Anti-benefits views the fault of politicians - and Blair started it

Fri, 26/09/2014 - 14:32 -- nick

The UK is in the strange position of having some of the lowest benefits in Europe and some of the most anti-benefits views.

At UnemployedNet, we have laid a big part of the blame for this at the door of the government and newspapers, which seem to be determined to point at the tiny level of benefit fraud as the key to Britain's financial troubles lest we all look at tax avoidance and evasion by the rich friends of those politicians and papers, a huge cost which could be worth £120 billion per year.

Further evidence has just emerged which backs this up.

A study by Bristol University looked at the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, which has asked people what they think about a range of issues for the last 30 years, and compared ideas on benefits now with those in the past.

In 1999 then-Prime Minister Tony Blair began his demonising of the unemployed.

In that year he came out with the line: “welfare will be a hand-up, and not a hand-out”, despite it not being abused widely.

This ended the era of sympathy for workless people, and began the era of condemnation which is still with us now.

Before this time, recessions saw more understanding of the fact that people are usually thrown out of work for reasons of companies' financial needs rather than a lack of moral character.

In 1993, when unemployment peaked in the last recession, 55% of people thought that out-of-work benefits were too low.

Move on through a decade of demonisation, and by 2011 only 19% of people thought this.

Add to this the fact that more than half of Britain's citizens think that unemployed people could get work if they wanted to, despite one-in-ten people being out of a job in some areas, compared to less than a quarter in the early-90s.

Another reason the ground is so fertile for these attitudes is the fact that real wages have been going down for so long.

It is surely no coincidence that the 2008 recession was the first to see no growth in sympathy for those who had lost their jobs when those still in work had already been getting poorer for five years.

Sympathy has continued to be in short supply since then with wages falling in real value ever since, now eleven years in a row.

Labour has stepped in to offer a solution at least for those at the bottom, with a commitment to increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2019.

This would have the effect of both making work pay for unemployed people, allowing them to afford to take it, and improving the lots of the low-paid.

It is to be hoped that another effect takes hold from this policy - an improvement in the understanding shown by those with work towards those unfortunate enough to have lost theirs.