Benefits Britain: Cheap and Nasty, Just like Channel Four Likes ‘em.
Channel Four’s Shame: Benefits Britain.
So Benefits Britain screened last night.
Three volunteers confronted the benefits system of 1949. This operated (according to the Independent) on the rule that it would provide “help to those who were prepared to help themselves”. Their 2013 allowance was replaced by what they would have got (accounting for inflation) in 1949 money. The programme makers claim, “ the welfare system it resurrects is anything but a soft touch for any of the claimants, which include single parents, the disabled, the elderly and the sick.”
Everybody immediately confronted the insurance basis of the post-war Welfare system.
You only got something out on the basis of having paid in – through the National Insurance system.
It was made clear that any additional help, through National Assistance, was considered such a stigma that people were very reluctant to even try to use it.
Melvyn, a widower and a pensioner, saw his income of £100 a week drop to £5.49 a day; Karen, who had worked for 22 years presently on sickness benefit, also saw her money fall drastically, and Craig, confined to a wheelchair who had spina bifida from birth, had not NI contributions. He only got some income when he agreed to go on a training course.
Melvyn barely had enough food to live on, and found it impossible to pay his utility bills. he ended up pawning his grandfather’s watch to pay for them.
He often broke into tears recalling his beloved wife.
It was harrowing for him, and harrowing for us to watch, though no doubt good television in the producers eyes.
Karen was obliged to defend her eligibility for any benefits – her illnesses were largely invisible. She quickly became very stroppy about this and rightly so.
But then she was just a mixed-race working class women, fresh for Channel Four viewing.
Craig was very happy – as he deserved to be – at being offered a job after his course.
His dignity did not make us forget the earlier degrading scenes.
The “Welfare Enforcement Officers” (apparently a Channel Four title they just invented), Colin Goldsack and Ann Townsend clearly enjoyed themselves snooping around and policing people’s lives. They had form – both had worked for civil service departments now part of the DWP.
The producers seemed to think that intense surveillance of claimants’ lives was something of the past.
They had obviously not signed on recently.
Townsened thought that we should perhaps “consider” asking the same kind of tough 1948 questions to claimants today.
It might also be suggested that she has spent the last few years on holiday on the planet Mars.
The Indy’s telly critic, ARIFA AKBAR says,
The premise of this show seemed irresponsible and ill-thought-out. It was a bit like devising a show that put today’s mentally ill – those with bipolar, schizophrenics, anorexics and bulimics – into 19th-century’s Bedlam to see how they would fair in a pre-Freudian, pre-RD Laing era.
I was reminded of some post-War virtues Channel Four has forgotten,
The term ‘Reithianism’ describes certain principles of broadcasting associated with Lord Reith. These include an equal consideration of all viewpoints, probity, universality and a commitment to public service. It can be distinguished from the free-market approach to broadcasting, where programming aims to attract the largest audiences or advertising revenues, ahead of – and, in practice, often contrary to – any artistic merit, impartiality, educative or entertainment values, that a programme may have. Wikipedia.
Benefits Britain was cheap.
The participants were unpaid, to preserve their benefits, and the rest of the production must have cost a shoestring.
It was unable to consider the viewpoint that the system was just being created yet was an advance on what had existed before.
Other aspects of welfare, like its universality (regardless of contribution) were introduced because the insurance system did not work.
This was equally left unconsidered.
The gruelling scenes watching the poor chap Melvyn lacked all probity.
It was not universal, since nobody could imagine a sloppier comparison with the general experience of welfare today..
It breathed a dislike of public service – the present day welfare system.
It was simply aimed “to attract the largest audiences or advertising revenues.”