Learned helplessness it is not
There’s an interesting post on Sqwawkbox about a bogus psychological test that is being forced on benefit claimants under the risk of benefit sanctions. Skwalker1964 mentions Seligman’s concept of learned helplessness. From Wikipedia:
a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation
Learned helplessness means that you can only take so much before you give up. Jobcentre does not induce learned helplessness. The absence of control is absolutely real and putting a fancy psychological tag on it is misleading and does not change the situation. Jobcentre is the problem here; all you can do is sit tight and hope your benefit won’t be sanctioned:
- you want to retrain – Jobcentre does not allow you to study full time because you would not able to look for a job full time even though there are no jobs in your field within a commuting distance. The fact that a new career path would ensure you are in employment for the next two decades does not matter. Let’s think short-term instead.
- you want to be an unpaid intern to get work experience – no money to pay for the commute and Jobcentre says it will stop your benefit as you are not able to look for a job full time (at the same time Workfare is good)
- you want to be self-employed – benefits stop – too much risk and no money to survive in the meantime – no savings
- you want to move to another city to be closer to jobs in your field – no money for the move, no council house because you’re new to the area and have no links with it, no private let because they don’t want DSS
- your sign on is tomorrow but you’ve just received an invite to a job interview at the same time; it’s after 4.30 so you cannot inform Jobcentre that you will miss your appointment – you choose to sign on as risking a sanction is just too dangerous – the chances of you getting a job are slim whereas you will need to eat for the next four weeks; the employer thinks you are not flexible and will not arrange a different date for the interview
- you want to take a short-term job to get experience and make the unemployment gap smaller – makes no financial sense: first you have to get off the benefits and survive the first month with no income and then, if you fail to find another job which is very likely, you have to lodge another claim and wait for the money to come through. In the meantime, you have no money to live on AND have to repay the loan you took to make it through the first month of your short-term job
It gets worse if you are disabled. They keep putting me in the work-related activity group. My doctors said that at the moment there is no cure for me. We tried it all and it didn’t work. In the meantime, I am left to suffer and jump through the hoops they put up for me just for the sheer joy of them being able to say that so many more people were put in the Work Programme. That the programme has no economic viability is beside the point – they are doing something and preventing me from contracting learned helplessness.
The dogs in the Seligman’s experiments finally did get an opportunity to escape the electric shocks but did not notice it.
Benefit claimants only have the choice between smaller and bigger shocks – poverty vs no income whatsoever. Perhaps, in the long run, enduring the bigger shocks does make sense (you will suffer for a few months or years but then you will live happily ever after). However, nobody can guarantee it and choosing the smaller shocks makes sense on a logical and emotional levels alike.
It might look like you are a workshy scrounger but you only care about your basic survival. There is absolutely nothing you can do unless your family is able to and wants to support you financially. For many people this is not the case for a variety of reasons (broken family relationships, lack of money in the family, death).
You cannot have control over your life unless you have the money to do so. Once you have to rely entirely on what the state has to offer, you are up the creek. Of course, our millionaires’ Cabinet will never understand it so it’s easier to come up with one gimmick after another to put the blame squarely on our shoulders.