Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Class war is the real agenda behind the "war on scroungers"

Yet again, the papers are positively foaming at the mouth about "scroungers." Across the tabloid spectrum, hate and loathing is pointed squarely at Gary Bateman and Joanne Shepherd, who have 12 kids and no job.

The Sun, as ever, has led the way. It tells us how the "idle benefit scrounger" - "idle" being an entirely recundant word given the definition of "benefit scrounger," but never mind - has "bragged" that they have enough children to form a football team. The "shameless" pair have also "whined" for others to mind their own business.

The Sun, of course, has called the BBC's reporting "a mockery of impartial journalism."

Returning to the story, let's have a look at those benefits. The paper demands that people be outraged at "the more than £30,000 a year they claim from the State." Let's view this in some perspective.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (PDF), "a single person in the UK needs to earn at least £14,400 a year before tax in 2010, to afford a basic but acceptable standard of living." However, "a couple with two children needs £29,200." The problem is that we're not talking about a single person or even a childless couple. They have 11 children and another on the way.

Likewise, the "free five-bedroom house" only sounds outrageous out-of-context. The £1,200 a month rent comes off their £30,000, leaving them £15,600 a year to feed 11 dependants - who are, of course, innocent of any "scrounging." And, again, it's five bedrooms between thirteen people. Hardly "spacious."

This dross comes as the Scum launches its campaign to "beat benefit cheats."

As Where's the Benefit? points out;
Despite the fact that the government has a hotline for reporting benefit fraud, The Sun have felt the need to set up their own. If you're thinking of shopping someone you suspect is a benefit cheat it's worth noting that the government number is an 0800 one so the call is free. The Sun's number is an 020 7 one so if you live in London you'll get charged the local call rate, if you live elsewhere in the UK you'll be charged a national call rate. I figure if you're in the business of reporting people for benefit fraud because you think their TV is too big you're probably keen to know what the call costs.
She now feels the need to "nail my curtains to the wall so I don't get seen typing this and reported to The Sun for being a scrounger who's wasting hardworking Sun readers' money on owning a crappy old computer."

Which, of course, is what it's all about. Gary Bateman and Joan Shepherd are extreme cases - multitudinous children is not the norm for welfare claimants, as any halfway intelligent person should know already.

In fact, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation point out the following;
Working-age people on benefits remain well below the minimum income standard. Even though benefit rises in April 2009 exceeded the published inflation rate at the time, they were similar to the rise in the cost of a minimum household budget. This means that people on benefits have got no closer to reaching an acceptable living standard.
The point of sensational stories about "scroungers" is to mask this.

In many cases, such as "the shameless benefits cheat who was caught secretly dancing while fraudulently claiming £20,000 in disability benefits," the stories are deliberate misinformation. In this case, "he spent years virtually crippled with arthritis before an operation finally enabled him to have an active life."

The judge in this case had a compassion and sense of reason lacking in the tabloid media;
You learned to live frugally and contentedly, going out rarely, until the dancing came into your life, which seemed to transform your joie de vivre. There is absolutely no suggestion you are a shirker who has avoided work. It is agreed that the sad fact is you were afflicted by arthritis from as young an age as 25 when most people are enjoying life with an abundance of vigour. In your mid to late 40s you were assessed as being eligible for the appropriate benefits. A time came when you undertook a hip replacement operation which had a significant impact on your mobility. Your life opened up because of the dancing and interest in the swing music of the '40s, which has a considerable following, and you became an accomplished performer on public display. I suspect over time the claim being made went to the back of your mind and it was something you took for granted. Your case was genuine at the start and then drifted into dishonesty. It is not in the public interest that you should be deprived of your liberty. You are doing good work by taking the activity (swing music) into care homes, that brings some pleasure and therapy into lives as a result of the commitment you make in that way.
However, in the name of shit-stirring, finger-pointing reaction, the Sun continues to gloss this over and simply call his benefit claim a "downright lie."

This is in fact the case with the garbage pumped out by the Sun and its fellow gutter rags.

The reasons for this should be obvious. It's not spurred on by benefit fraud itself. In fact, as the London School of Economics point out, "over the last decade, the levels of fraud in the system have dropped from over 2% of total benefits payments in 2000 to well below 1% in 2009."

But "the coalition government’s initiatives may simply spread a lot of alarm amongst benefits claimants and poorer households, doing little to deter fraud but a great deal to discourage legitimate claimants."

Meanwhile, the culprits behind the financial crisis have disappeared from the headlines. They crop up to warn us that penalising them will force them to leave the country. But, otherwise, we're to be incensed at "fake" homeless people and "benefit scroungers."

As I said last week;
More job losses are on the way, and the government is set to send more people and communities into unemployment and even deeper poverty. Blaming us for their actions - from the Thatcher era and beyond to the present "austerity" - may soothe their consciences, but it does nothing to address the real problems.
But then, they do not want it to. What they want is for different sections of the working class to turn on one another as they make us pay for their mistakes and shore up their privileges.

Gary Bateman isn't axing your job, slashing funds for services, or eroding local infrastructure. David Cameron, who backs the Sun, is. They want to boot us onto the dole whilst we're shopping those who are already there.