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The rhetoric of hard work

If there’s anything more divisive, lazy and offensive in politics than the rhetoric of hard work, I’ve yet to come across it.

Why, you may wonder, would I have anything against hard work? I don’t. If you’re lucky enough to have a job you enjoy, hard work through choice is a pleasure. Apart from that, anyone who is sane hates hard work.

Yet politicians from all parties love to evoke a Britain of hard–working families. This is shame faced finagling as there are plenty of people out there who don’t work hard, fulfilling a mundane, possibly pointless role in return for their salary, while the majority of politicians come from a privileged, public school background.

For those who do work hard (or have to work hard) this romanticism is offensive. Hard work should be a source of anger; instead, it’s used as a means of keeping people in their place. There’s a clear suggestion that if you’re not working hard you’re doing something wrong, that your job is at risk.

But the most pernicious use of the rhetoric of hard work is when politicians attack the unemployed. Every now and again the Conservatives will trot out a campaign appealing to our beloved hard–working families. Why should you, they’ll argue, earn less money than some feckless, lazy dude who laughs at you while he refuses to work?

Apart from the fact that it’s absurd to generalise the unemployed to such a degree, it deflects attention from the real problem. What hard–working families should be asking is why they’re having to work so hard in order to earn no more than a family receiving state benefits. Or to put it another way: Why do so many Sainbury’s workers receive tax credits while their employer records profits of £405m over a six month period?