As Alex Yeates wrote in his blog, the resentment for those depicted in the recently broadcast Benefits Street is tangible. I don't deny that acts of theft or fraud are wrong whatsoever, it would be foolish to dispute, and we have every right to be angry at such people's actions. When times are tough, to learn that some people have deliberately misled and defrauded the system that aims to help them, it is only natural to find it abhorrent. But I feel this anger at theft, and the right to it so championed by Alex, rather misses the bigger picture.
It is true that some of the residents of James Turner Street have not made the best nor wisest of decisions during their lives, but the response that the programme has generated has been both violent and deeply concerning. I am happy to admit that taking money from this system that is undeserved is outrageous and ought to be punished. And I certainly wouldn't argue that £1.2billion a year is no small figure. But what of the real money-stealers? The huge chains, onlinegiants and corporations who owe billions in tax? The companies and giant businesses that too leech off of society, nimbly swinging through loopholes bearing baboon-like grins from the front and back, who run off with the taxman's money? George Osborne has recently announced a further £25billion in cuts are to be made, around half of which is to be from welfare. Coincidentally, this pretty much matches the figure lost annually through these legal tax loopholes, if not substantially more. The New Statesman valued the cost through the network of tax avoidance at £69.9 billion a year. The difference is that there haven't been calls for these executives and their accountants to be burned, killed or neutered across the Twittersphere.
As we know, the makers of the documentary will have been trying to make watchable television. In that they have been successful. Unfortunately, what the programme's makers are guilty of in so doing is giving a distorted view of a system which actually helps, and rightly so, many vulnerable people in this country. It is undeniable that the sensationalism of the show and its social voyeurism has made for spectacular television - but that is exactly the problem: It has made a spectacle of unsuspecting human beings, who warmly invited camera crews into their lives and living rooms. What they did not invite however were the angry jeers, threats and worse from the general public. What did the programme's makers honestly think would happen, or what the reaction might be? Moreover, what did they think would happen to the residents of James Turner Street afterwards? Did they even think? Why film one couple who did work so extensively for a year, only to not feature them whatsoever? Quite frankly, the lack of consideration for, and indeed the deception undertaken to dupe both the residents and the public is shocking, and a flagrant abuse of trust.
So, back to those bankers, CEOs and devious accountants. When will we see a television show following them around, eh? Where are the camera crews as they deliberately exploit various loopholes, laughing and congratulating themselves on their various efforts to swindle us and the government out of ludicrously large sums of money? When will we be watching CEOs depositing cheques for millions of pounds in offshore accounts with a devilish grin? Sure, DiCaprio's depiction of Jordan Belfort is a Hollywoodised version, but I have to pay for that. What I want to know is this: When do I get to turn on Channel 4 and see courtesy of their documentary team 'Fat Cats', or 'Boardroom Thieves' in a prime-time weekly spot?