1980s >> 1986 >> no-984-august-1986

Observations: Special needs?

Special needs?
In capitalism it is money that determines whether or not people’s needs are met. This principle applies to the “welfare state” as much as it does to the market for goods. But in the case of the welfare state it is the government which has the power to decide whose needs are to be met (through the allocation of resources) and at what level.

Take, for instance, draft regulations recently drawn up by the DHSS which will restrict the availability of single, or “special”, needs payments to supplementary benefit claimants. At present single payments are intended to cover the cost of such essential household items as beds, cookers, heaters, basic items of furniture, and bedding. It is already extremely difficult to obtain this assistance. But the government now intends to make it even more difficult, through the new regulations which will exclude payments for such things as hot water bottles for the elderly and infirm, curtains, cleaning implements. light fittings and other basic household equipment. Certain claimants, such as squatters, will not be eligible for any such payments at all.

The reason given for the new restrictions is contained in a DHSS memorandum (Guardian, 10 June 1986) which states that “there has been since 1981 a rapid and continuous growth in single payments” and “in these circumstances the Government now proposes to bring expenditure back to around the 1984 level . . . and to ensure an orderly administration of the single payment system in the two years before the Government reform proposals take place”. (The “reform” referred to is the abolition of single payments and their replacement with a “Social Fund” which will apply even more restrictive criteria to applicants).

So more people are clearly in need and are seeking extra assistance from the DHSS. What is the government’s response? Those needs are first defined as “special needs” and met on a highly selective basis, and later redefined out of existence. And this is called “social security” — part of the “welfare state”.

There is a man in Broadmoor, sent there for killing his wife, who is a brilliant scientist. At the time he was working in the development of guidance systems for inter-continental missiles. An obsessive man, he was liable to bouts of morbid jealousy. One day his wife could stand no more and left him. After a while he gave up his job and walked, brooding, the hundred or so miles to where she was living and there he killed her. The missiles he had been working on are each capable of wiping out hundreds of thousands of people. At his trial the judge listened to social workers, police officers and psychiatrists and it was decided that killing his wife proved that the brilliant scientist was ill and must be locked away in a hospital until he is better.

Fair cops
There is enough for the people of Greater Manchester to worry about in the colourful menace of their Chief Constable, James Anderton, without all this shock-horror-probe stuff about his deputy John Stalker.

Like most of these sordid affairs, the Stalker scandal becomes more outrageous and ruthless with the dragging out of one piece of evidence after another, which hint at corruption and intrigue at what is called A Very High Level.

It all began when Stalker was given the job of looking into the shoot-to-kill policy of the Ulster police, under which some embarrassingly innocent victims had been mown down. If Stalker took this seriously he is at variance with most of the people who have any experience of these matters, who expect as a matter of course that such enquiries are really designed to sweep a scandal under the carpet.

Whatever the truth of this, there is evidence of a campaign to undermine Stalker’s standing as a high ranking policeman by showing him up as an associate of criminals and of other people with a reputation for sailing rather too close to the legal winds.

There are many people who have been arrested and harassed by Anderton’s and Stalker’s police who coknow what it means to be subjected to a sustained persecution. They will probably appreciate the irony in the fact that the same sinister techniques are said to be now applied to Stalker.

How outrageous a scandal is it? A social system based on the interests of a small but powerful minority cannot be open about much of what goes on in the cause of protecting the standing of that minority. Secretiveness (and the British government is noted for its obsessive concern with secrecy and an elegantly worded suppression of the truth) is endemic to capitalism. When it is demanded, the welfare — even the life — of an individual is of no account; even the most devoted servants of capitalism are expendable.

There was, to put it another way, never the slightest chance that Stalker would be allowed to lift the lid off the RUC.

Meanwhile, the workers of Manchester and of the rest of capitalist society should concern themselves with such events only to take what lessons they can from them. The police are employed as a part of capitalism’s coercive, privilege protecting machinery. Their role is repression, of people and of the truth when they need to. They do this to sustain a social system which, even were it morally immaculate, without a taint of evasion or corruption, would still be unsupportable for its impoverishment, degradation and murder of millions of human beings.

We must get on with working towards the abolition of this sordid mess, leaving that odious bunch of thugs and twisters to grass each other up.