Skint Britain was borderline poverty porn – Hartlepool MP Mike Hill

Mike Hill, left, with Rob Cook, Deputy Ceremonial Mayor, Barry Coppinger PCC and a member of the Hartlepool Chinese Association.
Mike Hill, left, with Rob Cook, Deputy Ceremonial Mayor, Barry Coppinger PCC and a member of the Hartlepool Chinese Association.

It was a real honour to be invited by the Hartlepool Chinese Association to its New Year celebrations last Sunday at the Grand Hotel.

Like last year it was a colourful and entertaining event topped by a spectacular lion dance and equally spectacular food.

In my speech I spoke about the vibrancy and welcoming spirit of the people of Hartlepool and our communities and that such gatherings and celebrations reflected the true nature of the town.

Contrast that to the image portrayed in the Channel 4 programme ‘Skint Britain’.

The programme purports to take 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 programme aimed to portray the stark realities of the effect of Universal Credit on people’s lives.

Well I have to say if episode one is anything to go by, it wasn’t just a lost opportunity to seriously address and expose the impact Universal Credit is having on Hartlepool citizens, it was borderline poverty porn.

Not only did it create an image of Hartlepool that was damaging and unrecognisable to the people of the town, it more or less ridiculed the vulnerable people it purported to help.

The reaction of my constituents, including folk in the film, was quite rightly one of anger.

Portraying the town in the way it did was bad enough but to fuel the argument that people on benefits are somehow lazy and do not deserve help is unforgivable.

As plenty of commentators have said, there are hundreds of people in Hartlepool silently struggling with dignity to make ends meet as a result of the roll out of the system; people who have had their disability allowances unfairly taken away, people blighted by a system that is broken and leaves people not only on the breadline but destitute.

Yes, the stories of people like Dave, Terri, Tracey, Trevor and everyone else on Universal Credit need to be told, but in a way that helps them not ridicules them.

Yet the Hartlepool spirit pervades. Local groups have immediately come forward and taken an interest in healing the damage done.

I have even been approached by people wanting to make an alternative film portraying the town in its true light.

Hundreds of people donate to our food banks and in our soup kitchens to ensure nobody in our town starves.

Our people instinctively unite in times of hardship and look after each other and rally round when the good name of Hartlepool is under attack.

Their resilience and spirit is simply inspirational and I am doing my bit as the town’s MP to reciprocate that in Westminster.