By Jay Stringer
When the economy collapsed there was a bit of a problem. Not for us. Not most of us. Those with normal jobs -or no jobs- and real world worries. The actual collapse had been largely to do with things that didn't exist. Gambles and debts being called in on speculation and futures. The initial wounded animals of the banking crisis were the bankers* and rich people. Bankers because they'd lost all of that fictional money, and with it their livelihoods and reputations, and rich people because they were about to lose investments.
Of course, that's not how history played out. Because quite quickly the fictional money was turned into real money, and the debts were passed off onto other people. A banking crisis soon became a financial crisis, which then became a financial meltdown. You don't need me to tell you where this story ends, you just need to count how many food banks and soup kitchens there are within five miles of where you're sat.
They key thing for today's post though was the blame. The blame was passed off first, loudest and longest. The poor people. They're where all the money was hidden. They're the people who needed to pay.
I can't speak for America, but one thing I've seen over here is the demonisation of the unemployed. People on benefits are being made out to be the cause of all of life's evils. The reason this is important, the reason people want us to focus on blaming the 'scroungers' on benefits is because it stops us looking at the amount of reparations that banks haven't paid. It stops us from looking at uncollected taxes from corporations and individuals living in tax havens.
We're led to believe the greatest drain on our nations finances is unemployed people claiming benefits, when the actual statistics show that only 3% of the total welfare budget is being spent on unemployed people. We're led to believe that people on benefits are all cheating, whereas the official stats show that only 0.7% of the welfare budget can be found to be fraudulent.
There is a television show over here right now called Benefit Street. It's filmed in a street that I know, from near where I grew up back home in the English Midlands. The show paints a picture of a street in which every inhabitant is living a life of ease and luxury on benefits, and some of the people featured in the show have received death threats from the British public, a public that is being stirred up to boiling point with hatred of 'scroungers.' Never mind that the real stats show that 75% of people living in that street are employed, and that those who are not would then fall under the stats I've already quoted. And never mind that in Birmingham, where the show is filmed, 1-in-3 children are living in poverty. That's 1-in-3 children in the second largest city in the UK who are more likely to die young, to have ill health, to have long term educational problems and to be both prey to -and the cause of- crime. Why try and help any of those children, when we can just blame them instead?
And it's also a view that ignores a much more revealing aspect of the welfare bill; the majority of people receiving benefits are employed. They are families who have jobs and still can't afford to live. The 'working poor' as we currently call them. To ignore these people makes it easy to paint the picture that benefits and poor people are the real reason everyone is struggling (to be honest, even the phrase, 'benefits' helps to do that. It's a loaded term.)
It makes it easier to overlook those that caused the problem -and those who could fix the problem simply by living up to their end of the deal- and to shift the blame onto those who are already desperate.
And that's where I get to my point;
We write and read crime fiction. We write about murder, violence, drugs, gangs and poverty. By definition, we are writing about the 1 out of every 3 children in these stats. I've asked before whether we do enough in crime fiction to live up to responsibility and I'm asking again now.
Are we tourists? Are we standing and pointing or, worse, are we standing and victimising. I like to preach about my little corner of the crime fiction world, where people talk of 'social fiction' and of addressing issues, but sometimes I wonder if even that is an excuse. Is it a way of making ourselves feel good about about exploitation?
Do we do enough, or are we just another part of the blame game?
*I know, I know, not all of them. Just the evil ones.
Having read RUNAWAY TOWN just last week, I can safely say you are not a tourist. What might have been the saddest part of that book, to me, was seeing we in the States are not alone in the sentiments you expressed, blaming the poor for the economic situation. I had hoped we were the exception, not the rule.
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