Don’t Panic, Organise by Rick Burgess


Rick Burgess outlines how we can defend ourselves against the latest Government attack on welfare.


Credit: Darren Adcock

The latter half of April saw the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, embark on a concerted hate campaign against disabled people (defined here as anyone whose mind and/or body works in a way that society has declared not to be ‘normal’ and thus excludes and creates barriers for them).


Our conspiring press call it ‘welfare reform’. Sunak appears to think that, together with his attacks on asylum seekers and trans people, this festival of scapegoating, together with voter suppression in the form of requiring a narrow set of photo IDs to vote, will somehow save the Conservative party from electoral defeat. Sadly, waiting in the wings is a Labour party whose policies are such that Tory MPs are willingly joining them, comfortable with continuity austerity promised by its fiscal rules.


Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. The UK, like most of the ‘West’ has adopted neoliberal policies for the last 40-plus years. In short, these are built around deregulation, privatisation and cutting social programs. The long-term objective is to remove social security and replace it with private insurance for those who can afford it. Everyone else will have to rely on luck and charity. Now in its terminal stage, neoliberalism is devolving into authoritarianism and, in some places, a new kind of feudalism.


‘Welfare reform’ is a continuous process. Every few years we see new legislation and policy tweaks. There will always be another ‘reform’ until the end goal is reached – the annihilation of the State’s responsibilities towards its citizens and the end of social security. US insurance mega-corporations have been intimately involved in policy development and evidence-skewing since the 90’s. The DWP has been reorientated from what was once a Department for Health and Social Security to a Department for Work and Pensions which polices people in poverty (notice, what isn’t mentioned in the title anymore?). Sometimes your enemies will tell you right out what their plans are.


We’ve already had 15 years of welfare deaths being covered up by the government and its friendly media. They know they can enact democide and not pay a significant political cost. This creates a very hostile terrain, where further intensification of the regime is made possible. This is what Sunak has promised. Just as the British State supports the genocide in Gaza, at home it pledges more democide for its domestic population.


However, we need to remember that most of the proposals are just that. This is a political party saying what they want to do if they get re-elected. If they lose, another party will roll into town and ask civil servants what plans they are in the middle of, and decide if they want to continue them, or not. In other words, it’s not inevitable. We can stop it. At the same time, we have to make it clear that these ideas are so toxic that any new administration must not be tempted to continue them: they must dump them completely.


To return to the big picture, we have a much longer-term struggle to direct the future of this country away from the establishment consensus that social security is a bad thing that nurtures evil scroungers and encourages dependence. Prejudice and hatred against benefits claimants is one of the most insidious and unrecognised in our hyper capitalist society. And it permeates all parts of our culture.


Yet, many supposedly ‘critical’ voices are almost silent on the deaths and abuse of people surviving on benefits. Worse still, some even collude with these policies. Some of the narratives that emerge from the guild wars between professional factions in psychology and psychiatry are being used by politicians and this enables these abusive policies. If you position yourself as an ally of survivors, bear in mind that yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre is dangerous.


Work is not a health outcome, welfare is not bad, and work is not a cure all. Human beings are not magical unicorns, but a biological organism that needs water, food, shelter, love, culture, and more. Take those away and we get distressed, and ill.


The continued off-rolling/stepping down leaves people with no support and no professional/medical evidence they need to make benefit claims. Individual placement and support has little to show in terms of its effectiveness. The Recovery paradigm, that refuses to accept that some people need lifelong support, that isn’t contingent on work, still contaminates all services. Coercion with threats of structural violence is the core operating procedure of the benefits system. DWP ministers continue to insist they have no duty of care towards claimants while destroying files on the deaths they have caused.


Here’s some practical ideas about what can be done right now to defeat this latest assault:


• There are two active consultations where you can tell the Government what a load of old shit these proposals are (see notes). You do not have to jump through hoops of online forms, you can email direct and just tell them what you think.

• Collective action is key. Systems of governance are well designed to defeat individuals, but they do not have such an easy time with organised groups of people. So join with others, like Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), National Survivor User Network (NSUN), a local group or Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO), a community union or create one yourself. Many of these groups will be announcing public action soon.

• With a couple of others (it’s nicer to have some peer support and camaraderie) make an appointment see your MP in person. Impress upon them your humanity and your opposition to this agenda. Remind them that you vote!

• Search the internet for online petitions. Alone they cannot turn the tide, but they draw attention to the issues as part of wider campaigns.

• Professionals – grab your big fancy titles and make some noise. Be an ally and oppose these measures loudly and publicly.

• Talk about these policies and how they will harm. We don’t want Labour thinking that as long as they enact the same policy as the Tories but with a Labour badge on it, it will be ok. It won’t. Make the policy toxic, whoever is in power.


We want social security, support for independent living, healthcare, and social justice. We are not part of a disposable cohort whose labour value dictates whether we have a right to life, and a good life at that. We may also give ourselves the space to dream of an ideal future: a planet not dying, an end of capitalism and a non-disabling society that is supportive of all, where war is no longer a button push away.


Remember: ‘The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed’ – Steve Biko


For those of us whose minds run wild & free of the mainstream we, more than anyone, must lead us into this better future.



Rick Burgess is a disabled activist and service avoider.

You can find more helpful information and links HERE.



This is a sample article from the Summer 2024 issue of Asylum [31.2].  To read more, Subscribe to Asylum Magazine. 



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