Saints, Sinners and Commissioning Editors

After a weekend of trying to stick to my new year’s resolution of keeping fit, that involved a four hour wheel in and around Central London, I have spent the day stuck on the sofa with back pain. When they say “feel the burn” I don’t think they mean it quite like that, but that’s the price you pay when you push yourself that hard that quickly. Hopefully over the next few months I will be able to exercise without ending up knackered.

The day on the sofa was accompanied by my friend the widescreen TV. I wanted to watch The Wright Stuff but they had Gillian McKeith on as a guest, and however ill I might feel I am not going to watch someone who made a career telling people how to eat only to become a total freak when she decided to revive her career by appearing on I’m A Celebrity. Totally tragic that TV celeb bookers see someone like Ms McKeith as a valid contributor on a show. Let’s hope tomorrow’s guests are better.

The Wright Stuff

Instead I flicked over to the BBC, and got caught up in the greed and avarice of Homes Under The Hammer. Funnily Lucy Alexander and I worked together way back when, when we were continuity presenters on the kids TV channel Nickelodeon. I know I shouldn’t like the show, but I do. Mixture of seeing how the houses are done up, deciding who you want to make money and who you dislike enough to see them fail, and an overpowering feeling that maybe you should be making something of your life. Of course when you combine that with seeing someone you worked with doing so well, when you career seems to have tanked big time it doesn’t always make a fun watch. Masochistic TV… that’s a new one huh?

Homes Under The Hammer

Homes Under The Hammer, was followed by a show that seemed to come right out of the worst kind of sensationalist TV hell, Saints and Scroungers. The bulldog with a heart, Dominic Littlewood presents this bizarre show that explores the world of benefits. “Exposing cheats and highlighting those who deserve to be supported” is the tag line that I imagine was used to get the show commissioned but I am amazed that a show like this is on the BBC. I fully appreciate that there are many people out there committing frauds on the benefits system, and that is totally wrong. When I was a youngster I worked for the dole office and saw people who were obviously working and signing, and I knew how hard those who investigated the frauds worked. The problem I have with this show is the way it is worded. Way too sensationalist.
The fraudsters are treated as the ultimate criminals with little background information, but those who need financial support are treated even worse. Patronised in a way that I last saw in the early 80’s. Most of these people should have been helped by the system to get the benefits and help they so obviously needed and deserve. That little issue annoyed me, that and the total omission of how massive the amount of unclaimed benefits run to each year. We always hear how much each fraudster cost the tax payer however. The best way to describe the show is it’s the kind of program that the Daily Mail would make.

Saints and Scroungers

I just feel that this kind of show feeds the current obsession with cutting benefits, and is a little too political to be made by the publicly funded BBC. Time and time, each of the fraudsters are claiming what is always called Disability Benefits”, yet anyone out there who has applied for these knows how hard they are to get. There never seems to be any examination of how these people managed to get benefits they weren’t entitled to, or what they had actually done to commit their frauds. Just a series of films of people who claim “not to be able to put on their own socks” playing golf, or running marathons or whatever super physical activity anyone getting benefits shouldn’t do. There is a kind of subtext that anyone claiming benefits is dodgy unless they are in need of 24 hour care. And the experts who give their opinion on a claimant’s eligibility never seem to be doctors or medical experts, but are OT’s and Physiotherapists. Professionals, but not experts.

Of course fraud must be stopped and those who deserve it must be helped, but if the BBC is going to make a show like this it is essential that they film it in a way that empowers those people who need help. It might make a great show to portray the sick, disabled and old as desperate, but it does nothing to the bigger picture. It shouldn’t be that to deserve state assistance you have to be a tragic figure. The benefits system is there to create a level playing field, and all of the “Saints”, who really are the kind of people that the system was invented to support. They could just as easily be included without the histrionic language and gnashing of teeth.

Sadly we keep going back to the issue of language and portrayal but until those who make the content on our TVs understand how important it truly is, moany gits like me will keep banging on it. Let’s face it, show like Saints and Scroungers could still exist while ensuring that everyone on the show are not shown as either evil law breakers, who we are made to hate for their terrible crimes, or sad pathetic outcasts, who we obviously have to weep for their tragic problems. Criminals are doing wrong and that needs to be stopped, but maybe looking deeper into each story might make the perpetrators more rounded. Those who it seems are being let down by social services and the benefits system shouldn’t really need to be assisted by a TV show to get the help they need. Maybe a show exploring how many people do fall through the gaps might really be a public service. Let’s face it that’s what the commissioning editor saw this show as when they gave it the green light.

It’s just hit me that if I keep on like this I’m going to end up as a cross between Nabil Shaban and Mary Whitehouse!

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