Opinion Piece. The immediate public backlash to Channel 4’s unedifying look at a number of residents on benefits has raised questions about fairness and balance in programme making.

Benefits Street Pic 1

Twitter has been on fire this week with apparent outrage at Benefits Street and its alleged diatribe against benefit claimants.  The observational documentary series, which was filmed over a year, follows the ‘day to day’ living of several residents of James Turner Street in Winson Green.

The first episode, watched by 4.3 million viewers, featured some committing criminal acts on camera. It also featured drink, hint at drugs and general profanity from those struggling with life on benefits. Its been put to Channel 4 that the programme is a stitch-up on the residents and area, with it transpiring that not every resident is on benefits and those who are do not act in this way.

Well if you thought from watching Benefits Street that everyone on benefits was like this – you have to question why you think that. I’ve seen people saying that the show portrayed everyone who is on benefits as scroungers and criminals. I watched the same programme and don’t think this.

I was appalled at the criminal acts that appear to have been committed on camera, without any sense of wrongdoing or remorse. I was however proud of one resident who went by the name of ‘White Dee’ who helped those who could not read or write or needed advice on matters regarding housing and social security.

Could the programme have been more balanced. Of course it could have been, but is an observational documentary supposed to be balanced? It was not a current affairs programme looking at benefit fraud or crime in todays society, it was a documentary about people who live on benefits centered around one key area.

A petition was launched trying to force Channel 4 from airing the rest of the series. Its vital that we do see the rest of the series – we may, however small, see a sense of community spirit. What we shouldn’t do is just sweep these people under the carpet and pretend they don’t exist. We also shouldn’t exonerate them of how they have behaved. No one made them behave the way they did when being filmed.

Sometimes there are programmes that make us take a long hard look at our world today. Benefits Street was no surprise to me. I’m from Corby, a town where a number of people are on very low incomes and / or receiving benefits. Those people on Benefits Street could have easily been the people i know personally, living in Corby. Are they representative of everyone on benefits? No. No one ever said they were. But they do exist, and that is why programmes like this should be made.

Benefits Street continues Monday at 9.00pm on Channel 4.

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