An excellent article by Libcom, on "Universal Credits", is well worth reading in full. It charts the devious road of the state trying to appease the discontent that poverty nurtures, callously trying to keep the lid on things, while it gets on with the usual capitalist exploitation.
Read the full article HERE:The official line is that universal credit is being introduced to make things easier, simpler, gather a multitude of payments together to benefit people generally. As if fine-tuning bourgeois bureaucracy is a matter for anyone apart from itself and those it serves. The reality for those on the receiving-end is catastrophic to say the least.
Right from the start the scheme as a whole failed its own timetable time after time. For anyone relying on state benefits, especially new claimants, the system has become increasingly erratic, unfathomable and more and more subject to the arbitrary whims of individual bureaucrats. A sociologist might tell us that the delivery of a service, its timeliness and serviceability, are less important than the self-aggrandising machinations of bureaucrats and ministers and their staffs. Of more significance to us, however, is what it tells us about the state of capitalism in the so-called advanced world today.
Despite its name, the universal credit project runs completely against the professed ideal of the post-war welfare state: that a wage worker who becomes unemployed should be compensated with an income adequate for subsistence as a right, i.e. without means testing. Even if the 1946 National Insurance Act didn’t exactly see things in terms of basic human rights – it was conceived as an insurance scheme run by the state where the pay-outs would come from a fund based on the sizeable fraction deducted from workers’ wage packets. Anyone who had been earning a wage [well, at any rate adult males and single women] was entitled to ‘the dole’ simply by registering as unemployed. (Though this in itself was not always without stigma and unconditional payments for “interruption of earnings” did not last beyond six months or a year.) This is not a small point. The end of means testing was a key part of the post-war vision of Britain outlined in Beveridge’s famous 1942 report which gave the state responsibility for eliminating the five giant evils of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. The Beveridge Report was not just discussed by bureaucrats in some obscure parliamentary committee. Thousands of copies and summaries of it were published and widely distributed to reach a working class audience – including amongst serving soldiers and sailors. Hence the prospect of a benign welfare state capitalism in place of mass unemployment, poverty and the workhouse, became a key part of government propaganda to keep the working class committed to “the war effort”.
And so what Margaret Thatcher later called “the nanny state” came about, though it never fully matched Beveridge’s paternalistic vision. It didn’t last of course. But the reason is economic. The heyday of state-funded provision for the welfare of all citizens coincides with the period of post-war reconstruction and boom. The return of capitalism’s inbuilt structural crisis at the beginning of the 1970s undermined Keynesian economic theory and the state welfare policies that went with it. On the employment front, a more or less manageable situation of “full employment” (defined as a situation with no more than 2-3% of the work force unemployed) quickly gave way to mass unemployment on a par with the 1920s as industry after industry was restructured, dismantled and production ‘outsourced’ to cheap-labour economies in the rest of the world. This, coupled with rampant inflation [over 25% by the mid-1970s] which quickly undermined the value of unemployment benefit, put an end to any idea that national insurance could cover the cost of maintaining the unemployed, especially as many workers faced long term unemployment and could hardly be considered as ‘between jobs’. To this day, despite all the fiddling with official figures and measures to disguise it, unemployment and under-employment are intrinsic to the UK economy as in all the capitalist heartlands, as the table Unemployment and Insecurity in the UK Labour Market from the Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, Oxford at the top of this article shows.
The old ‘family wage’ is long gone. Minimum wage or not, for decades now the take-home pay of a growing portion of the workforce has not been enough to live on without some form of additional state ‘benefits’. Today more people in a job than without a job are officially classified as ‘poor’. Together they make up well over a sixth of the workforce. (5.8 million out of a work-age population of 38 million people.) For decades too the state has been trying to disguise and manage the situation. Not always successfully. In 2011 riots of the dispossessed in various London districts echoed events in Toxteth and Brixton of thirty years earlier. No government dare withdraw the state support cushion altogether but nowadays nobody who loses their job is entitled to income adequate to live as a right, no matter how much national insurance they have paid. Instead a sophisticated form of means testing and monitoring by state agencies of people’s personal circumstances has become the norm.
The whole panoply of benefits, allowances, credits claimable/available to individuals and/or families on low pay, to ‘jobseekers’, invalids, disabled … at the discretion of a state bureaucrat … has mushroomed out of the National Assistance scheme that was originally set up in 1948. Basically this was a bureaucratic afterthought to cater for a minority of people with “abnormal needs” not covered by national insurance. Anyone with an ‘abnormal need’ would have to undergo a means test. In 1966 National Assistance morphed into Supplementary Benefits. In 1988 Supplementary Benefits became Income Support. Since the introduction of ‘austerity’ following the financial crash a decade ago, the various Tory-led governments have been working on the introduction of Universal Credit.
It closes with the statement:
All of this needs to be set against the continuing capitalist crisis. Capital always has to find ways to ease its own pains even if it causes misery and more to the working class. All of these measures have been a way to impose new rules on those with little. The British capitalist class and its uncivil servants have placed a new name at the head of a new set of rules designed to force people into a situation where it “pays” to work longer hours for less – the capitalist ideal! The Tories have been shown on a regular basis to be incompetent, callous, unprepared and heartless. Well, nothing new there! But the solution for the working class is not the very same system managed by pious Labour technocrats – there is no comfort zone – the solution lies in recognising that we have to get rid of capitalism, wage labour and its corollary, unemployment altogether.www.radicalglasgow.me.uk