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Keep it real – many families on benefits are actually in work


FACTS, NOT MYTHS PLEASE It’s easy to fall into the benefit misinformation trap

The first time the bus leaves for a school trip you can’t afford to go on is a disenchanting moment. You realise there are some major differences between the backgrounds of you and your mates. And it can also have the biggest bearing on your likely outcome in life.

Yet the barriers that hold people back are nothing to do with natural ability or work ethic. They are based on a deeply iniquitous society, where the odds are stacked against people from modest backgrounds.

That’s why politics needs more people with experiences like Labour’s Simon Danczuk MP. Like Simon, I too was brought up in poverty by a single mother – in an area ravaged by massive unemployment. I couldn’t let his recent contribution to the welfare debate in The Telegraph, The Mirror and The Sun pass without comment.

Across these articles he outlines few specific policy ideas for bringing down welfare spending, so it must be concluded this intervention is mainly about his views on the position Labour should adopt in the welfare debate.

Simon asserts, “If welfare is to be strengthened and targeted more efficiently at those who need it then we have to condemn those who abuse the system.” Yet in making this case, he is repeating misrepresentative stereotypes about our welfare state.

27 uniteWORKS May/June 2013

Where families haven’t worked for years his Telegraph article says, “It’s a tragedy for the children as well. What kind of message does it send out to them when they’ve never known any adult with a job?”

In reality, even children in the tiny 0.3 per cent of UK households with two generations of people who have ‘never worked’ will have family, friends and neighbours in work. When the Joseph Rowntree Foundation set out to find three generations of the same family who have ‘never worked’, researchers were unable to locate even one.

A recent TUC poll found that people assumed 27 per cent of benefit spending was claimed fraudulently; in fact it’s 0.7 per cent.

As Cameron and our worst tabloids have shown, the right is cynically using unrepresentative case studies as a means of trying to get the public on board for devastating benefit slashes. Repeating back similarly unrepresentative stereotypes is playing into their hands.

We can’t fall into this trap and make a bad situation worse. These challenges are arguably the defining political issues of our time. Simon Danczuk has a powerful story to tell, we should applaud his bravery in sharing it. Yet given this platform and his experiences, surely it would have been better to try and take on some of the damaging myths about our social security system, which are being used as cover for brutal benefit cuts?

Mark Thomas

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