Monday, 20 September 2010

External Locus Of Evaluation

Everyone knows that a person on state benefits is a bit shifty. Spongers, parasites, lazy, untrustworthy. Probably fraudsters. Everyone knows someone – or knows someone who knows someone – on benefits who has a huge television, buys designer clothes, has children littered about, has many children with different fathers, and who goes on international holidays at least once a year.

This is the overwhelmingly dominant paradigm in the discussion of people on benefits, and this group is treated in ways which, were they black or gay, would be simply illegal. It’s illegal to offer a flat for rent with the proviso of ‘No Blacks, no Dogs, No Irish.’ But it’s normal for a landlord to have the proviso ‘No DSS’. It’s absolutely acceptable to discuss people on benefits with as much hatred as you like, in the media, in the pub, at dinner parties, and in coded terms within education, medicine, social services, at the hairdressers, in a bus queue.

It’s acceptable to put a person on benefits under surveillance. Anyone, without the need for proof and anonymously can call the Benefit Fraud Hotline to report a ‘benefit thief.’ (How often is this done after an argument or relationship breakdown, spite being the motivation? The DWP keeps no figures on malicious reporting but the internet is full of anecdote.) DWP officers can put a person on benefits under covert surveillance taking long lens photographs of them, their children, their friends and their home life. They’re allowed to gain access to your bank account. Even if there’s no proof of fraud, a permanent note will be made on their records. People who have never had anything to do with the legal or judicial system or read a history book pompously reiterate the inane cliché ‘You’ve got nothing to fear if you’ve done nothing wrong,’

Imagine other groups under the same conditions: University lecturers’ bank accounts are accessed. Journalists are put under surveillance. The children of doctors are covertly photographed. The neighbours of Polish people are encouraged via advertisements on bus stops and on the television, to keep an eye on them. Just in case. It’s unconscionable. But counselors live and function in a society where we know that people on benefits are treated in this way and we don’t really care, even though most of us will work with people on benefits from the beginning of our training. 

How does living with the knowledge that you should be ashamed of yourself, that other people detest you simply because of your income, and that you are at threat of surveillance if you annoy someone, affect a persons self-concept and loci of evaluation?

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