I stated in my previous blog that in order to get the most out of social inclusion policy, we as a nation need to ensure we are comfortable with the welfare framework we are catapulting ourselves from. We have just spent the last eleven years being led by a conservative government who quite dramatically changed the way we view welfare and welfare recipients. However many of us would not have felt the ideological shift or its ramifications. The following are some excerpts from an essay I had to write so it’s a little academic, long and bumpy but the point is an important one in my opinion!
The change from citizen to consumer
“Whereas the citizen was a body of the public sharing its rights with others, the consumer is an individual in charge of their own destiny and choices. Whereas the citizen was able to expect assistance from the state, the consumer paints a picture of power that has no need of the state. This shift has been both subtle and dramatic in its influence over social policy. Employment policy in particular becomes dominated by the individual taking control by entering the market without any fear from the government that this push will be seen as infringing social rights. Quite to the contrary, the consumer is one that breaks free of the government for their personal gain. There are many that believe that the extension of citizenship is the creation of the consumer who is able to access real equality of both resources and status through the market. In this light, it is the state’s responsibility to empower consumers to enter into the market through the workforce and thus exercise their citizenship. One could argue that the Howard government, through their employment policies, promoted the freedom of the citizen by creating an impetus for engagement in the market.
However citizenship, particularly in relation to the market, is inevitably bound up with the problem of the unequal distribution of resources in a society. For T.C Marshall, an important contributor to the theory of citizenship, the enactment of citizenship modifies the negative impact of the capitalist market by a redistribution of resources on the basis of rights, and as a result there is a permanent tension between the principals of democracy and capitalism (Turner, 2001:190). Marshall described a tension in society between the need for economic profitability, taxation requirements of the modern state and the rights of the citizen to welfare provision (Turner and Hamilton, 1994:202). Essentially, for Marshall, to become a consumer is to buy into the uncertainty of the market, a market that is not based on the ethos of equality but rather one of profit and loss. For the vulnerable within society, a loss of citizenship through the process of commodification means a loss of protection and freedom.”
~ To be as blunt and simplistic as possible…The system of capitalism is not fair, at least for those at the bottom of the food chain. Why? Capitalism relies on individuals being of use and rewarding them. A doctor is the most useful, therefore he/she gets paid lots. It also allows profits to be kept by those who collect them rather than those who make them possible (eg shareholders instead of factory workers). Now I have had this argument many times. People say… ‘a doctor/accountant/lawyer deserves a high wage because they earned it’. Yes they studied hard, but most were also given a first class education, supportive parents, intelligence, a stable home etc. And those that do the grunt work in our society were often not given the same opportunities. Anyway, I digress, the point is we accept the capitalist system as we like it more than the alternatives. And to rid ourselves of guilt, we couple capitalism with democracy and label most individuals as citizens who in turn have a right to a basic standard of living. We create a safety net for those who are unable to attain that standard without assistance. There will still be inequality, but at least all will have access to basic needs. Now the transference of citizen to consumer is bad because it fails to realise that capitalism is not fair. It says everybody can work therefore everybody should work therefore everybody who doesn’t work is a scum-sucking pig who does not deserve the title of citizen and will only acquire the safety net if they prove they are really trying to be worthy. It fails to realise that most of those who don’t work are not in fact lazy, but have not been employed by the fat capitalist because of their bung back or their lack of literacy would not be good for business etc.
Now, some calmer and more academic thoughts…
“Changes in the economy, partly due to globalisation and a range of social factors, encouraged a change in the delivery of our welfare framework from a residual and redistributive model. Rather than using economic strategy based upon state intervention in the marketplace, demand management and full employment, neo-liberals and third way seek a clear policy outlook where the privatization and the deregulation of markets would supposedly benefit everyone (Giddens, 2000:25). The approach to employment therefore has moved away from Keynesian economic policies and welfare to new risk policies that are concerned strongly with meeting needs through mobilization of labour, with direct targeted interventions to support wages and the use of private services in areas formally addressed via the states (Taylor-Gooby, 2005:14).”
~ Basically…get them working and everything will be bonzer! You know William Booth had similar ideas to this, except he redressed the unbearable working conditions and unliveable wages prior to sending them back into work! He didn’t have a blind faith in economics…I wonder why???
“However to suggest that an individual’s welfare is secure when placed in the market is to deny the obvious principles of capitalism. Profits are hindered by the states involvement in the economy, but a lack of state intervention will prevent real profits from being accessed by those who need it most. Secondly, the reality of accessing the market is not a simple process. The natural inequalities present in a system that selects the best in order to create the greatest profit is not going to select those with ‘red flags’ including low skills, children or limited education. It is unfair to expect an individual to fight a collective system of obstacles.”
~ And this is the exit back into social inclusion policy! There are a range of political and economic forces working against the poor and it takes a government equipped with power and a birds-eye view to balance the scales. To suggest that an individual is responsible to navigate and succeed in a system so obviously working against them is ridiculous. So, we must think citizen and not consumer. Citizenship not money entitles you to a good education (think Howard’s support of private schools). Citizenship not money entitles you to healthcare (think big push for middle-class to get private health insurance). Get it? We are not consumers who buy whatever we need. We are citizens who access our rights and then live out our responsibilities. This is the Australia I want and I want our social policy to start reflecting that. “With courage let us all unite to advance Australia FAIR”!
Happy Australia Day!