Thursday, 6 September 2012

What's the difference between 1930s Germany and modern-day Britain?

Before we start I would like to point out that I am not a historian and I am not a sociologist and as such I have done my best to present the information here as I understand it. With that out of the way, I'll start with an overview of how disabled people were treated in Germany during WWII.

1930s Germany

A poster about how expensive disabled people are.
The Aktion T4 programme ran in Germany from 1939 to 1945. In the 1920s  Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding, part of an extreme eugenics movement, advocated killing those who were judged to have "life unworthy of life."  In the 1930s there were huge cuts to state institutions causing overcrowding and Nazi propaganda emphasised the cost of caring for mentally ill and disabled people. In 1939 parents of disabled child Gerhard Kretschmar wrote to Hitler to ask him to permit their child to be killed. Hitler agreed and immediately set up a committee whose job was to organise more such murders - Aktion T4. When the war started parents were told that their mentally ill and physically disabled children were being sent to special treatments centres. In fact they were murdered without the knowledge of the parents. The programme was soon extended to adults, starting in Poland then in Germany. Throughout the programme Hitler knew that there would be huge opposition to such killing and so he never put his orders in writing. The one exception was a secret letter written to authorise the formation of the Aktion T4 programme, mainly because his justice minister would not cooperate without one. The programme operated in secrecy until it was too late for most people. Under the programme at least 200,000 disabled people were murdered over six years, either through lethal medication, starvation or gas chambers.

Modern Britain

Now we jump forward to Britain today. The events I describe in the paragraph above are unthinkable. No government minister, no tabloid newspaper, no man in the street would advocate such things, right?

That's not quite true though. Most of the pieces are in place. We have propaganda pushing the idea that sick and disabled people are scroungers, workshy, lazy. This propaganda is coming from government ministers, their special advisers, and tabloids like the Daily Express, The Sun, the Daily Mail. Even broadsheets like the Times and the Telegraph have contributed. Such propaganda has even been raised by MPs in the Work and Pensions Select Committee and ministers told to stop. The propaganda is working too, with hate crimes against disabled people up in vast numbers.

We have many people fighting to legalise assisted suicide, inadvertently promoting the idea that life for some people is not worth living. Sure, we're only asking for voluntary euthanasia, but what other factors might be in play? Pressure to stop being a burden, financial problems, cuts to care all contribute to a desire for death. If euthanasia becomes legal what is to stop people from being pushed to kill themselves? It may be overt or it may be through suggestion and through making their lives hell. (This is more my fear of how it could go wrong than any judgement on my part for or against euthanasia.)

We have cuts to local authority care budgets, starting in Worcestershire, that mean anyone whose care costs more than sending them to an institution will lose some care. The politicians argue that it's a choice because people can choose to move to a care home or to cut some of their care provision. But what to cut? Eating? Washing? Dressing? Using a toilet? We have already seen people lose in court after fighting to not have to wear a nappy. Adults are expected to soil themselves rather than get help to use a toilet. We have also seen the loss of the independent living fund. The net result is loss of care or institutionalising people. Most care homes are run by private companies and neglect does not seem uncommon. I think more abuse and neglect is likely especially when companies are cutting costs because they have underquoted better homes.

We have sick and disabled people being  judged as fit to work and told to claim job seeker's allowance and look for work, and we have even more seriously sick and disabled people being placed in the Work Related Activity Group. Both groups are subject to The Work Programme where they are expected to undertake unpaid work experience for large companies, and government plans are to make such work placements of unlimited duration. Work makes you free.

Under these plans anyone who is seen to not be cooperating with The Work Programme and other work related activities will see their benefit income slashed. Those on Job Seeker's Allowance can have their entire allowance removed entirely for weeks even six months. Those on Employment Support Allowance (e.g. too sick to work) will see three quarters of their allowance removed. Of course anyone who has been judged as fit to work or has been placed in the WRAG is expected to be capable of going on work placements even if their assessment was wrong and they are waiting a year for an appeal, and even if people are seriously harmed by trying to work. The result is that those who don't destroy themselves trying to find jobs that don't exist or going to endless work placements will instead not be able to afford food, clothes, fuel bills, rent and more. Many will be able to use food banks but some will not be physically able to get to them and food banks rely on charity from other people who are struggling too.

The result

Is it such a large step for disabled people to be dying? No. It's already  happening. Reports in April claimed that 1,100 people had already died after being placed in the work related activity group. That's more than thirty people a week. This is what Chris Grayling calls "Tough love."

Some government ministers make policy decisions without thinking about the consequences of what will happen in practice. Others are fully aware of what will happen and just don't care. Either way, they are often covered by claiming that their policy in itself does not harm people, even though the flaws with implementation allow people to fall through the net and come to harm. Government ignore evidence. They dismiss statistics, they blame the previous government, they claim that processes are being sorted out now, they claim that any harm is the fault of the sick or disabled or unemployed individual. The Government are hiding behind Atos and A4e who are "just carrying out orders" but they way they carry out those orders makes things even worse. Government ministers have the same attitude as many other people in power - they can say "make it happen" and the minions do the murdering.

In 1930s Germany the government themselves ordered the rounding up and the killing of disabled people. In modern-day Britain the government can claim that it is not their fault, even that it should not happen, but private companies and the chasm of bureaucracy between various government departments are what kill people. Starvation, homelessness and neglect are what will kill people. The implementation is different but the outcome is the same.

Further Reading

Godwin’s law must die [A Latent Existence]
Action T4 [Wikipedia]
Disabled benefits claimants face £71 a week fines for breaching work plan [The Guardian]
32 die a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit [Mirror]
Early day motion 295 [Parliament]
Work-or-starve plans for seriously ill welfare claimants might backfire [Eklesia]
Past Caring? [We are Spartacus]


  1. As someone now diagnosed Autistic, I was pushed out of jobs without consideration of possible disability. So the 1930's are well back.

  2. Keep calm and carry on..Nothing to see here! When and if the results of the Work Programme are ever produced(promised in the Autumn,which now starts in November)if the figures are not massaged, it will be shown to be an utter failure,including ATOS,will those that have shoved this through fall on the sword? Probably not as they have already jumped ship and are distancing themselves,lets not forget them...

  3. Wow---this is indeed quite freightening.
    The measure of any society ought be the care of the orphan, the widow, and the aliens in our midst.
    The death of one ought be consequence enough to awaken a nation on the edge.
    The Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah spoke so clearly
    --"For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever."
    Jeremiah 7:5-7
    thanks for the enlightening post, John

  4. The ancients used to tell their people "if you want to ensure the crops grow this year, you must make a blood sacrifice to the gods". The modern civilised capitalist version is - "if you want economic prosperity, you must sacrifice your drains on society - your useless eaters, your malingerers, your lazy, feckless benefit scrounging scum, by stripping them of all their dignity and the pittance they get by on and leave them to become destitute, freeze to death in the streets and starve.

    The elderly and infirm, the unemployed and the sick and disabled offered up as a blood sacrifice to the capitalist god Mammon, with the full support of the capitalist right-wing media, the red, yellow and blue Tories and the rabid, ignorant, gullible, short-sighted propagandised, brainwashed electorate, who still haven't realised who their real enemy is and what they have planned for them.

  5. This piece is even more relevant today, as it's now being considered feasible to force pensioners to "work" in the community or have their pensions cut, as well. This is supposedly to stop old people being a "burden on society" - I kid you not. I can't find enough words to denounce this evil. Seeing this as part of The Plan - as you describe above - is becoming more and more real to me.

  6. The provincial Liberal government in Ontario has hired a social assistance review commission to find fixes for an inefficient welfare and disability programs that do not work, discourage people from taking jobs, as well as fail to cover basic needs.

    This report just came out, which can be reviewed here:

    Many of the changes they are suggesting are similar to what is happening to you folks in Great Britain. People here are scared to death. We have a minority Liberal Government, whose leader just decided to prorogue the provincial legislature after yet another massive spending scandal, and our Conservatives licking themselves in the chops ready to make these cuts further and deeper.

    Please provide some comment as to how our province can fight this. They blame the deficit, but again, anybody with a mere accounting course or business background knows our governments are lying to us.

    I see way too many signs of a push towards "eliminating" so called useless eaters, malingerers, persons with disabilities and so forth, in Ontario.

  7. this is horrific to think that our government is doing this, how is it that we a "civilized" nation can have a government that will allow this or even create this environment. I used to work with disabled people as a carer and i gave as i had enough of all the hassles from bureaucracy