Universal Credit (UC) is the name given by the government to its latest benefit cuts, assault on social security, the poor and the disabled: the most vulnerable groups in society, who, of course, have the least power.
The Tories have already pissed away billions on a completely pointless and chronically dysfunctional IT system for this “new” benefit.
The benefits UC will be replacing range from Child Tax Credit to other means-tested unemployment and disability benefits.
UC has already come under heavy fire with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau calling it a:
a disaster waiting to happen
As many claimants are forced to wait at least 6 weeks (with many waiting far, far longer) for their first payment—pushing families into debt, poverty, starvation and onto the street.
The name changes given to the benefits system over the years by different governments are all part of a wider propaganda campaign employed by the state to change the way we think about the benefits system, unemployment, and disability.
These name changes, along with the system changes they represent are part of a concerted attack on the most vulnerable in society through the use of propaganda that manufactures consent for the dehumanization, demonization, and brutality against the most vulnerable groups in society who have the least power.
The purpose of any name or phrase should be to accurately describe the thing it is trying to describe.
However, much of our modern language, names and phrases are actually used to mask the truth: to make sure we do not see in our minds an accurate description of the thing being described.
This is a well-known technique utilized by the modern propaganda system to great effect.
Edward Bernays, who was essentially the father of the modern Public Relations (PR)-marketing-propaganda industry, wrote in his 1928 book entitled (surprsingly honestly) Propaganda, that:
By playing upon an old cliche, or manipulating a new one, the propagandist can sometimes swing a whole mass of group emotions. In Great Britain, during the war, the evacuation hospitals came in for a considerable amount of criticism because of the summary way in which they handled their wounded.
It was assumed by the public that a hospital gives prolonged and conscientious attention to its patients. When the name was changed to evacuation posts the critical reaction vanished. No one expected more than an adequate emergency treatment from an institution so named.
The cliche hospital was indelibly associated in the public mind with a certain picture. To persuade the public to discriminate between one type of hospital and another, to dissociate the cliche from the picture it evoked, would have been an impossible task. Instead, a new cliche automatically conditioned the public emotion toward these hospitals.
As Bernay’s has made clear here: by changing the name of the evacuation hospitals to evacuation posts during World War 1, the public changed their expectations about these hospitals and the way they treated the wounded soldiers.
This kind of renaming is commonplace in PR and marketing and therefore propaganda and politics.
Universal Credit (UC) is a clear attempt at changing the way people think about benefits, unemployment, disability, poverty etc.
UC is not just a change in the way that benefits are delivered: indebting claimants from day one, decreasing the amounts they entitled too, and forcing them to work for less and less.
It is also about ridding the words that describe the reason for the benefit in the first place.
These are the benefits that Universal Credit is replacing—they are all means tested-income based:
Each one of these benefits to some degree describes (except ESA which we will get into later) why the person is receiving them.
By replacing all of these benefits with the name Universal Credit: you’re essentially ridding the system of the reasons why people are claiming those benefits. Therefore creating a totally different picture of the *social security system in the public’s mind: just as Bernay’s stated.
*The name social security itself was changed by Blair’s government to wefare and the Department of Social Security was changed to the Department for Work and Pensions as part of this propganda campaign.
The fact that you’re unemployed and need to sign-on, now replaced semantically. The fact that you’re ill or disabled and need to claim benefits to live now replaced too, and so on and so on.
Almost as if the Tories are trying to write out unemployment, poverty, and disability itself.
And therefore the way we think about benefits, unemployment, disability, and poverty.
After all, if somebody tells you: “I get universal credit” what does that mean? If somebody tells you: “I get JSA” that means something—that person is unemployed and needs a job.
Of course, this renaming of benefits is nothing new: in fact, the Blair government really started this Orwellian propaganda technique.
Post World War 2 we had Unemployment Benefit which Blair changed to Job Seeker’s Allowance. This was the beginning of the re-labeling: to be unemployed is serious: that person needs a job.
Calling someone a job seeker makes it sound like that person is running around looking far and wide for absolutely any job: a perfect description then of the way that New Labour changed the social security system-economy and how we think about work.
There is no such thing as unemployment within this description—only lazy unemployed people who aren’t motivated to take absolutely any job, for any amount of money, anywhere, doing anything.
Contrary to popular belief it was also Blair’s government who introduced the “welfare to work” propaganda and programs. Essentially the forefather to the Tories extreme assault on the unemployed and disabled introducing things like the dire, misery-inducing billion pounds, fraudulent corporate handout known as the “work program”: forcing ever greater numbers of people into what is essentially taxpayer-funded corporate slavery.
Disabled people have been some of the worst hit by this propaganda and renaming.
The name of disability benefits has changed from Invalidity Benefit (1971-1995) to Incapacity Benefit (95-2008) to Employment Support Allowance (2008-2016) and now into Universal Credit for those claiming the means-tested/income based one.
Just think about that: in the space of 40 years: disabled people have gone from being invalids to being incapable to being employed and supported to being universal credits.
You may feel slightly uncomfortable with the word ‘invalid’ to describe a disabled person: but the use of the word invalid, at least, conjures up images of somebody who needs protecting: who is weak, who is sick, who needs help, who deserves help.
Incapacity—while less severe—also conjures up similar images: they are incapable — the person is sick, so they are incapable of work.
Employment and Support Allowance: we are no longer speaking about disability in any way shape or form: if you didn’t know what this benefit was, you wouldn’t be able to guess from the name alone.
And finally into Universal Credit: non-descript and has nothing to do with the reason the claimant getting the benefit.
The same has happened with another disability benefit: In 1992 the Tories introduced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which has now been changed to Personal Independence Payments (2013) (PIP).
Again: disability written out of the name and replaced by “independence”. The fact the PIP system is actually a real term benefit cut for many people with serious disabilities makes the use of the word “independence” all the more sickening.
Along with the name changes has been an increase in the amount of state testing and scrutiny of the severity of disability when people claim for them. Each renaming has also seen an added emphasis on driving disabled people into work.
This name changing and use of propaganda has an impact on the way that all of the events surrounding these benefits, and claimants are portrayed within the media and society at large.
If a newspaper headline says: “OVER 500,000 FAMILIES WORSE OFF FROM UNIVERSAL CREDIT CUTS” and the subsequent story is framed around the term Universal Credit, it is quite different from a headline that says “OVER 500,000 INVALIDS MADE POORER BY BENEFIT CUTS”.
This, of course, forms part of the wider propaganda attack by the state and the media on the poorest and most vulnerable in society itself.
An attack that has become so bad that the UN has actually condemned the Tories on several occasions for their treatment and portrayal of disabled people.
And hate crimes against disabled people have risen since the Tory propaganda campaign was launched in 2010—with many believing that the “benefit scrounger” narrative is responsible.
The techniques of dehumanization, demonization, the name changes—all of this is very much in the vein of the propaganda used by the Nazis when they were targeting the jews.
The Nazis printed and controlled many newspapers in the run-up to the war: spreading their propaganda, bile and hatred:
It should be no surprise then, that both Hitler and his minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels were both great admirers of British propaganda and imitated the techniques pioneered by Bernays and the British state.
In fact, in Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that he believed the reason the Germans had lost World War 1 (WW1) was due to their inferior propaganda.
Hitler said that his experience with Allied propaganda:
spurred me to take up the question of propaganda even more deeply than before… What we failed to do, the enemy did with amazing skill and really brilliant calculation. I myself learned enormously from this enemy war propaganda
He also praised the skills used by the Allied forces in this propaganda, such as the manipulation of atrocity stories—concluding that Allied propganda was:
a weapon of the first order, while in our country it was the last resort of unemployed politicians and a haven for slackers
Anybody who takes the time to think about the language we use and the propaganda we are surrounded by will be able to see how all of this really does manufacture consent.
It is hard to know the exact amount of benefit claimants— disabled or otherwise who have died as a result of the Tories assault on the benefit system, but we can easily say that the figure at least 4000 disabled people—an exceptionally conservative estimate I am using only because any greater number would likely cause this entire article to be flagged as fake news by the Facebook-Google bots.
These deaths: hundreds of suicides and thousands simply because the system had beaten them down so much they were too sick to fight on, these deaths are the hallmark of a country that has become the most savage and brutal, careless, heartless and cruel of environments.
The deaths are a national outrage and should be a cause for social uprising and change: but the outrage carefully managed by the propaganda system that seeks to turn the needed changes into a defeated sense of inevitibility—these people—we have been conditioned to believe—deserved their fate and suffering.
We really are living in the Bernay’s world of manufactured consent—that accurate and telling phrase that Chomsky used as the title for his famous book in which he analyzed the modern propaganda system, and is taken from a phrase coined by another founding father or the public relations indusrty, Walter Lipman, in his book Public Opinion published in 1922.
The consent they are trying to manufacture here is the taking away of benefits from those that really do need them; rely on them as they have no choice. They are manufacturing the consent of the population for this barbarity and against strength and solidarity.
This is an ideological assault: as Chomsky has also noted previously: the attack on social security is also an attack on ideas and notions of solidarity. The fact that we as a society have a duty to care about people we have never met—just because it’s morally the right thing to do.
The Bush administration wants to “reform” Social Security — meaning dismantle it. A huge government-media propaganda campaign has concocted a “fiscal crisis” that doesn’t exist. If some problem does arise in the distant future, it could be overcome by trivial measures, such as raising the cap on the regressive payroll tax.
Social Security is based on an extremely dangerous principle: that you should care whether the disabled widow across town has food to eat. The Social Security “reformers” would rather have you concentrate on maximising your own consumption of goods and subordinating yourself to power. That’s life. Caring for other people, and taking community responsibility for things like health and retirement — that’s just deeply subversive.
Solidarity—caring about other people—the most basic of human instincts have to be driven out of our heads.
The reigning ideology must be—within the neoliberal system—everyman for himself: Fuck you!
This ideology: so far removed from caring nature present in the human species must be beaten out of us.
I don’t care—not my problem—fuck you!
We are taught to see those who are suffering as deserving of that suffering—we have no duty to care—all we have is the duty to blame the victim and ignore the problem.
The homeless man is homeless because he didn’t work hard enough in school and started taking drugs.
I pay my bills, why didn’t he?
The homeless prostitute is homeless because she’s addicted to drugs, irresponsible, etc.
Disabled people, again, have been attacked in the same kind of way.
The propaganda system renames disability and treats it as if it is a choice—not something in which you have no choice over as pretty much any disabled person will tell you.
IF only that disabled person made more effort—like I do!—then they could do some work, couldn’t they?!
Nobody helps me–I make my own money!
Where’s my handouts???!!!
From sufferer to scrounger—the noeliberal propaganda doctrine dictates.
This is the kind of society that such propaganda produces: one populated by selfish beliefs in which nobody must ever care about anybody else.
Luckily: some people see through the propaganda and this is increasingly the case.
BBC News reported on a recent large scale survey of British attitudes which found that:
For the first time in more than 30 years, pensions are not the public’s top priority for extra welfare spending, the survey says, and has been overtaken by support for more spending on benefits for people who are disabled
And the support for Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity platform and his “unpredictable” success at the snap General Election is a testament to the fact that we can overcome the neoliberal-propagandists determination to turn us into the most selfish, heartless, greedy and cruel of beings.
This gives us faith for the future: the state may be determined to pit us all against each other in a neoliberal bloodbath in which the 99% are all losers.
But that doesn’t mean we have to let them.
The greatest rebellion against this system is to act with the basic human nature and decency we have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to have and to actually care about the society and world we live in.
When you care about more than yourself: you are more powerful than someone who cares only about themselves: this is how solidarity works and it is the basis for all major social victories over oppressors, tyrants and totalitarian states throughout history.
And that will never change.
The neoliberals though are not the only ones that can change the language they use—we can alter our language to accurately describe who they are.
Rather than calling them “business tycoons”—a more fitting description would Plutocrat, Oligarch, or Corporate Benefit King/Queen—tax-payer funded millionaire scroungers.
Bankers: the professional corporate, tax-payer funded con men. Politicians: the professional corporate, tax-payer funded con men.
Perhaps it is time to start playing them at their own game and start reclaiming the language they are seeking to control our minds with.