The Week In Radio: Estates of the nation deliver some home truths


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The Independent Culture

If, on Monday morning, the news that David Cameron was to announce proposals to abolish housing benefit to the under-25s and restrict welfare payments to large families left much of the nation poleaxed, for radio editors desperate to move the national conversation on from the deficiencies of the English football team and a dead tortoise, it was nothing short of a gift.

"Good news!" they could be heard barking to producers at dawn. "Iggle Piggle's bashing the kids again. He's really done it this time. Get me a politician. Get me a single mother with eight kids living in a one-bed flat on Peckham. If this isn't trending by breakfast you're all fired."

First out of the stalls was Radio 4's Today, with presenter Evan Davies spectacularly failing to give the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith the required roasting, instead obsessing about the implementation of previous welfare reforms. IDS didn't even break a sweat. It was a salutary reminder that Today, so often accused of being too shouty, can be equally guilty of tickling their guest's bellies like kittens.

Granted, Radio 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire had a bit more time to prepare but she at least brought a more human dimension to the debate, pitting three eminently sensible young people, all on housing benefit, against the Conservative MP for West Worcestershire, Harriett Baldwin. "People are going to steal, people are going to become drug dealers, " warned Alisha, a 19-year-old student who had left home two and half years earlier because of domestic violence, and was reluctant to go back. Baldwin stuttered her sympathies, though her argument was already lost. Alas, Alisha's good work was later undone by a man calling himself "Mick the Sheffield scrounger" and his announcement: "Where I live most of the people love being on benefits. And I do too. I love it. If (Cameron) takes it away we will riot him down and no illegal wars or fascist policing will stop us."

If you weeded out the crazies from Radio 5 Live phone-ins, the shows would run at half the length. If you had taken the crazies out of BBC Radio Kent's Monday morning phone-in there wouldn't have been anything left at all. But if you insist on calling the discussion "Should poor people stop having children?" then perhaps you should expect the conversation to go a little off-piste. If parents weren't haranguing presenter Julia George about their brilliance at child-rearing sans government hand-outs, they were calling for the less fortunate to be forced to give their babies up for adoption rather than draw benefits to help raise them. Others simply seemed to call up for a chat, weepily relating their life-stories with no discernible point at the end of it all. Given the debate's premise, Radio Kent deserved everything it got.

On Radio 4's World at One, a reporter was dispatched to the mean streets of west London to see what twentysomethings on council estates made of the PM's plans. Does Cameron want more crime? Where's everyone going to live? We're going to be homeless, was the entirely logical response. More startling was the research conducted by Ipsos Mori that discovered that two-thirds of British people thought the government needed to do more to cut the welfare bill. Who were these people, and where did they come from? Perhaps we'll never know though going on what we'd heard earlier, you might hazard a guess that the researchers had passed through Kent.