I haven't watched Benefit Street. I don't like Poverty Porn, and I understand those who have been exploited by the programme makers are not happy about it. At BHT we get approached from time to time to participate/facilitate such a programme. I was approached by someone a year or so ago, told that the programme would allow claimants to put their own view on being claimants. This overture, like all others, was declined.
What I dislike as much as programmes such as this, is when celebrities, politicians or journalists 'go poor' for a week, living on a run down estate, or in a high rise block, so that they can "get to know what it is like to be poor". This form of Poverty Tourism sickens me. It allows the tourist to claim insight, and that they have shared the pain.
Paul Anderson, Policy Manager at homeless Link tweeted (@PA_HL_London) last night about Benefit Street: "I suggest people live on JSA rates for a year b4 judging others. £70pw for food, clothes, power, water, travel, C. Tax etc".
I think he is absolutely right. Exploitation TV might shock u about these feckless individuals, stir up a sense of righteous indignation against those "not doing the right thing" as if they are symbolic of all people on benefits.
Similarly, seven days of Poverty Tourism is not enough time to get an understanding of the nature of grinding poverty, the relentless pressure that you face when you don't know how you will afford new shoes for your children, charging your electricity key, the repayment of the loan that got you, somehow, through Christmas. You can't benefit from three for the price of two deals, or get discounts for paying your fuel bills by direct debit, or achieve savings from buying toilet rolls in bulk or from large, economy, family sized laundry powder.
I have never personally experienced poverty. When I was little, my family didn't have much, but we never went hungry and, as far as I am aware, my mother never went without food just so we wouldn't complain about hunger. I know she took some pretty awful jobs, like walking all day around an industrial estate in the baking Cape Town heat trying, with mixed success, to sell typewriter ribbons to help make ends meet.
Those on their seven day package holiday to Poverty Street know that it won't be long before they can return to the comfort of their own homes, their dinner parties, and their well-paid jobs. And they know that soon they will get a good pay cheque as they cash in from the insights gained from living in 'poverty'.
I have long admired Bob Holman, a former academic at Birmingham University who has not indulged in Poverty Tourism. He gave up academia and has chosen to live as a community activist in some of the most deprived areas in Britain. For him it hasn't been a week, month, or even a year. For the last three decades or more he has lived and worked in Easterhouse in Glasgow.
I have had the privilege of meeting Bob many years ago. He wouldn't remember me, but I certainly draw on his example for inspiration and I wonder if, in my life, I will achieve even 1% of what he has. He personified dignity, compassion, decency. In fact, he personifies everything that Benefit Street does not.
If you want to know more about Bob Holman, have a look at this article.