“What’s the point in me going out to work 40 hours a week? I’ll miss my kids growing up!” says Steve Brown when John Humphrys asks him why he hasn’t had a job in years. Arguments like this won’t exactly endear him and his jobless brethren to most viewers, but Steve is simply pointing out the fact that he receives a similar amount of cash in benefits as he would working for the minimum wage.
No matter how skeptical you are about Steve’s protestations that he ‘wants to work’, you can understand the logic behind his decision not to in the current welfare climate. But when he starts telling Humphrys that the minimum wage “isn’t good enough”, we get to the root of the problem. Benefits are now so generous and accessible, that the minimum wage seems ‘disgusting’ (as one woman in Splott puts it) to some. Pat Dale has seven kids and hasn’t worked in 20 years, but rather than accepting that she’s quite lucky to have been supported by the state for two decades, she sees herself as a victim because she doesn’t get the same amount of cash for each child she has.
Finding out that tax-payers are subsidising the rents of people living in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in England will also stick in the throats of many struggling to pay their mortgages, yet while these issues won’t be revelatory to most of us, seeing them in the flesh (as it were) gives them extra power.
With millions of people in Britain on benefits (2.5 million alone on incapacity benefit) it would be easy for John Humphry to present a slanted picture of the whole situation which chimes with The Daily Mail’s ‘scrounger class’ mandate, but he also meets people who genuinely seem to be looking for any job they can find. The middle-aged people who now have to sit in classrooms making cupcakes as a part of the government’s new restrictions on state hand-outs strike you as folk who’d take any old McJob rather than be softly patronised by well-meaning Job Centre staff.
These new methods were partly inspired by the ‘Welfare Revolution’ that occurred in America at the turn of the millennium and Humphrys heads off to New York to see how the new system – designed to remove attitudes of entitlement – is working. He finds that while the reforms have garnered results, this tough approach has left some people eating at soup kitchens.
Humphrys grills the system’s creator Professor Larry Mead over the 40% of unemployed who fall through the net after being kicked-off welfare, but the Mastermind presenter still admits that attitudes in America have changed after people became disillusioned with the easy hand-outs on offer. The response to this BBC documentary might give a clear indication as to whether a similar groundswell is developing in the UK.