Friday, 09 November 2012

Political stereotyping of poverty "Language is balls coming at you from every angle" - Alan Bennett, Talking heads 2 Resonating with my recent post about the language of povertyism, here’s Tony Stoller in a JRF blog post the other day: ‘The language of 'benefits' and the 'welfare state' have become 'dog-whistle' words of implicit abuse. Politicians assert that housing benefit is designed for ‘those who lie in bed with the curtains drawn’. Those on benefits are ‘scroungers’, ‘benefits cheats’. ‘The data shows that 61 per cent of children in poverty actually have working parents. Yet what we hear is the stigmatising of what the Victorians used to call the 'undeserving poor...'’ ‘Public discourse is manipulated so that policy measures which penalise rather than help those in poverty are seen to be going with the grain of that public opinion...’ Stoller sums this up in terms of ‘political stereotyping’, which ‘blames poverty either on the individual or structural inequality, confuses welfare with poverty and fails to make the basic connections which underpin a true appreciation of the common good.’ It would be interesting to develop a wider critique of the persistent rhetoric of this government, including the use of the phrase 'hard-working families' which I mentioned previously; 'integration' as a replacement for 'cohesion'; 'doing the right thing’ as a moral justification for evidence-free whim; and the word 'heroes' used to help manage a delicately balanced political approach to the funding of defence.
First international convention of neighbourhoods bloggers Well, two of us anyway, sometimes you gotta start small. Canadian Diane Dyson, who blogs at Belonging Community, was passing through London and it was a great pleasure to meet up for a coffee and a conversational wander round parts of the City of London. I’ve long admired Diane’s thoroughness in her blogging and the determined linking of community development practice to policy options. I’m also a fan of the way she combines informed insights into a range of different themes – education, crime, health, housing, planning and so on. What chance the residents and practitioners of Toronto value what she offers? We talked about settlements and housing and private-public space; the attitudes of media and politicians to poverty, about philanthropy and the need to reassert poverty issues in the income inequalities agenda. We talked about the notion of ‘social claustrophobia’ – apparently a new and ill-chosen term for social detachment, which I’ve commented on often enough; and the need for policy to appreciate the importance of recognition as much as engagement at neighbourhood level. At one point we came round a corner to discover this scene: a London bus draped with the banner of the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks, which as I’m sure you already know has been serving the City churches since 1274. Don’t call it a beadle-bus – there is honour in a civic group that can trace its history to the fraternities and guilds of late medieval England. For my overseas guest, this was a wonderful, coincidental example of civic tradition, mutual support and collective enterprise, and eccentricity in the English establishment. We had stumbled on back markers during the last preparations for the parade of the Lord Mayor’s show. As if our conversation needed any prompting.

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