Thursday, 16 January 2014

Benefits Street: Benefit of the Doubt?

There is a reality TV series on Channel 4 called Benefits Street which purports to reveal 'the reality of life on benefits'. I have now watched two episodes - with horror. The word benefit could relate to pensions or child benefit or numerous benefits other than unemployment, but this series targets those who aren't working. There is nothing wrong with that and I am sure that this documentary is factual in its way, but when I receive facts I would like to think that I could come to a balanced conclusion.

Channel 4 have picked on individuals who have no intention of seeking work, some are rogues and one has been in and out of prison (if not more). Anyone who is prejudiced against the unemployed will have those prejudices reinforced. It would appear that a banning order from the centre of Birmingham is ineffectual. The resident who breaks his banning order is arrested,  but whether the police caught up with his shoplifting is another matter.

In episode two I think we are supposed to feel sorry for a large group of Romanians who live in one house. Their gangmaster is treating them like slaves and half leave for London with no money while the other half live in fear of their boss returning. I think we are supposed to feel a warm glow when a neighbour gives them food. I am not sure what we are supposed to feel when a policeman tells them there is nothing he can do as there is no hard evidence against the gangmaster.

Channel 4's episode guide tells us 'this observational documentary series reveals the reality of life on benefits'. Well that 'reality' does not mention anyone who is working hard to get a job. There is no mention of anyone who is working and receiving benefits. In fact anyone who has preconceived ideas that all those who are unemployed are lazy thieves who have no sense of morality then this is the show for them.

This documentary would not be a problem if they didn't set out to document sensational stories and depict them as the norm. Problems arise because extreme behaviour looks like the norm. If you are unemployed then you have no intention of finding work. You are happy to live off benefits with the bonus of some work on the side (not a word to the tax man) or do a bit of shoplifting. At best you are happy to pass the time of day doing nothing that is constructive.

Channel 4 try to assuage fears of demonising the unemployed by making claims like 'this is a place where people look out for each other and where small acts of kindness can go a long way'. On the contrary, Channel 4 have provided viewers with a stick to beat these lazy people. It is annoying because I believe that people are good until proven otherwise. They want to work for a living and if a system is in place in which you are financially better off on benefits than you are working then the system should be changed. If all immigrants come here via a gangmaster then there should be provision to do something about it and I am sure that there is. Unfortunately Channel 4 in their 'documentary' haven't told us.

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