If you don’t know what I am talking about, first of all where have you managed to hide? ‘Benefits Street’ was a five episode series, filmed on James Turner Street in Birmingham. The street homes 90 houses, and it has been reported that 90% of the residents are in receipt of benefits. The first show was aired in January and the final episode was on last night
I am a bit of a sucker for supposed ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries or ‘social experiments’ however you want to categorise it. So I was keen to have a watch this one. I did watch it, and could immediately see the impact this had on Facebook, Twitter and subsequent media coverage for the following weeks. The series even managed to get a mention in the House of Commons.
Personally I felt a whole mixture of feelings towards the series. It was good to highlight how difficult managing on benefits can be, and see a real sense of community spirit being displayed. Some ideas I could actually see working in South Leeds, such as when Fungi whose actual name is James Clarke, went round doing odd jobs for other residents in return for a bite to eat or mug of tea. This seems like a great idea.
I also thought that the way ‘White Dee’… (yes the one who really does need a bra with more support) was portrayed, in many ways shows that more social enterprises or community schemes could be set up to offer real community support and advice within the area. I believe one journalist referred to her as a ‘one man band CAB’. This to me really highlighted how important people power is. Straight talking advice without corporate sugar coating is actually more in tune with what the residents needed to hear.
However I did feel that some of the foul language and behaviours witnessed by the youngsters on the street was less than ideal. The thought of my children being witness to neighbours’ smoking joints and all day drinking really turns my stomach. More than that though… the claiming poverty and accessing food banks whilst still having a pack of cigarettes seems wrong to me. It’s probably easy to type as a non-smoker, but trust me I have had and still have times when money is tight, and you have to feed your children on a shoe string…and that £5 for a packet of cigarettes can really go a long way.
I guess broadcasting such a divide and conquer type of show is always going to stir up reaction. I look forward to the follow up, which I understand will not be recorded on James Turner Street. Maybe in terms of equality the next series will be named ‘Expenses Street’ looking at how MP’s work the system, or do what they need to do to get by.