Logically, I’d expect those on the sharp end of things to be pro-welfare. But if anything, many interviewees had internalised a Thatcherite every-man-for-himself mentality, wanting benefits for themselves but resenting anyone else getting a handout.
There are almost too many examples to list but the kind of attitudes I heard daily went along these lines: the disabled man thinks it’s wrong the drug user down the road gets methadone. The drug user is outraged that the large family next door gets a spare room and hopes they are hit by bedroom tax. The large family is sick of elderly people getting big houses they don’t need. The elderly woman hopes these large families are forced to stop having kids once the money dries up. On and on it went in a circle, anger constantly directed at other victims of the coalition government’s Welfare Reform Act instead of the politicians and policymakers responsible.
On being told of the cuts, one young mum exclaimed “Good! That means her down the road’ll get her money taken away” referring to a resident with severe mental health issues (people with less visible disabilities like hers were all too frequently dismissed as “chancers”).
Another tenant vented her frustration that her permanently disabled brother was having his support cut while in the same breath bitterly complaining about fraudulent disability living allowance (DLA) claimants (I contemplated having the comparatively low statistics for fraud tattooed on my face to save time repeating it).
One of the sentences I regularly heard – and was no less startled by each time – was “We’re not on benefits.” On a daily basis I spoke to people who were in receipt of tax credits, child benefit, ESA, DLA, income support and housing benefit yet still told me matter-of-factly “we don’t claim benefits”. Over time I understood that what this really meant was that they were striving to define themselves as something other than the endless media presentations of “scroungers”.
Ah, the power of false consciousness.