Is there anything to be said for being "Skint"? Although George Orwell once wrote: "Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry." A new 'documentary' currently debuting on British television might prove otherwise.
"Skint" is popular British slang for the state of being penniless or broke, apparently And it's also the name of Channel 4's latest documentary.
Although it would be remarkably lazy for it to be described as a real-life Shameless, there's really no getting away from the parallels with hit Channel 4 show.
Taking a look at "real life," Skint is a three-art documentary series centred around the lives of unemployed steelworker Dean, his wife Claire & their seven children on the Westcliff Estate in Scunthorpe, and Connor who had been excluded from seven different schools.
The programme-makers promised to tell 'provocative and revealing stories', but this is only half-right.
Why only show the drinkers, the smokers, the shoplifters, the prostitutes if you want a balanced view on benefit Britain? Where are the filmmakers and the commissioners showing the true impact of austerity leveraged on the British people?
You could argue the Skint is inherently flawed, mis-representing the lives of Britain's poor. You could argue the documentary makers were playing a pre-ordained game of poverty bingo with clichéd images of life on British estates, with helmet-free kids riding motorbikes across gardens, antagonising police and the recurring motif of ruined mattresses slung on the streets; and you could argue that it was a hugely manipulative perspective on a handful of damaged personalities acting up for the novelty of the camera lens angled in their direction.
But I'd rather not take issue with the format, practice and policy of the documentarians. As a North Lincolnshire lad (growing up just outside Scunny), a lifelong Scunthorpe United fan and with a few happy years working for the Scunthorpe Telegraph under my belt - I thought it was my duty to stand up for Scunthorpe: The Industrial Garden Town Of The North.
Three things you always wanted to know about Scunthorpe, but were afraid to ask:
1. Scunthorpe is known for its enormous steelworks, an industrial cathedral like no other. The town is built on the steel industry, thanks to the natural deposits of ore and minerals, and still has one of the largest rolling mills in Europe
2. Scunthorpe's football team The Iron has a proud history of developing young players and has helped produce three England captains. Kevin Keegan, Ray Clemence and... Ian Botham have all turned out for Scunthorpe United in the past. (Ian Botham turned out for Scunthorpe United in the early 1980s and made 11 appearances)
3. The legendary Radio 1 DJ John Peel cited Scunthorpe's The Baths Hall venue as his favourite. The venue has been redeveloped and recently played host to Al Murray, Bill Bailey and other big names
Aside from the pub quiz trivia, Scunthorpe is a town that has - for reasons often based on its slightly comedic name - always been the butt of music-hall jokes. Unfairly so because the town boasts some of the friendliest people you will meet, a unique history, has an open tradition of welcoming in people from around the world and although it is facing huge challenges in 2013 these are by no means unique.
There are global problems with shifts in manufacturing patterns, national issues from the inexorable spread of chain stores that do nothing for the local community (see the enormous Tesco hypermarket on the edge of the town) allied with local problems that towns around the UK have to face.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers visiting Scunthorpe wasted a wonderful opportunity to shed light onto a world we don't often see on television and examine some of the reasons behind this. Instead they choose to reinforce some highly damaging opinions held about Britain's poor and unemployed people.
Many people joined a conversation across social networks after this broadcast, following Skint's editorial direction and blaming people, humiliating the characters on screen and using vengeful language and only adding to a toxic dialogue on the UK's and Scunthorpe's poor.
Scunthorpe is not a town for everyone. As the voice-over of Skint said, it's a town built on grit and hard-work and as the its motto says: "The Heavens Reflect Our Labours". You get out of life what you put into it.
It's fair to say the producers could've put more into Skint:
- A little more balance; being braver with the people, problems and pathos presented on screen
- And more could've been done to look at the story behind the story, examining the issues why people are in the situation they are in, and also pointing towards solutions to making their world a better place
Let's look for less indignation and more inspiration.