They’re at it AGAIN!

Time to take action before the Culture War claims casualties.

by Brian Scott, member of GRIPP and Poverty Truth Community

Last year I did a blog for the APLE Collective on ‘Culture Wars’ where I highlighted the way the current UK Government targets members of our communities to be attacked both politically and by their ‘client journalists’ in the right-wing press.  Not surprisingly, these members of the community are usually from the poorest, most disenfranchised backgrounds and those without a voice. In my blog, I focused on two particular groups, those on disability benefits and those waiting for leave to remain in the UK and for their claims for asylum in the UK to be assessed.  When he was still a member of the Conservative Party and on the front bench as Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party, Lee Anderson MP stated in an interview with a Tory magazine that to target such groups as part of the ‘Culture Wars’ was a valid electoral campaigning strategy.

Well, a year on from that blog they’re at it again.  In recent weeks they set their sights on refugees with all the debate and arguments over the Rwanda Bill (recently voted into legislation) and last week they re-focused on the sick and disabled, especially those claiming benefits such as PIP, Employment Support Allowance etc.  They especially, centred on those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness.  The Policy Makers know (especially their advisors) that mental health illnesses are the most misunderstood by the general public, carry the most prejudices and are known as ‘Hidden Illnesses’.  Unlike a physically disabled person who can display some aspect of their disability, i.e. being in a wheelchair or, in my case, I walk with a stick and walk with a profound limp – mental illnesses are not always apparent to someone who doesn’t know the sufferer.

The language used by the round of politicians in the media who were sent to face the press to justify the Government’s position was very telling.  The usual tropes were used such as the numbers of those claiming PIP has risen alarmingly since 2020 and if they continue to grow at current rates the benefit will be unsustainable by 2030.  Another trope, rolled out was that it was too easy to get a GP to sign individuals off on the sick hence the term bandied around in the media such as ‘Sick Note Britain’ and that assessments for PIP were far too easy to pass, and again, the medical staff were too quick to judge someone as disabled.  The Government’s solution to this was take away the decision as to whether a patient is suffering from a disability from GP’s and medical personnel and give the decision to “who?” – the Government was very reticent to give an answer to this!  G4 anyone? 

Another suggestion was that those diagnosed with mental health illnesses would be offered alternatives to the PIP benefits such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT) also known as talking therapies.  This is to help the client and has nothing to do with saving money – oh no, definitely not!  In Glasgow we have the perfect positive/negative response to this kind of thing –“Aye Right”.  But in a shift from this ‘humane’ and ‘empathic’ approach towards those on benefits they reeled out the ‘stick’ as an alternative incentive.  The Government announced that those on certain benefits who have not found work within a year of claiming benefits will have them stopped or exponentially reduced. 

The Conservative party know that the likelihood of them being able to implement these new policies is so slim – but they are pushing the message as a Culture War tactic that causes untold harm in our communities. These attacks on the most vulnerable is what is commonly known as ‘Gas Lighting’ – i.e. manipulate individuals by saying one thing and doing another.  Within GRIPP we raised this experience in our evidence submitted to the UN 7th ICESCR review of the UK:

“We recognise that there is a system being created and maintained by the UK Government that not only works against people breaking out of poverty, but in fact works to keep our communities poor, to keep us ill, to keep us isolated. Although our different communities may have different interactions with the state, whether it be through interactions with an Immigration Official, a Social Worker, a Job Centre advisor, or a Health practitioner, we all experience the same povertyism, along with the intersecting experiences of race, disability etc. These state actors are not experienced as ‘helpers’ but as mechanisms of the state’s agenda to blame communities. We are blamed for our ill health. We are blamed for not working. We are blamed for our broken families. We are blamed for our poverty – when in fact it is the state that is denying us these rights.”

What the Government is doing is appealing to their base support through these Culture Wars. In a radio debate last weekend on the Radio Station LBC the Conservative Party wheeled a ‘Lord something or other of Upper Numptyshire’ to defend the Government’s proposed benefit changes.  He made a statement I initially couldn’t believe – I had to check the podcast where they replayed the radio programme, and he really did say it.  He described those who had to remain on Disability Benefits as ‘The Unemployable”.  This labelling and stigmatising a section of our community is up there with describing the unemployed and those on benefits as the underclass!  Even today, The Daily Telegraph ran an article where they focused on an area just outside Liverpool called Dewsbury which has the highest numbers of people on PIP in the UK.  They especially picked out stories about individuals who had been on benefits for nearly 40 years as a result of not being able to cope with their father’s death.  Media such as the Telegraph cherry pick stories and individuals who fit their own political stance and narrative.

However, after saying that the Government is only saying these things to appeal to their core voters, we can’t afford to be complacent.  If, as everyone seems to believe, The Labour Party forms the next UK Government they will face some tough financial choices to repair the damage done to the British Economy.  They, so far, have not publicly stated their policies on benefits and if they are looking at reforming the system.  We need to be vigilant that the Labour Party, if they get into power, do not use the Conservative Party’s proposed changes to disability benefits as an excuse to introduce their own reforms to the detriment of the most vulnerable.

I will end this blog with my prediction, for what it’s worth, of what is going to happen to the benefit system over the next few years: Labour form the next government and do nothing or, at most, commission a review of the welfare system and still, ultimately, do nothing.  Next year the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights with share its report on how the UK is dealing with poverty amongst the most vulnerable groups in our country.  If either Labour or the Conservative Party’s institute any of the proposed reforms this will show how cruel and vindictive a so-called liberal, empathic society can be.