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If you looked at him, could he work?

That is the question of the day; posed by the BBC Bristol 9am anchor, John Darball. He hosts a phone in this morning discussing the welfare state. I tuned in as I suspected this would be up for discussion in light of the day’s announcement of the results of the Work Programme.
This question was asked of a caller who had rung in talking about her apparently feckless daughter and son in law. The latter, it was alleged, had been on the sick for a number of years while also fathering 4 kids. When asked what was wrong with him this woman, the mother of the wife, couldn’t answer. She didn’t know. BBC researchers didn’t bother to vet this caller on those grounds, never mind that she obviously didn’t think, while demonising the father of her grandchildren on local radio, it pertinent to find out. Then the host asked the above question: if you looked at him, could he work? 

Is this the quality of journalism we can expect on this matter? A question so ludicrous it defies belief; what would even qualify this woman to back up her predictably affirmative response. That was not even discussed. No one challenged the lunatic assertion that one can diagnose the condition of another – someone obviously deemed unfit to work by someone qualified in medical diagnosis. This is where we are at: we can’t even trust doctors to sign people off. We don’t even know if this man is on ESA and has been through the WCA – and if he’s passed that then he really must be ill as people with terminal cancer aren’t considered ill enough by this test.

The question belies a disgraceful ignorance of invisible conditions, particularly mental and emotional illness. Does dragging the father of your grandchildren and the husband of your daughter (who may well be a good loving husband and father for all we know, though of course the discussion implies quite the opposite) help such issues?

The tenor of the discussion was superficial and risible. Clearly intended as a parade of anecdotes containing no real insight; most were critical of the system from all sides but provided no evidence or fact or anything to move things forward. No mention made of statistical evidence. No mention of the cost of pensions as part of the welfare budget, just continued assertions that people are on the fiddle, people are encouraged by the system to live a lifestyle (without even defining what that might be), people are not encouraged to be ‘entrepreneurs’. The comments read like they were from a script – which of course isn’t far from the truth at all. These people are merely reacting to what they read in the papers and hear on discussions in a perpetual feedback loop designed to make them angrier and more frustrated.

When someone calls in to say they are frustrated because their wife’s ESA is being stopped, the discussion makes no mention that this is a policy of the current government (the time limiting of ESA to a year only, if one is in the WRAG). So of course that caller garners sympathy for what is clearly a difficult and ridiculous position. But then the divide and rule kicks in: we can feel sympathy for him, because clearly they are a deserving family. It’s the rest of them that are scroungers – worse, there is a sense these others, the undeserving poor, are making it harder for the others to get what they need. That’s the real message being presented. It’s their fault, the scroungers, not the coalition and its hateful policies; no discussion of their failings and their politics.

Another person talks about how he has gotten nowhere as a victim of epilepsy applying without success for jobs. Despite being keen to work, his enthusiasm is tested: would you do anything? Would you work for the minimum wage? 

It’s like something out of a reality TV show: how low will you abase yourself for stardom. How low is your self worth that you will sacrifice it for conformity? Are you prepared to take as little as an employer can legally offer for the shittiest job there might be – as if, in such times as these, the only work available will of course be the shittiest. Why should that be? It’s as if, in times of austerity, life becomes like a theatre and all the best seats get taken by the entrepreneurs, the rich and the ‘hard working’. Unfortunately this person makes the mistake of asking for more than the NMW and being just a little bit too hesitant (though not really) in wanting a decent enough job. Scrounger.

How dare he aspire to a fulfilling life with a wage he can live on! Can’t these multi million pound profit making corporations pay their staff better? Why shouldn’t those that do the work be entitled to a better share of the profits of their labour? No, instead low wages, as typified by Lord Freud’s attitude to welfare, are there to encourage aspiration and risk taking (though not the real risk of facing destitution and poverty). Yes, these big fat cats are not paying you a pittance for their benefit, but for yours. Though I’m sure if we looked at him, we could see he could work.


  1. That is the statndard of lazy journalism we get in this country now, from newspapers as well as radio and TV. It's all part of a deliberate narrative designed to whip up public histeria about "scroungers" and the like. And I must say that question that was asked - "if you looked at him could he work" is a disgraceful example of lazy journalism, of the type that is responsible for the increase in disability hate crime we've seen. To encourage people to make snap judgements about people and their circumstances is all too typical of our society today. I fear we as a country are becoming ever more angry, prejudiced and intolerant, and the media must take a big share of the blame.

    1. These people are, in my view, complicit in the societal problems they are discussing. it's no longer a case they can enjoy the luxury of 'objectivity'.
      I actually rang the BBC and complained. I was told they knew 'completely where you are coming from' and said the producer would call me back after the show. They never did, maybe tomorrow?
      I know fuck all will happen from me moaning down the phone at them, but if we don't even do that then what's the point. At least I've told them how I feel. Local radio is so parochial and pandering. It's as if they assume the only peopel that listen are the blue rinse brigade - and that such people are incapable of more radical or progressive thinking. Double fail!

    2. I agree entirely - the media are not just commenting on the issues they are actively directing discourse. The tabloid media (we know which "news"papers I mean) are possibly the single most rotten and evil influence on this country's public life; they are fanning the flames of bigotry and intolerance and must be held to account.

    3. It's as much what they say as it is how they say it and what they don't say, omitting facts and context. How many callers would moan about the broken benefits system if they knew how much of it paid their pensions?

  2. Just had the usual Xmas begging letter from the Sally Army. It is now winging its way back "return to sender" unopened and with the note "I will have nothing to do with a "charity" thay supports the Government's Work Programme."

    little by little.....

    1. Well said!

      I'm writing a letter of complaint. I'm sure by doing so I'll open a can of worms, but it's a case of devil and the deep blue sea. I won't be seeing that wanker of an adviser again if I can help it.

  3. I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to vent about the Work Programme for a bit.

    Two weeks ago ( 15 November) I attended my provider for a pre-booked "Interview Techniques" session. I and five others were waiting for the tutor, only to be told that the session had been cancelled because the tutor was off ill for the day. Upon being asked why none of us had been forwarned that morning not to attend all the member of staff could do was say "sorry, we should have phoned", and that was it. Just before I left for home my advisor told me I should phone him back some time to re-book the session. So next day I phoned up, got through to my advisor, and he promptly told me he'd phone me back within 15 minutes... Surprise surprise no phonecall, so next day I phoned again - and exactly the same. I get through to the advisor, and he says he'll phone me back, and again nothing. Finally a week later I get a new appointment, but it was to see my advisor on the 29 Nov, rather than the Inteview Techniques session, which I though was odd. Never mind, I though, I'm due to attend the provider on 26 Nov for a "Barriers to Work" session, so I'll sort things out then. So after the session I speak to my advisor again, and he confirms the interview with him on the 29th Nov. Just to be sure, I phoned on the day before (28 Nov) to confirm the appointment with my advisor, and he said yes come in tomorrow. So on Thursday 29 Nov I attend the provider as agreed - only to be told my advisor was off this morning (my appointment with him was for 10:00 that morning) because he had a doctor's appointment, and the receptionist I spoke to was puzzled as to why I had been booked to see him this morning since he had booked the morning off around a week ago...

    Complete shambles!! I have been messed around by these people too many times and am really pissed off about the whole thing. Cancelled sessions with no word of warning for me, and only desultory apologies and instructions to "do some jobsearch" when I ask why didn't they PHONE ME instead of letting me completely waste my morning!

    Sorry about that rant, but I felt you might understand the frustrations of dealing with these people...

    1. Hope you claimed for your busfare. 87 times and i would cost more than they get. So claim.. make them go broke;)

    2. Oh I claimed alright but it's the principal more than anything - if I fail to "meet my responsibilities" on the WP I'll get sanctioned, but they can do as they wish it seems.

    3. Vent away. The whole thing is an epic shambles.

      When I think of what they could and should be doing, the reality is just the most crushing and limited experience.

      If these people aren't even paying busfares (fotunately I don't have that complaint with the salvation army; they'd soon find some barriers to deal with if that were the case) then fuck 'em! That's outrageous.

    4. Don't worry. Like I said I claimed (and got) my busfare back, but what annoys me most is the double standard - they can mess us around no problem, but if we step out of line we lose our incomes and only means of survival...


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