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Sue Marsh on the Big Benefits Row

Last month, Sue Marsh, a journalist and disability campaigner who suffers from Crohn’s disease, wrote about her experience of being asked on the Channel 5 show, ‘The Big Benefits Row: Live’.

Mrs Marsh was initially asked to be on the panel of the show, which would debate and discuss welfare changes. However, leading up to the show, Mrs Marsh stated that she had a “sneaking feeling she was being downgraded”.

Mrs Marsh goes on to explain how during her experience of working in media for several years, there have been many times when she has been ‘bumped’ from shows or not been able to publish her stories on welfare, as producers have not deemed it an important enough issue:

“Bumped for Egypt. Bumped for Syria. Bumped for chickens in cat outfits. (That last one’s not even sarcasm!?!) Repeatedly I hear in a loop ‘But welfare isn’t a story’”.

Mrs Marsh highlights the fact that welfare is currently a real issue: “The current social security cuts are stripping away an eye-watering £28 BILLION from the support and services sick and disabled people rely on just to get through the day. That’s a full FIFTH of the entire deficit reduction plan falling on those who often have no voice to defend themselves”.

Mrs Marsh explains below how she was ‘bumped’ on the ‘The Big Benefits Row’:

“First I would be on the panel. Then the panel became the front row with assurances all of the main invitees would be sitting there with me and all would get a fair say. I was an ‘invited guest’ and ‘disabled people’s voices would be heard blah-blah-diddly-blah’.

”And so yet another hour became a 15 minute section of the show from which I might get to throw in a 3 minute soundbite or two. This in turn became ‘You’ll get a chance to speak from the audience’ which fizzled out into ‘Ah, wheelchair issues mean you can’t sit here/there/anywhere so we’ll tuck you in that dark the corner out of the way.”’

Mrs Marsh also explains how tiring and draining her illness can be when travelling to and from studios, and how the reality of disabled access has “shocked and appalled” her.

When she arrived at the Channel 5 studio, she learnt that they could only take three wheelchairs, and therefore could not accommodate Mrs Marsh as the fourth wheelchair user in the studio. As the only one that could walk at all, Mrs Marsh explains how she “hobbled down” to the basement studio, as that was the only way she could get in.

Mrs Marsh adds: “Once on the set, even bigger confuddlement broke out. “You can’t put them here, they’re in the way of the cameraman” (I thought the “them” was a nice little dehumanizing detail eh?) “You can’t let them sit at the front, it makes them look too important” (I précis) etc etc.”

On the topic of the actual debate, Mrs Marsh states that “Surprisingly, I thought the debate was very good. If anything, it was biased in our favour for once. Matthew Wright held Katie Hopkins and Edwina Currie to account frequently and the range of people who did get to speak were varied.”

Mrs Marsh adds:
“However, I could barely breathe with pent up frustration. As each part of the show went live again following an ad break, I’d pray that something would be said about disability and every time it wasn’t, I deflated further and further (DON’T be a crybaby on national TV…) How are you supposed to have a debate about social security and not include sick and disabled people? We rely on it more than any other group!”

Mrs Marsh also gives some facts on disability benefits:

  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being cut by 20%
  • The criteria to qualify for DLA slashed has been by 60%
  • 1 MILLION people are to be stripped of Employment and Support Allowance
  • The Independent Living Fund has bee scrapped**
  • 1500 people lost their jobs as Remploy factories were all closed
  • Just 3% of the entire welfare budget goes to unemployed people
  • Social security fraud is around £1.2 Billion per year – less than half of 1%, or 0.15% of total welfare budget. That’s just £1.50 lost for every thousand or 0.15% of the total welfare
  • The DWP pay out much more in their own errors – 2.2 Billion
  • A whopping £16 BILLION goes unclaimed, generally to avoid the stigma of “welfare”
  • 440,000 sick or disabled people will be hit by the Bedroom Tax. That’s over 2 thirds.
  • We have some of the toughest criteria for claiming social security in the developed world.

When the show finished, Mrs Marsh left the studio fuming and emotional, and tweeted: “Yes,I was kicked off the panel at the last minute and no, of course there was no disabled person in my place” #BigBenefitsRow”

Mrs Marsh was very surprised at the response to her tweet: “My tweets exploded all over twitter, it was all I could do to read them quickly enough as they flooded in. Thousands and thousands of you, it was quite awe inspiring. By midnight I was trending 4th in the UK”.

In response to Marsh being ‘bumped’ from the show, a spokesperson for Channel 5 stated:

“Our researchers asked a wide variety of people to appear on The Big Benefits Row: Live.

“We stressed to everyone that the programme was not a conventional format and so it was very hard to say where guests would be sitting.

“Several commentators and contributors who took part in the audience did not end up featuring on the panel due to the nature of the debate. Matthew did speak to a large number of audience members and panel guests as part of the open forum.”

Mrs Marsh concludes by urging others to share, reblog and retweet her story, stating:

“And yet again my friends, we shall have to make our own news.

“Sharing this article can show producers of shows like The Big Benefits Row that we DO have a voice, we DO matter.

“As campaigners we’ve often reminded ourselves that ‘Alone we whisper, but together we shout.’

“We can show them – and the public – that on social media if nowhere else, sick and disabled people can -and will – be heard.”

Further reading:
If you want to read Mrs Marsh’s full story, please click the following link to view her blog:
http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/

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About Poppy Reece

Hi, I'm Poppy. I graduated from Essex Uni with a Social Psychology and Sociology degree, and now work in the Youth Support Team at Suffolk County Council. I also write articles for disability charity Dancing Giraffe when I can. I'm interested in issues of poverty, inequality, politics, social justice, and health. I plan to use this blog to write about issues which I feel passionately about, comment on news stories which take my interest, and simply post stories and information which may be of interest.

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