It presents research by Professor Gill Valentine which shows that British society is becoming increasingly intolerant of unemployed people and other disadvantaged groups, with a growing sense that unemployment is caused by individuals’ personal failings, rather than by structural problems in the economy.
The research is based on 90 interviews which were conducted in Leeds with participants from a variety of different social classes and ethnic backgrounds.
The research also highlighted an alarming intolerance towards disabled people, with participants questioning the legitimacy of benefits for disabled people deemed incapable of working.
Professor Valentine argues that we are witnessing therefore the re-emergence of traditional distinctions between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, associated with the Victorian era.
The Coalition government’s welfare policies are in part a response to the kind of popular prejudices identified in the research. However, government rhetoric on welfare ‘scroungers’ is likely to reinforce these attitudes – focussing blame for poverty on individuals rather than on wider structural problems in Britain’s increasingly low-pay, low-skill economy.
The brief concludes that there is a danger that misplaced fears and prejudices relating to welfare claimants will present a threat to social cohesion, potentially legitimising policies which might exacerbate, rather than alleviate, social inequality.
Download SPERI Brief No.8: Inequality and class prejudice in an age of austerity