John Humphrys, hubris, and welfare dependency

John Humphrys evidently gets paid around £375,000 a year to be rude to people on the radio in the mornings, around £2,500 a show, and another £250,000 for presenting
Mastermind.  Evidently he charges the equivalent of a year’s Jobseekers Allowance for an after dinner speech.

Radio 4 is intolerable in my view when he is on.  I suspect the ancient Greeks invented the word hubris with Humphrys in mind.  But for some reason he and the BBC feel that he is particularly well qualified to spend a year researching and then presenting a documentary on the welfare system and the ‘benefit dependency culture’.  No doubt he has some insight because he is dependent for his enormous income for doing next-to-bugger-all on the licence fee; it takes many people on very low incomes to fund his grand lifestyle.

Humphrys trails his views in advance of the programme, which goes out tonight, in the
Daily Mail, well known for its balanced view of welfare recipients.  With the kind of originality and sublety that Humphreys himself is noted for, they give the article prominence by including a large picture of the Gallagher family and the headline ‘Our Shameless society’.

His basic premise is that a ‘dependency culture has emerged’: ‘A sense of entitlement. A sense that the State owes us a living. A sense that not only is it possible to get something for nothing but that we have a right to do so.’  He travels the country searching out people who are happy not to work.  And he visits Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice, no doubt to get a balanced view (why not Child Poverty Action Group?).  And then he goes for single parents, with no context, no information, no acknowledgement that most single
parents exist because of failed relationships rather than ‘Shameless’ families.

Cutting benefits evidently works in Poland and in the USA – our hero visits the USA (at our expense) and talks to Larry Mead, the ‘godfather of workfare’, who tells him cutting benefits works.  To give him credit, he does note that destitution and hunger are also rife in the USA.

Humphrys writes about the Ipsos Mori poll done for the programme which showed that 92% agreed that there should be a benefits safety net, but that ‘only’ two-thirds* think it is working effectively.  Only?  I’d like to see the questions and the figures, but evidently people were ‘particularly suspicious’ about sickness benefit and ‘pretty hawkish’ about housing benefit, with a lot of support for forcing people living in expensive areas to move to cheaper accommodation.

At least Humphrys offers more balance than is normal in the Mail, by saying: ‘The problem is, for every claimant who makes you want to scream in frustration because they’re perfectly happy to be living off the State, you meet another who makes you want
to weep because they are so desperate to find work. Any work.

But he ends firmly in Mail territory: ‘Beveridge tried to slay the fifth evil giant (idleness) and, in the process, helped to create a different sort of monster in its place: the age of entitlement. The battle for his successors is to bring it to an end.

For a genuine counterpoint, I strongly recommend Declan Gaffney’s retort to Humphrys on Left Foot Forward.  Gaffney is a real expert and doesn’t need to spend a year and a lot of licence fee payers’ money to find out about the welfare system.  He destroys Humphrys’ use of the statistics of modern worklessness,  incapacity, and single parenthood, and demonstrates that ‘welfare dependency’ has not, in fact, grown.  He demonstrates that areas with concentrations of benefit recipients, like Humphrys’ birthplace Splott, which he revisits, are ‘highly responsive to labour market conditions: the opposite of what is
suggested by the ‘welfare dependency’ theory

I have argued before that debate about welfare policy and housing policy has become dominated by right wing language and stereotypes of the Shameless type, talk of chavs and the rest.  It is so pervasive that Labour often falls into the Tory trap: attacking the unemployed is so much easier than attacking unemployment.

But the welfare system is viewed differently from the rest of the welfare state.  As Declan Gaffney argues: ‘When there is a major scandal in the NHS, this does not lead people to question the principle of healthcare free at the point of delivery; when schools send young people out into the world without qualifications, pundits don’t line up to argue it’s time to drop the idea of universal education.  But any evidence, however anecdotal, of failure on the part of the social security system leads to calls for its very existence to be put into question.

I hope Humphrys’ programme isn’t as prejudicial as his Mail article and that the presentation is more balanced.  I guess I’ll have to force myself to watch it to find out.  And I hope to hear Declan Gaffney on Newsnight and the Today programme putting him right.

*Update – some people might notice that the figure used in the documentary is different from the one I have quoted here (two thirds).  That’s because I used the figure quoted by Humphrys in his Mail article.  Either the Mail article or the film must have been wrong.  Shoddy – like the rest of it.


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26 Responses to John Humphrys, hubris, and welfare dependency

  1. Pingback: Brandon tells it like it is | Red Brick

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  6. Bernard Crofton says:

    I commend this report on the motives of rioters (link provided) which shows the motives were a complex mix, but opportunity is the main one!
    So with working/beng long-term unemployed. What a bloke says in the pub about never having a job is hardly likely to be soul-baring. Who is going to say “in this market who would have me?”. Most younger men will more likely respond with bravado.
    So I generally ignore old wives tales of the long term unemployed having taken a life-style choice to live off the taxpayer. That is not to say that there are no “shirkers”. But aren’t they likely to be the last person you’d give job to?

  7. michael says:

    if someone doesnt work, but does all the housework, picks the kids up from school, goes shopping for a neighbour and elderly relative or does voluntary is that person still lazy and idle. most people would say yes, really?

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  9. michael says:

    how much of peoples wages actually go on unemployment and benefits generally a week? i am not sure people actually know.

    Considering most people have to apply for a job, i.e. they are not guarenteed it, its not as though they hand jobs out, if they are lucky enough to land one, they can expect to slog away until their 70, while their boss gets a bonus. the idea if people work really really hard they will get what they deserve is outdated, i know loads of people that have got knowhere, btw we will all die penniless, we cannot take anything with us, all the status, hard work until we drop will not mean a thing when we kick the bucket.

    ok some people dont want to do anything, but whats the alternative watching jeremy kyle? you either work and work and dont get praised or dont work as hard and you are lazy. if people dont live like others or work as many hours you are considered lazy. so because some dont work everybody gets tarred with the same brush. everyone knows when you start work, you pay tax, everyone excepts this. i have consistantly.paid tax and accept that some of it things i dont like etc, if we lived in a more equal and caring society, we’d help people to.get work not sit at a distant and judge them, if we were all equal and perfect we’d all be what john humphries want us to be, if were all capable and perfect we.d all be in top jobs earning top cash. are people on jsa really better than being in a job? 2 days work pay more than jsa even on minimum wage, tax would bring that down.

  10. michael says:

    we havent always lived in this system mr humphries, human beings have always lived under different systems, what he accepts as the norm, wasnt the norm 500 years ago, people then would find john humphries attitudes like a slave driver, very bizarre, as some of us today do! in the.middle ages, religiously sunday was a day off and working hard for the sake of it unusual, they only did what they had to do, but still worked hard and took pride, competition in work didnt exist and neither did working for status.

    How about getting rid of applying for basic work or having a scheme where basic work was handed out both part and full time and if people didnt accept basic work then would receive nothing, but not in a harsh, beat.people on the head kind of way.

  11. Michael Woodall ( MIKE) says:

    It has to be acknowledged that there are people out there who have no intention of working while they can draw benefits and this patently unacceptable and grossly unfair.
    I wonder if my solution would work? The plan itself would create jobs:
    An ‘official’ would sit down with a benefit recipient and together they would work out how much money per week the recipient needs to maintain the present lifestyle. This would include rent, food, clothing, etc. From this total would be deducted the equivalent of 40 hours at the minimum hourly wage. The weekly benefit would then be reduced to the difference between these figures, thereby encouraging the recipient to look for a job. If a job is genuinely unavailable, then the situation would need reviewing.
    Could this work? Comments please

    • efgd says:

      There are jobs but not enough to give all the unemployed – those able and capable of working – employment. That as may be, your idea would need to take into account your statement ” maintain the present lifestyle”. There are those who say that benefits should be on subsistence levels so:

      # no entertainment – pubs, clubs, cinema, meals out, take-a-ways, bingo, holidays…these are deemed excessive wants not subsistence needs
      # no credit access – credit cards, loans, hire purchase contracts as this is above and beyond subsistence repayment levels i.e. you cannot afford it

      As you can see this is pretty draconian. So if we look at a single person under 25 years of age, as that is high end group of unemployed folks, getting Job Seekers Allowance gets £282.57 which includes all benefits. So if rent is £460 (wk) – £282.57 = £-177.43. No food, clothes or household utilities, no bus fare, no TV licence thus no home nor outside entertainment costs are available.

      If we look at the Minimum Waged single person same age: He/she will be getting with deductions and benefits that are applicable because of low wage approx £527 – rent of £460 = £67. Again no food, clothes or household utilities, no bus fare, no TV licence thus no home nor outside entertainment.

      So in your scenario Mike the claimant would be owed £67 as his benefit availability is less than the job payment.

      Obviously all these figures are absolutes and hypothetical and based on Islington house allowance of £210 a week for single person.

      Of course if I have got it wrong let me know.

  12. Bernard Crofton says:

    Declan’s response is very telling. If you take as your start date 1999 – nearly the same stage into the Labour government as we are now into the Liberal/tory one – then areas of “welfare dependancy” such as Humphries birthplace have been halved! So much for a continual growth in a welfare culture.
    In 1999 there were 9.5% of electoral ward where “one in four was unemployed” and today it is down to 5.3%. Where’s the growing culture Mr Humphries.
    Okay it went down to 3.7% by 2007, but the banking crisis and the subsequent failure to fund employment by bankers and their mates has pushed it back up a bit.
    What has happened since 2007 is the bankers stole all the jobs, to fund their bonuses and the tory party!

    By the way Steve, I started by thinking you were indiscreet to attack Humphries rather bthan his figures, but on reflection I think you are right: make Humphries the story not the disabled!

  13. On Medication says:

    Forgive me, but I may be going off on a bit of a tangent here, but I thought I’d add my two-pennyworth.

    I notice he didn’t mention that a lot of the private landlords (ie, the nasty greedy capitalist pigs) are very, very, very happy to accept as tenants the poor little benefit claimants (those dirty, disgusting, despicable scroungers).

    I think (and, of course, I may be wrong) that this is because the private landlords can charge what they like (within reason, of course…) and the tenant won’t mind in the slightest because he/she isn’t personally paying the rent.

    So, the tenant gets their rent for free, and every fortnight or so the private landlord gets a nice fat payment from the local council Housing Benefit Department, straight into his/her bank account, regular as clockwork. This should happily cover the mortgages on his/her investment property portfolio (each private landlord may well have several properties – often bedsits – rented out to benefit claimants…).

    The system suits the landlord and the tenant just fine, thankyou very much!

  14. Pingback: John Humphrys “The future state of welfare” What a cop out… « ATOS REGISTER OF SHAME

  15. Rob says:

    They always brush the unemployed with the same hate imbued tar thickened with copious amounts of ignorance without stopping to think for the briefest moment about how you manage to squeeze 54 people into a single job – that was the last statistic “54 people to every job”, I wonder if that statistic accounts for qualifications and job distribution? Once you eliminate the jobs 90% of JSA claimants can’t take for sound reasons such as that 12 hours per week cleaning doesn’t pay for paper to wipe your arse with, then you’re more likely left with a figure closer to 150 people to every job, I notice no time was spent to examine the nature of the jobs, the hours, the pay or fact that after 3 months the employer stops getting half your wage paid for them so they ditch you…

    There is no justice to any of this crap, tosh figures generated without due consideration of the reality of things and deliberate ignorance of the desperate need for industry – we don’t see Humphrys give mention that when he was younger there were plenty of genuine jobs going that you could feed a family on… *Sigh*. I don’t know why I even watch this crud, it just upsets and infuriates me that the unemployed can be openly victimized. Call me melodramatic but I wonder when the work camps will open? And then how about some ovens to keep us all crispy warm – after all we don’t half bang on about the gas bills! I know that’s over the top, but when you think about it can any good reason be given why it couldn’t happen a hard enough recession comes along for a sustained period of time?

    • Bernard Crofton says:

      You start with the key point, Rob. If a single parent gets a job when there are few jobs around, it is at the expense of a two parent household. The latter will probably (statistically) have more children, so the welfare bill goes up.

  16. Lesley says:

    It was worse than anyone could have imagined

  17. Mouth of the Umber says:

    I wonder if he’ll interview the vast numbers of ex-service men and women, heros, in America who have no safety net and are destitue on the streets?

  18. Aldos Rendos says:

    Maybe I am missing something, but surely they main issue is lack of jobs. 2.5million unemployed people doesn’t go into 0.5 million vacancies. Surely if we want to get people off benefits and into jobs we need to create jobs in the first instance, at the moment we are not doing that.

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  20. Carry on Capitalism says:

    Humphrey’s is a loathsome public schoolboy. Out of his depth when dealing matters not related to millionaries like Cameron, Clegg. Despise the cretin.

    • JS says:

      Humphries is poorly educated; he left grammar school aged 15 and i suspect by choice, not due to financial circumstances but i maybe incorect there. What I do know is that like many others he continues to behave extremely criminally, about which in due course.

  21. A. Driver says:

    There are many people who have forgotten what work is. I do not object to a safety net as I have needed it myself once or twice. As a taxpayer, and a worker of 43 years in total I think long term claimants should have to do something for their money. For idleness encourages laziness. And stop slagging the’s read by many of the mugs currently subsidising the hard core bone idle you champion.

  22. Sarah Brown says:

    There ARE people who don’t want to work. I know because I’ve lived among them. Many of them. I don’t get my opinions from the Daily Mail or John Humphrys, I get them from my real life experiences, as, I expect, many of the people polled do. This is real life.

  23. Thomas Dean says:

    I think we can guess from the outset, what the type of program will be. And the man who laments the lack of incentive to work (where marginal deduction rates [MDR] can exceed 100% – before transport costs are taken into account) will be villified, whilst the gutter press print article about the 50% tax rate (MDR of 52%) being too high.

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