UK govt must not pander to poverty myths, say SNP

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   By a Newsnet reporter

Scottish National Party spokesperson for Work and Pensions Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP has slammed the UK Government for pandering to ‘poverty myths’ as new research shows more and more people believe that individual characteristics rather than societal issues cause poverty.

A report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has examined the links between public attitudes to poverty, welfare and the state of the economy using data collected as part of the British Societal Attitudes survey, and found that the traditional view that the poor were seen sympathetically during recessions has disappeared, with more people thinking that recipients of benefits are undeserving.

The report identified a trend in which the public has become increasingly likely to say that individual characteristics rather than societal issues cause poverty.  The report finds that two-thirds (66%) of the UK public identifies the explanation for child poverty as relating to the characteristics and behaviour of parents, compared to 28% who say it is down to broader social issues.

15% of the public in 1994 thought people lived in need because of laziness or lack of willpower, compared to 23% in 2010. Support for the view that people live in poverty because of injustice in society fell from 29% to 21% over the same time period.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation study shows that the change in public attitudes is most marked amongst those who identify as Labour voters.  Just 27% of Labour supporters cite social injustice as the main cause of poverty, down from 41% in 1986; while those identifying laziness and a lack of willpower rose from 13% to 22%.

Labour supporters also increasingly hold the view that welfare recipients are undeserving (from 21% in 1987 to 31% in 2011) and more and more hold the traditionally Conservative view that the welfare state encourages dependency – 46% say if benefits were not as generous, people would learn to stand on their own feet, up from 16% in 1987.

Dr Whiteford has previously criticised George Osborne for reinforcing negative stereotypes of those on benefits and using the low paid and unemployed as scapegoats to deflect from their own economic failure.  Dr Whiteford believes that the rhetoric and language used by the main UK parties is largely responsible for the demonisation of the poor.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:

“Sadly, these findings are not surprising considering the rhetoric of the UK Government is full of ill-informed assumptions and not based on facts or research. The real solution to unemployment is growth and jobs, which Westminster is failing to deliver on, yet Osborne uses the low paid and unemployed as scapegoats to deflect attention from their own economic failure, while cutting taxes for millionaires.

“Previous comments by George Osborne show just how out of touch with the real world he is. The Chancellor’s Budget speech last month on welfare reform hid the complexity of the true nature of poverty in the UK – which his Tory austerity agenda is increasing.

“Osborne has said that in 2010 alone, payments to working age families cost £90 billion, and that was ‘one reason why we’ve got such a big deficit.’ However the proportion of our tax bills spent on welfare has remained stable for the last 20 years.

“Welfare dependency is also not entrenched as the UK government would have us believe- evidence suggests that in less than 0.1% of the 20 million working age households in the UK there are 2 generations that have never had a permanent job. The numbers of such families, if any exist, are so small that no survey has yet been able to detect the much cited three generations of worklessness.

“We need a welfare system that reflects Scotland’s values, helps working families and protects the most disadvantaged people – and a fairer welfare system for Scotland can only be achieved with a Yes vote in September next year.

“A clear majority of people in Scotland already want decisions on taxation, benefits and pensions to be taken by Holyrood rather than Westminster, where our MPs have little ability to prevent such damaging measures as the iniquitous Bedroom Tax.”