"Not everyone's cup of tea" was one of the phrases featured in the 'Born Risky' advert for Channel 4 that was broadcast two months ago, a phrase which has since been justified in a most spectacularly controversial way. With 4.3million viewers making it the most watched Channel 4 show for more than a year, Benefits Street has proved to be one of the biggest belly aches of 2014 thus far. But with the usual complaint citing that it is a misrepresentation of those on benefits and an elite tactic to turn benefit claimants against one another, the question must be asked: why are we not allowed to disagree with a minority's attitude toward their benefits?
It is common knowledge that the vast majority of people who have to claim benefits are not layabouts and are proactive in trying to find a job. It is also common knowledge that not all benefit-claimants are the same. So when we live in a country that is fortunate enough to have a welfare system that can support those who genuinely cannot work or cannot find work, it is good to know that we all have and rightly maintain a safety net for all that contribute to it. But it is for this reason that when we become aware of a minority that do exploit such a valued aspect of our society, that we reserve the right to be angry and for that anger to be vocalised.
One of the fundamental aspects of the benefit system is that it was designed to help those who needed it most. Thankfully, much of that purpose remains true. But when £1.2billion of taxpayer money is lost each year to benefit fraud, we cannot afford to just turn a blind eye. Commentators are quick to argue that the sum of money the taxpayer loses to benefit fraud each year is small when contrasted with that of £25billion lost via exploited tax loopholes, but just because one evil dwarfs another does not make it any less wrong. It does not matter how you spin it to look, £1.2billion is still a considerable amount of money to be lost even when compared to a larger sum. The fact that the usual cry of the commentator is that there are only an extreme few who do defraud the state just serves to make the total sum lost more astonishing.
Where it is no secret that the program has been edited in such a way that it attempts to encourage as many negative knee-jerk reactions about the residents as possible, you cannot escape the reality of what has been done. The program may be able to take words out of context and overdramatise them, but they cannot change actions. For example, Mark Thomas admitting to fiddling his benefits in the past, or Danny going shoplifting - we saw him remove the security tags. Some actions, previous or past, that are documented in the show did happen. It is therefore in this respect that we reserve a right to vocalise an opposition to those actions and the subsequent attitudes that accompany them.
By witnessing what a few consider to be acceptable behaviour in our society we are presented with the opportunity to open dialogue over common courtesy. When one is the recipient of something that others have given in a bid to improve a life, it does not sit well when the recipient then chooses to be a menace. It does not matter if someone is on benefits for a disability or not, they should not drink excessively, take harmful drugs, or shoplift. Just as in any case neither should any member of society behave in such a way. Since we feel so, we should not be berated when we say so.
When we witness the few on James Turner Street break the law whilst receiving benefits we deserve to be angry at them. When we are exposed to the attitudes of those who take and take but do not give we deserve the right to formulate an unfavourable opinion of them. When a program such as this comes onto our screen the majority of the anger that is generated is aimed at those committing the offences.
I believe the British public are not as thick as some commentators think, and that they know who to be angry at. I do not believe that just because one program follows a minority of people on benefits that it will lead to the demonisation of all on benefits. At the end of the day people that defraud the state do exist and they tend to be less than desirable. It may well hurt some to realise that people such as this occur and that not all humans are compassionate, but the truth hurts and we should not feel bad about revealing it.