A Tale of Two Newspapers
“Calculating our cost to the public is fascist ideology, even when dressed up for the gentlemanly broadsheets.” As poverty soars in the Union, post-Brexit Britain descends into framing disabled people as subhuman and the poor as a burden on the wealthy.
Last weekend the Sunday Post, a remarkably improved paper, published a story by their Chief Reporter Marion Scott ‘Shocking survey exposes ‘devastating’ poverty as young Scottish families forced into destitution’. The survey from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation focused on the impact of the cost of living crisis on families with young children and how, as we have detailed here before, those already on low income are being propelled into destitution. Chris Birt, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s associate director for Scotland, said: “It’s heartbreaking to see that families with babies and young children are struggling to make ends meet, with nearly eight in 10 going without essentials such as food, clothes or fuel, and nearly one in 10 having to access a food bank.”
He continued: “The Scottish Government has talked for some time about making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up, yet we have families with babies struggling to even afford the basic necessities like nappies and baby formula. This is an outrageous and mind-boggling situation in a country like ours.”
“In spite of the Scottish Child Payment, families are still going without. In short, the basic level of social security is not based on what things cost, and maternity and paternity support are woefully inadequate. The UK Government has responsibility for the Universal Credit system, and levels of statutory support for those with babies, and needs to make sure that, at a minimum, everyone is able to afford the essentials and that Universal Credit is always enough to meet the costs of basic household items.”
Many of us know this already.
Only a few days ago new data revealed that a “staggering” 920,000 households in Scotland are estimated to be suffering from fuel poverty.
It’s in this context that we need to look at another newspaper’s coverage this week.
The Daily Telegraph has created a calculator to help readers ‘Exactly how much of your salary bankrolls the welfare state?’. In a piece by Alex Clark and Tom Haynes the duo explain that “Millions are claiming benefits without ever having to look for work, helping to push the tax burden to hit its highest point since the Second World War” and “how much of our hard-won salaries are spent on the benefits of those who do not work? With the calculator below, Telegraph Money can now reveal how much of your salary goes towards bankrolling the welfare state.”
We live in parallel worlds where the journalists and readers of the Telegraph indulge themselves in a sort of poverty porn and blame game seemingly devoid of the most basic traces of humanity.
As the disabled rights campaigner and writer Frances Ryan has written: “The Telegraph newsletter today has an online tool to help its readers calculate “how much of your salary bankrolls the welfare state” – and the 4 million people too sick or disabled to work. I feel quite sick. They are literally baiting their readers to ask what a burden we are.”
This is, she explains quite rightly: “A truly shameless bit of journalism that openly relies on fascist ideology that casts disabled people as useless burdens. Throughout history, disabled people have been cast as subhuman – not people with feelings and needs, just a burden that leaches off normal, moral, hardworking people. Calculating our cost to the public is fascist ideology, even when dressed up for the gentlemanly broadsheets.”
She is absolutely right, and disabled people have been demonised for years. As she has noted: “It is exactly a decade since former chancellor George Osborne launched cuts to the benefits system totalling tens of billions of pounds, and with them, fuelled rhetoric so toxic that it caused an increase in hate crime towards disabled people. This was the era of Benefits Street and the Sun’s Beat the Cheat campaign, where it was quite normal for a national newspaper to invite readers to report their disabled neighbours to the benefit fraud hotline.”
This atmosphere has been culminating for years, carefully nurtured by the petri-dish of daytime tv, tabloid editors and columnists like Richard Littlejohn who last week published a piece so deranged it shocked people outwith the narrow band of people who are not yet immune to such bile. Littlejohn’s piece in the Daily Mail argued that there was a ‘coup’ going on in the UK and that the plotters included such unique characters as ‘the ultra woke civil service’ and the Left-wing media’.
Such drivel is typical of a paranoid tradition on the far-right, which imagines enemies everywhere – Reds Under the Beds – or Thatcher’s famous ‘Enemy Within’. Now, with Brexit tanking as beautifully articulated by Chris Patten on BBC Question Time new enemies and traitors will need to be re-imagined.
Over at the Telegraph (again) Allister Heath here claims the real problem is that after 13 years of Tory rule (get this) “Gramscians are running the UK”. We are about to face “the final takeover of Britain”:
There may be an air of desperation about all of this. Those that backed Boris Johnson – or Liz Truss – have been found out, and the unprecedented actions to try and prevent the Cabinet Office seeing Whassap messages have more than a whiff of panic about them. This is a Tory party plummeting in the polls and doing what it does best: lash out at scapegoats and smear others.
Everyone knows Brexit’s a disaster. Now it’s clear it is amplifying and accelerating the descent into poverty and inequality. But its also become sacrosanct and unmentionable. No-one, least of all the government-in-waiting (so we’re told) known as the Labour Party, can utter the ‘B’ word. Meanwhile as the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole muttered this week: “The problem with a revolt against imaginary oppression is that you get imaginary freedom.” That”s where we are now.
As the brutal social reality of thirteen years of Conservative rule is revealed, and as mass poverty becomes endemic Scotland is experiencing a form of direct rule. This isn’t being talked about either. So here we are experiencing all of the glorious benefits of the union, as the alternatives are strangled. Any path to independence is shut down, and now devolution itself is under prolonged attack. The solution as proposed (vaguely) by Gordon Brown is that Scotland has to move on from “nationalism” and embrace “patriotism” instead. It’s beyond credibility to read of the scale of social crisis people are experiencing and say that the solution is to “embrace patriotism”. It’s astonishing, belittling, humiliating to hear such cant uttered from the former Prime Minister. To escape the brutalist world of the Telegraph and the Mail and the paranoid fantasies of Richard Littlejohn and Allister Heather we need independence and the ordinary powers of an ordinary country, nothing less, nothing more. There is precisely nothing remarkable or difficult about this and to argue in favour of the Union as a bedrock of economic and social security now, today, is an act of surrealism.