‘The Future State of Welfare’ with John Humphrys – A Review

Despite my hopes, dreams and wishes, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to switch professions and hold down a career as a TV critic although I’d lay claim to much ‘television watching’ experience. I sat down to watch ‘The Future State of Welfare’ last night  but after a very busy day and week covering ‘duty’, I may have nodded off one or two times during the programme so while I want to give my thoughts and feelings about the programme, I must mention that as a rider.

OT on Wheels has a great analysis of some of the figures that Humphrys presented. Left Foot Forward also analysed the figures. My response is more emotional than cerebral.

I knew from the advance information that this was a programme which was going to be challenging for me to watch. I take great offence at the way this government (and the opposition) stigmatise people who are out of work and who need to rely on the provisions of the welfare state to exist.

Humphrys had a very firm view on playing on the ‘idleness’ of the workless and feckless and seemed staggered that there wasn’t the old style stigma related to unemployment, recalling with some mirth and incredulity the ‘one man on the street who never worked’ and who everyone else on the street stigmatised.

That made uncomfortable viewing for me. When I was growing up, you see, my father was unemployed for periods of time and I remember that projected shame and stigma. It hasn’t left me. I genuinely wouldn’t want another child or family to feel that.  The way to ‘solve’ the benefits ‘crisis’ is to shame people into work? Really? Is there no more human way to promote and encourage the right environments to work in?

So from that premise, Humphrys casts a glance at some of the worst ‘offenders’ in his view.

But the people who Humphrys spoke to, I’d argue were hardly typical although that’s what he would want us to believe. The panned shots of young men hanging around on street corners makes too many assumptions about types of work or the fact that work is something that is undertaken from 9am – 5pm on workdays therefore (he seems to imply) anyone out and about at 2pm on the Wednesday afternoon, must be workless.

Not having a job does not make someone ‘different’ except by luck and opportunity. We had a constant undertone of ‘paid work’ = good  ‘not paid work’ = bad/feckless/idle

He even raised the ‘deserving and undeserving’ poor which is more than patronising and pans across to a group of people who are looking for work and therefore ‘good’ in his very judgemental eyes.

The part filmed in the private training centre run by a private company that have been contracted on a ‘payment by results’ basis illustrated some of the patronising talk and ‘lessons’ that the people attending receive. Adults designing cupcakes? Really? I do wonder about what is actually taught and how.

There was a glance across the Atlantic to the workfare schemes initiated there and I felt the tone was almost admiring. Certainly there’s no doubt that Humphrys was scornful of those who needed to rely on state benefits to exist.

The family on housing benefit, he implied should not be helped with rent because they live in central London and bafflingly he raised their nationality both in the voiceover and directly to the family when there was no question that as a Spanish citizen, the man had the right to live and work in the UK. I am unclear why the nationality was even raised as an issue.

There was an overtone of disdain regarding the high rates of claimants for ‘Employment and Support Allowance’ which seemed to emphasise a high rate of ‘fraud’ and yet the programme consistently referred to ‘Disability Benefits’ without mentioning Disability Living Allowance at all – probably because it has such low rates of fraud.

Of course I think that work should be encouraged but decent paying dignified work as well as support for appropriate child care should also be encouraged.

Stigmatising groups of people will not build a cohesive society but more and more this government and moreover the governing classes seem to depend on a ‘divide and rule’ type way to build gaps between those who have and those are have-nots.

Humphrys’ skewed and rather unpleasant programme exacerbated this. I look forward to the BBC putting together a programme exploring the realities between the ‘benefits’ myths that it has enjoyed perpetrating through this programme.

12 thoughts on “‘The Future State of Welfare’ with John Humphrys – A Review

  1. I decided not to watch it. Why? Becasue I had read about it beforehand and could see no point in it. I find it dissapointing that someone like John Humphries should be used in this way. It was to my mind an extended opinion piece and coincidentally (or not) one which happens to be shred by the government. More importantly however is the message and the method in which the message is disseminated. The “workless”, “travellers” “protestors” are all being identified as “diffrent”, not “good “different” but “bad” different. By attaching negative labels to groups we create amore divided and divise society. By privatising and finacialisng welfare we create stigma but by packaging it up and presenting it as some form of societal common sense we reduce the width of the lense we see our society through.
    The attack on benefit claimant’s on those who would seek to lead a lifestyle outwith convention reduces our foucs and provides a climate in which it becomes acceptable to see some as contributing more and others as contributing less. Stratification of this nature reduces all of us for Joun Humphries to become involved in this process is unfortunate. He must know he has a position in society, his role is inextricably linked to impartiality by engaing in partisanship he reduces this imparitality and the culture that it operates within.

  2. It won’t surprise you that I agree. I watched with trepidation but one of the things that was very clear was exactly where Humphries stood on the issues. He seemed to welcome stigma which is attached to people who don’t work and didn’t even try to hide his disdain for a group of people whose lives he knows very little about.

  3. I didn’t watch it because I knew it would be a party political broadcast opinion piece of behalf of half the country successfully indoctrinated by the Coalition with willing help by the media. Funny how programme’s showing a different view are not commissioned but then the propaganda has been so successful I guess why bother. We now have rising levels of disability hate crimes and people in receipt of benefits afraid to go out in their communities between 9 and 5. People are open targets now, to direct questioning and vulnerable to malicious anonymous phone calls to fraud lines. I’ve seen people harassed on buses [for the few who even have travel cards now], harassed for attending a gym [even when there are clinical reasons for doing so], and afraid to use a mobile phone [because they “shouldn’t” possess one] or afraid to wear clothes which look “too smart” because they “shouldn’t” possess them, and afraid to speak of voluntary work because this is no longer acceptable unless it’s outside of paid work. Mental health service users have some of the highest levels of voluntary work out of all ‘disability groups’ and this unpaid work contributes a lot to charities, universities, the statutory sector – this is going to be lost because people now fear doing voluntary work because it will go against them, because in this black & white new world order you are either in a coma or fit for full-time work, and yes it has to be full-time if you live alone because there are no tax credits unless you’re a lone parent, have a dependent or in receipt of some DLA which of course most people will be losing. Part-time work at minimum wage is the very best most people chucked off Incapacity/ESA will get and that works out at less than the state pension the ‘minimum required to live’. For single people, this will mean considerable hardship on top of being forced into work which is not valued and hard to do with health problems, but this doesn’t matter because work = recovery, work is the solution to everything, work means no problems and those who manage to get into work find themselves losing service support rapidly because they’re cured!!
    Couples will suffer, where one cannot work or cannot find work and the other is forced to support them both if working as after 12 months ESA stops for the person claiming, even if that partner is only on a low wage. So potentially two people living on a part-time minimum wage. This will stress relationships to the point where people will separate.
    Distress and dissent are increasingly being criminalised [the affluent are exempt of course].
    I also note they can’t decide whether PD is bad or mad. By transferring people labelled as PD from forensic services to prison but being ‘treated’ within prison, but hang on are not ‘treatment’ and punishment are two different things?….apparently not.


  4. I am not sure where the programme was actually going other than reinforce what some sections of society think and reinforce stereotypes. In his nice neat black and white vision of the world, everyone is equal, capable of equal things and we can all fit into a nice ful time job easily. Of coarse though in reality this is not true and everyone is different and capable of different things but for Mr Humphries and his followers. He didn’t even mention Caring – which by the way for anyone who knows is a full time job in itself and of coarse people like me who volunteer (now also stigmatised) despite saving the country both in Caring and Volunteering millions of pounds every year.

    Infact many workplaces are not hard and horrible like Mr Humphries suggests work should be (some are actually nice), presumably we should go back to mental asylums and workhouses which of coarse was actually worse when there was no welfare state. Infact people had very miserable and tough lives and were often devalued – this was totally ignored in the programme of coarse. The work ethic in that period basically treated most like slaves and wasn’t very pleasant. It begs the question – if people are either idle and live off the state or they are go-getters who love the Protestant Work Ethic (which was actually taken over by business people and completely took advantage of – protestants wouldnt work sundays for example) – is there no other way to do business, create workable environments or make society better without the need for huge profts, excess consumerism? or maybe actually just thinking of others for a change – I actually think there is! His look back at the guy in the street who didn’t work – didn’t his neighbours including Mr Humphries talk to him? Ask him why he wasn’t inwork or even help him? So even then society was quite individualistic. In the Middle Ages such ignoring of a neighbour would have been unheard of, the community had to work together to survive, but then people weren’t interested in status, money or even go-getting, survival then was survival, but they certainly didnt lead boring, uncolourful lives, thats where people go wrong. They would work hard, when they had to but only do enough to survive. Status was irrelevant. They were taught to think of others and there were no homeless people. Of coarse not everything was perfect but their attitude to work was purely functional not status driven. Presumably Mr Humphries is in his 70’s as old as my mom. She remembers that careers Liasons officers coming into her school at 15 and talking to her and her mom and the school about what she was good at, this was in the 1950’s. She had two jobs lined up, but she barely had an experience or qualifications and certainly didn’t have much of an interview or filled in many forms. Access to work was totally different. My parents remember employers in the streets asking if people wanted a job – now I dont see a thing! Apprenticeships were everywhere, you didn’t have to do much to get work and you were given on the job training. Its was hard manual labour but actually she remembers a doctor, dentist and personnel department on site – again not something employers regularily offer now! Hardly Mr Humphries the same as today. He didn’t even question the jobs market – apart from looking at some of the so called 500,000 vacancies – ignoring the fact most require experience and qualifications and the endless writing of C.V.’s most of which are binned. O.K some people don’t want to do things, but most do! Most people would rather be given money for doing something so they can buy food. People today have to resort to stealing lead off roofs just to pay for child care – as they cannot get it in any other way, not particularly a great society! What Mr Humphries failed to realise (as he is thick) is actually there are plenty of different ways of working, its not all 9-5, if these schemes were actually set up. The problem for most is not doing work (because apparently they’re idle) its getting it. The access to work now is much harder now as employers expectations have risen. Stand in the street and offer a job to somebody or give anyone a paint brush or ask anyone to shelve for some money and I bet they would do it – as there is a benefit to it. Ask them to write an application form and go to three interviews to shelve and most would be turned off as they have to do something to get it, especially if they have mental and physical disabilities. Well my mom was offered two jobs and did one of them. So why not change how people get work, make it easier to get work and more people would be in work – simples! Most mentally ill people especially are turned off at the interview stage as they have no chance, competing with people who are more outgoing than they are – come on! How’s that fair, of coarse an employer would pick a outgoing person over someone with anxiety its inevitable! Plus they are prejudiced in the beginning as well of coarse.

    I see also DLA wasn’t mentioned what do we do with these people Mr Humphries – scrap them! Most mentally/physically disabled want to work but what work is available for them? Most of the jobs advertised are for outgoing people in customer services, or positions which require high skills etc. What mentally ill or disabled are going to apply for these jobs – jobs they cannot do? Where are the jobs they can do. The point here is most employers over the past 30 years believe in multitasking culture – in other words get one person to the job of 3-4 people for very little extra money than they would of got for just one job. Why were people less stressed in the 1950’s – well like John Humphries parents they only did the job that one person was capable of, they’d work set hours and go home and stop thinking of work. Now that is impossible! Most work longer hours (from the go-getting, long hours 80’s culture) often for nothing as its being eaten up by bills. Of coarse its better to be doing some form of work but if the sums dont add up and you end up in debt – which idiot would do it! They would be put upon and they would be no money to actually enjoy being alive, if they had actually time to enjoy it that is. You see Mr Humphries its the system that creates this mess – welfare is only part of the problem. A system that forces people into welfare when they actually don’t want it! If we lived in a truly big society we’d help each other, support each other, not what a lot of middle class families do and abandon their elderly parents as they are no use into a life of poverty and rarely seeing them. I don’t see the Jews or Sikhs doing that where they actually have a duty to look after elderly relatives and believe in helping others. I don’t recall a homeless Jew or Sikh or Muslim – wonder why?

    There lies the problem. We don’t care about our neighbours, elderly, mentally ill. We could easily have a caring society and also have business and be productive the two things are not separate entities – only if people want them to be. The mentally ill could easily provide work for the mentally ill but they don’t want to, it’s too expensive, or they will be less productive etc etc. What tosh! Infact mentally ill can be more productie and concentrate on menial tasks for longer. Here lies the problem work now requires people to work longer and do more for their money. Wouldn’t it be better to share work out more – so simple basic work is given to the mentally ill, where people are less stressed – but of coarse most employers want to save money by having volunteers, paying low wages – yet millions take time off because of illness and stress – if only people worked less hours and did less work for their money, more work shared out to people who really need jobs – wouldn’t that be better – or is that too simply? Afterall aren’t those people supposed to be working anyway – well they have to work somewhere. What a completely illogical system and we happily go along with it! Of coarse in the 1950’s people did only do one/two tasks as part of their jobs and it was all very efficient. On the continent they work less hours are are just as productive as the UK and have more family time. Am I missing something. Shouldn’t it be employers and working practices and the jobs market that needs changing or is that too radical? After all we haven’t always had this current system and people and systems do change. By attacking people isn’t that creating a devisive society not a cohesive one? I feel sorry for the Eastern Europeans I do feel they are being used, but often they don’t have the commitments as British people do, also they are brought in for work like vegetable picking which doesn’t need doing, as we throw away tonnes of food every week in supermarkets as we overproduce. All in the name of profit, why produce more than you have to? For profit presumably. yes there are not benefits in Poland but before the recession 20% of Poles were unemployed in Poland. So a no benefits culture didn’t mean people weren’t poor. I don’t see many disabled Poles though – probably because they are all in poverty and British companies don’t want them either! Same in America a tougher or now benefits culture hasn’t decreased poverty or made people happy infact they now live on food stamps and soup kitchens and beg, steal, borrow and actually the idea of starving people into work doesn’t work, because actually they still have to apply for things and get weaker as they go along, just like Victorian times. If you don’t work you don’t eat. Well no but you can actually grow your own food and slaughter your own animals, therefore don’t have to buy it. Our ancestors lived from the planet for free but also had a great deal of respect for the natural world.

    Cannot we do some form of work, be more creative and free, free to think, help one another and also be productive but not treat work like an obsession or a battering stick. Sorry they managed it in other historical periods and they created the Great Wall of China, built pyramids and Stonehnge and created jewellery like the Staffordshire Hoard. Sorry but to me this world is crazy! Why accept orthodoxy when it doesn’t work and is unequal? Engage and help people and work towards better things?

  5. What is terrible is the amount of people in those jobs schemes, who are clearly intelligent and skilled being wasted making cup cakes? Shouldn’t they be given some form of employment to use them skills, then waste them? What system would allow this – the same system that means people have to 3 interviews just to shelve in TESCO. Madness!

  6. Shouldn’t there be a scheme for volunteers so they can volunteer and get a certain amount of money for what they do each week, for a certain amount of hours and so they wouldn’t have to claim JSA or other things and were rewarded financially for the hard work they do like everyone else? and wouldn’t feel stigmatised!

  7. What is ignored is the area from which I come from in the Black Country has been in recession for the past 30 years let alone the last one, with no new investments etc. How about some new industry in these areas Mr Cameron!

  8. I hav anxiety and autoimmune conditions and I hardly get any help, so much for the big society and the state helping the vunerable

  9. the programme was summed up for me, when humphries was in the training rooms, for those long term unemployed now making cup cakes as part of their help to find work. Asked if their were jobs out their, The training manager said their were half a million jobs available. then cut to the workless. NO mention that their are at least 2.5 million seeking those 0.5 million, and we know its really more dont we. So at least 2m are being sentenced for a crime they have no chance of not commiting (being out of work). also no mention that of the 0.5M jobs, many are self employed positions, many need your own vehicle, and many are part time…a very biased programme.

  10. So much better to carry on as we are with whole families allowed to sit back and take hand outs as it makes financial sense to remain unemployed.

    The system is in for a radical overhaul and they are in for a shock.

    Welfare state should be employed as it was intended as a last gasp option for those those with genuine need and not a career alternative.


  11. Fascinating.

    I have a name for this rounding up and rounding off of half baked stats and theories… In the 1500s it would have been called “WITCH-FINDING”. How depressing that one of the most recognised, erudite personalities in the media has turned his mind to this sort moral and factual butchery.

    Anytime soon, i expect that some will be calling rut or “Trial by Water”… If a mentally ill or physically ill person is really ill, then they will sink in water because they won’t have the strength or will to swim. But if they swim or try to, then they must be lying!

    Nuff said.

    X Clarissa

  12. It is all so sad. I can remember teaching Social Darwinism as a weird, self-serving aberration – the theory that the economy sorts out those who deserve to be rich and those who deserve to be poor, as having weak genes or something – in the US it was always unabashedly racist and nativist (nativism is against immigrants). To see it return, the families overturned, hopes ruined, has been awful. And to know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s not just selfish – it’s also stupid. Who’s going to be left when they get through taxing the working class to death and sending jobs overseas, while the wealthy pays little to nothing? What kind of a society tries to balance the budget on the backs of the unfortunate – the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, children living in poverty? I thought we had grown past that.

    I can identify with what happened to your father. My father-in-law had a progressive, rare, degenerative neuromuscular disease that eventually took his life. In the beginning, it mostly affected his gait. People would whisper that he was a closet alcoholic, and it crushed him. He just wouldn’t go out after that. Just because you don’t KNOW what is wrong with someone doesn’t mean they don’t have something wrong. Just because a doctor hasn’t dignified it with a diagnosis doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong, either. As late as the 1960s doctors told women with MS that they had hysterical paralysis – just like they portray M.E. today as “neurasthenia” (hysteria’s twin from the 1800s). Why do they jump to the crueler assumption? As for those who benefit from this cruelty politically – I do hope there is retribution somewhere in the afterlife.

    Thank you for your excellent essay. To the young who read this – it HAS happened before, and we HAVE changed it. We have to stand up for ourselves, and for the least among us.

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