Earlier this week, Channel 4 held a live debate based around their programme ‘Benefits Street’ which had been shown in the weeks leading up to it. Initially, I had refused to watch the show as I saw it as propaganda; taking the ‘worst of the worst’ and portraying them as the norm. I felt uncomfortable taking the most vulnerable in our society and portraying them in such a way. Eventually though, I must admit, I uncomfortably watched a lot of the series as it aired. I felt uncomfortable, not because of the people on the show or what they were doing, but because of the reaction in newspapers and on twitter. Suddenly, these people who were down on their luck were seen as ‘scum’ and ‘degenerates’. The hatred shown was shocking. Many cried it was people such as this who were to blame for the state of Britain today. For me, the pointing of the finger epitomised a worrying trend.
Schools, on the whole, are microcosms of society. We get it all; we see it all; we deal with it all. In my primary school, we have people from all walks of life. Most, like me, feel fed up and disillusioned with those running the country. The entire nation has been in the depths of a recession for years now and, rather than find solutions to the problems, most would rather attribute blame. I’m not just talking about politicians, though this definitely applies to them and perhaps are the prime example, but also the press, news outlets, television programmes, magazines, websites and the discussions people have on a daily basis. And although everybody has an opinion, not everybody is heard.
In this country we are encouraged to throw blame around. Increasingly if something wrong happens in this country, no matter how miniscule, we must first find the person responsible and attribute blame. In short, we are increasingly looking for scapegoats and in this time of hardship for most in society, our scapegoats are the poor and helpless. There is a very common rhetoric out there that people on benefits are workshy and benefit cheats, and they are to blame for the mess we are in. Yet, if we look at facts, this simply isn’t true. Of the £209bn spent in 2012 on benefits, only £16.9bn was spent on Housing Benefit and 90% of new claimants were in work. Practically all of this money went straight into the pockets of wealthy landlords. Benefit fraud cost us around £2bn, but £3.4bn was paid out in error and £12.3bn was left unclaimed altogether by people eligible for it. If we break those numbers down, an average fraudulent claim would give the individual an additional £59. The average amount falsely claimed by an MP in the expenses scandal was £1,858. Indeed our own Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, had to repay £7,567 in the wake of the scandal. (You can be damn sure that if somebody at the bottom of society was guilty of this, they would be incarcerated. However those at the top are let off scot-free with a repayment and an apology.) Both of these scenarios involved people manipulating the system and both were morally wrong. Yet politicians are rich and powerful, and so they they emerge relatively unscathed, and those at the bottom of the heap are not, and so they are vilified and bullied.
It saddens me that we rush to kick those who are down, race to conclusions and jump on the bandwagon before first considering the full picture. This live debate showed the issue on a large scale but in schools, and indeed wider society, we deal with it on a much smaller scale daily. Blame is thrown at teachers, for example, quite often:
- A student falls while playing; why wasn’t the yard safer?
- An argument develops between students; why wasn’t an adult there immediately?
- A child doesn’t bring home a letter or their homework; why didn’t you ensure they had it?
- A child doesn’t apply themselves in lessons and obtains poor grades; why didn’t the teacher teach that child adequately?
- A number and letter on a sheet of paper don’t match a target; why have you failed that child?
- The pension pot is rising; why can’t teachers pay more?
- Child costs are rising; why should teachers have lengthy holidays?
The culture of blame is all around us. If we sought to rectify problems and look at ways in which we can learn from what has happened, we would be in much stronger positions. If we first considered our impact on different scenarios, we may realise that three fingers are pointing to me when I point the finger of blame at you. If we put ourselves in other’s shoes, we may just be a little more humble and understanding.
I teach my kids that we should never judge anybody or any situation until we know the facts. If only the adults around them could do the same.