Scroungers versus People in Work- the government narrative.
Yesterday I posted that I was angry about a number of things going on and being debated in the UK. My premise is that so many of the fundamental debates we should be having are being curtailed because of narratives that are scripted by those in power and accepted by the mainstream media. Nothing astounding I know but maybe needs revisiting in the light of the current turmoil caused by the Savile revelations.
The example I used in my previous post was that of the debate on whether prisoners should have the vote. This debate was sparked by a ECHR ruling that the British Government should not impose a blanket ban on prisoners having the vote. This debate has been framed throughout as: “should all prisoners have the vote.” Anyone who has dared suggest that blanket bans are never right, or who suggest that having the vote may, for some prisoners, be part of their rehabilitation has been met by silence or a dazed look. My post on this here.
My biggest cause of anger is the “debate” in mainstream media over Welfare Benefits.
With the complicity of much of the press, the government has set up the following two groups of actors:
People on benefits (scroungers),
People in work are ( hardworking.)
The scenario is this: these two groups are distinct tribes. They never move from one group to the other. The former group are undeserving and should not have too many children nor have life style choices. The latter, it is implied, do not claim benefits but struggle, always in a moral way, to raise their families in a responsible way.
Well the government do not like the Scroungers. They should become People In Work. The reasons for them relying on benefit are swept aside, they must be punished. In particular:
“No one on benefit should be better off than someone in work.”
This message is so clear isn’t it? And the media provide examples of Scroungers who are much better off on benefits. Mainly because of Housing Benefits. Oh, and those folk who claim to be disabled and not fit for work. We all know one of those….
So how do we punish these scroungers and ensure that they do not receive more than those in work? Why, we reduce benefits of course.
This is what is being debated. The way it is framed; if you suggest that there is unfairness, discrimination, poverty you are labelled as a supporter of The Scrounger.
The only way this scenario works though is if you ignore the fact that 1) some People in Work, however hardworking, become redundant (what a horrible word) and need to claim benefits and 2) that many People in Work rely on benefits to make ends meet. Or to put it another way; some People in Work rely on benefits to subsidise poor pay and unreasonable rents.
But the narrative the government puts forward remains strong, appealing as it does to a sense of ” fairness” (if you accept the scenario) and the complicity of much of the press.
So how do we change things. My tactic of shouting at the radio has proved fruitless so far. I despair. I give up. I am angry in a fruitless way.
We have to find a way to change the scenario, change the narrative. We ask different questions, we challenge the scenarios set. But so far this is not getting through. The problem for the government should be that it is not a question of cutting benefits per se but reducing the number of people in work who rely on benefit…
My answer would be: introduce a living wage and rent control. But that doesn’t fit into the scenario. That would mean big government interfering with business. So we don’t discuss this. End of.
And, next week is Living Wage week. If enough of us talk about it, perhaps we can make it part of the narrative…..
See also : KPMG report on low pay.