Tory rhetoric on poverty = Lies and Myths

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. 

Storify overview here.

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. 

Guest Blog: Zoe Williams – OurWelfareWorks

First published on www.ourwelfareworks.com this blog written by author and Guardian columnist Zoe Williams takes on the ‘Strivers V Scrounger’ myth, arguing that it has been rolled out time and time again, as a way of trying set people against each another to suit a vengeful political narrative about the financial crisis.

Political con artistry – the dark art of division

I know women who no longer work, even though their kids are at school, and they have the whole day. They’re supported by their banker husbands, so you can’t accuse them of being a burden on the state.

Nevertheless, when I think of all that money wasted on their education  – taxpayers’ money, ploughed into universities, into secondary and primary schools – I can’t help thinking that, as a nation, in this period of national near-emergency, we just can’t afford to carry these workshy leeches.

Actually, I don’t know anyone like that. I don’t know any bankers. I see some affluent people around the traps, in the day, without any kids, that could meet this stereotype. She plays into my prejudice against the moneyed, idle Mrs X.  But for precisely that reason, the prejudice emanates from the picture more strongly than the reversal-of-expectation, rich-people-are-also-lazy, perhaps-even-lazier-than-poor trope that I’m aiming for.

We’ve lived for so long in a period of growth that I’d forgotten how brazen, how unsophisticated, how jaw-dropping the attempts are, that aim to set people against one another when times are hard and it suits a vengeful political narrative.

Politicians, people in public life, upon whose integrity rests not simply their own reputation, but the reputation of Westminster, will tell you that we have a “benefit culture”, that the low-paid are subsiding the idle unemployed to live in houses better than they themselves can afford.

They’ll tell you that to keep benefits in line with inflation is “unsustainable” even while doing so has steadily driven down unemployment benefit, as a proportion of average income, since the Seventies (wages, most of the time, grow faster than inflation).

They’ll tell you that the unwaged are costing the money, when in fact only three per cent of the bill goes on unemployment, and most housing benefit claims come from people in work, caused not by renters themselves but by the impossible disparity between average rent and average income.

Osborne attempts not just to create a meaningless distinction, between strivers and shirkers (most strivers, obviously, are on benefits as well; most shirkers would love to be strivers, if only some idiot hadn’t broken the economy); the divide wouldn’t help him unless he could pit them against one another, blame the travails of the strivers on the low cunning of the shirkers.

Politicians take such delight when the polls bear out their fabricated prejudices, but they should no more publicly rejoice when people agree with them than a con artist should boast when they’ve parted someone else from their money. What remnants of credibility the political class has left, they are shredding with this dishonesty. People won’t swallow it forever.

You can keep up to date with Zoe via Twitter on @zoesqwilliams