The Blog

'Benefits Street' - Its About Exploitation

At the risk of stating the very obvious it is clear from the title of the documentary series 'Benefits Street' that the aim of the film makers was to identify those featured on the show primarily as benefit claimants.

At the risk of stating the very obvious it is clear from the title of the documentary series 'Benefits Street' that the aim of the film makers was to identify those featured on the show primarily as benefit claimants.

As if that was not clear enough - in the first few minutes of episode three - between what was shown and what the narrator said - we are reminded that most people on the street are not working and, again, that they are on benefits (if you had not got that already) and we see images of cans of beer and people drinking from cans and people complaining about having fewer benefits. A real effort was made to ram home all that was negative about the people involved.

So what harm has been done?

For one thing - (wealthy) right wing politicians like Iain Duncan Smith have started using the program as a shorthand for everything they say is wrong with people on benefits - no doubt with a view to taking more money off people already on a very low incomes. This on the back of a frenzy of anger and hatred towards those featured in the programs.

A number of local residents have complained that they were told by the film makers that the program would be about a 'community spirit' in the area. With hindsight we might see this as naive - some would see it is people without the power trusting people with all the power.

A number of local people have said that it does not represent that street at all.

So why not just say no to appearing on the program? Many of us would like to be on television or on the radio - it's a great temptation when asked and I wonder if anyone's life would look good after being subject to film maker's intent on showing the worst of us.

The program makers seem so intent about bringing out the worst in the lives of a tiny minority on that street that it is hard to see that it represents even that one road never mind the thousands of others on benefits.

We are told there are ninety nine homes in James Turner Street - and say there are an average of three people per home - that's around three hundred people living there and we see only a small handful of them but we are led to believe these few represent the whole street.

Viewers are encouraged to 'tweet' about the program before every commercial break - almost all the tweets are people expressing their anger and revulsion of the people featured on the program.

Were the resident's featured warned that they would most likely be subject to hatred by so many people before they agreed to take part? When the producers named the series and when they edited it they must have known that this was the likely outcome. If they didn't then: then they do now - but there is no sign that they care about that.

Channel 4's Remit includes the line - 'to support and stimulate well-informed debate on a wide range of issues, including by providing access to information and views from around the world and by challenging established views'

This program is so partial and slanted in one direction that it is hard to see that it leaves anyone well informed. It is surely already a 'well established view' that people on benefits are seen in a very negative light by many people - what challenging of 'established views' has gone on with this program?

There is nothing in their remit about trashing people's lives and making them the objects of hatred and derision for the sake of viewing figures and career enhancement - perhaps they should put that in so that in future people know where they stand.

Of course the provision of benefits should be subject to debate and many would agree that it would be better for everyone if more people were in work - but this should be a debate informed by objective evidence not this biased program making.

The unrelenting nature of the hatred was revealed in one tweet last week.

Mark - one of the young couple featured in the program - had gone out and got himself a job raising money for a charity - going door to door on a 100% commission basis. After working all day, until 10pm he was filmed sitting down at home eating - even that was too much for one 'twitterer' who was angered by even this act of normality.

This program does not reflect the lives of most people on benefits - many of whom who actually do have a job. It does not inform the debate - it seems to be about increasing viewing figures by demonising and exploiting a handful of people in one street. It seems to me this program is about clever articulate people with all the power exploiting people without power.