Benefit claimants become filmmakers to challenge stereotypes
Dole Animators, a ground-breaking project based in Leeds, is a group of jobseekers, single parents and disabled people who have made an animated film about their experience claiming support through social security during the period when the government’s welfare reforms are being implemented.
The film combines a Claymation style, the same as used in Aardman animation hits like Chicken Run and Wallace and Grommit, and a collage style, which uses found images and existing headlines. It features the project participants narrating their own stories, which are brought to life by animated characters.
Their experiences covered in the film include loss of social life, loss of confidence, constant anxiety, worsening health, eating mouldy food to survive, stealing food to survive, losing a home, being hit by the ‘bedroom tax’, being sanctioned because of Jobcentre mistakes, poor service from the Jobcentre, and feeling that being on benefits is like being in ‘a prison’.
Quotes from members of the Dole Animators Group (longer quotes can be found at the end of notes to editors):
Joint quote from the Dole Animators project group:
“We warn you not to be ill, not to have an accident, not to lose your job, not to have dreams or aspirations. We warn you not to make the choices we didn't make.”
Isobella, Employment and Support Allowance claimant:
“Making the film has helped me to regain my self-worth and self-esteem as well as increased my confidence. The welfare reforms are ill-thought out, ill-managed and cause misery for so many people. Our film gives a true picture of life – the hopes and fears that things will get better but knowing that they will, in fact, get worse.”
Susan, single parent on Jobseeker’s Allowance and Work Programme:
“The film is important because it shows the experiences of benefit claimants. We want to get the message out there that we are not scroungers, and that being on benefits is not an easy life. If we had a choice, we would not choose to be on benefits. Our story is not the story that we hear from government and in the papers. The Work Programme is not working. People are not getting jobs. The government has no clue and doesn’t consider other things such as people’s mental health.”
James, young jobseeker on JSA:
“I’ve found it really motivating making the film. It’s great to feel like you’ve achieved something. The film’s key messages are that we shouldn’t stereotype people. There may be the odd person who is on benefits and doesn’t want to work, but most people do want to work. We need to treat people as individuals – not as just as a name or a number.”
Adrian, young jobseeker, been sanctioned several times:
“With the film, it felt like we were trying to achieve something – to fight for something. More or less everything this government is doing on benefits is wrong, and we were challenging them on it all. I think politicians think that they know what is going on for people on benefits but – without actually being there or seeing it for themselves – they don’t know nothing. Hopefully, the film could change this by opening people’s eyes but we need to get people to watch it first!”
Ruth Patrick, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, whose research led to the initiation of the film project, said:
“Both this film and my linked research into the lived experiences of welfare reform demonstrate the extent of the mismatch between government rhetoric and the reality for those struggling to survive on out-of-work benefits. While the Government is all too quick to characterise benefits as a lifestyle choice, the people I spoke to were often quite desperate to find paid work, and commonly described being on benefits very negatively. Individuals need real and meaningful help to return to work, not the constant threats and implicit suggestion that a bit of ‘tough love’ is what is required. Unfortunately, so long as the Government focuses so firmly on conditions and sanctions, accompanied with negative and stigmatising language about those forced to rely on benefits, their welfare reforms are likely to fail.”
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:
“It seems these days like there’s an attitude that claimants should be stigmatised and not heard. But their voices must be central to any discussion on the future of social security. We need to hear from them how the system often fails to meet their basic need, how it is failing to help many people in their efforts to find work, and how sanctions are being used in more and more unfair ways that seem to defy common sense.
2Child Poverty Action Group is helping to distribute the film and has organised a parliamentary seminar so that the jobseekers, single parents and disabled people who have made the film can relate their views directly to key decision makers in Westminster. It will feed into our Secure Futures project, which is developing fresh ideas on a social security system fit for the 21st Century that prevents poverty and gives positive help to the millions of people desperately seeking a secure job with decent pay."
Notes to Editors
- Project website: www.doleanimators.org
- The Dole Animators film funded by: an ‘Awards for All’ grant from the Big Lottery Fund; and the Dole Animators project team are working in partnership with Gipton Supported Independent Living (GIPSIL: http://www.gipsil.org.uk/).
- Animation team: Animation team led by award-winning filmmaker and Northumbria University lecturer, Ellie Land, with animation by Lauren Shepherd and David Burnett (both students on the Animation BA (hons) and Animation MA at Northumbria University) who worked with the Dole Animators project team to produce the film.
- Leeds screening and event: The film will also be screened in Leeds on November 7 as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Festival of Social Science. The event, at The Carriage Works, The Electric Press, 3 Millennium Square, from 6pm, will involve a screening of the film followed by a panel discussion, which will be an opportunity to hear from the film makers themselves as well as others with different perspectives on the Government’s reform agenda. For more information on attending this event, visit http://www.esrc.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/festival/festival-events/specific-2013/lifestyle-choice.aspx
- Further background to the Dole Animators project:
- The project builds on a research project ‘The Lived Experiences of Welfare Reform’ conducted by Ruth Patrick from the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds.
- Between 2011 and 2013, fifteen out-of-work benefit claimants were interviewed three times as they experienced the direct consequences of various welfare reforms.
- Research participants included single parents being moved off Income Support and onto Jobseeker’s Allowance, disabled people being migrated from Incapacity Benefit and onto Employment and Support Allowance and young people facing a more stringent Jobcentre Plus / welfare-to-work regime.
- During the course of the research, strong relationships were established between the researcher and the research participants, with many of the participants welcoming the opportunity to give ‘their side of the story’ as an alternative to the dominant Government rhetoric and narrative of ‘shirkers’ ‘sleeping off a life on benefits’ (Osborne, 2012). Research participants were kept involved in the research via research steering group meetings as well through a Facebook group which was established to keep participants updated about developments and next steps.
- In considering dissemination plans for the research, it was agreed that it was important to also develop outputs of direct meaning and relevance to the participants themselves. With this aim in mind, funding was secured to develop an animated documentary film developed by the participants themselves.
- Full quotes from Dole Animators participants that may be used in reporting. These quotes use the same pseudonyms as the participants used to tell their real stories in the film.
Susan, single parent on Jobseeker’s Allowance and Work Programme
“Making the film was an enjoyable and educational experience. Working with other benefit claimants made me realise that there’s lots of other people in the same boat as me. The film is important because it shows the experiences of benefit claimants. We want to get the message out there that we are not scroungers, and that being on benefits is not an easy life. If we had a choice, we would not choose to be on benefits. Our story is not the story that we hear from government and in the papers. The politicians really don’t have a clue – they don’t understand the reality. Just look at the announcements on workfare. Why can’t they give people a proper job and pay them for it? The Work Programme is not working. People are not getting jobs. The government has no clue and doesn’t consider other things such as people’s mental health. I don’t think the film can change politicians’ mind sets but hopefully it might change the minds of the taxpayers who label and generalise benefit claimants as scroungers who don’t want to work. The most important messages from the film are that benefits are not a lifestyle choice, and that people on benefits do want to work but jobs are not easy to find.”
Chloe, single parent on JSA
“Making the film has been fun, though stressful too, as thinking about all the welfare reforms gets you really angry. The politicians don’t seem to care. They don’t seem bothered about people like us. I hope the film might shake things up a bit”
Rosie, single parent on JSA
“I really enjoyed making the film, and having a chance to have my say. I’m hopeful that the film will get the message across better than an article might have. It’s easier to express your feelings on film, and explain the effect of the government’s reforms. For me, the key message from the film is that sometimes politicians make decisions that have a really bad impact on the lives of people on benefits.”
James, young jobseeker on JSA
“I’ve found it really motivating making the film. It’s given me something to focus my mind on, and I’ve been able to think about it and work on it in my spare time which has been great. Thanks to the project, I’m now looking at the possibility of trying to get into university in the future – something I’d never have thought possible. I feel like I’ve achieved something off my own back by making the film. It’s great to feel like you’ve achieved something. The film is important because it should give people more awareness of what’s going on for people on benefits. The film is about individuals and their lives – not just facts and figures. That’s what makes it so powerful. Politicians don’t understand the reality of being on benefits. We see these reality TV shows where they try and live on benefits for a week. That’s nothing: they should try surviving on them for a year, and then see what they find, and what policies they come up with. I do really believe the film could change things and even cause a bit of an uproar. It’s really powerful, and I’m just proud to be able to say I’ve been involved in it. The film’s key messages are that we shouldn’t stereotype people. There may be the odd person who is on benefits and doesn’t want to work, but most people do want to work. We need to treat people as individuals – not as just as a name or a number.”
Adrian, young jobseeker, been sanctioned several times
“With the film, it felt like we were trying to achieve something – to fight for something. More or less everything this government is doing on benefits is wrong, and we were challenging them on it all.
The film is important to try and make people understand what those who are affected by the benefit changes are going through.
I think politicians think that they know what is going on for people on benefits but – without actually being there or seeing it for themselves – they know nothing. Hopefully, the film could change this by opening people’s eyes, but we need to get people to watch it first!”
Isobella, Employment and Support Allowance claimant
“Being involved in making the film was initially daunting as my confidence levels were really quite low. However, I found the project really enjoyable especially as I was able to use previous hard earned skills that I thought had been lost. Making the film has helped me to regain my self-worth and self-esteem as well as increased my confidence. The film is important because it shows a slice of reality by giving a true picture from ordinary people about how the changes to the benefit system actually affect them. The film also gives voice to those not able to speak out. It is inherently difficult for millionaires to understand what ordinary people face in their day to day lives. The welfare reforms are ill-thought out, ill-managed and cause misery for so many people. This film gives a true picture of life - the hopes and fears that things will get better but knowing that they will, in fact, get worse. I hope the film will inspire more people to do the same as we have done. The most important messages from the film include showing the truth about being on benefits rather than the politicians’ continued rhetoric that we are all scroungers as well as making clear that life on benefits is not a choice willingly made. The film also shows that people's needs are diverse and complicated and these continuing welfare reforms do nothing to help on a practical or compassionate level.”
Sam, young ‘jobseeker’ who has recently secured a job in Retail (though with only 8 hours guaranteed a week)
“I found making the film really insightful, and it was great to have an opportunity to vent my frustrations about these welfare reforms. Hopefully, the film will make those who think that benefits are a lifestyle-choice think again. People on benefits have no other choice – it is not something we choose, it is a necessity. Just being on the dole and trying to find work is tough enough. So if they bring in ‘work for your dole’, it’ll be impossible.”
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