13 April 2010

The streets speak: urban political broadcasts

Stoke Newington Road, just north of Shacklewell Lane.

High Road, near Seven Sisters underground station.

Original government poster available here, and below:

The ad agency's brief: "Redefining petty fiddlers as full-on benefit thieves." Or, 'scapegoating people trying to get by on an unlivable income as criminals.' Jobseeker's Allowance is all of £51.85 a week for someone my age. I'm counting the pennies living in this city on a graduate starting salary; damn right I'd be getting cash-in-hand work under the table if I had fifty quid a week for food/bills/my entire life. Wouldn't you?

East London charity Community Links says:

"From our experience giving advice to over 12,000 people each year in Newham, we know that almost all those defrauding the system do so out of need, not greed. They need a few hours work to tide them over – to pay a surprise bill, or replace the microwave. Declaring it to the Jobcentre would mean any earnings are deducted from benefits, leaving them with no extra money. Punishing these people is unfair, but also destructive – they need stepping stones to a job and higher income, not sanctions which push them further into poverty."

2008/09 figures from the DWP show total benefits expenditure of £136bn. Out of this, fraud amounted to 0.8% (£1.1bn) - which we might contextualise by noting that £0.8bn of total spend was made up of overpayments due to official error. In addition, £0.5bn was underpaid due to official error, so the magnitude of government mistakes (£1.3bn of Getting It Wrong) is in fact rather more than dole scroungers scrounged.

Just so we can understand the scapegoating of the bottom 10% of society in proper perspective, you understand. Advertising won't have any impact on serious fraudsters. It'll do a lovely job of deterring those in legitimate need from claiming money they have a right to, though, and a campaign focused on "hunting down" benefits "thieves" uses such lovely aggressive language to exacerbate middle class prejudices and promote social inequality. Mmmm...


Lizzie Burns said...

I think these are just fantastic.

Jan said...

We are an nonprofit representing the Azerbaijani-American community, and are trying to do research on health care, taxation and social security issues. Basically, through our research, we are overwhelmed with tons of information, and in order to be able to clearly and concisely formulate the choices to our members, we would be very interested in seeing some one-pagers outlining the pro's and con's on these topics. It would be also interesting to see what are other similar nonprofits thinking and doing. Being a grassroots organization, with a diverse membership, we need to be able to "keep it short" and easy to understand for busy people who don't particularly like or enjoy politics. If you have some tips, pointers and such information, could you please email it to me directly , or via our website www.USAzeris.org

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