Tag Archives: benefits street

‘Sanctions, starvation and evictions are not entertainment. People are dying’

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Are you as utterly sick of televised ‘poverty porn’ as you should be?

Night after night, main offenders Channel 4, Channel 5 – and even the BBC – flood their schedules with nonsense films designed to misinform the public about the lives of the deprived and enlist your collusion in their demonization and destruction.

It’s time somebody put a stop to it, and the United Disability Resistance Movement (UDRM) wants your help to achieve this.

“Some of us have recently been looking at asking our members to write a … letter to the individual members of OFCOM about the media portrayal of benefits ‘scroungers’,” wrote a UDRM representative in a message to This Blog yesterday.

“We think all should unite, able and disabled against the media rhetoric and narrative.

“At UDRM we are convinced that, if all protest groups worked together, we would stand a much better chance of changing things because we all want the same thing in the end. We believe there’s strength in numbers and we are already working with some other groups under the banner of ‘Unite and Fight’.”

The group is asking for anyone who agrees that ‘poverty porn’ should be stopped to send a copy of the following letter to one, many or all of the Ofcom members listed below, indicating their support for the points it makes, in a short campaign over two days between Saturday and Sunday (August 8-9).

It’s up to you.

Here’s the letter. Please consider joining this campaign.

Dear [insert name],

I am writing to complain about the number of programmes on mainstream British television and radio and in British print media at the moment which vilify, target and demonise people who are claiming welfare benefits.

People are being mocked and their struggles are being seen as entertainment when, in fact, it is day-to-day existence for many and not a fictitious variation of shows such as ‘Big Brother’. Sanctions, starvation and evictions are not ‘amusing’ or a joke, they are a reality for many and are horrifying in their brutality. People have died.

Programmes such as ‘Benefits Street’ and ‘Benefits Britain, Life on the Dole’ perpetuate the myth that claiming welfare benefits is a lifestyle choice. Vitriolic articles by so-called commentators such as Katie Hopkins incite hatred. Benefit claimants, migrants and job seekers are being portrayed as scroungers who have chosen a lifestyle of inactivity and modern-day begging. This is not the case. People claim benefits because there is nothing else they can do. People claim benefits because they were born disabled or have become sick later in life. People claim benefits because they have lost their jobs and have been unable to secure a new role. People claim benefits because employers are paying minimum, starvation wages and they cannot afford to feed and clothe their families. People claim benefits because they need help. People claim benefits because they have no choice. This is not entertainment, this is disgusting, this is frightening; this is tragedy.

Further to this, ‘Poverty Porn’ has alarming knock-on effects on the way people who have no choice but to claim benefits to survive are viewed. The result of this misinformation is the alarming increase in hate crime against those who are claiming benefits. Spying on friends and neighbours is encouraged. covert filming and recording is rife. According to the Crown Prosecution Service in 2014 there was a 213 percent increase in the number of prosecutions for hate crime against disabled people. In 2011 the report, ‘Ready Willing and Able’ highlighted the fact that 38 percent of the general public perceived disabled people to be a burden on society. On 24 April 2015 the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein compared British print media’s attitude to migrants to propaganda in 1930s Nazi Germany.

The TUC has stated that “The government’s austerity programme is reshaping the welfare State through cuts in benefits and the privatisation of public services, including health, education and drastically reduced state support. The impact of benefits cuts and of the associated campaign of demonisation of disabled people, the unemployed, migrants, asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups has been catastrophic. Crimes motivated by hate have wider and deeper roots, but austerity has made the problems worse.” This is not healthy. This is frightening. This can only lead to the further disintegration of our society.

I am asking OFCOM to look into this trend in the British media to publicise non-stop ‘poverty porn’ in print, on the radio and on television. I am asking OFCOM to do the right thing. I am asking OFCOM to have the courage to say ‘No More’. The public should be shown the true stories of the struggling majority, not the glamorisation of the extreme minority. Over many years the British press has been lauded for its fairness and unbiased reporting. Please do not allow this to change.

Yours sincerely,

[insert your name]

Here is the list of possible recipients:

[email protected], Mehmuda Mian, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

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Tories’ ‘Benefit Street’ event ‘encapsulates all that is wrong’ about the social security debate

 

Benefits-Street-football-protest

No benefit: After Middlesbrough FC supporters heard the new series of Benefits Street was to be filmed on Teesside, they flew banners attacking the decision at the club’s next match. That’s how popular the series’ approach to benefit recipients has been with the public.

This is utterly perverse. The Conservative Party conference is to play host to a ‘debate’ (we won’t dignify it with any acceptance that it really is one until after it has happened) on social security that is more likely to be a piece of theatre intended to lay blame on the vulnerable.

According to Ekklesia, a debate titled ‘Benefits Street: What more needs to be done to help people into work?’ will feature Mark Hoban MP, the former Minister of State for Employment, Steve Hughes, Head of Economic and Social Policy at Policy Exchange, and Deirdre Kelly, described on the event’s promotional material as ‘Deirdre Kelly, (White Dee) Television Personality, Benefits Street.’

The ‘debate’ will be chaired by Allegra Stratton, political editor of Newsnight, so her card is now well and truly marked. Those of you who are still burdened by the belief that the BBC is a hive of socialism, take note.

There are so many ways this can go badly wrong – especially from a moral standpoint. Let’s look at what Ekklesia’s Bernadette Meaden has to say about it:

“First, the title of the debate. It seems based on the now very tired assumption that the unemployment rate is not actually a function of the economy, beyond the control of individuals, but the fault of unemployed people. If this is not the assumption, why not call the debate, ‘How can we create more jobs?’ And why make the association with Benefits Street, a programme notorious for stigmatising people on benefits and unleashing a stream of hostility towards the people who took part?

“Secondly, the composition of the panel. Mark Hoban was Employment Minister in 2012 when a more punitive sanctions regime was introduced for unemployed people. At the time he promised a “rude awakening” for claimants, and wrote, “I make no apology for this. I am clear that for too long some people have taken benefits for granted as a way of life rather than as a safety net.”

“Another thing Mr. Hoban did not make any apologies for was the contribution of hardworking taxpayers to his own way of life. After introducing a sanctions regime which has been blamed for causing soaring demand for foodbanks and payday loans, Mr. Hoban was allowed to keep just under £133,000 profit he made when he sold his taxpayer-funded second home.

“By my calculations that amounts to thirty five years worth of Jobseekers Allowance, on top of his considerable salary. And yet, on this panel, Mr. Hoban will presumably be the guardian of the public purse which funds the ‘lifestyles’of benefit claimants. It is unlikely that he will be under scrutiny for the considerable benefits he has received from the taxpayer.

Steve Hughes of Policy Exchange has an economics degree and previously worked at the Bank of England, the British Chambers of Commerce, and in Parliament. Policy Exchange has made many proposals to cut the social security budget, including lowering the benefit cap outside London and the South East, capping child benefit at four children, and a ‘smarter’ sanctions regime. Policy Exchange has contributed to an approach which is tough on benefits claimants, not tough on the causes of benefit claims.

“The third member of the panel, Deirdre Kelly, became a ‘TV Personality’ when she featured in the documentary series ‘Benefits Street’. Ms Kelly, a single mother of two, was employed until five years ago. Post-natal depression and bereavement have contributed to her mental health problems, and it has been reported that she is under the care of a mental health team. She can be outspoken, and her agent (who presumably gets a percentage of any fees she earns) says, ‘In classic Dee style, she said she won’t think about what she wants to say until the actual debate. She shoots from the hip, Dee, and that’s what everyone likes about her. This will be a great way for her to get her ideas out – and hopefully she will get to go for a drink with David Cameron.’

“To me, this panel seems disturbingly unbalanced, and perhaps designed to attract publicity. To have the voice of a working class person who has actual experience of the benefits system heard in such a forum is welcome and long overdue. But to engage in a public debate with an experienced politician and an economics expert would be a daunting prospect for anybody. With two of the panel instrumental in social security cuts and stricter conditionality, is it left to the non-professional to defend the unemployed, sick and disabled, who suffer when such policies are implemented?

“For balance, would it not have been fairer to include another panel member, who could counter the well-honed views of the ex-Minister and the professional researcher? Or perhaps Ms Kelly agrees with the two other members of the panel, in which case it won’t be much of a debate.

“Of course, it is the job of the person chairing the debate to ensure that everybody gets a fair hearing. The person chosen to fill this role does not inspire confidence. In 2012, around the same time as Mr Hoban was introducing tougher sanctions, Ms Stratton conducted an interview with Shanene Thorpe, a young single mother from Tower Hamlets. She quite aggressively questioned Ms. Thorpe why she was living in her own flat, claiming Housing Benefit, when she could be living at home with her mother. After the interview, Ms. Stratton spoke directly to camera, saying, “The government is thinking of saying to young people: if you don’t have work, don’t leave home.”

“The clear implication was that Ms Thorpe was unemployed and living off benefits as a lifestyle choice. She was actually working full time, and had been in work or work-related training since she was sixteen, but this inconvenient truth was edited from the interview. After Ms Thorpe complained that she had been misrepresented and humiliated, Newsnight eventually issued a public apology. So, as a Chair for a ‘Benefits Street’ debate, Ms. Stratton does not inspire confidence.

“In conclusion, let’s imagine the tables were turned. Would an MP who had received the equivalent of 35 years of Jobseekers Allowance, thanks to a public subsidy and a rising property market, agree to a public debate on MPs expenses with, for example, two people on benefits, chaired by a member of the Occupy movement?

“It is impossible to imagine such an event taking place, or even imagine anyone proposing such an event; and that speaks volumes about the way the whole welfare debate has been framed for the last four years.”

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Benefits Street 2: Middlesbrough football fans display banners attacking new series

This is from the Unemployed in Tyne and Wear blog, which posted this picture showing Middlesbrough football fans’ attitude to the new series of Benefits Street:

Benefits-Street-football-protest

If you think any further comment is necessary, dear reader, take a look at the article on the Unemployed in Tyne and Wear site.

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Proud Stocktonian Mike McGrother’s open letter to producers of Benefits Street

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Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman Mike McGrother wrote this to Love Productions, according to the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, reported by Unemployed in Tyne and Wear.

As revealed  yesterday, Love Productions is currently filming the second series of the controversial Channel Four show in Kingston Road on the Tilery Estate in Stockton.

Middlesbrough Evening Gazette published a detailed interview with the company in which one of its directors explained why Teesside had been chosen for the second series.

And that prompted proud Stocktonian Mike – who had previously contacted the Daily Mail over its coverage of the town – to write this open letter to Love Productions.

“I understand you have decided to come to our town and make a television series about it.

“As far as I can see, your justification comprises of:

“1. There are unemployed people there;

“2. You will be giving them ‘a voice’.

“I find your statement ‘In Stockton and the Kingston Road area there are a large number of people on benefits’ at best lazy and at worst, unscientific.

“If this is the level of research Love Productions proudly use to back up their choices, the academics of Oxford, Cambridge and the world must be quaking in their boots!

“I then note you want to ‘give a voice to a community that don’t really have a voice.’

“How wonderfully philanthropic and not in the least bit patronising of you.

“But you see, the thing is, we Stocktonians already have a timeless voice we are deeply proud of.

“It could be heard consistently during the summer through our massive carnival, in festivals, sunflower commemorations and in our schools, workplaces and community hubs.

“If you would like to truly give us a voice, then why did your production crews not film these and choose to work so secretively?

“Why have you not consulted properly with local support services and – if and when you did talk to them – ignore what they advised?

“Why do you preach fair representation but then exclude the majority of residents?

“Do you really doubt our integrity so much to think we believe that television editing can provide a fair, honest and truthfully representative platform from which people can be heard?

“And so while we can’t stop your ironically named ‘Love Productions’ team coming to Stockton, what I – and more people than you may wish to think about – can also not be stopped from is making our own ‘productions‘ whilst you try to film.

“If we disrupt your lives over the coming months, think about how you are disrupting ours.

“Don’t expect demonstrations, conflict or confrontation.

“But do expect to witness a community that already has an identity, a spirit and a very much bigger voice than you perhaps anticipated – to be heard, to be seen and to shine.

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette,  27 Aug 2014

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

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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.

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