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Finally, reality TV that sees beyond the benefit myths

Despite a contrived setup, BBC’s We All Pay Your Benefits showed ‘taxpayers’ how hard life on benefits can be, says bedroom tax activist?Honor Donnelly

Issue No. 2362

Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer—have claimants found unlikely champions against scapegoating?

Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer—have claimants found unlikely champions against scapegoating? (Pic: BBC)

I had some concerns about this documentary. It sees Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford from the Apprentice try to compare the lives of unemployed people on benefits with those of working “taxpayers”.

Was this going to be more media stigmatising of those who need help?

Would it just be another intrusive fly on the wall series to provide employment to Alan Sugar’s firing squad?

But this was the one of the most balanced programmes I’ve seen about life on benefits.

In the first episode the “taxpayers” try to challenge the thinking that supposedly has people trapped on benefits.

What they find is not a “scrounging” mindset but a myriad of complex social problems.

At least two of the claimants seem to have real problems with personal confidence.

Luther—a single parent with a walking impediment and experience of homelessness—comes across as a man lost in time.

The government approach of all stick and no carrot is not going to help him, or Debbie who clings to the comfort of her pets.


Most of the people shown needed support with issues outside of the normal scope of looking for jobs.

Punitive measures against individuals and families like these are likely to add to their problems making them less “employable” than they already are.

What becomes clear to several of the “taxpayers” is that they are not so different or so far removed from the unemployed people they are paired with as they might have been led to believe.

Some of them only just managed to escape similar circumstances, and it was interesting seeing them notice this.

Simon remarks on a flatscreen TV and a smartphone. 

But he recognises that “When I became unemployed I still had my things, and people would have made the same assumption—that I had it good”.

Meanwhile Liam the “workshy” graduate surprises Stevie with his work volunteering for a youth group.

The idea that he is too ashamed to work in a shop, or that only laziness keeps Debbie out of a job, doesn’t address the real problems.

There are not enough affordable places in nurseries, and not enough jobs in the first place.

And while no one in this programme is affected by the bedroom tax, their problems will get worse for the foreseeable future as more austerity policies are rolled out.

Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits is available on BBC iPlayer.

Honor Donnelly is part of Greater Manchester Against the Bedroom Tax

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Tue 16 Jul 2013, 17:51 BST
Issue No. 2362
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