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Year 2006 No. 8, February 8, 2006 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Youth Must Reject the Government’s So-Called "Respect" Plan

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Youth Must Reject the Government’s So-Called "Respect" Plan

Condemn Government Proposed Attack on Incapacity Benefit

What the Professionals Are Saying

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Youth Must Reject the Government’s So-Called "Respect" Plan

The government has launched its new white paper, the Respect Action Plan, which is aimed at the young people of Britain. In particular, it is intended to address the government-defined "anti-social behaviour" issue. The central thesis of the paper is that the causes of anti-social behaviour are cultural, and that "the challenge is to create and, where needed, enforce a modern culture of respect".

The paper lists the main cultural causes of anti-social behaviour as:

* "Parenting – poor parenting skills, weak parent/child relationships and sometimes parental involvement in crime or anti-social behaviour."

* "School – truancy and exclusion and schools where poor behaviour is not challenged enough."

* "Community factors – living in deprived areas where there is disorder and neglect, peer involvement in anti-social behaviour."

* "Individual factors – drug and alcohol misuse and early involvement in anti-social behaviour."

On the other hand, the paper elaborates "respect" in saying, "The conditions for respect in society are not difficult to define. They depend ultimately on a shared commitment to a common set of values, expressed through behaviour that is considerate of others." This is phrased in a very particular way. First, it does not define "respect", which is deliberately left vague throughout the paper, only the "conditions for respect". Second, these conditions are not considerate behaviour as such, but that the conditions depend on "commitment to a common set of values". This is the fundamental thing. The phrase "expressed through behaviour that is considerate of others" is a rhetorical device to lead the reader to the conclusion that "anti-social" behaviour is to be combated by people committing themselves to a set of national "values".

The white paper states that the Respect drive is about having a "broader" approach, going "deeper" and "further" than before. "Broader means addressing anti-social behaviour in every walk of life"; "deeper means tackling the causes of disrespectful behaviour", meaning the cultural causes listed above; and "further means introducing new powers and taking action". Such new powers include: further summary powers; raising the level of penalty notices for disorder (PNDs) – for example, increasing the penalty fine for a range of PNDs from £80 to £100 – and piloting PNDs for under-16s, to be paid for by parents; introducing a house closure order; legislating to ensure parents "take responsibility for their child’s behaviour in the classroom", and so on.

The Respect Action Plan is bound to be criticised for its proposals, and hints at proposals, of extra police powers, new legislation, furthering the role of the "nanny state" and so on. But its significance is that all of these proposals are based upon a thoroughly reactionary cultural offensive, which inevitably leads to further encroachments over the collective and individual rights of all young people and their families.

What is this "modern culture of respect" that is to be enforced?

One thing that can be said is that society is left out of the question. The paper presents the issue as being that anti-social behaviour of young people comes from the family, themselves ("individual factors"), their schools and other young people ("community factors"). In other words, the paper makes individuals the problem, either the youth themselves or the people around them. For example, we are told that "constructive and purposeful activities have enormous benefits for young people. They can encourage and enable children and young people to contribute to their communities and help divert them from anti-social behaviour." Divert? In other words, youth have a natural tendency to anti-social behaviour.

By leaving out the question of society, the paper appears to stand above society, taking a classless position. Society is a given, static; it's the way it is and "we're in this together", as the paper says.

How can behaviour be the issue? We live in a society where everyone stands in a definite relation to social production. This includes those youth who are thrown on the scrapheap and to whom the system offers no future, who constitute the reserve army of the unemployed, who are being deprived of exercising their right to an education. This reality is denied by the government, which It presents the situation as one where the class antagonism in society is not fundamental; the fundamental antagonism is between nations. If Britain succeeds in the global market, then we will all share in the prosperity, according to the government. The government therefore tells us that "children and young people are the future, our chance to make the country better, stronger and more able to meet the demands of the 21st century". By this they mean the role of the youth in meeting the demands that the monopolies put on the whole society to maximise their profits within the conditions of globalisation.

So, the culture is to be one where the people of Britain are behind the aims of British capital, and young people grow up with a sense of "responsibility" to that aim. In this context, the paper very strongly pushes volunteerism. "We will implement Britain’s first national youth voluntary service," says the paper. Indeed: "There is no better example of respect than voluntary activity." They aim to "boost the numbers of young people volunteering by one million over the next five years". "We have already committed up to £100 million to make this happen, with a fundraising strategy in place to raise an additional £50 million from private sector supporters."

It also pushes the role of sport, the unashamedly condescending position being that sports champions provide role models for deprived youth. No doubt, competitiveness is part of the idea here. But it is also the idea that taking part in sports, arts and volunteering is what is going to release the "positive potential" of young people to "contribute to their communities". Again, the issue is de-classed. What about youth ending their marginalisation, taking control of their own futures and building a bright future for themselves? This is not discussed, since it conflicts with the concept of the "community" as an adjunct of the state programme, to continue the situation where the future of young people is in the hands of others.

Youth are on no account to become the vigorous social force necessary to open the path for the progress of society. When young people began to take up such a role in the 1960s, the media and establishment forces in the service of the ruling class concentrated its blow on culture, especially in ideological form. The ruling class is again organising its cultural-ideological offensive in today's conditions. Sexism, violence and self-destruction are promoted as the norms of a "civilised society". Now the issue for the monopolies is for the youth to take up the values that serve the monopolies' pursuit of maximum profit at this time. Young people are to become caught up in the culture of maximum profit, and this will divert them from taking control of their own futures. Young people are to aspire for a share in the enormous profits that can be gained from speculation. The individual is promoted above all else; young people are to aspire to status ("respect") amongst their peers, individual success being measured by the extent to which the individual will dominates.

A threat to the culture of maximum profit is the development of the youth rejecting the status quo, and themselves taking up social responsibility. Wherever the culture of resistance arises, the government attempts to crush it. The white paper uses phrases such as: "Poor parenting, lack of parental supervision and weak parent/child relationships all increase the risk of involvement in anti-social behaviour". The idea of "failing" – failing schools, failing families and even failing youth themselves – is invoked to justify state intervention in all aspects of life including conscience, just as the notion of "failing states" is used to justify aggression against countries such as Iraq. The government is seeking to control what young people think, value, believe and hold as ideals, in order to prevent resistance to the anti-social culture of maximum profit.

One thing is certain: the young people of Britain will stand up and say no. Amongst the youth, there is a developing desire to acquire culture, particularly in its social and ideological forms. The reactive rejection to the promoted culture is becoming a conscious rejection, especially as youth become involved in action and demonstrate that they are political.

Article Index

Condemn Government Proposed Attack on Incapacity Benefit

Draconian sanctions are planned against people claiming Incapacity Benefit unless they take work. Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton told the Work Foundation that the new system would take a "something for something" approach. He said the reforms would include an element of compulsion and said people who were able, but refused, to return to work would have their benefits cut.

This can be compared to the road of Nazi Germany who persecuted the mentally and physically disabled, eventually leading to a programme of extermination under its involuntary euthanasia and eugenics programme. The "welfare with reform" programme of New Labour is exposing itself more clearly in its Pay the Rich programme.

Incapacity benefit, for sick and disabled people, is paid to about 1.8m people. The number of people receiving incapacity benefit and related benefits is around 2.67m according the Department of Work and Pensions.

The government has said that sanctions would be used against existing claimants of the benefit, not just new claimants. When the New Labour government of Tony Blair was first elected, it immediately attempted to bring in reforms aimed against the disabled but the collectives organised mass protests and the government backed down only to return with similar proposals nearly a decade later. The recent proposals are to cut benefits immediately by £10.98 for those who do not co-operate with the plans but consciously resist and demand their rights. Benefit reduction will double from this figure if the disabled claimant continues to be uncooperative. Incapacity benefit rates are quite low that start at a short-term lower (four days+) rate at £57.65 then a short-term higher (28-52 weeks) rate at £68.20 and then a long term (52 weeks +) rate at £76.45. The Figures are applicable to those under state pension age. GP’s are asked to complete a form detailing how the individual's condition affects their patient’s ability to work.

Hutton is speaking on behalf of the monopolies with his rabid remarks that "The 'something for something' approach demands that state help is matched by increased responsibility on the part of claimants to take advantage of that support programme that governments can provide." Demands for more surplus product for the capitalist are made irrespective of the amounts accumulated from the National Insurance contributions made over long periods of time taken from the surplus product created by generations of workers. The rabid nature of the complaint goes even further where Hutton states,

"After two years on the benefit, someone is more likely to die or retire than to ever find a new job. Now that is just not good enough."

Hutton demands immediacy in having new laws passed in the current session of Parliament and in operation by 2008. He added: "The increased support we offer to people seeking to get back into the workplace must, I think, now be matched by increased obligations."

The measures proposed by Hutton and the government are part of the programme of cuts in public expenditure and the dismantling of the welfare state. The situation for the working class is that the provocations and actions of the government are designed to serve the profits of the rich. WDIE calls on the working class to fight to bring a halt to the programme of following the dictate of the monopolies, and to turn things around in fighting for a society which fulfils the claims of its members and guarantees their right to take hold of what belongs to them.

Article Index

What the Professionals Are Saying

Dr Laurence Buckman, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's GP Committee, said he believed there were very few people who were on Incapacity Benefit who could be working.

"There are certainly very few people who've gone on the sick when they could be earning money. I would be amazed if it was more than five to 10%"

"GPs are not occupational health trained and wouldn't know if someone's fit to work or not. What we know is whether they are ill or not."

Depression and anxiety are now the most common reasons for people starting to claim long-term sickness benefits, researchers in London have said, with people fearing going back to work, as it will trigger a relapse. The call is being made to get these people back to work because it costs £13bn a year. An estimated 176 million working days were lost in 2003, up 10 million on the previous year. Data from the Department of Work and Pensions suggests around 35% of people claiming Incapacity Benefit in 2002 had mental or behavioural disorders, compared to 22% with musculoskeletal conditions. The measures announced show no thought for the reasons why such a thing is occurring in society and no analysis as to how it can be prevented or cured only the pragmatic approach where the solution is what works for the capitalist system of reducing costs. For example, there is a shortage of therapists.

Illnesses such as depression are often treated using medication, but powerful drugs are not the solution and are dangerous as palliatives so patients often say they would prefer therapies such as psychotherapy or counselling. However, there are long waits for "talking therapies". The King's (researchers) also say there are too few occupational therapists in the UK – just one specialist for every 43,000 workers.

They say occupational physicians can help find ways for people to return to work after a long illness.

Led by psychiatrist Max Henderson, the researchers write: "Both employers and patients require a speedier response than is currently delivered, as the longer an individual remains off work, the more difficult a return becomes."

"If the government is serious about tackling the consequences of common mental disorders then innovative policies... will be required alongside research into the most effective and cost effective methods of delivering service," the researchers add.

"This would be a wise investment given the substantial economic and social costs engendered by the current service framework."

A spokesman for the Depression Alliance said employers were often not equipped to recognise the warning signs of stress and mild depression in workers, and so were unable to help them early on in their illness.

He added: "Talking therapies and one-to-one support are key to helping someone adjust to a working environment after a period of sickness when self-esteem is probably at an all time low. Employers also need support to understand the situation and their responsibilities. Unfortunately the necessary resources are scarce. And the incapacity benefit system itself is simply not designed to deal with the special requirements of people affected by depression. Service users often tell us that they end up in a vicious circle where they are unable to return to work or are forced back to work too quickly."

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