Oh what did I watch on Thursday evening? More importantly, why!
We All Pay Your Benefits (which should more accurately be titled, We All Pay Each Other’s Benefits) was another example of how far the BBC has sunk in recent years, fronted by, of all people, Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford from the Alan Sugar Firing Squad. I’ve no real idea of what they actually do, but from Nick’s expression it would seem a career spent in sniffing malodorous substances. Margaret on the other hand has forged a persona that would seem at home teaching in a convent. They don’t strike me as a pair with any real knowledge of being poor and having to make ends meet however possible.
The premise involved a group of benefit claimants, presumably, though failing, to represent typical scroungers, paired off with an equal size group of taxpayers, ostensibly people on low incomes and low expectations. The claimant cohort featured a recent graduate with a lot of bling and a massive student debt, an overweight single mum that smoked and kept a home zoo, a couple in a large (not really) house with kids, and a single dad whose claim to infamy, in the eyes I’m sure of the Wailing Daily, would be that he hasn’t worked in 20 years. Twenty years! Jesus, call the priesthood! Call a wizard or something! Isn’t there a spell we can cast?
Frankly the whole thing was bizarre and ridiculous in equal measure. Its central premise seemed to ask, of the taxpayers, would they pay more tax to pay more benefits, or would they seek to trim the financial fat – the waste – as they saw it. Therein lays the problem: there is no context presented and this option is far from the only choice. Why no discussion of tax avoidance or evasion? Why no discussion of the disgraceful avarice of the people in power such as Mark Hoban’s recent windfall off the back of his taxpayer funded second home? Why was this not asked, as it never is: what are people meant to do otherwise? Starve?
The choice is deliberately limited to whether or not the taxpayer would pay more. In one case, the family in the ‘large’ house, the taxpayer astutely agreed that they should get more and that it shouldn’t have to come from increased taxes. However it took a lot of probing to get to that point suggesting again that the lives of those on benefits are like public accounts and should be available for anyone’s scrutiny: where do your white goods come from? (They were brought prior to unemployment.) Why is your house bigger than mine? (They have a disabled relative to take care of as well). Not “why is the government forcing you to depend on foodbanks?” or “why am I reducing you to tears by coercing you to try and conform to outdated notions of masculinity?” This was in respect of the taxpayer asking about how his kids feel about dad not working; even though the question was posed somewhat more delicately it was still pandering to the same tired nonsense. Why should his boy feel bad about one trivial aspect of his father’s life when all that matters is whether his dad provides for him and is a good person?
I’m not going to give a blow by blow account, but here are some highlights:
Whilst taking the kids around a supermarket to do the weekly shop the single mum picks up a whole chicken to use as dinner for the kids. Her partner asks if the kids eat at school; they get free school meals (as all kids should, surely). That means the kids eat two cooked meals a day? Do they really need that, she says? What an extravagance!
The graduate is partnered with a care worker who can work up to 60 hours a week for, judging by her reaction, is a pittance. He has lots of stuff; she doesn’t like that. I bet she wouldn’t like his £39k student debt either! It’s just stuff (mind you a nice new pc wouldn’t go amiss I can tell you)!
Later it transpires that he does a lot of hours volunteering. But this isn’t enough to justify his existence and so he is dragged, fruitlessly, CV in hand to all the local shops in order to apply for jobs he plainly isn’t interested in. He, quite rightly, remarks that he has a degree and wants to put it to use. Wouldn’t you?
The single dad has recently come on to ESA for a lung problem and a dodgy hip. Unfortunately next week’s show has the claimants work in the jobs their lab partners do. I fear this may affect his ESA claim and that participation in this show, however well intentioned, may not have been wise.
His lab partner has kids and a partner of her own. She also spent time homeless and on the dole, and currently receives child tax credits (correct me if I’m wrong). Yet she’s happy to judge this guy raising kids on his own despite that his kids are well behaved (from what we can see) and that, on a shopping trip of their own, knows how to spot a bargain. Of course this just invoked a similar prejudice from his own lab partner: wouldn’t it be cheaper to do something else, spend somewhere else? Actually in this case no, they were at a local market getting cheap fresh food, and that’s more important for the kids – a good diet. It just shows the ignorance of the priorities of the Wailing Dailies: money over nutrition.
The programme only really flirted with facts. despite ferrying Nick’n’Marge around the CBI only one appointment had any substance; a meeting that revealed out of work benefits to be a pittance in percentage terms of overall social security expenditure. Of course that expenditure is couched in the now depressingly common terminology of the ‘welfare bill’. It isn’t welfare, it is social security; welfare is an American concept born of the boardroom. It isn’t a bill either; a bill is what a waiter gives you after you’ve strangled your wife in a restaurant (or what he should call if you’re name’s Saatchi). If it is to be a bill then it should be willingly picked up by capitalism since there will never be full employment and big business does very well out it thankyouverymuch!
On the other hand #HappToPayYourBenefits is a real glimpse into a caring world.