Ipswich Unemployed Action.

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The ‘Simplicity’ of Universal Credit – Anything But, say Top Researchers.

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Image result for universal credit cartoon simplicity

Iain Duncan Smith Universal Credit is about simplifying the “complexity of the existing benefit system”.

The day begins with the usual.

Walk into the town centre, passing a chap cowering, just out of the rain, on the steps of one of the boarded up old County Hall (derelict since 2004 – plans afoot to make it into, no doubt ‘luxury’ flats).

Job Search (Just added, er, just in case….).

Look at the stories on Universal Credit:

I spent a week living on Universal Credit – this is what it’s like

The Mirror.

Receiving weekly allowance for a 23-year-old, one young reporter ended up with just £6 a day to spend on food, heating and travel.

It soon dawned on Alex that even Tesco meal deals – priced at £3, or half his daily allowance – would have to fall by the wayside, too.

Alex added: “I am a sucker for a Tesco meal deal which sets me back £3 a day and although it’s a great offer, it costs me almost half of my daily budget.

“I knew I had to change my ways so every night I made sandwiches to take into work and bought multipacks of crisps instead of wasting money buying individual packs as part of a meal deal.”

There is a high possibility, particularly at a time when we are experiencing sub-zero temperatures, that I would have had to endure freezing cold nights and sacrificed my warmth in order to get by.

He should be so lucky!

Couple’s Universal Credit payment leaves them with just £1 a day.


A couple claim they’re struggling to survive on just £1 a day after their Universal Credit payment was miscalculated. Colin Robinson said he was forced to rely on food banks in Coventry because the £39 he received in December was not enough for him and his wife to survive on. Mr Robinson, 46, now fears he could lose his home if his benefits are not increased.

Now we learn that some serious types have looked into the way we are expected, or going to be expected to live.

The alleged simplicity of Universal Credit and the lived experience of benefit claimants

Kate Summers and David Young challenge the assumed simplicity of Universal Credit by focusing on its single monthly payment design. They draw on two empirical studies of means-tested benefit claimants in order to explain how short-termism is a crucial tool for those managing social security benefits.

2019 started with another announcement that Universal Credit (UC) is being reset and rethought. While some of the changes being introduced are welcome, piecemeal policymaking draws our attention away from the bigger picture. We want to return to one of the principles underpinning UC: simplicity. In his short introduction to Universal Credit in 2010, Iain Duncan Smith made it clear that simplifying the “complexity of the existing benefit system” is a central tenet of welfare reform. Complexity will be “cut through” and the system will be “streamlined”.

Currently, however, claims of simplicity can only be sustained if UC is considered at a superficial level: one monthly payment per household, delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions, with a single taper rate, and with the amount calculated and adjusted monthly. But if we consider the system in any detail and from a claimant perspective, claims of simplicity fall away.


What about the claimant experience of simplicity within a changing policy environment? We draw on evidence from two empirical studies to examine one element in particular: the single monthly payment under Universal Credit. Monthly payment is based partly on the evidence that three quarters of people in the UK are paid their work income monthly, making the move from benefits to work purportedly easier by aligning social security payments with ‘the world of work’. However, when looking at those earning less than £10,000 a year, around half of workers are paid more often than monthly, raising questions about how successfully Universal Credit fits with the reality of the lives of low-income claimants. There is also evidence of longstanding budgeting processes developed by those on a low income that centre around the regular receipt of different sources of income for whom monthly payments pose significant challenges.

In the first research by Kate Summers, 43 claimants in receipt of the ‘legacy’ outgoing payments were interviewed. People spoke about how they organised their money, and the majority were oriented around short-term (days and weeks) timescales that were bolstered by the ‘pay days’ of the legacy benefits (these overlap and span from weekly, to two weekly, to four weekly). Three main notions underpinned this short-termism: 1) the ability to establish some degree of security by managing and planning in the short-term; 2) conversely that short-termism was essential as a matter of survival when, as one participant put it, “you’re budgeting pennies”; 3) meaning that inevitably money is experienced highly transiently and “just goes”. Only seven of the 43 participants talked about managing their money on slightly longer term timescales (weeks and months). However, these participants tended to be in work, they were paid monthly and had opted to receive their tax credits four-weekly.

The second, ongoing research by David Young involved 15 households claiming UC and legacy benefits over a three-month period. Seven of those households adopted weekly budgeting periods, four adopted two-weekly budgeting periods and four adopted monthly budgeting periods. The most common reason for short-termism was a sense of control in the face of unstable and inadequate income. The most common reason for monthly budgeting was experience of a monthly income and regular monthly bills.


The evidence shows that social security recipients have developed effective tools and processes to make ends meet while in receipt of meagre means-tested payments: the monthly payment design of UC pushes against many of these strategies. Moreover the earmarking tools and short-term orientations are sometimes seen as deficiencies to be fixed with money management education and training. Instead they should be recognised for what they are: astute responses to managing on a very low income.

Within the current ‘re-think’ period, there remains a powerful consensus that Universal Credit is, or at least can be, simple. While certain administrative simplification still has the potential to improve a system widely seen as too complex, this must be considered alongside claimant experience. Claims of simplicity can often mean that complexity does not go away but is shifted out of sight, backstage. We argue that with Universal Credit, the complexity of managing to make ends meet on a very low-income could end up being shifted onto those that can least afford it: the claimants themselves.

Or to put it clearly, managing a tiny budget over a month is anything but simple.

Then there is this:

Written by Andrew Coates

February 4, 2019 at 12:21 pm

69 Responses

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  1. There are plenty of jobs going in the ‘rope access’ industry.


    Get your application is here:



    February 4, 2019 at 12:35 pm

  2. It is a shame that 👿 Iain Duncan Smith 👿 didn’t live long enough to see his ‘baby’ reach maturity.


    February 4, 2019 at 12:39 pm

  3. Dead men can’t speak!


    February 4, 2019 at 12:44 pm

  4. Interestingly, Iain Duncan Smith’s post mortem revealed that he didn’t possess a heart! Quite amazing, really! It is conjectured that his over-sized spleen compensated for the lack of this vital organ. Duncan Smith’s brain now sits pickled in a display case in the foyer of the Centre of Social Justice – at least it can do no more harm.

    Dr Death

    February 4, 2019 at 12:53 pm

  5. Interestingly, Iain Duncan Smith’s post mortem revealed that he didn’t possess a heart! Quite amazing, really! It is conjectured that his over-sized spleen compensated for the lack of this vital organ. Duncan Smith’s ‘brain’ now sits pickled in a display case in the foyer of the Centre of Social Justice – at least it can do no more harm.

    Dr Death

    February 4, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    • Actually he was considered for the role of Dr Who as he actually has 2 hearts on account he needs a second just to cope with the shock of the first so the body can keep running on hot air.

      Glad you ran with the story Andrew as that reporters account is wholly flawed and unrepresentative of what its actually like. I also find it laughable (maybe its true) he just happens to have accommodation where the power,heat and water is covered under the rent as that’s a poor return for a landlord.

      UC, the inclined system not only designed to create poverty but also have any claimant unable to get work in debt day one and boy does that debt ratchet up 6 months down the pipeline.

      Andrew, its time to rebrand the website to “i told you so”.

      This is why alternate media is popular, we are so ahead of mainstream on the scope unless they care to admit they ignored all this early on so they could profit later.


      February 4, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      • “ran with the story”. lol You would think this ‘umble blog was the New York Time 😀

        Woodbine and Berstein

        July 28, 2019 at 5:05 pm

  6. Does anyone know what ‘work roaches’ do these days. On leaving the joke shop I walked passed, must have been at least forty of them all sat at their desks – doing nothing. Not one was seeing a ‘customer’. Some were chatting to their ‘next door neighbour’, picked up something about a holiday in Lanzarote, some were passing a tin of Quality Street about, jeez, that long after Christmas. Some were playing with their phones. One morbidly obese – no unusual for a joke shop – was twiddling with his ‘fitbit’. And there was one really good looking young girl – which is very unusual for a joke shop – chuckling at her what looked liked ‘social media’. What do these people do all day?


    February 4, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    • Big open plan offices but they make sure the customerless roaches computer screens are out spun of view,,

      On time for my interrogation I sat waiting for the roach to return , it finally arrived, read it’s screen and started typing away on the computer, real fast with that oh so pleased with myself look that some people have using social media – when they think think of some brilliant / put down or clever comeback to a comment etc.

      Maybe I’m been unfair and the roach was indeed busy working, and just happy looking, after issuing a 3 year sanction or something.

      Best guess they trained up more staff for the big roll out that recently got postponed again.
      As they aint on zero hours contracts, they don’t get sent home..

      Thought Criminal

      February 5, 2019 at 1:14 am

      • Think you may be on to something Thought Criminal. At the local joke shop, must be the ones without ‘social media’ 😉 are just sat staring into space and literally twiddling their thumbs. If this was Maccy Ds, an Amazon warehouse or a supermarket they would all be ‘clocked off’. They certainly wouldn’t be paid to sit on their backsides doing owt.

        Wrong Think - UC

        February 5, 2019 at 9:24 am

      • Universal Credit is impacting on bereaved and disabled people in Northampton, according to a former MP, and there’s a lack of training for advice services to help them.

        A woman who had to apply for Universal Credit being expected to look for work within days of losing her husband. This happened despite rules which appear to allow for a period without being required to look for work after a bereavement.

        People with disabilities being directed to claim Universal Credit after being found fit for work – despite many such decisions being turned down at appeal. However, many lack the funds to live on while waiting for appeal.



        February 6, 2019 at 7:26 pm

  7. Go to amazon.co.uk and look up Iain Duncan Smith’s novel “The Devil’s Tune”. Then scroll down and read “reviews” left by so-called “readers”. This ticked me so much I just had to share them with others. Enjoy.


    February 4, 2019 at 1:33 pm

  8. superted

    February 4, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    • I feel for this gentleman and agree he should be able to have an annual holiday. But, a month? And why does he have to pay for his medicine? Prepayment card is £10 a month. Also, why’s he paying for care. If he ‘needs’ it the council pay for and he makes a small contribution. How did he cope without care for a month whilst away? I can’t help feel that if you can arrange a month’s air bnb and travel that you can probably do ‘some work’. He’d still quite rightly keep his PIP.


      February 4, 2019 at 2:41 pm

      • Why is he paying for care?
        Because the council is allowed to take all of your PIP benefit as that “small contribution” you mention, not to mention any disability premiums you may be entitled to as part of other disability benefits.
        For example my own care contribution is £102 per week. I don’t see a penny of the care part of PIP and they also take a portion of my ESA.
        The fact that PIP is supposed to cover extra costs of disability is mostly ignored. “Disability Related Expenses” may sometimes be claimed back, but with great difficulty and bureaucracy. Day to day costs cannot usually be recouped.

        Sarah C

        March 18, 2019 at 1:00 am

    • How were you able to afford travel insurance if your medical condition was deemed terminal? It would have been an astronomical price.
      By the way my later father in law had two heart attacks by the age he was 50 he continued to work and modified and changed his work to suit his condition. He died,at work, after his third heart attack


      February 4, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    • As far as got reading the article

      ”Sorry for the intrusion…Please be aware we use cookies and …


      Thought Criminal

      February 5, 2019 at 1:18 am

  9. Reblogged this on sdbast.


    February 4, 2019 at 2:46 pm

  10. Andrew Coates

    February 4, 2019 at 3:19 pm

  11. The government has agreed to pay a man the benefits he was cruelly denied after his horrific plight was highlighted



    February 4, 2019 at 3:27 pm

  12. I should bloody well think so too murdering bstards.


    February 4, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    • Suffolk County Council has taken out £175 million worth of LOBO loans.


      LOBO (which stands for Lender Option Borrower Option) loans are a massive scam promoted by the banks and endorsed by the Government whereby local authorities are encouraged to take out loans with initially low rates of interest. However after a set amount of time, which can be as low as six months, lenders have the option of increasing those rates and borrowers have the option of accepting the new increased rate or paying the loan off completely but with a substantial penalty.

      Suffolk County Council should come clean about its looming debt crisis.

      Dog Named Boo

      February 21, 2019 at 2:17 am

  13. DWP U-turns and resumes some benefits for man with leukaemia, but won’t reinstate his mobility car

    Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/news/real-life/dwp-department-for-work-and-pensions-man-leukaemia-disability-benefits-personal-independence-payment-pip-axed-tribunal-reinstated/


    February 4, 2019 at 5:41 pm

  14. Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating!.


    February 4, 2019 at 8:39 pm

  15. Universal Credit: brought to you by the people who think capital punishment isn’t going far enough.


    February 4, 2019 at 8:48 pm

  16. New laws could force social media firms to ‘remove illegal content and prioritise the protection of users’, digital minister to say

    We havn’t got long


    February 5, 2019 at 11:51 am

    • How does a man who does not know what he is talking about who listens to people who themselves dont know what they are talking about propose this is done.
      I heard today a new use for the common BUZZword grooming. For starters these suicide utterings aren’t an incitement but actually the mental thoughts of the individual penning them. Depression and suicide, two things our government openly say is too complex to discern and attribute, seem to think hiding it is the answer, probably because its cheaper than actually dealing with the disillusionment the public feel these days with the real world, governmental failure, business corruption and of course the pièce de résistance, the incessant drive by them, by capitalism, by the social construct to feel forced an ostracized if they dont to perform publicly and bare all online.

      How does one exactly differentiate a suicide post from any other post and should we really be encouraging it as it serves as the only clue, all to often leading to a demise, a demise may i add despite protests, is the individuals inalienable right to decide regardless of age when death oh so common walk among us like a permanent neighbor.
      A child’s political and social life begins at home, at school and social media is just a tool that expresses it without giving names and not the instrument of cause. For if there was any truth to the latter, such works as the marquis de sade would be much more openly expressed in reality.


      February 5, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    • Most servers hosting social media websites are in other countries outside the UK and unaffected by British law. The only thing the the UK government can do is to get ISPs to block access to such websites, which they tried to do with sites which promote media piracy like the pirate bay. And look what happened. Loads of pirate bay proxies popped up enabling people to carry on bootlegging as before using alternative servers with ever changing domain names and IP addresses.


      Hans Schimmelpfennig

      February 5, 2019 at 10:02 pm

  17. Man ‘forced to sleep on the streets’ after Universal Credit benefits cut

    Shaun Precious, 44, claims he was turned away from the Job Centre with no money for food or accommodation



    February 5, 2019 at 1:08 pm

  18. Andrew Coates

    February 5, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    • The reality, again, no help from DWP where it should be available, some system we have.


      February 6, 2019 at 1:09 pm

  19. Will the plug be pulled on ESF (European Social Fund) for the ‘providers’ if Brexit ever happens? What is the EU all about? ESF funding for ‘providers’, stupid cookie notices, straight bananas…. EU B c’ing U 🙂

    N Farage

    February 5, 2019 at 8:09 pm

  20. Seems that coachy, job club or whoever refers a claimant to a (European Social Funded) scheme are acting as ‘affiliates’, i.e. they receive a ‘referral fee’, bonus or ‘performance related pay’ as they would call it. That is why they are always ‘pushing’ one scheme or the other – they stand to gain a tidy sum of cash when you sign on the dotted line i.e. release the ‘funding’. It is a racket!


    February 6, 2019 at 10:09 am

    • Amber Rudd’s latest DWP celebration shows she really is living in cloud cuckoo land

      Rudd tweeted that the job centre is a “thriving community hub”:



      February 6, 2019 at 12:06 pm

      • I don’t know of a single person that goes to a Job Centre unless compelled to.

        “…community hub…”

        What the heel has the poor deluded woman been snorting?

        Hans Schimmelpfennig

        February 6, 2019 at 1:37 pm

      • Hey, man. I’ll meet you down the Jobcentre with Rachel and the kid and we’ll have a cup of java and a Danish pastry and chew the fat at the community hub.

        Ross from Friends

        February 6, 2019 at 5:25 pm

      • Turn up more than 10 min early, can you comeback. Who are you, sorry if you dont have an appointment yourself im afraid your have to wait outside. Oh you cant stand there but you can stand over there.

        Common phrases at DWP so i can only think by thriving community, our fossilized tree resin means staff.

        For claimant JCP resembles an airport check point except everyones an immigrant whose told go over there, sit here while a legion of security trolls the area like there expecting a terrorist attack.Your name gets called, your told to sit elsewhere, asked for ID, ID examined,recorded. Now comes the so tell me, what right have you to reside in the taxpayers pockets and can you prove it. If they let you stay, you visit the job board but wait, your being followed, not close, just enough to say im not invading, just making sure you can see me. If your lucky your be near a door. It looks like just a disused room but you would be wrong as the security ushers quickly to place themselves infront of it.

        Thats what i see, what do you see ?


        February 7, 2019 at 12:13 pm

  21. And obviously the joke shop managers receive a cut too. That is why coachy acts like an aggressive salesperson. And every where you are someone can ‘refer’ you onto some other scheme. They are only thinking of alloy wheels, a 75 inch flat-screen TV or a holiday in Lanzarote. Disgusting!


    February 6, 2019 at 10:13 am

  22. And obviously the joke shop managers receive a cut too. That is why coachy acts like an aggressive salesperson. And every where you are ‘sent’ someone can ‘refer’ you onto some other scheme. They are only thinking of alloy wheels, a 75 inch flat-screen TV or a holiday in Lanzarote. Disgusting!


    February 6, 2019 at 10:14 am

  23. A WEYMOUTH councillor has claimed that Universal Credit is forcing more people into becoming homeless.

    more people are ending up on the streets since the introduction of the new benefit system in the area a year ago – because of cuts to their payments or lengthy delays.



    February 6, 2019 at 11:53 am

  24. Universal Credit is just simply nasty. It has been from day one.

    Jeff Smith

    February 6, 2019 at 5:05 pm

  25. UNIVERSAL NIGHTMARE Universal Credit rated WORSE than all other benefits, according to survey by government department who rolled it out


    February 6, 2019 at 5:40 pm

  26. Landlords are refusing to let homes to people on Universal Credit – and this is why

    More than a third of landlords refuse to let properties to people who are on Universal Credit or housing benefit.

    The shock findings came in a new Government survey.

    Letting agents said they believed Universal Credit claimants might be unable to pay the rent – either on time, or at all – because their benefits wouldn’t cover it.


    It would seem we could post here for 35 hours a week.


    February 6, 2019 at 7:16 pm

  27. Universal Credit: A mechanism for the control and behaviour modification of ‘complicated chickens’

    The new tech totalitarianism

    When companies know more about us than we know about ourselves.

    By John Gray

    “Industrial capitalism depended up-on the exploitation and control of nature, with catastrophic consequences that we only now recognise. Surveillance capitalism depends instead upon the exploitation and control of human nature,” writes Shoshana Zuboff, a professor in the Harvard Business School. The prototypes of surveillance capitalism are Google and Facebook, which extract information from their users and deploy it to re-engineer their behaviour for maximum profit. Human experience is raw material to be mined. Individual autonomy is usurped by ubiquitous monitoring, with techniques of behaviour modification digging deep into what was once a private and subjective world. Personal experience is commodified, and reshaped in the interests of capital. Whatever utopian claims may have been made for it as a force that emancipates individuals, this is a type of collectivism that subverts what has in the past been described as free will.

    “Surveillance capitalism is best described as a coup from above, not an overthrow of the state but rather an overthrow of the people’s sovereignty and a prominent force in the perilous drift towards democratic de-consolidation that now threatens Western liberal democracies,” says Zuboff. Big-data companies present the future as a new era of transparency and freedom. In fact, the end-point of information capitalism is a social order that can only be described as totalitarian.

    The Age of Surveillance is packed with arresting examples of this emerging order. In 2016, 89 per cent of the revenues of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, derived from Google’s targeted advertising programmes. Google’s raw material – the browsing histories of its users – is prodigiously large. In 2017, over 40,000 search queries were processed per second – more than 3.5 billion a day and 1.2 trillion per year. Its Street View project, which has photographed urban environments in dozens of countries, is the basis for self-driving vehicles and plans for the “Google city” – a wholly wired-up environment in which practically every human interaction could be observed.

    “Connected cars” could monitor drivers and lock down a vehicle if users fell behind in their payments for it. Other schemes have proposed that individuals’ health be monitored by “wearable accelerometers”, which would “improve traceability of their compliance” with dietary and medication schedules. As the “internet of things” advances, car dashboards, refrigerators, thermostats, spectacles and watches will become platforms for advertising. Location data collected from smartphones already record how people travel and shape where and what they consume.

    In 2017, the clothing firm Levi Strauss brought to market an interactive denim jacket, containing sensors that detect, decipher and record gestures as minimal as the twitch of a finger. Earlier in 2015, a start-up company won a grant from the European Commission to develop automated technology that can “measure behaviour indicators that hitherto resisted measurement because they were too subtle or fleeting to be measured by the human eye and ear”.

    Bypassing conscious awareness, these technologies track human sensations and emotions more minutely than human beings can do themselves. Eventually surveillance will be omnipresent and thereby invisible. As the former executive chairman of Alphabet and Google Eric Schmidt predicted in 2015, “The internet will disappear. There will be so many IP addresses… so many devices, sensors, things that you are wearing, things that you are interacting with, that you won’t even sense it. It will be part of your presence all the time.” Seamlessly woven into everyday life, technologies of monitoring and control will fashion a world different from any that existed before. The ultimate end of surveillance capitalism is a way of life in which people have surrendered their humanity without realising it.

    Such is the prospect envisioned by Zuboff in this groundbreaking book. Zuboff is interdisciplinary in her approach, ranging freely across social science, philosophy and history. Following on from a seminal essay she published in 2014, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism shows how big data companies extract a “behavioural surplus” from the information they mine from their users. Aiming to apply Marx’s account of surplus value in a time when capital is accumulated through knowledge-based technology, she has given us an illuminating critical perspective on the regime of surveillance under which we all now live.

    She is less successful in tracing the intellectual origins of this regime and projecting its likely future. Illustrating the limitations of much of the literature in business studies, the book concentrates mainly on recent developments in the United States. Even when other societies are discussed, the focus remains thoroughly Western. Throughout the book, the rise of the surveillance state is interpreted as a phase in the development of market capitalism; but new technologies of mass observation and behaviour modification can be used for other purposes than capital accumulation.

    The historical range of the book is similarly limited. Zuboff’s account of the ideas that have shaped surveillance capitalism goes back not much further than the second half of the 20th century. The future is discussed only via vague exhortations on the need for greater democracy. Despite insistent assertions that the surveillance state is not inevitable, no realistic scenario is presented in which it can be avoided or overthrown.

    Rightly, Zuboff traces the intellectual history of the surveillance regime to the ideology of radical behaviourism promoted by the Harvard psychologist and inventor BF Skinner in the novel Walden Two (1948) and in Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971). She also devotes considerable space to examining the ideas of the MIT computer scientist and entrepreneur Alex Pentland, particularly as developed in his book Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread (2014).

    While Skinner debunked the idea of a choosing individual and viewed human beings as “complex chickens”, Pentland sees himself as developing “a computational theory of human behaviour”. The claims made for this “new science” are large. Walden Two imagines a society reconstructed on behaviourist lines, where politics is replaced by “a plan” implemented by an elite of “non-competitive” dispassionate administrators. Pentland takes a similar view: our “light-speed hyperconnected world” leaves no time for collective deliberation, face-to-face negotiation or compromise. “We can no longer think of ourselves as only individuals taking carefully considered decisions.” Using laws of social physics that run parallel with those that govern machine intelligence, politics will be replaced by computational governance.

    As presented by Skinner and Pentland, and by Zuboff herself, these are novel theories. In fact, while the technologies that are supposed to advance it may be recent innovations there is nothing remotely new in the vision that Skinner and Pentland preach. Both of them present their dystopian ideas in unqualifiedly positive terms – in other words, as utopias. These are not warnings against a future society that can and should be avoided, but eulogies to a glowing future that both thinkers believe is already under construction. But these internet utopias did not come from nowhere.

    Nineteenth-century positivism is a pervasive influence on the prophets of the big data companies. Though he appears unaware of the fact, Pentland’s project of a “social physics” was at the heart of Auguste Comte’s vision of a society ruled by scientific experts. For Comte sociology was a physical science, which framed laws of behaviour on the basis of physiology and physics.

    In positivist philosophy, which denied free will and the intrinsic value of the individual, a rational society would be technocratic and hierarchical. Knowledge and power would be concentrated in a class of planners. As Comte’s mentor, the founder of positivism Henri de Saint-Simon, put it: “The government of people will be replaced by the administration of things.” (Engels borrowed this formula when defining communism.) Comte presented his theory of society as an explicit attack on liberal values and, though less overtly expressed, Pentland’s ideas replicate Comte’s at practically every point.

    Similarly, Skinner’s radical behaviourism reproduces many of the themes of the founder of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham. Both view human beings as bundles of sensations rather than choosing agents. If anyone originated the idea of a surveillance society it was Bentham, whose Panopticon – an ideal prison designed to keep inmates under observation at all times – was intended as a prototype for many other institutions, including workhouses, factories, asylums, hospitals and schools. To ensure the Panopticon was maximally efficient Bentham proposed a regime of behaviour modification, with inmates strictly separated from one another, rewarded for good behaviour by being given more food and increased straw in their cells and punished with hard rations and gagging. All this would occur in the perpetual glare of lamps installed at strategic points throughout the penitentiary. Bentham’s model prison strikingly anticipates Skinner’s model of society.

    Understanding its roots in Comtean and Benthamite ideas helps understand the big-data utopia promoted by Google and Facebook. The common core is a type of Enlightenment scientism in which human beings are mechanical systems ruled by laws as universal and unvarying as those of physics. In common with countless others in these anxious times, Zuboff identifies the Enlightenment with the affirmation of individual autonomy, writing that surveillance capitalism runs counter to “the Enlightenment project” and “liberal ideals of freedom and dignity”. But Comte and Bentham, together with their unwitting disciples such as Skinner and Pentland, exemplify an illiberal tradition of Enlightenment thinking in which individual autonomy is dismissed as an obsolete fiction. What matters is collective welfare, and this is best achieved in a society governed by a scientific elite that re-engineers human beings by eradicating anything in them resembling an autonomous self.

    Zuboff maintains that this is a totalitarian project, and in this she is correct. The surveillance state that Xi Jinping is constructing, which she discusses in a short section on China, is the most advanced version of this project. Unlike authoritarian states in the past, Xi’s China does not confine itself to quashing opposition and leaving the rest of society alone. It aims to bind the entire population to its way of thinking and thereby ensure the permanence of the regime. In Zuboff’s neo-Marxian model, the driving force is capital accumulation. In Xi’s China, however, the preservation of power is more important. Lower economic growth only increases the need for universal monitoring. The Chinese surveillance state, which is more far-reaching than any in the West, can be expected to become even more invasive as the economy slows.

    This is no small point. It means that surveillance societies can develop wherever there is the necessary technology. They are not confined to market capitalism, and abolishing that economic system does not preclude a surveillance state. Zuboff compares the impact of surveillance capitalism with the devastating effects of industrial capitalism. Here she follows the lead of innumerable protestors, who believe the destruction of the natural world can be halted by socialism. But the biggest examples of environmental despoliation in modern times did not occur under the auspices of market capitalism. They happened in the course of the breakneck rush to industrialisation in the former Soviet Union and Mao’s China, where vast regions were laid to waste by pollution and soil erosion, river systems were disrupted by dams, forests ravaged and wildlife exterminated.

    The destruction of Lake Baikal and Mao’s disastrous war against sparrows were part of a much larger assault on the natural world. Environmental damage has continued on a large scale in both countries, though since the abandonment of central planning there have been some attempts at mitigating it. The point is that the assault on the natural world is no more peculiar to Western capitalism than is the surveillance state.

    Zuboff’s observations on the future are the weakest part of the book. She declares again and again that we can bring an end to universal surveillance if only we have the will. But who are “we”? As she admits, many people prioritise the benefits of the new media over the loss of autonomy. Some may dream of life without a smartphone, but few could tolerate living that way for long. More effective democratic government, Zuboff tells the reader, could rein in the excesses of the big data companies. Up to a point, certainly. But big companies are not the only threats. Criminal cartels, terrorist cults and tyrannical states also use new information technologies for malign purposes, and they cannot be controlled simply by legislating against them. There is no way back to a world without mass surveillance and information warfare.

    That does not mean the dream of a society ruled by an all-seeing elite will ever come to pass. The titans of big data are as delusional in their thinking as any ruling class in the past, and as divided among themselves. History’s contingencies and perennial human conflicts will consign their ugly utopia to the rubbish heap, like all its predecessors.

    John Gray’s books include “Seven Types of Atheism” (Allen Lane)

    The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight For a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
    Shoshana Zuboff
    Profile Books, 704pp, £25

    John Gray is the New Statesman’s lead book reviewer. His latest book is The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom.
    from just $2 per issue This article appears in the 08 February 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Broken Europe

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    The New Statesman

    February 7, 2019 at 10:53 am

    • Oh dear, most humans have no idea.


      February 7, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    • Capitalism, ambiguous as democracy.

      A unit is made of two parts, each unable to exist without the other so we cant say we are one. We or our lives, our societies are a slide gauge. There is no such thing as a capitalist but there is those who are more capitalist. Rule 101, for everything you gain, someone must lose. The socialism/communist part, the equity part is how the latter is spread.
      Gold is a good facsimile of this as the higher the carrot, the more impurity your find surrounding it. You wont notice though as the reaction continues and filters over time into obscurity. Find any concentrated capitalist, your find a train of filtered socialism.
      So the trick isnt to promote one over the other but to constrain the fringes at both ends. Only from this will balance and calm be found.


      February 7, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    • I shall be watching this today:

      Life on Benefits: Universal Credit?

      Watch ‘Life on Benefits: Universal Credit?’ on ITV on Thursday 7th February from 7.30pm.

      Andrew Coates

      February 7, 2019 at 4:52 pm

      • I don’t need to watch it.

        The story is always the same. People in difficulty with no savings, collateral or assets pushed into debt and rent arrears because of waiting periods and delays in assessment; people trying to make ends meet on inadequate social security failing to nourish themselves properly, struggling to heat their homes in winter, robbing Peter to pay Paul on a daily basis with hundreds of pounds in Council Tax payments stripped from an income never designed to meet such expenses; working and non-working citizens fallen into food poverty having to seek charitable help from food banks in order to avoid hunger; threadbare children; sick and disabled people driven into poverty with unbearable stress worsening their conditions and health; women not receiving money supposed to be used to feed and clothe their families because entitlements are paid into their partner’s bank account rather than going to them directly; people facing eviction and homelessness because they have fallen into debt with social and private landlords… the list of evils goes on and on and on but the tragedies and stories are always the same and directly attributed to the design and implementation of universal credit.

        If not for Brexit this scandal would have broken like a tidal wave and crushed the government responsible. A shameless and delusional government which still insists that another six or seven million people with receive entitlements by means of universal credit by 2023.

        This is a nightmare designed by humans which is beyond human imaginings.

        Frogmore Pritchard - President of the Society for Completely Different Reasons

        February 8, 2019 at 10:07 am


      Now they will not be referred. Instead they will be told to go to the Citizens Advice Bureau or similar agencies that may be able to refer them. This means further delay and some difficult journeys for people in outlying parts of the district.



      February 7, 2019 at 6:06 pm

  28. The tide has turned against universal credit. After googling like there was no tomorrow I cannot find one single favourable or supportive story about UC anywhere. Even the Tory party is full of doubters and critics now.

    Frogmore Pritchard - President of the Society for Completely Different Reasons

    February 7, 2019 at 5:44 pm

  29. ‘Universal credit worsened my mental health problems’

    Universal credit has had a detrimental effect on thousands with poor mental health



    February 7, 2019 at 5:58 pm

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