Sunday, 1 March 2015

Spotlight on a Dimmer Switch!

Somethings never change.

On Tuesday 24th of February I tuned into the BBC's Spotlight to watch what I believed to be a programme highlighting the impact of welfare reform. A few minutes into the programme I pressed the select button on my TV remote control to ensure I had actually tuned into Spotlight and not 'Benefits Street,' which is a programme designed to stereotype and demonise people in need of state benefits.

A large section of the Spotlight programme focused on benefit claimants in Derry, with particular reference made to the high numbers of people in Derry claiming a Disability Living Allowance, or as it was referred to in the programme the 'Derry Living Allowance.'

A cursory glance on the internet would have shown Spotlight that the District Super Council area of Derry and Strabane has the highest unemployment rate in the North which is something even Spotlight would agree may account for high numbers of people on benefits.

A few facts for Spotlight to consider:

In a report published in 2013 it was found that the suicide rate in Derry was 38per cent higher than anywhere else in the Western area. The report by the Men’s Health Forum Ireland (MHFI) found suicide to be a principal cause of death in Ireland amongst men aged between 15-34.

It is a known fact that there is a direct link between suicide and unemployment yet this seems to have escaped the notice of the eagle eyed Spotlight researchers, despite a number of those interviewed mentioning it. Furthermore an interview given by a friend who spoke on how people don't choose to be unemployed or poor was conveniently excluded from the programme.

A recent report from the Prince's Trust showed that unemployed young people risk becoming "socially isolated" and that half of unemployed young people "always" or "often" feel down or depressed. 36% of the young people surveyed said anxiety had stopped them from looking after their health, and 38% said it prevented them eating properly.

A contributor to the show, a young lady who also spoke recently on the BBC Nolan show articulated how her physical disability impacted upon her mental health adding she now faces daily struggles with two disabilities, and not just the health impact, but the associated stigma.

In a report into an increase in the number of people using anti-depressants doctors advised the detail of the growing number of young people being prescribed anti-depressants. The findings of the report suggest that many people still suffer the effects of the troubles but equally that we now have growing numbers of young people with their own new set of troubles.

Maybe Spotlight should have given due to consideration to the above factors when they quoted their “one in seven” (DLA) statistics and made reference to the high number of benefit claimants in Derry.

On a more positive note the programme did briefly expose the reality of welfare reform, the premeditated ambiguity surrounding the implementation of welfare reform and the hypocrisy of the real benefit scroungers, our so called politicians. It's easy to jabber on about protecting the vulnerable when you're on over 40 thousand quid a year, get huge expenses (at our expense) and have daily subsidised meals, no food banks for our politicians!

The opening salvo of the Spotlight programme stated how Derry had been the city of culture, as if the City of Culture job fairy had flown over the city and sprinkled jobs like magic dust. The much vaunted city of culture boom fizzled out in a tide of recrimination amongst those behind the gimmick as the majority of legacy projects designed to carry on the work of the year long celebration floundered before they even began.

With the City of Culture feel good factor only lasting for a short time Derry remains in need of an employment boost as to date things earmarked for the city have ended up in other places. This was witnessed with project Kelvin which ended up in Coleraine and not forgetting Stream which closed it's doors in Derry and later reappeared with government funding in Belfast and was welcomed by none other than Derry man Martin McGuinness who too signed off on project Kelvin.
First and Deputy First Minister dog Derry!

The switching of project Kelvin from Derry to Coleraine would explain why our politicians were keen to support an upgrade to the train line from Derry to Coleraine. The more cynical side of me wonders if the upgrade was a further means of filling the gaps in terms of the university places, with Magee University in Derry now set to lose over 50 courses. So much for the promised expansion!

Until we see an improvement in the infrastructure and an increase in training opportunities then we can only expect to receive little in terms of investment and employment in this the second city (Derry). At present efforts to improve the infrastructure are minimal, disjointed and suffering from any semblance of strategic planning.

Instead of spotlight casting its beam on the vulnerable and stigmatised maybe they should have challenged the politicians to stand up for Derry and not just waffle about it. Maybe they should have put the politicians on the spot by asking them to justify their positions, after all the BBC as a public funded body should have the best interests of the public at heart. Which is more than can be said for our public funded politicians who care more about themselves and and their party agendas than they do about what is right, morally or otherwise.

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