Monday, 28 June 2010


On the far edge of my desk in call-centre land sits a Vicky Pollard doll. The revolving door of the flexible labour market means that no one currently incumbent knows how or why it appeared there so there it stays rather like the dead man in Yossarian's tent in Catch 22; unchallenged except for the time it was stuffed in a drawer for the visit of dignitaries from an important client.

Generally I hardly notice it, but from time to time it catches my eye. When it does I ponder; How powerful are stereotypes like Vicki Pollard and how much do they shape the kind of welfare state we find ourselves with? Writing off the character as a crude stereotype is I believe to misjudge its power.

In my journeys through the blogsphere I have recently come across a neo-liberal blog titled: 'Burning our money'. I felt moved to comment on one post about IDS's policies as I felt a graph being used was misrepresentitive (lies, damned lies and statistics). In the process I have been able to see the other comments on the post where readers have turned to every stereotype about benefit claimants ever trotted out in the right-wing media. There's talk of "scroungers", immigrants, fraudulent incapacity claims, holidays, TVs and for a bit of comic relief among this cocktail of nastiness a link to a Daily Torygraph story.

All this in the midst of a down-turn where many people have been put out of work because of a widely reported economic downturn; yet in some quarters the unemployed are still portrayed as feckless and defective. It seems that stereotypes are very potent indeed and particularly useful to neo-liberals seeking to dismantle an already threadbare welfare state which pays such low levels of unemployment benefit it routinely sees workers losing their jobs gobbled up by debt.

Public sector workers too fare no better. Len McClusky of the Unite union making an excellent point in a recent Guardian article when he says of politicians:

"They talk about public sector workers as if they're devils. We're talking about people who teach our children, treat the sick, clean our streets, people who are responsible for building the fabric of the communities in which we live."

As a former public sector worker I was particularly aware of the gap between popular perceptions of gravy trains and reality of missed lunch-breaks, unpaid overtime and colleagues routinely burning out and as a former Social Care employee I saw many people who battled against negative stereotypes day-in-day-out.

If we want to defend our welfare state and ideals of social justice we need not be afraid to challenge stereotypes where they exist. Vicky Pollard doesn't need to be just stuffed in a drawer but confined to the dustbin.

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