The psychologist Paul Verhaeghe once described the effects of neoliberal capitalism as having fostered a “relentless pressure to achieve”. I think this is a useful way to begin formulating a critique of our attitudes towards work and responsibility, especially given the recent and ongoing attacks poor and vulnerable non-workers in the United Kingdom.
Writing for the Guardian, Verhaeghe commented that the idea of a meritocracy in today’s economy has led many to “believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual”. In this way, he claims, the individual worker becomes a “perfectible individual” – someone’s whose worth can always be improved upon through hard work and self-discipline. Such an attitude means that many now also feel they “fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed” in their everyday working lives.