UK

Benefits Street Will Have Live Debate In Response To Backlash, Channel 4 Says

16/01/2014 10:42 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 21:01 GMT

Channel 4 has commissioned a live TV debate in response to the bitter backlash against Benefits Street, which critics say exploited its participants and painted an unfair picture of the welfare state.

Community members told a meeting at the Oasis Foundry Academy that a studio debate has been planned to follow the final episode to allow Birmingham residents to respond

The Rev Steve Chalke chaired the meeting where are 100 people came to express their alarm at the portrayal of residents of James Turner street, which showed some committing serious crimes and abusing drugs.

benefits street

Residents of James Turner Street featured on Benefits Street

Channel 4 told the BBC the debate would be hosted by Richard Bacon and would go out after the fifth and final episode of the programme on February 3rd.

Channel 4's Head of Factual Ralph Lee has commissioned Mentorn Media to produce the live debate.

He said the programme "has triggered a national debate about state welfare at a time in which further welfare reforms are being proposed."

No media representatives were allowed into the public meeting. Residents were allegedly told the Channel 4 programme, produced by Love Productions, would be about "community spirit".

One James Turner Street resident told the Birmingham Mail: "I have lived on the street for 27 years and have never known residents come together like this.

"They did lie to us but one good thing that has come out of this is the fact it has highlighted the problems on the street."

Comedian Frank Skinner revealed on Wednesday that he turned down the opportunity to narrate the programme. "I don't really want to be involved in something where I am derogatory about people from Birmingham," he said.

Many people on social media have said a debate is not a proportional response to the outcry over the programme, and called for a new documentary to be produced, looking at bankers' bonuses and tax avoidance.

A prototype for how a similar expose on the other end of the spectrum has been posted by the left-wing activist website Undergr0und.

parasite street

Parasite Street, a social media idea for a rebuff to Benefits Street

Dubbed 'Parasite Street' and set in Kensington and Chelsea, the website says: "Rich or poor, there will always be a few people that try to cheat the system."

It mentions the "too-big-to-fail banker", buy-to-let landlords and businessmen who avoid tax on income as potential participants for the theoretical programme.

"Parasite Street was created to help people understand it's games played the rich, not the poor, that cost society the most," the creators told HuffPost UK.

"The distorting effect of huge subsidies to the rich should be of particularly concern to defenders of the market economy. Politicians who go out of their way to ignore these subsidies demonstrate they are less interested in functioning markets, and more interested in defending the interests of the rich."

The site has now had close to 100,000 hits.

The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson published a piece on Thursday calling the tabloids wrong for saying the residents of the street were portrayed as idle. "These people aren’t scroungers, they’re reacting in a way that any of us would in the same situation...

He mentions 'White Dee', one of the single mothers on the programme living on benefits. "Dee is a single mother with two young children. Were she to earn, say, £90 a week as a cleaner, then the system would reduce her benefits by £70 — an effective tax rate of 78 per cent on that £90 she’s earned.

"And they’re not idle either.. Benefits Street does show the entrepreneurialism of the supposedly workshy. These people are working — but outside the system. And in a way that will never pull them (or their children) out of poverty.

"All this is precisely what Iain Duncan Smith is trying to change. His welfare reform is intended to repair the damage and make work pay again. It is strange that it has fallen to the Conservative party to confront poverty while Labour MPs are busy trying to shoot the messenger."