Medicalisation of Unemployment: Reprogramming Britain's Disabled and Unemployed

Author: Paul Dodenhoff
Published: 2016/01/05 - Updated: 2020/11/24
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: Paul Dodenhoff writes on the medicalisation of unemployment and reprogramming UK disabled and unemployed. The ideological aim of Conservative party policy (past or present) can be easily be traced through its writings, speeches and through the lobbying of its most influential think tanks. Researchers argue that this new approach by the Department of Works and Pensions force unemployed people to demonstrate or display certain attitudes or attributes before they can actually receive welfare benefits and other support.

Main Digest

Happy New Year everybody and let's hope this year is better than many of us have had in recent times, particularly Britain's disabled and unemployed who during 2015 received another twelve months of intense ideological battering from Britain's extreme, right wing, authoritarian regime.

I have been particular drawn during the holiday period towards the criticism that Prime Minister David Cameron received from disabled people over his recent Christmas statement, a statement which is being regarded as Mr Cameron's most public praise to date of Britain's 'traditional' Christian roots and values - values that many disabled people argue are rarely displayed towards them by the Prime Minister and his party.

While I wouldn't normally get drawn on the subject of religion, particularly as Britain's right wingers are traditionally prone to releasing a great deal of hot air about Christian values around this time of year. However, this latest bout of wind from Britain's wolf in sheep's clothing generated a mini maelstrom of criticism from many different sources - including Church leaders of various persuasions, both right wing & left wing sides of the press, semi-famous celebrities and of course, us mere mortals. And fair do's. Britain's political elite can hardly be said to be firm sticklers to any of Christ's major teachings - be it fidelity in relationships, the rejection of worldly goods or the renunciation of violence towards others.

Similarly, over the past five years, Mr Cameron's leadership has overseen a country that has become increasingly torn between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, a country where the rich get wealthier by the hour and the poor not only get poorer, but also get continually bludgeoned into submission (and often suicide) by government ideology aimed at manipulating and controlling their perceived 'deviancy'. This ex-Etonian and practiser of dubious student antics, has effectively overseen the scapegoating of millions of disabled people and unemployed people, not just for being layabouts, scroungers and charlatans - but ones that seek to do the rest of us hard working Brits down by sitting on their bums and ripping off our 'over generous' welfare system - thereby sending the country into debt.

While this extreme brunch of political socio-paths continue unchallenged on their quest to sell off the rest of the UK's respected institutions and infrastructure to their wealthy friends - their socio-economic and foreign policy could not be any further removed from the mythical 'spirit' of Christmas or the spirit of Christianity itself. So, it was highly comforting that Mr Cameron attracted more than a few raised eyebrows to the content of his recent Christmas speech.

I've spent many months writing about 'hate crime' committed towards disability, as well as many months writing about the negative consequences of recent welfare benefit reforms upon disabled people within the UK. Both phenomena have caused untold damage to the lives of many tens of thousands of disabled people within the UK over the past five years. However, while both phenomena seem quite distinct on the surface, I've come to the conclusion that there may actually be common motivators that underlie both. Motivators that have their feet deeply planted in Britain's historical past.

Most certainly, the beliefs that our modern political elite promote today can easily be traced back to the framework and value systems established within early Western Christendom - or to be more precise, established during the Enlightenment period that grew out of those early Christian beliefs. A way of life shaped by deeply embedded socio-economic and political systems that 'religiously' promote the holy grail of freedom from government interference (unless it is a bogus war for oil and gas resources) the free market economy and the merits of the individual, self-responsibility and work ethic.

A framework that actually promotes wealth accumulation as a heavenly goal and western scientific intervention and innovation as the one true god. A god that differentiates between people via a biological, psychological or moral hierarchy, and a hierarchy largely based upon physical or psychological 'difference' mapped out via a myriad of dodgy medical norms and standards. A social, economic and scientific three pronged attack that has led to the oppression and domination of millions of people both at home and abroad, both past and present, either abled-bodied or disabled.

Oppression and Domination of Disability

Let's face it, physical and mental disability has largely been given a bad time from the very day that humans sprouted up from the primordial soup. That is the nature of the beast called 'humanity'. Or to be more precise, the nature of a mad competitive dash for resources, wealth and status - where some poor soul gets left behind and trampled upon in the rush.

However, the perception of 'disability' arguably took a massive turn for the worse when western medical science started to gain a foothold in the wider world - where scientific pioneers in white coats looked to find cures and remedies for all, or at least control those things that they didn't quite understand. Often in support of our colonial exploits abroad and often to make a profit.

In the past I have often called this phase of British mayhem 'the medicalisation of difference', because physical and psychological 'norms' became established through half-baked, 'authoritative' works in which previously natural differences and variations between human beings could now be compared, measured and most importantly - controlled for.

It is a period which 'normalised' the belief that people who looked, behaved or deviated 'differently' from a set standard should not only be legitimately removed from society, but studied in any humiliating and voyeuristic fashion that sprung to mind - and 'cured'. Notions that arguably contributed to the disabled as figures primarily to 'look' at and to 'study', and only a stone's throw away from the eventual horrors of the Victorian 'freak show', where disabled people where similarly displayed, but for the amusement and titillation of paying members of the public.

The perception of disability took a further turn for the worse with the rise in British industrialisation and the move from cottage industries to large scale industrial plants and factories, a move that excluded many disabled people who were once able to work in the slower, artisan cottage businesses. People who became largely unwanted by these new industrialists for being perceived as not capable of keeping up to the frantic pace of the new machinery, and not just unwanted, but actively pushed towards economic dependency on family or charity for survival.

But undoubtedly the final nail in the coffin for disabled people was the widespread institutionalisation of disabled people, not only incarceration for physical or mental incapacity, but for perceived moral deviancy. Institutionalisation that only came to an end in the 1980's with a move towards 'care in the community'. Or as some critics called the programme - care 'by' the community

Therefore, within a relatively short space of time, the perception of disability took a massive downward spiral. It became 'normal' that disabled people could legitimately be viewed and looked upon for study or entertainment, it became 'normal' for disabled people to be legitimately locked away for being perceived as physically, mentally or morally deviant from the 'norm' of medical or social practice, and it became 'normal' for disabled people to be perceived as economically inactive, dependent and unproductive. Negative attitudes that become normalised within society as 'common sense' notions and beliefs concerning the true nature of the world, and by which people use as shortcuts in determining their behaviour within their interactions with others.

However, these notions are not unfortunately consigned to the cold, dark distant past, but can be argued to be mirrored or mimicked by society's present treatment of disability. Look at many cases of 'hate crime' within the UK and we can most certainly spot the perpetrators making sport of disabled people 'just for a laugh', we can most certainly spot perpetrators mocking or fearful of the disabled for being 'deviant' in some kind of way. And most certainly, we can see perpetrators effectively incarcerating disabled people in their own homes or actively seeking to banish them from the local community - one way or another.

Additionally, disabled people still get primarily viewed as a burden upon society or for 'getting' in the way. And the disabled as being 'non-productive' is a theme that this government has surely picked up and ran with during its current term of office.

The ideological aim of Conservative party policy (past or present) can be easily be traced through its writings, speeches and through the lobbying of its most influential think tanks. It is not rocket science to figure out current or future aims of any British government, as it is normally laid out for us in black and white, quite loudly and quite clearly. And often this ideological tinkering is not only concerned with designing social, economic or foreign policy, but about altering 'deviant' social behaviour in a way that best suits the interests of its political elite.

Making the Invisible - Visible

Until the 1980's, disabled people were not seen in our communities but largely hidden out of sight within big institutions. That was until the bean counters one day decided that it was far cheaper to keep people within their own communities, and where the community could be cajoled and emotionally blackmailed into doing their 'duty' - by looking after their own. While many former institutions were eventually cheaply sold off for 'redevelopment'.

The reshaping of the banking system during the 1980's where banks could now issue mortgages, not only became a source of highly lucrative business for the bankers and the redevelopers, but became another display of political ideological tinkering - one that sought to give people a 'stake' in society by encouraging home ownership. By encouraging home ownership, not only could the working classes reach aspirations of becoming part of the 'middle' classes, but something that was thought could bind us 'deviant' British workers far closer to the state.

So while local communities became areas where social housing was quietly sold off, many thousands of disabled people re-entered society to a largely unprepared public, and a public indoctrinated with the beliefs that the disabled not only needed to be locked away because of general deviancy, but who were also a burden, dependent and economically unproductive.

Before institutions and asylums, the burden of looking after vulnerable individuals rested almost entirely upon families. Mentally ill people who could not be kept at home often wandered free, sometimes begging for food and shelter. However, this new policy did little to address any negative attitudes towards disability or mental illness, and by simply parachuting the disabled and those with poor mental health into unsuitable housing and even more unsuitable environments, it also rolled Britain back to the 1700's.

No surprise then that just 30 years later, disabled people still not only suffer abuse, harassment and violence to very high levels (and at least 75,000 crimes per year) but from a wide variety of sources - friends, neighbours, relatives and carers. Therefore for me, the notions of 'oppression' and 'domination' that may influence the behaviour of state institutions, also filter down to the general population at large, where such behaviour is not only seen as already 'normalised' by the state, but also 'authorised' by the state.

Medicalisation of Unemployment

While both disability hate crime and welfare reform are in my eyes a product of wanton oppression and domination, they are also a reaction to any perceived deviancy or non-conformity that the disabled are considered to display. Medical science has 'taught' us that the disabled are disabled because they deviate from a designated physical, mental or moral 'norm'. Thanks to our politicians, that moral norm now includes the realm of unemployment, where failure to work due to sickness and disability is unacceptable because it is primarily seen as a blatant product of fakery and a lack of morality.

Since the global downturn of 2008, Britain's political elite saw a brilliant opportunity to increase the tempo of its continued erosion of the UK's welfare state. Under the banner of austerity, an 'overgenerous' welfare system was argued as not only encouraging outrageous dependency and fakery, but something argued to be totally unsustainable under the present financial climate. Despite the evidence that points towards 'austerity' as purely another phase of political ring-wing ideological tinkering, disabled people have borne the brunt of an callous political assault that was not only designed to shore up the 'work ethic' but an attempt to re-define disability itself - via the Work Capability Assessment. This time, political ideological tinkering designates that all disabled and sick people should eventually be 'encouraged' into the world of employment - and by primarily re-defining what people can still do and not by what they cannot. And by the withdrawal of most state support.

However, it's an ill-thought out policy that fails to take into consideration individual circumstances, nor hostility towards disability, nor discrimination over employment. Policy that is not only doomed to certain failure, but one that has already driven many disabled and sick people to suicide, and will surely continue to do so.

A recent study by the respected Wellcome Trust and published in the British Medical Journal also continued to point out the wayward ideological tinkering that the present Conservative government has shamefully been found to be promoting. Researchers find that people without jobs are now subjected to a humiliating psychological 'reprogramming' by state authorities - and a reprogramming designed to change their 'deviant' mental state. By which the report terms - 'the medicalisation of unemployment'.

Researchers argue that this new approach by the Department of Works and Pensions force unemployed people to demonstrate or display certain attitudes or attributes before they can actually receive welfare benefits and other support. Psychological conditioning that is being used by British state institutions where they repeatedly focus on the perceived psychological failures and lack of motivation of the 'deviant' unemployed. It is reported that jobcentres do this by sending out repeated motivational text messages, or by putting people into 'evangelical' self-help seminars and ritualised work related activity, as well as onto mandatory unpaid work schemes. All in order to promote a work ethic in those who are seen to be lazy.

And it is the work ethic that disabled people are also being currently 'reprogrammed' into by the WCA. In a similar way, disabled people are subjected to a psychological re-programming via the work capability assessment, where disability is now effectively discounted as a barrier to employment - despite any discomfort, humiliation or pain that such employment activity may cause. It is a reprogramming process that has disabled people jumping through similarly humiliating hoops in order to appease state authorities who feel that disabled people can do much more than they let on. If you want state help, then you have to prove you ultimately need it.

No surprise then that disabled people were extremely upset by Mr Cameron's Christmas speech, who many feel was both hypocritical and out of touch with reality. While our Dave may believe he upholds Christian beliefs and values, many view his continual ideological battering of Britain's disabled and unemployed as the antithesis of any spiritual philosophy. However, I'm not sure Mr Cameron would be shamed by that remark at all, in fact I think he may be delighted by it. Happy New Year.

Author Credentials:

British born Paul Dodenhoff, is a regular contributor of UK disability related news and content. Paul has always taken an interest in disability issues, and writes for Disabled-World trying to highlight issues that don't always get a great deal of attention from Britain's popular media. Paul Dodenhoff completed a part-time Open University Bachelor of Science degree in Social Problems, Health and Social Welfare; graduating at the Guild Hall, Preston, United Kingdom. He also gained a part-time Master of Arts degree in Research Methodology in 2003 with the Open University; graduating at the UNESCO headquarters, Paris. Explore Paul's complete biography for comprehensive insights into his background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Dodenhoff, P. (2016, January 5). Medicalisation of Unemployment: Reprogramming Britain's Disabled and Unemployed. Disabled World. Retrieved April 19, 2024 from

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