Ramblings on Politics, Policy and Welfare

I’m trying to work out some stuff for my thesis here, so this post may ramble somewhat. I just need to get the thoughts out of my head in some sense, so I’m blogging them.

 

The relationships between politics, policy, public attitudes, media and rhetoric don’t get much thought amongst the general public it seems (the exception here is pub talk). It’s quite important though. It has a strong impact upon our lives and should be examined. In academic work, it is examined, but the language tends to be flowery, the sentences run on and jargon terms are not explained. It’s difficult to read. Then we wonder why more people aren’t angry about this stuff or trying to create change. Whilst wondering this, the way the ideas are presented is never questioned. It seems to make sense when discussing issues that affect the poor or underprivileged that we write it in a way that is accessible to them. However, that might make the theory sound a bit like a conspiracy theory, making it less credible. If fewer people understand it, fewer people can say it’s silly. A case of impostor syndrome perhaps?

 

The way our society is supposed to work is that we choose people to represent our views and those people create policy to govern society that is in line with the views of the majority of people. We then follow those policies and are happy. That doesn’t happen though really. We have two main political parties who have specific agendas. Instead of them trying to represent the majority of people by altering their agenda, they try to make their agenda seem appealing to the larges number of people. To do this, your agenda becomes pretty vague. Vagueness is usually hiding something. Don’t want others to know what you’re doing? Don’t give details. So by having largely vague agendas with a few key points that everyone will agree with (e.g. less crime) you can generate mass appeal and keep your true ideas somewhat hidden. To make sure that when these real agendas are agreed with when they are become policy, rhetoric comes into play. Rhetoric is using speeches to make a persuasive point. Politicians are pretty good at this, as is the media. By hearing a particular persuasive point or argument, it can start to make sense. Currently there’s a lot of talk about welfare services. In speeches about welfare, you’ll hear the word “fairness” a lot. And yes, making sure those who are trying to cheat the system don’t get help is fair. However, making sure that those who need help get it is also fair; and arguably a higher priority of the welfare service. But that part isn’t mentioned. The media then see that something like welfare fraud is being discussed by politicians, which implies that the public are interested in it. Then we end up with programs like “Benefits Street” or “Saints and Scroungers” (admittedly I haven’t seen either of these, so please tell me if I’m wrong about them) which, because they are essentially entertainment programs, show extremes of this issue, and create goodies and baddies. People then watch these programs and believe them, because why would a fact based program, a documentary, lie or exaggerate? Then people become concerned about benefit fraud (which is actually quite a small problem), so when policies are proposed that restrict access to benefits, they agree. And the political party whose agenda was actually to do less for the poor get agreement for their policy. Despite it not actually being the view of the majority of people, because it was presented it in a way that doesn’t directly address the intent, people agree.

 

Through this whole process, the majority of people who receive benefits are overlooked and demonised. Those who argue that a welfare state is positive because it helps those in need are countered with the phrase “nanny state”. That phrase belittles the idea of welfare, makes it seem like the majority of people are being given restricted choices. But if you think about who actually has nannies it’s not so bad. Children, the elderly, the sick, these are the people who have nannies or carers. Those are also the people who need this care. So a “nanny state” wouldn’t really affect people who don’t need care, it would just make it a lot easier for those who do need it. But instead we have ended up with “scroungers” and people with severe disabilities being told they are able to have full time jobs. Benefits and welfare aid are now stigmatised. To the point where you have to prove you are disabled enough, needy enough to deserve help. Britain has previously had a period where people had to deserve welfare. The Victorian era. The “deserving poor” were given help and the “undeserving poor” were sent to the workhouse. This seems to be where we’re heading. I’d have hoped that over a hundred years later we’d have improved.

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About Jess Urwin

Lecturer in social work at De Montfort University, youth justice researcher, musician, crafter, constant reader.
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