Why would ordinary people take to Twitter to advocate the firebombing of total strangers?

Residents angry at their portrayal by Channel 4 (published in The Independent)

Residents angry at their portrayal by Channel 4 (published in The Independent)

Answer- in response to the screening of a Channel 4 documentary purporting to follow the lives of people who receive their primary income from the welfare state. Controversial documentary “Benefits Street” , which was shown last night at 9pm, was presented as an attempt to:

reveal the reality of life on benefits, as the residents of one of Britain’s most benefit-dependent streets invite cameras into their tight-knit community

The response from some Twitter users was immediate and vitriolic. Jess Denham, writing in The Independent today reported a selection of these tweets, which included:

“I want to walk down #BenefitsStreet with a baseball bat and brain a few of these scumbags,”

“Set fire to #Benefits Street”.

“Watching benefits street from last night, such scrounging bastards”

It has been stated that the police are investigating criminal activities which were filmed as part of the documentary, as well as exploring the threats made towards the residents who featured in the documentary. But why would people react so violently to what is, after all, a highly selective portrait of the lives of a tiny minority of those individuals who claim benefits? One explanation may be found in the number of popular myths which abound regarding the welfare state. A Trade Union Congress report, published in January 2013, highlighted common voter misconceptions regarding the use and abuse of the welfare state. The infographic produced as part of this report demonstrates that respondents, on average, over-estimated the percentage of the welfare budget spent on providing benefits to unemployed people by a massive 38%.  Perceptions of benefit fraud were even more grossly inflated, with the average figure given by participants for the amount of the welfare budget claimed fraudulently standing at 27%, in contrast to the actual figure of 0.7%. Lacuna’s second edition, Austerity and Prosperity, which is due to be published in May 2014, will explore the origins and persuasive power of these myths, and offer alternative perspectives on existing debates. To ensure you don’t miss out on this or any other exciting coverage, subscribe to our mailing list, “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @Lacunamagazine.

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The scandals we choose to ignore

On the way to London to meet Lacuna’s extremely talented writer in residence Rebecca Ominora. We are interviewing for a story on austerity and immigration. For a taster of Rebecca’s incredible work in this area, look at this piece. More details on this story to follow. Don’t miss out: subscribe to our mailing list, follow us on twitter and “like” our facebook page.

reporting & writing

 (This article was originally published by the New Statesman magazine)

The unknown whereabouts of 150,000 people refused residency in Britain made headlines last month. The UK Border Agency took the usual flack for failing to exercise a “clear strategy” to deal with these cases. A Labour MP playing two populist cards with one hand – immigration and bonuses – demanded the removal of bonuses from senior UKBA officials. The pattern is a familiar one.

Yet there are far worse practices for which the border agency ought to be held to account. It is troubling barometer of public opinion that this is the issue that we choose to get up in arms about when far greater injustices occur within the immigration system on a daily basis.

Gladys, a young dental nurse from Zimbabwe, is just one typical victim out of thousands, whose liberty depends on the caprice of border agency…

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“Everybody loves economic growth, don’t they?”

Will Self

Will Self

Will Self, speaking on the topic of “Political Trojan Horses” on BBC Radio 4 this morning, argues that we should all be more critical of the superficially attractive  policies of politicians. In particular, Self takes aim at the “oxymoronic” language of “sustainable growth”, stating:

The suppressed premise on both sides of our increasingly pre-fabricated party wall is precisely the same, all our problems, as a society, as a nation, as a culture can be easily circumvented as long as we feed the horsey the right fodder to ensure its growth… Aah, growth. Everybody loves growth, don’t they? Without growth, we’d be back in the dark ages with Oxen pulling the plough wouldn’t we? And, if you’ll forgive the extended chimerical analogy, an economy is also like a shark isn’t it? Unless it keeps on consuming natural resources and transforming them into the flexible cartilage of technological innovation it dies, and we die with it. In the years leading up to the financial crisis, the most plangent buzzword in our political discourse was, sustainability, a term borrowed from the life sciences that denotes an eco-system capable of maintaining itself without depleting its resource space.. The notion of sustainable growth is oxymoronic, and yet no one except the most extreme Luddite would dream of speaking out against it. Why? Because the assumption is that to deny growth to any one part of the economy, no matter how bloated that may be, is to deprive its most meagre portions of the nutrition they so desperately need.

Click here to listen to the full eleven minute programme. The second issue of Lacuna, which launches in February 2014, will feature a variety of alternative perspectives on prosperity, and question whether Gross Domestic Product is the standard against which our prosperity should be measured. To make sure you don’t miss out on this edition, or our other exciting content, click here to subscribe, follow us on Twitter, and “Like” us on Facebook using the buttons below.