British tabloids are often accused of offering hysterical coverage of major and inconsequential events alike.* The Daily Mail lives up to this unflattering generalization in its article regarding Essma Marjam, a single mother of six who is receiving housing benefits for a five bedroom house in the London Borough of Westminster.
This is one in a long line of articles in The Daily Mail and other newspapers reflecting their outrage over single mothers receiving living costs from the state (particularly young, working class mothers and Muslim immigrants), and the very idea that people might think of raising children as being active or even contributing to society. The names and figures change, but the basic outline remains the same: if the woman is foreign-born, she should be deported; if the father is not involved, she is at fault; if she has more than two or three children, she is a breeding machine. Throw in the terms “scrounger,” “benefit cheat,” and “human rights”—complete with scare quotes—and you might as well have read every single one of these articles.
This particular journalist, Richard Littlejohn, is a renowned bigot. Taking his words seriously enough to offer a rebuttal of any kind feels ridiculous. What can you say about a man who called the murder of five women “no great loss” because they were prostitutes? So, rather than discuss whatever Richard Littlejohn’s personal issues may be, it’s more important to view this story and its presentation as an extreme example of an ongoing trend. Even in newspapers that wouldn’t print his speculation about the paternity of her children:
She explained: ‘I’m separated from my husband. He’s a solicitor in Derby, but I don’t know if he’s working at the moment. He doesn’t pay anything towards the kids. Things are quite difficult between us at the moment.’
They couldn’t have been all that difficult 14 months ago when Miss Marjam conceived her latest baby. That’s assuming her estranged husband is the father.
There remains the underlying criticism of the woman’s sexuality (and presumed sexual voraciousness), as well as the focus on exceptional cases as representing the lives of immigrants and asylum seekers in the U.K.
Additionally, there are usually bleak references to the country’s economy, in varying levels of specificity thrown in to the stew of fear mongering. Immigrants and those who rely on government welfare to keep them out of poverty stand in as scapegoats for an economic crisis caused by financial institutions. In this case, the emerging target is the immigrant Muslim woman, the new welfare queen for Britain in the early 21st century. Just like the African American “welfare queen” emerged as scapegoats for fraud in late 20th century American politics, crude gendered and racialized stereotypes of marginalized groups gaining political and cultural currency is nothing new.
This argument that immigrants are exploiting welfare and ruining the country’s economy does not hold when these living conditions not typical for immigrants and immigrants make a positive contribution to the country’s economy. Also, since the immigrants being discussed are almost always seeking asylum from war and persecution, making their personal economic contribution irrelevant. In accordance with international refugee law, and being a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the United Kingdom offers protection to those who seek asylum from persecution.
No, “human rights” are not in fact handed out on the basis of merit, even as judged by journalists.
* For an entertainingly pointless time waster, and a quick impression of this, go here.