Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

There Are More Real Answers Than Stupid Questions

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

There Are More Real Answers Than Stupid Questions

Article excerpt


SOMETIMES just asking a question is enough to suggest an answer.

Like when people audibly wondered "How the heck is Sepp Blatter going to manage to hang on to the FIFA presidency now the FBI are sniffing around?" and, hey presto, he was gone.

So when the questions the BBC says are behind its new series "Britain's Hardest Grafter" are things like whether benefits encourage people not to work, or whether young people are capable of working as hard as older generations, then they are also suggesting answers.

I wish that, instead of exploiting some poor people who are desperate for a job, they had gone to ask somebody like Rob McDonald, Professor of Sociology at Teesside University these questions. He was one of the researchers who looked extensively for the "three generations of families who had never worked" who became rhetorical stars of Tory politicians' speeches.

He didn't find any, at all. He also didn't find a "culture of worklessness" in the communities he investigated in Glasgow and Teesside, just people who really wanted to work and get on.

People who were desperate to graft if only they could find something to graft at. People who worked multiple jobs on low pay and zero hours contracts to just about manage to get by. The "poverty porn" of shows like Benefits Street and Britain's Hardest Grafters is one of the things that allows blame for austerity to be laid at the feet of disadvantaged people instead of the feet of bankers and big corporations.

I suppose I might have expected no better of Channel Four, but I would certainly expect a more responsible attitude from our national broadcaster. Arguably the people who go on to take part in this show are making a personal choice - but there is a massive power imbalance between people who are desperate for a job and a national television broadcaster.

You're not much in control of how you're presented on a TV programme. They set the narrative. They ask the questions.

I experienced this in a tiny way recently when we took our dog to the vet. I didn't notice the sign on the door saying that Channel Five were filming a documentary in the surgery because I was too busy being worried about the unexplained lump on Norbert's leg. …

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