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THINKING - November 2011

Last week, with some reluctance, I watched ‘The Future of the Welfare State’ with John Humphrys, expecting to be outraged by the usual hyperbolic rhetoric applied to those who claim sickness and disability benefits and/or allowances. Mainstream media is nothing if not predictable on this issue at the moment!

The programme did not disappoint, zooming in lazily on the usual stereotypical examples of those that our politicians and media, on a daily basis, suggest are ‘scrounging’ and ‘sponging’ from the state:

  • the healthy man who is unwilling to work for minimum wage
  • poorly educated single mothers who are ill equipped to go out to work
  • a person suffering from a little understood, invisible to the naked eye, chronic illness who says they are unable to work, and,
  • a lowly paid immigrant cleaner, with a large family to support, provided with a luxurious home that most of us cannot afford in an expensive London borough.

Well done, John Humphrys and the BBC. Way to make a point! After allowing that 92% of us do wish our welfare state to support those in genuine need, you were unable to find one single indisputably ‘deserving’ claimant of our support to interview for this programme. So, with no deserving claimants in sight, we were given a quick look at, inept and inadequate, compulsory training schemes in the UK and, also, the workfare programme in America on the basis that the ‘undeserving’ must be made to work rather than ‘choose’ not to … as they do now, per the examples given above.

What a shabby and shameful exercise in journalistic pretension this programme was! From it, you might think lack of jobs, education, training and real illness and disability do not exist at all. But we all know that they do, don’t we? Hence the 92% etc. etc..

By ignoring the very real reasons we all need the welfare state, and the less superficial reasons – than ‘it’s the claimants, stupid’ - why it currently malfunctions, the programme simply had insufficient scope to be of interest. It was so biased in its’ presentation that it verged upon the ridiculous except in one respect where, to my mind, the BBC and John Humphrys embarrassed themselves, and most of us I imagine, with their absolute crassness.

Was I the only person truly appalled at seeing John Humphrys drag a hard-working but low-paid man, an immigrant in our country, dressed in his Sunday best as were all his family, onto our national television channel, and ask him if he thought it ‘right’ that the UK should finance accommodation for him and his family in the very expensive London Borough of Islington?

Besides the obvious - that this man was entitled to be here, was not, in fact, responsible for the accommodation he was given nor for the system that governed his getting it and hardly deserves to be made an example of in this way - seeing a decent man thrust into this uncomfortable position, visibly sweating and shaking as he struggled to provide the answer he thought was the ‘right’ one made me feel nothing but mortification and horror that the BBC, and John Humphrys himself, would sink so far from any pretence of objectivity and reasoned debate on the issue of welfare support, instead apparently seeking to inflame the unreasoned debate currently surrounding it.

Shame on both the BBC and John Humphrys for exposing their own ignorance and bias about the welfare state and, more, for abusing an innocent man’s dignity – all for a programme that had nothing new, original or incisive to contribute on ‘The Future of the Welfare State’. Surely they could have produced something better than this?

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