Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The BBC Tries To Stop Being Biased (Fails)

The BBC in particular could not think of the Welfare Reform Bill beyond a focused obsession with the benefit cap these past few weeks. Sue Marsh was interviewed recently for the News 24 channel and the presenter if I'm remembering this right actually started one sentence with "You talk about the benefits cap...". Sue had said absolutely nothing about the cap up to that point and was obviously a bit baffled. She pointed out she rarely talks about the cap at all; it is almost completely a local issue affecting London.

They utterly failed to cover the Welfare Reform Bill, the campaigns against it, the protests, the marches and some pretty explosive select committee hearings. Their flagship current affairs programme on the matter was a disgrace and the subject of a complaint I'm pursuing to the utmost conclusion and beyond; it failed to inform, it actively misled the audience and rather than challenge preconceptions it largely just reinforced what is already the widespread public consensus on social security. That consensus is one built up over almost fifteen years of non-stop misinformation which as far as I've been able to investigate it, was started by the BBC.

More recently, the corporation had an article published on their website continuing the cheer-leading of ignorance on the subject by comparing a non-working family on benefits with another non-working family on benefits. That article has now been updated and features a working family on benefits to compare them with.

But were they comparing like with like? Well this working family came from one of the comments below the original article, a particularly judgmental(and therefore highly rated) comment which included the following pearl of wisdom:
"I had sympathy for this family until I read in detail what they spend their money on. I believe that a cutback on booze and tobacco products is a must. Then unsubscribe to Sky... you should be thankful for what you get and adjust your lifestyle accordingly."
The income and expenditure of Raymond's household
The non-working family in question were spending £15 on the Sky subscription(it does not specify if this is part of the phone and internet package) and an unspecified amount on lager and tobacco products which amounted to 200 cigarettes and a large pouch of tobacco. Wait a sec though, this is supposed to be a budget for the weekly shop: even if all the children were smoking, who goes through 200 cigarettes on top of roll-up tobacco every week? The BBC didn't make this article to inform, they made it to paint a target. The way the cretin from below the line is presented is much more favourable. He gives £115 each week to church...seriously. That's pretty much the DLA and Carer's Allowance. They home school their children so no expenses need to be paid for uniforms and trips. It's very much a picturesque conservative working family. This completely overshadows the fact that Mr Ade is wrong: the wrong alarm bells rang when he read what they spend on alcohol and tobacco and his suggested expenditure reductions would have done nothing to improve the non-working family's finances or situation. They won't do squat when the benefit cap is applied to Raymond's household.

The income and expenditure of Ade's household
Read carefully about Raymond's family and you see what is wrong with the BBC summary of their income and expenditure. His wife has severe mental illness which makes him the de facto carer in the household of her and the children. It's no wonder he's been out of work for so long but over that period the welfare state was under sustained attack by the previous government and the media, including the BBC. As such it had been designed to fit the ridiculous paradigm that everything should be clear-cut: deserving and undeserving, genuine claimants and scroungers. It fails to account for complex situations except by systematic complexity; complexity is the price of fairness and the more politicians attempt to simplify the system without understanding how it got like that in the first place, the worse they make it. Politicians try to make out that people are often financially better off out of work, but have so far not been able to prove it, so they don't bother. Actual comparisons of in-work and out of work families are never made and the BBC here managed to find one who circumstantially are world's apart and decides to compare them anyway. It's the circumstances of Raymond's household which mean they are better off out of work, not their finances. An obsession with defining 'genuine' claimants by clear-cut idealism means Raymond's wife doesn't get IB or ESA or DLA and Raymond is on JSA rather than Income Support and Carer's Allowance.

The BBC gives Mr Ade the final, frame-establishing word:
"We are reaping benefits of a good society and I see no problem with that," he says. 

"Benefits are a good thing, and if society can afford it, they should be paid."

"But benefits should encourage people to work - they should not be something in place of work."
Then concludes with something so unbelievably stereotypical I've almost decided it's a crock- he says he used to work for the 'Benefits Agency' and of course he left because of a client. But this is the crux of it: his family are not comparable with Raymond's. His children don't go to school, he does not rent and if the BBC summary of their expenditure is to be believed, they don't drink water or wash because water rates that are included in Raymond's budget are not in Ade's.

What matters is that Ade appears to have none of Raymond's problems. If Ade were to suddenly lose his job, his position would be much better than Raymond's no matter what Raymond were to do. Ade would have his household benefits expand enormously; he'd have to stop paying his mortgage but Housing Benefit would pay the interest, he'd lose his salary but get JSA and his wife could then claim Income Support both at enhanced rates because DLA and Carers Allowance(again, the sum of both are given away whilst Ade is in work). In such circumstances and because the household receives DLA(which Ade gives away to his church), they will be exempt from the cap. There's an illusion there that seems to grip certain people like Ade: that if they lost their jobs, they'd be better off because benefits are so generous, so this must apply to everyone. For Raymond, in or out of work is irrelevant: his responsibilities make both those options terrible.

My own comment sits somewhere among the others, having a go at the BBC for their original comparison(the other non-working family being used as a comparison is no longer there). It only appears to have been superficially taken on board. They continue to utterly fail to grasp and then communicate to the public what is wrong with welfare in Britain.


  1. "There's an illusion there that seems to grip certain people like Ade: that if they lost their jobs, they'd be better off because benefits are so generous, so this must apply to everyone".

    Aye. Amazing that when I offer to trade places with people in work, they never accept.

    There was a Channel 4 discussion about a slim possibility that somebody might be worse off in work than on benefits if their taxes and travel costs are high, while their salary and working hours are low:

    It's time that was the focus, rather than seeting attack dogs on people who are on benefits borne of need.

  2. Good post MDA.It would have been harder to find a more untypical comparison and a more stereotypical benefit recipient and beyond parody that usage of benefits for "church" was even mentioned to compare with usage of benefits for tobacco and booze(paying tax and lessening lifespan-you would think this would be celebrated) and "Sky"-not that they were attempting to paint a picture or anything.The deserving /undeserving laid bare-worthy of Private Eye.I have happened to be in all three circumstances-non receiver of benefits;working receiver of benefits and now "non-working" receiver of benefits-I deliberated for some years whether to become non-working-a lifestyle choice the unthinking misanthropes cry because in our circumstances a reduction(albeit not critical) in income would result(largely unstated in any discussion is that the big fall in income results from the impact of unforeseen change of circumstances ,in our case disability/illness,resulting in eventual benefit/allowance receivership-a 70%,repeat seventy percent reduction in income-our main adjustment had been done);in what now seems eons ago I was persuaded by family,doctor and crucially my wife to relinquish my paid employment-which was becoming harder to continue doing and unfair to my wife and not very good for my health to try and balance these responsibilities.A genuine fear I have is that I will be cajoled to be "responsible to work if only for a few hours" due to the slight improvement if I do financially under UC(or rather the combination of a slight increase in the taper and reductions in existing benefits/allowances exponentially over time)and it makes me queasy if I am honest.

  3. Ade spends £40 on entertainment while Raymond only spends £20, although perhaps Sky should have been included in entertainment anyway and not had its own category. What this does however illustrate is how close Ade is to the benefit cap limit while being in work, there will be households who exceed £26,000 in benefits while in work.