Britain on the Make – A Review

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.
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‘The Future State of Welfare’ with John Humphrys – A Review

Despite my hopes, dreams and wishes, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to switch professions and hold down a career as a TV critic although I’d lay claim to much ‘television watching’ experience. I sat down to watch ‘The Future State of Welfare’ last night  but after a very busy day and week covering ‘duty’, I may have nodded off one or two times during the programme so while I want to give my thoughts and feelings about the programme, I must mention that as a rider.

OT on Wheels has a great analysis of some of the figures that Humphrys presented. Left Foot Forward also analysed the figures. My response is more emotional than cerebral.

I knew from the advance information that this was a programme which was going to be challenging for me to watch. I take great offence at the way this government (and the opposition) stigmatise people who are out of work and who need to rely on the provisions of the welfare state to exist.

Humphrys had a very firm view on playing on the ‘idleness’ of the workless and feckless and seemed staggered that there wasn’t the old style stigma related to unemployment, recalling with some mirth and incredulity the ‘one man on the street who never worked’ and who everyone else on the street stigmatised.

That made uncomfortable viewing for me. When I was growing up, you see, my father was unemployed for periods of time and I remember that projected shame and stigma. It hasn’t left me. I genuinely wouldn’t want another child or family to feel that.  The way to ‘solve’ the benefits ‘crisis’ is to shame people into work? Really? Is there no more human way to promote and encourage the right environments to work in?

So from that premise, Humphrys casts a glance at some of the worst ‘offenders’ in his view.

But the people who Humphrys spoke to, I’d argue were hardly typical although that’s what he would want us to believe. The panned shots of young men hanging around on street corners makes too many assumptions about types of work or the fact that work is something that is undertaken from 9am – 5pm on workdays therefore (he seems to imply) anyone out and about at 2pm on the Wednesday afternoon, must be workless.

Not having a job does not make someone ‘different’ except by luck and opportunity. We had a constant undertone of ‘paid work’ = good  ‘not paid work’ = bad/feckless/idle

He even raised the ‘deserving and undeserving’ poor which is more than patronising and pans across to a group of people who are looking for work and therefore ‘good’ in his very judgemental eyes.

The part filmed in the private training centre run by a private company that have been contracted on a ‘payment by results’ basis illustrated some of the patronising talk and ‘lessons’ that the people attending receive. Adults designing cupcakes? Really? I do wonder about what is actually taught and how.

There was a glance across the Atlantic to the workfare schemes initiated there and I felt the tone was almost admiring. Certainly there’s no doubt that Humphrys was scornful of those who needed to rely on state benefits to exist.

The family on housing benefit, he implied should not be helped with rent because they live in central London and bafflingly he raised their nationality both in the voiceover and directly to the family when there was no question that as a Spanish citizen, the man had the right to live and work in the UK. I am unclear why the nationality was even raised as an issue.

There was an overtone of disdain regarding the high rates of claimants for ‘Employment and Support Allowance’ which seemed to emphasise a high rate of ‘fraud’ and yet the programme consistently referred to ‘Disability Benefits’ without mentioning Disability Living Allowance at all – probably because it has such low rates of fraud.

Of course I think that work should be encouraged but decent paying dignified work as well as support for appropriate child care should also be encouraged.

Stigmatising groups of people will not build a cohesive society but more and more this government and moreover the governing classes seem to depend on a ‘divide and rule’ type way to build gaps between those who have and those are have-nots.

Humphrys’ skewed and rather unpleasant programme exacerbated this. I look forward to the BBC putting together a programme exploring the realities between the ‘benefits’ myths that it has enjoyed perpetrating through this programme.