In an extensive discussion paper, Unite Community member GERRY LAVERY considers how Antonio Gramsci’s ideas could help challenge popular attitudes towards benefit claimants and the fight to end government sanctions. Here, he provides a brief introduction.
Ken Loach’s film, I, Daniel Blake, has raised the profile of benefit sanctions once again. Sanctions may be imposed on recipients of Job Seekers Allowance and some of those receiving Employment Support Allowance for not following the conditions of their benefits. Sanctions can involve the suspension of benefits from periods of four weeks up to three years.
The government claims sanctions encourage claimants back into work, although there is no evidence to support this. However, there is evidence to suggest that sanctions are often imposed for fairly trivial reasons and in an unfair way.
The impact of sanctions can be severe, especially for the health of claimants. They have also been linked to the deaths of some claimants, as well as to worsening family relations, debt, homelessness and crime.
Despite concerns and campaigning, the government shows no sign of ending the practice. If the polls are correct and another Conservative government is elected, there is every reason to think sanctions will continue. At the same time, there is popular support for tough attitudes towards unemployed claimants.
In my discussion paper, I consider ways in which campaigning by my organisation and others might be developed to end this cruel practice. I emphasise the importance of appreciating the historical context of attitudes towards claimants and the current neoliberal economic and political context.
I also argue that we need to challenge popular attitudes towards claimants and consider how the ideas of Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) might help such an endeavour and further those campaigns.
Gerry Lavery’s paper, Social security, ‘shirkers’ and sanctions: unsettling the ‘common sense’, is published on the website of Unite Community Leeds and can be accessed here.