I don’t know how many of you watch DIY SOS on the telly. Personally, I’m glued to the set every time it comes on. The show is about a bunch of builders, fronted by “likeable rogue” TV presenter Nick Knowles, who rebuild and radically improve houses on behalf of deserving families.
Along the way, they persuade scores, sometimes hundreds of other tradespeople and suppliers in the local community to donate both materials and their time to help those families.
I first thought of DIY SOS a few weeks ago, after reading about the Seven Families project by the Income Protection Task Force.
According to IPTF chairman Peter Le Beau, the idea is to help “seven families where the breadwinner has been struck down with a serious illness or by an accident and cannot support his or her family financially.”
Peter told Money Marketing: “We will be trying to provide financial help to meet the household expenses that can, if left unmet, create disaster.
“We will also be trying to provide the rehabilitation that is so vital at times like this that may be
able to help someone get back to work, possibly in their old job or in a new role which they can fulfil more effectively given their disability.”
I will come back to Seven Families shortly. But first, let’s return to DIY SOS for a minute. When it first launched a few years ago, the programme was mostly an amusing riff about helping people to overcome major DIY blunders or finish building “projects” that had been languishing for years.
The turn to a greater focus on “charity” cases probably came after its UK producers watched a similar show in the US called Extreme Makeover.
There, a loudmouthed madman called Ty Pennington badgers and chivvies a similar army of tradespeople to build an entire house for an “eligible” family.
The entire premise of both programmes taps into an uncomfortable fact, not just about the US but the UK too, namely that the recession has left millions families in genuine need. Maybe the main breadwinner lost their job, or a cash-strapped council is no longer able to fund the daily living aids needed to help look after a sick child in their home.
Whatever the cause, DIY SOS is based on a simple set of premises.
First, identify someone as “deserving”, in other words not a useless DIYer or a feckless scrounger.
Second, deliver a life-altering and very visible benefit, like a completely new house. Third, involve the community in the rebuild, so that anyone watching will feel good, even if only vicariously through the actions of someone else.
By the sound of it, the Seven Families initiative hopes to have a similar impact. The idea is to pay the equivalent of up to £20,000 a year to seven so-called low or middle-income families with members who suffer from illness or disabilities.
By doing so – and showing regularly updated results of this support on YouTube over the coming 12 months – the theory is that both individuals and employers might be persuaded that safety nets like income protection can radically affect the lives of entire families for years to come.
It all sounds wonderful. So why do I think it won’t work?
In fairness, let’s acknowledge the key similarity. Like DIY SOS, the IPTF initiative seeks to help families in genuine need, roping in Disability Rights UK to help identify cases that, I’m sure, will tug at our heartstrings.
But after that it all goes pear-shaped. Because unlike DIY SOS, the Seven Families initiative is
not proposing a visually life-altering change, like a completely rebuilt house, complete with open-plan kitchen, new bathrooms, living rooms and bedrooms. What it will offer is, ahem, money.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nowt wrong with money. But the reality is everyone and their dog knows that if you are sick and skint and someone give you 20 grand for one year it may help change your life.
Or maybe not: because one of the slightly uncomfortable features of Seven Families is that for it to work as a social “meedja” project, its premise needs to be that a single 12-month injection of cash is all it needs to set a family back on the straight and narrow.
Which means if, for example, if you are a single parent who suffered a stroke in their 30s and the help you need is about long-term financial assistance to support your young family, you are by definition less likely to feature in Seven Families’ redemptive YouTube tales.
The final problem is that of the community element. One of the big changes to DIY SOS in recent series has been the involvement of local tradespeople and other donors.
Watching tattooed plasterers with Mohican haircuts and huge beer guts give up a week of their time to help someone in need is part of the show’s main pleasures.
It makes you feel good about yourself.
By contrast, imagine a story about insurance companies which make hundreds of millions of pounds in annual profits chipping in a grand total of £140,000 to help seven needy families.
It hardly has the same ring, does it?
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at email@example.com