Jeremy Kyle with his wife Carla Jermaine. Photograph: Getty Images.
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When will Jeremy Kyle's day be done?

The Jeremy Kyle Show has been given a slap on the wrist by Ofcom, but will this signal the show's demise? One can dream.

Leah and Kelly are sisters. Kelly, a reformed drug addict, is pregnant. She thinks that her younger sister Leah, 17, and Leah’s boyfriend Matt have been stealing from their mother’s house. If Kelly’s suspicions are proved correct, Leah “will be kicked out of the family for good. It’s a big day for her”. Cue rapturous applause.

So begins the largely typical episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show that was broadcast on 23 September last year. The one anomaly of this particular episode was that it sparked a viewer complaint to Ofcom, which the media regulator upheld. The viewer questioned the validity of the lie detector test, which Leah, a “crackhead slapper” according to her sister, failed. Leah appeared “very distressed”, and Kyle "made comments that clearly reinforced a negative view of the 17-year-old, which at times, rather than limiting her distress, added to it,” said Ofcom. Such comments included the fact that Leah has a “reputation”, and has “slept with 33 men”.

ITV offered support to Leah before, during and after the production process, and at no point did Leah complain about her treatment. But, Ofcom ruled, ITV did not adequately inform viewers of the counselling services that were available to Leah and her family. ITV clarified this, no serious penalties were handed down, and The Jeremy Kyle Show happily trundled along with its eighth series, with “more fiery confrontations and dramatic revelations to come!”.

But what about Leah and Kelly? And what about Steven and Traci? Whose domestic dramas surrounding whether or not Steven was the father of their child, and Traci’s subsequent drug taking and prostitution spawned two appearances on the show within a matter of months? And what about the thousands of other families, fractured and falling apart at the seams, that Jeremy Kyle has been welcoming and bullying  since 2005?

For those of you who are not one of the 1.5 million viewers that the show regularly draws in, it essentially a show that takes poor, mainly white, always working-class families that have suffered any array of domestic breakdowns, and parades them: “Look!” Kyle gleefully sublimes. “These people are dirt! You, we, are better than them! Now let’s applaud their adorable efforts to make something of their paltry lives.” You can even get it written on a T-shirt.

Sadly, however, Kyle’s formula is a winning one. A privately educated, middle-class boy from Berkshire, he has made a fortune out of “human bear-baiting”, as one judge in 2007 called it. By bringing people like Siobhan and Onyx, sisters who haven’t seen each other for nearly 16 years, back together for “one, final confrontation”, or by shouting into the face of Melanie, who is on the show with ex-partner Craig (who has recently served jail time for domestic abuse), “you are not a good mother and you have a drug problem”, Kyle carefully cultivates real life soap operas for your viewing pleasure. The people Kyle vilifies include, but are not limited to: prostitutes, the poor, the unemployed. That final category is ironic, considering that his show is broadcast at 9.25am on weekday mornings and so is viewed primarily by this supposedly demonic underclass. “You’re a drunken bum sponging off the taxpayer and people like you should be put out on the street,” he told 19-year-old Ryan in 2008. Or perhaps on a sofa.

The Ofcom ruling is limited to say the least; ITV only broke one of the regulator’s rules. Standard practices of human decency may be left in shatters, but that is another matter – although disapproving, its business is not in censorship. In an (read: my) ideal world, the nation’s media would be ruled over by a kind of benign dictatorship that would mould our tastes so comprehensively, and feed all our basest desires so benevolently, that shows like Kyle’s would be rendered obsolete. Or, even more ideally, the current system would remain as it is, but just with the absence of Kyle.

But, perhaps there is hope. This is the first time that a complaint about the show that wasn’t related to offensive language has been upheld by Ofcom. Granted, the complaint was primarily questioning the technical effectiveness of the show’s methods, but it has raised a more pressing issue: the welfare of its participants. Sure, counselling is available to people who appear on the show throughout the process, and sure, no one is forced to be ritually humiliated by a smug man in salesman’s suit, but no reasonable person can watch an episode of Jeremy Kyle (at all) and conclude that the men and women screaming tears across the stage have benefitted from the experience. Television companies will always come up with something to satisfy the human appetite for schadenfreude. But perhaps now that Ofcom, an independent regulator, has ruled that “the humiliation and distress of the 17-year-old” is “potentially offensive” (strong words indeed), Kyle might feel the pricklings of a conscience growing somewhere in his central control system. Evolution would be a wonderful thing.

Amy Hawkins is a student at the University of Cambridge and deputy editor of Varsity, the student newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @DHawkins93.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.