There is a furore over the C4 programme Benefits Street which portrays residents as foul-mouthed, thieving, drug-takers. I don’t know how this show was put together but I was there when the cameras pitched up in Liverpool 25 years ago to portray the most poverty-stricken street in Britain. The finished product bore zero resemblance to reality. I observed the whole affair at close quarters and could see the manipulation, half truths and downright lies. Both TV producers and residents colluded in a gigantic sham featuring starving kids with no shoes and adults left as dead-eyed Zombies, the product of Thatcherite Britain. It was not a conspiracy as such; the locals came up with wacky poverty ideas and the TV peeps obligingly went along with it.
I was living in Seaforth as a local reporter for the Liverpool Echo. The documentary makers had decided that a road I lived close to was the poorest in Britain. This stimulated the imagination of residents who were motivated by a) money and b) getting on the telly. I was in the Claremont pub when a group were devising strategy which included the farcical idea that some of the kids had to run around without shoes. This was lapped up of course.
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of wastrels and chancers living there. One guy started feigning deafness in what would become a successful 6 month campaign to get an industrial disability benefit. Another screwed my house after chatting to me in the pub.
However, my Thatcherite views of those years have changed . There were plenty of honest guys who just wanted an honest day’s work and yes they would hang around the pub because that’s how you got a job on a construction site. I can see now that Thatcher actually created the dependency culture. She allowed whole communities to disintegrate and be forced to live off welfare – the forgotten people. Subsequent generations have also been marked by the scars of that era when British industry was smashed apart. Just look at Germany to see whether manufacturing has a future.
Thatcher was the architect of the Knowledge Economy – a myth that in reality was no more than bloating of the financial services sector in the City Of London. And look where that has got us.