Psycho-coercion and workfare: fighting back

This talk by Lynne Friedli of Boycott Workfare was given to an SUWN public meeting in Dundee on 7 June. You can watch it here on youtube.

Lynne is a researcher with a special interest in mental health and social justice. She wrote: ‘I’m going to talk about the rise of psychological fundamentalism and what it means for people claiming benefits.

‘My main theme is psycho- coercion in workfare: the use of psychological interventions to discipline and punish claimants (for example mandatory training, psychological referral, psychometric testing , psycho-sanctioning e.g. for lack of motivation). But I’m also interested in thinking about psychology’s role in imposing the work ethic. The contribution of psychology to moral mantras of ‘work is good for you’ and the ‘work cure’ and the similarities in psychological coercion experienced by both claimants and workers, especially precarious workers, ‘negotiating the border zone between work and welfare’. As unemployment has become ‘job seeking’ – so job seeking – the pursuit of ‘employability’ – has become a career in itself. One that is supervised, scrutinised and managed by the private contractors of the welfare to work industry and also heavily promoted by public health. What is also clear is how narratives of institutional psychology are being used to undermine resistance to work and the legitimacy of ‘refusal to work’. So, the use of psychology in state attacks – economic and ideological – on refusal to work.

‘These developments – the rise of psychological conditionality, the creeping merger of health and employment, permitting the state to set therapeutic goals – raise profound ethical and human rights issues. Using examples of direct action in England by groups like Boycott Workfare, Recovery in the Bin, Mental Health Resistance Network and Disabled People Against Cuts, I hope we can discuss what fighting psycho-coercion means for political struggle. How we can escalate resistance to psycho-coercion in struggles around workfare, but also in the fight for better pay & conditions, as well as in the resurgence of anti work politics.’

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