We hate the term “The Undeserving Poor”

We hate it because we’re so uncomfortable with the term “the poor”. It has a ring of charity about it, when we don’t consider the welfare state to be a charity. We consider it to be a support structure for those who have fallen on hard times.

If a soldier returns from Afghanistan to spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair, he will rely on state support. But he is not “the poor”, he is the “the hero”.

Is someone in social housing poor? How about if the flat is in Covent Garden? Would you call them “the poor”? Because we’d call them “the damn lucky”.

The engineers made redundant by British Aerospace have mortgages, cars and foreign holidays. But in the hard times to come they may well look to the state for support. Does that make them “the deserving poor”? These are some of the most highly qualified well-educated people, who, through no fault of their own, are in an industry suffering a severe downturn. If they are struggling, in the months to come, if they need a helping hand, then we will offer that helping hand. But we will not regard them as “the poor” and certainly not “the deserving poor”.

It’s a term that grates with Labour people. It rubs us up the wrong way. It’s a Victorian idea that has no place in the modern day. Yet journalists constantly ask Labour politicians whether our belief in rights and responsibilities are examples or the deserving and undeserving poor.

They are not incorrect in their analysis. We do believe that some people have a greater entitlement due to their good citizenship, while others should have less entitlement due to their deliberate unwillingness to be a good citizen, but the term will always create a hostile response from a Labour politician because the language is simply unacceptable.

The media are just doing their job. They don’t intend to be offensive by using this angle. But they do need to recognise that to us, it is an offensive term and will not elicit an worthwhile response from any Labour politician or supporter.

2 Responses to We hate the term “The Undeserving Poor”

  1. Phil C. says:

    Excellent article, Dan!
    Lovely to see your sincerity, passion and eloquence!

    The worth and strength of the universal welfare state is in its universality.
    I’d say that its universality is, almost by definition, a Lefty concept and very far removed from the Victorian ideal of charity.

    Rights and responsibilities, if they are to be worthwhile, have to apply to ALL members of society, whether rich or not rich.
    Personal circumstances may and do differ, but the principles of good citizenship apply to all.

    I agree very much with what you say about language.
    The Tories often use words and terms as weapons or tools, and they seek to create and artificially “frame” debates in ways that suit them. Sometimes, I suspect, the media pick up the themes out of laziness or under pressure of time; othertimes the media pick up the themes out of ineptitude and don’t stop to question themselves about WHY Labour spokespeople won’t even begin to discuss a particular “topic”. The media should pause for thought more than they do (there are honourable exceptions, as some journalists are first-rate).

  2. Thus Spake Zarathustra says:

    Someone who praises universality for being a “lefty” concept and condemns the “right” for framing language needs to read a few books.

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We hate the term “The Undeserving Poor”

We hate it because we’re so uncomfortable with the term “the poor”. It has a ring of charity about it, when we don’t consider the welfare state to be a charity. We consider it to be a support structure for those who have fallen on hard times.

If a soldier returns from Afghanistan to spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair, he will rely on state support. But he is not “the poor”, he is the “the hero”.

Is someone in social housing poor? How about if the flat is in Covent Garden? Would you call them “the poor”? Because we’d call them “the damn lucky”.

The engineers made redundant by British Aerospace have mortgages, cars and foreign holidays. But in the hard times to come they may well look to the state for support. Does that make them “the deserving poor”? These are some of the most highly qualified well-educated people, who, through no fault of their own, are in an industry suffering a severe downturn. If they are struggling, in the months to come, if they need a helping hand, then we will offer that helping hand. But we will not regard them as “the poor” and certainly not “the deserving poor”.

It’s a term that grates with Labour people. It rubs us up the wrong way. It’s a Victorian idea that has no place in the modern day. Yet journalists constantly ask Labour politicians whether our belief in rights and responsibilities are examples or the deserving and undeserving poor.

They are not incorrect in their analysis. We do believe that some people have a greater entitlement due to their good citizenship, while others should have less entitlement due to their deliberate unwillingness to be a good citizen, but the term will always create a hostile response from a Labour politician because the language is simply unacceptable.

The media are just doing their job. They don’t intend to be offensive by using this angle. But they do need to recognise that to us, it is an offensive term and will not elicit an worthwhile response from any Labour politician or supporter.

2 Responses to We hate the term “The Undeserving Poor”

  1. Phil C. says:

    Excellent article, Dan!
    Lovely to see your sincerity, passion and eloquence!

    The worth and strength of the universal welfare state is in its universality.
    I’d say that its universality is, almost by definition, a Lefty concept and very far removed from the Victorian ideal of charity.

    Rights and responsibilities, if they are to be worthwhile, have to apply to ALL members of society, whether rich or not rich.
    Personal circumstances may and do differ, but the principles of good citizenship apply to all.

    I agree very much with what you say about language.
    The Tories often use words and terms as weapons or tools, and they seek to create and artificially “frame” debates in ways that suit them. Sometimes, I suspect, the media pick up the themes out of laziness or under pressure of time; othertimes the media pick up the themes out of ineptitude and don’t stop to question themselves about WHY Labour spokespeople won’t even begin to discuss a particular “topic”. The media should pause for thought more than they do (there are honourable exceptions, as some journalists are first-rate).

  2. Thus Spake Zarathustra says:

    Someone who praises universality for being a “lefty” concept and condemns the “right” for framing language needs to read a few books.

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