I know for sure, from my chats on facebook and twitter many of you are shocked, depressed and despondent about the subject matter of TV programmes such as SKINT, PEOPLE LIKE US and HONEY BOO BOO. The Times recently categorised these programmes as ‘poverty porn’ and apparently, according to the ratings, our appetite for observing the way the poor and disenfranchised live is growing. I have strong views about this subject, so you have been warned!
I can only comment on SKINT as I have not seen the others and only stumbled upon this through channel surfing one night, but was hooked instantly and spent the entire programme see-sawing between two emotions: anger and despair.
First to my anger…….
The premise of SKINT is to follow the lives of a group of poor families on a particular council estate in Scunthorpe where well over 95% of all residents live on benefits and petty crime to survive. The main family in the docu soap is headed by Dean, an unemployed steel worker happy to live on benefits with his wife and seven kids (two his own). What makes me angry about him is his apathy towards his children and his absolute lack of interest in finding work as he says with pride ‘ You find me a job that pays me more than £600 a week and I will give it a go.’ The £600 a week he refers to is his welfare giro and he never goes short on fags, whisky, takeaways, transport and as we saw last week a holiday. This is where my anger notches up a gear. Since when did the welfare state become a lifestyle choice? It has always been a sense of pride for us Brits that we have a welfare safety net that we all pay into that helps out temporarily, if and when we fall on hard times. However, somewhere along the line this safety net has transmuted into a stinking silo of apathy, dependency and entitlement.
We see teen mums and young couples planning their life choices on what they can get ‘off the social’ or via petty crime. One young couple (early twenties) with with kids are appalled when the DSS temporarily stop their child benefit, as this is their right and as far as they are concerned, they should be allowed to have as many kids as they want and the government pay. As their money runs out the young mum arrives at a charity shop and asks for help, which she duly gets in the form of food for her and her children, only to slag them off saying ‘It is not right for charity to have to support my kids. That is the government’s job.’ How did we get here? And get this…… when her child benefit is reinstated what is the first thing she does? Goes out and plans her wedding to her current partner: dress, rings, venue, etc brilliant!
We follow the stories of young men with little respect for authority, the police, education, the justice system or their own family, Defacing buildings including the ones they live in! Stealing motorbikes and cars; selling drugs to feed their habit; shoplifting; verbally abusing their mothers and grandmothers, etc. These men think being tagged is a joke, the police are incompetent and prison is a holiday camp.
Now to my despair…..
The essence of my despair is about the children. My heart bleeds at the environment they are born into and raised in and I use the word ‘raised’ glibly as I see very little nurturing going on in these families. In fact, in a culture where children are the commodity necessary to claim more benefits I fail to see how we are going to break the pattern of entitlement anytime soon.
It would appear many of the kids are out of control. Their parents do not know what to do with them and our education system has definitely failed them as they have been excluded before they have any basic literacy and numeracy skills and then simply left to their own devices from around the age of 13. Even the teenagers still in school get very little support or encouragement from parents, who view education as a necessary evil and part of the establishment they are set against shafting.
What struck me at my core was the lack of validation these young people get. The only thing that separates us from animals is emotional connection and validation; without this, these kids may as well be feral and not surprisingly, many of them behave in this way.
Validation comes from being seen, heard and valued. Knowing that you matter, that what you say is important and make a difference. SKINT is a lesson in what happens to kids when they have no validation. Obviously their behaviour at school is challenging, but it is only what they have learnt from home. However, most teachers have no kitbag to manage this so they exclude them. In reality this is the very worst option as it throws them back onto vandalised estates, teaming with teen mums, drug using petty criminals, welfare state junkies, uninterested or apathetic parents and a day watching Jeremy Kyle if ya lucky, a day embarking on a real life episode if ya not.
We need to find a better way to support and motivate these young people. Sending them home is not the answer. Neither is tagging them then allowing them to take it off cos it looks unsightly, erasing boundaries of what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour, throwing them in prison with hardened criminals, enabling them to view pregnancy as a career option and helping them stay stuck in a system that breeds apathy and a sense of hopelessness.
This problem is not going away anytime soon. Worklessness, entitlement and the victim culture is alive and thriving in broken Britain and it is time for some serious interventions.
Would love to hear your views?
A personal footnote…
Oh and by the way, before you judge me for my views, know I have been on the cusp of bankruptcy twice, left school disenfranchised with no qualifications at 16, suffered emotional and physical abuse in my teens and have never claimed a penny from a welfare system I have paid into all my life. I choose empowerment over entitlement any day of the week and even in my darkest hours I never knocked on anyone else’s door demanding salvation.
Jane Kenyon is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.