Guaranteed to bring out your inner reactionary
What an absolutely cracking documentary Benefits Britain (C4, Monday) turned out to be.
It absolutely nailed the dilemma at the heart of the current crisis in the welfare state, by turning back the clock nearly 70 years to the birth of the Welfare State.
Will we discover that we've never had it so good, by reminding ourselves what support the government handed out in 1949?
It was a startlingly simple premise. Take three people who depend on the state for their income and see how they would have fared if they had lived in post-war Britain.
FREE Home staging included with your 1% Commission!View details
1% Commission FREE Home staging advice http://www.kerbappealz.co.uk
Terms: Home staging advice given on instruction to sell your property
Contact: 01736 332076
Valid until: Saturday, December 14 2013
We had 71-year-old pensioner Melvyn, a widower who lives alone; 24-year-old, Craig who is registered disabled because of his spina bifida and has never had a job and, representing the sick claimants, 54-year-old Karen.
Anyone of a nervous disposition may want to look away now, because this programme was guaranteed – with little prompting – to bring out your inner reactionary. In a rollercoaster of emotion I went from disbelief, to anger, to tears.
Melvyn, as a pensioner, would have been deliberately kept at below the poverty level in 1949 with a pension reduced to £38.48 in today's money.
He worked that out to £5.49 a day to live on and was pleased on day one to have a penny to spare.
But within days, his fridge was empty, modern comforts were gone and he was deprived of his car and his free bus space. He was stranded and alone.
He pawned his grandfather's pocket watch to pay for food and energy bills.
After a visit from the GP – which reduced him (and me) to tears – the state stepped in for his own sake and put him in a home where he had company and a decent meal.
Craig would have had even less money under the rules in 1949. Having never worked, he had not made any National Insurance contributions, so was not entitled to benefit – just £7 as an emergency payment. But... because of the huge numbers of injured men returning from the war, anyone with a disability was eligible for a retraining grant of over £100 a week and help finding a job.
Work in a garden centre was out, because the lower half of his body was not judged strong enough to cope. But he did get a day's work experience in a job centre at Seetickets, a booking agency.
His enthusiasm and commitment was a far cry from the attitude of Karen, judged too sick to work today and in receipt of benefits. She spent 22 years as a carer but has been unemployed for seven years due to her ill health – diabetes, an irregular heart, arthritis and backache.
Her attitude stinks, snapping "what are you looking at" at the receptionist as she leaves the Employment Exchange. She will only get around £40 and must be assessed by a doctor, 1949-style.
Could she lift a 12lb bag of potatoes? She would struggle, she tells the doctor mournfully. How about a single potato then? Obviously anxious about the implications of such a simple task, she lifts the potato but complains that she has a pain in her shoulder.
The doctor concludes that she could do some "light work", perhaps tailoring. Judging by the amount of swearing in her response, she is not best pleased and it's not long before she's back home, exhausted by the whole experience. Draw your own conclusions. At the end of the experiment Melvyn had made new friends at the care home – and returns there – and Craig has been offered a permanent job (his first) at Seetickets. A brilliant result.
My delight at Benefits Britain, leaves little space for a review of Big School (BBC One, Friday) which is just as well. Great cast (Catherine Tate, Philip Glenister and Frances de la Tour) but largely self-indulgent, unfunny, dated, childish comedy from writer and star David Walliams.
Must try harder, see me after class.