One of the most insidious developments during the prime ministership of David Cameron was the rise of poverty porn – television shows like Benefits Street, which turned poverty and destitution into cheap thrill entertainment. But now, it’s Cameron’s turn.
In ‘David Cameron: Unemployed’, video jokesters Funny and Share splice clips from ‘A Day in the Life of David Cameron’ with a clipped, poverty-porn-style voice over. The end result is a vision of a sad, jobless Dave moping around the house with his cat.
But Benefits Street was just one in a long and sad list of poverty-porn programming aired during Cameron’s tenure. Channel 4 also brought us Skint, Benefit Busters, How to Get a Council House, and Benefits Britain. The BBC even chipped in with We All Pay Your Benefits. This list is not even exhaustive. Just some of the lowlights, if you will.
All of these shows, intentionally or otherwise, feed into a myth that the UK is some sort of paradise for benefit cheats.
In reality, according to the government’s own figures, benefit fraud amounts to just 0.7% of all claims. The total cost of benefit fraud is £1.2bn a year – this is less than half the annual cost to the Department for Work and Pensions of administrative errors. In short, the government spends twice as much money fixing typos than it does on fraudulent benefit claims.
But you wouldn’t know that from watching these shows. Far from it. You would be left with the impression that Britain was facing a benefit fraud epidemic.
The real fraud-related crisis
What makes this situation so grave is that there is a fraud epidemic in the UK. But instead of being perpetrated by those with the least, it’s being perpetrated by those with the most. It is tax avoidance and evasion.
The HMRC puts the gap between taxes due and taxes received at £30bn a year. A recent Oxfam report put the figure at £100bn. These are massive sums, which would allow the kind of investment and support that straps rocket boosters to the economy. Instead, they’re being hoarded in offshore tax havens.
Yet although tax evasion is up to 100 times more significant an economic issue than benefit fraud, it receives a tiny proportion of the air time.
This allows the government to avoid tough questions about why, exactly, it is reducing the burden of taxation on the wealthiest, who are already paying least. It also creates a public mood that welcomes, and even demands, a government crackdown on those claiming social security.
There’s a word for media programming which is used to distort the public mood in favour of a political goal by using misrepresented data. It’s propaganda. And all this point-and-judge poverty-porn programming, with its misleading statistics and sarcastic voice overs, is just that.
Support the work of new media organisations here. Please add more that you like in the comments.
Featured image via YouTube
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?