“In search of the scrounger” Plus ca change…

Scrounger

A couple of days ago I got the book ‘In search of the scrounger’ by Alan Deacon out of the library and thought I would share a few of the paragraphs from the Introduction and Conclusions chapters. The book covers the inter-ward period and, more specificially, the 1920’s. Despite the near 100 year difference, the concerns of politicians and administrators in relation to social security sound all too familiar to current discussions around Jobcentre Plus targets, sanctions, tightened  conditionality and, of course, ‘scroungers’. All emphases are mine

express

“Throughout the 1920s discussion of unemployment insurance in Britain became increasingly dominated by the question of abuse. In particular, there developed a bitter controversy over the administration of a series of regulations which were collectively known as the genuinely seeking work test … Between March 1921 and March 1930 nearly three million claims for benefit were refused because the claimant had failed to meet this condition. By 1927, one claim in ten was being disallowed on the grounds that the claimant was not genuinely seeking work, and in some areas the proportion was over one third. At no time in these years did any prominent politician or government official seriously suggest that the work they were supposed to be genuinely seeking actually existed.” (p1)

” … the focus of attention must primarily be upon those who were directly responsible for the formulation of policy in this area: the Ministers and senior officials of the relevant government departments. It was they who demanded that the unemployed repeatedly demonstrate their willingness to work in a period of mass unemployment, and it is their perceptions which have to be understood and their decisions which have to be explained. Those explanations, of course, must be sought in terms of their wider economic and political aims, and the role which they perceived that the test could play in the realisation of those objectives.” (p1)

“Any assessment of the seeking work test must begin by acknowledging that its abolition in March 1930 did enable some claimants to draw benefit even though they were not looking for work at the time of their claim. It is argued, however, that such abuse was largely confined to married women and that even amongst this group the extent of the practice was considerably exaggerated by contemporaries. Certainly, there was no need to impose the test on all groups of claimants, and the campaign to ‘tighten-up’ the administration between 1925 and 1929 was totally unnecessary. The question remains, however, whether that campaign was the result of folly, malice, or both.” (p87)

“In short, the test was a sledgehammer to crack a relatiely small – and often exaggerated – nut. The use of this sledgehammer, moreover, had profound consequences for the administration of benefit, and affords a classic illustration of the impact of departmental pressure upon the ways in which local officers utilise their discretionary powers.” (p88)

“In the case of the test, the Ministry of Labour left its officers in no doubt as to what was expected of them. Their task was to detect and penalise malingering, and the accomplishment of this purpose was to override all other considerations. Olive Stevenson has recently observed that the “very existence” of powers to restrict the supplementary benefits paid to unemployed men or separated wives “tends to arouse suspicion in the minds of officers or to suggest to them that higher authority wants them to be suspicious”. In the 1920s that suspicion was deliberately fostered, and by the end of the decade the staffs of the Echanges were obsessed with the aspectre of abuse.” (pp88-89)

“(A report by John Hilton) found the interviewing officers convinced of their ability to spot a scounger – ‘a groundless and dnagerous faith’ – and often neglecting their duty to help claimants secure work. This, he believed, was a direct result of the pressures put upon them from above.” (p89)

“The seeking work test was as pernicious as it was unnecessary. It led to hundreds of thousands of unemployed men and women being arbitrarily deprived of benefits which they desperately needed, and forced many more to make repeated journeys in search of jobs they knew did not exist.” (p89)

“If the seeking work test was not prompted by malice, it was ‘tightened-up’ with a callous disregard of the hardships and injustices which resulted.” (p91)

church poverty

We have previously blogged about the increase in ‘in-work conditionality’ here and the role of the DWP in arousing suspicion of benefit fraud with their ‘Benefit thieves’ campaign here

Best wishes,

Steve

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: