Channel Five have followed the recent television trend by making their own set of documentaries focusing on the more disadvantaged groups of people in society. The BBC and Channel 4 had programmes such as Skint where the focus was on people living in poorer areas of the United Kingdom (Skint followed the lives of those living in Scunthorpe, and area in rapid decline since de-industrialision).
One may see this as positive thing, for it is rare that working-class voices heard among the talent shows that plague our living rooms, but there is a worrying trend that runs through all of these shows, and that is the negativity that is associated with the working poor and unemployed.
The Sun newspaper revealed that with a lot of editing, and intervention by the filming crew, the Channel 4 documentary Skint, already had a view of the people that lived in Scunthorpe, and the purpose of the documentary was to confirm that view on a large viewing platform. Unsurprisingly, the show made out that the majority of people that lived on the estate were lazy criminals, that were more concerned about buying stolen goods than looking for work (the steelworks that employed the majority of the town’s population has been on a downward spiral for many years).
If that was not damaging enough for today’s poorer communities, Channel 5 have taken up the baton for bashing the unemployed with their new series. The first episode was named On Benefits and Proud and looked at people living on unemployment and disability benefit (an amount of money given by the state for those looking for work, or for those unable to work due to ill health), in areas such as South London and Liverpool.
Of course, the majority of the people were made out to be useless, lazy scroungers, and whilst some of the people featured did irritate me (one lady was complaining that she did not get enough money from the state, whilst having subscriptions for Sky TV and Virgin Media), There was little, or no attempt to address why people are in this situation. It was mentioned that Liverpool has very high unemployment rates, but it made out as if this was the fault of the people, and not the rapid de-industrialision in the North of England and South Wales under Consecutive conservative government.
What shocked me the most though, was that the next episode in this series was named Shoplifters and Proud, and the one after that? Pickpockets and Proud. It seems strange that in this run of television programmes, Channel 5 have kicked off with the unemployed, and swiftly moved on to criminals. With the same titles and set up, it is very easy for viewers to associate people receiving benefits, with criminal acts, especially as they seem to give the impression that the people dong the stealing are doing it because of addiction, or to feed their families, whereas the people on benefits are just lazy.
I believe that this is very irresponsible from Channel 5. There is enough stigma associate with receiving state benefits, and lumping them in with criminals will just divide society and cause conflict. I am not saying that this will happen from one Channel 5 series, but the constant hounding by the press and the government means that eventually, people will be judged by receiving help that they are entitled to.
I had to claim unemployment benefit for a few weeks over summer, as I was on a zero hour contract that was giving my around 8 hours of work a week, and whilst I was actively looking for work after graduating, I was treated with discontent from certain people working at the Department of work and Pensions.
It needs to be pointed out that whilst the welfare bill is high in this country, it is there for a reason, and that is to make sure that those vulnerable people in society do not fall to the levels of poverty that we saw at the turn of the 20th century, and I believe that we are better as a country to spend money on the people who need help, rather than burn through billions of pounds on vanity projects such as High Speed 2, the Trident replacement, or the new aircraft carriers that are currently being built.