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Monday, 3 June 2013

Are we still stereotyping?

A lot of people who read my rambling will probably think of themselves as evolved individuals capable of rational judgment and thought. The type of people who can base their views of people and situations on the facts and not on stereotypes and propaganda. Now to be fair most of you lovely people are capable of this type of free thinking... but my question here is how capable?

Let me first share with you two recent news stories to appear in "red top" newspapers.

Firstly there was this one spitting venom about a lady "claiming handouts as a jobless single person", when she'd just married her same sex partner in a star trek themed wedding.

Then there was this one protesting against "an elderly dementia sufferer" who has been asked to pay back benefits that were "overpaid".

Now on first glance a lot of people would look at these two articles and agree with the tone in which they have both been written... but lets take a look at the similarities in the reported facts:
- Both women were overpaid benefits (one of £16000 and one of £12000).
- Both overpayments were the result of a mistake on forms.
- Neither had any previous history of similar issues.

So despite the totally opposing tones of the articles, the facts of the cases are actually very similar... surely they were both legally dealt with in the same way? Well no actually they weren't. The first lady was handed a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay back the money in full. The second lady was asked to payback £10 a week, and given that would take her until she's 120, probably won't pay the money back in full.

So what were the crucial differences that separated these two similar cases, turning one woman into a hated criminal and one into a victim of government pettiness. Well quite simply one is a lesbian who loves Star Trek where as the other is elderly and "During World War II,... served in the Highland Light Infantry".

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I want to see little old ladies up in court or starving beause of a mistake on a form. I'm also not saying the government should be ignoring overpayments and letting everyone just keep the money. What I'm saying is people and situations like this should be judged on the facts, not pre-formed perceptions.

Now we've all complained about the press doing this, especially the "red tops", but if you hadn't looked at both articles side by side, and looked specifically at the facts rather than the story, would you have disagreed with them?

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