Conscious raising, facts and direct action needed to challenge benefit stigmatising…

Before those cut supporters get too excited about the UK Polling Report’s analysis of a recent YouGov polling into benefit cuts, there are a number of considerations we have to factor in when assessing the findings. As a summary, the main findings are as followed:

  • “73% of respondents supported the idea of making the long-term unemployed do compulsory work placements or risk losing benefits
  • 66% supported withdrawing job seekers allowance from people who turn down job offers or interviews
  • 69% supported more stringent testing of people claiming disability living allowance
  • 68% supported capping housing benefit at £400 a week, “even if this means people are forced to move house if they live in an area where the rent is high”
  • 31% thought the government was cutting benefits too much, but 58% either thought the balance was right (34%) or would support even larger cuts to benefits (24%)”
  • Not part of this study, but still relevant is “YouGov found people already perceived the Labour party as being closest to the trade unions, benefit claimants and immigrants”

This last finding is interesting considering the measures that Labour have introduced over the last decade and a bit, especially since they initiated many of the polices for which the coalition are carrying on (with more vigour) – such as ESA. It is worrying, therefore, that Labour are seen in this way. Especially considering their relatively recent poor relationship and respect for trade unions, their rough rhetoric regarding immigration and their considerable support for many of the most threatening aspects of this government’s benefit proposals (the main difference between the Tories and Labour is that the latter wants to make everything occur at a later stage and/or at a slower rate – housing benefit is a case in point here).

This support for the benefit cuts, which are arguably one of the worst, if not the worst, things this government is doing, is worrying. It illustrates the limitations regarding mass support for opposition to the benefit cuts, which are set to be £28bn of the £81bn – hardly fair, given that we spent over a trillion on the bank bailouts and they are expected to only fork out £2.5bn on a bank levy (and they still spit out their dummy and threaten to go abroad). For me, there are a number of reasons for why these results are as they are:

  1. The media is a major player in scapegoating the atypical, playing on emotions and ignoring facts.
  2. The same can be said for the Tories, Labour and now, the LibDems. They all play on atypical examples to justify controversial policies.
  3. The Labour party, as the main opposition, are essential to the support – there is no alternative presented from the mainstream channels (obviously the Green Party, but we need for a mainstream party such as Labour to also take such a stand, especially within the existing FPTP system). Labour’s introduction of schemes such as ESA and its acceptance of work equating self-worth, illustrates the challenges we have when removing the misconceptions regarding benefits.
  4. There is a failure in communicating the facts when it comes to welfare. The widely £5bn benefit fraud, was actually £1.5bn, for example. There are claims that welfare has ballooned, and it needs to be cut. Again, there is no consideration of the facts, as welfare has remained stable, and actually requires more spending. This is especially true considering the job loses, forcing people to take up work, and arguably breaking the minimum wage requirements.

So what is required?

There is a need for conscious raising and information campaigns to promote the facts; influencing direct action and vocal mass demonstrations. There needs to be a change in people’s perception regarding the importance of work for self-definition and self-determination. As I said the other day, this view that work is you, is a product of capitalism. It is also a consequence of Marx and many Marxist conceptions of self-worth and alienation. Work is important, but it shouldn’t be seen as essential for freedom and self-liberation. Measures such as shorter hour weeks, a living wage, and spread out work so we no longer ‘need’ unemployment, are essential in order to move away from this view that those who don’t work are some how immoral and have no self-worth. Facts and changes in consciousness are needed. Of course, structural and economic changes are also important; a combintiaton will help combat these benefit cuts and will provide mass support for direct action.


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