Benefits Street: excellent documentary or poverty porn?


 

Channel 4 has another reality TV show, expose, documentary.  Move over My big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Benefits Street is the new kid on the block. The documentary makers from Channel 4 spent over a year filming on a street in Winson Green, Birmingham UK where it claims the majority of over 99 inhabitants on James Turner Street are claiming government benefits.  
Many people have criticised the show as ‘poverty porn’, a way for us “have somes” can stare and jeer at the Dickensian style baddies, draining the state of all of our hard working money. The episodes focus on different themes, episode 1 introduced some main characters of the street, including white Dee, a matriarch of the street whipping everyone into shape and black Dee a woman on the verge of eviction and frustrated at the lack of employment opportunities. 
The episode was also extremely controversial as it depicted a just released from Jail Danny and his junkie friend Fungi on an expedition to find loot to sell for drugs. It showed Danny creating an alarm proof bag and depicted him breaking the security tag for the stolen goods on a bus. Episode two showed the cultural mix on the street by featuring a group of Romanians entrepreneurially trying to make ends-meet by selling scrap metal much to the dismay of other residents annoyed at the mess this caused.
The show is an interesting depiction of a modern street with problems, but these issues are not so different from those in wealthier, middle class neighbourhoods such as: unemployment, absent fathers, immigration, integration, drug abuse and crime. These issues are not just social ills of the less fortunate, they occur in normal people too, just behind closed doors. The show shows a street where people can group together, help each other out. Struggling heroin addict Fungi could always call on white Dee to help him with his benefits claims and hold money for him.  
                                 
Episode one showed a gentleman Smoggy who offered basic amenities such as soap, milk and hot chocolate all for 50p. He noticed that many people including himself were struggling and took advantage of a gap on the market. Since the show aired he has been offered three jobs. Some people have said the show portrays a negative image of people on benefits. I know people who live on benefits and they don’t live like this. I also spent 3 years living in Birmingham and didn’t see evidence “scroungers”. People who claim benefits are everywhere, in every city and town in the UK. What the show does do is shows its perspective of what some people on benefits go through and what they face.  
The show has had some major criticism, incensing conservative MPs to use the show as political fodder, cries of child exploitation, claims of poverty porn. I think I understand what the show is trying to do, show people on benefits and how day to day life is for them warts and all, but does it go too far? One thing that is portrayed is the community spirit people helping each other out like an episode of Eastenders, but maybe they should all go and just get a job.
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