British society is becoming increasingly intolerant of unemployed and disabled people, according to academics at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI).
A study by the University of Sheffield has found there is a growing sense that unemployment is caused by individuals’ personal failings, rather than by structural problems in the economy.
People tend to believe that work is plentiful, and that unemployment was therefore a lifestyle choice, rather than an imposition, and that poverty therefore results from moral deficiencies.
The research also highlighted an alarming intolerance towards disabled people, with participants questioning the legitimacy of benefits for disabled people deemed incapable of working.
It is clear that the derogatory term ‘chav’ remains in popular usage. Middle class research participants tended to identify and condemn ‘chav’ culture so as to validate and re-affirm their own superior social position. Working class respondents were more likely to identify and condemn ‘chav’ culture in order to distinguish themselves from it.
We appear to be witnessing the re-emergence of traditional distinctions between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, associated with the Victorian era.
This research identifies contemporary attitudes to the unemployed by drawing on a series of case studies conducted in Leeds, in Northern England. The evidence presented here is based on 90 interviews which were conducted with participants from a variety of different social classes and ethnic backgrounds.
The Coalition government’s welfare policies are in part a response to the kind of popular prejudices identified in the research. However, government rhetoric on welfare ‘scroungers’ is likely to reinforce these attitudes – focussing blame for poverty on individuals rather than on wider structural problems in Britain’s increasingly low-pay, low-skill economy.
There is in fact a danger that misplaced fears and prejudices relating to welfare claimants will present a threat to social cohesion, potentially legitimising policies which might exacerbate, rather than alleviate, social inequality.
Professor Gill Valentine, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield and author of the report, said:
“The evidence is mounting that the coalition government’s austerity agenda has been targeted at the poorest groups in society rather than the most affluent.
“This research shows that this is reinforcing prejudicial and intolerant attitudes towards the most disadvantaged members of society, as the government has been successful in individualising the causes of poverty and unemployment, and marginalising the socio-economic determinants of hardship.”
Source – Benefits & Work, 11 Nov 2014
A special “tax” on fast food takeaways to help fund obesity programmes and deal with litter left by customers has been called for in Newcastle.
The suggestion follows the city being the first in the country to introduce a late night levy on bars and clubs to help police deal with drink-fulled crime and disorder.
It was proposed by Lib Dem councillor Greg Stone and follows a recent controversial planning application by McDonald’s for a site near Kenton School, the city’s largest secondary school with around 2,000 pupils.
The application is to go before the council’s planning committee later this month and has provoked a storm of protest from residents, local councillors and the head of Kenton School, David Pearmain.
In a motion put to a full Newcastle City Council meeting, Coun Stone asked for it to investigate the feasibility of asking businesses with negative socio-economic effects to help offset these by paying an annual “sustainable retail levy” to support initiatives such as local high street improvements, anti obesity schemes or financial inclusion projects.
It also asked for the council to consider greater controls on changes of use to things like hot food takeaways in identified local retail centres and streets.
The Lib Dem Opposition group’s motion highlights the findings of the council’s own Retail Health Check Analysis, which was instigated by the Lib Dem administration in 2010.
He asked for a report to be carried out to assess how the council is progressing with implementing its recommendations.
Coun Stone said the issue of local retail vitality and the “healthiness” of high streets is a concern, and the number of takeaways in the city is continuing to proliferate.
He said: “Local communities should have more say. I don’t want to ban takeaways but they do affect the local way of life and can lead to later problems.”
He said takeaways contributed to “toxic High Streets”, which also included the effect on them of pawn shops, money lenders and bookmakers.
Labour Coun Joyce McCarty rejected the levy idea, saying: “We don’t want to see another tax on small businesses. If we’re going to try and work with the businesses we need to look at issues case by case and deal with it as the need arises.”
There were also criticisms of the easing of planning laws by the Coalition Government which makes it easier for retail outlets to change to fast food takeaways.
In the amendment to the Lib Dem motion, which was accepted, the council agreed to continue to support local retail diversity and vitality as well as the introduction of “localist” retail planning policies to improve the health and vitality of local retail centres.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 03 July 2014