We need to challenge the myths that poison attempts at progressive change

Hilary Wainwright introduces the first in a series of mythbusters produced by Class, in collaboration with Red Pepper.

April 16, 2013
5 min read


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper

200x286front_coverDownload the guide from the Class website.

We are facing government policies of such inhumanity that if they are allowed to be carried through, we will look back in years to come with deep horror and shame. From the attacks on disability benefits to the bedroom tax, these measures return us to the kind of society where poverty was blamed on the poor and gross inequality was accepted as an economic inevitability.

Britain once had a welfare system to be proud of (for all its shortcomings) and it did not come easily. Our welfare state was born from centuries of struggle, culminating in a postwar deal to appease the millions who, through the war, had come to realise their own worth and capacities.

The children of this generation of heroes pushed in the 1960s and 70s for the full realisation of these post-war aspirations; for democracy in the workplace, the family, the universities and indeed every sphere of life.

But at the same time, an increasing section of the ruling class, championed by Margaret Thatcher, broke with the post-war compromise.

Thatcher and her coterie were determined to destroy the welfare state. At that time they did not quite succeed, but they began the process and they forged the ideological weapons. New Labour refined them to further weaken the defences of the social security state. Now the Conservatives, aided by the abject Liberal Democrats, have turned the crisis of the financial markets into a crisis of public spending. They have used this as an excuse to systematically shatter what remains of the welfare state – in other words to finish the destruction begun by Margaret Thatcher.

So how, not even 70 years on from 1945, are they getting away with it? Why are they so rarely challenged when they say that taxing the richest is impossible, but cutting the living standards of the poorest is just being realistic?

This is the importance of the ‘myth’. Milton in his great defence of free speech and a free press urged the importance of debate and argument declaring that ‘argument is knowledge in the making’. By contrast, deference to power, or at least to office and the trappings of power, leads to the making of myths.

The crushing of protest in the parties that founded the welfare state, the marginalising of anyone who argues, has over the past thirty years or so created a stagnant political culture in which myths can thrive like algae, poisoning the surrounding environment.

Those in power can spew out, almost unchallenged, a constant polluting flow of misinformation about the deficit being caused by runaway welfare spending – the most brazen lie that the public becomes inured to through repetition. This allows the government to plead economic necessity for rolling back the welfare state, a project that in reality it has been just waiting to complete.

It is often said that you can judge a society on how it treats its weakest member, and in that respect the current government have blood on their hands.

What kind of society is it that allows a million young people to struggle on the dole, squandering their potential and their creativity, instead of spending the money on putting them into meaningful work – and then blames them for the increase in the benefits budget?

What kind of society is it where bankers take home telephone-number bonuses and live in 20-bedroom mansions while people living in poverty with spare bedrooms are told they need to pay more or move to smaller homes?

What kind of society is it where disabled people are called in for crude, tick-box tests to prove that they’re ‘really’ disabled, then found fit for work only to die a few months later?

We urgently need to overturn this by forcefully challenging the myths that poison any attempts at progressive change today.

We have already seen, with Occupy and UK Uncut, some of the ways that this can be done – how the stagnant water can be stirred up and the algae removed. The importance of these new kinds of political initiative is that not only were they shouting clearly ‘No’ but also through their practice they have been creating democratic alternatives to this ruthless assault – platforms outside our closed political system.

Exposing the Myths of Welfare is produced in the spirit of Milton’s call to promote argument and debate to arrive at truth. It reasserts the principle of social security as a universal right. It exposes the tall tales used to disguise the ideological dogma of government attempts to replace our welfare state with US-style residual ‘relief’ for the poor.

Please use it to remove the poison and create a political environment in which alternatives can be nourished and a renewed welfare state created of which we can once again be proud.


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. @hilarypepper


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


15