This colourful event took place in the attractive Bluecoat chambers and felt many miles away from the world of poverty. However, academics and journalists repeatedly made the point that the dominant political narrative about social security is misleading. The Conservative Party has set up a false dichotomy between those who do paid work and those who do not.
The discussion was of interest because it showed that civil society can think critically about these questions. Further, it allowed activists to respond to the platitudes of a member of the Labour council.
Nevertheless, there was a real gap in the debate. There was far too little discussion of political economy. The way people feel about the issues in question is not divorced from contemporary capitalism. The media does not operate in a vacuum and altering the discourse about welfare recipients is not an adequate strategy. Nor is sharing accurate empirical data likely to be a positive way forward. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell needs to get his message out there. People need to know there is a realistic alternative to living in such a divided society. This involves using the state to support the economy. McDonnell has warned:
“Our economy is failing on productivity because the Tories are failing to deliver the investment it needs, and government investment is still planned to fall in every remaining year of this Parliament.”