Austerity and severe cuts to benefits are causing serious harm to people that amounts to ‘social murder’ a leading academic has claimed.
Dr Chris Grover, who heads Lancaster University’s sociology department, describes austerity as a form of structural violence, in his essay ‘Violent proletarianisation: social murder, the reserve army of labour and social security ‘austerity’ in Britain’.
Grover, whose article has been published in the journal Critical Social Policy, told HuffPost UK: “There is a growing body of evidence about the harm that austerity is creating.
“We see some of the visible effects such as an increase in foodbank use but it is also causing very immediate harms to people and an impact on their physical and mental health.”
Grover says austerity can be understood as a form of violence that is built into society and is expressed in unequal power and unequal life chances. He says that as it deepens inequalities and injustice, the government should take action.
He refers to the process as ‘violent proletarianisation’ – the idea that austerity is aimed at forcing people to do paid work, rather than being reliant upon benefits.
“To address violent proletarianisation, what is required is not the tweaking of existing policies but fundamental change that removes the economic need for people to work for the lowest wages that employers can get away with paying,” said Grover.
Giving examples of where austerity has led to a range of harms, the academic pointed to statistics that show there are an additional six suicides for every 10,000 work capability assessments done.
He also cited an increasing number of people in Britain suffering from malnutrition and rising numbers of homeless people dying on the streets or in hostels.
In his article, Grover argues difficult economic conditions created by the government cutting back on public spending and changes to benefits policy has meant Britain has fallen victim to a brutal approach of forcing people to do low-paid work.
“The violence takes two forms,” he said. “First it involves further economic hardship of already income-poor people. It causes social inequalities and injustices in the short term and in the longer term.
“Secondly, the poverty that violent proletarianisation creates is both known and avoidable.”
Grover adds that only by fundamentally rethinking current welfare policy can change that protects the poorest people be made.
He told HuffPost: “We know that inequality in health is related to poverty and we know that cuts to working age benefits that have occurred over the last few years are going to increase child poverty rates in the future.
“But there is growing evidence to suggest there is more immediate harm to people.
“Most people think of violence as being interpersonal such as an individual harming another person but that is a very narrow way of thinking about violence.
“Violence needs to be understood as the effects of what happens and what can potentially happen.”
He concluded: ”We are living in a period of great structural violence to the poorest people and the consequence is very serious harm and for some people, it means death.”