Thursday, 19 June 2008

Child poverty debate

I took part in a three hour Westminster Hall debate this afternoon on the Work and Pensions Select Committee's report on Deprivation and Child Poverty. Not a bad turnout considering we've been on a one line whip for the past two days.

It's always difficult to know at the time of speaking whether you're actually getting across the point you were trying to make, but seeing as the speakers who'd gone before me had all spent quite some time on the detail of tackling child poverty ('better off in work' calculations, take up of child care tax credits, measuring relative poverty cf. material deprivation, etc, etc) I tried to venture into slightly different territory. I'd probably end up reproducing the entire fifteen minute speech if I tried to explain myself here, but one of the points I made in passing was how it seems to me that the media these days increasingly celebrates or commodifies dysfunctionality - from the obsessive spotlight on the day-to-day disintegration of the lives of young women such as Kerry Katona and Britney Spears, to daytime TV which make entertainment out of dysfunctional, and often violent or abusive, relationships.

The element of the daytime TV shows I most detest is when they carry out DNA tests to determine - in front of millions of TV viewers - who is a child's real father. Not only is it often exploiting the vulnerability of the women in question, but what about the future impact on the child? OK, they're too young to know what's going on, but you can bet that people in their neighbourhood will all be avidly watching, and by the time the child starts school half the kids in his class will know that he was fathered during a one night stand with his mother's best friend's drunken stepfather and that she only kept the child in the hope that the real father was someone completely different (or whatever).

This has to be fundamentally wrong, don't you think?

I'm not sure how you can stop it. You can't legislate against parents publicly embarrassing their offspring. (If only you could - that would be a topic for a 10 Minute Rule Bill!) But I think broadcasters should show some responsibility. Just because some people are prepared to go on TV and air every last detail of their lives in public, it doesn't mean TV producers have to give them the opportunity to do so.

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