Postscript: As many people have commented in the social media, the programme broadcast by Channel 4 focused less on the 'dole cheats' themselves - raising the question of why the programme was given such a stigmatising title - than on the ways in which slack procedures at Job Centres allow claimants to 'get away with' (as the presenter Morland Sanders put it) not looking for work. Despite this slightly unexpected focus, the programme nevertheless managed to demonise benefit claimants as well as Job Centre staff (many of whom feel uneasy that the government is trying to prevent them from helping those in need). As the void blog argues, the programme also appeared to be 'laying the ground for privatisation of benefit services, with a handful of recruitment sector spivs brought in to show how much better they would be at the job'.
Christian Garland's email response to Channel 4 makes very clear why such programming is unacceptable, setting the programme in the context of the government's current drive to cut the cost of benefits paid to the poor and disabled:
Dear Channel 4,
I write to you to add my voice to the many people unhappy with the Dispatches programme Tricks of the Dole Cheats, aired at 20:00 on Monday evening (13/08/12). To start with, the salacious, eye-grabbing title, one that the Daily Mail or Express - or for that matter, The Sun, would be proud of, this was clearly aimed at generating maximum tabloid hysteria, and of course, viewing figures, for a shabby apology for 'factual' programming, which even by the (very) low standard set by Channel 4, scraped a new all-time low.
Whilst the quality of Channel 4's factual output - as for all other kinds sadly - has been in steep and serious decline for the best part of 20 years now, what is especially dubious about this 30 minute tabloid hack job, was the extremely unwelcome contribution it made to the Tory-led coalition's ongoing assault on anyone unfortunate enough to have to have dealings with the punitive benefits system, as well as the media's propagandist line in the demonisation of them.
The programme's title was also extremely misleading, since the expected 'tricks' of 'dole cheats' - seriously, was that copy and pasted from The Sun online, and slightly revised to avoid copyright breaches? - were not forthcoming at all. It would have been contemptable enough if this had been another straightforward attack on the unemployed and other claimants, but the programme still had much to offer in that regard, even though the title was completely different from the implied content.
Morland Sanders, the presenter, who in the best tradition of those who speak from where they don't know - or have any idea - took the miserable reality of claiming JSA, and the requirement that claimants record what they have 'been doing' to find employment every two weeks when signing on, as 'getting away with it'. As someone who has had that distinctly tepid pleasure in the past on two seperate occasions, I can speak from experience, and tell you that were a claimant not to undertake this (yes, largely pointless) fortnightly task, they would have their JSA frozen forthwith. To quote and counter Morland Sanders here, a JSA claimant can most certainly not '[...] write on their jobseeker's agreement, "I'm not going to apply for this job, and I'd rather stay on benefits". So, to answer Morland Sanders' speculative assertion, 'It does make me think, that if you wanted to actively avoid work and stay on benefits, you could.' No, you couldn't.
The requirement is part of the punitive workfare regime that has existed in some form or another in the UK, since 1984 - a sickly apt year. The Tory coalition has accelerated and intensified the punitive welfare-to-work regime of putting claimants under constant pressure and always shifting the burden for unemployment back onto the shoulders of the individual: social problems, societal problems, become individual failings, and a matter of 'not trying hard enough' and 'not applying yourself'. Recently of course, Grayling and Duncan-Smith have excelled themselves in trying to introduce the 'work programme' in which claimants are mandated to work unpaid or have their derisory JSA withdrawn - the kind of choice offered by the DWP being thus: you don't have one. The sick irony of all of this 'getting people back to work' is that there is none to go to.
The programme made much of the cost to the taxpayer of those working whilst claiming benefits - £226 million; but offshore tax avoidance costs in the region of £15-25 billion, so it is curious Channel 4 should choose to focus on the 0.8 % of benefit expenditure lost to fraud, and not the ongoing efforts of the super-rich and corporations to avoid paying tax in the UK, a figure which dwarfs the relatively tiny one spent on benefit fraud, and at a time when Gideon Osborne repeats the necessity of a further £18 billion of cuts to what little remains of the already inadequate social safety net. Once again, 99.2% of benefit expenditure was not fraudulent, and it is remarkable that Channel 4 should prefer to focus on those at the bottom of the social pyramid, something it has a tawdry recent history of indulging in, what others have called 'poverty porn' - Benefit Busters, The Fairy Jobmother, etc. There is, after all, only so long dinner parties can be enlivened by chatter of house prices and getting the kids into a good school, so this sort of vicarious titiliation offers something to avoid that sort of repetition; however, it does nothing at all for Channel 4's reputation.