Skint: observational documentary or media manipulation?

The latest Channel 4 series, Skint, has divided public opinion. Is it a fair representation of the long-term unemployed?

There’s been a lot of controversy around the latest Channel 4 series, Skint, which follows a family that live on Westcliff estate in Scunthorpe.

The series protagonist, Dean, was made redundant from his job at the steelworks and has been ‘on the social’ for a year. He lives with his wife Claire and 7 step children and children.

Skint in Scunthorpe

The series focuses on the lives of a group of people who are either in long-term unemployment, have never worked, or are growing up without any expectation of working. In case you haven’t seen it yet, it’s on Channel 4 every Monday at 9pm.

The first episode of Skint pulled in over three million viewers and it has divided public opinion.

Was it a compelling and realistic portrayal of living in long-term unemployment or another scripted reality show with nothing more to offer than narrow minded stereotypes?

Long-term unemployment in the UK

Much like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, C4 is known for it’s tongue in cheek documentaries. A lot of people tweeting and commenting about the show found it to be compelling, with larger than life characters and exaggerated scripts – another reality TV show masquerading as a fly-on-the-wall documentary. So should we be taking it seriously?

Channel 4 states:

Told with energy, humour and boldness, this series offers an insight into their lives: highlighting social issues such as youth unemployment, crime, welfare dependency, truancy and addiction; but with the characters also revealing their ingenuity, resilience, community support and love and pride of family. Skint gets behind the headlines as people, often maligned for their lifestyle, offer their own story and show the real impact of worklessness – both today and over generations.

With this statement in mind, it suggests that Skint is in fact supposed to be an insightful documentary about people in long-term unemployment and dependent on benefits to get by. Which begs the question; is this a fair representation of the people that live on the estate? Or is it a misrepresentation of the long-term unemployed in the UK?

Culture of “worklessness?”

Many have accused Channel 4 of demonising the poor and perpetuating lazy representations of people on benefits as “scroungers”.

With Universal Credit getting rolled out and millions of families being hit hard with cuts – programmes like Skint are seen by many as unhelpful and insulting to the millions of families who work hard and the individuals receiving job seekers allowance who are desperately trying to find work.

The programme doesn’t show the families who are two weeks away from homelessness because of rising rent and unaffordable housing, or the unemployed dad who walks miles every day just so he can feed his family, or the family of Nick Barker who have to survive on their own after he took his own life because his disability benefit was being cut.

These are the real survival stories of the recession – and we think it’s their voice that should be heard.

To put things into perspective, the latest DWP benefit fraud and error figures show that 0.7% of benefits are overpaid due to fraud, 0.9% due to claimant error and 0.4% due to official error.

As well as this, only 8% of out-of-work claimants have three or more children. And less than 1% of households have had two generations out of work. These figures reveal that there is no evidence for a “culture of worklessness” as is often portrayed in the media.

In our view, Skint is quickly proving itself to be sensationalist TV at its worst; created to bump up viewing figures and create headlines that perpetuate the myth that everyone on benefits are “scroungers” and don’t deserve to be helped.

What did you think about Skint?

Comment below or join in the discussion on Facebook.

Source: Welfare Britain Facts and Myths

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  1. I loved it. It shows the feckless layabouts in their true light and I am very glad I left the UK.

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