Tag Archives: Economics

Will welfare reform result in a ‘two nation’ society?

As David Cameron makes a U-turn on cigarette packaging and George Osborne finally understands government does sometimes need to intervene in the free market will others follow?

Our ability as an individual to stand against the power of big business is limited to say the least, however, some on the Tory right still expect individuals to form a ‘government of self’ and develop individualised systems of social protection (via ‘big society’). Such personal independence is beyond the reach of many.

However, David Cameron and George Osborne appear to have finally grasped that for ‘big society’ to truly thrive an active state is a necessity.

Commentators are suggesting Osborne is playing social democratic catch up on pay-day loans as the Conservatives have realised Ed Miliband has struck a chord with voters by focusing on the way markets are rigged against consumers.

Yet the prevailing ideology of the right is so strong it still continues to push the contracting out of public provision of services and privatisation, whilst resisting calls for regulation.

Such a singular approach does a disservice to us all. Some on the right adhere to a narrow vision of the ‘good life’, where the promise to those families who work hard, and are deserving, is that they can send their children to the ‘best’ schools (either private or ‘free’) whilst accessing privatised pension and healthcare schemes. However, those same ministers forget to mention how your future can be wiped out by an under regulated free market (think RBS and LLoyds Bank!). Meanwhile the rest of society, the undeserving, can live in a world marked by financial insecurity, mediocre education, rationed healthcare and an impoverished old age.

Economists have already christened such a scenario as the ‘dual economy’; two societies who live side by side, but hardly knowing one another, unable to imagine what life is like for one another. Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, wrote of such a scenario in 1845, referring to ‘the two nations’

‘Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws: the rich and the poor’

An alternative approach could be to try to close the gap between the dual economies by supporting a sense of shared responsibility between individuals, society and government. In this relationship government would protect the citizens it has been elected to serve from the abuse of power by the free market.

Individuals feel vulnerable and powerless because they are vulnerable and powerless. Is the average user of pay-day loans able to challenge extortionate interest rates on their own? Am I able to challenge the power of the energy companies as another cold winter approaches? Can any of us challenge the power of the financial industry at an individual level?

Many on the Tory right will scream ‘consumer choice’ as if it’s the answer to every woe, however, will changing providers of whatever service it might be really make a difference. I fear not, and that is why I want a government of politicians that understands where many in this country feel they are today, powerless, abandoned and hopeless.

That is not a good foundation from which to build our collective future. Control of one’s own destiny requires more than the fallacy of individual consumer choice in a free market economy, it requires an active and supportive state focused on the distribution of wealth, and the redistribution of wealth through the tax and benefits system along with regulation of key industries, such as the financial and energy sectors.

Well done Mr cameron and Mr Osborne, you are at last beginning to move in the right direction.

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’.