It was with some trepidation that I watched last night’s Panorama programme ‘Britain on the Make’. I caught it late after the initial ‘rush’ and I went into it with a slight pang of distaste in my mouth having read some of the comments from Twitter but I felt that I should watch it, if only to be able to review it because I think we must hold these programmes to account as they are made with licence-payers money.
It was as distasteful as I suspected it might be and the level of depth of information and reporting felt very uncomfortable from the start. There was much titillation and ‘benefit fraud porn’ – let’s look at this man on incapacity benefit with a yacht and house in France – type thing and next to no genuine investigation or interpretation of figures given to us.
Other sites such as Claudia Wood’s article on Public Finance, and a piece on FullFact confirm my disquiet about the figures and assumptions spread liberally around at the start of the programme where we are told that £22 billion is lost annually on ‘fraud’ when the figure for benefit fraud as opposed to other types of error and fraud is a still significant £4 billion but nothing like the initial figures.
I will leave others to analyse the figures and hope they will leave links below. As for me, I am commenting more on the tone and my responses to the programme.
A snide comment was added in the voiceover that ‘most of us know someone who cheats the system’. Well, I don’t know anyone that cheats the system. I genuinely don’t think ‘most people’ do unless people extrapolate people that appear on the front pages of newspapers into people they ‘know’. It was a worrying association to make and contradicted a remark made much later in the programme which tried to state that the cases in the programme were unusual and most people received their benefits legitimately.
But this was not a programme concerned with fair-minded assessment of facts. It was a programme built on hyperbole, stigma and misinformation by deliberately blurring lines between ‘disability related’ benefits when there are significant differences (and eligibility criteria) between those benefits.
For example, the programme did not clarify that DLA is a payment that is made to people regardless of whether they work or not and there was a suggestion from the ill-informed presenter that people who claimed DLA were stating that they were not able to work which could not be further from the truth.
But this was not a programme that was dealing in truth. It was couched in excessive hyperbole to create and reiterate a government-led programme to stigmatise everyone who needs to claim state benefits and differentiate between ‘tax payers’ and ‘benefit claimants’ which is a false dichotomy because those who have lower incomes pay much more regressive indirect taxes than those of us who have higher incomes.
This programme led like a longer edition of one of ‘Saints and Scroungers’ – one of the most contemptible series that the BBC produced – but it was without the ‘saints’! Incredibly, the programming got even worse that I thought it could.
One other thing that struck me as the ill-informed presenter panned across pictures of people playing golf while on ‘disability-related’ benefits was that there is no mention that some of these disabilities might not be for physical inabilities to play sport. I would think, for example, that someone with a debilitating depression could find a game of golf entirely appropriate and, indeed, therapeutic. I work with many people who claim ‘disability-related’ benefits for invisible disabilities who while being entirely eligible for those benefits, still are able to ride bicycles.
This is why this programme should have been better presented and researched.
It serves only to increase divisions, stigma and a sense of entitlement among ‘tax payers’ to police what benefits are spent on.
I’m sure that those who commit crimes should be convicted but there was no balance in this programme and much as I hate ‘Saints and Scroungers’ at least it has the ‘saints’!
How about some investigative reporting about rising stigma against benefit claimants and living on a low income? That would be interesting to counterbalance and I’m waiting for the programme.
As for me, I’m off to complain to the BBC about their promotion of a critique-less piece of dross which serves no public function whatsoever. I’m angry and I’m disappointed.