Telling the full story of benefit changes

Mainstream media has shown very little interest in covering the coming changes to benefits and the impact that this will have. There is an occasional segment on TV news and a few more newspaper articles but even after two years of campaigning few people realise what is actually happening. The common reaction is disbelief and accusations of scaremongering and exaggeration.

My idea is to create an hour long documentary film using all the professional tricks to make it compelling and informative so that it conveys the full impact of the changes hitting people who live on benefits, whether unemployed, disabled or low-income. It would use personal stories, graphics, commentary, interviews and music to tell the story. The film does not have to convey a political message, only the reality of the changes. Any positive changes that can be found should be included too. I believe that even if made as unbiased as possible the film will be devastating in its message.

To get mainstream appeal the film could be narrated by and feature interviews with celebrities, with well-known paralympians potentially being the best choice but others too.

While a spot on television would be the ideal, these days a film on YouTube can get millions of views – potentially more than would see on TV. An online campaign using very short clips and hashtags could attract viewers. To raise the chances of it being seen on TV a ten minute version could be made using materials from the full version and sent to TV stations everywhere.

I’ve noted some of the steps that I think will be required. They’re not necessarily in any particular order.

  • Find a suitable name and some introductory branding
  • Create a website for the film
  • Crowdsource a list of all benefit cuts, eligibility reductions, care and service cuts and the impact of all this.
  • Start an awareness campaign on social media to get people involved.
  • Ask people to submit short clips through Vine and YouTube telling their stories and what they expect to happen. Clips can be recorded with smartphones or webcams. Gather these clips under a hashtag on twitter.
  • Raise funds through donations  for travelling to record interviews.
  • Interested parties meet to discuss content. Further meetings where appropriate in later steps.
  • Record interviews with celebs.
  • Follow up personal stories for better recordings.
  • Create graphics and animations to explain the changes.
  • Edit together a draft version of the film.
  • Record narration of the changes.
  • Create transcripts and subtitles.
  • Meet up physically and make a final version of the film.

This is all very much at the ideas stage, please comment with your views, suggestions, offers of help etc. Lets make this happen!

Moving house

I’m living on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and because of that I receive Housing Benefit to pay the rent. Now my wife and I are being forced to move house to keep costs down. According to the rules, as a couple with no dependant children, my wife and I are only entitled to a single bedroom, and therefore they will only pay a maximum of £103.56 per week. (£448.76 per calendar month) We currently live in a two bedroom flat which costs us £121.15 per week (£525 pcm) so there is something of a shortfall there and we are struggling to pay the rent. Additional problems with our housing benefit are making things even harder. (My wife is registered with seven different employment agencies ranging from teaching to cleaning but still barely gets two days work per week, and the council can’t cope with variable income from multiple sources.) We went to look at a place earlier today. It’s too small, has no storage, smells of damp, and is next to a noisy main road and a noisy pub, but we will probably have to take it.

So why shouldn’t we have to move house? Well to start with, we can’t afford it. I’m sick and claiming benefits and my wife has so little temp work that she is claiming Job Seekers Allowance this week. Where am I going to come up with agency fees of £396? On top of that, we have to cover the costs of a months rent and a deposit in advance, at least until we get our deposit back from our current home, so that’s another £1,000, plus find money to purchase a fridge, a washing machine and a wardrobe, because our current ones came with the flat and the new place doesn’t have them. That’s at least another £200 even if everything is second hand. We’re a month behind with our rent, how the hell are we supposed to find £1,600? We can’t. We’re utterly reliant on other people giving us money to even contemplate moving at all. And if we don’t move then we still have to magically find £75 per month from nowhere, even before we allow for the catastrophe that is our housing benefit calculations.

Then, there is my care and support. On the rare occasions when my wife does have work, I’m on my own. On a bad day, which is a lot of them right now, I can’t even get out of bed. I’m on my own for getting food. Fortunately, I live next door to my sister, and five minutes from my parents. I currently rely on my sister to help me nearly every day. When I had a hypo and ended up in a heap on the floor, minutes away from blacking out if I didn’t get help, I was able to call for my sister to rescue me. Once I have moved house, I will be at least ten minutes, probably fifteen, away from help from my mother or my sister. If I collapse in a heap, and somehow manage to get to a phone, I will be more likely to call an ambulance than family. How much does does it cost to send out an ambulance? Who will bring me food and drink and help me walk to the bathroom in future? If my family can’t easily provide that help, I might be asking the council to provide care in future. How much does that cost?

We already moved from a very large flat into a slightly poky two bedroom flat, and threw out loads of stuff during that move. Now we have to throw out pretty much all of the rest of our possessions to fit in a one bedroom flat. Admittedly we do use the second bedroom largely for storage and drying washing, but it is basically space that we need and use. The new place has no room to set up our computer table either, so if my wife does get a teaching job, she has nowhere to prepare or mark school work. When she gets occasional work marking exams, she will barely have room to do it. If I recover enough to work from home, I won’t have any space to do it in. In all likelihood, this will prevent me from going back to work, and will not allow me to slowly return to activity. I basically have to recover enough to work from my office again before I can go back to work. Without building up slowly, recovery is less likely. Even moving house is going to set my health back weeks.

All this ranting isn’t going to change anything, of course. The bureaucracy says move, and so move we must. Future problems be damned.