Getting off benefits or escaping poverty? Using corpora to investigate the representation of poverty in the 2015 UK general election campaign

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This paper investigates the representation of poverty in nine national British newspapers during the 2015 UK general election campaign. A framework combining the qualitative approach of Critical Discourse Analysis with corpus-based techniques is used to address the following questions: which themes did the press foreground and background a) when poverty was mentioned explicitly, b) when it was referred to in terms of benefit claiming and c) when the two were mentioned together in the same article?

The main claim of this study is that explicit discussion of poverty in the press was less frequent than the discussion of benefit claiming, and appeared to be mostly detached from the immediate context of the general election. This seemed to reflect a lack of attention paid to poverty in political discourse. Poverty was presented both as a reality without tangible causes and a common enemy that must be fought by an undefined entity. On the other hand, the welfare state (particularly benefit claiming) was presented as a burden that creates dependency; therefore, welfare reform and the reduction of expenditure on benefits – central to the general election campaign – were posed as a necessity for the reduction of debt. It is argued the separation of poverty and benefit claiming into two parallel debates, with only a small minority of articles discussing them in conjunction, allowed the press to sustain two incongruous messages at the same time: the need to both cut benefits and end poverty. It was only in the minority of articles that discussed poverty together with benefit claiming that a more visible counter-discourse surfaced, with more emphasis on the structural causes of poverty, the inadequateness of the benefit system and the positives of supporting people through the welfare state.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0
Pages (from-to)65-93
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Corpora and Discourse Studies
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2019


  • poverty
  • welfare
  • press
  • benefit claiming
  • election campaigning
  • corpus linguistics
  • critical discourse analysis


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