In yesterday’s post I wondered whether the coming austerities will make us a more selfish or selfless society. I’ve just noticed an article on the Huffington Post (with a coincidentally similar title to the one I used) that draws a depressing conclusion.
This week’s British Social Attitudes Survey is a blow for the left. 54% of respondents think employment benefits are too high, 63% blame parents for child poverty and fewer people are willing to give up their own hard-earned cash to reduce the income gap. People appear to be becoming more individualistic. As Penny Young, the Chief Executive of the National Centre for Social Research, says, ‘In a time of economic austerity and social unrest, the big question coming out of this year’s report is whether we really are in it together, or just in it for ourselves?’
Astonishing that such attitudes would flourish at a time when all too many of us could get a sharp lesson at any time as to whether £67.50 a week is over-generous. Like turkeys queueing up to denounce the “war on Christmas” that they read about in the Daily Express.
As the author of the article points out, it’s not entirely unsurprising given the right-wing propaganda emerging out of the government and the tabloids.
[The government’s] emphasis on individual blame (e.g. ‘welfare scroungers’ or ‘greedy public sector workers’) as a means of building public support for austerity has had the effect of damaging social ties and made it harder to persuade people to work together to tackle social problems. In this sense, the Government’s own rhetoric is destroying the ground on which a Big Society should be built.
To get an idea of the rhetoric she mentions, take a look at this article by Nadine Dorries MP – aka the Poundshop Sarah Palin (scroll halfway down the page to find the article).
The pain is being heaped on hard-working families. Deep spending cuts will have to continue for another six years. Middle income households are seeing their tax credits frozen.
Families’ average incomes are set to plunge by about £2,700 over this year and next.
But instead of taking their quota of the misery, the long-term unemployed are being allowed to escape the austerity drive, and funds the country does not have are being squandered on a childcare policy nobody has asked for.
The sums involved are not particularly vast. Jobseeker’s Allowance is to increase from £67.50 a week to £71, which few would begrudge those genuinely searching for work.
It is what the move implies for the army of people who do not want to find work that is cause for most concern: that they deserve preferential treatment over those who work hard for a living.
There are almost a million people in this country who are classed as ‘long-term unemployed’, who have not done a day’s work in more than a year.
All this bile at a time when unemployment rates have soared, and being on the dole for a year is no indicator that you’re just not trying – despite Dorries’ magic crystal power for telling the difference between the willingly and unwillingly unemployed. Though at the moment both are being used as free labour for Tesco.
Last night’s BBC Question Time also discussed the social attitudes survey. I found myself watching with increasing irritation as Judge Constance Briscoe launched into a spectacularly ignorant rant about how “we spend far too much time subsidising people who really don’t want to work”. Fortunately Mehdi Hassan was on hand to talk some sense, pointing out that there are 5 applicants for every job, commenting “I don’t know how to fit 5 people into one job” and asking, “How many people in the survey were told that it’s £67.50 a week?”
I really must stop watching that show. There must be something on TV that’s more civilised and less likely to make me angry. Bear baiting, maybe?
It seems that for all too many in politics and the media, we really aren’t all in it together.