheat the system, overall, more taxpayers money will always be lost to official error than fraud.
In that light, welfare reform may therefore be little more than a rather simplistic attempt at social engineering, one designed to both punish and re-incentivise people out-of-work for any reason, and in order for them to become more independent and responsible. Certainly, the more I hear Conservative politicians speak, the more I think Karl Marx was correct in his summarisation that the existence of the capitalist system itself not only depends primarily upon the power inequalities that inherently exists between the worker and the owners of production, but that its existence will always be a highly chaotic one. For a start, put a load of over-privileged, over-prejudiced and over-indulged muppets in charge of a country and no surprise then if bad, crazy stuff happens.
Taking everything into consideration, the UK is therefore certain to be even more unequal and divided after 5 years of Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, as indeed the UK was after the premierships of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron. If he actually lasts that long without ending up in jail or making such a colossal balls-up of the whole thing that his multi-millionaire bank-rollers decide that he is too much of a liability, even for them. Both situations are not totally out of the realms of possibility, with Brexit still set to make a huge impact on the lives of ordinary Brits. At least, we can argue that British PM's are nothing but consistent as regards the income inequality front. Everything changes when a new one appears but undoubtedly, everything also remains the same.
All the statistics pointedly tell us that social mobility in Britain is pretty much dead and has been that way for many years. If you are born into a family living in poverty, you will most certainly live all of your life in poverty and therefore die in poverty. That's the way the British cookie not only crumbles but is now primarily designed that way. Your only saviour is work ethic, the harder you work the more successful you will undoubtedly be and the wealthier you will be. Of course, for most of us life doesn't actually work out that way. But it is sure a nice piece of PR work. For disabled people in particular, the biggest obstacle that disability can often present is the negative attitudes and behaviour of its own governments. Trace attitudes towards Britain's poor over centuries and the poor are always to blame for their own downfall. Mind you, a little inequality does also help to produce a few handy workers willing to work for peanuts, together with a few on standby as a reserve labour force if needed. So, as disabled people batten down the hatches for yet another 'shock and awe' ideological blitzkrieg from the massed ranks of the UK Conservative Party, we can only watch and wait to see what little pearls of wisdom they may hit us with this time around. All in order to motivate us lazy and irresponsible people into being much more responsible and productive.
Perhaps we may see a 'wheelchair' tax introduced over the coming months in order to incentivise disabled people to miraculously cure themselves of any mobility problems? Or even a 'spectacle' tax to punish us short-sighted lefties for not having perfect 20/20 vison? Not ridiculous suggestions when we consider the obscure tax's these jokers have usually come up with in the past - such as the window tax (1696), the wallpaper tax (1712), the hat tax (1784), the wig tax (1795), the community charge (1989), a tax on tampons (2000), the proposed 'pasty' tax (2012) and of course, the hated bedroom tax (2013). Not strictly a tax, but something that has pretty much the same effect. And they call us 'lefties' for being rather heavy on the tax front? Cheeky rascals.
It would certainly come as no surprise to me if Boris considers himself almost duty bound to show a complete lack of respect and sympathy for many of Britain's citizens. Ordinary citizens who are not the movers and shakers of the world, but people who have perhaps worked hard all their life only to be hit by long-term sickness or disability, and who are not only now considered to be valueless but deviant. Disposable people in a disposable political world where money making is the only consideration - and at any cost. Of course, it is still a government that needs the support of the middle classes in order to keep it in power, and we keep hearing in the media how the middle-classes themselves have had their incomes 'squeezed' since 2010. But clearly, the poor, the sick and the disabled can continue to be pushed around, metaphorically whipped and beaten without too much angst shown by anyone. After all, what are you going to do about it?
And of course, we do all need to be much more competitive now in this new globalised world and we can't have you lazy blighters lounging around all day scrounging welfare benefits? But is globalization actually such a new phenomenon or merely a continuation of the old? Some academics point towards the slave trade of the 1700's and 1800's as being the real starting point of 'globalisation'. In fact, slavery is arguably the most exploitative form of globalisation that has ever existed. Then you only need to look at the name of the East India Company, an English company formed in 1600 for the exploitation of trade with East and Southeast Asia and India, to consider that 'globalisation' was around a long time before Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair started wittering on about how the world had suddenly changed. Arguably, the world hasn't changed to any real degree at all and neither have the buggers that run it.
But it is interesting for me that many people can still actually consider the Conservative Party as being the party of the 'business' world - and forever it's champion. My argument has been for many years that the party is not actually the party of businesses at all and arguably has never been, but simply the party of investors. It therefore came as no surprise to me at least when Boris Johnston made an incredible 'f**k business' outburst in response to criticisms over government handling of Brexit at a business function in 2018. Nor that the Party has primarily let British businesses down since the EU referendum in 2016 itself. I've spoken with many local business owners over the past few years and although most will still vote Conservative, many do seem to believe that the party does not actually look after the interests of local nor the smaller businesses at all - merely the big multi-national corporations with access to the big bucks. And I think this is a very important point when we look at the people who not only bankroll Boris but the Conservative Party in general.
Studies show that since 2005, the party is now largely dependent on bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity moguls for more than half its annual income. The 2019 election itself saw huge donations to the party coming from global investors in fossil fuels, gas and oil, weapon manufacturers and gold mines. Investors who also undoubtedly end up receiving knighthoods and peerages, not only given privileged access to senior government ministers. And it is no secret that foreign governments themselves are making hundreds of millions of pounds a year running Britain's public services, services that we are constantly told can't be taken back into public ownership by ourselves. All rather confusing when we consider how patriotic the Conservative Party is meant to be to the British cause, yet both a party and a government that seem consistently hell-bent on selling us all out to foreign ownership, piece by piece by piece.
Therefore, in this highly charged and self-interested world, we are unlikely to get any real political sense out of Boris de Pfeffel over the coming years when he is so arguably dependent on the global investors and the multi-nationals who pull his and his Party's strings. Technological advancements are not new things, people will always find quicker and more efficient ways of working. Advances that impact upon ordinary people in both good and bad ways. Unfortunately, human nature being human nature, we will also always find more and more inventive ways of exploiting others for whatever end that may be. This is the chief danger of having someone like Boris in charge. Yes, the man is a buffoon and yes, he is totally untrustworthy. But he is also someone who seems to have no real understanding of nor empathy with how real people live in Britain today. For Christ's sake, the man didn't even know how to use a 'mop and bucket' in the recent flooding of Yorkshire, when he popped up for a quick photo opportunity.
Ok, dismiss this all as the ramblings of the loony left if you wish, but considering that Britain has effectively been criticised by the United Nations over the last couple of years for human rights abuses against its own people, just what do you think is going to happen when Boris Johnson really finds his feet in the House of Commons? My bet is still on a 'wheelchair' tax.
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