There is, and has been for some time, a stigma attached to unemployed people. The thought of the local Job Centre tends to bring to mind the image of hapless scruffy men and young women with pushchairs collecting their weekly benefits. Indeed, for the past few years now, the term ‘dole’ has been synonymous with the widely-popular phrase ‘chavs’, a vulgar noun which sprung to life from the murky depths of tabloid journalism and burrowed its way into the collective conscience of today’s class-confused society.
A lot of people still haven’t clicked on to the fact that the ‘chavs’ are the modern-day working class, victimised by the newspapers whose main audience is, funnily enough, these very ‘chavs’, and without this loyal readership base, they’d have likely gone bust by now. And in such an eventuality the reporters – those who wrote the headlines of youth violence and 48-hour binge drinking and whatnot – would be joining the dole queue with the very citizens they vilified for a living.
Society has long been of the opinion that job-seekers are lazy, unintelligent, leech-like, untidy of appearance and content in their own idleness. This, again, is mainly as a result of the swathes of degrading newspaper coverage. Those who have never been on benefits before are of course the ones who tend to be more intolerant of the unemployed. Such unsympathetic perspectives are bred by the rampant antagonistic media portrayals that allow employed members of the working class (if such a thing exists nowadays: many social commentators believe that, owing to the atomisation of certain sections of the population, the ‘working-classes’ are nothing but a myth now) to look down on the ‘chavs’ and consider them to be lower-class citizens, unaware of the fact that, to the media and the rest of the country, the employed members of the mythical working class are cut from the same cloth as the ‘chavs’ and are, in essence, just the same.
In the media, unemployed people are represented in a way which manufactures a superficial bourgeois attitude within the ranks of the employed, and through this attitude comes the rejection of empathy for the hardships faced by the ‘dole-mongers’ and in certain cases, the depression that some are forced into and the stale misery that many live with.
I myself am unemployed. I have applied for countless positions and have attended several interviews only to be ‘pipped at the post’ (a favourite phrase used by an employer to tell you kindly that they don’t want you) by another applicant. I am well-placed to speak of the banality of having no occupation and the adverse affect it can have on the general mindset. Some of my mates from school, upon hearing of my situation, laughed down at me from their high horse of employment, calling me various derogatory names (I take it in good fun – they’re only having a laugh, y’know), their favourite seeming to be that transatlantic American term ‘bum’ – for which the Government’s term is ‘NEET’ (not in education, employment or training).
However, I am not the archetypal NEET (in terms of the image wrongly represented in the media): I am well-read, well-dressed (I like to think) and motivated. I don’t fit the stereotypical profile for a young man unemployed. And, believe it or not, there are many more like me. In fact, I’m confident you’ll find that most so-called ‘chavs’ are intelligent, friendly and more well-versed in the policies that shape society and the intricacies of their current environment than you may have been led to think.
But, it must be said that there is a change in the tide of the portrait painted in the tabloids – as the figures of unemployment are projected to spiral upwards for the next few years (you will have probably read that the numbers reached over 1 million a couple of weeks ago) and it becomes common knowledge that there will be many more job-seekers from various (and, in a lot of cases, wealthy) backgrounds, the overall viewpoint of British journalism is shifting towards support for the unemployed. This can be seen through several television programmes that have recently aired examples of the real world of job-seekers, such as the BBC’s Inside Out and other local-oriented documentaries.
With the rise in unemployment will come the redundancies of some members of the middle classes who thought their jobs were secure and untouchable, the middle classes who once poured scorn on the very people they will be rubbing shoulders with in the Job Centre, bustling with the ‘parasites’ whilst trying to get to the interactive touch-screen. Former tabloid-writers standing-shoulder-to-shoulder with the hard core of the unemployed, the ‘binge-drinking scruffs’, the ‘chavs’, the Job Centre faithful. All of them sailing the same boat, rowing against the rising tide of the volatile, uncertain waters of recession, ready to leap into the waves at the first sight of a job and to leave behind the huge ship of the damned.
Once the various echelons of society have integrated into the ever-lengthening dole queue, whom will the papers victimise next? Can they humiliate the majority of the British population? Can they label those from every walk of life as ‘chavs’? Can they continue their two-faced charade of attacking a group of people on one page, and then offering those same people coupons for 20p off a loaf of bread? Or will they drop the verbal degradation and start fully supporting the national community whom they serve with information?
The answer, I suspect, will crop up some time between now and the next General Election.