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July 15, 2013 / C H Thompson

Media stereotyping

Gerry Mooney, Senior Lecturer at the Open University has examined the way the language influences Government welfare policy, pointing to the media and politicians talk about those living in poverty.

“In some ways, the terminology and words used have changed’ says Mooney, ‘but as you did begin to dig deeper the dominant narratives show remarkable consistency with those from the past. We have, for instance, the enduring legacies of the late 19th century when there were notions of a deserving and undeserving poor. This is dressed up today as ‘strivers and skivers.’

How a problem is defined, constructed and understood says much about the policy along the lines of individual ‘fecklessness’, inadequacy and so on will lead to policies that are likely to be more punitive and that will seek to encourage more individual responsibility and less reliance on benefits.”

Mooney believes that attitudes to welfare have hardened in part because of the influence of a media that is keen to pint out the finger of blame at the individual for their own circumstances, rather than look at the wider social and cultural picture.

“It should not come as any surprise that public attitudes to welfare are becoming tougher, given almost constant drip-feed by sections of the media about ‘welfare junkies’, the ‘workless’ and so on.” says Mooney.

Matters have been made worse by a spate of what Mooney calls ‘crisis of welfare’ stories in the media. ‘These reflect some horrific cases of child abuse and abduction, domestic violence and so on, but have been used to attack ‘welfare cultures’ that are pinpointed as key contributing factors. These episodes are used to criticise working-class life which is nearly always negatively portrayed and stereotyped.”

Extract from ‘Vanishing in Society’, Open Minds, 2013.

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