The UK’s newspapers are notorious for the high levels of political bias in their reporting. This makes them rather unreliable sources for those of us who are trying to get objective information and facts about the happenings in one of the world’s richest countries, but it also means that they can provide a useful cultural barometer of the feelings of the population, especially in these days when the public can easily respond to what they read using social media tools like Twitter.
A good example of this comes from a story this weekend in the Mail on Sunday, the sister paper of the famously right wing and vacuous Daily Mail – which, astonishingly enough, has built the most popular newspaper website on the internet through a mix of extreme politics, shock stories, and paparazzi pictures of celebrities. The Mail on Sunday sent investigative reporters to some of the UK’s food banks – charities that hand out free food to the unemployed and unfortunate, the exploited and oppressed who have been left jobless and penniless by the ongoing recession that has affected countries across Europe.
These reporters told the food banks that they were unemployed, and lied about their situation to make themselves sound desperate and hungry. The food banks ran the few basic ID checks that they usually do, and then handed over some small food parcels. According to the Mail on Sunday, this is an outrage, and demonstrates that the recent figures that suggest that one million British people have had to use food banks in the past year are false. Many of the people using the food banks, they claimed, will just be ‘scroungers’ and chancers who are only looking for a free meal, just like the reporters were.
The response on Twitter and other social media has been primarily one of anger. People have pointed out the obvious logical flaw that just because people who work for the Mail on Sunday are willing to tell barefaced lies in exchange for food, it doesn’t mean the rest of us would do the same. But others have pointed out that even if there is a grain of truth to the story, it doesn’t actually matter. If even 20% of the food bank recipients are fake, that still leaves 800,000 people going hungry and requiring additional food packages just to get by. Many of these will be children. That figure, while not as symbolic as the one million mark that is often used, should still be a source of national shame in one of the richest countries in the world.
The UK continues to have one of the world’s highest GDPs, one of its most glittering and expensive cities in London, and has an elite class of businessmen, bankers, and politicians who are making huge amounts of money even in these times that are so tough for the ordinary man on the street. These rich elites have long encouraged an ideology in which people see those who need help as somehow unworthy of it – they’re not trying hard enough, or they don’t really want to work, they just want people to give them money for free. No mention of the fact that wages have stagnated for the majority of the population, or that jobs are not available, or that many recent graduates have the added burden of debt to deal with. Simply a ‘winner takes all’ capitalist philosophy which encourages the poor to tread on each other to get ahead.
It’s this kind of ideology that the Mail on Sunday was promoting with their food bank article. Luckily, the reaction against it, and the understanding that the need for food banks is the real problem, rather than the exact numbers of people using them, suggests that an increasing number of people might be waking up to the emptiness of this ideology. We must hope that this is the start of an increased class consciousness and a fightback against a political elite that has long scapegoated the very people it is keeping poor.