Hartlepool MP Mike Hill has defended the town in wake of the latest TV documentary portraying the impact of Universal Credit, saying that it ‘makes a mockery of the people it purports to help.’
The Labour MP has reacted to the new Channel 4 show Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits, which first aired on Wednesday night.
The three-part series takes a look at how people in the town have been affected by the Government’s new Universal Credit system, which replaces six other benefits with a single monthly payment for people out of work or on a low income.
Hartlepool was one of the pilot areas for the roll-out of the new system and the new show aims to portray the stark realities of Universal Credit on peoples’ lives.
After seeing the first episode of the show, Mr Hill said: “In recent years, my constituency has appeared numerous times on national television and in the national press in an unfavourable light.
“Programmes and documentaries, though I use the term very loosely, such as Benefits Street and Wednesday’s Skint Britain are commonplace filming in Hartlepool.
“These documentaries claim to show the plight of working-class people in the modern day, but in actual fact are used to fuel the arguments that people on benefits are lazy and do not deserve help.
“Rather than showing the damage done to the lives of ordinary people struggling with a system set against them, these programmes ridicule vulnerable people and make a mockery of the people they purport to help.
“Last night’s Channel 4 programme dealt with the subject better than any to date, though still in a way that portrays people in receipt of benefits like animals in a zoo.
“I hope that people are beginning to understand the difficulty, the stigma and the climate of fear around the Universal Credit and PIP system.”
Defending the town against negative portrayals, Mr Hill said: “Hartlepool is good place to live.
“The people are on average much kinder, friendlier and down to Earth than you can find anywhere else in Britain.
“Local groups have been taking an interest in healing the damage done to our town.
“Hundreds of people donate to our food banks and volunteer in our soup kitchens to ensure that nobody in this town starves.
“None of these areas are shown in the TV clips of Hartlepool that are being aired on television.”
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But Mr Hill did day that despite having ‘shades of poverty porn’ it was important that the stories showing the plight of people on Universal Credit were highlighted.
He continued: “There are shades of poverty porn in the show, but these are stories that need to be told.
“You look at these stories and they are horrendous, but they are not untypical of people on Universal Credit in Hartlepool.
“But it’s the way the programme portrays the stories of the lives that has a hint of poverty porn.”
Speaking on what he hopes the programme will achieve, Mr Hill said he will be continuing to lobby the Government and speak to the Secretary of State to rethink the implementation of the benefit system.
He said: “I have been lobbying the government of the need to slow down the implementation of Universal Credit and to rethink the application for months on end now, since it was introduced as a pilot scheme in Hartlepool.
“I am constantly reminding the Government of the issues that arise out of the transfer to the Universal Credit and signs are that the Government is beginning to listen because the roll out across the rest of the UK has dramatically slowed.
“Hopefully one of the lessons learnt from the programme will be the realisation that people have been hit hard by Universal Credit, people are suffering, being pushed in to poverty and their health is being affected unnecessarily.
“I hope the lesson from the programme will be that the Government completely rethink its strategy and the implementation of Universal Credit.
““I will seek to speak to the Secretary of State to make sure that the issues that arise from the three-part documentary are well and truly taken into consideration.”
Mr Hill added: “It’s certainly true that times are tough, crime is high and our people are struggling.
“We need a huge change in the way we talk about benefits.
“These people aren’t scroungers, they’re often hard working people or vulnerable people who need support.”