Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review - Cut Out: Living Without Welfare

Cut Out: Living Without Welfare

by Jeremy Seabrook

Pluto Press, RRP £12.99, available at Bookbuster for £10.99

review by Tim Barton

The stories in this book could wring tears from a stone.

Seabrook, a journalist well known to readers of New Statesman and The Guardian, has assembled here a collection of first-hand experiences from a wide range of welfare recipients. The full spectrum of benefits are covered here, and every tale is one of increasing hardship.

A picture of the effects of the Tory government's enforced, artificial, chosen, and propagandised 'austerity' programme is built over the 244 pages of this book. Seabrook gives a few pages here and there to position the problems faced by 'the poor' in a context of a crisis of capitalism, and these are excellent analysis. But he has no need to resort to copious amounts of theory – the heart-breaking narratives here speak for themselves, and well illustrate the issues.

The continuing inroads of privatisation, the search for asset-stripping profiteering, the pedalling of capitalism as the 'only path', the marginalisation and demonisation of dissent (as illustrated all too well by the current establishment class-war on Corbyn) are graphically exposed.

The realisation that 'this could happen to any of us' is masked and hidden away, neighbour is turned against neighbour, a sense of 'us and them' is encouraged by a tabloid media. But not the 'us and them' of the old left versus right class war, on no, instead it is an 'us and them' of the lower classes versus their own - the marginally successful against all welfare claimants; the 'able' against the 'disabled'; the working poor (and everyone else) against immigrants.

Meanwhile those holding the oven doors open an shovelling us in on behalf of a vicious elite and themselves one pay-packet from the dole, one target missed from unemployment, one restructure away from a down-sizing and takeover by G4S and their ilk.

The vindictiveness or otherwise of recent reforms aside, DWP figures showed a three-fold increase of deaths amongst claimants between 2011 and 2014. Amongst the more recent figure are 2380 who dies with two weeks of being declared 'fit for work' by ATOS. ATOS have been replaced by US firm MAXIMUS, who already are costing twice as much, have a massive backlog, and are reported;y no better than ATOS. Official figures of refusals (a third), followed by appeal (60% appeal; 60% of appeals are reversed), do not tally with my experience: a straw-poll amongst my disabled acquaintances indicates 9/10 have been refused on every reassessment, taking for granted it will occur whether there has been a change in their circumstances or not, and all are advised third party support agencies in the town that an appeal will be successful.

To the DWP it is a game, but to claimants of our safety-net welfare provision it is literally a matter of life or death. To the elites, pitting the poor against the poor is the main tranche of there ongoing class war to keep us in our place. Mega-corporations rob the tax system of billions every year, but pennies at the bottom are the focus. 'Alienation' is resulting in radicalisation: but that, too, is a positive to the elites, as it 'justifies' more turning of the screws, more legislation to corral us, more successful entrenchment of anti-solidarity 'values'.

Seabrook's book is a must-read in the battle to rehumanise our system. He sees a drive for greater fairness plus genuine positive reformation of welfare as the only solutions, and has little time for radical solutions along the lines of 'the overthrow of capitalism' - because he sees little chance of it, but also because he sees much of the dissent organised on such lines as overly fond of 'theological exegeses of the scripture attributed to Marx'. It is only here that I do not see eye to eye with him. There are other, liberatory, strands to contemporary dissent that, I think, are not blindly in hoc to 'Marxism', and his own book is a superb illustration of why, really, it is only radical actions such as 'the overthrow of capitalism' that can begin to solve the 'problem' of poverty.

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