Month: February 2014

The Big Benefits Row


I’m always cutting edge and up to date, never several days behind.  No no no.

I recorded The Big Benefits Row the other night because I’d had a bad day.  A well informed individual from the local area was using Facebook to inform everyone that Foodbanks were just a way for “trendy, dogooder, left wing, anti government Christians” to “feel good about themselves”.  Having given real examples of real lives from the food drop in and St George’s Crypt, it was clearly going around in circles as “all money for the homeless is spent on drugs and booze”. I did not really fancy The Big Benefits Row:  The clue is in the title,  more of the same.

If I’m honest, I turned it off after Edwina Currie.  I grew tired of Edwina Currie and Katie Hopkins’ plum accents shouting down the regional accents of the “poor people” and refusing to let them speak.  It was exhausting to watch.  Like watching a pack of dogs tearing a puppy to pieces in a dingy cellar somewhere in the East End of London as a sweaty man takes screwed up five pound notes from a baying crowd whilst going on about the savings he’ll now make on Winalot.  So I turned it off.

Growth and Inequality

Last night I watched QI and it was all about happiness.  The wonderful thing about QI is that every 30 seconds you have your perceptions challenged.  You look at the TV and say “Eh, what, really“?

What made me do the double take last night?  Stephen Fry said that there is a 10% wider gap between the rich and the poor since John Major’s government.  In the long history of humanity, that is a staggeringly small time frame – it is within my lifetime!  It was so startling that it made me start looking things up.  Surely there can’t be such a gap between the have’s and the havenots.  As you can see in the video above, what we perceive to be the distribution of wealth in the UK is very different to the reality.

We live in a world of finite resources and wealth is a relative term.  For there to be “rich”, there need to be “poor” because wealth is a relative thing.  If we all win the lottery tonight, bread will be sold at £10.50 a loaf in the morning.  In my wallet I have a meaningless piece of paper (financially): a million Zimbabwean Dollars, worth less than a single penny.  In reality it is one of the most meaningful pieces of paper I have because it illustrates that “wealth” is only “wealth” if it is relative to “poverty”.

There has been a lot of research into the current discrepancies between public perception about benefits and the reality.  Perceptions are much more powerful than facts as people tend to view anecdote and narrative highly if it is told to them by people they trust.  It came as a great surprise to the last person who told me about “all the scroungers claiming benefits” when I pointed out that he was the only person in the room receiving any benefits.  He clearly didn’t see himself as being a benefits claimant.

‘Our data poses real challenges for policymakers. How can you develop good policy when public perceptions can be so out of kilter with the evidence? …First, politicians need to be better at talking about the real state of affairs of the country, rather than spinning the numbers. Secondly, the media has to try and genuinely illuminate issues, rather than use statistics to sensationalise. – Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society