In the West we often like to brag about our supposed ‘freedom of press’, having a media that is free from government interests and operates independently. In reality our media is no freer than that of state-controlled media in other countries, it’s just we’ve swapped one form of bias for another. Instead of the media being openly controlled by the government it is controlled by private interests, billionaire media moguls of the like of Rupert Murdoch and David Abraham, who will control the media they put out in order to suit their own agenda.
This manifests itself in many distortions and untruths, but perhaps the most striking is that of unemployment, and more accurately, the reasons for unemployment. Media outlets, particularly tabloids such as the Daily Mail and The Sun, but also those more ‘respectable’ broadsheets like the Times and Telegraph, are well known for presenting the image of the unemployed as lazy and parasitic – so called ‘benefit scroungers’.
Is this the case? Is it the case that living off the state is the easiest thing in the world, and those who do it are layabouts and cheats?
We answer in the resounding negative. In order to qualify for universal credit at all (with the exception of the rare few deemed unfit to work) one would usually have to have little to no savings and no means of survival other than benefits. That’s only to qualify for the standard rate, a rate which is sometimes halved if someone you live with is also on benefits. How much money is this standard rate, this enormous income off of which so many apparently live in luxury and decadence on the honest worker’s tax pounds?
£251.77 a month, for single claimants under 25. For comparison, the estimated living wage in Britain, i.e. the minimum wage off of which one can functionally survive, is £1400 a month. Even the highest possible rate, which is £1108.04 a month (for joint claimants with two or more children) is below this. If you live off of benefits, you live in poverty, by absolute standards.
We can clearly see then that the idea of a life of luxury throughthe benefits system is nonsensical. Media outlets that spread this myth tend to do so by taking singular examples of fraudulent people who have cheated the system, and then presenting this as standard, as opposed to a rare exception to the rule.
According to the government’s own mortality statistics, over 80 people a month die after being declared fit to work, through many causes such as starvation, hypothermia, and suicide, as of late 2015.
Can anyone honestly believe, in light of this, that people live on benefits because they’re lazy? Laziness is only an option for the affluent; for those on the brink of destitution it is a non-factor, laziness in employment really ceases to exist on any significant level.
Anybody, especially the young, who’s tried to find work has come across one unavoidable fact: there are far more people than there are jobs in Britain, in fact an estimate by job-finder company Adzuna indicates that there are twice as many jobseekers as there are job openings (as of 2015). If you’re one of that 50% of jobseekers for whom there is work, that work will often be either part time and thus not enough to live on, or temporary and thus short-lived and precarious. For much temporary work not even a zero-hours contract is signed, and your employer can fire you at any time without having to give a reason. This is most definitely not proper employment, this is anything but secure; your livelihood, your very ability to live dangles by a thread – and your capitalist employer is scissor-happy. Not only unemployment, but under-employment and insecure employment are endemics in Britain.
Why then, does much of the media misrepresent benefits, unemployment and jobseekers so massively?
We have already discussed the enormous private interest that controls our media, these billionaire capitalists who will likely earn more in a single minute than anyone on benefits earns in a month. The capitalist class, often known as the bourgeoisie, has a vested interest in preventing working class unity, in preventing those who produce and those who are so exploited by them, from working together to overthrow them and establish a society based on the principle of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their work’, a society where unemployment is eradicated and proper welfare is established.
Through their manipulation of the issue of unemployment and those on benefits, these capitalists seek to drive a wedge between the two sections of the working class – those who have a job and those who have been denied one. They encourage those in employment to spurn the unemployed, to view them as lazy parasites who leech off of their honest labour, in short, to look down on them as though they were a separate class. Not to mention the unemployed, in their desperation, serve as an army of replacements who can replace them the moment they lose favour with their boss. And those without employment are fuelled by understandable envy for those in employment, who can live far more comfortably than they can, and react to the hostility of those reactionary workers who do look down on them with similarly understandable hostility.
Much as with immigration, a divide is created artificially between the workers, who are encouraged to fight amongst themselves as opposed to uniting against a common enemy.
Who is more parasitic, a single mother trying to survive on a third of what she needs, or a billionaire gilding their mansion with money that rightfully belongs to the workers? Who is more lazy, those who spend several hours a day trudging to the job centre and to interview after interview, or a media mogul issuing commands from their penthouse office?
It is time to fight back against the chauvinism of the capitalist media, it is time to fight for our rights, and time to fight to rule over ourselves without huge business interests leeching off of us.
We have lost much. But we have a world to win!