The poor need to work harder on their image

A must read

Are you poor or do you know anyone who is? I am wondering whether this maligned group has considered the benefits of a really good PR consultancy.

Last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review — “the biggest macroeconomic experiment in an advanced country in any of our lifetimes”, according to one economist — saved its most experimental measures for the poor. They are, by common consensus, the losers in the cuts.

In the woolly liberal past, we might have reached for sympathy. Now it’s just blame — but that’s nothing a bit of private-sector rebranding can’t help.

Even some cursory market research on the ConHome comments thread shows the poor have a bit of an image problem (“feckless”, “bone-idle”, “cheats” etc).

But there was a time the poor were seen as quite picturesque, all muted palettes, distressed surfaces, chim-chim-cheroo. They ornamented our major conurbations, only asking the rich for more in sweet little voices. A top publicist could have played on this nostalgia.

More recently, we had a no less subtle distinction between the “deserving poor” (the ones with low-paid jobs cleaning bins and wiping old people’s bums) and the “undeserving poor” (the ones who spend all their benefits on Haribo).

However, since the former are generally employed by the bloated public sector — thus equally responsible for the deficit, the callous bum-wipers! — and 490,000 public sector jobs are to go, the deserving will soon be lumped in with the undeserving. Whether they deserve this or not, it does highlight the need for a really eye-catching makeover.

Perhaps they could learn from other niche interest groups — such as the arts lobby, always up on the benefits of good PR. Just before the CSR, the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, invited the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to a lavish dinner. It worked a treat: museums received a comparatively lean 15 per cent cut.

Now you could ask whether Mr Hunt would really base an important funding decision on the quality of the British Museum’s petits fours. But let’s put it another way: why didn’t the poor think of pulling a stunt like that? Admittedly, they don’t have the looted riches of the ancient Egyptians to use as a backdrop, being poor and everything. But they could have gone to at Lidl, got in a few cans of Special Brew, put on a bit of a spread for Iain Duncan Smith, walked him to the bus stop.

And the poor could certainly learn from their traditional rivals, the rich — or the “middle class”, as they have successfully rebranded themselves. They are quite well represented in the Cabinet: 22 out of 29 ministers are millionaires. Maybe if we heard a more even range of voices, we wouldn’t spend so much time dealing in ignorant stereotypes.

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