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2011 - The Year of Them Versus Us

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2011: the year when a lot happened, according to the BBC. They're not wrong. The world has witnessed some terrible disasters. There have been uprisings and protests, some of them active to this day. On a national and political level, there has been plenty of discussion about disproportionate cuts, debate about Britain's relationship with Europe, and concern about the government's relationship with the press.

One worrying development, yet one that is, perhaps, taken for granted, is the rising division in society. Whenever times are hard, it would appear that someone has to take the blame and the easiest target is always someone else, and preferably someone who isn't in a position to defend themselves.

It's the immigrants, according to some. They come over here and take all our jobs. They should go back to where they came from. It's also the unemployed, the scroungers! Too lazy to get a job, they are. They should get off their backsides and do some honest, hard work. No wonder the immigrants get all the jobs - least they aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.

And what about those yobs and hoodies, always hanging around street corners menacing innocent citizens? Spoilt, they have no respect for their elders. And the chavs, the underclass, breeding like rabbits to get a cosy little council house, sponging off the decent taxpayers.

It's the Muslims, conquering Britain one halal meal at the time. It's the Christians, pushing their Sky Fairy onto our politicians and into our laws.

It's the disabled with their fake aching backs and their pretend depression. No doubt they're all jumping out of airplanes and boogying through the night when they think nobody's watching. And it's definitely, no doubt about it, the fatties. They're greedy and they smell weird. Besides, they're some of the last people anyone can call names in this silly PC society, at least if you don't want to be accused of an -ism.

In social science, this is called 'Othering' (yes, with a capital letter). Othering is the creation of a 'Them' and an 'Us', where 'They' are appointed vague but negative qualities, whilst 'We', well, we must be better than them and that's all that matters. It's alright to blame them. It's alright if they're negatively affected or even petitioned against, because whatever happens to them won't harm us.

Except that it will, and has, and it is having an effect on everyone. If this were a forum, Godwin's law would now be invoked, but history has proven that when times are difficult, Othering takes place and it can have dire consequences for society as a whole. Othering is dangerous and it doesn't help one bit with resolving the economic crisis.

The worrying thing is that politicians, those people who are meant to represent the citizens, are not averse to Othering. Nor are the media. The terms 'scrounger', 'cheat' and 'skiver' are on the rise in media articles, especially in the tabloids. It can have very real and devastating effects on the people on the other end of these accusations.

In order to change the age of austerity into an age of prosperity, the facts have to be analysed and followed up with positive action. For example, it's a fact that the percentage of fraud in the benefits system stands at 0.3% for Incapacity Benefit and 0.5% for Disability Living Allowance, costing the taxpayer £20m and £60m respectively. More is lost due to official error than fake backaches or people confusing the blues for depression. It's also fact that there are more people on Jobseeker's Allowance than there are jobs for them to accept. Therefore, it's completely counterproductive to label the unemployed as lazy.

The now infamous statement that "we're all in this together" may sound like yet another hollow sound bite, but that doesn't mean that it is completely devoid of meaning. To get through this, Britain needs to pull together and work together. That includes 'them' as well as 'us'. Perhaps 2012 can be the year when we make this happen.