Pissed-off Toff

Benefits Britain – Apocalypse Now

in Reviews

Pissed-off Toff reviews a Channel 4 series on a social security system which now, more than ever, spells doom for Britain …

The review that follows was going to be prefaced by a short preamble on how civilisations end. But the preamble became an essay in its own right. So now I simply direct your attention to a TV series on Channel 4 entitled The Yorkshire Job Centre. And here is an account of the first three episodes in a series of six about a benefits system which might have been devised by our worst enemy to bring ruination to this country.

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Set in pre-Covid Leeds, where at the time there were 35,000 people on benefits, The Yorkshire Job Centre has a simple format, with each episode introducing us to various claimants whose progress or lack of it we follow in a series of updates.

In Episode 1, we meet the middle-aged Pamela, who comes to her interview in the Job Centre dressed like a tramp and accompanied by a screaming grandchild. It is clear that for her benefits are a way of life, that her interest in finding a job is zero. Her ‘work coach’ mildly suggests that the presence of the bawling infant is not helpful, and goes online to buy her an interview outfit, which they choose together. Pam will be a hard nut to crack, and the last we see of her is when she reluctantly attends a weekly ‘job club’ meeting at the centre.

The next ‘customer’ is the 20-year-old Kenny, who has a history of violence and assault, and meets with his ‘work coach’, a nice woman called Bernie, in a special secure area in the Job Centre. Kenny twitches as he talks. Although he claims that he “can do anything,” he has no skills of any sort and would appear to be entirely unemployable. He is also being chased by his landlord for arrears of rent. “Being skint is the worst thing you could imagine,” he reflects. It comes as a surprise when he finds a job in a recycling centre, for which he has to get up at 5am.

We now meet the 61-year-old Karen, who lives alone in a flat at the top of a tower block. Karen has Turner’s Syndrome, which means she can’t hear properly. She also has warts on her face and terrible teeth. With the Job Centre paying her travel costs, she goes to meet a potential employer out-of-town, without success. When she is turned down for another job, she is given interview coaching, after which her ‘work coach’ tells her that her “body language is good.” What the nice work coach does not say to poor Karen is that she looks like a witch from central casting, and is there really nothing she can do about her appearance? Nevertheless, she does find a job … not as an accounts clerk, which is what she was hoping for, but as a checkout assistant in a supermarket.

At the end of Episode 1, the Job Centre has therefore chalked up two surprise successes. Not so bad, you might think. But the ‘customer’ who makes the most enduring impression is the awful Pam, who has thoroughly interiorised the idea that whatever she does or doesn’t do, the State will always cater for her needs; and it seems clear that the poor ‘work coaches’ can do nothing other than gently nudge her towards the employment which she will use every trick to avoid.

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Episode 2 opens with the information that there are over five million people on benefits in Britain … a number which is terrifying enough, but which, as we watch this series in the post-Covid world, is now rather higher as a result of our Prime Minister’s decision to close down the entire country at the instigation of the idiot soothsayer Neil Ferguson.

Straight away, we see further evidence of the all-forgiving nature of the benefits system. Olivia, a mixed-race single mother with an autistic child, was a receptionist at a law firm, but left this job at her own initiative. She has now been diagnosed with ‘stress and anxiety’, as a result of which she doesn’t need to look for work for the time being. “Take some time off, love,” says the ‘work coach’. Meanwhile, she will receive full benefits, including rent and Council Tax, both paid by the State. As Olivia reflects, she is better off on benefits than when she was working. Furthermore, when she decides that she wants to set up a business making dolls, she is put on a 3-day training course, after which she is eligible for a generous grant.

Still attempting to comprehend the enormity of such largesse, we glimpse a slobbish claimant who, when asked why he was fired from his last job, replies indignantly that he “couldn’t [sic] turn up at work on time, and they thought it was not good enough.” And we see another slobbish ‘customer’ who recites the list of his ailments with well-practised fluency, clearly aware that when it comes to getting benefits, ‘disabilities’ are valuable assets, to be nurtured with care.

After this interlude, we meet Gareth, aka ‘Gaz’, a vicious-looking 17-year-old youth who has fathered a daughter with his ‘sweetheart’ but is now sofa-surfing, having split up with said sweetheart. Asked what he wants, he replies that he is “hoping to get a house.” When he fails to appear at the next interview at the Job Centre, his ‘work coach’ Bernie comments that he is “struggling to turn up to appointments,” and arranges to meet up with him in a café, where all is forgiven. “We’ll work with you for as long as it takes,” she says, explaining that they will first sort out housing for him, and then see about a job.

The next we hear of ‘Gaz’, he has been arrested for assaulting his father, the latter having accused him of being ‘a disgrace’. This incident and the subsequent night in a prison cell were not Gaz’s fault, of course. “Things can just happen to you out of the blue,” he explains. His ‘work coach’ from the so-called Social Justice Team seems to agree, and a place is now found for him in an emergency hospice until more permanent accommodation can be arranged. In the meantime, the Job Centre arranges for him to have a session with a fitness coach, to boost his self-confidence (yes: really). For this appointment he arrives one whole hour late, while his ‘work coach’ Bernie waits outside the gym. When, finally showing signs of impatience, she asks for an explanation, he replies that he “just wanted to chill.”

Of the three people on whom this episode mainly focusses, the most interesting is the 27-year-old Rose, a hippy-dippy girl with a shaven head who has just returned from eight years in Israel, where, I’d imagine, she lived on a kibbutz or a commune of sorts. “I’ve never had a job for more than two months,” she says. Now, however, she thinks she wants to train as a therapist … or perhaps as a hypnotist. 

Flush with cash from benefits, Rose is about to move out of her father’s house and into shared accommodation in the Kadampa Buddhist Centre. “This is the most money I’ve ever had,” she says. “How much do lentils cost? I mean, all you have to do is not go to the opera.” Then later: “All I’ve ever done is live with others and eat the food [they provided] and pretend to look for a job.” And not for the first time in this series, I wonder what induces people to appear on screen to such disadvantage; because it is clear that Rose is intelligent; and she cannot surely imagine that her confessions enhance her reputation.

The next time we see her at the Job Centre, she has plans to write a travel book. Anything, in short, rather than a nine-to-five job. “If I got a job, I’d be fired within the first month,” she says, “so I don’t want to take that risk.” And again: “I’m terrified of getting a job […] I look at people who have jobs, and I think: how do you do that?” And she bursts into tears. Later still, when she has been on Universal Credit for four months, she is thinking of applying for a position as a volunteer. Perhaps. “What if I get the job?” she wonders. “Then I’ll have to work!!”

At the end of this second episode, I reflect that whereas I would happily see the loathsome ‘Gaz’ flogged to within an inch of his life, I really rather feel for Rose, a lost soul who needs help as much as anyone.

* * * * *

In Episode 3 we meet the occasional walk-on character, as usual. So here are two obese white claimants, or ‘customers’, whom no sane employer would touch with a bargepole. “People don’t understand what we have to go through,” one of them moans. And here is a man from Turkey who can speak barely a word of English. Due to the fact that his wife worked briefly between 2017 and 2018, he is eligible for a £1,780 cash handout; and would he like all of the money straight away, asks the Job Centre operative, or would he like it in instalments? Barely able to believe his luck, the Turk says he’ll take it all now, please. “We try to make them feel welcome,” says the ‘work coach’ Adam, re foreign claimants.

At greater length, we meet a Czech woman called Katrina, who has three children in tow. She can’t pay her rent, but in order to be eligible for benefits she needs to pass a ‘residency test’. She fails the first time, after which she is directed to a food bank, which she leaves laden with bags of free provisions. Necessity being the mother of invention, however, she now finds work as a cleaner, which allows her to pay her rent. 

And there’s further good news, because – phew! – Katrina passes the ‘residency test’ the second time round, and now that a life at the expense of the State is guaranteed, she pockets an advance on the Universal Credit to which she is freshly entitled, and moves into a better house that is more to her liking.

But the main characters, tonight, are a couple called Freddy and his girlfriend Emily. Freddy, somewhere in his mid-twenties, is a useless but street-wise hippy with long hair who appears on-screen smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. Emily, his fat live-in girlfriend, has good skin and a certain slovenly sex-appeal. These two have between them accumulated a remarkable £28,000 in high-interest pay-day loans. 

“It happens,” says Freddy, with regard to these debts. And almost unbelievably, the fecklessness of this couple makes them eligible for financial relief in the form of further State payouts on top of their existing benefits. Freddy is nevertheless unhappy. “I want to have the money to be able to say yes,” he says. “Not no, to everything. I’m getting a little teary, now.”

And how are these two going to get the money they want? Not by working, that’s for sure! Because if plump Emily can persuade the Job Centre that she suffers from ‘rheumatoid arthritis’, that will be an extra £340 per month in benefits for her. She therefore undergoes a so-called ‘fit for work’ test … which, to her great relief, she fails. “I’m so clever,” she comments, when the desired result arrives.

And then – wheeze of all wheezes – Freddy has a brilliant idea. With his girlfriend’s ‘disability’ now officially recognised, he applies to be registered as her ‘carer’; which, if he can pull it off, will mean still more benefits on top of the existing ones. Or put another way, the State will pay Freddy to fuck Emily. 

Plus, while he waits for the result of his application to come through, he doesn’t even have to pretend to look for a job, and all existing benefits will continue to flow in. This much is made specifically clear by his ‘work coach’. “It’s coming together nicely,” Freddy announces to camera, with a broad grin.

But now the most hilarious thing happens … because just as Freddy is contemplating a lifetime of ease, his nice fat girlfriend leaves him for another man whom she has met on-line, and her departure puts him right back to square one, in terms of his benefits status. Now he will have to start all over again, including applying once more for benefits as a single parent … because of course, he did not neglect to spawn a child with another woman as a valuable insurance policy, benefits-wise, before he shacked up with plump Emily.

“I’ve got to get some work,” he says, outraged. “She’s fucked me over. We could have had a nice little bit of money.”

* * * * *

These are the first three episodes of a six-part series which unintentionally illustrates the collapse of our country … a collapse in almost every area you can think of: cultural, moral, spiritual, financial. Because as a society we are doomed. Of this, there can be no doubt. And this, I now realise, is the true topic of my blog.

The Yorkshire Job Centre is broadcast on Channel 4 at 9pm on Mondays.

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