Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Big Benefits Row: Facts, fiction & a whole lot of yelling

The show began first with a montage of multiple clips from the bewildering amount of benefit shows that have been produced recently from it being mentioned in the papers, to the news, in documentaries & through benefit bashing tv.

The long & short of it is, the small percentage of fraud that occurs is drowned in the sea in coverage it receives & I think this is the single most important point that people don’t understand. This is a trend that has been seen throughout history, that it is not necessarily a reflection of the reality of the time but instead reflects the attitudes of society which I covered a bit in  The evolution of benefit tv.

Question 1: “Do you think the benefits system is fit or unfit for purpose?”

Apparently 66% believe that it isn’t.

I’d love to know how many people actually know what support the benefit system provides & how many voted unfit because they were thinking instead about even with the countless forms filled in & assessments people have, that many people found “fit for work” are having their benefits reinstated on appeal.

At the start you had Katie Hopkins as usual never pausing for a moment to engage her brain before running her mouth. She started as many have done on this topic trying to pass off prejudices & stereotypes as fact but was pulled into reality by Mathew Wright.

Then Mathew Wright explained that they wanted to separate the facts from fiction.


Excuse me while I wet myself in delight at a show that is presenting the facts instead of perpetuating myths further.

Matthew Wright highlighted that tax evasion is far greater than benefit fraud (with the resources dedicated to tackling this far lower) & Annabel Giles spoke brilliantly even with Katie attacking her in a childish voice that she “wanted to be a model & didn’t make it”.

Katie went on further about people having multiple children & was quickly told it is a very small minority, not the norm. This was followed with people on housing benefit living in posh neighbourhoods, again not the norm & this was finished of with remarks about how “hardworking Britain” had had enough of going to work & seeing people staying at home, this being said without any thought to what the person behind the curtain may have to contend with.

Question 2: “Do you think the portrayal of people on benefits is fair or unfair ?” A close split.

Peter Stringfellow like many doesn’t consider a pension a benefit. He said that his main concern was the “abuse, not the majority of people. I’m looking at people over there” (pointing to the people in wheelchairs) “that deserve everything they can get”. But when Mathew pointed out that the abuse was small he replied “Not it’s not small.”

I doubt that he meant just people in wheelchairs but people with disabilities as a whole. However so often people don’t understand how significant invisible & variable conditions are, how much people struggle to walk on crutches or with a stick & the effort, pain & discomfort they go through. This is particularity important when people in the latter have to use a wheelchair to get around, this can often be on occasion when their condition is particularly bad or dependant on the situation. It can also be when they go out because their condition is such that they can’t move quickly, safely or the pain & exhuastion would be too much & can’t simply “hop out” without a great deal of difficulty.

Ironically this occurred just before the show when Sue Marsh had to leave her chair outside then struggle up into the seats because the disability provision wasn’t adequate. People often don’t understand the effort it takes to do things that people take for granted & the amount of time it takes from you to recover which Sue details in her post about her experience about being dropped from the panel & the lack of provision.

Then there was "White Dee". I thought she was either going to blow her top or say her piece, keep quiet & let Katie Hopkins tie herself in knots which she did beautifully.

Annabel Giles pointed out, that if ‘White Dee’ was well & didn’t have depression of course she would be working & Dee agreed. I can’t understand why some people believe this is the “optimum lifestyle choice” whereas in fact they have no choice at all because they are ill.

Question 3: “Would you support or oppose tougher means testing & rules about claiming benefits ?”

Apparently 66% were in support & I wonder greatly how many have any idea how difficult, demeaning & time consuming the whole process is.

Rachel Johnson was a pleasant surprise, coming from the point of not knowing much about her, she commented on the worryingly high percentage of people being sanctioned on JSA & that for people to get help from a foodbank they need a voucher to Edwina Currie to which she replied “only some of them”

Matthew saw this as a great opportunity for Jack Monroe’s opinion. It would have been nice to have heard more of what Jack had to say, unfortunately Edwina was intent on childishly shouting her down.

Jack explained that “You can’t rock up to a food bank & just ask for some free food” but Edwina disagreed. Jack pointed out that she works with the Trussell Trust, the biggest foodbank organisation in UK which in order to get help you need a voucher.

Then for some bizarre reason Edwina said they only run one & when she’s asked if she’s ashamed that people beg for food, she says no.

Jack started to make a reasonable point about the economy & bankers when she’s cut off again by Edwina.

"You come from a rich family." Jack explains again, no she doesn’t. "Yes you do come from a rich family," Edwina says with all the finger pointing of panto.

I had read that Jack had said these accusations had been happening before the show & she said she wanted to say her piece which she is more than entitled to do. She explained that her mum was a nurse, dad was a fireman & that they were hardworking ‘blue collar’ workers.

Edwina throughout Jack trying to speak made countless rapid interruptions, to the point she spoke so quick at times you could barely make out what she had said. It’s clearly obvious when you’re interrupting someone like this you want to stop them from talking, bate them & nothing more.

Edwina continued with countless interuptions about how they both went to grammer school….so what? Many a kid from council estates did also & that it was Jack’s grandfather who was “rich”, that he was a big property owner. By this point Jack, obviously upset, stated he had died with Edwina stating that she knew because she had seen the obituaries


Even more so when you know that she had taken the time before the show to search through Jack’s blog, to find a post she had done & tweet it out before hand. It also shows that before the show she knew she was likely going to bring up her grandfather, to get personal maybe because she didn’t have any defence. She says she admires Jack but her behaviour says anything but.

Also because she wasn’t willing to listen she missed a vital point

Jack is anyone

Jack didn’t come from an abusive family or a family dependent on benefits. The government rhetoric is if you work hard & get on you will be fine & in the unlikely case that you do fall, the system will protect you but it doesn’t and in Jack it proves it. See Jack’s heartfelt post about what she didn’t get to say.

Next they played a clip of “On Benefits & Proud” featuring Emma & Sophie. They explain the programme made them out to be something they’re not, that the system has helped them a lot & no that it wasn’t a comfortable existence.

Yet again, Edwina interrupts “go & get a job” repeating it over & over.

She then got a massive piece of her own medicine, the girl turned around quick as a flash “gimmie a job, innit” repeating it over & over. It reminded me of some Catherine Tate sketch that I couldn’t help but be pleased to see on this occasion.

Question 4: "Would you support or oppose new immigrants being allowed to claim benefits in the first year in the UK?" 76% oppose

Weirdly there was applause from the audience. Often there has been, in the same way as with benefit claimants a lot of stereotyping & myths surrounding immigration issues which people believe including those on benefits. Often pitted against each other, some benefit claimants believe that the reason that they can’t find a job is due to immigration.

Owen Jones brought up points about bankers, tax avoidance & the stereotyping of immigrants & the good that they have done for this country is often over looked.

I think the issue of immigration needed to be on a separate show (which Channel 5 are apparently going to do) as it felt squeezed on to the end, they didn’t have enough panellists to have a proper debate or the time & like with welfare it is yet another issue that has been a used as scapegoat topic.

The fact that they presented facts at the start of the programme was uplifting, I think it is truly disturbing how many programmes are aired with no reference to the actual facts of matter but instead just help perpetuate myths further.

There wasn’t enough time to address everything in the detail that it needed to be. A 45 minute show can’t undo the countless months of government opinion, tabloid “news” & benefit bashing tv, much more is needed to get to that point. People didn’t understand or want people like Katie Hopkins & Edwina Curie up there but the fact of the matter is it’s exactly people like Katie & Edwina that are helping perpetuate myths further because they either do not care about the people affected or that they don’t understand that things that they are annoyed about are myths or don’t represent the majority. When you put people like Katie & Edwina on a show like this against people that know their facts, they show themselves up to be the narrow minded people that they are….as long as people can speak that is.

Fleetstreetfox’s article on her experience

Owen Jone’s article on his experience

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