What to do in the face of this is not at all clear, and I tend to feel dispirited and overwhelmed whenever I think about it. However, there is an added complexity that makes our task harder but that we simply cannot omit: Lots of the things that are under attack, and that for moral and political reasons we are put into a position of defending, have a lot of really serious problems. For example -- and here is the "Lookee here!" part of this post -- check out this useful article on welfare systems in Canada by Wendy Chan, co-author of a great little book on the impacts of the earlier phase of neoliberal transformation on welfare and welfare recipients in Canada.
The policing of social assistance in Canada is not new. Individuals, particularly women who rely on the state for support, have long found themselves under constant scrutiny by both state officials and the public over their eligibility and entitlement for access to welfare benefits ... basic survival needs such as food, medical supplies, and housing often cannot be met ... the surveillance of welfare has become increasingly invasive ... there is the sheer lack of privacy as a welfare claimant. The requirement to provide documentation of every aspect of their lives to caseworkers, the home visits by state agents, the use of technology to track recipients and their information, and the invitation for non-state agents (present/current boyfriends and spouses, landlords, neighbours) to participate in the surveillance project through the use of fraud hotlines demonstrates the unprecedented levels of surveillance endured by claimants.
While the policing of welfare fraud has always been a part of the welfare system, what has changed in recent times is the intensity with which welfare jurisdictions are pursuing the problem of fraud, and the punitive treatment of individuals prosecuted for welfare fraud. The increased surveillance and criminalization of welfare recipients has shifted the image of welfare. Now, poverty, welfare and crime are inextricably linked such that to be poor is to be culpable and the category of “undeserving” poor has expanded dramatically
While the article talks about the ways that this has become unquestionably worse since neoliberalism hit Canada hard in the mid-1990s, it also acknowledges that things like oppressive moral regulation, especially of women, and inadequate amounts have always been features of welfare. Though we often forget it now, even at its height, there were important critiques of welfare state practices from feminists and from the left.
So the question is, how do we defend against the coming attacks while pushing not for a return to a past that was pretty awful and oppressive anyway and that we probably couldn't replicate if we wanted to, but for a much more thoroughly just and liberatory transformation? Especially given our weakness in this moment?