Afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable

By Bernadette Meaden
October 1, 2013

It’s a struggle to understand many government policies, when they so obviously achieve the opposite of their stated aims. Take just a few examples.

People who take part in the Work Programme have a smaller chance of finding a job than those who don’t. Meanwhile companies and organisations involved in delivering the programme have received £5 billion of taxpayers money.

Mandatory Work Activity for the unemployed is worse than useless: it may even have the effect of pushing some people on to Employment Support Allowance.

And why would employers create jobs if they can get free labour from benefit claimants, who know if they don’t do exactly as they are told they will lose their meagre benefits and become destitute? For an unscrupulous employer, these free, fearful workers must be a valuable resource, and real disincentive to real job creation..

The ‘Support’ group for ESA claimants, too sick or disabled for work, leaves them in constant fear of reassessment and loss of support, destroying security and peace of mind. And Iain Duncan Smith has been trying to make the conditions imposed upon sick and disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group more onerous. Remember , these people are not even considered fit to work in the short term. Meanwhile, the company implementing the Work Capability Assessments has gained hundreds of millions of pounds whilst the numbers on sickness and disability benefits has hardly changed.

The Bedroom Tax was ostensibly designed to cut the Housing Benefit bill by forcing people to downsize or lose money, but with a lack of smaller properties in the social sector many are forced to enter the private sector, where rents are higher. This benefits private landlords, who actually receive the Housing Benefit.

It is perhaps worth bearing in mind that a quarter of Conservative MPs are private landlords.

But rather than build large numbers of homes, which would create jobs, bring housing costs and thereby benefit costs down, we’re given a ‘Help to Buy’ scheme. This will force the cost of housing up, and will benefit only those people who are in secure well paid work and therefore able to get a mortgage, on houses worth up to £600,000.

If the government wished to create a society in which everybody had a suitable home and a decent job, their policies would be mystifying. But surely to argue that they do wish to achieve this is no longer tenable, based on the evidence of their policies.

Leaving aside the rhetoric, what the government appears to be striving to achieve is a society which will keep the majority of the population, who can still afford to eat and heat, preoccupied with the sins of those who can’t. Policies appear designed to create a permanent underclass of people who can be scapegoated and made the object of voters’ disapproval. Meanwhile the prosperous have their consciences eased because they are reassured that if anybody is going hungry or homeless, it is their own fault.

Need a foodbank? Financial mismanagement. Begging on the street? Benefits stopped because they didn’t obey the rules. Only themselves to blame.

What our government is really doing is afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable, hoping that the comfortable will continue voting for them, and that any economic failure can be blamed on the victims, not the architects.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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