Credit and The Five

It’s become a pretty regular occurrence in the past few days for my friends and I to swap pop culture recommendations. Everyone is looking for something new to read, watch and listen to that will get them through a lockdown at home. I’m going to give you a recommendation of my own, but it’s one that has a lot of parallels to our next scheduled production.

‘Credit’, about Universal Credit and the effects it’s having on people in the North East of England, was going to be performed at the end of April. We’ve had to postpone it due to recent events but we’re committed to having people see it at some point in the future.

In the meantime, the book I’d like to recommend is ‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold which tells the story of the five women killed by ‘Jack the Ripper’. Rubenhold has undertaken pain-staking research into the lives of these women to paint an incredibly detailed and very sad portrait of who they were as people with only small mention how they each came to be in Whitechapel in the late 1880s.

Although set in Victorian times, there are so many connections to be made with today and how people are being treated by the DWP under Universal Credit. One of the main takeaways from ‘The Five’ is that in 19th Century Britain it was a challenging life (to say the least) to be a member of the working poor. And we’re confident that the researchers we have been working with on the show would argue that not a great deal has changed.

There’s one particular section in the book that really struck me. In the early 1860s an American financier named George Peabody resolved to make a gift to his adopted city of London to ‘promote the comfort and happiness’ of the ‘poor and needy’. He ended up giving away the equivalent of £45 million in today’s money for a social housing project that lifted thousands of Londoners out of the slums. It’s something to be applauded but what was interesting was that families had to apply to get a flat in these ‘Peabody Buildings’, it was not something decided by need or even through a lottery:

“The Peabody Trustees took pains to ensure that only the ‘most deserving of the working poor’ who displayed an appropriate moral character and means to meet their rent were admitted as residents”.

The idea of the ‘deserving poor’ is something that has come up repeatedly in our conversations around Universal Credit, especially in relation to the government’s attitude to welfare. It’s one of the big questions we’re trying to ask in the show: what do we want the welfare system to be? Who should be ‘entitled’ to welfare?

As I said earlier, we’re hopeful that you’ll be able to see us asking that and many other questions in ‘Credit’ sometime soon. In the meantime, ‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold is available in hardback and paperback now and is a fantastic read.

And on a related note, Cap-a-Pie have started a book club and any recommendations would be much appreciated. Any genre accepted, 400 page limit.

Cap-a-Pie has made ‘Credit’ in collaboration with Newcastle University, Teesside University, Gateshead Council, Newcastle Council, Citizens Advice Gateshead, Your Voice Counts, Oasis Community Housing, Women’s Health in South Tyneside, Changing Lives, Larkspur House and Fuse.

This show has been funded by Newcastle University via the Population and Health Sciences Institute, Institute for Social Science and Catherine Cookson Foundation; Using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England; and Gateshead Council. 

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