Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


9 March 2018

Remembering and Rethinking Images of Welfare in the (Post) Austerity Era

Presented By Dr Mark Monaghan, Dr Gaby Wolferink and Professor Dominic Wring

About this event

2017-18 will mark the 35th anniversary of the publication of Golding and Middleton’s classic study Images of Welfare. This is a cause for celebration, but also a cause for reflection. With nearly 500 google scholar citations, the work continues to be a key reference point for understanding contemporary social policy, its associated politics and media representation. There is something of a timeless quality to the study. Golding and Middleton highlighted various mechanisms and processes employed by the tabloid press during the 1970s in the production of ‘scroungerphobia’ narratives which began to feature heavily in political discourse at this time. The issues the book documents – pervasive demonizing coverage of the so-called ‘underserving’ poor – are still commonplace and have even taken on a new dimension in the era of what Jensen (2014) refers to as ‘poverty porn’ and the new commonsense about ‘welfare’ and ‘worklessness’ which have become increasingly pejorative terms in contemporary times.

A recent special edition of the journal Poverty and Social Justice (October, 2016), exploring attitudes to, and experiences of, ‘welfare’ in Britain payed homage to Golding and Middleton’s work. References to their study were found in all four contributions. A key theme of the journal, echoing Golding and Middleton, was that that pejorative attitudes to ‘welfare’ were prominent during the reputed ‘golden age’ of the welfare state (circa mid 1940s – mid 1970s) and, therefore, that aspects of the UK’s ‘machine of welfare commonsense’ have longer historical roots than is often imagined (Hudson and Lunt, 2016). A second and related theme was that attitudes towards ‘welfare’ are also inherently complex, malleable and often contradictory, allowing for a range of positive and negative attitudes co-exist. Thus, although attitudes towards providing ‘welfare’ to ‘the poor’ have hardened over time, attitudes towards whether ‘the poor’ are deserving of any state help have barely changed (Taylor-Gooby, 2015). So, although the media and political elites have engaged in stoking up the stigma and shaming of social security over the past few decades, giving rise to many myths surrounding ‘welfare’, this does not simply translate into outright negative attitudes from the public. The picture is more nuanced.

The results of the 2017 General Election and the resurgence of Labour on an anti-cuts, anti-austerity agenda adds some weight to the idea that public attitudes to ‘welfare’ are characterized by complexity. It also provides a timely opportunity to re-examine lessons from Images of Welfare. This is the primary aim of this one-day symposium. Through different forms of presentation (key note lectures, panel papers and round tables), it will bring together key thinkers across a range of career stages and disciplines including social policy, sociology, criminology, media and communications, business and economics, amongst others. In doing so, it will highlight the heritage of Loughborough research (Golding and Middleton, 1983; Lister, 2010) demonstrating how this has influenced current debates in representations of ‘welfare’ and how this can provide a platform to shape future policy trajectories at what might turn out to be an important cross-road in the politics of social policy in the UK and beyond.

Confirmed Speakers

  • Professor Peter Golding – Emeritus Professor University of Newcastle/Northumbria University 
  • Baroness Ruth Lister - Emeritus Professor Loughborough University
  • Dr Ruth Patrick – University of Liverpool

Other speakers TBC


Registration for the event can be found on the link below: