Monday, 27 January 2014

Evolution of benefit tv

In recent years there seems to have been a greater focus on programming that covers topics that involve illness, disability & social deprivation.

It’s not a new phenomenon, these types of programs have always popped up from time to time & it’s well known that what the media shows us of these times may not be the reality but often will instead show the attitudes of society.

I’m very divided on these shows, I love documentaries, I will watch documentaries that are controversial & opposite even to my beliefs. The reason why, is that I firmly believe that the instant we cut ourselves off from knowledge, from the possibility that we may be wrong, we will never learn anything new.

I know that some people didn’t like the way that these shows had been filmed, I know these ‘shows’ have ranged vastly from benefit bashing tv made solely for entertainment to valuable insights to what the disabled & disadvantaged are facing at that time but also the public’s perception.

Unfortunately through over reporting of certain issues, certain sections of the media have given the false impression that fraud is rife, that there needs to be a crackdown on the ‘wave’ of benefit cheats but ‘real’ disabled people will always be protected. Unfortunately there is also a further section of society that believe that benefits should only be given to the ‘housebound’ because if people can get out of the house then why don’t they get a job? People don’t understand how exhausting it is to function as a disabled person & that no two are alike. They look at the surface & no deeper.

I know that some didn’t like Channel 4 referring to Paralympic athletes as ‘Superhuman’. It has unintentionally, to a degree resulted in people becoming more misguided, believing that Paralympic athletes have got ‘passed’ their disabilities because they were just more determined to succeed. Whereas in reality these Paralympians rely heavily on support behind the scenes & benefits to get them where they are. And that it’s not because one simply tries harder but more that a disability can effect many individuals, in many ways & not even to mention the fact that disabled people may not want to do athletics but instead may be a talented writer or artist. I still however think they are awesome for what they do.

I really enjoyed The Last Leg, the hilarity & stupidity of things. I loved how the show tried to engage with people with the show’s “Is it ok ?” questions such as “Is it ok to punch their friend in a wheelchair if he’s a n00b ?”.

Then you have 999, What’s Your Emergency, that highlighted beautifully how much strain the ambulance service is under & how much more it will be in the future due to the significant NHS & welfare cuts which will mean that even more people will likely fall through the net.

But unfortunately any good work that is done on one show can be undone on the next.

BBC’s Saints & Scroungers always shows two cases of benefit fraud to the one ‘Saint’ helping those to get the benefits they need. Although it is great that these people help in times of crisis, there is no disclaimer to explain how low the rates of benefit fraud are & that the show’s ratio is in no way representative of actual statistics.

Then you have Channel 4’s programme “Benefit Britain 1949”.

Now I’m ‘sure’ that Channel 4 were trying to show that the welfare budget can’t be carelessly cut & that people have been & are being affected by cuts detrimentally. That although the original system was much more tailored towards the individual, a good thing, it was only supporting those they deemed ‘deserving’. Unfortunately when reading peoples’ reactions to these types of programmes on Twitter, this is a theme that keeps cropping up. Unfortunately I think this show whilst trying to show why we had moved on instead gave more titbits to those that believe all the inaccuracies.

Also it was a different system to today, a different time, society isn’t the same & so consequently, it was often out of context. I also found it odd that the show split the claimants into ‘sickness’ & ‘disabled’ categories as often these go hand in hand.

 Yes, it did not help matters that the sickness claimant came across as little miss gobby, very rude & aggressive, hardly the average claimant but this may have come across a lot worse due to editing. However I can not stress how much my heart sank when I saw how people with less visible illnesses were being portrayed through this women.

It’s a shame that they didn’t chose someone else that could have highlighted truly how debilitating a invisible condition can be, as this is something that it seems the general public fail to understand.

Then there was the programme ‘We Pay Your Benefits’ which saw tax payers following claimants to more or less ‘judge’ what they feel is acceptable for people to buy & do using their benefits. People now have obstinate objections to people having mobile phones, internet & family pets. These previously weren’t seen as a luxury with the exception of probably family pets but people seemed to understand that people mostly had family pets before becoming unemployed & understood they were a key part of the family & a massive comfort. Also mobile phones & internet were seen as a necessity & now people believe that they are a luxury. It seems so illogical in this day & age where mobile phones & internet are such an integral part in life that people can think this way. I found it sad that people seem to have lost sight that the system we have supports the people in our society who need it the most, that it is there for them in case the worse did happen & that fraud is low.

And finally we have Channel 4’s ‘Benefit Street’ which if you were to believe was typical representation of people claiming benefits, which by the looks of Twitter a lot did, the majority of claimants would be committing benefit fraud, shoplifting & growing cannabis in their spare room to pay the bedroom tax. There were death threats after the show on social media & the whole filming of the show lacked responsibility. However it did highlight how you can’t just simply beat people with a rod & expect them to change, people need opportunities & the right help, but also some people just won’t change, that’s human nature.

The second episode showed immigration in the UK. It highlighted the racism & the inaccurate beliefs like they can earn £2,500 a day. However it also showed how immigrates without permission to work are so easily exploited & how when they report this to the police, they fear major retaliation but many people on social networking sites again didn’t see this, instead fixated on inaccuracies.

The third episode followed a young family with children. It portrayed a young couple that seemed to struggle with parenting. Its not a surprise that the kids behaviour was challenging when given a sugar coated cereal at midnight, with one parent telling the other to f**k themselves & ‘Fungi’ & other drunken idiots outside the front door creating a bad influence.  But because of the way this documentary was filmed & because a proportion of society that seems to think if they witness one thing happening on TV, that this some how means that this is representative of everybody in the same situation. Just because a child has either a single parent or young parents does not mean that they’re not going to bring up their children correctly & the rest of parents out there have just as much chance of messing up the child’s up bringing or not as anyone else.

The episode did also show that the couple was trying to improve their child’s behaviour, although I doubt how much of the public remembered that as much & a later article stated that the couple have learning difficulties which isn’t mentioned in the show.

I understand why people are upset about about these “documentaries”, some are upset that documentaries on these topics happen at all, others are upset that a valuable opportunity to highlight a issue has been lost in favour of being exploitive & creating “entertainment” instead of a documentary. In these cases they usually lack the full facts, are shown out of context & people within the disabled community face the backlash as a consequence.

However if we don’t discuss these issues we will never move forward but the public needs to be more aware that it is impossible to produce a doumentary that isn’t bias in some way because the individual is bias & that viewers should show more common sense & take these shows with a pinch of salt. It is also up to film makers to always maintain a level of detachment in making a documentary & to make sure, as much as possible, that the topic is portrayed in a true & balanced light.

I think there were many failings in making Benefit Street, particularly the disclosure of the actual street name which made these people more of a target so much so that a number of the residents have been moved. Also that it was made by an outside third party company, that they obviously lost control over it but they had responsibility to air it or not.

With the airing of Benefit Street it has shown that certain sections of the media have become so toxic over the subject of welfare but this is only allowed to continue because people blindly believe in these misrepresentations.  If people on benefits & the disabled were instead an individual, in certain countries I have no doubt that they would be pulled up on slander or for liable way before now.

The fourth episode airs tonight to be followed by a final episode & TV debate which is supposed to let the participants have their say unfortunately we will have to wait to see if this is a intelligent discussion or if this becomes just more viewing fodder.

It has taken me a while to write this as I hadn’t intended on writing this much in the beginning but have been adding to it little by little as more and more shows have been produced. Originally it was supposed to be on the first ones I watched but as time goes on there seems to have been an increase in this type of programming & I thought it interesting to note the effect of all these shows combined . With this increase it seems like certain sections of the public have lost sight that the fraud rates are low & that this system is in place to assist in times of need, as it should be. They seem content on judging on face value & not realising they don’t have the full facts at hand, how would you like this if it was done to you?

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