Friday, 18 January 2013

Small victory against the dehumanisation of those on benefits

Following my previous blog "No Pets. No DSS": the demonisation of a new group? I have been informed that the Estate Agents concerned have now withdrawn use of this phrase from their window adverts.

This was reported in the Herald and Post newspaper this week.

This small victory does, however, hide a bigger injustice that continues: the discrimination, by landlords and estate agents, against renting property to those on housing benefits, or in  receipt of other social security benefits. I remain concerned that the poorest in our society are now effectively being excluded from any form of housing provision except that provided by councils or social landlords, who are managing larger and larger waiting lists. Where will the poorest in our society live in the future?

Isn't this situation also a recipe for community conflicts? No doubt the hate-mongers in our society and populist politicians will look around for other groups to scape-goat and blame for the housing shortages.  No doubt some people on benefits, having been stigmatised themselves as "scroungers" and discriminated against, may be persuaded to blame other groups for their predicament as a consequence. On this weeks BBC Questiontime we had a taster: new immigrants from the European Union  (this time Bulgaria and Romania rather than Poland!). Historically many other groups were demonised in exactly the same way: the Irish, Jews, Black people from the Caribbean and Africa, Asians from Bangladesh and Pakistan ... all at one time or another blamed for causing housing shortages over the past 100 years or more!

A week-on-Sunday (January 27th) it will be Holocaust Memorial Day. If there is one single important lesson for today from the holocaust (and there are of course many lessons) it is that the stigmatisation and dehumanisation of any group in our society is morally and ethically wrong and can lead on to gross human rights abuses, if not actual genocide. I hope that during the commemorations this year we will make an explicit commitment to reject the demonisation of people on benefits that is taking place in our society at present and the scape-goating of "immigrants", where ever they may be from.


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