Time and understanding how to use it, is an important tactic of any government, particularly our current coalition, in exasperating the pressures put on those facing the brunt of changing policy and austerity.
The element of timing is already understood as innately important in politics. ‘The Grid’ is a meticulous and detailed diary of news and forthcoming announcements used by government. Each entry is labeled as either ‘good news’ or ‘bad news’ and slotted into an appropriate release date which either brings attention to the government’s ‘good news’ achievements, or allows ‘bad news’ to slip out underneath bigger stories or at times where there is less attention being paid by the public or media.
During this period of austerity, where further than reduction of income and household money, there is a marked increase in the presence of debt, time has become an increasingly called upon tool to further implicate those suffering.
The Trussell Trust food bank, the largest in the UK, released data showing that benefit delays were the main reason for people needing to use a food bank. The government has made concentrated efforts to extend the gaps in which people receive help, without any provisions for those who fall into trouble within this time.
Sanctions can be implemented immediately, whereas appeals can take months to complete. In June last year, Osbourne announced that all claimants would have to wait seven days before claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance as opposed to three.
Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit scheme is seeing a claim take an average of five weeks to complete as opposed to two, which could see people falling into two months worth of arrears before receiving money. This is estimated to affect 300,000 people each month.
At the same time, the conversation taking place within government is not one that concerns or addresses the problems that come from this engineered timing gap. IDS continues to deny that benefit delays have anything to do with the increase in food bank usage. Osbourne continues to ‘stick up’ for the savers, despite the continuing fall in wages (for all but one of the last 50 months) and working conditions being a huge factor behind 9m of us not having any savings.
For those who dare to fight the hand they are dealt by new policy, time is again used to wear out the individual against government. We spoke about this briefly before:
“Last year, when five families took the Secretary of State to court to exempt disabled children and families from the bedroom tax, the government delayed changing the law as much as possible despite David Cameron publicly announcing that these exemptions existed.
“The government then tried to put the legal fees on the shoulders of the families, as a mother of one of the claimants explained after the hearing:
“I am relieved that at last the position for families like mine is clear and that following the court’s decision in July the government have finally changed the rules which would have had such a terrible effect on families like mine. My son needs his own bedroom because of his serious health problems. Without that bedroom, we were told he would have to go into residential care. I m sure that everyone can understand what heartbreak such a situation would cause any mother. We have been very disappointed by the way that the government have behaved throughout our case, but delighted that at last the position is clear. We will continue with our appeal, because at the moment the government has an order for legal costs against us, which seems ridiculous to me, given that we won our case and that the rules have now been changed as a result. However, we are so happy that the real battle is over.”
Jeremy Hunt has applied for appeal after appeal to enforce his plans for the NHS, which included the closure of Lewisham hospital. Judges have repeatedly ruled that workfare providers must be named, but government continue to appeal against this. A report revealing the failures and expenditure on the Universal Credit system has been postponed by the desperate IDS, now appealing for the third time against it’s release after two failed attempts. Yet, despite these rulings in favour of the public interest, ministers continue to run down the clock, and extend cases as long as possible.
The government has the ability, time, resources, manpower and might to continue appealing, whereas an individual fighting a unjust policy may not. And given that they may be fighting against sanctions, bedroom tax, workfare policies – they are fighting laws that affect the poorest in society, and thus will be the poorest.
This period of austerity is marked by the presence of debt, the obstruction, prolonging and postponement of processes and provision, and the vilification of the marginalised, which suggests this is an era far more focused than ever before, on the psychological control and burden it is putting on the worst off.
The purposeful complexities and delays are of course also an assault on the freedom to fight back. David Graeber, an anthropology professor who had a hand in the start of the Occupy movement, suggests that the vast amount of ‘bullshit jobs’ we have in the world, which provide no real social good or cater to any real human need are there to prohibit dissent: ”A population kept busy with bullshit has no time to start a revolution.” No doubt this can also be applied to the additional bureaucracy in our welfare system, our justice system and beyond.
by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass