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Rebuttal: “This exploitation of suicidal people is a new low for campaigners against welfare reform”


In an insane world, how do you assess whether what you are being told is mentally healthy?

A fascinating analysis on the politics of death by suicide appeared in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, penned by  Brendan O’Neill. He alleges that ‘anti-reformers’, as he describes them, are exploiting the suicidal for political purposes:

“The idea that there are vast swathes of people out there who not only can’t survive without welfare but who might kill themselves if their welfare is taken away, speaks to the highly patronising nature of modern left-wing campaigning. These campaigners approach working-class and less well-off communities through the politics of pity rather than the politics of solidarity, and consequently have a tendency to view “the poor” as vulnerable, at risk, irrational, on the cusp of suicide, and in constant need of care and largesse from the do-gooding state. Poorer communities would be far better off fighting against such Victorian-style pity-politics than against Cameron’s welfare reforms.”

The underlying assumptions made by the author are what make this post so interesting from a mental health perspective. For example:

  1. Those who oppose the coalition government’s Welfare Reforms are described thus: “Earlier this year, reform-allergic campaigners sought to circumvent democracy and public debate by pleading with the House of Lords to strike down Cameron’s allegedly wicked reforms.”
  2. These ‘reform-allergic ‘campaigners are guilty of the following: “To exploit such psychologically disturbed behaviour for political ends – and to say that David Cameron is somehow responsible for such a grisly suicide – is politics of the most depraved variety.”
  3. The reform-allergic are blame-worthy of the ‘sin ‘of: “Having failed to make inroads with the living, breathing public, and to convince them of the political argument against welfare reform, campaigners have opted to turn terribly unfortunate suicides into the political equivalent of a ventriloquist’s dummy, using them to mouth the words: “Your welfare reforms killed me!” Alienated from the living, they’re hooking up with the dead”
  4. The author alleges the following: “It is because they lack any serious arguments against welfare reform, and so must plumb for hard emotionalism instead, and also lack any constituency of grassroots support, any backing from ordinary people, and so must try to raise an army of dead people instead.”
  5. And finally, the author accuses those anti-reformers of politics of the most depraved variety: “The exploitation of people who clearly have serious mental-health issues is shocking even by the standards of modern-day campaigners against any kind of welfare reform. So Calum’s List gives the example of a “desperate man” in Wandsworth, London, who, worried about his housing benefit, lined up three kitchen knives and fatally stabbed himself in the heart. But this is not a rational response to economic hardship; it is not a rational response to having your benefits cut. It is the act of someone in a fevered, unstable state of mind.”

According to O’Neill,  poor beleaguered David Cameron is being assailed by depraved anti-reformers with no constituency support from the living, breathing public and who, it is claimed, lack any serious arguments against welfare reform and must therefore resort to ‘hard emotionalism’. These are interesting assumptions indeed and well worth closer examination.

From my perspective, as a recipient of the current welfare system, these so-called anti-reformers are actually very pro-reform. They are pro-reform of the banking system. They are pro-reform of unlawful media influence over national politics. These depraved people point out that the abuse rate of MP’s expenses runs at a much higher rate than that of, for example, the abuse of welfare benefits for the disabled and ill. The allegation that these pro-reformers have no constituency support needs to be set alongside the fact that these welfare reforms are being implemented by a coalition government with far less support than those who oppose them. The reforms – like the dismantling of the NHS into private hands – were not presented to the British public so they could vote on it, so it becomes nonsensical to claim that the government does have such support. If it were to claim such a mandate for itself, it would have to call a general election so ordinary people did have the opportunity to express their opinion. Given current opinion polls for David Cameron’s party, there seems to be clearer evidence of considerable non-support for what is going on. The rise of both lawful and unlawful protests from various social groups, including those who have not taken industrial action for many years, suggests that the general public have far more objections that are presently being acknowledged, let alone heeded.

If we give the allegation of ‘the politics of hard emotionalism’ any credibility, then it is fair to wonder what kind of political viewpoint is being expressed here. The politics of callous disregard for the distress of others perhaps? If these so-called anti-reformers are emotional, then we might reasonably assume that the author regards his opinion as being devoid of emotion. He clearly disapproves of what he describes as the ‘politics of pity’ but a person who is not in touch with his emotional intelligence is unlikely to be able to distinguish between pity, compassion and empathy. From my perspective, any government that pursues policies which drive the poor towards suicide, whilst  claiming that suicide is an irrational response,  suggests that the economic policies of arrogance are at work. It allows indulgence in callous disregard for the right to a life worth living by all whilst assuming that right to be self-evident only for those who happen to be ‘rich’. It carries the stench of unrepentant fascism. This becomes much more apparent if the subject is turned on its head.

Supposing, for example, a general election tomorrow produced a majority government intent upon reforming the banking, tax and economic systems, which are now demonstrably corrupted in their function to favour the elite few at the expense of the general population, in favour of a system that worked the benefit of everyone. I wonder how rational and emotionless the author would feel then. My guess is that any resultant emotion would emerge within the enraged and highly aggressive spectrum of human expression. There might be the odd one or two who would contemplate suicide, but I can easily imagine far more among assailed elite who would resort to further criminal behaviour in order to ‘protect their interests’, prompted by their own personal and emotional irrationality. After all, who exactly needs to ‘own’ all this ‘money’ to such an excess that the needs of others are arrogantly dismissed. What is this placing of personal ego-requirements above the lives of other? It hardly sounds like mentally healthy social behaviour especially if, were this excess removed for the benefit of the whole, we might expect their already criminal behaviour to deteriorate further.

There is already clear evidence of irrational thinking emanating from our present government when we consider their behaviour at present during this LIBOR crisis. Somehow, unlawful and illegal wrongdoing by the public elite is considered far less urgent to our society than the savage cuts to welfare that actually being implemented. From a mole’s eye view, it might be reasonable to assume that David Cameron is in favour of criminal behaviour amongst his own, given that his approach seems to want to do as little as possible about it unless pressured to do so. This problem is vexing a large part of our national community and is probably contributing to the levels of disobedience from the ‘younger’ Tory MP’s with regards to the party whip. As an apologist for David Cameron, I wonder how the author views the notion that, in a mentally healthy society, there is one law applicable to everyone including the elite and that this present dual system of one law for the rich and another for the poor presently in operation is a sympton of dangerous mental illness. I thought the Tory Party believed in Law and Order – is Cameron’s government an example of how this works? If it is, I am deeply unimpressed.

For the record, I would be very interested in exploring new ways of structuring our society. Perhaps genuine job creation with realistic salaries might go much further in resolving the problems of national economic and welfare budgets than the callous and cruel methods of enforced poverty being applied at present. Perhaps an education system that encouraged intelligence, innovation and free thinking amongst its students could produce graduates from all levels of society capable of producing collective social wealth for all, as opposed to the sausage factory solutions for the poor currently being suggested by the privately-educated coalition. Perhaps a redistribution of wealth from the top to the whole might enable all of us to work our way out of the problems we find ourselves in. But I’d be surprised if Mr. O’Neill would engage in such discussions, let alone consider paying me whilst I did so. That he is, presumably, paid to peddle these apparently fatuous and callous ideas, whilst portraying me as welfare benefit scrounger, do far more to contribute to our social problems than to resolve them. His voice is heard in a national paper whilst mine is subject to active censorship.

Under these circumstances, the chance of my developing suicidal thinking leading to action when the next round of cuts arrives at my door is fairly high, despite the tremendous personal support I have received from my local community. I have a history of such thinking and, to my eye, it has a perfectly rational basis. As an intelligent, competent woman of later middle age, the chances of my finding work that would utilise my abilities and pay me a living salary are remote in the extreme in the present economic climate created by David Cameron’s coalition. To be forced to search for demoralising, devaluing and underpaid work will have a severely detrimental effect on my mental health. I am likely to conclude that my country sees no value in me other than as a kind of slave to either a profiteering employer or long-term recipient of the rapidly vanishing welfare state subject to cruel rules in order to receive rapidly diminishing ‘benefits’. I see no value to me in either of those options and if I am forced along either route, the likely result is my deciding to remove myself from society on a permanent basis. There is no joy to be had in living on these terms and I firmly decline to collude with it. Death is one way of registering my dissent. Writing this is another.

Whatever else Calum’s List might be, should I find myself successfully acting on my suicidal thinking, someone might at least notice and record it, which is more than Brendan O’Neill’s reality would do. In his expressed opinion, I am clearly not worth the effort of that which, in my humble opinion, says far more about him than it ever could about me.