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The phrase "Hardworking families" or "working families" is an example of a glittering generality in contemporary political discourse. It is used in the politics of the United Kingdom and of the United States, and was heavily used by the political parties in the campaign of the United Kingdom general election, 2005 and the Australian federal election, 2007 where the Rudd Labor Party used the term extensively.

Emerging from some British newspapers around 1995, the first explicit analysis of the phrase in a mainstream media was done by the BBC in 2005.[1]

  • It has the positive connotations of its direct meaning, of "families that work hard" or "families whose members work hard" (cf. the Protestant work ethic), whilst leaving the exact meaning to the listener.
  • It means different things to different people, connoting different sectors of society according to the political bias of the listener. To a listener with a right-wing bias, a "hardworking family" would simply be a family, at any level, that does not comprise benefit recipients or the unemployed; whereas to a listener with a left-wing bias, a "hardworking family" would be one including wage earners on the lower rung of the socioeconomic ladder who are unable to rise higher without some state support.
  • Politicians use the phrase in a vague manner, with the intent that the listeners, by dint of the positive connotations, perceive the politician to be referring to them; and with the intent that listeners agree that anything to the benefit of "hardworking families" is inarguably right and anything to the detriment of "hardworking families" is inarguably wrong.[2]


Some examples of politicians using (or being reported as using) the phrase:

  • "She [Lady Mallalieu] said the protesters wanted to show it was ‘hardworking families’ which would be hit by a hunting ban."[3]
  • "Turning to tax allowances, the married couples' allowance has been abolished, which is a strange move for a government who profess to support the family. They have abolished the MIRAS tax relief which has hit home-buyers. The change to the allowances for couples with children--the new children's tax credit--which is tapered away for higher rate taxpayers, will affect hardworking families on middle incomes."[4]
  • "Sometimes hard working families need a little help"[5]
  • "A Conservative government will give hope to hardworking families – decent people who respect others, who take responsibility for their children and who contribute to their local communities."[6]
  • "Then, it was mortgage rates at 15 per cent for a whole year with 1.5 million households suffering negative equity and over 250,000 families losing their homes—now, hardworking families are enjoying the lowest mortgage rates for 40 years. Then, it was 400,000 more on hospital waiting lists—now, it is almost 300,000 off. Then, it was crime doubled—now, it’s crime down by over a quarter."[7]

Sometimes the use of the phrase by politicians is echoed in media reports on political events, or indeed the news medium itself employs the phrase as part of its own editorializing, in the expectation that its readers will infer that it is referring to them:

  • "Meanwhile, the aspirations of ordinary, hardworking families will be the focus of attention for Tories in Bournemouth this week, their last conference before the General Election."[9]
  • "It is equally certain that there will be something for hard-working families after Tony Blair and the Chancellor have made several public announcements about their commitment on this subject."[10]
  • "Chancellor Gordon Brown says that Tuesday's budget was designed to reward "hardworking families". What a sickening insult to the workers at Longbridge and the dependent factories who face devastation. ... These "hardworking families" now face the dole."[11]
  • In satire: "I got to do some great Soundbites. My favourites were: "hard working families", "providing opportunity and security", "breaking down barriers" and "on the firm foundations we have laid down since 1997 our programme will embed a new progressive consensus in our country". Who couldn't help but be stirred by the Passion of such sentiments?" [12]
  • In a letter to the editor: "Sir: How right Andrew Schofield is (letter, 14 April) about the mantra "hard-working families". Having previously thought my working life fairly productive, I now discover that my single status proves me to have spent 25 years in total indolence. In fact, given that I've always worked in the public service and so can be dispensed with instantly with only benefit to the economy, I must always have been a freeloader of epic proportions. Given this, it would be hardly surprising if I could not be bothered to drag myself from my pit of sybaritic excess to a polling station." [13]

"Hardworking" is also, by itself, a glittering generality:

  • "They hate our people because it is decent, brave, industrious, hardworking and intelligent. They hate our views, our social policies, and our accomplishments. They hate us as a Reich and as a community. They have forced us into a struggle for life and death. We will defend ourselves accordingly. All is clear between us and our enemies." — Joseph Goebbels' address to Germany, 1939-12-31 [14]

See also


  1. "Who are 'Britain's hardworking families'?"
  2. For example: In debates on tax policy or public services, the contending parties (usually the Labour Party and the Conservative Party), may both propose to lower taxes and provide services for "hardworking families", expecting the listeners to infer that they are amongst the hardworking families who will gain from voting for the relevant party, and to agree that it is inarguably right for "hardworking families" to benefit from lower taxes and increased services.
  3. BBC News, 2004-09-28 ("Pro-hunt demo at Labour gathering")
  4. Lord Northbrook recorded in Hansard, 1999-07-23 (column 1229)
  5. the title of a monthly half hour television series produced by the Maryland Department of Human Resources and Maryland Public Television
  6. Michael Howard speaking in Telford on 2005-04-10 ("It's time to set an annual limit to immigration")
  7. Alan Milburn in Agenda: magazine of the Association of Labour Councillors, winter 2004/5 ("Britain is Working")
  8. Frank Luntz Republican Playbook at PoliticalStrategy. ORG ("The Budget: Ending Wasteful Washington Spending")
  9. The Herald, 1996-10-07
  10. Daily Telegraph, 2005-03-14 ("At a glance guide to the most likely changes")
  11. Socialist Worker, 2000-03-25 ("Labour fiddles while Rover burns")
  12. Independent on Sunday, 2005-04-17, ("The Curious Campaign Diary of Tony Blair: Gosh! What a spacematic week")
  13. Independent on Sunday, 2005-04-18, (letter by J Ambers)
  14. "Goebbels New Year Address for 1940", which in turn cites Die Zeit ohne Beispiel (1941). Jahreswechsel 1939/40. Sylvesteransprache an das deutsche Volk. Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP. pages 229-239.

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