Friday, 17 January 2014

It's not grim oop north

Last night's Question Time had a question about Benefits Street, the subject of my last blog. The person who asked the question, Matthew, was criticised by another member of the audience. This person who had been made redundant and had been unemployed thought that he had been labelled a scrounger by Matthew when David Dimbleby invited him to give his impression of the Channel 4 programme. That's the problem with the programme. I believe that Benefits Street has set out to get more viewers by telling us sensational stories. Then the viewers start to think that this anecdotal evidence reflects badly on anyone who happens to be unemployed. More importantly, those who are unemployed believe that they have been demonised.

One member of the audience told us that "the vast majority of people that are unemployed do want to get work but there is a minority that are working the system. They are generating employment issues especially up north and why can't we talk about that. Why is a programme that highlights that being accused of demonising them? Is that something we can talk about?" We can talk but it should be a balanced discussion. It has to be based on a situation in which it is not easy to live on benefits. It has to reflect a society that does not make things easy and in which many will demonise the unemployed because of anecdotal evidence. It shouldn't be based on people thinking there is a boundary between north and south as that boundary will vary significantly depending on where you live. I would count myself as a northerner and I am not sure what this member of the audience means by saying that some of us are generating employment issues. Does it mean that northerners cheat the system? How does she know anyway?

As Tim Farron said, benefits street should be balanced with a street in Kensington and Chelsea where there are people on seven-figure salaries. Some of them are absolute scroungers as they will not be paying any tax. It is wrong to generalise about the unemployed especially when the general view is wrong.

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