Wednesday, 4 July 2012

What Is Wrong With The Future State Of Welfare (Part 5)

In the next part, The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys moves onto single parents and children. He draws a distinction between Beveridge's time in the early to mid 20th century and more recent times in regards to the number of single parents.

51. The presenter omits the vast social change that has happened in recent decades and instead the programme shows a vox pop featuring Professor Paul Gregg talking about cash payments for having children. The audience is mislead into thinking that rather than the rise of single parenthood being caused by social changes, it is instead implied that benefit payments have done this. In fact those benefit changes came after the social changes. Paul Gregg does give a timescale for this as being in the past 20 years, which is long after Beveridge's time. The general public though are less likely to spot that this doesn't support the angle the presenter is trying to advance, nor will they know that since those benefits were introduced the claims for Income Support have dropped and have dropped fastest among lone parents. When demographic changes are factored in, the rise in benefits paid to families with children is driven by families with two parents. The presenter persists in linking the rise in child benefits with single parenthood into the next scene.

52. The presenter goes to Knowsley in Merseyside. In the introduction to this scene he claims that the number of one-parent families in Knowsley is twice the national average. Given the context the programme and presenter have set up for this issue, the audience is likely to be mislead into thinking Knowsley has a problem with single mothers having children because of a supposed incentive to avoid work. A look at the Labour Force Survey reveals that the town has roughly 33,900 households, of which 20,700 have children. This is about 50% higher than the national average. But does it have anything to do with worklessness? There are 6,600 households with a child and no working adult in Knowsley, but 14,000 which have an adult in work. The households divided into working, mixed and workless show that proportionally, households with an adult in work are more likely to have a child, not less. No matter how many of them might be single parents, the programme is wrong to link Knowsley's high number of households with children with worklessness.The presenter still persists with it throughout the segment.

53. The programme returns to New York and the Deputy Welfare Commissioner Lisa Fitzpatrick is asked what would happen to a mother who made an application for cash assistance but said she didn't want to work. Lisa Fitzpatrick explains that the application is likely to be rejected unless the mother otherwise qualifies for exemptions. The presenter makes no enquiry into what these exemptions are, so the audience is left with the impression that New York is very different to the United Kingdom. Whilst in the UK single parents are paid Income Support and not expected to look for work, they are expected to look after their children, that is part of the conditionality for the benefit. But the way the programme presents this is as if the provision in New York is absent rather than different, that the government is not spending money because of the policy to make single parents go to work. Whilst in the United Kingdom childcare is expensive, New York subsidises it heavily for low-income families and has an Office of Children and Family services that find childcare providers for parents. Prior to the recession, there were steps in the United Kingdom to move more towards this model as Income Support claims by lone parents were falling anyway and any future planned changes to it would have less harmful impact. But now policy in Britain is aimed at cutting both the embryonic childcare infrastructure and benefits that support families with children, this does not bring us closer to New York.

54. For the last ten minutes of the programme, the presenter attempts a facade of being balanced after almost fifty minutes of terribly misleading questions, comments, assertions and framing devices. He takes a visit to a New York food bank or soup kitchen. He talks to director Aine Duggan and begins immediately with an outright falsehood: "We in Britain, have unemployment, we don't have soup kitchens." We call them food banks here. They exist, have always existed and have been on the rise for some years. I'm having trouble believing the presenter did not already know during filming that they did because it was reported nationwide that Westminster Council were attempting to pass a by-law banning food banks from distributing free food around that time. It's estimated that around 128,000 people had to go to a food bank last year and it's estimated to be double this year. The Trussel Trust alone has 200 food banks in the UK and are opening a new one on average every week. This not only misleads the audience but even Aine Duggan is misled by the presenter's claim, concluding reasonably that the only explanation is that the UK has not 'encountered the atrocity of welfare reform yet'. That is the conclusion the audience will also draw, not knowing that Britain followed New York's example in the 90s. Jobseekers Allowance was introduced to replace Income Support for the unemployed and immediately started falling, anti-fraud measures were ramped up, reviews were commissioned for Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit. The Trussel Trust opened their first food bank in 2000.

55. A minor issue on the surface, but given the number of claims asserted by the presenter up to this point as if they were certain, it is a problem. The presenter cites the figure for how many Workfare recipients as a percentage simply disappeared and never followed up on: "One estimate says that 40% of recipients of the Workfare scheme have fallen through the safety net." Unlike almost any other factoid or statement in the programme, he qualifies this one by referring to it as 'one estimate'. It is a statistic which not even Laurence Mead disputes, but the presenter phrases it in a way that allows for doubt. This wouldn't be a problem if not for the way the language he used for the rest of the programme, which ends up implying a low credibility value for this one when it is in fact one of the few claims asserted by the programme that is evidence-based.


  1. If you stomach any more-Neil O' Brien and Daniel Hannan on Any Questions re poverty

  2. Serious question-do you think people like O'Brien really believe the utter nonsense they spout eg.that "out of work" benefits actually means that number not in work and able to or to fit an agenda they spout their crap in the (sad) knowledge that the public do?