We All Pay for your Benefits

Blog #1

We finally caught up with the quasi-documentary on benefit claimants, ‘We All Pay for Your Benefits’, fronted by Nick Hewer & Margaret Mountford (from The Apprentice in case you don’t know). While selecting four claimants and four ‘taxpayers’ in Ipswich is unlikely to yield robust statistical evidence, I thought there were some insights arising from the programme.


Selection is all: the claimants were a single mother, a graduate who despite having a media degree, wasn’t prepared to accept work ‘beneath’ him, a single father of multiple children who has been signed off on health grounds for many years and a family with two children.


The ‘strivers’ were represented by a central heating engineer, a woman running a small cleaning firm, a health care worker and a lorry driver. 


In the first programme the taxpayers looked at the claimants’ benefits and life style. Some found it difficult to accept that they were earning less than the claimants were receiving in benefits. So far, so predictable. But the second programme saw the claimants spending time with the taxpayers in work. This was more interesting. The two groups were actually well matched. Several were juggling time and childcare in order to earn sufficient income. The lorry driver, for instance, worked nights after looking after the children all day while his wife was at work. They had a 90 minute window to see each other each day. Intriguingly, the claimants regarded this behaviour as antisocial. ‘If my kids wanted more of my time, I’d give up work like that....’ This either means that the claimants were excessively sentimental, or perhaps that they have created a narrative for themselves which makes out that they don’t work for the good of their children.


The claimant groups were also stunned by the hours worked by the tax payers. They all found the idea of working long days difficult and even baffling. But perhaps the final reaction was the most interesting. They were surprised how little the taxpayers were earning. They all assumed that working led to much higher earnings than it actually does. 


That said, the experiment did seem to lead to some positive results. The (frankly) lazy ex-student began to understand the reality of work, the long term sick father began to see that perhaps there was work he could do and the father of two having said he couldn’t accept a job which provided less income than his benefit changed his mind as he saw the physical and mental benefits of working, and the potential to improve wages in the longer term.


It was only a piece of constructed TV entertainment, but in the end it was far more revealing than anything you see on the News or hear from politicians. It was clear, as Nick Hewer said, that you can’t bully people into jobs if there are no jobs, and that you can’t expect someone who hasn’t worked in 20 years to just walk into a job without extensive support. But it also suggested to me, at least, that long term benefits claimants probably could do with a dose of reality at some point, and sharing their lives with some similar people juggling their family and personal commitments to provide for their families might be beneficial.


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