Tom Mayhew Skewering the Lies about Benefit Claimants with Laughter

Okay, I finally stayed up last night to listen to Radio 4’s Tom Mayhew Is Benefits Scum. I blogged about this programme a little while ago when I first read about it in the Radio Times. I said that it looked like it was worth listening to, as it seemed that it would tell the truth about what it’s really like to live on benefits. This is as opposed to the various ‘poverty-porn’ documentaries like Benefits Street, that seek to portray everyone on welfare as a scrounger. Unfortunately, it’s on at 11.00 pm on Wednesday evenings, which is a bit past my usual bedtime. But last night I actually managed to stay up and listen to it.

It’s not long, only a quarter of an hour in length, and mixes staged recreations of meetings with Jobcentre staff and benefits advisors, and stand-up, observational comedy based on Mayhew’s own experience of the benefits system. He also had a guest performer, Francesca Inez, a disabled woman, who gave her own perspective on how unfair and humiliating the system’s treatment of the disabled is.

It started out in the Jobcentre, where Mayhew was being asked by the clerk if he had really been spending 35 hours a week looking for work. Had he gone for that job as a miner as he should have done? Going out, he found his friend Francesca lying on the floor. She had gone through the process of seeing what would be the ideal job for her, and told it was ballet dancer. She had fallen over trying to practise. Mayhew commiserated with her, telling her that the machine had told him his ideal jobs were footballer, boxer and the Queen’s butler.

This sketch led into Inez herself talking about the grotesque injustice of the benefits system. She said people ask her what should be the proper relationship between government agencies and the disabled over benefits. She said it should be a partnership between the government and the claimant’s doctor. Unfortunately, this had been scrapped by New Labour, who had decided that a sizable number of claims for disability benefit were fraudulent, and so had introduced the Work Capability Test. In fact, the proportion of fraudulent claims was 0.05 per cent, so it was in fact easier for Mayhew to get a job as a footballer than to commit benefit fraud. She asked who would seriously want to be unable to go out on their own, to go to the toilet on their or prepare their own food, all for the sake of £100 a week. She was also massively unimpressed by the clerks the Department for Work and Pensions send round to make sure that claimants really are disabled. ‘Oh, I’m just here to see if you’re still wobbly’, she imitated one saying. He reply was ‘Well, I’ll give you a wet shave, and then you tell me.’

Mayhew also attacked the sanctions system. He thought you were only sanctioned if you deliberately tried to mislead or play the system. But no! He found himself sanctioned for eight weeks simply because he’d sent the wrong form in. But he’d been told that it would take eight weeks for his case to be reviewed. How strange, then, that he had his benefits restored after only four after he’d written to him MP. He then gave a shout-out to David Gauke, a Tory, saying how weird it was that a Tory MP should actually help someone on benefit.

He argued that it was wrong to call welfare payments ‘benefits’. Benefits sounds like something extra on top of one’s wages. Instead it should be called ‘Survival Money’, because you needed it to survive. This would make it difficult to have people thrown off it as well. Depriving someone of benefits sounds much better than removing their survival money. And as for sanctions, how does being hungry make someone better at finding work?

He also joked about the massive lack of self-esteem people on benefits have. He told one story of how he’d been accosted by a man while walking back from the Jobcentre. The man had told him that he should carry himself with a bit more confidence, head held high, because if he’d been a mugger, Mayhew would have been an easy target. It was, Mayhew jested, a Virtual mugging in which he’d been robbed of his self-respect. He then told another one about a mugger marching him to a cash machine, telling him he was going to leave him with nothing. ‘How kind of him to clear my overdraft!’

More seriously, Mayhew told a chilling anecdote which showed how easy it is for desperate, starving young men to be reduced to selling their bodies for sex. He’d met someone at a gathering, and they promised to get in touch with each other again via email. A few months later he got one from this man. Mayhew replied to him, saying he was in a bad patch financially, and asked him for £50. He told him he’d be able to pay him back in two month’s time. The man replied that he couldn’t give him any money, but he would pay him £200 to have sex with him. Mayhew joked that he didn’t, as he wouldn’t do anything like that for less than £350. But for a moment he was tempted. Poverty has often forced desperate women into prostitution, but this story showed it could also happen to men.

I had a great, appreciative comment by Mayhew to my original blog piece about his programme. He asked me if I could do something to further publicise his programme, because he’d been going through the papers and hadn’t found any reviews of it. Listening to his programme, it was easy to understand why: he was too sharp, and told the truth.

Right-wing rags like the Heil, the Scum and the Depress sell copies by spreading moral panic about benefit claimants. They actively paint them as scroungers and malingerers, as does right-wing internet radio host Alex Belfield. Although rather more polite, the same attitude also pervades the Torygraph and the Times. These papers very definitely do not want their Thatcherite ideals contradicted by people, who’ve been at the sharp end of the system, showing their readers they’re perfectly decent, honest people and telling them how dysfunctional, humiliating and malign the system really is.

And unfortunately I don’t see the supposedly left-wing press being much better. The Mirror, the Graun and the Absurder have all struck me as being Blairite New Labour, who wholeheartedly embraced Thatcher’s contempt and persecution of the unemployed, the sick and the disabled. The Graun has many times urged people to vote Lib Dem in recent elections, so again, these papers won’t want their readers disabused of some of their received notions.

Added to this is the current campaign by the Tories and their lapdog press to destroy the Beeb. This is partly because the Tories depend for their propaganda on the favour of Rupert Murdoch and his papers, who hates the Beeb as an obstacle to his domination of the global media. They also hate the idea of a state TV broadcaster as part of their opposition to any kind of state intervention, as well as the idea of an impartial, public service broadcaster. Hence the attempt to set up various rivals to the Beeb by the Times.

As a result, the papers have been running stories about how the BBC is too left-wing and too ‘woke’. Belfield put up a video a day or two ago rejoicing over the cancellation of Nish Kumar’s The Mash Report. Director-General Tim Davie had supposedly cancelled it because it was too biased towards the left. Belfield went further, and claimed that the real reason it was axed was because it wasn’t funny and was helmed by a ‘box-ticker’ – his term for a person of colour or other minority, who’s been given a job because of their identity rather than talent. Kumar’s Asian, so Belfield’s comment looks just a tad racist to me. Belfield claimed that cancelling Kumar’s show wouldn’t make any difference, as the Beeb as a whole is too left-wing and needs to be privatised.

It’s obvious from this that the right-wing media, then, aren’t going to give a good review to an explicitly left-wing comedy show. I also think that class is also an issue here. New Labour, it has been pointed out, was liberal but not socialist. Blair had turned his back on the working class, and instead New Labour concentrated on trying to recruit the middle classes. The left-wing elements of New Labour ideology was a concern with combating racism and other forms of prejudice, such as against gays, and promoting feminism and better opportunities for women. I think defending and promoting the disabled is in there, so long as they are properly respectable and not benefit scroungers. Mayhew is working class, and so isn’t of interest according to New Labour ideology.

All of which means that, unfortunately, the press isn’t prepared to give a hearing to something like this. Which is a pity, as it’s very good. Mayhew tells his stories and his jokes in a normal, conversational tone. He doesn’t harangue or shout for effect, as many comedians do. And he’s actually very witty. To simulate a studio audience, the show used canned laughter because it was impossible to have a live audience due to the Coronavirus. Mayhew made a couple of jokes about how the imaginary audience hadn’t paid for their tickets. He then told how, after one gig, he’d been accosted by an unhappy audience member. Why didn’t he get a proper job instead of standing there complaining, asked the man. To which he replied, ‘Have you seen my show?’ He then commented that at least he was a Tory who had paid for his ticket. He also made jokes about other people, being paid to do nothing all day. Like MPs.

It’s a pity the shows on so late on a weekday night, as it’s a funny, necessary antidote to the constant propaganda being pumped out about benefit claimants being scroungers. I don’t know anything about Francesca Inez, but from what I heard she deserves a place with the other disabled comedians, who have appeared on TV. At the very least, she deserves an endorsement from DPAC because of the way her comedy tries to bring their concerns to public attention. The show also demonstrates very clearly why we need a public service broadcaster, as it’s only a broadcaster like the Beeb that would take a chance on a show like it.

I think it’s only a four part series, and concludes next week. If this sounds like the kind of thing that tickles your funny bone and you also agree with its message, then please tune in.

I hope this is the start of a great career for Tom Mayhew, and that the show later gets repeated in an earlier slot when hopefully more people can hear it.

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9 Responses to “Tom Mayhew Skewering the Lies about Benefit Claimants with Laughter”

  1. trev Says:

    Yep, he needs the Friday teatime and Saturday lunchtime slot. I was once required to use some weird job match profile software, whilst attending some mandatory jobclub/employability course years ago, to see what sort of work I was best suited to, and when finished answering all the questions it came up with the results; Horse Groom and Canal Boatman! Victorian occupations of which I had absolutely neither experience nor knowledge. It’s hard to imagine just how it could come up with such random results. I remember the person in charge said I must have been very rigid with the answers I gave, e.g. “Do you enjoy working with other people?” Answer = No, “Do you enjoy operating machinery?” No, “Do you like working indoors?” , No, etc. etc. Total nonsense.

  2. jeffery davies Says:

    Oh dear those very highly trained Hcp who lie just to stop you having whots rightly yours Tony Blair Gordon brown should be brought before the Haig with this lot for crimes against humanity

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  3. Tom Mayhew Skewering the Lies about Benefit Claimants with Laughter | sdbast Says:

    […] Tom Mayhew Skewering the Lies about Benefit Claimants with Laughter […]

  4. Brian Burden Says:

    Thanks for alerting people to this series. I parted company with Radio 4 at the time of the first Gulf War, when some ambitious tosser at the Beeb commandeered the FM channel for a non-stop pundits & propaganda boreathon calling itself Gulf FM. I went out and rented a telly, and have rarely listened to the radio since, though my wife remains a loyal devotee of Radio 3. Radio 4 FM was re-instated after the war, but Gulf FM did for me!

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks, Brian. I don’t remember Gulf FM, but it doesn’t surprise me. It sounds like it was trying to copy CNN and the rolling news it pioneered. As for the First Gulf War, that was all a lie as well. I’ve read somewhere that before Hussein invaded, he’d asked George Bush senior if America would object. Bush gave him the go-ahead, and then ranted about this threat to global freedom when it happened. I remember the anti-war protesters chanting ‘Gosh, no, we won’t go. We won’t die for Texaco.’ It’s a good slogan, as oil’s been behind all the imperialist wars since then.

  5. Julian Says:

    The bullying and mistreatment, and indeed murder of the poor/disabled, as your brother (voxpolitical.com for those who don’t know) has chronicled, makes my blood boil. I want to live in a fair society where we help those in need; I don’t want my taxes paying for DWP or outsourced Gestapo.

    There will be a lot more people on UC during the post-pandemic and I hope this opens some eyes to the monstrosity of the system.

    • trev Says:

      @ Julian
      And the worse thing is that the system is purposely designed to be monstrous, courtesy of IDS, Lord Freud, David Cameron, George Osborne et al, and also thanks to Ed Miliband for abstaining from voting against the Welfare Reform Bill. Labour are now saying they will scrap Universal Credit and (at last) are in the process of trying to design an alternative, though Starmer is not in favour of Basic Income and has little chance of getting elected. Personally my only hope is to survive on Benefits long enough to get my State Pension, if I live that long.

  6. david bailey Says:

    There is a resentment from many ‘working class’ people who are in employment toward benefit claimants who – by various factors – have a higher income than them. This is because wages are too low not state handouts being too high. Not the narrative that is promoted with any real honesty by any party. It’s not racist to suggest that there is box ticking at many organisations ( BBC, NHS ) it’s wrong and discriminatory. That’s why they all have employed ‘diversity tsars’. Best person for the job regardless of orientation should be the rule. The Mash Report was as funny as root canal treatment. You’re fibbing if you say different. You can’t really have a left wing woke comedy show because you are bound to offend someone so that only left him with weak jokes about Trump and Boris – subjects done to death by far greater talents.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for the comments, David Bailey. I agree with you that many working class people do resentment benefit claimants because some probably do have higher incomes, and that the problem really is that wages are too low. And you’re right about organisations hiring people to fill diversity quotas. As for the Mash Report, I honestly never watched it, so I don’t know whether it was funny or not. But I take your point about ‘woke’ comedy offending too many people to be popular, or permissible. Frankie Boyle made a similar comment about ‘Have I Got News For You’ and compared it to a Romanian show where the politicos supposedly lampooned by the comedian actually seemed to have a very cosy relationship with him. Just as HIGNFY has the politicians they lampoon on and has very tight limits about what issues it will actually cover.

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