Derek Mitchell is Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland. The decision to finally axe the Jeremy Kyle show after 14 years last month, following the tragic death of a guest who appeared on the programme, did not come a moment too soon.
The programme was the most high profile and long running example the lives of vulnerable, low income people being used for cheap entertainment.
It fed the ‘strivers and skivers’ narrative that too often left people ashamed to seek support when they had fallen on hard times.
The reality is more and more people are falling on hard times in our society. Welfare reform and an economy built on low pay and insecure work has led to rising levels of poverty in our communities.
And the evidence suggests that the cheap, harmful, entertainment of Jeremy Kyle has no grounding in what people actually think about our welfare state and perceptions of people who claim benefits.
Polling for Citizens Advice Scotland by YouGov shows that over three quarters of people in Scotland believe workers who have to claim benefits work hard but their wages are not enough to cover living costs.
Living costs like heating, where one in ten working people in Scotland have had to miss an energy bill in the past year due to a lack of money.
Meanwhile, three quarters strongly agree or tend to agree that people who are in work and receive benefits work just as hard as everyone else, and almost seventy per cent of people agree that there should be more help for people to claim what they are entitled to.
That’s where the Scottish Citizens Advice network comes in.
Last year alone, we helped put £850,000 back into the pockets of households who had not been claiming the council tax reduction they were entitled to. That was part of £138million in financial gains our networks delivered for people in terms of compensation, money due and in kind support. This is money people were already due but couldn’t access for a range of reasons.
For 80 years we’ve offered advice to consumers, and we want to reduce the stigma around claiming benefit and ensure more people get what they are entitled to. Since November last year we have been running a Financial Health Check service, funded by the Scottish Government.
This service ensures people can claim the benefits they are entitled to, ensure they are paying fair prices for essential goods and services like energy as well as access to further support such as debt advice.
Dealing with debt, saving money on bills and accessing benefits can all feel daunting and this is why the Financial Health Check service is such a great tool for people across Scotland.
Anyone is entitled to a free, confidential and impartial Financial Health Check.
It’s a service open to help everyone, regardless of income or background. The early signs are encouraging. In the first six weeks of this financial year we have seen a near 40 per cent increase in the number of people turning to our network to check their eligibility for benefits.
Anyone reading this article can get their own Financial Health Check by popping into their local CAB, calling 0800 085 7145 or texting CHECK to 88 200.
Derek Mitchell is Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland