A big hello to everyone that has seen me on new Channel 5 TV series The Great British Benefits Handout. I'm one of three experts overseeing a bold new social experiment where three long-term unemployed families are given a lump-sum £26,000 in exchange for giving up benefits. Based on unconditional income experiments that have taken place across the world, the programme asks whether lives can be changed when free of low income benefit payments and the tough conditions they come with. 

 

I thought long and hard about joining the programme, but the TV production team were brilliant in making sure the families were not being set up to fail. All three families were given the support they needed to ensure the experience changed their lives for the better and Dragonfly TV also gave me absolute freedom to support the families as best I could.

 

The families were still able to make their own choices though which I totally agreed with. This was a social experiment after all, but armed with the right support, trust, some money behind them and a new found freedom, I was confident that amazing things might happen. And so it has! 

 

Scott and Leanne, who care for their disabled son and have four children, have started a successful party entertainment business. After an initial splurge to get the business up and running, Scott and Leanne are now proud to be generating their own income.

 

Rachel, a single parent of three children, hasn't worked for over 15 years and was really struggling with bills. Rachel has been super savvy, getting in front with her bills and becoming debt-free. She's now fully focused on moving into work. She's also learning to drive. 

 

Tony and Diane from Hull have melted the nation's hearts. Long-term unemployed and in their own words 'stuck in a rut', the family have paid bills and debts, transformed their home and appearance and both Tony and Diane have moved into work. Tony is learning to drive too. Even more importantly, the family are happier and closer than ever before.

 

Our families changing fortunes, new-found confidence and belief in themselves as a result of being involved in the series will always make me proud I was part of it. I have forged amazing bonds with all three families and will continue to be there for them as long as they need me. 

 

The programme was a real eye-opener for me. I have always felt that treating people as people, trusting them, respecting them and supporting them where possible is the way forward to a fairer society. But support (and money) will only take you so far. The families involved still had to find the motivation, confidence and skills to change their lives. 

 

We know there are many thousands of families 'stuck in a rut' out there. Is the welfare system failing them? Certainly improvements need to be made. Long-waiting times for claims, freezes and cuts on levels of support, impersonal medical assessments, harsh sanctions and a lack of support available within Jobcentres are just some of the issues welfare claimants have to contend with. But more cuts are on the way. ESA claimants could once again be hit. Big changes are ahead with Universal Credit. The language used by government, in some parts of the media and by some people generally in society about benefit claimants is still by-and-large discriminatory and unhelpful. There must be a better way. Treating people as people and caring about them would make such a difference. 

 

The programme has made many people get in touch with us. Many want to take control of their finances and get help with debts. We've had many share business ideas. We have to find better ways of helping those 'stuck in a rut' move forward. How can we better improve the confidence, self-esteem, skills and decision making of people in long-term unemployment? What practical support can be provided to inspire people to move into work, get help with debts and take control of their finances. If people on low incomes want to start a business or become self-employed, is the right business support there for everyone that needs it? 

 

I really hope those of you that have seen the programme have enjoyed it (you can also watch it back now).

 

I'd love to hear if it has changed your views on benefits or more ideas on the support or services people need to flourish. 

 

Lee H