Articles of the week – 23/08/2013

Recording TechnologyIt’s Friday again, and that means its time for another top 10 articles of the week. This week, we’ve witnessed the detention of David Miranda, partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald (who broke the Edward Snowden NSA leak story), at Heathrow Airport, a harrowing chemical attack seemingly committed by the Syrian Government on its own citizens, and the situation remain very troubling in Egypt. As usual, I don’t necessarily agree with all the opinions expressed in the articles. I hope you enjoy reading them nonetheless!

  1. Outrageous forgiveness by Alison Mitchell – The Good Book blog
  2. How do people forgive a crime like murder? By Naveena Kottoor – BBC News Magazine
  3. Abounding in the Work of the Lord Everything We Do as Christians or Specific Gospel Work? (1 Cor 15:58): By Peter Orr – The Gospel Coalition
  4. Working class voters and the ‘progressive’ left: A widening chasm by James Blodworth – The New Statesman
  5. The lost middle ground of reason by Richard Sandbrook – JOMEC @ Cardiff University
  6. David Miranda, schedule 7 and the dangers that all reporters now face by Alan Rusbridger – The Guardian
  7. The reaction to David Miranda’s detention is completely ridiculous by Douglas Murray – The Spectator
  8. The Horrific plight of Hungary’s Roma by Andrew Connelly – The Atlantic
  9. Amanda Lindhout tells of her captivity, torture in Somalia – CBC News Calgary (warning, some readers may find descriptions disturbing)
  10. Why HS2 won’t cost £80bn by James Waterson – City AM

BONUS: Are more than half a million youngsters too lazy to get a job? By Emily Craig – Full Fact

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Top 10 articles of the week – 16/08/2013

pyramidAfter a brief holiday break, this week sees the return of my top 10 articles. In the past 7 days we’ve seen tensions escalate hugely in Egypt with the death toll running into the many hundreds, and on the domestic front the Government have announced rail prices are to announce by 4.1% and many of the UK’s teenage population get their A-level results. Here are my top 10 articles plus a couple of sneaky bonuses! The usual disclaimers apply, Enjoy reading!

  1. 10 things I’ve learned after 26 years of marriage – by Ed Stetzer – Christianity Today (The Exchange blog)
  2. Updated: Experts reflect on Egypt’s turmoil by various – Al Jazeera
  3. Number of stay at home mums falls to record low by Louisa Peacock – The Daily Telegraph
  4. Both inequality and poverty cause health and social problems – they are forces that need to be tackled together by Karen Rowlinson – LSE Politics and Policy blog
  5. Job insecurity leaves marriage the preserve of middle-class couples – study by Sam Marsden – The Daily Telegraph
  6. From criminal to trainee cook: ‘I owe Gordon Ramsey a lot’ by Erwin James – The Guardian
  7. Voters punish politicians for misinformation that portrays them in a favourable light, but not for inaccurate information that attacks their opponents by Michael D. Cobb – LSE Europp blog
  8. Africa: Mugabe undaunted by Andrew England – The Financial Times
  9. Bias at the Beeb: addressing some questions by Oliver Latham – CPS Blog
  10. Free to choose? The impact of healthcare reform by Martin Gaynor et al – LSE Politics and Policy blog

BONUS 1: Yet another year of inflation busting rail fare rises will add to the cost of living costs by Maria Eagle MP – Labour List

BONUS 2: 10 ideas for change: The sharing economy by Clare Goff – NewStart

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Scrounging off the State – Hardening attitudes toward welfare and it’s recipients

aggressive lionessIf a week is a long time in Politics, then 28 years is surely, well, much longer than a week… Yet, in the midst of uncertain economic times, where debates and concepts around welfare spending and benefit recipients are as keenly contested as ever, and where UK society is witnessing seemingly unprecedented welfare reform, new research conducted by Natcen (the National Centre for Social Research) funded by leading social policy charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Department for Work and Pensions offers some fascinating analysis on how public attitudes toward welfare and welfare recipients have changed between 1983 and 2011.

I begin this article by considering attitudes to welfare spending before moving onto what the UK public consider the main causes of poverty to be. This will then be followed by considering the public’s view of those in receipt of benefits, finishing with some opinion from the Social Policy profession and some personal reflections.

Attitudes to welfare spending

In relation to this area, the research discovered that:

Support for welfare spending on the poor has consistently declined over the past three decades, with this decline in support being particularly pronounced amongst Labour Party supporters, and the young (that is, those aged 18-34). I personally found this intriguing given that the Labour Party is traditionally seen as the party generally in support of higher welfare spending, and the young are particularly exposed to the risk of unemployment, especially during recessions.

The below graphs, taken from said publication pertinently illustrate the decline in support for welfare benefits for the poor.

Welfare graph 1

Welfare graph 2

Causes of Poverty

Moving onto the second issue, causes of poverty, while views about the causes of poverty have remained generally stable, the popularity of a societal explanation has declined in favour of an individualistic explanation, this being true across the political spectrum and age ranges.

Indeed, as the authors point out:

‘Nevertheless, there has been considerable fluctuation in perceptions of the causes of poverty over time. Specifically, the explanation that living in need is due to the individual’s own characteristics and behaviour (“laziness or lack of willpower”) has gained popularity at the expense of a societal explanation (“injustice in our society”). 15% of the public in 1994 thought people live in need because of laziness or a lack of willpower, compared with 23% in 2010. During the same period, adherence to the view that people live in need because of injustice in our society declined from 29% to 21%.’

Intriguingly, the decline in popularity for a societal explanation for poverty in the UK has been confined to Labour Party supporters (as was the case regarding attitudes to welfare spending), 41% of Labour Party supporters in 1986 thought that people lived in need because of injustice in society, compared to 27% in 2010.

Perceptions of welfare and benefit recipients

In regard to the perceptions of benefit recipients the report found that in 2011, negative perceptions of welfare recipients were held by considerable minorities of the population, whilst those in receipt of unemployment benefits were viewed pessimistically in terms of their ability to find a job by an outright majority.

In terms of the other findings in this area, slightly more than one third agreed that most people on the dole are fiddling (37%) and that many people who get social security don’t really deserve any help (35%). More than half (56%) agree that most unemployed people in their area could find a job if they wanted one.

In regard to how views relating to these issues have altered over time, in 1989, more than half (52%) thought that most people in their area could find a job if they wanted one, a proportion which declined to 38% in 1991 (during recession) and 27% in 1993 (after recession). Although the recessionary impact is less stark, in 2008, at the start of the late 2000s recession, almost seven in ten respondents (68%) believed that most unemployed people could find a job if they wanted one. By 2009, this proportion had fallen to slightly more than half (55%), remaining at this level in 2010 and 2011 (as already mentioned above.) Thus, whilst there have been considerable fluctuations in between 1989 and 2011, the 2011 percentage is actually rather similar to what it was in 1989.

Much to chew on then, and whilst this report excellently highlights both the hardening in attitude and consistently negative attitude toward welfare spending and those claiming benefits, a natural progression on from this would be to consider why such a hardening of attitude has occurred within this time period.

Why have attitudes hardened?

In an article regarding attitudes to welfare, Chris Goulden, head of the Poverty team at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation noted that in his view:

‘The hardening of attitudes towards benefit claimants has arisen in part from a perceived ‘success’ of Labour policy in reducing out-of-work family poverty. The bitter irony is that childless, unemployed adults now – likely to be at the forefront of public ire about ‘scroungers’ – are the one group who have become persistently worse off over the last 30 years.’

 In other words, Goulden suggests that ‘success’ in terms of reducing poverty via a more ‘generous’ benefits and tax credits system introduced under New Labour (whether the New Labour reforms were successful or generous is open to much debate) appears to coincide with a rise in hostility as observed in the report.

Personal reflections

Whilst at least another article could be written on this, I wish in what remains of this article to focus on another factor which in my view has a major role to play in this area; the influence of the media in affecting public attitudes.

It is my contention that the media have a very considerable role to play in influencing perceptions and constructions of those receiving welfare and benefits. Indeed, the role of the media in influencing public perceptions on various issues has increased no end in the past 30 years in correlation with technological developments in computing, communication and information sharing.

In looking at some national newspaper websites for example, it’s easy to see how those on benefits are portrayed. Indeed, on the MailOnline site rarely a day goes by without a story of an individual, couple, or family fiddling the system for ‘immense personal gain’. Such persistent and negative portrayals of a minority only serve in my view to paint a picture that essentially brands all those in receipt of benefits as ‘scroungers’, or the UK welfare system as an overwrought and broken machine in urgent need of punitive reform. Whilst indeed there are a minority who abuse the system in a welfare and benefits apparatus that can be significantly improved in a number of ways, it’s also true that for every story of benefit or welfare abuse, there’s at least another somewhere of someone whose worked hard for x amount of years, finds themselves laid off through no fault of their own and is back in work again paying their way after receiving some sort of welfare payment for a short period of time in the interim. Whilst the Daily Mail and others who consistently produce this sort of output will argue that they are merely reporting on a minority, such consistent scaremongering paints a picture that unquestionably is in danger of tarring all who claim benefits with the same brush as those who abuse the system, as indeed can be seen in the findings of this particular report.

Indeed, figures published by the DWP demonstrate that benefit fraud in the form of overpayments accounts for just 0.7% of total expenditure.

How we decide who is ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ in this whole arena is an important question for another day. For now however, the way the mainstream media paint welfare, benefits and those in receipt of them matters crucially because those in power and policy makers clearly listen to these portrayals in making policy in this area (although admittedly this isn’t the only influencing factor operating in policy making.) Evidence of this is evident through political strategizing and speeches made by the mainstream parties. Note for example, how then Labour Party leader Tony Blair espoused a new ‘tough rhetoric’ around welfare during his leadership in order as many argue, to gain the affections of ‘Middle Britain’ and win over the tabloids. Note also how this toughening of welfare rhetoric has been used by the Conservative Party in recent times, with George Osborne claiming at the Conservative Party conference in 2010 that under the Coalition there would, for welfare and benefit recipients be ‘no more open-ended chequebook.’ Quite apart from the fact that it is highly questionable as to whether there ever was such a generous ‘open chequebook’ under New Labour, his kind of language again demonstrates a hardening of attitude that is becoming increasingly pervasive in mainstream politics.

Hence, whilst those in power at present will argue the on-going economic crisis warrants such hard rhetoric, it is no coincidence that this continued hardening of attitudes towards welfare and its recipients from our media makes it easier for those in political power to pursue similar language and engage in policies that sit well with such perceptions. How this media portrayal sits with the general public (indeed, it appears to be supported by them), and is influenced by them is a much more complex question. What is absolutely clear however is that somewhere along the line the media has, and continues to play a major role in defining perceptions around welfare, its role in UK society and those of its recipients.

Top 10 articles of the week – 03/08/2013

Royal CourtLater than usual (my apologies), here are my 10 articles of the week for the week ending 3rd August. In an eventful week for news and world events, we saw Presidential elections take place in Zimbabwe, retailer Sports Direct come under the spotlight for their use of zero hour contracts, and sentences passed in the Daniel Pelka and Bradley Manning trials, In amongst current affairs articles covering these topics i’ve also included other pieces of interest. Until next time….

  1. The remedy to religious guilt by Chris Castaldo – The Gospel Coalition
  2. NSPCC statement on sentencing of Daniel Pelka’s murderers by Peter Wanless – NSPCC
  3. Editors commentary: Theological Nerds? By Peter Benton – Evangelicals Now
  4. Dr Dan Boucher: Under this Government, we’re one of the most unfriendly countries to single earner couples in Europe by Dan Boucher – Conservative Home
  5. States with a history of undemocratic regimes in the 20th century are more likely to repress racist movements by Erik Bleich – LSE Politics and Policy blog
  6. Part II: Unmarried Cheating (Infidelity in Unmarried, Serious Romantic Relationships) by Scott Stanley – Sliding vs Deciding: The blog of Scott Stanley
  7. Religion and Politics by Nick Baines – Nick Baines’s blog
  8. Zimbabwe election was huge farce – Morgan Tsvangirai – BBC News Africa and Zimbabwe poll free and peacefull say Obasanjo and SADC – BBC News Africa
  9. Zero hours contracts – What are they? By Philip Inman – The Guardian
  10. Bradley Manning verdict another sorry verdict for Obama and US Liberals by Alex Safy Cummings – The Conversation

BONUS:  Tories hire Obama campaign chief Jim Messina by Allegra Stratton – BBC News Politics