Skip to Content

The Real Project Fear

Supporters of Brexit use the expression ‘Project Fear’ to describe the views of those who wanted, and perhaps still want, Britain to remain in the European Union. The Remainers, it is suggested, used scaremongering to claim that leaving the EU would be a step into the unknown, where nobody knew what awaited. Putting fear into people’s minds was supposedly not a valid political or economic argument.

But in fact a much wider situation involving fear can be identified. For capitalism makes great use of fear among the vast majority of people: fear of unemployment, losing one’s home, insecurity, and so on. In some cases the word ‘fear’ may be an overstatement, so in what follows we will mostly speak of worry or anxiety, but all too often there truly will be fear in workers’ minds.

Firstly, people may worry about not finding a job at all, or not finding one that pays enough for them to live on or that makes appropriate use of their abilities and qualifications. If they have a job, they may be anxious about keeping it or being put on short time or, alternatively, having their hours extended without extra pay. If they are on a zero-hours contract or working elsewhere in the gig economy, they may worry about having enough work or being treated reasonably by their employer. Standing up for their interests at work may lead to victimisation. Even those in relatively prestigious occupations such as university lecturers are increasingly being faced with the threat of redundancy or being placed in an ‘at-risk pool’.

With the housing situation becoming more and more problematic, many people do fear being unable to find somewhere adequate and affordable and within suitable travelling distance of their place of work. They may worry about being unable to keep up with their mortgage or paying their rent. They know they may be evicted if they complain to the landlord about damp in their flat, say, or be concerned about what will happen if they have another child. Losing a job or suffering long-term illness may make keeping a roof over your head difficult, and these and other considerations all add to the fear of being homeless.

For many people their wages are barely enough to live on, resulting in constant concern about paying for food and heating. Being unable to afford a holiday or Christmas presents for the kids can be extremely stressful, and anxiety about surviving on a pension is also commonplace. Concern about being unable to repay a student loan can be worrying, too.

Those who are struggling to make ends meet may well have recourse to pay-day lenders or buying household goods from shops that charge sky-high interest rates. Even borrowing on a credit card can create difficulties. Being unable to repay the right amount at the right time can lead to enormous problems as debts mount up and what is owed comes to have little connection to the sum originally borrowed. Fear of being in this kind of situation can really take over a person’s life, and even lead to them committing suicide.

Living on state benefits of one kind or another can also be extremely worrying. Quite apart from the fact that the money received in this way is rarely truly adequate, and the continual pressure to demonstrate that you genuinely are looking for a job, there is the constant fear of having the benefit taken away, of being declared fit to work as a result of some arbitrary medical test or losing housing benefit through having ‘too many rooms’.

We do not want to exaggerate and say that all workers live in constant fear of losing their job or their home, but the possibility is always there, and people are often reminded of it by what happens to a relative, neighbour, colleague or friend. Nor are we saying that this is some kind of deliberate plot to frighten and harass workers, just that it is a genuine situation. Real Fear has nothing to do with the EU but is an intrinsic part of working-class life under capitalism. 

PB