This is our truth, tell us yours
Last year the incredible campaigner Latent existence produced a blog that caused a certain amount of controversy. asking how modern Britain was any different to 1930s Germany. Those with disabilities have been trying to get people to listen about the increase in hate crime, the slurs, the change in public perceptions, the split into “good cripples” and bad disability activists, the creation of a public perception that disabled people are scroungers who should be thankful for scraps thrown at them by an uncaring and judgmental society.They have been trying, but with limited success as the mainstream perception is still that those with disabilities do not deserve support. A literal sing for your supper mentality that has dismissed empathy and replaced it with trips to Bedlam to laugh at the unfortunates.
Of course appropriation is always a risk, and when it comes to the National Socialist policies towards those determined to “weaken” the nation the experience of the Jewish people and the Final Solution must, in my opinion, be front and center.After the conservative party conference this weekend it is hard not to see so many parralells though.
George Osborne summed up his new policies to the unemployed thus:
We’re saying there’s no option of doing nothing for your benefits,” he told ITV’s Daybreak programme.
“No something for nothing anymore. People are going to have to do things to get their dole and that is going to help them into work. This is all activity that is actually going to help them get ready for the world of work.”
The idea of the feckless poor, breeding, claiming benefits, living a life of luxury at the states expense has been built up by the Tories and the right wing media for a sustained period of time. The idea that benefits are a safety net a decent society provided to ensure no one lives in extreme poverty has been totally lost. Now they are a reward, only given if you fulfill pointless, demeaning and othering tasks, which do nothing to help you find work.
So work that used to be considered valuable enough to be paid for, work that was seen as befitting all of society, work that paid a wage and kept the economy going, is now to be done by the long term unemployed. Not by giving councils the money to employ them, and anyone who has seen the decimation of the meals on wheels service knows they need it, but by a system that will identify the “feckless” and is basically a punishment. The fact this will put people out of work is an irrelevance, punishment is the aim. Cleaning graffit has been a standard of community service for years, now it seems the unemployed are breaking the law of needing help from the state and are to be treated the same as those who have criminal convictions.
This is of course also pure punishment. There are a number of full time schemes ran by organisations like Rathbones that seek to train the long term unemployed, which are mandatory. They have varying success, they are not much use for those with qualifications for example, as the classist assumption is that only those with no work experience or skills become unemployed. Job center staff are no longer trained to provide guidance or skills training, that provision was outsourced a long time ago. All you do when you sign on is show what you have done to look for work and have that approved. Daily signing on is nothing more than a punishment for being unemployed and of course a benefit sanction, as people will have to pay for the travel. (There was no mention of covering this, despite the fact it is covered on the mandatory training schemes).
Given the opening paragraphs this is perhaps the most worrying, people with mental health conditions are disabled, mandatory treatment for those with disabilities is a violation of basic human rights, but it seems the wider argument for human rights for the poor and disabled has been lost. Mandatory treatment is a step towards mandatory sterilization, mandatory hospitalization, and all of a sudden Latent existences fears seem all too real.
The othering of certain groups in 1930s Germany did not happen overnight, the German people did not wake up one morning believing that the poor and disabled were undeserving of decent treatment. A campaign was waged, by film, press and politicians that created a climate where people believed there was only one solution. Already the people of the UK believe that we have a budget deficit because of a few long term unemployed and disabled people. That the tiny proportion of the welfare bill which goes on the long term unemployed and the disabled is responsible for the recession.
The ground has been prepared and the spring will see a flowering of the policies of hate, discrimination and punishment for not being part of the acceptable majority, for not being pure, for not being a “productive” member of society. Or as this tweet last night showed, for daring to breed. Is it too late to see the solutions proposed as having a frightening finality?