the sinister subtext behind the ‘hard-working family’

9 10 2012

Politicians often use the phrase ‘hard-working family’ to describe those who they say they support. The Conservatives use it a lot. They are not alone, but they are the most guilty. Guilty? Why… surely a hard-working family is the ideal, isn’t it?

I want to challenge a few assumptions that lie behind the phrase. Because it sounds fine, but masks a more sinister prejudice and a particularly prevalent point of view amongst the ruling elite from the aspirational classes. 

1. The first relates to hard work. Not everyone wants to work hard. Gasp. A lot of people do, but many just work because they have to. This is fine. It is ok to work, to get by, to pay your taxes, to keep your family afloat. Also, not everyone can work ‘hard’, if hard is defined by set hours, intense work, a regular job. Again, for a variety of reasons (e.g. physical/mental health, family, addictions). Some can only work a little bit. Are they scroungers?

2. Which leads to the second assumption: that there are two kinds of people, those who are hard-working and those who are lazy scroungers. This is not true. There are many people who fall in-between those two extremes. Not everyone is aspirational, for a whole variety of reasons (education, health, mental health, family, experience…). Should everyone aspire to work hard and make a ‘better life’ for themselves?

3. The third assumption is that hard-working people are well-paid and ‘successful’, i.e. have accumulated baggage they are entitled to because they have worked hard, therefore shouldn’t be chased for higher taxes. This falls down on at least two counts. A lot of people are wealthy and do not work hard. A lot of people work hard and are not wealthy. An overnight shift in Tesco’s stacking food we don’t really need is hard work. A long day in the City moving imaginery money nobody sees is (presumably) hard work. They pay very differently. Only one contributed to the financial crisis. For some, it is hard work simply keeping the family together, even without paid work. Being a mum is hard work. Being a single mum is extremely hard work. 

4. The fourth assumption is closely linked and is that ‘hard-working’ families are essentially the middle-classes and above. This is not true. Here’s an idea. Instead of having to tax these ‘hard-working and deserving people’, how about one type of hard-working family – the wealthy – redistribute wealth (in a much fairer way than higher taxes) to the other type of hard-working family – the poor or struggling. It’s called a fair wage. It’s called not paying your CEO 100x more than your lowest paid staff, plus non-performance related bonus. Then more money is put back into the economy rather than stored in the (offshore) accounts of the wealthy. It’s also called fairness, justice and is the opposite of greed. 

5. The fifth assumption is that hard-working (middle-class) families shouldn’t have to make any greater sacrifices than they already do through the tax system. Here’s another idea: maybe some hard-working families – though entitled to tax credits and child benefit and winter fuel allowance and free travel – don’t claim if they don’t need them. A huge saving could be made, leaving more money for those who need it. Of course there are flaws in these arguments. Maybe I am wrong about these assumptions. But I am finding the rhetoric of Cameron and Osbourse more and more sinister, more and more divisive, and more and more at odds with a Christian view of justice, grace and caring for the poor. Of course some people will abuse the welfare system. Others abuse the right to register income abroad and avoid tax. Yes, families who live entirely on benefits need educating about responsibilities. But often we are talking about people with learning difficulties or emotional difficulties or mental health or just people who have not learned to think ahead and consider consequences.

We are, according to Osbourne, apparently all in this together. Hmmm. Mocking the idea of taxing the rich, and then raiding the welfare budget of the poor? Well, it just stinks. Whatever type of hard-working family you come from.  

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17 responses

9 10 2012
Iain McFarlane

Kevin, this has so well articulated what I have been thinking but not been successful in articulating myself. It will be plagiarised heavily.

9 10 2012
Kevin

Thanks Iain. It has been rumbling around in my head for a while until I found time to articulate it. It is still not as concise as I would like, but it’ll do!

9 10 2012
neil stewart

could not agree more although i think there are loads of “disabled” people who can would love to be able to work if things were more flexable

9 10 2012
Kevin

I agree, and the disabled are among those I had in mind when thinking of those who cannot work as ‘hard’ as others, though would often like to be able to; because they can’t, doesn’t mean we should stigmatise.

9 10 2012
neil stewart

maybe i feel a project comming on!!

9 10 2012
Erica Stephenson

Thank you for this. It does indeed articulate so well what has been running around my mind for some time.

9 10 2012
DaveL

Hi, first time visitor to your site, directed here by a facebook friend.

There’s a lot more that could be done by the Coalition to make things better, and I agree they are failing in some areas. However I find some of your points a little inventive.

#1 is good! I like 🙂
#2 is actually two points (more types of people and then aspiration) and I see what you’re saying. However, the general conversation has always been about the groups at the ends of the spectrum and less about the middle. You could consider Ephesians 4:28 for a Christian outlook on work.
#3 & #4 – I think these assumptions veer off significantly. I don’t think any party believes hardworkers are just in a particular class. Saying “Only one contributed to the financial crisis” is unbalanced unless you accept “Only one paid the higher rate of tax that ultimately funded someone’s pension”.
#5 is very interesting and thought provoking. They’d never go for it! 🙂

Your penultimate paragraph almost nails it, but unfortunately your final paragraph really lets it down. I’m not sure whether I’ve misinterpreted it so to save foot-in-mouth perhaps you would expand?

10 10 2012
Kevin

Hi Dave, thanks for your comments – I think I got a bit carried away by the final paragraph! In the final paragraph I was referring to George Osbourne making a joke about the ‘mansion tax’ idea, and then suggesting making cuts to welfare…. I think a more thought-through ending was needed though!

9 10 2012
Abigail

Thought-provoking post! In terms of the aspect of disability and work, there’s a really interesting thread developing on Sue Marsh’s blog exploring this very connundrum. I’d really recommend reading it here: http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/disabilitys-not-working.html

10 10 2012
John Gay

An interesting article.There is a difference of course between those who live to work and those who work to live. The former chase all sorts of things such as wealth, status, celebrity in their own back garden or even the wider world etc, keeping up with the Jones or making sure they stay ahead of the Jones. The latter work hard to keep a roof over their head.

We need a rethink in the values pertaining to why we work (pressure to conform to perceived social norms etc).

10 10 2012
c2drl

Life is about choices and one of the things that the Christian Gospel is very hot on is respecting people’s right to choose. I chose to work hard but not go over the top, so I could also enjoy my family and work in the Church. That isn’t what everybody should do, but it was my choice and I accept the consequences, good and bad.

We don’t all start life in the same position, which is where the equality lobby gets its knickers in a twist because they try to put everybody in the same position. Not everybody has the same abiltity to choose. People can’t choose not to be disabled for example.But they can choose how they respond to it and have to live with the consequences.

The problem comes when people’s choices impact upon others. If somebody chooses not to work and they expect the state to finance their live lives that impacts upon me, I end up paying a share of what they are given.So freedom needs boundaries, otherwise we have anarchy.

I want to be part of a society that shows love to those in need. I firmly believe in the NHS founding mantra, free to all at the point of need. I’m not so sure about funding cosmetic surgery or IVF. I want to pay taxes to help those in genuine need. I am not so sure about paying taxes to fund payouts to those who see it as their right to have lots of children and not to work to pay for them.

When Kevin says maybe I should give up some of the so called benefits, for which I have paid all my life, to help the less well off, my initial feeling of yes is tempered by the fact that I see politicians and trades unionists bleeding the country dry for their own benefit and I see my taxes being wasted on quangos, government interference in my life and aid overseas to people who don’t need it.

Its not easy, but we need the debate. Christians and those of other faiths have much to contribute to the debate. I am not sure where the proper debate, as opposed to mud slinging is happening.

Well done kevin for raising it, what happens next?

10 10 2012
Kevin

Thanks C2DRL – I think what i was trying to do was just that – to raise the issue, to bring another side to the rhetoric, albeit a little overstated in my enthusiasm (ok, rant). Freedom needing boundaries is a good place to start. Mud-slinging is not, and I fear I am guilty of that this time.

10 10 2012
neil stewart

Cant find the post you were replying to but I dont think you over stated the case or had a rant, good to have Church leaders comment on such things It should happen more often ( next arch Bishop please note) I wonder who they will move to York!?

10 10 2012
Kevin

See here for a more thought-through approach from Resistance and Renewal: http://wp.me/p1welc-MT

15 10 2012
A few good links | eChurch Blog

[…] A few links I found interesting for one reason or another: The Blog of Kevin – The sinister subtext behind the ‘hard-working family’ […]

4 12 2012
bill sardo

Typical, lazy liberal trying to justify his entitlement lifestyle. Liberals are the laziest, greediest and most envious people out there. That is why they gravitate to careers in education, government, unions, the arts, and church, while their politics are punitive of anyone who actually works. My answer to you people who want to grab my hard-earned property is this: you chose your career so that you could create a certain lifestyle (i.e. plenty of control over your time, intellectual stimulation, lack of work, whatever), so just enjoy it and stop being envious of people like me who work hard at something we may not like, innovate and improve systems, and actually contribute to feeding the masses and keeping the lights on for you.

4 12 2012
Kevin

Hi Bill, thanks for taking the time to read the article, though I am not sure if you actually understood what I was saying. My basic point is that a lot of people work hard but don’t get paid a lot for it. The point was about working hard, but not being middle/upper-class. But thanks for reading.

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