18/11/2014 10:42 GMT | Updated 18/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Channel 4 Accused Of Chasing Ratings On 'Poverty Porn' Shows Like Benefits Street And Skint


Channel 4 has been accused of perpetuating a "monstrous travesty of reality" by making a "vapid and exploitative" TV series focusing on the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK.

At a time when many are struggling to pay their bills in recession hit Britain, the broadcaster has announced it will be airing a new series of its "observational documentary" show, Skint.

The first instalment of the observational documentary series, an investigation into poverty in Scunthorpe, followed people living on the Westcliff estate.

But MP Austin Mitchell has criticised Channel 4 for going ahead with a second series, due to air next week, which was filmed in his Grimsby constituency despite fierce local opposition.

He accused the broadcaster, which sparked controversy with the notorious show Benefits Street earlier this year, of using "poverty tourism" to chase ratings.

The Labour MP told Radio Times magazine that poverty shouldn't be treated as "entertainment" because "it's private, debilitating and alienating.

"Channel 4 has discovered that poverty tourism does more for ratings than celebrity culture, missions to explain or any highfalutin attempts to hold government to account," he added.

"Kicking people when they're down (and gullible) is so much easier and less expensive than intelligent programming.

"Victims don't sue, and when do-gooders complain, they can always be accused of wanting to censor serious seekers after truth. So we get a proliferation of misery telly and programmes like Benefits Street, Immigration Street and Skint."

But Channel 4 executive Ralph Lee recently defended the shows, saying: "We can't let this kind of criticism have a chilling effect on making programmes.

"In a way what they are calling for is a form of censorship and I am always really suspicious of that. I defend our right - and the necessity - to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society."

HuffPost UK readers were less charitable toward Channel 4's motives. One reader, Susanna Dunn, wrote: "There are many other ways of giving the problems of inequality a platform for discussion, it doesn't have to be done in a pseudo documentary."

Jack McGruer claimed the programme was "vapid and opportunistic. Exploitative doesn't even cover it."

Austin Mitchell has now asked Channel 4 to “consider the ethics of the trend Channel 4 has embarked on, demonising the poor and making poverty entertainment”.

He claimed that the broadcaster was stirring up antagonism against the poor and failing to show balance by neglecting to put the rich under the same spotlight.

"Poverty has become an object of blame, he said. "As if scroungers are responsible for the size of the benefits bill, young people enjoy a life of idleness and 'hard-working families' are having to work for peanuts while lazy neighbours procreate.

"This is a monstrous travesty of reality and concentrates hatred on the least well-educated, most deprived.

"TV doesn't even balance it with shows on the scandal of massive tax evasion and avoidance by corporations and the rich, the luxurious lifestyle of the City and Taxhaven on Thames or the excesses of the Wolf of Wall Street."

He urged Channel 4 to "think again", adding: "Why not turn the cameras on the bankers punishing the poor, with Benefits Bankers, Tax-Evading Toffs and Fiddling Financiers? When is television going to do its job and take on all that? All it needs is guts and a sense of fairness."

Filmed in Birmingham, Benefits streets made stars of some of its cast but was described by some critics as "poverty porn".

Programme-makers have already faced opposition in Stockton-on-Tees, the location for the new series of Benefits Street, and in Southampton, where spin-off series Immigration Street was also being filmed.

A Channel 4 spokeswoman said on Tuesday that "Poverty and inequality are some of the most pressing issues facing British society so it would be a dereliction of our public service remit if we shied away from documenting their effects and deny a voice to those most severely affected.

Derby Road in Southampton is set to be the focus of 'Benefits Street'

"This sympathetic observational documentary, filmed over a year, demonstrates the courage and resilience of individuals, families and those working hard to support others - allowing them to tell their stories about living in one of Britain's most deprived areas and suffering the devastating effect of de-industrialisation."

Channel 4 said that other programmes such as the Dispatches How The Rich Get Richer, also explored inequality.

It said that featured contributors in Skint were "briefed extensively" before any filming took place and are given the opportunity to view the episodes they appear in before they are broadcast.

Photo gallery Benefits Street See Gallery