The opening episode of Benefits Street attracted almost three million viewers – but was down on last year’s first instalment.
Last night’s episode of the new Channel 4 series featured residents getting to grips with the media interest in their street.
The goings-on in Kingston Road in Tilery, Stockton, attracted 2.95 million viewers (13.5%) on Monday night.
The documentary beat New Tricks on BBC1, which attracted 2.2 million, and came second to Safe House on ITV, which was watched by 4.8 million.
The audience was 75% above the slot average, but the total was down on the 4.3 million viewers who saw the opening episode of the controversial first series last year.
Channel 4 said that it was the most popular programme in the slot for 16 to 34-year-olds
The first series was made in Birmingham and attacked by some critics as “poverty porn”.
The broadcaster’s head of documentaries Nick Mirsky has said the “increasing divide between rich and poor” is an important subject and has not ruled out making a third series.
“There isn’t a third series of Benefits Street in production but what I would say though is that the gap between rich and poor and the subject of welfare and benefits is an important subject.
“Channel 4 have to keep looking at that and finding ways of telling stories.”
> How about a fly-on-the-wall series showing how Jobcentre staff treat claimants ?
Or do the poor always have to be the villains ?
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 12 May 2015
A participant in the new series of Benefits Street filmed in Stockton says he regrets his decision to take part in the show.
The second series of the controversial Channel 4 show will be screened this month after being filmed on Kingston Road, on the Tilery estate.
Lee Nutley is one of six main characters followed in the six-part series, but after watching the first episode earlier this week the 42-year-old is convinced he made the wrong decision.
“If I could take it all back I think I probably would,” said Lee, 42. “It took months for the producers to convince me to take part. And I only really did because some of my family were already in it.”
It’s only been two days since the show premiered in London but Lee, who has been claiming Job Seekers Allowance for the past year, said he already feels like a “local celeb” in his home town.
“I went to Stockton earlier and people were stopping me in the street. Mainly people I know shouting ‘Lee, you’re famous now mate’ and stuff like that.
“But this is not why I went on the show.
“I don’t plan to become some big celebrity and earn loads of money.
“As far as I’m concerned you don’t need money to be happy, and us lot being filmed here will prove it.”
Lee, who will appear alongside his mum Chrissie who lives nearby, added that his life is “totally different” to how it was a year ago when filming was taking place.
He said: “I’m in a much better place now. I was on anti-depressants when the cameras were here and my epilepsy is under control now. I’m just waiting for one more test and once I’ve got the all clear I’ll be straight back to work.
“I’ve worked all my life and I plan on getting back to it. If people think I want to sit on my backside on £45 a week, they are very wrong.”
Lee, who has lived on the Tilery estate for about 30 years, admits he is very “self critical” of his appearance on the show.
He said: “I’m not worried about what the viewers will think of me. Everyone has said I come across really well, but I hate watching myself.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 01 May 2015
Tory minister Hugo Swire mocked claimants at last month’s £1,500 per place ‘black and white ball’ to raise funds for the Conservatives. His callous jibe was secretly recorded for the Channel 4 ‘Dispatches‘ programme.
Swire, an Old Etonian, was acting as auctioneer whilst guests made bids for a bust of Margaret Thatcher, a weekend’s pheasant shooting and a shoe shopping trip with Theresa May, amongst other lots.
Whilst encouraging a bidder at Iain Duncan Smith’s table to increase his bid, Swire is heard to say:
“£60,000. Iain, persuade him. He’s not on benefits ,is he? Well, if he is then he can afford it. £55,000?”
Swire went on to joke that:
“It’s quite naff to have Bentleys and Rolls Royces and Ferraris, because anybody could have them
“In the good old days of MP’s expenses we could have them too. But we don’t any more.”
In the exceedingly unlikely event that Mr Swire is reading this: in reality a Jobseeker’s Allowance claimant would need to save every penny of their payments for 16 years to come up with £60,000.
Funny that, isn’t it?
Source – Benefits & Work, 24 Mar 2015
Please note: there are repeated references to suicide in the final section of this article, headed: “Is there anything else you would like to tell us about issues covered in this survey?“
A Benefits and Work survey has revealed an overwhelming distrust of the DWP, with the majority of respondents considering that the department:
- has negatively affected their own health
- treats claimants inhumanly
- causes claimants’ deaths
- covers up the poverty, suffering and deaths it causes
Benefits and Sanctions deaths survey
In the last Benefits and Work newsletter we published a link to a ‘Benefits sanctions and deaths’ survey.
Two things prompted us to create the survey:
- the preceding week Conservative business minister Nick Boles told charity volunteers that some benefits sanctions were ‘inhuman’ – then changed his mind.
- Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed that that more than 30 secret reviews carried out following the deaths of benefit claimants called for improvements by the DWP.
We received over 1,000 responses to our survey in just two days, with almost 50% of respondents also leaving detailed comments. We’ve published around 100 of those comments below – we apologise that we couldn’t publish them all.
The results below have been rounded to one decimal place, so do not always add up to exactly 100%.
The results for our first question “Do you think that the benefits system is ‘inhuman’ in the way it treats claimants?” were overwhelmingly critical of the DWP and its partners.
99% of respondents said that, at least sometimes, the benefits system is inhuman.
I don’t know 0.2%
A very strong majority of respondents, 88.7%, said that their health has suffered because of difficulties with the benefits system, with fewer than 10% saying that it hasn’t.
I don’t know 3.7%
A massive majority of respondents, 97.3% , consider that DWP sanctions, cuts and unfairness have been responsible for the deaths of claimants.
There is uncertainty about the numbers involved, but 82.5% believe it is in the hundreds or even thousands.
Yes, a small number 14.8%
Yes, probably hundreds 44.0%
Yes, probably thousands 38.5%
I don’t know 2.2%
A huge majority are also sure that the DWP is involved in a cover up about poverty, suffering and benefits-related deaths.
96% believe this to be the case, whilst fewer than 1% think the DWP is being open about these issues.
I don’t know 3.1%
Only half a percent of respondents think Labour will treat claimants most harshly if they are the largest party after the election?
On the other hand, 59.5% believe the Conservatives will be harshest. The bad news for Labour, however, is that no fewer than 40% consider that the two parties are as bad as each other.
Labour will be the harshest 0.5%
The Conservatives will be the harshest 59.5%
They are as bad as each other 40.00%
There was strong agreement that claimants lives may depend on who wins the election, with 82.5% thinking that this is the case and only 6.5% believing that they won’t.
I don’t know 11.0%
As in previous surveys, Benefits and Work readers say they will be turning out in big numbers to vote in May. No fewer than 87.7% say they will be voting, whilst just 5.1% are sure they won’t.
I don’t know 7.1%
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about issues covered in this survey?
Please note: there are repeated references to suicide in this section.
“My daughter, who is mother to 3 young children was sanctioned for being 5 minutes late to an interview. Now I am having to try and make my money work for 2 households.i personally am registered disabled and have trouble making my money cover all necessary bills as is but, cannot see my daughter and grandkids starve or freeze.”
“It is a disgrace for people who are seriously unwell to have to undergo the strain and stress of trying to fight for an benefit for which they are truly entitled. I had to go to a tribunal whilst undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Fortunately the judge and the doctor present were extremely sympathetic and my case was awarded.”
“I have been appalled by the sanctions that are being imposed on clients I work with. Frequently clients do not know they’ve been sanctioned until they don’t receive their benefit. They’ve received no letter & given no information on the right of appeal. No advice has been provided on hardship payments & we are regularly issuing food vouchers. I’ve had an increase in referrals from courts due to shoplifting offences. Clients have told me they are shoplifting to eat.”
“I had to fight for my husbands benefits when he was terminally ill as he was put in wrong category and it took 6 weeks of them loosing forms to award correct amount which was not backdated as should of been as they said because claim lost had to reapply.”
“I work in an environment where I regularly refer people to the local food-bank. But I can only refer up to 3 times. What happens after that? People have shared with me that they have thought about taking their own lives, one person has tried twice.”
“My grand daughter was sanctioned for not attending the jobcentre after having a stroke the week before she could not talk or move the dwp were informed but still sanctioned her for not turning up …… madness!!!”
“ I worry daily about money and mainly have a bowl cereal for dinner as its cheap, I can’t afford a social life im a carer for my adult daughter and im no longer able to work because of lack support for her and my chronic pain/anxiety/stress”
“You live in fear about a brown envelope dropping through the letter box even though you have you have been accepted for ESA you just do not know when a review will take place and thats is on top of waiting for the PIP assessment people whom are ill and disabled should not be forced to live in fear of the DWP”
“My sister was starving due to an unfair sanction because she had to have an operation and told the job centre she couldn’t attend an interview . She ended up losing 3 stone because she was to embarrassed to tell anybody . It’s disgusting that people are treated this way.”
“Only to say I’ve never felt more persecuted than I ever under this regime ( sorry government ). I can’t wait for polling day.”
“I am a welfare rights adviser. Have been since the seventies and if I did not see it with my own eyes, I would not believe how utterly inhuman the system has become. It is completely outrageous that each time there is a fresh report on sanctions the DWP trots out the same old lies that they only sanction a tiny minority and only as a last resort. It is also ridiculous that people who even the DWP accepts are not well enough to work are subjected to sanctions at all.”
“Yes I worked with two friends for over twenty years one served in the army. We worked 12 hour shift doing very physical work. Both fell ill in there late fifties. At face to face assessment both told fit for work. One had been told he had 12 months to live no cure, he died 10 months later. The other became really stressed waiting for his appeal and died before his appeal, heart problems. That’s two I know, good hard working blokes who didn’t deserve to be treated that way. Shame on the DWP. Ian Duncan Smith should be tried for murder.”
“i’m facing a 6 month sanction now for a general mix up over a phone interview with an advisor which was actually face to face, easy mistake when ive never had a phone interview before and the date i had as a next meet up i mistook for being the phone interview….i was wrong”
“I live in fear of a Tory victory which will allow them to further tighten the regime, they hate us. I do not think I will live to claim my old age pension if they have another 5 years.”
“I see propaganda on television everyday, masquerading as entertainment showing what statistics prove to be a minority of benefit claimants behaving very badly. Animals and criminals receive better treatment than law abiding citizens who through no fault of their own need welfare support. I believe strongly that this is an economic cleansing. The poor and ill are being stealthily culled.”
“I dread it when any brown envelope from the DWP arrives, even when it only says it is confirmation of eligibility to DLA. I know that one day it will be the dreaded PIP letter and that despite having a chronic medical condition (MS) I will be forced to manage without my benefit and car. The way the Tories are treating the disabled is inhumane – it will be workhouses next.”
“I’ve been sanctioned in the past and nobody except a local UKIP councillor gave a toss. He gave me some petrol money and arranged a foodbank delivery or I’d have had absolutely nothing at all and no help.”
“TERRIFIED at very strong prospect of losing out when my DLA Indefinite Award is assessed for PIP after October 2015. I will need to get Enhanced Daily Living in order to qualify for the Severe Disability extra element of Pension Credit which will go to fund my rent (together with PIP/DLA). My needs are such that I need DLA/PIP and the Pension Credit Severe Disability element on top of my Housing Benefit to pay my rent which is relatively high because of my health needs. I am 62, single and live alone. If I lose out, I will be among the suicide statistics. I do not exaggerate!!.”
“I have been waiting for 5 years to vote another party. Everyday I just wait for the postman to see if there is any letter from DWP. I did not chose to be ill or disabled and I worked most of my life and raising two disabled children. I do not know why they doing this to us.”
“I have been awaiting pip since Feb 2014 and the people at the DWP are doing their utmost to fail me. I have a chronic incurable disease with lots of different symptoms not one day have I felt well in the last two years. The so called welfare system would have left me homeless in pain if it wasn’t for my parents and their 1 bedroom bungalow. I would have gone of the planet by now. It seems that it’s almost the thinking that sick people should commit suicide to save cost. I lost my career as an Nhs nurse where I cared and treated people with dignity as I knew what it was like to be vulnerable now I have no faith in the human species at all.”
I was fortunate enough to be given full ESA, but I am still effected by sanctions. I am actually terrified that they will drop me into the Work group, despite my obvious difficulties, and I will be sanctioned. Every time one of their envelopes drops through my letterbox my mouth goes dry, I start to hyperventilate, and my heart condition (AF) flares up, and this could trigger a stroke. I weep with relief when I find out what the letter was actually about, but that day is a write off. I have been diagnosed with depression, where my conditions were purely physical previously, and I now frequently stay in bed all day, weeping. Sanctions have made me sicker, even though they have not been imposed upon me.”
“I have been hospitalised due to the strain I was under when dealing with dwp i was without benefit for 3 months ,when dwp lost my personal information twice. I was blatantly lied to on the phone on 4 occasions I now live in fear of the dwp,and am almost sick when a letter from them comes through the door”
“The DWP have intentionally created a culture of Fear, in order to get away with their inhumane policies. Living with Fear and Insecurity every day of your life is No Life. It is not the type of conditions which allow people to thrive in. It affects my health, my choices and my judgement daily. It has had serious negative effects on my Mental Health, sense of Hope and Self belief. Using Fear as a weapon/tool against the vulnerable not only affects them, but also their friends family and support workers. I regularly consider suicide as a potential option, should the DWP begin to play dirty with me.
“I cannot work because I have already been medically retired from the Civil Service. I have had two bouts of lymphoma and then cancer was found in my stomach which had to be removed. I cannot eat like other people do and I frequently sink into depression. I received a phone call to the house the other week allegedly from the DWP where the person on the end of the phone referred to me as ‘you people’ when I raised the fact that I found the phrase objectionable the person threatened to make my life hell and would have my benefits stopped. I never claimed anything until I fell ill. The attitude of Iain Duncan Smith and the current Government is terrible and I am very worried as I am genuine and cannot work. I worked for twenty five years before I fell ill.”
“I worry constantly about getting a brown envelope through the door now – I was awarded indefinite DLA and now, through a change by this government, I’m facing yet another round of form filling to try and keep it – under the name of PIP! It nearly broke me when I had to fill in the ESA forms, and I’m dreading the PIP, as I’m convinced, no matter how ill I am, they will take this away from me. If they do, I might as well be dead, as I’l not be able to afford to pay for electric and oil for heating without the DLA I’m on 😦 As far as sanctions are concerned, they’re just another way to control and penalise those with no power to fight, and I don’t think that Labour will be any different from the Tories, if they get in!”
“The Coalition is inhuman. Labour were harsh, but this government is vile. I do not really trust Labour, but i will vote for them to get rid of the tories. Labour have said they will abolish the Bedroom tax, and at conference workshops have said they will stop the sanctions.
I blame the early demise of my best friend on benefit sanctions and have experienced first hand the farcical nightmare of going without heating, electric, food, rent arrears, the threat of being homeless, bailiffs wanting to seize goods and assets I don’t have and increasing health problems on the time and humiliation it takes for claims to be dealt with. If the support was there when needed, I’d be better equipped to do something worthwhile and fell like I had a purpose and some self worth in life! Disgusted :(“
“I have worked for 43 years and been unemployed for 6 months so now my contribution based jsa has run out, so I will get nothing except my stamp paid which I do not benefit from.if you pay into the system all your life you get nothing back. And in my opinion all governments are corrupt.”
“The whole way in which the DWP and the Government has gone about benefit reforms has been purely to denigrate sick and disabled people in order to win public approval for the cuts to welfare. My mental and physical conditions have deteriorated tenfold because of the treatment that I have had from the DWP. My Depressive Disorders have worsened which in turn aggravates my ulcerated colitis, the last 2 years especially has been a nightmare and intolerable. The Psychiatrists have had to up my anti-psychotic medications which leaves me unable to function and in a zombie state at times, I blame the Government for my worsening health.”
“This government do not want anyone to claim benefits. They are targeting the sick and disabled.. Most of the people I know are using food banks. I have a friend who has been on assessment rate for a year and is having bedroom tax deducted from her housing benefit. She barely lives as she only had £46 a week left. She is mentally ill With diabetes and had become sicker because she is frightened of her looming medical assessment.”
“I have been negatively affected personally, through no fault of my own, but by developing fibromyalgia symptoms that make it impossible for me to go out to work. I worked for many years, but only was able to have one year of ESA. I honestly felt suicidal when I was told my claim would run out after 12 months. I’m still here because I refuse to let them kill me. Life is a struggle to pay bills and pay for chiropractic care etc that keeps me from being further disabled. People have died, people will continue to die under the govt’s reign of hate against less fortunate members of society.”
“I work at a food bank and was speaking to a man on Tuesday 10 3 .15, who had been diagnosed with cancer in his kidneys .He is going to have an operation and is very worried. But still is harassed by the jobcentre when he has got so much else on his mind. (family man).”
“the situation has definitely got much worse with greater suffering for claimants under current administration. Unbelievable how the sick and disabled are treated and made to suffer further under this regime. As if coping with serious illness isn’t enough without having to battle for what you’re entitled to and then reluctantly accepting a lower payment because you don’t have the strength to battle on and/or you fear all your benefit will be taken away.”
“Another Tory-led government could be the death of me, given their plans to cut ever further into working age benefits; I am too severely unwell to work, so have no choice but to rely on the State, which I paid into when I was working – even then I suffered badly with my health in a life threatening way.”
“My son has just been sanctioned for missing a ESA medical, he didnt get any notification about the medical so how could he go. That means me and his dad will have to help him out until his money is sorted out. That will leave us short too, as husband is part time and I am ill.”
“I was nearly killed due to incompetence by DWP staff some years ago (even before the present cut backs and sanctions), I’m diabetic and was homeless at the time, my benefits were stopped because they couldn’t verify my address (but it isn’t a requirement to provide an address when you are homeless), after walking to the job centre I collapsed due to lack of food and too much exercise”
“My mental health suffered because of the stigma and culture of contempt. I contemplated suicide. Eventually I decided it would be healthier not to claim benefits, and stopped them.”
“my sons esa was stopped after he was assessed by ATOS and he was never told! the first he knew was when the council sent him a change of benefit form! he went to sign on for JSA and was refused as they said he was to sick to work, If i hadnt fed him he’d have starved”
“Being made redundant after working all my life I found myself in a corner due to how I was treated . I had suicidal thoughts after going down every avenue possible . Job seekers ,bedroom tax , esa .i have been in the support group for nearly 3 years now .”
“As a welfare rights worker I have not had any clients die but I have had many have their physical and/or mental health deteriorate”
“In my job as a charity manager I speak to many young people, who are living well below the poverty line (if such a thing is still recognised) on a daily basis. They have no money for food for themselves or their children, no money for bus or train fare so often can’t get to appointments or are late and get sanctioned. Many are paying back hefty loans they have had to take out because of these sanctions, so find themselves in even more poverty. They struggle with mental and physical illness and have little or no prospect of work. It is a disgrace in the 21st century that the government can allow anyone in the UK to be living hand to mouth in this way, especially when that same government gives millions away to support others in crisis in other countries. it is beyond logic. I have little faith in the current political parties and the voting system, but as a woman I vote, because women in the past, made significant sacrifices to enable me to do so, which I cannot disrespect.”
“I know my health has worsened since the changes and every Sat I dread the post and the brown envelope arriving . I have mental health issues and so do some of my friends and I know their health has suffered because of the changes . I have thought and tried to commit suicide twice . I am not a stupid person or someone who likes to cheat the system . I feel unsupported ostracised and vilified by this present government . I would love to work and hate my current situation but I feel like a criminal . This government has picked on the weakest and most vulnerable in society and made them a scapegoat for the greed of the bankers . As the Dali Lama once said the measure of a good society is how they treat the most vulnerable . Since they have been in power we have gone backwards as a society .”
“Ironically I am an ex JCP worker and I know for a fact that managers willfully hide stats when the shit hits the fan and someone dies. We had no control over what to do – forced to meet targets that were unnattainable unless clients were sanctioned for trivial reasons such as late by 5 mins. I would not work to this and ended up being sacked for bad attendance despite being disabled!!!! So much for Equal Opportunity Employer!”
“The ability by the current government to cover up and deny the links between their policies and subsequent human suffering is very disturbing indeed.”
“Stepdaughter sanctioned because she did nothing wrong… Simply because the woman dealing with her was vile towards her and she said please do not treat me like I’m worthless. In job centres eyes this was sanctionable. Money stopped , appeal started and won but she had 0 income for 6 weeks. How is this right or fair. How is this encouraging anyone to find work, its simply degrading and inhuman.”
“Dealing with the DWP is very stressful and there is an awful sense of panic at the sight of a brown envelope coming through the letterbox wondering what they are going to do to you next. Last year we discovered we were being investigated for benefit fraud and when it was eventually found that it was in fact a DWP error we weren’t even given an apology!”
“My husband is in the ESA Support group and receives PIP at the enhanced level, he is severely disabled following a serious assault. Three months ago his ESA suddenly stopped, no letter from the DWP, nothing. I have made about 10 phone calls to the ESA department plus written numerous letters, but have not had any reply or been given any explanation for the sanction. Today we heard by phone that all his payments will be restored – still NO reason being given for why they were stopped in the first place.This is an outrageous way to treat people. Fortunately I had some savings, but if my husband had been living alone he would by now have been evicted for non-payment of rent or/and would have starved to death.”
“I am in Scotland and will be voting SNP,I do voluntary work in my local community and I am astounded daily by folks treatment at the hands of the DWP,I believe we are classed as non productive,therefore we are denied fair treatment and compassion.”
“My son was left without money and refused essential living fund for emergency assisistance and he is type 1 diabetic so if he does not eat he dies if he cannot wash he has risk of infection leading to complications . There is noone that cares or will help ao if we hs family did not feed him he wooild be a government statistic or in other words a potential loss of my beautiful son that is priceless and who the state have tried to take his dignity plus independance away and hasost his human rights to live . he did not choose to have extremely poor health and i live in fear as what would happen to him if he has to rely on benefits if we his parents are no longer around to support him”
“I waited 12 months to get my high rate of both PIP, I could barely feed myself and could not get the care and help I now get, before this award I was told I was fit for work for 3 years on the trot, now I am unfit for work and severely disabled, the only difference being that the worry and stress has made me sicker than I was originally. There is no need to put people through this needless suffering, they should listen to doctors and consultants they are under minding the professionals as well, as putting societies understanding of social care back 50 years. Very sad for everyone involved.
I live in fear of the next ‘brown envelope’ and as I am one of the small number of women who fell foul of changes to the pension age goalpost changes will have to live with the fear for the next 6 years. I have a debilitating genetic condition with no cure but according to the ATOS ‘health care professional’ I have a ‘bit of arthritis’. I personally feel that the SoS concerned would like to consign every disabled person to a dustbin or asylum.”
“If conservatives get into power I think people disability benefits and people who are ill but are refused PIP will be under serious threat. People who are sick and some disabled have to break their backs to get help from the government and are becoming more and more ill, a lot are taking their own lives. It’s getting harder and harder for me as a severely ill person to feed my family or find housing. According to the DWP I am not entitled to PIP because I can walk a bit and sit in the bath on my own. I am also being forced into work because I am on ESA and I should be able to find a job that will accommodate me, even though I suffer severe pain and chronic fatigue.”
“This “government” cannot win the next election – our lives depend on this. Anyone on benefits, especially the disabled, will suffer so greatly that suicide will become a normal thing to do. This election is a Live or Die one!”
“depression mainly driven by my physical disability was definitely made much much worse by being placed wrongly in work related group for ESA and then compounded yet further by money being stopped altogether after 12 mths.I have finally been placed in the support group for an “indefinite” period only to realise my fight will begin all over again with PIP and it fills me with dread. Again it will be the close support of those around me and all of you at Benefits and work that I will rely on again.”
“I have two friends with mental health problems who were made much, much worse by DWP. Both mentioned the word suicide more than once. Both are in their late 50s/early 60s. What is the point when the NHS is going to end up picking up the pieces if there are any pieces left?”
“My health hasn’t been affected cos I am a Welfare Rights Advisor but my clients health has”
“Although I have not been sanctioned due to being in the support group of esa I have had my battles with the DWP and as a result my mental health suffered because of it and I am dreading this December when I get reassessed for it again and I have been called in for a benefit check to see if I was on the right money, it a traumatic day because I had to wait for a hour to be seen. Ids is destroying the benefit system and destroying lives”
“We do not really know what Labour will change about benefits yet but it seems much more of risk to vote Conservative. I would like to vote Green but am concerned this will just be a lost vote for Labour. I think the way ESA can just be stopped without any notice is frightening.”
“I have a progressive physical disability as well as severe depression and am suicidal at times. I am in the work related group after a fight with Atos over 2 years but even my advisor at Jobcentre plus thinks I should be in the support group however he is helpless with this and is forced to refer me for programmes designed to “help me into work”! I worked as an Adult vocational trainer on YTS Employment Training, Workwise and Jobclub for many years and have benefit training but even I find the forms a struggle so I pity those who go into the process with no help.”
“ I am one of many people who worked hard & paid taxes all the years that they had the health to do so. I am one of many people who have multiple long term incurable painful+debilitating conditions that together make it impossible to function. I am one of many people who have no family to fall back on. I am one of many people who broke down & got iller than ever before from the stress of fighting to keep their support. I am one of many people who believe that most political parties in the UK except the Green Party are trying to destroy the sick & disabled like Hitler did in nazi Germany & that British people don’t care. I am one of many people who live in dread of being assessed again because the extra stress makes them so much iller. I am one of many people who will kill themselves if their support gets cut off because they’re too tired to fight any more & death would be a relief.”
“Anxiety, Fear, Depression, Self harming, Feeling suicidal or actually committing suicide is that all we are entitled to feel if through no fault of our own we end up claiming benefits? That is what any or all of us feel who have gone through the DWP processing mill. I think as a Nation we should be ashamed that it’s come to this, and I think the DWP should get a bloody big shake up for them to see what they are doing to vulnerable people.”
“After almost a year of stress and worry I won my appeal, thanks to help from B&W site. I was honest in answering all the questions and at the medical. What I hadn’t realised was that the questions I was answering didn’t always have anything to do with the information that was required. During that time I was literally worrying about it every hour of the day, and waking in the night to worry some more. to go with all my other health problems I developed PMR, which I was told was caused by “trauma.” If the government had said “we’re only going to pay means-tested benefits” I would have accepted it, though the loss of money would have been a hardship, but this was them saying “We don’t believe you. You are not really sick and disabled, you are a shirker, a worthless person.” I am worse now than I was when it all started and the stress and strain caused me almost a year of feeling depressed and anxious.”
“I continue to feel increasingly worthless and guilty with each passing day and every new revelation about what’s happening with the benefits system. I am an overweight, diabetic benefit claimant, and therefore on a par with terrorists (especially Jihadists), foreigners (especially Eastern Europeans) and criminals (especially paedophiles) – or so it would seem. I’ve got no strength left and have told my wife to prepare in advance for the time my benefit stops, as it surely will. The DWP have not followed their own procedures in any of their dealings with me, and I fully expect them to lay the blame for that at my door by sanctioning me indefinitely to the tune of my entire benefit. The way this whole worthless planet of ours is going, suicide is fast becoming a desirable option. What a sorry mess. I haven’t even got the strength to despair any more. I’ve just given up.”
“Ive been on DLA AND ESA for 5 years due to 3 separate health issues and been sanctioned twice recently due to DWP getting there facts wrong losing paperwork etc”
“it is difficult to fill this in and say i dont know if i will be voting but living a very safe tory seat area there does not feel much point….i wish the voting system would change…i would hope the SNP might prove invaluable in keeping the labour party from perpetuating the worst excesses of the tory party but who knows…i have experienced sanctioning when the job centre lost the form they posted for me in their internal mail, i worry about sanctioning to the point of wanting to take my own life at times…it breaks my heart to think of people going through this all over the country!!! I imagine that if i feel suicidal about it i can’t be the only one…i know how hard it is to go through the humiliation of going hungry and not to feel able to ask for help!!! I want to do something about the system but I am not convinced we have a political party with power that will represent us!”
“Sadly whoever wins the election, Labour or Conservative it is likely that benefits will continue to be the targeted, Conservatives will continue and step up their campaign. Labour will undoubtably continue with what ever they inherit blaming the Conservatives for the mess and claim that drastic changes would cost to much to implement. The only way we are likely to see any real improvement in the way our country is run is if all the people in office are held responsible for their promises and accountable for their actions only then can we exspect to see equality for us all”
“I feel everything is just like Hitler’s propaganda when he brainwashed the German people without regards to the Jews. This government is brainwashing the public about disabled people. God help anyone who dares to become I’ll or disabled.”
“When this government came to power, I was a relatively healthy forty-something. Now after 5 years of Conservative “rule” I am now registered disabled. I have no access to a GP, I have no access to a dentist, no chance of calling on police or Fire service in an emergency and the last time an ambulance was called to my address it took them 16 hours to respond. As for social care? All I can do is laugh. Way to go Tories. You’ve broken Britain.”
“I had a close relative with severe, life threatening mental health problems who loved to work, when their health allowed. An ongoing stressful dispute with a former employer over an untruthful career wrecking reference and the subsequent withdrawal of a job offer had set off their latest mental health crisis. I dont know if this was a coincidence, but they committed suicide on the eve of a jobcentre back to work appointment. Maybe it was just too much for them to go through the work events that had led to the decline of their health again at that time”
“My experience of the DWP initially was awful with the DWP making unfounded assumptions that I was going to recover from my cancer. This astounded my Colorectal Surgeon who said that he would like to meet the Surgeon who was so sure of the outcome as he with all the scans both MRI and CT could not be sure of anything until he got inside and was physically able to move my tumour. Needless to say after my operations and numerous complications with my Surgeons help my DLA was awarded and back dated. Initially it was awarded for two years and after reapplying was awarded indefinitely due to various other complications left by the surgery and excess chemotherapy. My advice, keep at the DWP and seek help from the professionals like Benefits and Work, and your local Citizens Advice Bureau as all claims, even fully legitimate ones are initially refused. The lady who initially helped me from the CAB was an absolutely amazing lady and her English skills left the DWP in no doubt of their wrong doing. It was a verbal assault of the DWP by a Rottweiler.”
“If I was arrested, I would have free legal representation, I would be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the police would not be allowed to ask me deliberately misleading questions or state their assumptions as facts in their reports. As a benefit claimant, I don’t have those rights, and the stress from knowing this and from a decade in the system has directly contributed to the deterioration in my health. While I obviously agree with the importance of human rights being upheld within the criminal justice system, it horrifies me that I’d actually have more rights if I committed a crime.”
“The whole system is against people who have always worked and then due to no fault of their own become ill and can no longer work.The whole process is wrong and very stressful which in turn makes the claimant feel even worse.I voted for camaron in the last election but I worked then.Can no longer work and the last four years trying to get some financial support has been a nightmare..still is I’m currently waiting a pip decision.Its soul destroying.”
“I believe that Labour is almost as bad as the Conservatives, but until politicians actually talk to real people and stand up for what they believe in, then nothing will change. I cannot beleive that the Conservatives are intentionally killing the most vulnerable people in our society but some people do, and what does that say about our society. What kind of society will we be in 10 years time? The statistics that are being published say more people are in work and less people are in poverty, how can this be with the amount of people being sanctioned? Where are the media and politicians that should be questioning all these so called facts?”
“Ed Milliband was reported a few months ago to say that he would support further benefit caps. This suggests to myself that both of the main parties are happy to see people starve to death. Be careful who you vote for. I doubt Labour will do anything to change this sick inhumane way of treating the poor, sick and disabled. My daughter was sanctioned for 13 weeks for not turning up to an appointment she didn’t get told about. She cannot get out so if I hadn’t of been there for her, she too would have been a dead statistic that was brushed under the rug.”
“I will be voting for who ever came second in constituency at the last election in ordert o give the best chance my vote will count against this awful regime”
“Like other commenters, I think the questions are leading and could have been presented more openly. It would require enormous political will for any party to reverse the direction and extent the cuts and propaganda have taken, given the apparent acceptance of them by the self-interested or sleep-walking majority of UK citizens. Having said that, any party taking their foot off the accellerator would provide immediate relief to us all!”
“I had always worked from the day I left school and served my country because I believed in what we stood for as a fair and compassionate country paying my dues thinking that nobody would ever starve or be driven to suicide. Then through no fault of my own I became very ill and unable to work. What a shock I was in for! Far from the caring government who’s safety I looked after for many years I found I was being treated like a criminal by these very people. Have they driven me to suicide? yes they have I have had two attempts to take my life as the despair and humiliation at the hands of these uba rich insensitive idiots. I don’t sleep any more as the ptsd is that bad and most of my money goes on specialist pain relief from both home and abroad as my health board can’t afford the treatment I need so any thought of luxuries go out the window. It’s a laugh a minute out here on benefits Mr Cameron come and give it a try. I bet you and your family wouldn’t stay long!”
“My uncle hung himself just over two years ago. He was 61, he worked all his life as an electrician but found it difficult to work because of knee problems. He attempted to claim ESA but was turned away. He was too proud to ask family for help and when we thought he was working, he was in fact starving. When he was found there was no food in the house. His wife had passed away two years previously so he lived alone. On another issue, I was in receipt of ESA because I have ME. Three years ago I developed double-vision. I informed DWP and had to go through a re-assessment where I was found fully fit to work even though the double vision has made it impossible for me to do the few things I could do before, I relied on my car to get about but I can no longer drive. I attempted to sign for JSA but because I was 20 mins early for my appointment I was made to stand outside in the freezing cold (this was January 2014) until it was my appointment time. By the time I got back inside I was seriously ill and they refused to take my claim because I was ‘clearly too ill to work’. It took me over six months to recover from that incident which resulted in several hospital visits following it. I am not in receipt of any benefits what so ever so I don’t get my NI contribution credited. This will impact upon my pension. DWP have never made any contact with me since so they have no idea if i’m alive or dead. I am unable to work but don’t ‘exist’ anymore. And yes, I did feel suicidal.”
“I claimed ESA because of clinical depression. My claim was rejected leaving me destitute and close to suicide. Thanks to help from this site and my GP, I survived and got my benefit re-instated. This was two years ago, pressures on claimants have worsened and will increase again if the tories win the election.”
“I have retired from working at DWP, Job Centre Plus. I know that IDS has had a hidden agenda for sanctioning claimants. The civil servants role is now to Police claimants rather than help them. Senior managers are running scared of targets for sanctions. Public facing staff have been threatened with disciplinary action if the miss or overlook sanction opportunities.”
“I now dread any post that looks like it has come from the DWP….I can honesty say I am scared stiff of more medicals carried out by unsuitable people just trying to fit claimants into certain groups that are in no way a true reflection of life as a sick person with multiple illnesses….They have created a thought pattern that ALL claimants are really not as bad as they say they are, and are just lazy or money grabbing…The Conservatives are responsible for trying to use the sick and disabled as their scape goat, thus taking the attention away from the true problems else where……Not so long ago we were on a path of change towards disabled people after the high of the Para Olympics, however I believe we are now back where we were before the Olympics worked it’s magic…I am sick to death of feeling ashamed of being sick and disabled ! Before I had to stop working I paid my taxes like other people and did not choose to be the way I am, I am constantly reminded of my disability’s should I really have to be ashamed of the hand that has been dealt to me too ? !”
“I nearly took my own life after I failed an assessment”
“I suffer from depression and anxiety in addition to chronic physical problems. I am lucky in that by joining Benefits and Work I was guided through the process of conversion from IB to ESA. I was placed in the support group without having to attend a medical examination in August 2012. But the whole time from even before I received the claim form from Atos, to being put in the support group – Atos didn’t bother to tell me of their decision! – to fears around the 12 month period I was told I would receive ESA until it would be reviewed, was so horribly stressful that I nearly attempted suicide. At the moment I am fairly stable, but as soon as this renewal of ESA comes around my likelihood of suicide will be vastly increased.”
“RE: claimant deaths. It’s worth pointing out that even when botched assessments have consequences as tragic as this (and there are cases on record in which coroners have specifically cited the assessment as a contributory factor towards a claimant’s death), no-one is ever held to account. The DWP always say they’re not to blame because they just go on the report they get from Atos (and now Maximus). The response from Atos is that they’re not to blame because they only produce the report, with the DWP taking the decision on eligibility. There is no reason to think that this appalling lack of accountability will change under Maximus. If these deaths were happening in the NHS, and with a similar lack of accountability, there would be national uproar and heads would roll. It seems claimants are now treated worse than criminals. Even those convicted of murder, rape or child abuse can’t be punished by being made to go hungry, yet that is exactly what the sanctions regime is now doing to claimants. The fact that this gets so little coverage in the media is sickening.”
“Although I can’t in all honestly say whether people actually die because of failures in the benefits system, I can say that I have personally experienced severe distress both emotionally and financially because of the way my son and I have been treated over the years. When the disability benefit is there you have more peace of mind while still knowing that it can be taken away next time which has happened several times. It can be a lonely, frustrating and difficult journey.”
“It’s a sorry state of affairs when departments that were initially set up to help those less fortunate than others now go out of their way not to tell you what you are entitled to, but take great pleasure in telling you what you are not. Those who are not mentally or physically capable of being able to find out the relevant information for themselves are the ones suffering most and the most likely to contribute to the deaths mentioned in your survey. In todays so called modern society it’s an absolute disgrace and the instigators should be brought to task.”
“Luckily my son has his family for support otherwise the unfair sanctions on him for not being able to be in 2 places at the same time would have had an enormous effect on his wellbeing. He has been unable to find employment and not had any help at all from DWP in finding work and was refused training and if he did voluntary work was threatened with benefit sanctions. He now has no income at all and has not been able to sign back on JSA.”
“Not just deaths but suffering!!! Late notification of appointments, for example arriving by post less than 12 hours before compulsory appointment, appointments cancelled with little or no notice, having to wait when get there for hours yet not allowed to be late. All point to a system in meltdown, yet the only people punished are the claimants. Sorry for rant hope you get good results from the survey the more people push the truth the less of a cover up there can be”
“I went to a tribunal to get a wrong decision about my benefits overturned (they ruled in my favour). The experience, however, was without a doubt the most stressful of my life. The questioners were trying to emotionally bully me into saying that I could do more than I was able to: “You will want to learn to cook for yourself, won’t you? You don’t want your husband to do everything for you for the rest of your life, do you?” (I do not lack motivation: my illness is a neurological one.) The experience left me feeling violated – and that was a case that I won. I did not have confidence that with methods like that, fair decisions would be made. I dread to think what happens to claimants to lose.”
“I applaud your stand on this issue, and your efforts to bring it to the attention of the general public. I am certain if more people were aware of the real hardships facing those reliant – for whatever reasons – on benefits, instead of the ‘media scapegoating’ that is commonly seen, the government would be forced to take action”
“If the DWP were treating animals in the same way it is treating the sick and disabled there would be mass protests across the country. The politicians are winning the propaganda war and the consequences will be the welfare state going back to the early 1900s (i.e. there won’t be one).”
“When moving from long term incapacity benefit to ESA, my wife was was (wrongly but typically) put in the wrag. When we rang Bathgate, Edinburgh to ask about appeals, we were told ‘ that the only people that get into the support group are the terminally ill’. Thankfully we knew this to be incorrect so pushed on anyway and my wife’s decision was turned around on reconsideration and she is now in the support group. Unbelievable that they can tell such blatant lies!”
“I go hungry regularly and can no longer afford to heat my flat. I’m terrified of sanctions and have got very close to the end of my tether countless times. I have been turned down for PIP although my conditions have worsened, mainly caused by the stress of being on benefits. I feel embarrassed to let my family know how bad it is and rarely see friends anymore as I feel socially excluded. It is a daily living hell and looks as if it could get a lot worse.”
“Last election I voted ‘tactically’ for the Lib Dems, normally I would vote Labour. I feel very concerned that if the Tory government get elected that this will be more propaganda against claimants, serious cuts , and marginalisation of the poor and sick. i don’t have much faith in the Labour Party either, feeling that they are the lesser of 2 evils really. I want to vote Green, as I feel that they would be the only party who would care for claimants but am terrified if I do that the Conservatives would get in again. It’s a dilemma! I think people’s wellbeing has significantly decreased under the coalition and think it very likely people have died , many of them, due to not just cuts. It the pejorative way they are viewed, it’s very debilitating.”
“I am very worried about the future for several vulnerable people I know who are literally unable to negotiate the madness of our benefits bureaucracy. One sanctioned man would probably not have survived without being fed and financially supported by his neighbours. He was terrified, lost several stone in weight and started to become demented. It went on for months and he was taken to court and threatened with eviction. It is utterly disgraceful that sanctions include stopping housing benefit payments. Such heartless treatment of vulnerable people is unforgivable.”
“I was sanctioned and it was 14 months before i had a tribunal appeal which i one this affected me on all levels apart from no money it put me in debt with rent and council tax as not on hb as no benefit to be awarded it i got into debt with bills i had no food for me or my son the treatment was disgusting the staff were so rude and unhelpful things must change.”
“I believe this government is trying to kill me and take my home. I’m a disabled insulin dependent diabetic and forced to go without meals in order to pay bedroom tax and council tax. This time last year I was in credit with my landlord by over £600 but from 1/1/2015 I’m now in arrears. This government is inhuman!”
“Jobcentre plus for the past few days have been using a recorded message at contact centres explaining they can only offer a limited service. They also claim to operate digital offices.”
“These are leading questions, aimed at achieving a particular response, based on limited information provided by an interested party. I do not know the full facts of any of the particular issues raised in the questions and will certainly not give a response based on a one-sided argument. I think that UKIP would be the harshest party for benefit claimants, but any change of party in government could cause additional problems as the system is likely to be changed again to fit with their political views.”
“The survey is a bit biased. It starts by reporting on inhuman sanctions, then moves directly to asking if sanctions are inhuman. Of course they’re inhuman but leading the participant toward the answer you want is a bit dodgy.”
“I have begged the DWP to re-assess my wife who is suicidal about her money being stopped, “nothing heard” for a year after numerous letters, wife is on pills now for her mental state, but still nothing.. I struggle to keep her going, we have had no money for a year now for her.. Labour introduced this awful situation, conservative implemented this and now it reminds me of 1932 Germany when all disabled were made to feel parasites in the public eye and were allowed to be removed from society into camps!”
“I had my ESA Health Medical last week and have been a wreck waiting for the decision. I hope to be placed in the Support Group, because of my condition. If not, I don’t think I have the strength or will to put up a fight. I know for a fact that ‘MY LIFE’ depends on whether I am able to cope with harsh and unfair decisions/sanctions.”
“I work with clients with mental health issues and lots have been very distressed when they have fallen foul of the bedroom tax. Also many clients on ESA have been removed from the support group and placed in the WRAG group which has caused them further distress and anxiety/depression.”
“It is a national disgrace that sanctions are causing claimants to commit suicide, also children suffering because parents are sanctioned, and having to rely on food banks. It is about time the opposition condemn this practice, whilst I would rather they won the election, they are too quiet about this very serious issue.”
“I have a physical health condition that is known to be progressively disabling. I already need round-the-clock support. The transition to ESA last year and the fear of losing essential income when “invited” to claim PIP has hit me mentally. In short, I’m twice as ill as I was prior to the “reforms” of the current government.”
“This tory goverment has left me more ill then i have ever been in my life now i have to find £55 a month for a bedroom my partner/carer uses but they still say it is a spare room HOW is this FAIR SYSTEM”
Source – Benefits & Work, 23 Mar 2015
The word on the street was “This is Stockton-on-Tees” as thousands of residents attempted the world’s biggest game of Chinese Whispers to bolster the town’s image before a controversial Channel 4 documentary is broadcast.
Over two days ‘The Loudest Whisper’ will spread the message at some of the borough’s beauty spots including Infinity Bridge, Preston Park Museum and Grounds, and Wynyard Hall.
The ‘Psst…’ (Positively Stockton-on-Tees) Campaign was launched after filming for the Benefits Street series started last year which, it is feared, will negatively portray residents living in Kingston Road in the deprived Tilery area.
The first series, based in Birmingham, was branded ‘poverty porn’, however the hit show’s producers insisted it was about ‘giving a voice’ to a little known section of society.
World champion Stockton sprinter Richard Kilty demonstrated his pride for his home town by starting the “This is Stockton-on-Tees” whisper with more than 200 pupils at North Shore Academy, near Kingston Street, before 800 people passed it on over Infinity Bridge.
The message was then spread around 300 teenagers on their lunch break at Stockton Sixth Form College before it was put on ice at the Billingham Forum skating rink.
The makers of Benefit Street, Love Productions, said on its website about the documentary:
“It’s a place where residents face challenges such as bringing up children in poverty, low levels of education and training, drug and alcohol dependency, and crime. But it also has a strong sense of community, where people look out for each other and where small acts of kindness can go a long way.”
Mike McGrother, frontman of the Wildcats of Kilkenny who masterminded the ambitious Psst…event with Stockton Borough Council, said:
“The nature of a Chinese Whisper reminds us that a message can be manipulated, but we are choosing to remind people of how a positive message can bring a community together.
Phil Mulhaire who produced the spectacle, added:
“This is a light-hearted response to the Benefit Street programme because people feel it will not a true reflection, that its people are not feckless, this is to show the other side.”
Source – Northern Echo, 14 Mar 2015
An undercover Universal Credit adviser was ordered not to inform claimants about vital hardship payments, the Daily Mirror has reported.
The undercover adviser, working for Channel 4 Dispatches, was told not to advise claimants about the existence of emergency cash funds available to jobseekers struggling to make ends-meet.
He was also instructed not to inform claimants about the availability of advance payments, which can be paid while their Universal Credit claim is being processed by decision makers.
Claimants can apply for a one-off grant from the ‘Flexible Support Fund’, which can be used to help them move into employment.
However, a trainer told the undercover report not to inform claimants about the fund unless they specifically asked about it.
When he questioned the motives behind this stance, he was told:
“If we did, everybody would want one, yeah, and it’s a very small budget, so we don’t talk about it.
“It’s a bit like Fight Club – we don’t discuss what happens in Fight Club. So you don’t talk about flexible support fund either… so the work coaches usually bring this up…”
New Universal Credit claimants often have to wait several weeks for a decision to be made on their claim. During this time they are typically expected to support themselves.
However, advance payments and other hardship funds are available to people who may experience financial difficulties during this time.
Universal Credit merges a number of existing benefit into one single monthly payment. The flagship scheme has been dogged by delays and software problems since its conception.
The reporter, who was working in a DWP service centre, was also told not to tell claimants about hardship funds in the event of their benefit payments being ‘sanctioned’.
“You don’t offer it unless you think they’re in dire straits”, the trainer said
“The whole idea is the punishment, that’s what you’ve got to suffer but if you can’t manage, we’ll consider doing something for you.
“So they’ve got to say, ‘well I can’t manage without my standard allowance, so I need some help’ and you go ‘right, there is a hardship possibility’.
“You don’t advertise it but if they say, ‘I can’t manage’, they don’t have to say, ‘I need a hardship payment’, they say ‘I can’t manage’ and you say, ‘well I can’.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said:
“Service centre workers are there to provide administrative support over the phone, not to build the close relationship with the claimant that our work coaches in Jobcentres do.
“At a new claim interview our work coaches inform claimants that budgeting advances are available ”
“Work coaches can identify if the locally-administered flexible support fund can help someone overcome barriers to work – not service centre workers.”
Defending Universal Credit, the spokesperson said:
“Universal Credit replaces the complex myriad of means-tested benefits to simplify the system and make work pay.
“It is already transforming lives with claimants on Universal Credit moving into work faster and earning more.
“When fully rolled out it will make three million people better off with a £7 billion boost to the economy every year.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 Mar 2015
Thirty years on from the end of the miners’ strike Norman Strike – his real name – still cuts a discordant figure.
He was one of the few whose life changed for the better following the miners’ strike, but he admits he still feels a great deal of bitterness about the events that occurred and indeed is more angry now than he was then.
Referring to the current Government, he says:
“[Margaret] Thatcher was terrible, she was evil. But these buggers are worse than what she ever was. They have done much worse to the working class than what she ever got away with. It is all as a direct result of us getting beat.”
Mr Strike, a retired teacher, had three spells at Westoe Colliery, in South Shields, and was arrested four times for picketing during the year long dispute between the miners and the Government which began as a protest over pit closures.
“My problem is that I have always had a big mouth and when people were just standing around passively and not doing anything, I was trying to organise them,” he says.
“Much to my shock the magistrate remanded me for 14 days in Durham Prison because he said I could not be trusted due to my previous arrests.”
The 64-year-old, who now lives in Essex, was present at the infamous Battle of Orgreave when on June 18, 1984 picketing miners attempted to blockade the British Steel coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire.
In all 93 arrests were made, with 51 picketers and 72 policemen injured. All charges against those arrested were eventually dropped and police were later forced to pay half-a-million pounds in compensation after a number of lawsuits were brought by miners’ for assault, unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution.
When I suggest some of what occurred was a case of “six and two threes”, he replies:
“It was more like twelve on one. When you get hit with a truncheon it bloody hurts, I can tell you.
“The worst I ever saw from our side involved the cowards who would stand at the back and lob bricks at the police. We would shout at the buggers to stop.”
At the time Mr Strike was friends with The Redskins, a punk rock band whose songs were inspired by their left-wing politics. Famously he was invited on stage when they appeared on Channel 4’s The Tube, which was filmed in Newcastle.
But his plan to make a short speech about the strike was thwarted when his microphone was switched off.
“The Redskins had two numbers and on the first number I stood in the background with a tambourine,” he explains.
“ When they introduced the second song they said I was a Durham miner who had been on strike for 35 weeks. I had prepared a speech for 20 seconds which we reckoned was enough time before the producer latched onto what I was doing, but they were a bit quicker than what we anticipated.”
After the strike ended the ex-salvage worker, whose job it was to recover machinery from the coal face, never went back to Westoe and instead headed for the bright lights of London, where he began rebuilding his life following the break-up of his marriage.
He returned to the North-East last year to help promote a film about the strike ‘Still The Enemy Within’ and says his involvement back then represented the most momentous year of his life.
“What resonates most was the community spirit,” he says.
“If someone was going to get their gas cut off we would all go and stand outside the house so they couldn’t do it. It’s that thing that parents talk about, the ‘good old days’ when everybody stuck up for each other.
“Now everybody is out for themselves and it’s a case of ‘I’m very sorry you are having a hard time, but I can’t do anything about it’. Back then we were all broke, but people were wonderful.
“It was also the catalyst that led to other things for me. I went to London and eventually went onto university and became a school teacher, directly because I met teachers and other people during the strike who told me I was clever and planted a seed in my head.
“ It also made me more determined to fight against injustice whenever I see it. If the miners strike wouldn’t have happened, I would probably still be a miner.”
I can’t resist ending the interview by asking Mr Strike about that surname. “It’s real,” he says.
“During the strike I would get stopped by the police and asked ‘What’s your name’? ‘Norman Strike’ The response was ‘Oh yeah, I’m Arthur f****** Scargill.’ I began carrying my birth certificate to prove who I was.
“It is just so unusual to have someone called Strike involved in the greatest strike the country has seen.”
Source – Northern Echo, 05 Mar 2015
A new report from a coalition of major UK Churches has revealed that around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions in 2013/14.
It also shows that in the same period a total of nearly 7 million weeks of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.
The new data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, entitled ‘Britain’s Benefits Crackdown’.
The report, entitled Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under Welfare Reform, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.
It features the stories of people like James (not his real name) who have had their benefits sanctioned:
“During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to. By the fourth week however I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly.”
“Those who already have the most difficult lives are those most likely to be sanctioned,” said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church and one of the authors of the report.
“Sanctions impact disproportionately on young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long term illness. This system causes problems for the very people that most need help.
“But sanctions don’t just have a financial impact. The people we’ve spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system.
“As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity.”
The Churches are calling for a full and independent review of the regime and for urgent reform of the hardship payments system to avoid the deliberate imposition of hunger.
In the meantime, they are urging the Government to suspend all sanctions against families with children and those suffering from mental health problems. Most importantly, they say, there needs to be a change of culture, from one of enforcement and punishment to one of assistance and support.
“If you commit a crime, no criminal court in the UK is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment,” added Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty.
“But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre, they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed you or your family for weeks at a time.
“Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute.
“This policy must be reviewed urgently.”
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said:
“The findings of this report are disturbing.
“It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time.
“Most worryingly, it appears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivation and hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quite trivial breaches of benefit conditions.
“Employers would not be allowed to stop someone’s wages for a month the first time they were 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind of sanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including those with mental and physical health problems.
“We are concerned that the problem may be even worse in Wales, recognising the higher levels of poverty in this country. No Welsh data, however, is included in the report because despite submitting a Freedom of Information request to the DWP three months ago, we are still waiting for a reply.
“There is supposed to be a 20-day turnaround period for Freedom of Information requests. We are pursuing this.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 02 Mar 2015
Benefits Street now looks unlikely to air before the General Election in May.
The second series of the controversial series has been filmed on Kingston Road in Stockton’s Tilery Estate.
It was previously understood that the series was set to air in March, after sources close to the show suggested it would be around that time.
However, due to tight broadcasting rules of what airs in the run-up to a General Election, it could now be after voting has taken place in May.
Anything deemed as politically contentious needs to stick to strict broadcasting guidelines.
It’s not clear if Benefits Street would fall into this category or whether this would prevent Channel 4 from screening it as adaptations can be made to ensure it adheres by any rules.
But it was reported in The Guardian’s Media Monkey column that it will be a six-episode series, going out after the election.
“Channel 4’s Immigration Street may have been derailed by protesters (it’s down to a single film) but the second run of Benefits Street is still very much on track – six episodes will be aired about an estate in Stockton-on-Tees after the General Election,” it stated.
“It seems the new series will also cover the media kerfuffle the show has created: Love Productions’ Benefits Street crew has filmed the crews sent by other broadcasters including the BBC, who in turn were sent to film them filming the residents.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 16 Feb 2015
Plans to put a more positive spin on a North-East town ahead of the airing of the next series of Channel 4’s Benefits Street are underway.
TV company Love Productions chose Kingston Street in Stockton to film its second series of the popular Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall show, dubbed by some as “poverty porn“.
The next series is expected to air in March and Stockton Borough Council says it is expecting a less-than-flattering portrayal of the town.
Now businesses are throwing their weight behind a campaign to shine a positive light on Stockton.
The Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign has a website – http://www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk – and social media accounts have been set up for people to share photographs, videos and stories about the area.
Now, thanks to donations from local businesses, the best submissions will be rewarded in a monthly prize giveaway, the first of which is afternoon tea for four at Wynyard Hall.
Council leader Bob Cook said:
“We came up with this campaign to create a space where people can share their views on what they love about Stockton-on-Tees and we’ve been delighted with the response so far.
Mike McGrother, Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman, said:
“What has been lovely about the response so far is the overwhelming reaction from across the borough – and beyond.
“We may not have the revenues and reach of Love Productions – but what we will do in response is a much ‘lovelier’ production all round.”
To find out more about the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign, and how to get involved, visit:
or follow the campaign on Twitter @positivelySOT
Source – Northern Echo, 19 Jan 2015