The benefit debate is a diversion – that’s why it will go on and on


How many of you tuned into the last episode of Benefits Street on Channel 4, and stayed on for the debate that followed?

Quite a few, I reckon.

They were worth watching, but the feeling that was left with this viewer (and I’ve been reviewing television for 20 years or more) is that we are talking ourselves around in circles – led by politicians with a vested interest in perpetuating the discussion.

They don’t want a solution. They want us to keep going over the same ground – which they have laid out for us with very specific limits – and they want to concentrate our anger about this issue so that we blame, not the people responsible – the tax dodgers who put money into tax havens that could be invested in British industry, the private landlords and low-paying bosses who are subsidised by the benefit system and the bankers who caused the economic crisis a few years ago – but the people who have been forced onto benefits through no fault of their own and are being persecuted for it by a punitive system that penalises them for failing to find jobs that really do not exist.

Look at the way David Cameron leapt forward with fistfuls of cash to pay for flood relief when Tory heartlands were affected, saying that money was no object and Britain is a rich country. We’re rich enough to look after the playing fields of Eton, but not our poorest citizens, according to his mentality. Property is worth more to him than people.

Why? Because the people who send their children to Eton are the people Cameron hopes will elect him (he can’t be re-elected; he didn’t win the 2010 election) in 2015. The unemployed are less likely to vote for him – in fact they are less likely to vote at all. It seems there is something about being rejected by society that instils a sense of listlessness and despair in the human psyche. People ask themselves: Why bother?

There are solutions, but it is cause for concern that we are not hearing about them from our MPs and politicians. Journalist Owen Jones came out with the clearest plan during the debate on Channel 4 last night, and it is well worth quoting in full.

He said: “Firstly let’s make it clear – work does not pay in this country. We hear that as a mantra, when most people in poverty get up in the morning and earn that poverty.

“We’re talking about people milking the system. Let’s talk about the low-paying bosses who are being subsidised with in-work benefits because, in the seventh-richest country on Earth, they won’t pay.

“If we’re talking about getting people into jobs I actually think we need to talk about solutions here. One in six workers in the last two years have claimed Jobseekers’ Allowance at some point; that’s a lack of security.

“What we need firstly is a massive house-building programme that would reduce the amount spent on Housing Benefit which, by the way, is not going into the pockets of these tenants – it’s lining the pockets of private landlords charging rip-off rents. If we build housing, it would create jobs and we would stimulate the economy as well.

“It goes the same with the need for an industrial strategy because what successive governments have done, and it started in the eighties, is let the secure jobs go to rot, if you like. Now, other countries like Germany, what they’ve done is had an industrial strategy. Instead of saying, ‘Hands off, let the market decide,’ they’ve said, ‘Actually we want to create jobs in renewable energy.’ Now we’ve just seen the floods; we’re going to have a lot more extreme weather, so let’s have an industrial strategy to go and create renewable energy jobs, giving people secure, dignified jobs, taking on the environmental crisis.

“These are solutions… We’ve got to change the debate we have at the moment where the real villains of the piece, like the tax dodgers who get away with not paying £25 billion a year in tax, like the private landlords and the low-paying bosses milking our welfare state, like the bankers who caused the economic disaster – they get away with it, but all we ever hear about is kicking people at the bottom.”

Absolutely right. And that’s all we’ll hear about it for the foreseeable future, as well. We won’t hear about returning to a full-employment society (which is perfectly possible), because that means the greedy rich will have less money for themselves in the short term.

In the long term, ensuring that there are properly-paid jobs for the most people, so they do not have to claim benefits, means that there is more money moving around the economy – and money makes money. The parasites – who are making a fortune unsustainably by working people hard and paying them poverty rations – would be just as rich in the long run, but they cannot bear to consider the possibility.

One has to consider whether they want to force people into poverty, just to make their own wealth seem more remarkable – the poverty trap as ego-trip, if you like.

But we won’t hear about that because it is politically inflammatory. Far better to set the lower classes against each other, laying blame on each other for problems that are caused by different people entirely – and laugh all the way to the offshore bank.

If I had to describe Britain to a foreigner, I would ask them to imagine a person being robbed outside a public lavatory, by the mayor of his town, while council workers started demolishing the building; the rich are destroying our public services and mugging us at the same time.

Very soon, the same people who are mugging you will be asking for your vote…

… while blaming you for problems they have done nothing to solve.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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35 thoughts on “The benefit debate is a diversion – that’s why it will go on and on

  1. jray

    Another thing that was missed,the small matter of the £5 Billion Work Programme,a few are getting very rich “Not” delivering it,as a client I asked for training or new/updated qualifications and it was refused…Why? Was I not literate enough? Did I have drug or alcohol problems? Did I lack motivation? No,in an E-mail from the programme Director it was made clear that “There will be no training,full stop” I had to ask myself,do I deserve to be retrained? Even though I have paid my taxes,should I rely on the Government to give a helping hand in these rough times? Opinion is divided and I understand why,but why are we spending £5 Billion on a programme that has not delivered? Why are they not held accountable? We have MP’s that scrounge and cheat(2nd homes? 1 bed flat,not a family crash pad) and when caught the only penalty is to pay back what they stole,,,,Time to become a Bank robber,forgot that position has already been taken.

  2. Thomas M

    What to do about it when Labour is (nearly) the same as the Tories, UKIP is fascist, and the proper left wing parties are tiny?

      1. MrChekaMan

        Labour brought in ATOS. Labour kept all the anti union laws, and dragged us into the Iraq war. I will most likely vote for them, but only because I want to throw out the Conservatives. My choice of government from the existing parties would be the TUSC.

  3. buddyhell

    Reblogged this on Guy Debord's Cat and commented:
    I only caught part of the ‘debate’ that followed Benefits Street. Channel 4’s latest entry into television’s hall of poverty porn shame. I watched as Allison Pearson repeated the same old myths about benefit claimants and sat in despair as the bloke from Pimlico Plumbers proceeded to repeat Pearson’s myths but with the addition of the word “f***”. Let’s get one thing straight: these are not debates in the accepted sense of the word; these programmes are designed to attract lots of advertising revenue. They contribute nothing to the ongoing discussion about the lack of jobs and the pathetic amount of money that unemployed people are forced to live on. In the right-wing universe, if you’re poor, it’s your fault. If you lose your job through redundancy, it’s your fault, because you didn’t find a job where you couldn’t be made redundant. If that last bit sounded absurd, that’s because it is, but it’s no less absurd than the constant repetition of myths and tropes by people who have never had to struggle to feed their family.

  4. Jo

    Bad people and bad governments always need an “other” – a religion, nationality, race, or minority of some kind – to blame for ills that most probably they either have neglected or have caused. For Nazis the “other” were Jews and other “non-Aryans”: for the Hutu in Rwanda the “other” were the Tutsis: for post-Callaghan governments in the United Kingdom – Conservative, Coalition, and, let’s be honest, Labour too – “benefit claimants” have become the fashionable “other” to demonise an blamed for far too many of society’s ills.

    Bad people and bad governments NEED such an “other” to penalise, punish, and even kill as a diversionary tactic to mask their own catalogues of failure and ineptitude. This won’t change any time soon. Scapegoating of benefit claimants will continue until such scapegoating returns no further political reward.

    Both Labour AND the Conservatives are going to be “tough” on “welfare”.

    (And want above all things o be seen to be “tough” on “welfare”.)

    1. Mike Sivier

      But they mean different things when they say that. The Tories mean they will be tough on people claiming welfare (social security, to use its proper definition), while Labour intends to be tough on the factors that force people into – and keep them on – benefits. It’s a significant difference.

      1. Tim

        Labour have promised to abolish the Bedroom Tax if they win the next election, which, as far as I’m concerned makes them worth voting for in itself. But do you really think, Mike, that that Labour intend to do much to improve and make much more humane the cruel and punitive regime of sanctions IDS and Freud have put in place? I’m afraid that I don’t and fear your confidence in Labour under Ed Miliband my well be misplaced.

  5. bookmanwales

    I don’t recall Labour making any promises about being tough on the causes of benefit reliance.
    They allowed the Welfare reform Bill through without so much as a murmur and have barely raised their collective voices above a whisper on the matter of sanctions.
    Labour brought in ATOS and started the Work Programme. Neither of these have been a success and Labour have not thus far, as far as I know, given any guarantee they will change this system in the event they win an election.

    The “job guarantee” is so far without flesh or form merely some vague promise in the future. Who will provide the jobs ? What will they be ? Will they be voluntary or compulsory ? Will they pay the living wage ?

    All we have heard from Labour is that “Austerity” must continue and they will be as tough on welfare as the Tories.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Labour opposed the Welfare Reform Act.
      Labour opposes abuse of sanctions.
      Labour would sack Atos.
      Labour would replace the Work Programme with the compulsory jobs guarantee. Is that better? I don’t know but I won’t condemn it before it has been tried.

      1. bookmanwales

        Labour were the party that appointed ATOS and set the criteria for the assessments,

        When the backdated Work programme, to deny wrongly sanctioned people, was rushed through only 44 ? Labour MP’s bothered to vote. It matters not that they would have lost anyway but they should have made their dissent widely known.

        The job of an opposition party is not to just meekly accept the fact that any vote would be lost but to voice any dissent as loudly as possible for all the media to report, Labour have been focused on their popularity for the next election campaign and have failed in any way to put forward a coherent argument against or expose the lies behind the current welfare”reform”

        Abolishing the “bedroom tax” is now of little political value, the courts (as you reported) have killed it anyway, killing something already dead as Labour know will harm them not a bit.

        The Labour party with the backing of the unions should have been screaming from the rooftops about the unfairness of these welfare reforms from day one instead of playing a waiting game to see if the Tories screwed it all up as has happened.

        Nothing about reversing the privatisation of the NHS and schools, nothing about ending all the overwhelmingly expensive PFI deals, no vocal opposition to the selling off of student loans (hence more debt for graduates) in fact a great deal of silence on all the things that cost this country a great deal more than welfare.

        The Wyhenshawe by-election showed the apathy of Labour voters and in order to correct that they need to be much more vocal and definitive about exactly what they intend to do.

        And finally “Labour” albeit “New” had 13 years to right all the wrongs Maggie and Co did and failed to repeal any significant laws or repair any damage done to this country’s industrial base and, so far, have still failed to announce any plans to do so.

      2. Mike Sivier

        It is comments like this that really make me angry. You have clearly chosen to ignore all of the vehement and sustained opposition that Labour has made against Conservative policies in order to make your point.
        I cover the Jobseekers (BWS) Bill elsewhere but it is worth adding that Labour felt justified in what they did (at the time) because Byrne and Timms had secured concessions including a continued right of appeal and a review of the sanctions regime that should report back sometime this year. Those things would not have happened if Labour had acted as you suggest.
        My own opinion is that these concessions were a waste of time for Labour and the bad publicity that came with the lack of opposition undermined everything the Party hoped to achieve. If Labour had been as focused on being popular – as you insist – then it seems more likely that Party members would have been whipped to oppose the then-Bill.
        It is clear that you are wrong to say Labour meekly accepted the fact that the vote would be lost and did nothing. Labour did something with a constructive aim. You are at fault for ignoring that.
        Your comment about the Bedroom Tax is made in view of recent developments. Labour announced it would abolish the Bedroom Tax long before any judges made their pronouncements. You are using what happened AFTER Labour announced the abolition plan to make it seem pointless but your claim would only be valid if the courts’ decision had come first.
        As for “screaming from the rooftops about the unfairness of these welfare reforms”, what do you think the Labour Party has been doing? We have had one Opposition Day debate after another in the House of Commons, successive debates in the Westminster Hall, and now a backbench Bill to abolish the Bedroom Tax. I have reported on only some of these:
        So, again, you are wrong.
        Andy Burnham has made it clear – and it is Labour policy, that Labour will repeal the Health and Social Care Act and reverse the privatisation of the NHS. I do not understand why you are denying this. I do not propose to go into the other matters here but, considering your record with the other matters I have covered here, I doubt whether your words would have much credibility.
        The Wythenshaw and Sale East by-election did not show the apathy of Labour voters, but of voters for the other parties! Labour’s 55 per cent of the vote was many times more than the closest rival. It was a poor turnout but this is not unusual for by-elections and this does not alter the fact that the result showed the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the others had failed to rally their troops.
        Finally, Labour is the party that will sack Atos and change the criteria for assessment of incapacity/disability benefits.

        I have been over this ground, in this blog, time and time again – but still people like yourself keep coming back, always with the same claims that have no basis in fact. I notice that, after I appealed for anyone making factual claims to support them with references, you have not done so.
        Are you trying to persuade my other readers with falsehoods? That would make you no better than the Coalition government.

      3. Tim

        Labour didn’t vote against the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill, a squalid and disgraceful piece of retrospective legislation rushed through parliament in order to prevent claimants unlawfully sanctioned for refusing workfare from mounting legal cases to win back monies robbed from them by the DWP. Labour ORDERED its MPs to ABSTAIN from any kind of voting in respect to this bill because it was afraid it might look too sympathetic in respect to the unemployed. Mark Hoban (then a DWP minister) personally thanked both Liam Byrne and Stephen Timms for their help in getting the Jobseekers Bill through the House in double quick by hamstringing their Labour colleagues and preventing them from voting according to their consciences (although some of the more moral and braver ones did). This is some of what Hoban said in thanks to his Labour friends:

        “I would like to put it on record that I am grateful for the constructive way in which the hon. Members for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) and for East Ham (Stephen Timms) have approached this topic (Jobseekers’ Bill). In supporting this Bill they have allowed us to expedite its progress, thus safeguarding taxpayers’ money.”

        As I said before I feel your confidence in Labour is sadly very misplaced.

      4. Mike Sivier

        Liam Byrne is no longer the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. Have you never wondered why? It’s because people were so angry at the way he orchestrated Labour’s betrayal of the people over the Jobseekers (BWS) Bill. If you have read any of this blog from the time, you will be aware that I was one of those who protested most strongly about what happened, and it is our anger that led to Byrne’s sacking. Good riddance.
        For reference, go to:
        If Labour had not acted in response to the outcry, you might have had a point. Labour did act; Byrne is gone. Your logic is at fault.

  6. Gary Lloyd-Coxhead

    Mike, well said. I agree with you wholeheartedly but I feel we are ‘****ing’ in the wind if we think it will become THE topic of debate. The fat cats have too much to lose and wield too much influence. The people I talk to, who haven’t voted for years , say it’s because there is no party that truly represents their views and beliefs. When I ask them what they would vote for they say it would be a party that rewards hard works as well as supporting, properly, the people who, for whatever reason, are unable to work. That support small businesses but at the same time realise that ‘public services’ should have remained public, and not privatised. That providing cost effective housing is important for the well being of the country because not everyone wants to own their own house or flat. As it stands now, there is NO party that represents these people and until there is, they will continue to not vote, which is sad.

    1. Mike Sivier

      I wasn’t trying to say that benefits would be the main topic of debate – just that the politicians are quite happy to let it rumble along as it is now, without ever bothering to do anything real about it because it suits their purposes to let the current situation continue. Sorry if there was any confusion.

      1. trianglefarmblog

        No apology necessary. I am as concerned as you are that this issue will rumble along without any real action. As a lifelong conservative voter I will NEVER vote for them again because of the way they have demonised the benefits claimants, unemployed and disabled. As I have a disabled wife, and I have disability issues of my own, this attitude is unforgivable. However I am not ready yet to vote for anyone else as I don’t trust ANY of them, they don’t seem to have an ounce of moral fibre. I worked for a short time as a Freedom of Information officer and the scandal of the MP’s expenses has not diminished my hatred for what they did in sticking their noses in the trough. None of the mp’s, whatever party, came out of that smelling roses. With the lies and fraud that is still going on I have no faith that it is likely to change soon.

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  8. Tim

    Sorry, Mike, but your logic is wrong. Byrne may be gone but Stephen Timms is STILL part of Labour’s shadow government and without Ed Miliband’s say-so Labour wouldn’t have be able to try to whip its own MPs into abstaining from the vote on the repulsive Jobseeker’s Bill. Ed Miliband himself has publicly stated that collective abstention by Labour MPs in respect to the Jobseeker’s Bill WAS the “right decision”. Byrne wasn’t a power in himself and would have to have arranged support from a majority of shadow cabinet members before he arranged to have members of the parliamentary party whipped.

    Byrne was the fall guy for the betrayal not a power behind the throne.

    Hence his demotion.

    1. Mike Sivier

      That doesn’t change a thing. Labour acted on the advice of the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, who had been discussing the Bill with the government with a view to finding the best way forward for his party. What he came up with, ultimately, wasn’t. So he took the fall.
      If your comment about Ed Miliband is accurate – again, there’s no reference – then he is sticking with the decision because – while it was unpopular – he clearly believes that some good will come from it. This might actually be true, depending on the result of the review.

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  10. rvraiment

    I didn’t watch the series because I knew the underlying ‘value’ would be entertainment, exciting the prurient and negative attitudes so readily available in the vox pop. I have been poor. I was for a short while on benefits, for a much longer while unemployed without benefits because even then, some 35 years ago, the routine humiliation became too much for me to tolerate. Pre-effective national government any individual born could look for a piece of vacant land, settle it, cultivate it, fight for it if need be and sustain himself and his/her family. The State and the concept of perpetual land ownership have removed a basic right to live. The State has become an oligarchy in which the majority live on sufferance, not as of right. They have taken our Father’s house – to borrow a metaphor – and made of it a den of thieves.

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