Channel 4 had a programme about the sanctions regime last night which I wasn't able to watch. I'd intended to catch up on it today, but decided not to bother. When the producers seek an opinion from the odious Tory front group The Taxpayers' Alliance you know it's not an impartial programme, and posts on Twitter suggest it followed the government line.
The need for truth was highlighted in an extraordinary way in a Twitter exchange this morning. Kevin Maguire, the Mirror journalist, tweeted: "Imagine being late for work one day and the boss docks your pay for a month. That's how benefits sanctions work." Someone replied that he had been 7 minutes late for an appointment and was sanctioned for 3 months. In came the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer. She asked, politely enough, whether he'd been late before and if he'd been given a warning before. Someone else waded in to point out that there are no warnings in the system and that sanctions are automatic. Back came the snappy response from Brewer: "not true". She was asked how she knew that, told politely she was wrong and the point about no warnings was repeated.
Ms Hartley-Brewer obviously doesn't like to be contradicted. She snarled back: "have you ever tried talking to people who work in the benefits office AND people who've been sanctioned. It helps." (She was obviously too cross to pay attention to punctuation.) The respondent said that she had worked in the system and would like to explain it to her, politely. But it was too late. Others waded in, one with a string of obscenities which played into Brewer's hands; she retweeted it. The polite respondent left the fray and it descended into childish name-calling. That Brewer was wrong in her original statement was never addressed, and those who were angry and feel themselves provoked were made to look like the baddies.
And that's the trouble. It's usually impossible to contact a journalist directly, and that's understandable. But it reinforces the power relationship. She has a platform. Whether she is telling the truth about her conversations we can't know. It seems unlikely, given that she doesn't know what she's talking about. But like everyone on the right she can ignore all the evidence and repeat government lies. If she has read the recent reports by various churches she has discounted them. If she followed the evidence given in the Work & Pensions Select Committee enquiry, she has discounted it. She prefers to believe IDS, McVey et al because to do otherwise would be to shake her faith in Conservative politics.
There are lots of links I could post, but I'll stick to just one, which is very relevant here, although it's mainly about Universal Credit. Helen Lewis wrote this excellent piece in the New Statesman last week.
If you haven't yet read Owen Jones' latest book, The Establishment, you really should. (A4e gets coverage in a section on outsourcing.) We knew the gist of Jones' argument; but he provides a wealth of facts and figures and pulls the threads together to present a frightening picture. His concluding chapter contains a hopeful picture of what needs to happen. But it won't, and that is depressing.