Leo’s Flimsy Disguise

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Minister Vardakar’s right wing posturing is an insult to working class communities. Hiding behind his false beard claims, it’s not hard to see exactly what he’s about.

The recent high profile advertisement campaign, “Welfare cheats cheat us all” launched by the misnamed Department of Social Protection and their chief of deception, Leo Varadkar, is more than empty posturing by the Tory wannabe; it is a deliberate attempt to negatively portray those members of our society who claim their entitlements to social welfare.

Every taxpayer (and everyone pays tax throughout their lifetime in various ways) contributes to a central fund to provide financial support on occasions when we need it throughout our lives. Children’s allowance, old age pensions, sick pay, disability payments, unemployment benefit and housing benefit all come from a central fund we all contribute to.

Welfare is essentially a progressive policy of a caring society, we call it welfare because most of us are concerned with the welfare of our fellow beings, and we should protect it from this blatant attempt to undermine it. Make no mistake this ‘campaign’ is a precursor and indeed an excuse to justify more neo liberal and draconian cuts to the welfare system.

There have been numerous attempts by right wing politicians to shift the blame for the inequalities in this country from the irresponsible gambling of the banker class to welfare recipients, public sector workers and the working class in general. Most people see it for what it is; an insidious and negative portrayal of those living in precarious conditions, who are now more likely, because of the policies of austerity, to be trapped in cycles of poverty.

In a reply to a parliamentary question by Clare Daly this week regarding the numbers of people Minister Varadkar claimed were using false beards and other disguises to commit ‘welfare fraud’, the number of 21 proven cases was supplied. So ask yourself is the €165,988 excluding VAT spend by the Minister for his advertisement campaign justified by for the sake of the 21 cases his department claim? Of course not, obviously there is more to it than catching a few low level fraudsters, the real intention is far more insidious.

The only person disguising their intentions here is Leo himself.

The figure itself is not just very low, it isn’t even clear from the reply that any of these 21 cases involved the wearing false beards or any other disguise as they are described as ‘identity fraud’, which is more likely to involve the use of false documents rather than false beards.  Perhaps he felt a bit of drama would help to sell his ‘rat out your neighbour campaign’, but looking at the online reaction many found it ridiculous and disgusting.

This stunt is a low and demeaning form of Poverty Porn. Varadkar and his ilk would be happy to cast members of our communities for an episode of Benefits Street. The message is thinly disguised in the language of official concern for the public purse and it is entirely disingenuous. What lies behind it is a shifting of the blame from the structural inequalities, which the political class he is a part of, have created on to the shoulders of the poorest. The gap between those at the top and rest of us has never been wider; the top 10% owns 80% of the wealth in Ireland the bottom 50% own less than 5% between them.

The reality of welfare policy in Ireland since the bank bailout has been one of consistent cuts that have had a devastating impact on families and communities. The idea, which the likes of Leo would have us believe, is that it is poor people cheating, behaving badly, and living the high life on the backs of hard working people that are at the heart of the problem. The reality is a lot different. Long-term unemployment is not a lifestyle choice, in fact most unemployment happens in the short term and it is more usual to be between jobs as a direct result of the high levels of precarious employment, which the FG/FF/LP have refused to challenge.

On top of this, the past two governments have also implemented devastating cuts to the very resources such as training, education and childcare that can potentially help people to secure employment. They have also outsourced previously secure jobs in the public sector and local government to private companies who are involved in hiring through part time and precarious contracts.

Vardakar’s campaign is a rotten attempt to divide people into camps: the dole cheats versus the hard working people. And this tactic is nothing new. In fact it is directly lifted from Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s. It shows, as she did, complete disrespect for working class communities, lets face it that’s exactly who this is aimed at, because it is working class people who are more susceptible to precarious employment and likely to need access to welfare payments. The employment situation has grown more and more unstable since the transfer of wealth perpetrated by the last two governments. People are more likely to find themselves in low paid and insecure employment and therefore more likely to face periods of unemployment than ever before.

If Mr Varadkar was genuine about welfare policy then why does he and his party colleagues stand over a system whereby the Department Social Protection is supplementing low paid workers trapped in ‘if and when contracts’ in profitable companies like Tesco Ireland and Dunnes Stores and indeed throughout the retail sector.

The same could be said about the HAP scheme, which is in essence a state supplement to the private rental market, which by the way is failing people spectacularly. Fine Gael have stood idly while vulture funds have bought up residential properties in the Irish housing market at knock down prices, inevitably forcing rents upward to an unsustainable level adding even further insecurity for many families. But they want to deflect from this seriously corrupt behaviour, and focus your attention on your own neighbours who may have got an over payment on the dole.

The damaging language of right wing politicians like Leo Varadkar, through their ‘welfare cheats’ mantra, infect society via the right wing press.  They deliberately set about creating a negative narrative by printing misleading articles to convince us that this dole cheating is real and widespread  when in fact it is not.   They spew out whatever rare (and they are rare) cases they can find in order to tar us all as the cheats.

Ask yourself when is the last time you read a positive article in any newspapers about the supportive networks in working class communities, or about the people who come together under difficult circumstance with little resources to find ways of helping each other, or about the unpaid work of women and carers in the home and in the wider community and the value that their contribution has to society. We know that it happens all the time, but the print media predominantly focus on crime, dole cheats, anti social behaviour and general negativity when it comes to working class communities.

Most people want to work and indeed need to work, what they deserve is decent pay and security for that work and a welfare system that is not a means to an end in itself but a much needed financial support during the periods when they cannot, for whatever reason, work.

Mr Vardakar’s exaggerations and demeaning language serves to stigmatise people on welfare and suggest that there is big layer of people who are taking the piss and living off the rest of us. He ignores the fact that tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave this island in the last seven years in order to find work elsewhere. People should outright reject this Tory stunt and the attempt to portray people in such negative terms. The longer-term goal of FG is to undermine our social welfare system not just for a few fraud cases, but for all of us.

Stand together and stand up to Leo. And if you have information of malpractice in NAMA or Vulture Funds contact namaleaks.com