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.