Structural abuse is rampant in government policy, increasing vulnerability and the need for social protection…….

As I continue in my research around the abuse of older people I am beginning to wonder if those in power are really interested in trying to develop a system to safeguard those most vulnerable in society. It seems to me government policy across both social care and the benefits system is increasing the vulnerability of many in society by framing every response to social protection in an economic context. Much of the policy around benefits and social care is , in my view, abusive in itself and meets the definition of ‘structural abuse’.

Structural abuse has been defined as ‘the process by which an individual is dealt with unfairly by a system of harm in ways that the person cannot protect themselves against, cannot deal with, cannot break out of, cannot mobilise against, cannot seek justice for, cannot redress, cannot avoid, cannot reverse and cannot change’

The limited dialogue around benefits & care, along with the use of metaphors such as ‘big society’ and ‘age of austerity’ in policy and the media has arguably led to a focus primarily on an economic and neo-liberal discourse framing the issue of ‘need’ in a negative light. Neoliberal policies influence subjectivities across society, promoting self -care and self-determination in a free market economy. In respect of subjectivity Foucault (2008) suggests neoliberalism represents a reconfiguration of human nature and the social order in accord with the dictates and demands of the market. It is in this sense the merging of government policy and neoliberalism creates a particular form of governmentality, which Read (2009) defines as “a particular mentality, a particular manner of governing, that is actualized in habits, perceptions and subjectivity” (p.34).

Read (2009) suggests as such neoliberalism ‘is not just a manner of governing states or economies, but is intimately tied to the government of the individual, to a particular manner of living’ (p.27).

And this is where I feel we are at in terms of benefits and social care. Individuals are expected to be their own ‘government’, families their own ‘welfare state’. Is this feasible though given the global financial crisis, current unemployment rates, the complex nature of family life today and the structural abuse that seems to seek to marginalise those in receipt of benefits?

Ideology imbued with the neoliberal vocabulary of independence, deregulation, primacy of the individual, self-determination, freedom of choice, the free market and laissez-faire economics, big society and small government provide the backdrop to individuals lives, or ‘biographies’ (Beck, 1992) where Beck suggests the “individualized individual’ has been created, stating ‘that is, where people learn to see themselves as the centre of action, the planning office… (Of) his/her own biography” (Beck, 1992, p. 135). Individuals are then no longer constrained by factors such as age, social class, gender, or ethnicity, and consequently produce their own “biographic solutions to systematic contradictions” (Beck, 1992, p. 137) as they increasingly engage as ‘consumer citizens’ in a privatized welfare and social care system. However, the role of conceptual nets such as neo-liberal economic theory in shaping individuals and family biographic solutions needs to be understood, as Lucey (2001) suggests “the idea that one can be the author of one’s own biography is overly optimistic” (p. 184).

An article in The Guardian at the weekend by Vandana Shiva made many good points suggesting the dominant neoliberal model of economics has become anti-life. For me our whole system of social care and protection has become anti-care. Of course I believe those who can provide and care for themselves should, however, with structural abuse perpetrated against wider society on the current scale I fear many more will become vulnerable and require state support, in one form or another. Arguably the real currency of any social protection system should be fairness and compassion.

I’ll end on a quote from Vandana Shiva ‘We need to create measures beyond GDP, and economies…to rejuvinate real wealth, remember the real currency of life is life itself’.


About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

4 thoughts on “Structural abuse is rampant in government policy, increasing vulnerability and the need for social protection…….

  1. I see this structural abuse every day from council run services. Completing their ‘consultation’ processes for forgone conclusions. Worse still they use it to justify privatisation of services, which turns them into financially led businesses rather than care led services. The challenge to the industry and society is to make it profitable to care. I felt disgusted watching channel 4s 999 what’s your emergency last night. Within 30minutes of the programme there were several examples of people not being supported and a home showing some of the worst care environments I have seen. With staff not showing empathy with their service users, or assisting the ambulance crew. In a bleak communal lounge which frankly as a care manager I would not have allowed to be televised or associated with. It’s worrying that these things are so normal they didn’t even raise comment from the programme.

  2. Thanks for the comment Alex, and heads up on the Channel 4 programme. Not sure about making care profitable, think that is the problem too much concern with turning care into a commodity which can be profited from. As Oscar Wilde said ‘we know the cost of everything and the value of nothing’ – care has to be more than a commodity to be profited from, it has to be something we value above monetary gain because it’s about the very essence of a society, what we believe in and who we are.

    Thanks again, appreciate you taking time to read and make a comment 🙂

  3. Correction, I have PERSONAL PROOF of an event(above)
    At your discretion would you care to look at my Blog.
    Look in About. Grandfathers and Fob Offs
    I assure you that NO ONE ELSE has DARED to make such accusations against an Authority. What I am getting at MAM is that NOBODY will admit that they are ACCOUNTABLE for the actions that have promulgated. I have letters from the Highest people in the land ALTHOUGH they hold the HIGH POSITION tell me that it is not in their REMIT to reply to my PLEAS. SO, what are they there in their positions FOR.
    I have MORE answers like this from others in their GAME of NON-ACCOUNTABILITY.
    I feel that the Prime Minister will soon use this PLOY to avoid ANY question.

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