Employment minister Esther McVey comments does not help

IDSI made a decision to watch Benefit Street before I comment on my blog my thoughts on it because it was obvious to me the programme would be portrayed in some quarters as a god send to show a negative views of people on benefits which plays into the coalition and far right groups agenda to claim that foreigners are taking away our jobs and this is what happens when you let them in our nation.

On the other hand the programme shows some people do abuse the benefit system which alleges criminality, and drug taking those are a minority to the majority who are decent law abiding citizens who goes out to find employment which some will return to further education to gain the necessary qualifications to find a decent prospect of employment.

I have, though, read the many thoughtful commentaries about Benefits Street, and what follows when television “ratings” go chasing caricatures of the poor.

We already know there have been demands that the police prosecute some of the residents in “the street.”

There have been death threats on Twitter. And a barrage if indignant “Scroungers” headlines has been splashed across the front pages of right-wing newspapers.

The street in Birmingham may already have become a perverse tourist attraction, but there has also been a flood of public complaints about media distortion to the regulator Ofcom.

Britain has a seedy history of programmes like this, picking often northern cities and communities to reinforce beliefs that it is the poor who are to blame for the mess we are in.

Such programmes tend to follow the cycles of economic recession.

So, even before the Chancellor warns of a further £25 billion of cuts needed in the next Parliament, his austerity economics have been forcing districts in all parts of the country to tighten their belts.

“Extreme” weather events have added to the crisis by taking it into areas untouched by austerity.

The underpinnings of society, and what sustains it, suddenly look very shaky.

What programmes like Benefits Street do is to turn this insecurity into a more focused hostility one that divides the deserving from the undeserving. They foster a hostility that demands retribution.

And they play us off against each other. The more we absorb from TV, the more we resemble The Hunger Games.

Those who have not read The Hunger Games will have to forgive me a little.

George Osborne does not have the guile of President Snow, David Cameron cannot play the audience like Caesar Flickermann and Ed Miliband is not about to metamorphose into Katniss Everdeen. Still, there are uncomfortable parallels we should reflect on.

The Hunger Games is about a dystopian future in which downtrodden districts have to send two of their own children each year to compete in games that require them to kill each other.

The Games are designed to divide and denigrate the poor while entertaining a Capitol steadily sinking under its accumulated wealth, self-indulgence and brutality. It is a remove from today, but not a great one.

Pope Francis has already begun pissing off wealthy donors in our own “Capitol,” pointing out that the growing distance between the lives of the super-rich and the poor threatens the very stability of the planet.

Yet most governments, including our own, have taken the side of the Capitol shifting the political focus onto internal districts that must fight it out between themselves. In The Hunger Games, only the Capitol remains unscathed.

There are no victors in Benefits Street, but it plays the same game a spectacle in which television tracks blighted lives to deliver the inexorable, inevitable character “assassinations” the Games demand.

We have become accustomed to salaries of the super-rich that rise faster in one year than the rest of the economy does in a decade; to annual bonuses that are higher than some earn in a lifetime.

In the midst of a crisis the untouchable lives of the rich have become the new “given.”

What fascinates me is what this says about us the viewers, the audience, the voyeurs in this ritual denigration of the poor.

In The Hunger Games all the districts are forced to watch as children are chosen to compete in each year’s Games and then to watch as they fight each other for survival.

But no-one claps and no-one blames the kids. They know who the enemy is.

Britain loses £1.2bn a year in benefits fraud, but 20 times this amount £25bn per year goes in tax fraud.

There are always demands that benefits cheats be prosecuted and imprisoned. Yet the banking community goes largely unprosecuted for the financial crash it engineered.

The government will not cap bonuses  even in companies making losses  but it enthusiastically caps benefits.

A new welfare state is emerging in which corporate handouts are generous, unconditional and unaccountable, while personal welfare becomes conditional and judgmental.

The bedroom tax punishes households, without any benefit to society. It creates homelessness, hardship and costs taxpayers more. Its role is to shift attention from the under-supply of decent housing to the under-occupancy of decent properties.

That over 90 per cent of all the extra spending on housing benefits goes straight into the pockets of private landlords barely receives a mention.

Another welfare state is also being created for new nuclear power.

This will guarantee and index link  its benefit entitlements for 35 years, loan the money for its spiralling construction costs and cover most of its liabilities.

Pensioners would love to be offered the same deal.

Personal taxation may be mandatory but tax loopholes have made corporation tax increasingly “optional.”

Energy companies happily receive an annual £15bn in public subsidies, but they whinge about the “ affordability” of directing it back towards reducing our heating needs rather than increasing energy consumption and bills.

None of this offers a eulogy to the lives of any of those “starring” in Benefits Street. The point I am making is that their lives are not the roots of the crisis we face.

All dystopian fiction has to be taken with its own pinch of salt. The Hunger Games is no exception.

In the way of most US novels, it is obsessively preoccupied with the individual. Katniss Everdeen may turn out to have amazing survival instincts, but she never had a plan or an “agenda.”

In fact, she becomes incredibly hacked off to discover that others had a plan all along. Her intention was never to overthrow the system.

It was just to protect herself and, if possible, those close to her.

It was others who portrayed her as the Mockingjay — a bird that came to symbolise a refusal to be crushed, divided or denigrated.

And it fell to others to remind her to “just remember who the real enemy is.”

So it is with Benefits Street. The character assassination of everyone living on the street would not make any of us one penny richer, one penny safer or one penny closer to a better society.

To do that, we need our own “agenda”  one that goes well beyond the Benefits Street. That agenda doesn’t require heroes, Hollywood or otherwise. It requires solidarity.

Perhaps the lesson to be drawn from The Hunger Games lies in the moment that marked the beginning of the end for the Capitol.

It was when, in the televised presentation of contestants or “tributes” before the final Games begin, the tributes all held hands in defiance of the Capitol.

It was a momentary statement that they were not the enemy.

It didn’t last. Not all continued to do so. But those who did became the bringers of change.

It has been ever thus. In the face of today’s tyrannies, we should not underestimate the power of holding hands.

This brings me to the next subject of being tough on Welfare Reform in which some cases the coalition government wants to try to pull the rug under Labour record on Welfare Reform. I would urge all politicians to exercise caution and remember for those who had the opportunity to gain employment at the age of 16 years old those days have gone.

For my sins in a good way I started to work at the age of 16 years old at my family business in 1980 an opportunity for me to study other skills which venture on to other things in life which I had my relatives to thank for.

Looking back then I’m sure some will recall the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) being introduced by Thatcher Government some will argue that it worked and no doubt some will say it did not work. Returning to the present time 2000s there is no jobs for 16-24 year olds unless they are very fortunate enough that their parents own a small business otherwise its a case of dog eat dog as there is not enough apprentice jobs out there.

God help you if you become unemployed and one had to depend on Foodbank which you are allowed three vouchers a year. Then you get slapped out by a former Member of Parliament will quotes like they spend their benefits on dog food and tattoos.

I know of many people in my area and outside the area have no choice to join the dreaded queues Foodbanks and I’m sure many people would love to have the life of this particular ex Member of Parliament.

Yet some people on the ultra-left and far right groups still cannot see no further than there nose at times that’s because they have not moved on from their bubble it’s like a circle which keeps repeating itself. Yet some of those people are from a middle class background that plays on their so-called working class credentials.

The poorest families, despite many trying very hard, cannot get jobs, yet are held responsible for their own plight by the Tories, and their hate mantras and “striver and scrounger” rhetoric are amplified in the Mail, Sun and elsewhere. But there are only 562,000 job vacancies today, and some 2,450,000 persons trying to fill them. Well, that’s 2,450, 000 that we know of that are recorded as being in receipt of benefit, there are MANY more currently off the radar because they have been sanctioned, or are waiting for the outcome of an appeal.

The problem is not them, but an economic ‘policy’ that deliberately keeps nearly 2.5 million on the dole because the aim is not cutting the deficit but shrinking the State and the public sector, whilst providing a huge reserve army of labour for private companies. And the stark reduction of benefits by the greedy and callous have driven down people’s expectations , allowing employers to pay meagre wages, and offer poor conditions, ensuring that the private sector profits from people’s desperation. How the Tories lied. The vast majority of the benefit cuts have hit those in low paid work. There are now more children in poverty living in households where at least one person is working than there are in households where people are unemployed (well, unless they have been sanctioned) or retired households.

The big con of the day is “making work pay”. It does, but only if you are the big boss of some private business. Your work pays for their profits, you don’t work anymore to make ends meet, and you work to serve the Tories and their donor buddies.

“Our reforms will not only stop this from happening but will provide the financial services industry with the certainty it needs to develop products that can help people plan for the future. I welcome this commitment from the industry and am excited to see how this new market could transform the way we pay for our care.” So, a stitch up for us yet again, because “planning for the future” = PAYING FOR EVERYTHING, and so making big bucks for tory donors and sponsors.

So why is not surprising that when some reality shows on channel 4 gets a bad reputation and the thinking behind the #benefitsstreet is nothing more to help out the ultra-right wing  and other organisations to spread their message that if you are on any forms of benefits that you are “striver and scrounger”  they seem to forget that low paid are on some form of benefits are we really going to see an apology coming from the producers of benefit street given that there is around 58,000 signatures to a petition to stop the programme I think not as the more that people sign the petition the more airtime it gets.

it really does not help when Employment minister Esther McVey has been accused of peddling “fact-free nonsense” after urging young people to apply for entry-level jobs like with the Costa Coffee chain, despite a recent shop receiving 1,700 applications for just eight vacancies.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, she said young people should be “realistic” about their abilities, adding: “You could be working at Costa. But in a couple of years’ time you might say, “I’d like to manage the area” or might even want to run a hotel in Dubai.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, told the Huffington Post UK: “I’m sure young people would love to work at Costa – but last year more than 1,700 people applied for eight jobs at a new Costa Coffee shop in Nottingham.

“Many young people are already working hard to get ahead in the labour market and employers have a responsibility to hire them and train them properly. But the government also needs to act, instead of pretending that our youth jobs crisis is over we need a real job guarantee for young people to give them the best possible chance of moving into paid work as the recovery progresses.”

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union said: “Was Esther McVey promoted to her ministerial position because of her keen grasp of detail, or because she’s willing to trot out the same fact-free nonsense that her boss Iain Duncan Smith has made into an art form?”

Green party leader Natalie Bennett hit out at McVey’s comments, telling HuffPostUK: “Young people are already applying for these jobs, often well below their levels of qualification, in the hope of using them to get on the jobs ladder. But when we see situations where for example 1,700 people applied for eight jobs at a Costa branch, the result can be little more than a lottery, with odds little better than the lottery.”

The furore over McVey’s comments come as the Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of people employed rose to 30.15 million, up by 450,000 from a year earlier. The unemployment rate has also fallen from 7.4% to 7.1%, in surprisingly positive economic news that will pile pressure on Bank of England governor Mark Carney to start raise interest rates sooner.

A Costa spokesperson said: “Costa is proud to be a British company creating much-needed jobs for all age groups throughout the UK and nearly 60% of our team members are aged 16-24. Based on our planned opening programme for 2014, we anticipate creating a further 1,500 jobs this year hopefully starting many careers.

“Costa provides all its employees with regular opportunities to develop and grow their career through our own training programmes, with over 65% of our team members on our internal development programmes being promoted into more senior roles. A great example of this is our own Master of Coffee, Gennarro Pellicia, who is now responsible for the quality of all Costa coffee, who started as a barista in the 1990s.”

Spencer Thompson, economic analyst at IPPR, told HuffPostUK: “Entry level jobs in the service industry, such as working at a coffee shop, provide valuable experience of work for young people. Getting experience of work before leaving education can make young people much more appealing to employers but the number of young people with a part-time job has dropped significantly in recent decades.

“Youth unemployment began to rise from the early 2000s, when the economy was growing strongly. This suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong with Britain’s youth jobs market that cannot be fixed by simply urging young people to take unskilled jobs that don’t utilise their qualifications or training.”

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith sparked similar anger to McVey in 2010 when he told unemployed people to “get on the bus”.

Duncan Smith cited Merthyr Tydfil in Wales as a place where people had become “static” and “didn’t know if they got on the bus an hour’s journey they’d be in Cardiff and they could look for the job there”.



3 responses to “Employment minister Esther McVey comments does not help

  1. I took a look at the Twitter feed whilst benefit street was being aired, the bile that spewed out of the people posting there was frightening, as we know the nazi’s turned on the needy the disabled and incapacitated in the early 30’s blaming them for the economic woes well before they changed their vision to blaming the Jews. I tried to post that 54% more benefits were paid out to people working and the rich, but actually had people complaining about me posting and got banned from the site. It seems the governments propaganda is doing far more than we imagined in demonising the pople at the bottom of the pile.

  2. I wish I could write so thoughtfully and eloquently. Thank you for such a great article.

  3. a nicely written and well balanced piece. I tried to make Channel 4 disclose who commissioned the benefit porn programme before this – Benefits Britain 1949, using both FOI and my MP – they won’t tell you – which says a great deal – I suspect that there’s an agenda behind the commissioning of benefit porn and it would be very interesting to know who’s running it. Thanks again for a good read. atb Knower Sark

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