Hard-working families. Aincha just sick of them?
by Felix McHugh
Thu 20th Dec 2012
Hard-working families were, of course, a staple of Labour rhetoric during the Premierships of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. When the last General Election came along, Lyn Brown MP (Labour; West Ham) set out her stall on her official website my making sure that everyone knew whom she represented with the banner headline “Lyn campaigns to make sure hard-working families get the help they are entitled to.”
In that case Lyn Brown was actually making helpful suggestions about where to go for advice on in-work benefits such as Tax Credits and Council Tax Benefit but the implication that the working class is divided into hard-working families and “the rest” was clear. She did not want to be associated with any suggestion that she might have the same supportive attitude to anyone who might not be considered hard-working, nor, for that matter, part of a family. Singletons, the unemployed and the incapacitated presumably needed to look elsewhere within the boundaries of West Ham for help and sympathy.
Down the road, Clive Efford (Labour) styles himself “A strong voice for Eltham & Plumstead” but not, apparently, for just anyone in Eltham or Plumstead. Top of Clive’s agenda is “Help for Hard-Working Families” (note the capitals which indicate that he really means business. Alongside his prodigious tweeting criticising the football authorities it’s good to know that Clive’s priorities are right on message.
In Lewes it’s good to see that the local Labour Party is taking issue with the unfairness of the changes in Housing Benefit, which are obviously going to impact particularly on carers, disabled people and single parents. Or are they indeed? Labour in Lewes knows who really stands to suffer and you have already guessed who that turns out to be. The Bedroom Tax Hits Hard Working Families, shouts their website’s banner headline.
Are you bored yet? Shall I mention the labour.org’s online petition before the last round of council elections inviting readers to “sign below to stand up for hard-working families” or have you had enough? I know I have. Apparently a Google search turns up over 1000 quotations each from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown including (in capitals and with and without a hyphen) those annoying families and all their hard work. Together with the “squeezed middle” they remain, to this day, the Party’s target demographic.
But the Tories are not going to be defeated on their own patch and have moved in to deal Labour a one-two in the fight to appeal to the all-white Protestant nuclear hard working family. In March the Conservative Party website boasted that “Council tax cut helps hard-working families” which obviously did not apply to the families of public sector workers who were made redundant in their thousands and thus ceased, at a stroke, to be hard-working. Perhaps it is one of those former public servants who appears in the new Conservative advert which has made its debut this week and is aimed at voters in the UK’s 60 most marginal seats. A lovely family enjoying the sunshine and showing off the brightest Colgate smiles imaginable are contrasted, with steam hammer subtlety, with an unshaven young fellow, who could be an ex-local authority refuse collector, sitting on his mucky sofa. You can almost smell the pong of stale fag smoke on his clothes.The text of the ad reads “Who do you think this Government should be giving most support to? Hard-working families or those who won’t work?”
Note that the unemployed are, without equivocation, to blame for their own situation. There is no mention here of any crisis of capitalism, no failing businesses and no cuts in public services leading to massive job losses. Nor is there any distinction made to separate disabled claimants from those who are fit but unable to find a job which does not entail working for the minimum wage or less. This is, in fact, a cast-iron classic example of dividing the population into what George Osborne describes as “strivers and skivers” and Ed Balls as those who go out to work and those who don’t open their curtains.
This week I have represented “skivers” at ESA appeals including a man with profound learning difficulties and another with paranoid schizophrenia. It’s true that these two gentlemen rarely open their curtains but that isn’t because they are too busy watching enormous televisions but rather because they are more frightened of the outside world than they have ever been before. Thankfully both appeals were won but it was appalling that they should have been without their benefits for so long, scandalous that they should have to appear in front of a tribunal and, in effect, justify their existence and utterly shameful that politicians should use them as fodder to demonstrate their own toughness on the mythical squad of people who supposedly choose to live their lives alone, inadequately nourished, in freezing flats with nothing to do to make life worthwhile.
Those of us who are lucky enough to be fit enough to work, to still have a job (no matter how precarious) and also to have other humans living in our homes are in no position to take the moral high ground. OK, we might work hard and yes, we might have families, but please, Labour, Tory and Liberal alike, do not presume, arrogantly, that we follow your agenda here. And most of all, don’t expect us to vote for you after you have demonstrated such callousness towards the poorest and most vulnerable of our fellow citizens.