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Benefits Street

Posted by
28 Jan 2014

After overhearing animated discussions about the Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street, I succumbed to curiosity and watched one or two episodes to see what all the fuss was about. For those of you who haven't seen it, Benefits Street follows the lives of residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham, where the large majority are unemployed and claiming benefits.

After airing just two episodes of the five part series, Offcom has received around 100 complaints with Channel 4 receiving a further 100. Viewers are protesting at the perpetuation of negative stereotypes as residents are largely portrayed as illiterate and simple-minded with high levels of criminal activity.

The revelation that an employed couple were extensively filmed and then cut from the scenes supports the assertion that footage has been manipulated to paint a completely farcical and bleak picture of an existence living on benefits. The editing is clumsy and contrived, with the transparent intention to tar all benefit claimants with the same brush. 

Where previous Channel 4 documentaries have been tasteful and poignant, Benefits Street caters to the lowest denominator with a blatant overtone of sneering hilarity, completely overshadowing the genuine issues of poverty and hardship.

If you listen closely enough, you could almost hear the narrator raising his eyebrow as a resident returns from a morning of shoplifting and cracks open a beer at midday.

With our recent financial crisis, surely it would be a more representative study of benefit claimants to show the situation of people who have only just recently entered into this demographic. Granted, there has always been a culture of unemployment in the UK with generation after generation choosing not to work and this appears to be the lifestyle that Benefits Street wishes to portray.

However, recent redundancies have resulted in highly skilled and experienced workers suddenly finding themselves unemployed after decades of reliable service. Bright high achievers now graduate from university into a fiercely competitive jobs market and are unable to secure employment in spite of their efforts.

I obviously can't speak for everyone, but I personally find it tiresome being subjected to this predictable and shop-worn propaganda; there is no immediate solution to the current unemployment crisis but I am certain that shrouding the issue in ridicule will do nothing but worsen the situation. 

How do you feel the publicity and attention surrounding Benefits Street will affect the common opinion regarding those who claim benefits; will it highlight the need for additional help, or leave them receiving little to no sympathy? Please leave your thoughts below.

Tagged In: Employment, Events
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