Posts Tagged ‘Tom Mayhew’

Tom Mayhew Skewering the Lies about Benefit Claimants with Laughter

March 18, 2021

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.

Working Class Comedian on Radio Next Week Sending Up Benefits System

February 26, 2021

This could be really good. According to next week’s Radio Times for 27th February – 5th March 2021, Radio 4 begins a new series at 11.00 pm Wednesday night with the comedian Tom Mayhew, in which he recounts his own experience of the benefits system. It’s called Tom Mayhew Is Benefit Scum, which accurately sums up the Tory attitude towards the unemployed, long-term sick, disabled and indeed anyone claiming benefits. The blurb for the programme on page 137 of the Radio Times runs

The working-class comedian presents and autobiographical journey through the benefits system in a stand-up series that takes a wry look at prejudices towards benefits claimants and turns those assumptions on their heads.

The additional piece about it on the opposite page, 136, gives this information

There’s an endearing ruefulness about stand-up comedian Tom Mayhew. He seems to understand that the way to get comic mileage out of the less than advantageous hand life has dealt him is not to get too angry about it. This show, which started life on the Edinburgh Fringe, is based on his experience of the benefits system, and although it wasn’t available at the time of going to press, we can possibly glean things from routines he’s put up online. I like his line about how – jobless in 2010 – he found his Pokemon cards were worth more than his A-level certificate.

Assuming this programme does what the Radio Times claims it does, it could be very, very good. The treatment of people claiming benefits in this country is absolutely scandalous, thanks to the Tories and New Labour, and well deserves to be sent up. It looks like its going to be a gentle mocking, rather than the vicious attack the murderous system and the unindicted crims behind it deserve. It’ll be interesting to see what the press makes of it. They’ll either ignore it, or else rant about how the Beeb is glamorising welfare dependency and so should be privatised.

But programmes like this demonstrate the opposite. They’re why we need proper public service broadcasting, as we won’t get this kind of material from Murdoch.