The first benefits “fauxtrage” of 2017 is upon us, barely a week in. Harrumpher-in-chief Phillip Schofield decided that the best use of his time was to shake his head patronisingly at a woman who had the gall to buy two bottles of prosecco on her “Christmas bonus” – a pittance added to her benefits payments. This leaves the tabloids free to engage in their ceremonial monstering of someone who bought a tenner’s worth of fizzy wine while not being currently retained by an employer.
Moaning about the fecklessness of the poor is a national sport that predates the introduction of the chip shop – the patronage of which (“with my tax money!”) is likewise cause for public tut-tutting. “Would it not be better,” asked George Orwell in 1937, “if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even … saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing.”
“Unemployment,” he continues, “is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated.” The disagreement on this issue is not on the misery of poverty and unemployment, but on the idea that alleviating that misery is a good thing. If the unemployed do not earn their money through hard labour, then they should be expected to earn through suffering.
Anything can be used as an example of the unemployed worker’s fecklessness. Fridges and microwaves can be used to suggest the poor aren’t “really” poor. The screed against the “massive flatscreen TV” is positively ubiquitous, which is one of those things that really demonstrates the kind of alienation from the realities of the consumer electronics market you only get among the middle class. I don’t even know where to go to buy a cathode ray tube TV these days, but I do know you can get a 43” flatscreen for under £250 at Tesco.