by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass
Photo: The Sun [Online] – http://www.thesun.co.uk
This week The Sun broke the story that Westminster Council has been paying huge sums of money to house homeless families in 4-star hotels including the Jury’s Inn, Chelsea where a reported £248,000 was spent in January and February and the Copthorne Tara, Kensington where £171,000 had been spent in two months.
The Sun pointed the finger at a loophole in law being abused, which requires councils to put up homeless families in hotels when there is no other accommodation.
There is no getting away from the fact that this is a ridiculous amount of money for temporary accommodation, and hopefully Westminster Council will strongly re-assess its spending in light of this information going public.
However, there is a lot to be learned from what The Sun said, and did not say, to provoke certain reactions:
“Officials are picking up tabs for rooms costing £475 a day EACH in swanky four-star accommodation where hard-working families could never afford to stay on holiday.”
Homeless Put Up In 4-Star Hotels, The Sun, 12th May 2013
From the outset, this article, like many before it, is divisive and pits those on welfare against those not. Hard working families are the good, the out of work and homeless are the bad, and they are getting things they don’t deserve.
The term ‘taxpayers’ and ‘taxpayer’s money’ is used several times to further provoke tension between those in work and those out of work. Yet, we did highlight in last week’s Media article that most of the benefit spending for employment goes to those in work.
To further massage these negative ideals The Sun suggests that these homeless families are deliberately declaring themselves homeless to avoid the new benefit cap. And it seems The Sun got this opinion from someone with authority?
“Experts say families are dodging strict new rules on how much housing benefit they can claim by declaring themselves as homeless rather than move to cheaper areas.
The council has a duty to put them up under a different law – resulting in massive bills to be footed by taxpayers.”
Homeless Put Up In 4-Star Hotels, The Sun, 12th May 2013
These experts are never identified, neither are their fields of expertise. And while the next line, written in italics (as in the original aricle), seems to be a potential quote from said expert, it has no quotation marks. This is a common used tactic in tabloids. ‘Experts say…’ leads you to believe that they have sought professional opinion, but the fact that they have not named the organisation or the expert themselves could mean that the writer is speaking about a colleague or a boss who is an ‘expert’ at coming up with carefully crafted sentences that make you believe what is not there.
Clever way of making The Sun’s leanings felt with a bit more weight though.
Later, The Sun reveals that the number of people that Westminster council needed to re-house had “nearly trebled from 30 a month to 80”. The reason behind this being the benefit cap that came into effect last month, meaning that some families could no longer afford their private rent prices and thus, became homeless.
Councillor Jonanthan Glanz explained in the article “When people initially approach us we need to house them for short periods, usually locally, while we assess their case.”
Obviously this does not mean that the money spent, particularly on longer term stays, is justified. Perhaps, re-assessing cases whilst families are in their initial accommodation could prevent the spending of £375 a night in some hotels though, as their benefits were nowhere near this.
What The Sun didn’t say.
The elephant in the room was well dodged by The Sun in this article. Not once did it mention the severe shortage of affordable housing in the UK.
Housing benefit costs have soared to nearly double in ten years – from £12.6bn in 2003, to £24bn. It is understandable that these costs need to be tamed, but private rents are high (and growing) and with less council houses being built, the prospect of affordable housing grows ever smaller.
Last year, the Institute for Public Policy Research said that for every £1 the government spends on building houses, £19 is spent by the taxpayer on rent subsidy.
Some claimants facing the bedroom tax have been doggedly searching for smaller accommodation to avoid the new cost. However, a lack of one and two bedroom housing has made this impossible for some, forcing them to foot the bill, even when they are willing to move.
But The Sun didn’t explain any of this.
The Sun has never been afraid to reveal its political stance, however much that has swung and changed over the years. Currently, the paper backs the Conservatives, and consequently, the welfare reforms. Which is worth remembering when the paper chooses to highlight and hide certain things in its stories.
Fitting, that this week also sees the release of new research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in a report entitled:
The report reveals that the public have become “increasingly likely to say that individual characteristics rather than societal issues cause poverty”, with more believing that lack of willpower and laziness is to blame for unemployment, and more people believe that welfare recipients are often undeserving.
“The stark findings of this report highlight the increasingly tough stance people are taking against people in poverty. We appear to be tough on those experiencing poverty, but not tough on its causes.”
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of JRF,Tough On People In Poverty,2013
The comments made by readers at the bottom of articles seem to mirror the tabloid’s intentions. As The Sun did not do a ‘Best Rated’ and ‘Worst Rated’, I have taken these snapshots from the same story in The Daily Mail to show what is most agreed with and what is not.
Following in the sensationalist tow of the tabloids, readers fill in the gaps with pre-approved subjects of moral panic, as seen in the ‘Best Rated’ comments. Here, it is those on benefits and immigrants. In other cases, terrorism and foreigners, paedophiles, hoodies etc. Subjects designed to hit unabatedly on readers’ core sensitivities, all whilst maintaining the integrity of the reader as the good. Creating divisions and fearmongering, and backed up by no specific expert.
The “Worst Rated” are from those suggesting that the cause is a lack of affordable housing and ask for apathy.
Perhaps, after years of exaggeration, moral panic and division, some readers are doing the writers’ job themselves: