Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Left needs to stop parroting the terminology of the Right. Talk of "welfare" only fuels the scrounger myth - it's time to go back to "social security"

I've been planning for a few weeks to write about the change in the language used to describe people who claim benefits - a resolve hardened after seeing the much-shared Daily Mail front page pronouncing Mick Philpott, convicted of manslaughter following the death of six of his children, a "vile product of welfare UK".

Once my spluttering rage at the grotesque inappropriateness of equating an extreme criminal act with claiming benefits had subsided and I'd wiped my spittle-flecked monitor clean, I started to pay closer attention to the headline's wording. One word clearly took centre stage: welfare, a term known once upon a time as "social security".

Then, quite by accident, I stumbled across this excellent article by Labour peer Ruth Lister, chairman of the left-wing Compass group. Lister charts brilliantly why this change in language matters. If social security suggests a safety net to stop citizens falling through the cracks, then welfare, used as a noun, is easily associated in the minds of the public with what she calls:
a stigmatised US-style residual form of poor relief. It is all the more stigmatising because of the constant coupling with "dependency", so that in many people's eyes receipt of social security is now equated with a "dependency culture" that research does not in fact substantiate.
With the scrounger myth continuing to exert a strong hold over tabloids and public alike, it's ever-more important that the Left chooses its words carefully. In other words, it's time to stop borrowing the Right's terminology. Let's bid farewell to welfare and "benefits" (the latter carrying a vague suggestion of luxury rather than entitlement) and say hello to good old social security.

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