Libelling The Poor

Posted on: 24 January 2012 by Alexander Hay

The benefit reform debate is informed by spite, bullying and innacuracy.

Government benefits policy, yesterdayIt is said that only the weak are cruel, because the strong have no need to be. Or to put it another way, kicking a man when he's down is all too easy, as is ganging up on the odd one out.

Such schoolyard behaviours naturally abound in the current government, as Iain Duncan Smith somehow manages to defend forcing people to work for Poundland as free labour with a straight face, and benefit caps are gleefully approved by a public that is blissfully unaware that they might themselves end up in the poorhouse some day.

But the grandmasters of rhetoric whereby Tiny Tim's crutches are kicked away because he's taking too much space on the pavement, remain those bastions of morality and decency, the tabloid press.

Having whipped up the brutalised public palate with enough unusual benefit fraud cases passed off as reflections of day to day reality, they continue to tell their readers what to think while claiming they reflect what the said audience believes. Tabloids are the long winding river into the black, oozing heart of the English soul, their readers only too willing to lap it up.

The Sun remains the leader in the field as one of its editorials today confirms:

...All we ever hear from the bishops is how unfair the Government is being to welfare claimants.

Never a peep about how unfair it is to workers who slog all day to keep layabouts in beer and pizza.

The Government must force through its vital reforms.

After all, if the country agreed with the bishops, the churches wouldn't be half-empty...

It's the perfect tabloid editorial. Strawman arguments rub shoulders with tu quoque and ad hominems, followed by a red herring or three. While it's depressing that the sort of fifth rate rhetoric a toddler would balk at gets passed off as major social comment these days, it does at least make clear where The Sun is coming from. It won't ever attack rich tax evaders (like its owner) with the same ferocity, or take on genuine corruption unless it's staring them in the face. But ragging the poor kid whose parents can't afford new trainers? It's in the public interest, innit?

Tabloid stories alternate between sentimentality and lynch mob hysteria, with envy being the current theme of their coverage. On the other hand, the same organs that can feel pity for a dead baby elephant can't somehow muster sympathy for the children who will lose out most from the government's plans.

There is also the small matter of libel. Assuming that there are some booze-and-oven-chips bloated layabouts out there, they are vastly outnumbered by the genuine cases. Only 6.5% of Jobseekers Allowance is overpaid, alongside a mere 4.4% of Housing Benefit and a tiny 0.7% of incapacity benefit. Indeed, £1.3 billion in benefits was actually underpaid between 2010-2011.

Now, UK libel law states that you must not defame people in a fashion that could damage their reputations, or cause them to suffer hatred and contempt. It is also down to you to prove that your allegations are correct. Based on the above (official government) statistics, The Sun would lose.

But then you need at least £100,000 to successfully pursue a libel action, which is money the people being libelled could never afford. That's the thing about being cruel, you see – those who do it are weak, but always make sure their victims are weaker still.

[SOURCE: The Sun]

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Alexander Hay

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