Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Cuts 'divisive' for working class

A study suggests many working-class people resent neighbours, including disabled people, who they think have gained from state favouritism
A study suggests many working-class people resent neighbours, including disabled people, who they think have gained from state favouritism

The benefits cuts agenda promotes rivalries among working-class communities and is fundamentally divisive, according to research.

White working-class people resent neighbours they think have gained from state favouritism instead of richer or more powerful classes, the study said.

Phoebe Beedell, one of the researchers from the University of the West of England, said there is "bitter sadness and frustration" towards groups including unmarried mothers, disabled people in social housing and prisoners given help on release.

Ms Beedell added: "The UK political parties have appropriated the discourse of fairness to promote fundamentally divisive policies which have been popular with large sections of the electorate including, paradoxically, poor voters.

"Increasingly conditional and punitive forms of welfare create rivalries rather than building solidarities amongst those who have little, drawing attention away from greater inequalities."

It comes as the Government introduced a range of changes to the welfare system this week which they say will encourage people to work. Labour has claimed millions of low and middle-income families were paying the price for the failure of the Government's economic policies. The study commissioned by Bristol City Council will be presented to the annual conference of the British Sociological Association.

The researchers, Ms Beedell, Professor Paul Hoggett and Hen Wilkinson, of the University of the West of England, asked 64 people in 17 focus groups in Bristol for their views on employment, housing, debt and immigration in early 2010.

A man in his 30s told the study: "You get more access to services and help coming out of jail than if you were a normal person." Another said: "Council say 'are you disabled? No? - can't help you'. You hear of people coming over here and people get things paid for them." A woman in her 40s said: "It's these young unmarried mothers - you say to them 'why did you get pregnant?' and they say 'I got a council flat, I'll have two more (children) and I can have a council house'."

Another woman in her 40s told the researchers: "You get people who've lived here, their parents lived here, their grandparents, but when they tried to get a council place in this area and they said 'no' - every one one of them went to an ethnic minority person and that is building up the resentment."

Ms Beedell said: "Our research suggests that the 'fairness agenda' exploits a certain kind of resentment that is spiteful and vindictive. The unfocused nature of these emotions has the power to ignite the kind of violence and disorder that was seen in the summer of 2011. By sidelining the more challenging discourses of wider inequalities, as the main political parties are doing, these toxic feelings are likely to fester, only to erupt again in the future."

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