The effects of neoliberal reform on the welfare state and its corresponding effects on mental distress
Discipline: Political Science
Type of service: Rewriting
Spacing: Double spacing
Paper format: Harvard
Number of pages: 5 pages
Number of sources: 20 sources
My thesis address how neoliberalism contributes to mental distress in the US and UK. This chapter centres on the decline of the welfare state. All the information; theory facts and figures are there (However, feel free to add more if you feel it would strengthen the piece). The main reason I want this rewritten is that I feel my writing style is poor. Although all the information is present to support my argument, I do not think it is successfully persuasive at this stage. Please re-write this section, based predominantly on the information I have, to result in a more power and persuasive piece.
The Unwell-fare State
The effects of neoliberal reform on the welfare state and its corresponding effects on mental distress
In popular narrative, many changes I’ve examined =have transpired through conservatives waging war on the welfare state. One of the characteristics of neoliberal discourse, is use of the term ‘modernisation’ to describe; labour-market deregulation, tax-cutting, privatisation, union repression, roll-back wages in the public sector and downsizing of the civil service (Gilbert, 2013, p.16; Teghtsoonian, 2009).
The decline of industrial labour has contributed to de-unionisation because it was suited to collective bargaining (Harris, 2017, p. 91). The defeat of workers in the Miner’s strike of 1984–1985, was dimensionally representative of the neoliberal take-over (Fisher, 2009, p.7). Additionally, the neoliberal machine contributes to the expansion of neoliberal ideals. The reduction of all egalitarian ideals to the ‘equality of opportunity’ is precisely the inhibition of any emergence of collective, democratic solutions to socio-political problems (Gilbert, 2013, p.28-30). The competitive environment, which forces people to cherish the individualist notion, undermines the very possibility of solidarity. Individualism postulates that individuals are responsible for their own welfare and that economic success is a function of hard work and poverty a consequence of personal deficiency in ‘open and fair’ competition. State intervention is perceived to foster dependency and thus erode character. Unsurprisingly, the more socially and economically privileged one’s position, the more likely one will support the individualist ideology (Hasenfeld et al. 1989, p.1029-1031). Moreover, this form of social Darwinism does not encourage trust, which then does not establish strong foundations for social interdependence. In essence, such a system makes us unhappy because we thrive in groups. The economic system contradicts this crucial aspect of necessary interdependence, assisting isolation, depression and anxiety (Verhaeghe, 2015).
The collective bargaining of unions means that working conditions were subject to negotiation between two interdependent parties, but this leverage has dissolved (Harris, 2017, p.89). Accordingly, strike activity has declined with rates of participation dropping by 95% in the US (Harris, 2017, p.90). As Colin Hay (2007) notes, the political process has been undermined by neoliberalism’s claims of political inefficiency and suspicion of state intervention, which have destroyed the electorate’s faith in political effectiveness (Hendrick, 2016, p.206). Hendrick (2016, p.207) cites three reasons for political disengagement; politics is less partisan, political organisations are increasingly centred on professional activism, and politics are becoming synonymous with the economic, shaped by neoliberal theorising (Hendrick, 2016, p.207). There is a consistent issue with state policies favouring the wealthy and not those who need it (Hendrick, 2016, p.206). A Pew Study (Taylor et al., 2014) found that a mere 6% of Millennials believed they would receive their full promised social security, with 51% believing they would receive nothing at all. Be it utilitarian analysis or plain resignation, the so-called ‘entitled’ generation doesn’t even expect their own entitlements (Harris, 2017, p.171). In fact, in his book On Borrowed Time, Neil Howe (1998) explains how social security provided Baby Boomers with a comfortable retirement cushion at the expense of Millennial security. The emergence of ‘political disenchantment’ has been duly noted by the literature on anti-politics. However, Hay (2007) disputes the rise in political apathy, instead noting that there has been a shift away from formal politics to informal politics.
Neoliberal policy gives responsibility for social risks – illness, unemployment, poverty – to individuals and families framing it as an issue of ‘self-care’. The stress of familiar instability, from the changing nature of labour, is especially forceful without the welfare state. With no safety net, the family unit becomes vital respite from the precarious world. Indeed, the family has become paradoxical in precisely the way Marxism cautioned: neoliberalism requires the family unit to reproduce and nurture human capital, whilst systematically undermining the family unit by denying children sufficient parental care, as their parents work ever-increasing hours (Marx, 1848; Fisher, 2009, p.33). Besides, isolation from friends and family is a common cause of mental illness (Fottrell, 2015). Families and individuals often become the key support networks for coping with mental distress. Teghtsoonian (2009) notes duties of care fall disproportionally on women. This can impact the mental distress of the carer themselves, further perpetuating the crisis. Indeed, the gendered effects of such reforms sit suggestively alongside the fact that depression is diagnosed twice as often in women as in men. Teghtsoonian (2009) concludes that neoliberal individualisation has intensified gender inequality and eroded the political relevance of gender. Angela McRobbie (2013) further discusses neoliberalism’s conflict between individualism and collectivism. As a feminist writer, she identifies the ideological rejection of state-funded childcare, which she considers a crucial demand of social-democratic feminism. Other feminist writers, such as Campbell (2008), have highlighted that equitable childcare is the key issue that feminism has not yet been able to tackle. With Fraser (2013) pointing to the divide between rich and poor parents, arguing that wealthier women are able to buy themselves equality (through childcare), whereas poorer women cannot. McRobbie agrees (2013) that neoliberalism has masked structural issues, such as childcare, as personal issues for which private solutions must be found. The ideological force of individual choice has had a de-socialising and de-politicising function for feminism. This further impacts on women’s daily stressors as women are still disproportionately responsible for housework and childcare. Childcare provides one of the single most effective routes out of poverty for disadvantaged and single-parent households, as it allows mothers to fully participate in the labour market. Moreover, with females occupying more affective labour roles, it’s economically depressive to reduce the female labour force.
There is an inextricable relationship between mental health, poverty and debt. Pickett and Wilkinson (2010) discovered that rise in income inequality – a typical feature of neoliberal society – correlates significantly with most psychosocial health indicators. The expansion of (indebted and exploitative) consumerism has been a major compensation for the decline in real wages and relative economic position. The practice of cost-benefit analysis, recommended by the UK treasury, works by totalling all experienced costs and benefits – the sum of economic wellbeing (but not general wellbeing). Cost-benefit analysis does not provide any protection for the position of those who incur the costs, so long as others benefit. Additionally, polarisation has insured that those benefitting, benefit excessively, giving the measure a falsely optimistic reading (Spicker, 2013, p.139-141). In 2013, a father died by self-immolation, after he was harassed by debt collectors. Interestingly, the media narrative always focused on self-isolation and does not speak-up in times of hardship, which ignores the social causes of mental health. As JD Taylor (2014) notes, the media also reinforced the narrative that welfare should not be given to the ‘feckless’ as it creates a culture of dependency – Channel 4’s Benefit Street is a shocking example of the sensationalising of this false reality. Unfortunately, the perverse rebranding of the social state has successfully hardened UK attitudes to welfare since 1997 (Taylor, 2014).
There is political reluctance to admit the link between insufficient welfare and suicide condemning websites, such as Calum’s List, for committing acts of opportunistic exploitation. However, suicide and social security have become inevitable partners. Thus, I want to challenge the idea that suicides cannot be adduced as evidence for welfare reforms. In 2015, after freedom of information requests, the government was forced to release mortality statistics showing that more than 80 people per month were dying after being declared ‘fit to work’ (Ryan, 2015). Brendan O’Neill reacted to the Calum’s List publication by arguing that suicide is not a rational response to economic hardship or benefit cuts. However, many citizens with mental health issues cannot think rationally, which is why they should be socially supported. Just because suicide is not considered a rational act, does not mean that it cannot have political significance (Fisher, 2012).
Over the past thirty years, a “business ontology” has successful infiltrated healthcare and education (Fisher, 2009, p.17). Neoliberalism has evaded responsibility for the injuries of labour by privatising public goods and services, which have fallen into decline in the US and UK. Then paradoxically, claiming their reanimation by further privatisation in a grotesque, profitable parody of their former function (Taylor, 2014). Previously, workers experiencing undue stress could turn to trade unions, now they are encouraged to go to a GP. This once again reiterates the message that these problems are an individual psychosis (Fisher, 2012). Crawshaw (2012) identifies the emergence of social marketing for health in the neoliberal economy with campaigns such as Change4life. However, social marketing cannot be successful without recognising the determinants of health which exert a profound influence on wellbeing. Participants in Crawshaw’s (2012) study stated that these imperatives are disembodied from everyday experiences, placing little importance on the socio-economic determinants of wellbeing; financial and time constraints and working conditions are cited most frequently.
Neoliberalism has not facilitated fairer distribution of wealth and resources or a more egalitarian income spread or increased social mobility. Thus, the combined decrease in equality and mobility, lends weight to David Harvey’s (2007) claim that the fundamental objective of neoliberalism is the restoration of capitalist class power. The inability to envision an alternative to neoliberalism, has permitted the failure of neoliberal policy to justify intensification of neoliberal policy, exemplified by the EU’s austerity agenda (Gilbert, 2013, p.27). Ironically, neoliberalism has wholly depended on the state even whilst ideologically rejecting it – this was explicit during the 2008 crisis, which was invited by neoliberal ideology only to be rescued by state funding. Despite neoliberalism’s explicit role in the recession, providing widespread discredit to the system, the bank bail-outs were an explicit reassertion of neoliberal ideologies. Gilbert (2013, p.20-21) explains how it is perfectly possible to recognise the exploitative and unjust nature of neoliberal capitalism, and the socio-personal costs, without being motivated to resist them. Put bluntly, as long as sustenance is achievable, energy will be devoted to it, rather than channelled into resistive political activity. The neoliberal programme’s efficiency lies in engineering the precise outcome of a society where sustenance is the principal concern for most actors by producing insecurity and precariat across the working population. Brown (2015) writes; as economic parameters become supreme, humanity is essentially devoid of freedom, only concerned with survival and wealth acquisition – ‘mere life’. The crisis could have identified exactly what neoliberal capitalism is lacking – bodies capable of regulating and controlling personal structures (Fisher, 2009, p.69-77).
In 2012, in England alone, over fifty million antidepressants prescription were dispensed, increasing by 7.5% from the previous year. Furthermore, the UK has more workers reporting mental health disabilities than any other developed country (Taylor, 2014). Alarming mental health statistics should be perceived as hopelessness and anger directed at a state system incapable of providing support to the vulnerable. It’s time to direct blame away from individuals, and reverse the privatisation of stress, and recognise mental health as a political issue (Fisher, 2012).