Campaign groups increasingly refer to those they represent (or seek to represent) as ‘vulnerable’. Whether its poverty, race or sexual orientation, groups of people are referred to as vulnerable to changes in government policy or society’s prejudices.
It’s hugely patronising and, in many ways, it’s as bad as the Victorians referring to the ‘deserving poor’. Both terms seek to identify people as weak and in need of patronage.
This is not to deny the fact that many people do need help, or that campaigners do vital work to raise issues that might otherwise be neglected or ignored. However, patronising those who are marginalised by society cannot be the best way to do it.
It’s worth noting that Google’s Ngram Viewer shows that usage of the term ‘vulnerable people’ has rocketed since the mid-90s. For comparison, I’ve charted the term ‘deserving poor’ alongside it.
Did people suddenly become vulnerable in the past two decades?