BBC joins in active demonisation of the vulnerable & unemployed

The BBC’s ‘Saints and Scroungers’ programme has been on my radar for a little while now. The programme aims to expose benefit fraudsters while highlighting ‘deserving’ cases that are ‘worthy’ of state help. Inasmuch as they help identify genuine fraudsters, who can argue? But I think a show highlighting benefit fraud cases has a massive duty to ensure that it makes very clear that actually only a minuscule proportion of benefit claims are fraudulent. Also, by portraying ‘deserving’ cases, the programme perpetuates the Victorian idea of the ‘worthy’ poor, which is problematic in itself, as I’ve written before.

However, in the latest episode, the BBC went a step further and joined in the active misinformation campaign that is being conducted by the Tory party via ministers such as Ian Duncan-Smith and Eric Pickles.

The show was building a case against a couple who were making false benefit claims for the husband’s non-existent arthritic condition, while at the same time he was working as a tram-driver under a stolen identity. As part of the background voiceover, presenter Dominic Little stated that identity theft costs the UK taxpayer £1.9 billion a year.

In the context of the programme, and by stating this as a ‘taxpayer cost’, this statement clearly implied that this is the cost of benefit fraud via identity theft. The statement was not only misleading, but factually wrong: the actual cost of benefit fraud via identity theft is £800,000 – or 0.04% of the figure mentioned by the programme. 99.6% of the cost to the UK is nothing to do with benefit fraud, and thus not a cost to tax-payers, making the show’s line completely, factually wrong.

This kind of misleading statement is on a par with Ian Duncan-Smith’s implication that 30% of disability benefit claims are fraudulent, when in fact the real figure is less than 0.5%. We’re not just talking about slanting things for political purposes, or some kind of theoretical importance of handling information properly. That particular reckless statement led to an increase in attacks on disabled people, who were already suffering because of other government pronouncements and the implication, demonstrated by the ATOS fitness for work assessments, that disabled people are ‘scroungers’.

The BBC has already been failing the UK people by failing to report on the destruction of the NHS, an absolutely crucial issue that is of vast importance to the majority of us. It was already on very thin ice in the way it treats benefit claimants of all types in its ‘Saints and Scroungers’ programme.

But in its behaviour in the latest episode, the Corporation has gone a step further. It has collaborated with the Tory right and the gutter press by actively, subtly demonising some of the most vulnerable sections of our society when they’re already under sustained attack. Whoever wrote and authorised this should hang their head in shame.


  1. Must admit I’ve never seen the programme, it does sound pretty poor though. Also, perhaps oddly I do agree with you regarding demonisation of the disabled benefits claimants and some of the more vulnerable members of society. I have some experience of this when helping to care for my elderly grandmother a few years back, the state help she received was negligible and didn’t even cover things like incontinence pants.

    However I would say that I do think it’s worth uncovering the systemic fraud but also to change the system to alter the culture of dependency that has fostered in some poorer areas of the country. Again this is more a speaking from experience thing than a political viewpoint, a few years ago I was in retail, I owned a chain of 4 small shops in vastly different areas. One inner city very poor area, one very poor working class town and two in very expensive towns, so there was a distinct difference in how each shop sold what was effectively the same goods (meat in this case). Between the shops I employed roughly 30 people, mostly on a full time basis and had a reasonable turnover of staff in the more junior jobs. Usually I advertised these jobs in the local job centre and like clockwork the following week I’d usually have 10 interviews arranged. In the more affluent areas I found it surprisingly easier to find staff, often older women in their 50’s and 60’s who were bored of not working and a part time shop job was ideal for them, they tended to be hard workers, conscientious and loyal. In addition to them I often employed people from poorer surrounding areas. In the poorer shops I tended to take apprentices, who were as you’d expect a mixed bag from the awful to some real gems. However the one thing I always noticed was that without fail when I came to recruit in the poorer areas I had at least 50% of people turn up to interview and immediately tell me they didn’t want the job. They were told they had to interview by the job centre or lose their benefits, at first I assumed they just didn’t want my job – fine of course. However after questioning it turns out they just didn’t want any job, they wanted me to tell the job centre they tried but weren’t good enough so they could continue to claim benefits. What really got to me was the complete lack of shame with which they said this, these were able bodied people, generally young who simply had no wish to do a days work ever. Over the two years and advertising many jobs this never changed at least half of the applicants each time were in this vein, I even had one chap I interviewed 5 times, it was a standing joke almost!

    I’m not sure how but I do think there needs to be a total culture change in some areas, whether it’s a lack of aspiration or its a family issue I really couldn’t say but it does need challenging somehow. The only real thoughts I have on this is that we should start by scrapping job centres and starting again, I don’t mean making all the employees redundant but certainly retraining them. I’ve used them once in terms of finding a job and as someone who’s now a professional recruiter I can honestly say it’s one of the worst services I’ve ever come across and no wonder we have so many people struggling to get jobs. Advice is negligible, beyond idiotic things like leave your degree off your CV. The jobs they recommend are often totally wrong for the person they’re speaking to. Worst of all though they’ve become more of a place to ‘sign on’ than to actually find work, people go once a fortnight, tell them they’ve tried but failed and then that’s it. Let’s make them a bit more consultative, let’s incentivise staff to find these people jobs, not just to tick boxes, let’s give them a small commission or something and let’s get people back in work rather than have some people content to live a life on benefits.

    I know it’s a minority, before people tell me off but as an employer it was one of those genuine bug bears that really upset me, but not just me the staff also, after all my business, my taxes and their taxes were funding these people who were simply saying I don’t want to work.

    1. From what I know of you from our conversations, mate, there’s nothing odd about it!

      I agree with you to a degree on the culture of dependency thing. However, I work quite a bit in the more deprived area of our town and it’s very, very rare to come across someone who doesn’t ever want a job. The issue is more that it needs to pay enough. The govt seems always to address this issue by wanting to cut or restrict benefits, but making work pay should be done by making work pay(!) rather than by making unemployment pay less.

      Maybe as a small employer you were just a magnet for the very small number of workshy people. Most of the unemployed people I know – including the long-term unemployed – are desperate to be working. But they can’t afford to take jobs with low pay, low hours, or both.

      I’ve been unemployed twice – thankfully not for long, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone! My experience of jobcentres was basically just to sign on (not that I’ve ever received a penny in benefits apart from when I first left 6th form either), so I can’t comment much on what you say about those, except that the ‘regulars’ there always looked desolate, so it can’t be much fun to work there!

  2. Steve,what can i say.We are on the eve of the Paralympics and must expect the Malignant Right of the Tories to twist the knife a little harder.But there is a movement away from this attitude of demonising the disabled and it won’t enhance the BBC.

  3. I am So SO sick of the demonisation of the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and disabled. If you are looking for the truth avoid the mainstream channels! They are more than happy to mislead the public and do so at every opportunity. I vote for good journalists, not puppets of the government!

    1. I think we need to keep doing so, as otherwise we lose all hope of an objective broadcaster. I think the issue is more why do we allow politically-motivated appointments to the board. We need some kind of mechanism to ensure only those with a strong, genuine journalistic ethic get appointed to the exec. The current board includes Marcus Agius, for heaven’s sake!

  4. If you want to watch a news channel that tells the truth about how hard it is for people on a low income in the UK try Russia Today. That channel reports on it quite frequently.

  5. The fact that both sides of the political spectrum think the BBC is biased against them sets it somewhere in the middle — which is where it should be.

    1. I think the complaints of the right are based on a historic perception rather than what’s happening now! They’re quite resistant to updating their views, as we know… 🙂

      1. Oh I dunno, there’s modern bits of evidence like this https://careers.bbc.co.uk/fe/tpl_bbc01.asp?s=xgIfLQnAyPBgDdPyv&jobid=43397,6952988956&key=61235089&c=875865234822&pagestamp=sejtkfjgrqkcmofkpg 😉

        Seriously though I think it’s more because of some of the political editors (with the exception of Nick Robinson) being overtly left wing, perhaps not so much on screen but it’s often more obvious in print when reading blogs etc. Then there’s the incestuous relationship with the Guardian, for instance did you know the BBC accounts for more than a fifth of the Guardians readership – which is already massively struggling. It’s also worth noting even in innocuous ways like the twitter feed for QI for instance bar one link to the indy, only links to the Guardian. Then there’s programmes like the recent ‘Young, bright and on the right’ which was about as gross a misrepresentation as you might find.

        Conversely I think there’s some fairly high profile presenters and interviewers who are clearly right wing, Andrew Neil and Jeremy Paxman spring to mind. They mostly do manage to appear impartial but it’s not tough to figure out. As you say the benefit fraud programme also.

        Personally I think the BBC are mostly about right, they’re quite worried about perceived bias and do reasonably well to avoid it but there are certain issues where i think the BBC consistently miss the mark. The two that spring to mind for me are Israel and Global warming, both of which they show a clear stance on. I’m not arguing their stance is wrong, just that they only tend to show one side of the argument.

      2. I suspect that job’s for an analyst of Labour doings, presumably there’s an opposite number for the Conservatives. Maybe even the LibDems too! 🙂

        There’s a legacy left-wing among staff, but from what I’ve seen of the exec board, that’s no longer the case at the top. The effects of that are already showing and it’s surely only a matter of time until it permeates down through the organisation.

  6. Steve, I share your dislike of this programme. I recall one some time ago where they featured a woman who had worked in the NHS (I think she was a Health Assistant on wards, if memory serves, certainly a hard and not very well paid job) Eventually, it was discovered that her immigration status was such that she didn’t have the right to be working in the UK. The programme’s tone of outrage was almost hysterical, and they maintained she’d ‘defrauded’ the NHS and the taxpayer of the wages she’d received. She’d been working and paying tax, and nobody had any complaints about her, but the programme portrayed her as some kind of evil criminal. She most definitely wasn’t a ‘scrounger’.
    I’m ashamed to say I didn’t complain about the programme at the time. I would now.

    1. There’s still time! You could write one and include reference to both programmes. Make it clear the complaint and response is going to be communicated publicly – maybe that will make a difference to their response. Then send me the text of the complaint and I’ll post it here.

  7. Saints and Scroungers indeed, (I guess I come into the category “Scroungers”). Incidentally, has anyone else noticed presenter Dominic Littlewood driving without due care and attention (looking into on board video camera whilst driving car in a built up area when filming Rogue Traders program). It is precisely because of another with same driving aptitude as he that I started to rely on benefits in 2002, what a Hypocrite Littlewood is. It takes less than a second to kill or severely injure another when driving a car without due care and attention (In other words, driving dangerously).

    It is outrageous that the sub prime housing market was also not “fingered properly” in 2008 and property owners instead of disabled made to pay for a nations, in fact, the western worlds financial woes. If it was all about property and the worlds financial markets as a result of property markets failure sustaining 90% losses as a result of markets crash, then surely and correctly the value of property should have dropped equally and accordingly. But no, time to keep everything artificially inflated with notion “Scapegoats [disabled benefit scoungers] will be found for this”. Example a £200,000 house should have real value of £20,000 house – many bankruptcies would of course have ensued because of losses but I think the world would have become a more sensible place ultimately.

    As for the benefits system, I begin to think rather than remain a target of hate [being disabled myself], the government, whether Tory, Labour or Liberal should show its true feeling and scrap it all together. Bring on the soup kitchens and the shanty towns – in reality we are no different to Victorian England, it is only the infrastructures which has changed leaving in part healthier living conditions. Scrapping the benefits system will of course bring on its own form of turbulence but at least it will force change. Maybe at some point, we will have an “European Spring” similar in content to “Arab Spring” the way things are looking and all because of human greed not by benefit claimants, rather by the “from” The Establishmment down.

    1. No, I disagree on that. I think it’s never been more essential to have a publicly-funded broadcaster. I just think it needs a new charter to eliminate, or at least minimise, government interference – and a different way of selecting its execs!

      1. Agreed, an independent trust who select the board might help, impartiality is all important in how this could work though.

      2. Yes. Hopefully it won’t surprise you, but I’d be just (or very nearly! lol) as unhappy with a BBC obediently toeing the line for a Labour government, too. I want a broadcaster that checks facts and reasons for itself before transmitting!

  8. Not at all surprised!

    It’s nice to see good debate on TV where the actual TV channel doesn’t get involved but merely presents facts.

  9. Just when you think this programme couldn’t sink any lower. They portrayed someone who (had a muscle wasting disease) and on one occasion didn’t inforrm the DWP that she went out with dangerous levels of medication. She got a criminal record. But was still entitled to DLA. This programme is a witch-hunt.

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