The following is an excerpt from an article written by Sue Jones on the Welfare Weekly entitled ‘ Revealed: Social Experiments To ‘Nudge’ Sick And Disabled Into Work’.
You can read the full article (which is quite detailed) on their website here. (Opens in a new window)
The Government’s ‘Nudge Unit’ team is currently working with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health, to trial social experiments aimed at finding ways of keeping or pushing sick and disabled people into work.
“These include GPs prescribing a work coach, and a health and work passport to collate employment and health information. These emerged from research with people on ESA, and are now being tested with local teams of Jobcentres, GPs and employers.”
This is a crass state intrusion on the private and confidential patient-doctor relationship, which ought to be about addressing medical health problems and supporting people who are ill. Not about creating yet another space for an over-extension of the coercive arm of the state to “help”people into work.
Of course the government haven’t announced this latest “intervention” in the lives of disabled people. I found out about it quite by accident, because I read Matthew Hancock’s recent conference speech: The Future of Public Services.
Hancock is the appointed Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, and was previously the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise. He headed David Cameron’s “earn or learn” taskforce which aims to have every young person earning or “learning” from April 2017.
He announced that 18- to 21-year-olds who can’t find work would be required to do work experience (free labour for Tory business donors), as well as looking for jobs or face losing their benefits. But then Hancock is keen to commodify everyone and everything – including public data.
However his references to “accountability and transparency” don’t stand up to scrutiny when we consider the fact that he recently laid a statement before parliament, outlining details about the five-person commission that will be asked to decide whether the Freedom of Information act is too expensive and “overly intrusive.”
He goes on to say: “And this brings me onto my second area of reform: experimentation. Because in seeking to improve our services, we need to know what actually works.”
But we need to ask for whom is it being “improved” and for whom does it work, exactly.
And did any of the public actually consent to being experimented upon by the state? Or to having their behaviour modified?
The Tory welfare “reforms” are a big business profiteering opportunity
From the shrinking category of legitimate “disability” to forcing people to work for no pay on the exploitative workfare schemes, “nudge” has been used to euphemistically frame punitive policies, “applying the principles of behavioural economics to the important issue of the transition from welfare to work.” (From: Employing BELIEF:Applying behavioural economics to welfare to work, 2010.)
And guess who sponsored the “research” into “nudging” people into workfare? Steve Moore, Business Development Director from esg, which is “a leading welfare to work and vocational skills group, created through the merger and acquisition of four leading providers in the DWP and LSC sector.” Fancy that.
Of course the “aim” of the “research” is: “breaking the cycle of benefit dependency especially for our hardest to help customers, including the “cohort” of disabled people.”
However, there’s no such thing as a “cycle of benefit dependency”, it’s a traditional Tory prejudice and is based on historically unevidenced myths. Poverty arises because of socioeconomic circumstances that are unmitigated through government decision-making. In fact this government has intentionally extended and perpetuated inequality through its policies.
The politics of punishment
I had already made a connection between the Nudge unit’s obsession with manipulating cognitive bias with sanctions, though most people raving about nudge think it’s just about prompting men to pee on the right spot in urinals, or persuading us about organ donation and to pay our taxes.
For anyone curious as to how such tyrannical behaviour modification techniques like benefit sanctions arose from the bland language, inane management speak, acronyms and pseudo-scientific framework of “paternal libertarianism” – nudge – read this paper, focused almost exclusively on New Right obsessions, paying particular attention to the part about “loss aversion” on page 7.
And this on page 18: “The most obvious policy implication arising from loss aversion is that if policy-makers can clearly convey the losses that certain behaviour will incur, it may ‘encourage’ people not to do it,” and page 46: “Given that, for most people, losses are more important than comparable gains, it is important that potential losses are defined and made explicit to jobseekers (e.g.the sanctions regime).”
The recommendation on that page: “We believe the regime is currently too complex and, despite people’s tendency towards loss aversion, the lack of clarity around the sanctions regime can make it ineffective. Complexity prevents claimants from fully appreciating the financial losses they face if they do not comply with the conditions of their benefit.”
The Conservatives duly “simplified” sanctions by extending them in terms of severity and the frequency of use.
The paper was written in November 2010, prior to the Coalition policy of increased “conditionality” and sanctions element of the Tory-led welfare “reforms” in 2012.
Sanctioning welfare recipients by removing their lifeline benefit – originally calculated to meet the cost of only basic survival needs – food, fuel and shelter – isn’t about “arranging choice architecture”, it’s not nudging: it’s conditioning.
It’s a brand of dystopic, psychopolitical neobehaviourism and is all about a totalitarian level of micromanaging people’s lives to ensure they are obedient and compliant to the needs of the “choice architects” and policy-makers.
It even permeates language, prompting semantic shifts towards bland descriptors which mask power and class relations, coercive state actions and intentions. One only needs to look at the context in which the government use words like “fair”, “support”, “help” and “reform” to recognise linguistic behaviourism in action.
It’s rather difficult to see how starving people and threatening them with destitution can possibly “improve the well-being of many socially excluded people, and help to bring them to inclusion.”
No amount of bland and meaningless psychobabble or intransigent, ideologically tainted policies can mitigate the economic sanctioning of people who are already poor and in need of financial assistance.
Apparently, citizenship and entitlement to basic rights and autonomy is a status conferred on only the economically productive.
Source: Welfare Weekly. Read the full article on their website here. (Opens in a new window)
“Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.”– George Bernard Shaw
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