N E W S • F R A M E S • • • • •

About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

A Daily Mail front page you won’t see…

daily-mail-03-04-13-rowlingApril 8, 2013JK Rowling should perhaps be given a Nobel Prize for getting a generation of kids to read books. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s generated endless amounts of tax revenue. How was this phenomenon nurtured? By a little time and space on the dole.

You’d be surprised how many successful people developed their craft on the dole. In a way, most successful corporations also require a long period on the dole. Do you think Boeing and Microsoft would have achieved commercial success without decades of state-funded research and development in aerospace and computing?

Any true wealth-generating activity requires periods of “social nurturing” which aren’t profitable. They’re not self-funding in the short term; they are dependent. (We realise this for children – we call it “education”. The money spent on it is regarded as social investment).

“Investment” (in human beings) was also one of the ideas – along with “safety net” – behind “social security”. The welfare state was created in the forties, in a post-war economy which was nowhere near as wealthy as now (imagine: computer technology didn’t exist).

But, for decades, the rightwing press, “free market” think-tanks, politicians and pundits (not just of the right) have wanted you to think differently about social security. They want you to think of “welfare” as an unnecessary nuisance which costs more than everything else combined.

To that end, a simple set of claims, accompanied by a certain type of framing, is relentlessly pushed into our brains by newspaper front pages and TV and internet screens. It has two main components:

  1. Vastly exaggerate the real cost of “welfare” and falsely portray it as “spiralling out of control” (how this is done is explained here and here). Misleadingly include things like pensions in the total cost when you’re talking about unemployment. (This partly explains why people believe unemployment accounts for 41% of the “welfare” bill, when it accounts for only 3% of the total).
  2. Appeal to the worst aspects of social psychology by repeatedly associating a stereotype (the “benefits scrounger/cheat”) with the concept of “welfare”. One doesn’t have to be a prison psychologist to understand how anger and frustration are channeled towards those perceived as lower in the pecking order: “the scum”. (According to a recent poll, people believe the welfare fraud rate is 27%, whereas the government estimates it as 0.7%).


It’s a potently malign cocktail. When imbibed repeatedly, there’s little defense against its effects. Even those who depend on benefits come to view benefits recipients in a harshly negative light (see Fern Brady’s article for examples). Those politicians who aren’t naturally aligned with rightwing ideology go on the defensive – they talk about “being tough” and “full employment“. It just reinforces the anti-welfare framing.

The strangely puritanical – and deeply irrational – obsession with “jobs”, “hard-working families”, etc, at a time in history when greater leisure for all is more than a utopian promise (due to the maturation of labour-saving technology, etc) seems an integral part of the conservative framing – which is perhaps why many on the “left” find it difficult to provide counter-narratives.

But that would require another article. For now I’ll leave you with a short video explaining Basic Income – a fast-spreading idea which is highly relevant to the above. (Guardian columnist George Monbiot recently championed Basic Income as a “big idea” to unite the left).

Written by NewsFrames

April 8, 2013 at 8:35 am

9 Responses

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  1. A lot of good points there and well said, though I doubt anyone in power will actually bother to listen to it…

    I think the fundamental point the government is missing is that a strong economy requires more in employment and that a policy of making cuts to the public sector (to the extent that there are not enough teachers or nurses to do an effective job and that some members of the civil service are working long hours to complete the work of two or more people) and giving the private sector more power to reduce thier headcount has a massive negative effect. Rather than the intended savings to the public purse they are actually reducing the tax income from workers and causing the economy to stagnate because less is being spent therefore companies are earning less therefore they are paying less tax too.

    But I guess I am preaching to the converted here…

    The welfare budget is tiny compared to the amount of money they would get from even a small increase in the tax rate for higher earners or from making an effort to actually claim some of the unpaid tax from those higher earners. Also, though I do not have any statistics to back this up, I am wondering at the hidden costs of reducing welfare caused by, for example, health risks associated with poverty.

    D.A Lascelles

    April 8, 2013 at 8:54 am

  2. Really excellent article. It’s so sad to see people believing the tabloid scare stories about welfare. There was another survey conducted recently (British Social Attitudes?) which showed that the public was hardening its views on benefits recipients. Are we so easily brainwashed? Yes, it seems so, particularly when we’re worried all the time about how to pay the bills. Less resistance to propaganda which makes us angry, and easier to just blame people who fit the ‘undeserving’ stereotype “Divide and rule”.


    April 8, 2013 at 10:18 am

    • All true. The scroungers are not confined to a particular social class, for there are people working in their own selfish financial interests throughout British society, right to the top of the social ladders. Unfortunately for people with few resources (inner or outer), their only way of surviving is by gaming the system; not for them the perpetuation of the status quo.

      Who cannot easily understand this, when all the time we’re hearing of the likes of Sir James Crosby?


      The gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown hugely of late, so the disgust from the DM and its readers doesn’t do anything to right the wrongs in the social fabric of this country, quite the contrary.


      April 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm

  3. You thick C*NT.

    That, my friends is the ramblings of an idiot.
    1) Microsoft is an AMERICAN COMPANY so i doubt got many UK start up grants!
    2) Generational dependency on welfare is an issue – not only financially but socially and morally
    3) The welfare state was a temporary provision to combat the 7 evils of society – go look them up and see who fits the criteria and if welfare in its current form is still working?
    4) I love the welfare state and believe is it there to protect the most vulnerable in society however, it seems to be failing in that respect.
    5) The well is empty – doesn’t matter who ran it dry, but it is DRY!


    April 9, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    • Tom, did you need that first line you bellicose B*TCH.

      Microsoft may be an American company but there will be a deluge of cases where it’s received UK state support, e.g: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/8042112/Microsoft-warns-Government-not-to-cut-apprenticeship-funding-for-firms.html

      If you think the well has run dry then I think the point of this article is you are believing all that you are told about the state of the economy. How, if the well has run dry, can we drop top rate tax once more, still manage the Olympics, fund jubilee celebrations, pay for MPs to have an extra day to honour Thatcher – these are all simplistic examples but one look through the most recent Private Eye would show the ever present tax breaks and advantages for the richest individuals and companies of our society.

      Incidentally, and this is aimed at NewsFrames, one angle I’ve not read on tax avoidance, which as a complete subject is being brilliantly investigated and brought to light by individuals like Nicholas Shaxon and Richard Williams, is the clamp down on tax avoidance schemes like the one Jimmy Carr was recommend to use, purely because these were schemes more suitable to the middle class. I really do believe much of the fear about those schemes at that point, which Cameron was quick to condemn (how about his dad’s Belize dealings..), was that the middle class, if they knew an accountant or too, had many options to chop their tax bill right down and effectively pool their earnings together with other like minded folk and benefit with half decent tax breaks. With the newspapers (tabloids and broadsheets) condemning people like Carr and rightly so, very little of there ire was placed on the millions wasted in tax revenue and capital flight from the really wealthy, bar the obvious “tax avoidance pin-ups” Starbucks & Amazon and that was very marginally succesful.

      Mike Munners

      April 10, 2013 at 8:58 am

      • Of course I meant “of their ire was placed” and not “of there ire was placed”…

        Mike Munners

        April 10, 2013 at 9:11 am

      • Sorry for the spam follow ups… one other mistake, Richard Murphy and not Richard Williams, wrong fella.

        Mike Munners

        April 10, 2013 at 9:14 am

      • Good points there, Mike. You’re right to point out that Microsoft has benefited from UK state financial help (both direct & indirect). Of course, my original point was not specifically about UK corporate welfare, but about the general principle of private commercial dependency on state funding over history. Any complex technology becomes profitable and marketable only at a late stage in its development (which is when commercial firms come in). Before that point the only way to pay the vast costs of research & development (over a period of decades) is via the state. Much of the technology we use had its distant origins in military projects, for example.

        We have a strangely distorted view of “wealth” (due partly to business PR) – we imagine it all comes from “private enterprise” in the present, and from the recent past. But it accumulates over history. We’re all totally dependent on the work and innovations of dead generations, and the taxes they paid.

        In other words, the dichotomy between “dependency culture” and “private enterprise” is completely false.

        Considering these historic aspects makes your final point about corporate tax avoidance, etc, all the more poignant. When you consider how much wealth (including accumulated historic “social” wealth) that these private tyrannies are taking out of the system – rather than allowing it to be circulated and fairly distributed…


        April 10, 2013 at 1:07 pm

  4. Many thanks for the interesting & thoughtful feedback. And I’ll ponder Tom’s points to see if I can learn anything new.


    April 10, 2013 at 7:47 am

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