It sometimes feels like there’s no shortage of discussion about the unfairness of the government’s attacks on “benefits scroungers” on the interwebs, but when the problem will persist quite as enduringly and damagingly as this one perhaps that’s not surprising, and to be encouraged.
Of course, it’s not all the Tories’ fault. As a number of recent articles, such as those by Owen Jones and the Stumbling and Mumbling blog, have highlighted, Labour are also keen to enter the fray in battling this “evil” which haunts our land.
The thing is, this particular brand of government policy – the kind which doesn’t seem to take a position on the sweetheart deals that effectively let big corporations avoid paying huge tax bills, while cutting off support to thousands of terminally ill individuals – doesn’t even make sense on an ideological level.
The fury against “benefits scroungers” and work-shy layabouts supposedly milking the system purports to be concerned with our vital and scarce resources being unjustly drained from our troubled coffers. But there are far more legitimate benefits going unclaimed than there are illegitimate funds being lost to fraud, and both numbers are dwarfed by the costs of tax-avoidance.
If people’s outrage was solely or primarily motivated by economic concern, there wouldn’t be nearly as much focus and emphasis on the idea of the undeserving benefits claimant as there is, nor would the stereotype be so widespread.
The fact is, there are some people it’s just easier to feel contempt for.
You don’t need to be particularly choosy in selecting a tabloid to let fall open at random if you want a fair chance of reading something about people who don’t work as hard as you but get nicer stuff than you do because of Britain’s broken entitlements programme. And yet, the average available job in this country currently has twenty-three different people trying to get it.
The number of job-hunters looking for work includes the 67,000 public sector workers who lost their jobs in a three-month period last year. People who clearly were willing and able to do work that the government considers useful and important, but who now find that option no longer available to them.
The common “benefits scroungers” generalisation is a corrosive one, when you take any kind of detailed look at the demographics of people currently out of work. The idea that these people are a significant cause of the country’s problems, rather than unemployment being a symptom of much more complex issues, is laughable.
But the viscerally infuriating and frightening image of some chavvy youth with a hoody and a threatening regional accent, who just wants free hand-outs to spend on booze and wouldn’t know a work ethic if it slapped him in the face, is one that it’s hard to completely abandon.
And “evil” is not a word I can recall being applied to, say, tax-evading or -avoiding corporate activity, by any prominent politician.