Monthly Archives: December 2011

Hatred of housing benefit claimants

I am incensed by another example of irresponsible, crowd whipping reporting from my local rag. Archant owns most local rags in England now, and has been behind other thoughtlessness in the same group of papers about overweight campaigns (see next blog) and got a man reburgled due to describing his home in such detail and the ripeness of the opportunity at his secluded, treasure ridden abode. Mostly I find the headlines so incendiary in their mix of rustic low brow and propaganda that I rarely read it. I could give other examples from around the country, including the way that this journalism monopoliser treats its staff.

A front page headline of a multiple million pound housing benefit overpayment is designed to make those not in the welfare system angry, saying that the overpayment is not only caused by deliberate fraud but those who fail their responsibility to tell the council of changes of circumstances. Reading on – as far as I could bear – it is clearly meant to couple this large figure with all the anger the public feels about the recession and the cuts in Britain. It lists other local amenities being lost due to the cuts, as if it is housing benefit claimants’ fault, saying that the council’s announcement has come against a ‘backdrop’ of all the other suffering.

I would like to remind what that backdrop really is. It’s worldwide greed and disproportionate power and wealth, forgetting what it really is to be human. Our governments and banking systems, along with others, are the manifestation of this.

The next day, the sister paper also carried an article. It revealed that it had (mis)used the freedom of information act to find this out.

On one page, the opinion is clearly against cuts and for caring and being humane. Yet on another, we get this contradictory message. The council is quoted to say that most people on HB actually need it, but the last word of the article makes clear what the paper and journalist thinks – that our council’s deficit is due to wasted welfare.

It is actually evil to lay such problems at the feet of those too poor to be able to pay their own way in a society of ever rising costs and make them the scapegoat. Estate agents forever pushing prices up, insurance companies making legally sanctioned money through fear, large newspaper groups who buy up independents, and councils who not only unquestioningly conformed to the cuts they were given from their capital but have implemented them in a thoughtless and underhand way – these would be fairer groups to cast aspersions on.

I would also like to inform – without causing personal embarrassment or scrutiny for those concerned – that this particular council is 6-7 weeks behind with housing benefit changes of circumstances. It then freezes the money whilst it investigates, leaving many claimants in the high risk of getting evicted. I found one who actually had been, due to the severe underpayment due to the council not making a change of circs in the opposite direction. In April, HB cuts were brought in nationally and without warning to individuals that meant most claimants are now not having their full rent covered. Yet claimants are meant to declare and lose any extra money they earn.

Is it any wonder if some claimants do not declare? Honesty should never make one worse off, and neither should working.

The problem is also that in a target driven office with the fear of job loss that claims are not being handled properly and that is why overpayments occur. More staff, better treated and with less pressure would alleviate this.

People on welfare are among the very vulnerable most affected by cuts, while council chiefs earn high salaries and government ministers who have no idea about what it’s like to be on low or no income make emotive statements and making cutting – in all ways – decisions affecting these people’s lives. (I have already the response of a chief minister about this matter, most unsatisfactory).

This same council has been one of the worst I’ve lived under, failing to deal with many aspects of its role, including regularly missing bin collections – one of its most simple functions.

I wrote before about Welfare here (https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/the-truth-about-benefits) and it remains something I care about, as does our right to speak out without being silenced or punished and our right to remaining private.

This is also a call for responsible journalism who should be a voice for the people, not a right wing rag to incite anger against those who need support.

Strangely enough, this leads nicely into my post on Dickens…

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Wuthering Heights

This is a film adaptation in the manner of Michael Winterbottom’s Jude – but even more silent, stark and brutal – and crossed with a nature programme. The advert to visit Yorkshire that preceded the film seemed ironic, as rather than celebrate the Moors, Andrea Arnold has made them utterly unappealing, full of thick mud, lashing rain, poverty, cruelty and misery. There are animal cruelty scenes I found disturbing – the apparent live murder of a sheep and rabbit, and two little dogs are hung on a gate. These were unnecessary – and more to the point – involved inhumanity which seems to clash with ethics and respect for nature that so features in the film. ‘Love is a force of nature’ feels like a recycled Hollywood tagline (wasn’t that a suggestion for Titanic?) and yet love or nature don’t feel like forces here. Even the eerie obsession of Cathy and Heathcliff isn’t clear from this film.  Rather than being stylistic, the handheld camera and darkness felt like the crew didn’t know how to light properly or hold a camera. Everything about the film felt relentless. I am not a fan of the don’t speak, cut the scene abruptly school of filmmaking, the darling of arthouse cinema and snobby buffs – I am learning that what does well at Cannes is often to be avoided. Little is really expressed in those so called meaningful looks. Andrea has recast most of the dialogue and ‘Heathcliff is more meself that I am’ is not an accurate paraphrase of the famous ‘Nelly, Nelly I am Heathcliff… rocks beneath’ speech of the novel. The cast, with the exception of Joseph and the brief glimpse of Linton’s family all seem to have diminished in age – someone not yet forty could have mothered them all. The Earnshaw’s house is not that of a wealthy family, enough to have a housekeeper and for Cathy to marry Heathcliff would be degrading – and for Cathy to be considered by the Lintons as a suitable bride. Its unwashed, mud soaked walls do not match the gentlemanly clothes that Mr Earnshaw wears. The supernatural element and the calming narration of Nelly Dean are all missing from Emily Bronte’s novel, as is the more likeable (ie normal) romance of the next generation with Hareton. It’s certainly an original take on the classic, which has never appealed to me, but this film even less so, and with its headbanging, odd camera focus and necrophilia, I was glad I had seen it for free. If I have the need to Wuther in future, I’ll stick to Kate Bush’s rendition who for me has the best understanding, without the misery or the endurance needed to sit through this.

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