Monday, 20 May 2013

A lesson in propaganda

The latest exercise in propaganda by combined right-wing forces in this country is a classic of its kind.
It starts with a report by the Centre for Social Justice, the "think-tank" set up by Iain Duncan Smith and run by his adviser Philippa Stroud.  This is reported in detail by the Telegraph.  The phrase "welfare ghettos" is prominent.  That's important.  The word "ghetto" is innocent enough in its original meaning ("a part of a city, esp. a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups") but of course it's a very loaded word now.  The report is full of figures purporting to show that almost 7 million people live in these "welfare ghettos" where more than half the working age population is dependent on benefits.
I haven't looked at the report itself, but I suppose that the Telegraph has reported it faithfully.  If so, there are a great many question marks over it.  It talks about "areas" of various cities.  How is an area defined?  At one point they talk about "neighbourhoods"; again, how do you define that?  This isn't nit-picking.  You can draw lines on a map to produce whatever figures you want.  48 charities were consulted.  96% of them (why can't they just say "46 charities"?) said that "they had come across families where unemployment was intergenerational".  All that means is that both the kids and the parents were out of work.  It tells us nothing else - certainly not how many families were involved.
They do make an important point about aspiration.  Lots of youngsters do not expect to ever have a job, and don't aspire to anything better than they have now, except to become a celebrity.  But the CSJ manage to link that with the benefits cap.
The Express's account is less nuanced, as you would expect.  The headline is "Welcome to the benefit ghettos where the majority live on state handouts".  There's a photo of a young woman pushing a toddler in a buggy; we are, of course, meant to take the point about teenage single mothers.  There is a familiar response from the DWP about welfare reforms improving the lives of these people.
The Mail is, as usual, hysterical.  It uses the same phraseology about "benefit ghettos" but there are graphics for those who need pictures with their reading.  My earlier point about the definition of an area is important in  the context of the Mail's version.  They list 6 places where there are a large number of "neighbourhoods" with more than 30% unemployed.  But to say that there are "nearly 70 neighbourhoods" in Liverpool" in this state is a nonsense.  Are we talking about a large housing estate or a small street?  The article ends by saying that the CSJ is working on a follow-up report with its recommendations.
So a minister's pet think-tank comes up with a report with the message which the minister wants to convey, and the right-wing press runs with it in its own inimitable way.  Goebbels would be proud.


  1. Insanity? If only,it would be an improvement. My WP sub is run by the Council(now all temp staff)ESF funding is available for training,fantastic,with one exception! Not if you are assigned to the WP as they will provide training...NOT..It is like a bad dream,there is no escape.

    1. Interesting, as always, but do try to keep to the subject under discussion!

  2. they use 96% instead of 46 because it looks better in the press.. people assume that if its a percentage they will have used a large amount of groups rather than the smaller amount they really used.. Its another lying with statistics

  3. I'm saying this without having read the report (it doesn't seem to be available now and I can't be bothered to ask for a copy, although I have read the press release) but I suspect that again, CSJ might be in the unfortunate position of showing some understanding of the problem whilst mistaking cause for effect and prescribing the wrong treatment.

    I know some of the areas mentioned pretty well, and they really are extremely deprived places with deeply entrenched problems that have been around for 25 or 30 years. In some respects, if they stick to their usual line about lack of aspiration and a complex mix of problems leading to all round dysfunctionality, they'll probably be right, in a narrow sense. Rhyl West in particular is full of cheap bedsits and flats created from old B&B houses, and from the 80s onwards was a magnet for people from around the NW who'd largely given up hope. The place is a mess.

    However, as always, the elephant in the room (loudly blowing its trumpet) is the lack of jobs and opportunity, combined with the high cost of moving in the UK. Even the most motivated person will struggle in an economy in which the demand for labour is dwindling and (in the case of Rhyl at least) was unusually seasonal even in the good old days.

    Supply side policies can be applied all day and every day (and have been, with a few exceptions) but the reality is that without growth and jobs, none of it matters. Demonise, encourage, nudge, use carrot and stick, but without a genuinely meaningful regional active industrial policy, none of it matters. CSJ (if they say what I assume they will) are right in that some of these areas represent a terrible waste of lives and human potential, but simply saying that whilst castigating them for being costly is neither interesting nor useful. Getting employers to move there (getting them to move anywhere, in fact) will be difficult, but it's the only thing that will make a long-term difference, alongside social interventions that aren't coercive and punitive.

    Finally, I agree with historian that the press release (regurgitated in the articles) is troubling in respects, although it's written with the intellectual rigour that I've come to expect from CSJ. It combines a lack of specificity (neighbourhoods?) with a morally dubious invitation to give people who are already at the bottom a bit of kicking. It may be a consequence of having an interest in central European history and living there for part of the year, but the use of "ghetto" is loaded and should have been considered carefully, which I presume it was. If it turns out that they're doing this with the aim of shocking government into (for example) spurring investment, all power to them, but it makes for uncomfortable headlines that add to the steady drip of hatred against the poor.

    As an aside, the Work and Pensions Select Committee report into the Work Programme and different customer groups is out at 00.01 tomorrow (Tuesday). It'll probably be worth a look and may contain some sensible proposals, which will probably be ignored.

    1. I agree with your post with one exception, there is no carrot only different sizes of stick. A lot of the problems has been brushed under the carpet since the 80's this is with several different governments.


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