After being shamed for reportedly taking around £30,000 of government furlough funds for an employee at their company, Giovanna and Tom Fletcher have publicly apologised and paid back the money.
But, as I sat reading the couple's joint statement (yes JOINT, not just Giovanna, but we'll get to that...) I couldn't help but wonder if they'd really deserved such public scorn.
I keep reading, feeling I've missed something, but as far as I can tell the company Giovanna Fletcher Ltd claimed furlough money for an employee who was unable to carry out their role, because of the pandemic. That is... what the scheme was set up for?
The 'crime' was that Giovanna had just won I'm A Celebrity? Or that the couple are 'reported' (not proven) to be worth £8million? Or that she 'boasted' of talking about maybe going on holiday at one point?
Well... anecdotally, I'm sure we all know of big multi-national companies who've clearly used the furlough scheme to get the government to pay for some staff for a few months - staff who probably could've worked, and companies that have continued to make profits. That's not to say I think that's what the Fletchers might've done, more that poor behaviour has happened as part of the furlough scheme - and no-one has proved that to be the case here.
There's also that £8million net worth figure. I'm not saying I'd turn it down, but I'm guessing that in the scheme of companies that used furlough, the actual turnover of the Fletchers' company (not to be confused, as this does, with their personal wealth) is miniscule. I can think of well-known businessmen who regularly are asked to give talking head quotes about covid economic recovery worth a lot more, and who used the scheme. And actually, weren't small businesses as entitled (or even more in need) or furlough money?
I'm also sure some of us have now heard of companies who didn't use furlough, and seemed proud of it - and are now having to lay off staff because they didn't utilise money that was legally on offer. Are they better? Do you feel 'less bad' if you get made redundant but, well, no-one can say your company took a BONAFIDE government scheme's money hey?
And there's also the fact that headlines screamed 'FURLOUGH SHOCKER Giovanna Fletcher claimed ‘£30k’ from furlough scheme weeks after winning I’m A Celebrity.' Then the apology yesterday was from Giovanna and Tom Fletcher. Yes the company was in her name, but it seems from the phrasing that the couple are taking any blame on both of their shoulders. Why was it the woman who was made the target of the outrage... well...
It's easy to see why people might've got outraged by 'FURLOUGH SHOCKER', because lots of people - and businesses - are having a terrible time. It sounds... a shocker. And when money gets tight, it's always easy to get people to turn against each other. But, in the grand scheme of money mismanagement in this country (from companies, billionaires and the government) it seems... not the worst thing going on, or the thing that should receive the greatest attention. Or any.
We have a bizarre obsession with the ghoulish phrase 'BENEFIT CHEAT' in this country... wade into a conversation with someone with very little knowledge and a loud platform and you could believe that around 89% of people who CLAIM (even the language of that term) government money are hard-nosed fraudsters, out for 'all they can get'. In fact in 2019-2020, the government says 2.4% of total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud and error. Ideally it would be none, but it's a figure much lower than you could believe given screaming headlines sometimes.
The fact is though, many people in this country legitimately rely on benefits and government 'handouts' and signing up to schemes to relieve them of childcare, taxation, business rates. And while there are plenty of 'grey areas' that have their own issues and many celebrities have fallen foul of, this doesn't really seem to be one. It seems like a business using a benefit that was handed out to businesses during one of the most difficult challenges to our economy in recent decades.
So, perhaps before piling on to Gi and Tom Fletcher, it's worth thinking through what you're really angry about. And if you've still got some anger, it's worth sending it in another - more deserving - direction.