Saints and Scroungers – a review

I didn’t plan to watch ‘Saints and Scroungers’ on BBC1 last night. Really, I didn’t but it was nestled between The One Show and Eastenders (I never claimed to have particularly high brow TV viewing habits!) so it just happened across my TV screen.

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It made me feel very angry. That was my one sentence review. In more detail, the premise of the programme is to highlight ‘benefits cheats and to track down people who deserve government help’.

Even typing that sentence made me feel faintly nauseous. It isn’t like it’s hard to find instances of people who have defrauded the benefits payments system, after all. You only need to (and I know, this is a big ask) read the Daily Mail where there highly skilled *cough* ‘investigative’ reporters are more than capable of fulfilling that self-satisfying smug need to ‘feel better’ that exists within the general populace.

The ‘scrounger’ in this sense was an ‘unremarkable grandmother’ who had CONNED THE SYSTEM (a not-so-gentle reminder every now and then that that’s you and me, you know, The Taxpayer) out of £600,000 she wasn’t entitled to.

Fair cop – it’s a heinous crime and she was caught. My problem is not that particular instance because it is a verifiable conviction from a repeat offender. My problem with the programme is the way it was couched in a self-satisfied smugness and a perception that the benefits system must be so easy to defraud that ‘we’ are all being defrauded. The cost of the reputation of people who are entirely entitled to live and receive welfare benefits is the perception that fraud is entrenched in the system.

This programme was a case type in stigmatisation and alienation of people who might access welfare benefits and as such, although it highlighted evidence of a criminal offence, the language and presentation was such that we can all go and pat ourselves on the back for not claiming benefits.

The ‘saint’ I thought initially was a young boy who had been paralysed in a motorbike accident whose mother was nursing him and who was CLEARLY entitled to all the money he received in payments. Actually, the saint was the Citizens Advice Bureau advisor who had told the family about all the benefits he had been entitled to.

This part was equally nauseating. Firstly, the CAB advisor seemed quite happy to present herself as a saint. I know they do a good job – don’t get me wrong – I’ve come across countless amazing CAB advisors but it is hardly deserving of sainthood to advise someone who is very clearly an eligible recipient of their benefits. Also, alluding to this as ‘sainthood’ is a little cloying to say the least.

It places an almost Victorian overlay of Deserving and Undeserving Disability. This young man clearly deserves our support. He looks the part and is well-spoken and able to talk to the cameras about his disability.

I did have a brief thought about what the role of social services would have been in this case and how much they might have been deserving or not of ‘sainthood’ but to be honest, I’m glad they steered well away from this condescending and nauseating programme.

I also wonder if it was a coincidence (and I’m sure it wasn’t intentionally done) that the person who defrauded the benefit system was an older black woman as opposed to a younger white man who was rightly receiving his entitlements and doing so ‘fairly’ according to the programme. I know it might be complete coincidence and I don’t doubt it wasn’t intentional  but it does build on subconscious (or perhaps fully formed) prejudices and compound them which can be a dangerous thing in tough economic times.

Why did I continue to watch it? I was tempted to switch over  but then decided I might write about it… look what I do for you, dear Reader!

In the end the feeling I was left with was not a satisfaction that my tax paying money was funding a poor, disabled boy and that police were working to route out the con merchant grandmother who was ruthlessly defrauding the state but an immense discomfort that I don’t need the payment of my tax money to be justified to me.

I don’t want or care to be frank, whether those who receive ESA and DLA etc are good and honest people or not – they are entitled to that money regardless and no-one receiving a benefit to which they are entitled should EVER have to justify how they spend that money to anyone – least of all, me, an average taxpayer.

Do we forget that people who don’t work are probably taxed the most harshly through indirect taxes? We are ALL taxpayers and I don’t want to feel that my taxes should be making me feel better. My taxes are also paying for the Trident Programme and I feel much more strongly about that than the odd benefit fraud to be honest – and whatever the media perception in – I remain convinced that there are far more people not claiming what they should and are entitled to than those who defraud the system.

I don’t WANT to live in an society that does not have a fair benefit system.

I can’t promise I’ll watch the next episode because this one was too much to stomach.

And I really really don’t want my TV licence to be paying for such utter, pointless, cloying and irrelevant tripe.

5 thoughts on “Saints and Scroungers – a review

  1. That’ll teach you to watch, won’t it! I know, it’s a bit like a car crash, you know you shouldn’t slow down and look, but you – just – do..

  2. Agreed. And tonight we will have the hideous TV analysis of the Raoul Moat affair, (in the absence of a proper public debate in the House of Commons and in the Town Halls) where Rupert Murdoch’s Sky, having prepared the ground so effectively with all the celebrity police chases of ‘chav criminals and black drug dealers’ in, on and around Council estates over the past fifteen years, in the Moat affair they had their first gladiatorial execution on TV: they were there when the man was shot -and his brother watched him die on Sky.

    The brutalising ground has been prepared so very carefully, over many years. This is winnowing away an equal expectation of Human Rights of people on low incomes (benefit aristocrats who shouldn’t think they have the right to say in the area they were born…sounds a bit like the 18th century workhouse to me!).

    Think of council houses, you can now pay your rent over a lifetime but don’t expect to have any right to the home you’ve lived in all your life ,(Unless you’re a wealthy older person and own your five bedroom detached. Noone’s asking her to move. Yet, in the end, the issue’s the same. What do we want at the end of our lives? We want respect, harmony and insight).

    When you think about the past ten years of labour’s public spending, of Lottery Fund winners, individuals and community groups, I bet the real winners have been the consultants who live in the now very ‘heritage spruce’ areas who’ve claimed the money to regenerate already affluent areas, because they could. And yet it’s not really working money, it’s just maintaining materialistic status quo money. Not innovation.

    I’d like to see an analysis of how all public and lottery funding has been given out, money for ‘green’ projects and to ‘respectable’ people. More and more, (think about Credit reference agencies vetting application forms, think of the same managing government information, think about the loss of the census)…oh dear me.

  3. I honestly can’t stomach anything to do with Raoul Moat. You’re right. I hate the way that it seems to have turned into some kind of class war where claimants are stigmatised unless they are ‘saints’. It made me so angry but I won’t sit through the programme again..

  4. Couldn’t agree with you more on this one. I work in benefits and regularly have to see the horrendous squalor and deprivation people handily closed away on “no go” estates have to live though; the welfare state exists to free everyone from the horrible evils of being “poor” (a term, I notice, that has been replaced with low income, seemingly both to save the faces of the Buckets/B00k-kays of this world and to allow smug working people to say “well they’ll have to learn to live on what they’ve got!”) no matter who they are and what they are like.

    I’ve met many people I’d happily classify as scum, liars, cheaters etc, but as long as they’ve not cheated or lied on their applications I’ll give them the help they’re entitled to. I’m not going to go around making value judgements on people’s lives or lifestyles, because my opinions are different from others – they’re are people working in benefits right now who think that gay and lesbian couples should not get couple status and the associated additional help (“they’re not really a couple”), as we’ve seen with the scandal in Belfast recently, there are people who think that “immigrants” do not deserve as much child benefit as they’re entitled too, presumably out of some extra duty immigrants magically have to not alter the majority white face of Britain.

    Personally, all this comes from the hideous and sinister notion that is “Common Sense”, which I see far too often used to justify government plans these days. “Common sense” is anything but, it means everything to everyone. People who’ve worked more should get more out of benefits, that is common sense – until you’re the struggling, unable to work carer-parent of a born-disabled child.

  5. Thanks for that Matticus. I worry about the demonisation of anyone who claims benefits. It is a particularly invidious trend at the moment.

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