Welfare claimants and the discourse of ‘threat’…

The government has announced its latest welfare ‘reforms’, coached in rhetoric that attempts to stigmatise welfare claimants, particularly disabled people, as lazy and deliberately avoiding work. This ignores the context of the reforms, as the government instigates some of the most regressive cuts through a neoliberal framework, whilst unemployment rises

The discourses (language, essentially) employed to justify such reforms are evidence of an inversion of power and related discursive reversal. I came across this whilst reading about the discourses employed during the Section 28 public debate. The discourses inverted the power relations to justify the repressive Section. By this, the government constructed homosexuals as the ‘threat’ to institutions such as the family, the same way the government are now constructing benefit claimants as the ‘threat’ to work – oh and also the family:

We have a system where people too often are rewarded for doing the wrong thing, and those who strive to do the best by their families are penalised. – Iain Duncan Smith

By rhetorically reversing the actual power relations, the government can then attempt to justify their reforms by scapegoating and distorting reality.

The discourses construct benefit claimants as ‘scroungers’ who threaten the stability of central (capitalist) institutions. Why work is so central, I have questioned before. However, such a discourse connects with most of the media’s agenda, whilst ignoring the underlying issues. For instance, wages are low, especially with prices rising (which is most likely to keep rising given the Middle East liberation protests), this is one of the reasons for why Adam Smith Institutes’ suggestion to abolish minimum wage to supposedly improve employment figures is arrogant at best. Furthermore, undermining benefits such as DLA creates more poverty, given that disabled people often rely on extra income to maintain an average (often below) living standard.

Sadly, Iain Duncan Smith appears to think he is addressing the ’causes’ of unemployment:

That is why this Government is focusing on the root causes of poverty. Welfare dependency, educational failure, addiction, debt, and family breakdown – these are the five pathways to poverty which we are determined to deal with. They are our five giants, our modern-day equivalent of the great social challenges William Beveridge outlined all those years ago.

The key question here is why? Why is debt such a problem, for example? Well central to the why question is political economy. For instance, people are often in debt because of the capitalist need for debt for credit to spend, borrow so growth may continue recklessly. This is what needs to be challenged, the underlying social, political and economic relations – Iain Duncan Smith is missing this.

Whilst DLA may be replaced by a universal credit, as Blunkett points out, DLA is not always an out of work benefit with many relying on the benefit when in work to keep them in work because of the additional costs! This will therefore act as a cut to disabled people’s income, when they as a group experience poverty disproportionately. This added to an intersection that women are more likely to be disabled, and are disproportionately affected by the cuts. All these changes are symptoms of a false economy, with the government pushing through their own ideological agenda. Alongside this, the welfare reforms will see everyone on incapacity reviewed again – obviously, within a remit of “work, work, work”.

It’s unbelievably frustrating. However, within discursive practices, there is always resistance. Unfortunately, the Labour Party are broadly supporting the measures, refusing to divert from their own discursive reversal that saw the introduction of damaging schemes such as ESA. Nevertheless, discursive reversal provides opportunity for discourse and political resistance. Section 28 wanted to prevent the ‘promotion’ of homosexual, however, it actually did the opposite with widespread campaigns against the law helping mobilise a homosexual identity and collective culture. The same is happening for groups such as disabled people.

Simply put, this government has no concern for ethics and no understanding of how the ‘ordinary’ person lives. The Tory party relies on the City for it’s sustainability, and does nothing to change the damaging strangle hold such relations have upon the wider political economy.

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7 thoughts on “Welfare claimants and the discourse of ‘threat’…

  1. Brilliant! Thank you for a superb blog-post! I hope it gets read and shared by many people.
    Informed and intelligent discussion of the real issues and consequences is what’s required.

    It isn’t welfare benefits claimants and the poorest who have placed unsustainable demands on the economy; they haven’t been sucking wealth out of the economy in any significant or damaging way.

    During the past 30 years, the pusuit of neo-liberal economics has caused a shift in wealth from the poorest & the middle to the very richest, and it’s this damaging shift which has made western capitalism unsustainable.
    The credit crunch, banking crisis and recession are, in my eyes, the inevitable culmination of a failing economic system.
    Major reform is required; a major change in thinking is required. We just may be on the cusp of this new thinking being faced up to (but the Tories will be desperate to suppress or subvert any such debate and, for this purpose, those who are unemployed, disabled or sick are a convenient scapegoat).

    The government is distorting and mis-representing to such an extent that it beggars belief, but then those at the top are dominated by their own fears and their own greed.
    The negativity and duplicity is truly appalling (and relies on ordinary folk failing to see through the propaganda).

    If I may, I’d recommend the article by Gavin Kelly in New Statesman
    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/02/growth-rising-productivity
    This is very enlightening!

    1. Thanks, I am glad you liked the blog post:)

      I totally agree with you, the heart of most of our problems today are the neo-liberal policies the government enact in as ‘solutions’, ignorant to the fact that they are the problem!

      Hopefully with the growth of movements against the government we can distribute more information to people to see through the rubbish the government are spouting.

      Thanks for the article. Interesting read.

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