Stopping the DWP Death Machine

Ken Loach has blown the lid clean off the Department of Work and Pensions’ dirty operation. Hints of the scale of the weaponisation of benefits sanctions by the DWP have been surfacing periodically and doing the rounds on social media, but not until the release of Loach’s I, Daniel Blake has the mainstream media taken this problem, that it has heretofore dismissed as rumours and hearsay, seriously. Now that the cat is out the bag the hacks of the polite centre-left can drop their customary fetors of self-censorship and career-minded diplomacy to become the darlings of the online social justice set with their disgustingly cynical viral tweets of outrage and ersatz compassion.

We won’t beat about the bush; Benefits sanctions – targeting the most defenceless and vulnerable people in the country – have been, since their inception, a premeditated and vindictive calculated assault on the working class as a whole. Never were these horror stories of comatose young mothers and severely mentally handicapped young women and men receiving letters from the DWP asking if they were fit to work the isolated mistakes of an overly computerised system. It was and is policy.

Policymakers at the highest levels of the British political establishment, fully aware of the catastrophic damage it would inflict on people’s lives, executed this policy of sanctions in the hope that it would deliver the coup de grâce of the war it has been waging against ordinary working people since the Conservative come back of the early 1980s. Over three and a half decades three variants of neoliberal socio-economic class warfare – Thatcherism, the Blairite Consensus, and Neo-Thatcherism – have been waged on the people of the UK; demolishing the trade unions and worker solidarity, and reducing what was once a self-conscious and organised working class to a despondent, under-employed precariat.

David Cameron’s “aspirationless class” – the defeated human wreckage that is given voice only in the tabloid press and on the Jeremy Kyle Show – was the creation of Cameron’s own class. Its lack of employment, its substandard education, and its general malaise were not of its own making. It was the result of an aggressive policy that was, from the drawing board, designed to degrade, dehumanise, and even kill.

That this government, over successive administrations, worked to bury and obfuscate the evidence of its crimes by controlling how sanctions and the personal experiences of sanctions were covered in the media only serves to show that its architects always knew the criminality of their actions. It is a premeditated and deliberate effort, made by an establishment structure with a monopoly of power, to cull the remnants of the class it has destroyed – those it deems the ballast of society; the unemployed, the sick, and the disabled.

In the working out of this policy it has employed doctors and medical examiners who have been enticed by “competitive rates” and incentivised to flout medical ethics and common decency by payment structures and time constraints. One junior doctor I spoke with from King’s College Hospital in London described these DWP medical functionaries as “Mutants.” This young man in his early thirties described how they were “only in it for the money. They’re not real doctors.” He – who for obvious reasons will remain nameless – went on to say that other doctors have “no time for them.” Yes they have their medical degrees and “a minimum of two years’ experience,” but they’re not real doctors. The only apposite analogy for them will only put us in breach of Godwin’s law.

This systematic and clinical process of arbitrary punishment and dehumanisation is an act of violence, and like all violence it also dehumanises the perpetrators. Such was certainly evident in another interview I conducted with a former DWP decision maker from Kilwinning in Ayrshire. He is a man in his late thirties who left the job as a direct result of the stress it caused him. “It was in-fucking-human,” he told me. “Supervisors would haul you in if you didn’t meet your quota [of sanctions],” he said. “The pressure was on all the time, mate. It had to be some poor sod… it had to be someone, anyone, every fucking day. It was a sin. Folk like my mum for God’s sake. Just people. I couldn’t do it in the end. I couldn’t sleep. I was getting sick… pulling sickies all the time.”

He described how he saw “petrified people” every day, how he saw the humiliation, the fear, and the rage in their faces. “I knew fine well,” he went on, “that I was sending mothers with wains and really disabled people to foodbanks.” What got to him was that this wasn’t just a day job. Every night he had to go home to his wife and wee boy knowing what he had done. Now he works for Revenue and Customs, but his experience has diminished him. “This’ll haunt me for the rest of my days,” he said towards the end of our chat, “I hope there’s not a God.”

It would be too easy to judge these “doctors” and desk jockeys harshly for what they are doing, because – if we’re honest – this is on us too. We are complicit in what is going on because we have not stopped it. This is a whole twisted state apparatus that has made it its business to save money and make a mockery of human dignity – ruining and ending lives in the process. It has been the direct cause of food poverty, evictions, the entrapment of vulnerable people into the grip of loan sharks, stress related illnesses and deaths, and hundreds of suicides.

We cannot expect a government of millionaire psychopaths and a Kafkaesque bureaucracy of drones to see the light and end this nightmare. Their power, positions, careers, and senses of self-worth rest on this death machine. They are never going to stop this, and we all know this to be the truth. It will end, but it will end only when each one of us – the people who do have the power to shut it down – decide to do something about it. We know the nature of these people. We have seen them at work all our lives, and we know the harm they have done – and the money they have made. Left unchecked, it will continue – and it will get worse. Such is the behaviour of all diseases. Now that the cat is out of the bag it is us – we the people – who have to get educated, organised, and active. It will continue until we stop it.

The Butterfly Rebellion
Jason Michael
Ayrshire, Scotland