Thursday, March 12, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Following up on last week's column, Frances Ryan laments the UK Conservatives' choice to inflict needless suffering on anybody receiving public benefits:
During seven weeks of undercover work at a universal credit contact centre in Bolton, Channel 4 journalists witnessed a farcical mess of centralised IT failure. But what really stood out were the underhand tactics DWP staff were found to use against claimants: from deliberately withholding hardship payments from people struggling after having their benefits sanctioned, to hiding the flexible fund put in place to pay for clothes or a bus fare they needed to help them get a job.
“The whole idea is the punishment, that’s what you’ve got to suffer,” one adviser was filmed explaining. This mentality is normal now and beyond Dispatches the evidence is mounting. “I got brownie points for cruelty,” one former DWP adviser told the Guardian last month.

Meanwhile, Jobcentre managers routinely put pressure on staff to sanction claimants’ benefits, according to their union. Failure to instigate or approve enough sanctions is said to result in staff being “subject to performance reviews” or losing pay. Imagine “success” at a jobcentre not being helping a person get a well-paid, fulfilling job but tricking them out of the money they need to feed their children. Punishment and suffering is at the heart of what was once a safety net.

What Dispatches showed is not an isolated incident, a black spot polluting an otherwise untarnished record. It is an example of both attitude and action that runs through the entire system: the growing conditionality on benefits, the withholding of emergency help, all the way back to how benefits are assessed.
We are sliding back to the notion that suffering helps the soul, that the underclass – be it the unemployed, the disabled, or chronically ill – need to be trained in order to behave. And, as almost a secondary consequence, their punishment cuts the welfare bill down. A bonus all round.

The ideology of a small state or the belief that benefits build dependency are crass, irrelevant details to what at its core is simply a decision about how to treat a human being. This is particularly damning when one person has all the power and the other is forced through economic necessity to take whatever humiliation or pain they are given. To do that to someone – let alone hundreds of thousands – is no accident. It is a conscious decision, that has been made over and over again by this government.
- Mollie Reilly reports on Thomas Piketty's rightful criticism of Republicans using inequality as an excuse to push policies which will only exacerbate it. And Duncan Cameron comments on the need to rebuild the American dream of genuine opportunity for everybody.

- Steve Denning lists just a few of the major problems with building an economy around shareholder value rather than more meaningful goals. And Rana Foroohar discusses how the financial sector has come to dominate the real economy in pursuing short-term profits rather than actual development.

- Matthew Renwick and Steve Morgan write that Canada is needlessly overpaying for generic biological drugs.

- Eve-Lyne Couturier points out how Quebec's selective austerity has increased the gender gap by upwards of $7 billion.

- Finally, Paul Adams questions whether the Cons can manage to keep up their apparent plan to stoke fear and bigotry even as they pursue the support of immigrant voters.

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