The media argument over welfare reform

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), meeting in Dundee from 14-16 April 2014), has passed an extensive motion on welfare reform and the effects of poverty in the UK.

In particular, it supports the Child Poverty Action Group’s Scottish Campaign for Welfare Reform and its ‘Manifesto for Change’. It highlights five key measures: increasing benefit rates to the level where no one is left in poverty and all have sufficient income to lead a dignified life; respect for human rights and dignity as the cornerstone of a new approach to welfare; a radical simplification of the welfare system; investment in support so that all can participate and contribute to society; and making welfare benefits work for Scotland.

I was pleased to support this motion on behalf of the National Union of Journalists in Scotland, with particular reference to the role of different sections of the media and its relation to policy-making. I said:

“This resolution is about distinguishing between truth and lies. It recognizes that welfare is about how all should all be able to fare well (not just a wealthy few). It backs genuine reforms that are about extending the benefit of the wealth we all create, not cutting it from those who need it most.

“What the coalition government is enacting is not ‘welfare reform’, it is a systematic attempt to deform, to cut and to privatize the welfare state. The very language is being manipulated and distorted through misuse.

“Crucially, the government’s strategy relies on a corporate, big business controlled media to pump out huge quantities of propaganda. The aim and effect is to demonise and scapegoat people with disabilities, the sick, those living in poverty and indeed anyone who needs support to cope with the impact of deliberate austerity policies.

“My union, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), is committed to building and restoring a free, independent media that is capable of challenging what John Kenneth Galbraith has called ‘institutional truth’ – the half-truths, deceptions and, yes, lies that are used to protect the interests of the powerful.

“The digital media, the Welfare News Service and campaigning journalists like Sonia Poulton (who manages to subvert outspoken articles into even the Mail and the Express) are part of the struggle to challenge this de-forming of welfare.

“So is the Spartacus Network of disabled researchers and campaigners, who have just published a 125-page report, ‘Beyond the Barriers’. Based on the most extensive survey of ESA, WCA and Work Programme users, it not only shows what is wrong with the current support system, but sets out the principles for an alternative approach.

“The key point here is that policies on welfare and poverty should reflect the experience and expertise of people living at the sharp end, not determined remotely from on high. The same goes for media coverage of these issues.”

* STUC: http://www.stuc.org.uk

* CPAG Scotland: http://www.cpag.org.uk/scotland/

* Scottish Campaign for Welfare Reform: http://www.cpag.org.uk/scotland/SCoWR

* Manifesto for Change (CPAG/SCWR - *.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/SCoWR%20manifesto%202013.pdf

* Spartacus Network: http://www.spartacusnetwork.org.uk

* ‘Beyond the Barriers: ESA, the Work Programme and recommendations for a new system of support’ report: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/beyondbarriers

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He is a National Union of Journalists delegate to the STUC 2014.

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