Tag Archives: Benefits Street

Winning The Argument On Welfare Means Never Giving An Inch To The Likes Of Katie Hopkins

katie-hopkinsWith the constant stream of benefit bashing stories in the national press it is often easy to believe that the argument is over – the public no longer support a social security system and the poor are despised.

Yet this over-simplifies people’s attitudes towards social security which in truth are varied and complex.  The most recent British Societal Attitudes survey shows that support for the welfare state is strong – 81% of people believe it is the Government’s responsibility to provide housing for those who need it, whilst 59% say that unemployed people should be provided with a decent standard of living.

This seems to contrast sharply with the hate-fest on social media which has accompanied Channel 4’s recent poverty porn production Benefits Street.  But an analysis of 5000 tweets posted during the second episode of the series (which is well worth reading) reveals that the picture is far from one-sided.

Predictably the analysis found many of the tweets were jokes, often aimed at the people featured in the show.  Whilst these may seem politically charged, especially in context of the current war on the poor, they should not be seen as indicating any deeply held political views.  Unpleasant and sexist jokes about one of the character’s breasts  – which made up 2% of tweets – do not necessarily indicate hostility towards the system of social security.  Neither in truth do remarks about the participants being scruffy (4.9% of tweets).

The episode of Benefits Street under discussion featured a group of Romanian immigrants and unsurprisingly this was a hot topic of discussion on social media.  As the analysis points out, this seems to have been a crude attempt by the programme makers to set up an increasingly familiar narrative of hard working immigrants versus lazy Brits.  This is a handy comparison for the right, allowing them to not just to use it as an argument to clamp down on benefits, but also to introduce ever more draconian immigration laws.

6% of the tweets fell into this trap, which fails to recognise the bleak reality that there are plenty of people in Romania and elsewhere like Fungi – the long term alcoholic featured in the show.  They are generally not the types to trek across Europe looking for a job.

Only 26 tweets out of 5000 made throughout the programme were found to contain threats of violence towards the participants of Benefits Street – although there’s no doubt that tweets like those below are hard to forget or ignore:

benefits-street-tweet1benefits-street-tweets2benefits-street-tweets3Depressingly only 2.8% of tweets expressed any sympathy for the residents of Benefits Street, although this may be more to do with the way the programme was edited than anything else.  This fact was not lost on many posting on social media  – 9.7% of tweets were critical of the company behind the show, Love Productions.

An even larger number of people tweeted what the analysis calls ‘balancing statements’, meaning comments designed to point out the reality of life on benefits along with criticism of this Government’s welfare reforms.  A further 6.7% of tweets were hostile towards politicians, predominantly Tories and often referencing the MP’s expenses scandal.  2.8% of people mentioned the Royal Family, the UK’s biggest benefit scroungers, whilst 3.4% of tweets focused on tax avoidance.

benefits-street-tweetsgraphAs the graph shows, the reaction to Benefits Street was far more nuanced then an initial glance at twitter would suggest.  The problem is that it’s the offensive, nasty or threatening comments which leap out.  A bit like Katie Hopkins and Edwina Currie on Channel Five’s Big Benefits Row this week, those who shout the loudest, and say the most outrageous things, set the tone of the debate about social security.  But they are not the majority.  Far from it.

What we should learn from this is that attempting to appeal to the braying anti-benefits mob with watered down demands and tacit acknowledgements of their ‘point of view’ is the path to surrender.  Calling for an end to bad benefit sanctions only, or for watered down workfare, only strengthens the hand of those who wish to eradicate social security completely.  As the mainstream left creeps closer to the right, the right bounds further away, taunting the liberal apologists to keep up.

We should not concede an inch to swivel-eyed monsters like Katie Hopkins and Edwina Curry and there is no need to.  Few people would disagree with the arguments that underpin the case for social security – that no-one should go hungry in one of the richest countries in the world, that everyone deserves a home they can afford, that disabled people should have financial support to live independent lives, that every mother is a working mother and perhaps most crucially of all – that there are no fucking jobs anyway.

Those are the arguments that everyone interested in saving the welfare state must make, not only loudly, but with pride.  And this means questioning capitalism, which will never provide a job for everyone and at the very least asking what are we going to do about that (it’s probably a touch optimistic to expect Citizens Advice or Shelter to call for violent revolution …  yet).

As poverty not seen in generations begins to emerge in the UK, then it is only by going back to basics that we will win the argument.  Charities, trade unions and Labour Party activists who are too timid to do that should get out of the fucking way.  The argument about the future of social security is really only just getting started.  When people see the carnage in the wake of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms and the wider impact of austerity across Europe, then space will open up for radical demands.  It is happening already.  A compliant left, ever ready to compromise and sell out its values, will only prepare the ground for failure.  People are not stupid and they are not heartless, no matter how much this Government wishes they were.  And nobody really wants to be like Katie Hopkins.

Read the full analysis of the Benefits Streets tweets at: http://davidrobertshaw.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/the-great-british-hate-off/

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

A Message From Merthyr That Channel 4 Should Listen To

This is a film made in 2011 by two young people documenting how Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms were likely to impact on the community of Merthyr Tydfil.  The latte slurpers behind Benefits Street should take note.  This is really what austerity looks like, and it’s got much worse since then.

Apologies for lack of posts this week, it’s been a wobbly start to the year.

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Let’s Kick Poverty Porn Producers Off Our Streets

yuppie-scumThere are few things more unpleasant than a bunch of coked up media wankers deciding it would be a jolly jape to make a film exploiting the lives of people in poverty.

You can imagine the braying laughter as the makers of Channel 4’s Benefits Street egged on people with drink problems to perform in front of the camera, even allegedly supplying them with alcohol to make sure they were shown in the worst possible light.  With clever editing, and in one participant’s case at least, genuinely vulnerable people, it isn’t hard to create the desired freak show.  People perform for the camera.  Fill them full of booze first and film the resulting carnage and watch the ratings soar –  particularly if the group you are stigmatising are already a target of tabloid fuelled hate.

The resulting and all too predictable reaction on twitter, where some people called for benefit claimants to be killed – yes killed – must have been a huge source of amusement to the programme makers.  Boss of documentaries at Channel 4, Nick Mursky, even claims this justified the show, saying to The Guardian that: “the furore surrounding it reinforces my view that we should absolutely be making programmes in this territory.”

It is hardly surprising that those whose lives were documented in the programme are outraged about how they were portrayed.  Thankfully they are not the only ones angry, thousands have signed a petition calling for the programme to be scrapped.  This is hardly the first time that Channel 4 have propped up their ratings with exploitative and dishonest so-called documentaries about life on benefits.  Just a few months ago Benefits Britain 1949 reduced claimants to tears whilst providing a completely distorted view of the benefits system not just today, but also in 1949.

Sue Marsh is right that some of the reaction to Benefits Street, from both the left and the right, has been influenced by snobbery.  But that’s probably because the programme was made by latte-slurping snobs. Laughing – usually from a safe distance – at the funny ways poor people speak and behave has long been a sport for the chattering classes.  Selecting a few isolated and troubled individuals and ignoring most of the rest means that people’s prejudices are easily confirmed.  Not looking deeper ensures that no-one ever asks why someone like Fungi is slowly committing suicide with alcohol, or whether anyone realistically would give him a job if his benefits were taken away.

The next time a bunch of grinning fucking idiots with a camera crew and clip boards turn up in working class areas they should be told, or made, to fuck off.  If this is the best that Channel 4 can come up with at a time when people are being driven to suicide by welfare reforms, then they are less than worthless.  In fact they are part of the problem.  Do not fucking trust them.

Join the protest outside Love Productions, the company behind this programme this Monday 13th Jan at 3pm, 43 Eagle St WC1R 4AT.  More info on facebook.  Please spread the word.  Love Productions are on twitter @LoveProdHouse

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid