On reflection, regarding a letter to the Guardian re the devastating effects the welfare system changes and the larger political economic direction of the government will have upon people’s lives, I think it is important to pay specific focus upon the often hidden consequences such changes can have on primarily invisible, mental conditions. Mental illness frequently has a considerably nastier stigma attached to it, in contrast to physical illnesses; you only have to look at the production of mental illness policy in France, recently, to see how individual unrepresentative cases are utilised to ‘justify’ repressive, authoritarian and sickening detention centres and surveillance systems to ‘police’ mentally distress.
Likewise, UK policy on welfare, social support services etc. is based upon a neoliberal discourse of callous ideological desire to promote a laissez faire unequal system, where those without the cash are left to fend for themselves. The authors of the letter state clearly that some people have already taken their life, through desperation. Reports have been made regarding ATOS highlighting the damages of their practices, and their strict attitude towards benefit claimants. Again, such policies are ‘justified’ through atypical examples of people breaching the system, making out anyone on benefits are ‘scroungers’. Of course, those bankers (if we can call them that, Fred Goodwin), corporate bosses and elites creaming the system and spitting their dummy out threatening to flee the shores if they are even touched economically, well they are ‘essential’ for the economy.
People ‘manipulating’ the welfare system are often doing so out of desperation, not economic greed. There is a massive difference. The effects such economic political changes will have on people will create stress, alongside the fear of the atrocious ideologically driven harsher medical tests. Fearing you will lose your job, house, can’t afford food, bills and unsure about the increasing level of cuts and economic devastation is bound to have detrimental effects to people’s health. However, GDP will count this as economic growth; but that’s another issue.
As political activists, the effects of the current governmental direction and the situation of mental distress in general is important to consider. After all, we are all human beings, and the current policies and direction are treating some people’s lives as totally ‘unliveable’. By this, Judith Butler’s views of ethics are important and is something I have written about before. Essentially, Butler argues that everyone is vulnerable, that is what connects us together, but when someone’s vulnerability is not taken into account there life is deemed ‘unliveable’; only when it is seen as ‘liveable’ are they treat ethically. Essentially, those experiencing mental distress are often treat as ‘unliveable’, as people become frustrated and fed up of those experiencing problems; this has only been intensified through the current political economy with a sickening blame culture developing.
Real support, so people aren’t thrown on the scrap heap, where crisis centres aren’t shut, people aren’t shoved onto drugs, medical tests aren’t made impossible and waiting lists don’t take weeks or even months, is essential. We need to recognise that mental distress can happen to anyone, one in three in fact, and until we start treating it like a political economic issue, the harder the situation for many people will get.