Watching 7 Days On The Breadline last night was pretty depressing. The only adult man other than Keith Allen and Austin Healy was a 73-year-old grandfather. Young men, collapsed on broken chairs or in their un-linened childhood bunk beds, catatonic with depression and ennui, were frightened, conservative, finished before they’d begun. I found myself beginning to groan, “He can’t be bothered to sign on?! He can’t be bothered to give his mother some rent?!” and caught myself, just before “Bring Back National Service.” 30 years ago, these young men would have had a job in one of the manufacturing industries; now, they are entirely out of action. Without the educational and social background, there really is nothing for them to do.
(How is it possible for a child to go through school for 11 years and not be able to read, write and do basic maths well enough to get him a job? Yet this is increasingly the case for any number of children. Who has responsibility for them? Their parents certainly, but the reason we have schools is in recognition of the fact that most parents aren’t qualified to teach. Teachers have an endless litany about unruly children and lack of funding, local authorities will point to reduced funding and social problems as reasons why some children can’t be taught. And who is most affected by all this? The child who is left flapping at the end of everyone excuses, who then goes on to repeat the cycle.)
A mother of 6 in a three-bedroom house is shown to have no real desire to move. Stupid cow. The reasons for her reluctance aren’t discussed, possibly because the production team have no inkling that she’s anything other than a stupid cow. The reality is this: when you are on a very low income, change means disaster. Something always goes wrong in a move, the utilities aren’t turned on, the removals costs spiral, and if you have money you can deal with these things yourself. When you’re a tenant of a Council that doesn’t particularly care if you’re hideously overcrowded and have rats, you’ll probably have to live in the dark with no heating, lighting or hot food for some time. A friend of mine has been living without a kitchen for 3 months while the Council and the British Gas argue over who has responsibility for the meter.
Trinny takes the disabled pensioner to the Housing Trust so that she can move from her unsuitable home to a bungalow. She was put on the waiting and transfer lists. Result! Clever Trinny! Stupid old woman. No mention that she may well have to wait 10 years for a move.
It seems to be an accepted fact that the poor are lazy. Or is it simply a fact that when you have no money there is a severe limit to what you can do. You can’t go to the cinema. Going to a free museum or gallery means paying fares to get there and back, minimum, never mind having a cup of tea or lunch. You can’t buy decent clothes. You can’t pay for a decent haircut. You wait longer than usual to do the washing because going to the launderette is a pain in the arse and costs so much. The pointlessness of life closes in very quickly when you see your parent listless on the sofa, doing the cheapest thing possible – watching TV, usually without the license that costs more than a weeks income. (Would you pay over two weeks income to watch telly? Why should the poor?)
This programme simply serves to reinforce stereotypes of the stupid, feckless poor who can only be sorted out by the clever middle class. No concept of failed education, failed housing, failed healthcare, obvious depression remaining unaddressed. It would be fantastic to have a programme that gives a poor family a decent home, a good school, a fair income, a reasonably paid job and the mentorship to maintain this astonishing, unheard of state of affairs. But that might shake a few of our dearly held beliefs about the poor and how much better we are than they.