The tough on poverty, tough on the causes of poverty rhetoric adopted by the Tory led government has successfully perpetuated untruths about those in poverty and despite being challenged by many on the Left has framed a perception of idleness for those claiming benefits.
The behaviour of our Tory led government is down right shameful, but in reality, any challenge to it is put down to the Left attacking the Right, and the government has continued to perpetuate these lies aided and abetted by its right wing press.
It is not just the voices of the Left that seem to have been ignored by our current government. Churches from all four nations of the UK, representing 1 million people published a major report in February that showed how evidence and statistics had been misused, misrepresented and manipulated to create myths that blamed and stigmatised the most vulnerable in our society.
The report, entitled ‘The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty‘ confronted some of the most common myths told about people who are in poverty or in receipt of benefits, and highlights some of the most abused statistics.
13 million people including 3.6 million children live in poverty in the UK today. The report showed how evidence and statistics had been misused, misrepresented and manipulated to create myths that blame and stigmatise those most vulnerable in society. The report disputed many myths and figures quoted in programmes such as ‘Troubled Families’ which it stated “misused for political purposes and sells a story of dysfunctional, anti-social families costing the nation a fortune; a story which makes the existence of poverty far more acceptable to those who are not affected”. Despite the report being sent to every MP and MEP, the government has continued with its blame game.
In a letter sent yesterday to David Cameron, the coalition of churches ask that as prime minister and Leader of the Conservative Party, he ensures that the record is put straight, and that statistics are no longer manipulated in a way which stigmatises the poorest in our society. It asks him to ensure that government ministers cease to say untrue things about those in poverty.
The letter also cites three instances in April where government ministers made statements which were demonstrably untrue. The common thread between these statements was that, in support of the Government’s welfare reforms, benefit claimants were portrayed in a negative light. The letter gives a detailed explanation of the untruths and highlights a tiny proportion of the damaging, stigmatising and misleading news coverage prompted by the statements.
The coalition of churches and charities argue that this apparent pattern of misleading statements and occasional straightforward untruths cannot continue. Saying untrue things which unjustly present sick and disabled people as dishonest and lazy, cannot be acceptable if we are to live in a decent society.
Our society is not broken…the system is. And blaming those who are victims of this broken system rather than attempting to mend it is shameful.
I was pleased to read Ed’s speech on welfare which recognised that the system needed reform but with a focus on the genuine cost of welfare rather than buying into government rhetoric.
“If we are going to turn our economy around, protect our NHS, and build a stronger country, we will have to be laser-focused on how we spend every single pound. Social security spending, vital as it is, cannot be exempt from that discipline.
“So we will reduce the cost of failure in the social security system, including the cost of long-term worklessness and the cost of housing benefit.”
Ed also talked about putting decent values at the heart of the system and about controlling spending on social security and how these were not conflicting priorities. His reference to low pay, the need for a living wage, a need for investment in housing and a commitment to a compulsory youth job guarantee.
As Mark Ferguson says, “Ed is getting tough on welfare spending, but he isn’t getting tough on those who struggle to survive on welfare thanks to persistent government failure”.
An admission of mistakes – yes but also a recognition that he’s going to have to make big changes to the British economy to right the structural wrongs that have left too many languishing in dole queues, stuck in poor quality and expensive housing and trapped in poverty.