The new actor portraying Dr Who, Jodie Whittaker, has waded into a highly charged and controversial debate about back pay for low-paid vulnerable care workers. A number of care organisations have been found to be unlawfully paying below minimum wage and the government has been seeking back pay. Ms Whittaker has sought to help the charities avoid their liabilities, backing a campaign for the taxpayer to foot the bill instead.
I have stayed out of the heated debate about the casting of a female Dr Who. Recasting a much loved character – even changing the colour of their cape – is often a controversial topic. Fans grow attached to characters who (being fictional) are defined solely by their brand and fictional attributes. Turning the entire Time Lord people into a race of transsexuals by retconning the possibility of regeneration into another biological sex was always a controversial proposition.
Recasting a male character as a female can however be successful – Starbuck in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica became a much loved character in her own right. Of course – she was only successful because of the talents of the actress, the extremely high quality of the reimagined show and its scripts. I decided to reserve judgement and review Whittaker’s Doctor on the show’s merits rather than on the controversy. Whether Whittaker will be a Galactican or a Ghostbuster should depend on her talent and the quality of the show as a whole.
Unfortunately, Jodie Whittaker has just earned her first black mark from me for her support for the highly controversial #StopSleepInCrisis campaign. I discovered the campaign reading an article linked by Mark Neary, a disability rights activist. Mark featured on the front of the Independent under the headline “right to love” after his successful legal claim to secure the release of his autistic, learning disabled son from care. The facts behind #StopSleepInCrisis is simple. According to a court ruling MenCap and other care providers have, for years, been paying on-call carers for the most vulnerable in our society less than the National Minimum Wage.
Some of those people have been themselves disabled (archive) and after the ruling the government began chasing the sector for £400,000,000 in back pay and penalities. Out of legal options, MenCap is seeking to use lobbying to avoid the bill. MenCap vigorously fought the legal cases – seeking to continue being able to pay below the minimum wage. Now it says that it will pay the minimum wage in future but wants the government to wave its fines (and those in the rest of the sector) and pay the remaining bill to reimburse those who were underpaid. Whittaker has come out in support of this controversial campaign.
The success of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica was brilliant of course because it subverted modern norms. The show rested from the first episode on the premise that a lot of conservative thought was right. Another premise was the ancient but unfashionable premise that God is real and good and just (and that has terrifying consequence). The producers and cast however were reluctant to offer political comment outside of their art. Whittaker, before so much as her first TARDIS materialisation has chosen to participate in a controversial and by no means one sided debate.
There are some points on Whittaker and MenCap’s side of course. Making something more expensive (overnight care labour) means, according to the iron laws of supply and demand, that there will be less demand for it. Commissioners such as local authorities will be less able to pay for it so services will have to be reduced. On the other side however there can be few more sympathetic opponents than minimum wage care workers for the most vulnerable people in our society. And why should seriously disabled people have to put up with cut-price care? In the spirit of even handedness I link to a critical article about MenCap (archive) and the most recent MenCap press release (archive) on the topic.
My personal view is that Whittaker should not have backed this campaign. If you share those views, the BBC complaints page is here and the email for the Director General is Tony.Hall@bbc.co.uk. If you complain, please keep those complaints respectful and thoughtful. Please use your own wording, however as an example –
“[Your postal address]
Dear Mr Hall,
I am a BBC viewer and a long time Dr Who Fan. I am concerned and dismayed that Jodie Whittaker has recently backed the MenCap campaign to avoid paying back pay and penalties arising from its failure to pay the National Mininum Wage. I accept there are arguments on both sides but regret that before her first episode Ms Whittaker has had the misfortune to be associated with a campaign criticised by many people far less privileged than she.
I would like the BBC to consider these two articles –
I ask the BBC to encourage Ms Whittaker to consider very carefully what political positions she chooses to support in future and I would like the BBC to consider apologising.