So, the right-wing press are agog at the preposterous ailments of those claiming incapacity benefit, now to be replaced, much as class and poverty were by the 'underclass' and 'social exclusion', with an 'employment allowance'. Depression, headaches, leprosy - all clear symptoms of nothing more than an unmanly aversion to a good, honest 40 hours a week of data entry. I am minded to declare a certain personal interest in this issue. I claimed incapacity benefit for around a year because of Crohn's disease. Now this isn't something that makes one totally physically immobile, it doesn't stop you being able to read, walk, go up and down stairs and what have you, but it is mostly unpleasant, occasionally debilitating and generally somewhat unwholesome. A reason for claiming over this is that the other option is the delightfully named Jobseekers' Allowance: a late-Major but notably proto-Blairite coinage, where the unemployed are legally perpetually on their Tebbittian bicycles, the Seekers rather than those who are merely jobless or indeed, not defining themselves at all with reference to the aforementioned Stakhanovite data entering. Accordingly, the new benefit will wipe out the very word 'incapacity' - Gordon Brown's much promised presbyterian 'vision' now turns out to be the abolition of illness itself.
Another intriguing element of this is that GPs, who have to approve all incapacity applications, and are usually seen as cold, stern, rather unnverving but undoubted Pillars of the Community have to become in the popular imagination whimsical, oversympathetic types willing to grant any malingerer their 80 quid a week. I was struck off incapacity after an being questioned at a jobcentre examination about my physical abilities: frequent pain and occasional severe bowel-based unseemliness was one thing, but the questions - can you walk up the stairs (yes) do you stay in all day and watch TV (no) were all geared to get me seeking once again. Of course, once seeking one must be available and looking for work at all times; not an easy thing when one spends the first three hours after waking mostly in the toilet. Imminently I have the joy of a 'motivational course' awaiting in order to force me into work through sheer tedium. Take a sickie from this 'Jobseeker Mandatory Activity' and you lose a week's benefit.
I'm mentioning these personal gripes with no particular reservations, not seeing why these sort of details are somehow working against the struggle and reading Althusser in a gentrified garret not. Nonetheless the war on the sick is a much, much wider phenomenon than my own version of it would imply. As Mark has frequently pointed out, mental illness has risen exponentially among the young, the grind of British work and 'play' produces predictable casualties, and some (although undoubtedly a minority of those claiming IB) quite reasonably just want to avoid work altogether. Neoliberalism has no interest in acknowledging its own byproducts. The incapacitated are usually put in the deserving poor bracket, and even that now seems a remnant of wet pre-79 humanism. Smear the bastards. They're not ill, they're bloody shirkers with headaches! Malingering depressives! Workshy schizophrenics! And, it would seem, layabout lepers.