“The political fortunes of the phrase ‘something for nothing’ over the last twenty years are instructive. ‘The something for nothing society’ was introduced into the political discourse of welfare by Peter Lilley at the Conservative party conference in 1993; it was adapted by Tony Blair as ‘the something for nothing culture’ to frame New Labour’s welfare reform agenda in the late 1990’s. Variations on the phrase continue to frame policy statements on social security on both Labour and Conservative sides, reinforcing the message that the main problem faced by social security is one of non-reciprocity, of people taking out who have failed to put in.”
“Messed up the suit that he’d bought from Marks…
Never trust a man with egg on his face”
(Adam and the Ants. Couldn’t resist it really).
Peter Lilley. Former Secretary of State for Social Security (Minister for Workhouses). Rightwing ideologue. One of the ‘bastards’ who managed to make John Major look like a moderate. Climate change denier. Surely a man for whom the phrase ‘swivel-eyed loon’ is a compliment to be embraced.
Appointed to front the 1990s tory onslaught on the poorest, Lilley set out his stall early on at the 1992 Tory conference, promising to put an end to the “something for nothing society”. I wonder if he came up with that phrase himself. Obviously it’s utterly futile to point out which sort of people really get something for nothing under capitalism – it’s really not them as is on the dole. ‘Something for Nothing”. This neat little soundbite has achieved a remarkable half-life ever since, and still pops up like a fascist little Gollum on a regular basis. Actually fascist little Gollum isn’t a bad description of Peter Lilley.
With the number of benefit claimants growing in the post-92 recession, Lilley’s mission was clearly to cut the numbers of those on the dole. There were a number of reforms launched to attack claimants. A particular target was those claiming Invalidity Benefit on the grounds of being unable to work due to disability. It’s worth saying that the tories might have thought going for the disabled was attacking a soft target. Big mistake.
During his 1992 Conservative Party conference speech, Lilley cursed his whole future by doing what politicians should really never do – he sang a funny song to illustrate his political intent. I say funny. Spoofing the Lord High Executioner’s “little list” song from The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. Yes. Really.
“I’ve got a little list / Of benefit offenders who I’ll soon be rooting out / And who never would be missed / They never would be missed. / There’s those who make up bogus claims / In half a dozen names / And councillors who draw the dole / To run left-wing campaigns / They never would be missed / They never would be missed. / There’s young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue / And dads who won’t support the kids / of ladies they have … kissed / And I haven’t even mentioned all those sponging socialists / I’ve got them on my list / And there’s none of them be missed / There’s none of them be missed.”
Peter Lilley once had ambitions to lead the tories. The above shows how it was never gonna happen.
In 1995, Invalidity Benefit was replaced with Incapacity Benefit. Rebranding is a part of sabotaging welfare rights… thus both benefits and government departments have had a succession of visits to the deed poll office since then. But the introduction of Incapacity Benefit did alter the landscape significantly, bringing in the All Work Test – basically a series of hoops to try to weed out scroungers by trying to break their arms while proving they can in fact do a spot of weight-lifting. Instead of being signed off by the GPs, the decision as to whether they were genuinely unable for work or malingering would be judged by government-employed doctors (sacked from the prison medical service for being incompetent and brutal?). Also Incapacity Benefit was taxable (unlike its predecessor), and that claimants were to be assessed to be able to do any work at all, not just their regular job.
The introduction of Incapacity Benefit caused a rebellion among claimants, stimulating an already active movement of disabled people campaigning around issues like lack of access to transport, their patronizing treatment by charity, among many others. Peter Lilley’s obnoxious fronting of the vicious campaign and bringing of musical satire into disrepute made him a hate figure; as a result he had egg thrown at him by disabled protestors on July 11th 1995. His house in Canonbury was also besieged and graffitied at some point too, though this was by protestors against the Child Support Act.
The All Work Test is now called the Work Capability Assessment, (soon it’ll be the Life Enablement Opportunity) but the principle has been internalised to our society now and into many heads that should know better. Both Tory and Labour have demonised claimants and a barrage of propaganda is been fired off on a regular basis to remind us that those of us on shit pay are paying all out taxes to support ‘scroungers’. Not bankers and bureaucrats. It’s a good job that there’s so much part-time crap work around though or this country would be in real financial trouble though eh?
Interestingly in 1994, Peter Lilley hired John LoCascio to advise his department on ‘claims management’. LoCascio was at that time second vice president of Unum, the leading US disability insurance company. He joined the ‘medical evaluation group’ that was set up to design more stringent medical tests. Unum and Atos, more recently contracted to carry out the Work Capability Assessments, have a long inter-twined history, and have both been integral to the implementation of this twisted repressive agenda. For vast profit. Who says the system isn’t working?
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online