Benefit scroungers and the ruling elite – fictions that endanger democracy

A whole swathe of the UK population are demonised as lazy benefit scroungers who can’t be bothered getting a job and instead bleed the country dry claiming huge amounts of money and grabbing free food; this quite obviously isn’t the case. Even if a minority in poverty do partially fit that description, their behaviour is a result of their circumstance. The cycle of poverty that creates a perfect storm of poor education, poor healthcare and limited freedom of opportunity is bound to produce a nihilistic attitude in some. In reality lots of good people in the UK are struggling to make ends meet and have to resort to food bank donations to feed their families.

It doesn’t only work in one direction. The caricature of the “ruling elite” is also well established. Either shadowy masterminds or inbred toffs born into power who get out of bed every morning with only one thing on their minds – making the lives of poor people worse. In reality there are lots of good people in power, both in government and business, who are genuinely trying to make society better.

In a democratic nation state we should have a bond with our fellow nationals, a state of benevolent nationalistic camaraderie which allows us to compromise when democratic decisions go against us and we are in the minority but also allows those in the majority to empathise with minorities and make sure their needs are catered for. We should all be in it together.

Brexit (and Trump in the US) above all showed that this isn’t the case anymore. We now inhabit separate states defined by our socioeconomic class; two halves of the same country viewing each other from afar through stereotypes reinforced (but not necessarily created) in the media. Some politicians even use these stereotypes to gain votes and popularity.

Has it always been this way? Maybe it has to a degree, but the widening of the gap between rich and poor and a loss of national identity and direction have eroded cohesion in society further.

I don’t for a second believe that immigration is a cause of this splintering of society. I do wonder though if the outward focussed, neoliberal stance of governments for the last 30 years in the UK has left too much to the wisdom of markets and has neglected the soul and togetherness of the nation. A balance needs to be found without closing doors.

Society will never be perfect, we are human after all. But we need to remember to question the stereotypes, look at the facts and remember that behind the caricatures are people and in general, given the chance, people are good to each other.

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