As someone who pays close attention to news and politics, and who has an eye for patterns, it’s very clear to me that the Tories have a particular methodology that they return to with such unfailing frequency that it can legitimately be called a fetish. Of course, my own view is that it’s a completely cynical tactic that they use either to distract from their many failures or to gain support, from anyone who isn’t paying close attention, for inhumane or blatantly crooked policies. But it’s clearly an approach that sits very easily with their character – or lack of it.
The pattern is this: whenever you need to distract from being actually crap at running the country, or you want to push through a policy that screams ‘unfairness!’, or ‘robbery!’ or the like, find a group which is vulnerable, or is daring to resist the policy you want to push through. Then – shamelessly and with scant regard for fact – demonise them for all you’re worth.
A small selection of groups on whom the Tory component of the coalition has used this tactic since they came to power:
- public workers (when stealing their pensions, cry ‘gold-plated!’, ‘selfish!’, ‘denying reality!’ etc)
- health workers (when stealing pensions, reducing numbers, cutting funds and pushing through privatisation: cry ‘greed!’, cry ‘they don’t care for their patients as much as themselves!’, publicise isolated cases of bad practise to erode public sympathy etc)
- teachers (when stealing pensions; cry ‘lazy!’, ‘selfish!’, ‘long holidays!’ etc)
- the disabled (when cutting DLA and trying to force people into work when they realistically cannot; ‘lazy!’, ‘faking!’, ‘fraud!’ and distort the numbers out of all recognition)
I could go on, but you get the picture. The tactic is blatantly being used on doctors at the moment, who are quite rightly resisting a government raid on their pensions, and on immigrants (always a popular target of the blinkered).
But with their continuing dire performance on the economy, ongoing revelations at the Leveson enquiry, tumbling poll numbers and a steady stream of sleaze, the Tories clearly feel they need another scapegoat – a group easy to demonise, a minority that can’t really defend itself but is big enough to provide a viable target, and which your average ‘white van man’ and the ill-informed can easily be fooled about.
So, now it’s the turn of ‘problem families’. Tory minister Eric Pickles (a man who clearly has no recent relationship with the concept of going short), announced that the government was going to get tough on ’problem families’ whose behaviour supposedly costs the British taxpayer £9 billion a year.
With no obvious sense of irony (incredible though that is, coming as it does a mere day after Chancellor George Osborne’s lengthy interview in the Sunday Telegraph blaming the Eurozone for Britain’s lack of recovery!), Pickles stated that it was time for the government to get tough on these ‘problem families’, whose ‘it’s not my fault’ culture means they’re at the root of high levels of crime and social disorder: ‘They’re troubling themselves, they’re troubling their neighbourhood. We need to do something about it‘
Wow. We clearly have a major problem. However, it’s not the problem you’d tend to expect after reading that statement.
Given words like you’ve just read, it would be reasonable to assume that the government arrived at this nice, round figure of 120,000 families by looking at statistics of crime and antisocial behaviour. Or at least complaints by neighbours and council action taken against neighbourhood nuisances. Wouldn’t it?
I think so. Very much. However, a slightly closer look tells a different story. The government based its calculation on a set of 7 criteria. Families which met any 5 of those are ‘problem’ families. Surely, these criteria cover things like juvenile crime, ASBOs/CrimBOs, social worker involvement, local authority interventions?
No. Here they are:
No parent in the family is in work;
- The family lives in poor quality or overcrowded housing;
- No parent has any qualifications;
- Mother has mental health problems;
- At least one parent has a longstanding limiting illness, disability or infirmity;
- The family has low income (below 60% of the median);
- The family cannot afford a number of food and clothing items.
Can you see anything in that list which indicates that a family is causing a problem to anyone else, or doing anything that is likely to be their ‘fault’ that they should be taking responsibility for? No, nor can I.
On the contrary, the measures are primarily about being poor and/or sick/disabled.
Apparently, having a low income or poor accommodation is not the fault of stingy employers, feckless landlords or the lack of decent available work & housing - and DEFINITELY not the fault of government policy that allows those things to existnot the fault of government policy that allows those things to exist. No, that’s just blaming someone else. It’s your fault, and you’re a PROBLEM FAMILY!
You might be a doctor, or a teacher, or the CEO of a FT100 company, but if your mother suffered from schizophrenia or had a nervous breakdown when you were a child, well – you may not have realised it, but you come from a PROBLEM FAMILY.
Does your mum or dad have a longstanding illness or disability? Screw blaming a tough life, bad luck, genetics, accident, industrial disease or any other outside factor. You’re a PROBLEM FAMILY and it’s your fault. Stop whining about it, don’t expect help – pull your socks up, get your act together and just stop being a nuisance to the rest of us.
Or so they would have us think – albeit maybe not quite so clearly.
This latest attack on the vulnerable – for purely political and PR purposes – not only shows the Tory ideology (or at the very least its latest manifestation) to be callous, venal, heartless and, yes, evil.
It also gives a very clear lesson to anyone who cares to listen: when you hear a Tory politician or spokesman claiming something about a particular group, CHECK THE FACTS. It’s almost certainly based on distortions, omissions, misdirections and, maybe, on outright lies, with a dark ulterior motive behind it. The current government does not care about improving the lot of the many in this country. Their agenda is quite a different one, and if you belong to a group they think they can get away with turning everyone else against so we don’t notice what else they’re up to, watch out.
And if you’re one of the many: Joe or Jo Public, the man or woman on the street, the squeezed middle that the government wants to distract while they pick our collective pocket, please, please: don’t fall for it. Instead, find out the facts, and then tell everyone you know what’s really going on.
(and while you’re about it, sign the following petitions to tell this government that we’re onto them
and get your friends to do the same. Thank you.)