by Kevin Meagher
For every minute that Skint was on last night, defending the welfare state became that little bit harder.
Channel Four says its new show tells ‘provocative and revealing documentary stories of how people survive without work’. It does no such thing. We are back in Big Fat Gypsy Wedding territory here: gawping at the mores and behaviours of a part of society many wouldn’t want to live near, definitely wouldn’t mix with, but who we don’t mind sniggering at. This is Little Britain without the canned laughter.
Skint could also have been an extended party political broadcast directed by Lynton Crosby. It was all there on display: the fecklessness, violence, drug-taking, gambling, shoplifting, vandalism and casual thuggery of what at one time we used to call our underclass. The obligatory bull mastiffs, silly caps and tracksuits were on display for good measure.
Dean and Claire were bringing up seven kids on benefits. “All I have to do is spunk on a hanky” he charmlessly explained. He later treated viewers to a full frontal showing of his vasectomy scar. He had previously worked but thought he now deserved a break.
Then there was Conor, a gormless young lad who wouldn’t get out of bed for school and whose only form of communication with his mother was to repeatedly tell her to “fuck off” (I gave up counting after the 20th time). He hadn’t been to school for “months”. Yet he was depicted as a relative innocent; all his friends had served custodial sentences.
“They say that crime doesn’t pay but it does. It pays a lot fucking better than a job”, reckoned Jay, his friend and habitual shoplifter who had now graduated to burglary.
For both right and left the reasons why communities like the one depicted in Skint have drifted so far from the mainstream are deceptively simple.
The right thinks their condition is simply a question of poor behaviour: bad things happen to bad people. But their ‘tough love’ approach in restricting benefits is all about making a harsh gesture, not addressing a root cause. In contrast, the Left thinks these people are victims and the problem of improving their lot is solely about piling-in sufficient resources.
Obviously the truth is more complex. Yes, the problem of poverty, ingrained unemployment and having no tradable skills is a drag-anchor on communities like these; but it’s a problem of dysfunctional families too, with ineffective parents bringing up kids with behavioural problems. This then collides with a complete lack of ambition or respectable role models. Frankly, it’s also a product of the natives having too much guile and time to misuse.