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.

Guardian report.

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8 responses to “Scroungers versus People in Work- the government narrative.”

  1. Kavey says :

    Yes, there are benefits scroungers. Yes there are hard working people in work. But of course, the reality is that some people in work are lazy, unpleasant bastards screwing the system for all they can get (the kind that lie about injuries after accidents or about the value of items stolen in a burglary because insurance companies “can afford it”) and many people on benefits long to be work, if they could they absolutely would.
    My ideal solution would be to raise benefits much higher but to do a better job of giving them only to those who truly need them.
    It’s not a myth that there are people on benefits who could and should work, I know some personally, know their situations well enough to really know, and you probably do too. They are the ones who give all people on benefits a bad name, which is very unfair.
    In my dream world, the smaller group who qualify could then get decent living wage level of benefits and the rest would have to learn how to work hard, even if they don’t like their jobs, their managers, or they think the shitty job is below them. Whatever.
    We need to do a better job of supporting those in our society who really need our help rather than closing our eyes and throwing what welfare budget we have in the wind so that those who do need it have to scrabble on the ground, sharing it with those who don’t but grab it anyway.

  2. overhere1 says :

    Thanks for comment. There are people who work the system as you say but they should not be highlighted at the expense of those who are genuinely struggling.

    • Kavey says :

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but the trouble is that this subset raise hackles, and make it harder for people to remember the importance of welfare support for those who genuinely can’t work. It might be the wrong thing to say, but I think addressing it rather than sweeping it beneath carpet would do a lot to help those who begrudge welfare to feel differently. I think welfare is incredibly important. I have friends and family who would not have survived without it, because of severe disability, because of injury leading to work issues, because of mental illness or just because they lost their job. So I fully understand that most people on benefit are there because they need to be.
      My point was that, if we could address the category who shouldn’t be on it, not only would there be more money to pay higher benefits to those who need them, it would also, I think, help more people to get behind the welfare state more strongly, and perhaps we could even raise the amount we spend, as a country. I don’t know. Those are my thoughts.

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