Despite heavy criticism, protests from local politicians in the area where the programmes are filmed, and a wave of hate on social media, the Channel 4 programmes Benefits Street, based on the residents of James Turner Street, Birmingham, and Skint, filmed in Grimsby, will still be broadcast.
With the airing of the second series of Skint, a follow-up of Benefits Street, and a separate documentary, called Immigration Street, fast on the way.
There is no doubt that these programmes formulate a talking point around the problem of our welfare system and exposes the issue of poverty in Britain. However I feel the programme was unjust with a themed obsession in both programmes of hunting down unrepresentative examples of people on benefits, and portraying them negatively in turn misinforming viewers, feeding the stereotype that all people on benefits do not work and sponge of the welfare system, demonizing the unemployed and working class.
Critic Owen Jones, columnist for The Independent, dubbed the programme Benefits Street a “medieval stocks updated for a modern format” with further critics accusing Channel 4 demonstrating “poverty porn,” with hundreds of complaints to broadcast watchdog Ofcom.
Yet Ralph Lee, in an interview with The Guardian, said: “We can’t let this kind of criticism have a chilling effect on making programmes. In a way what they are calling for is a form of censorship and I am always really suspicious of that. I defend our right – and the necessity – to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society.”
Yes, I completely agree with this, to not show the people on benefits who don’t work for no apparent reason would be censorship. But are Channel 4 not already censoring out the people who do work and are finding it difficult to make ends meet?
What about showing the people who can’t find jobs and are desperately searching to provide for their family?
What about the people who are single parents and have no family who can’t afford to pay for child minders to look after their kids and are desperately looking for a solution?
Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware there is a part of society that happily live off welfare and have no interest in finding work. Nevertheless, it’s unfair and unjust to group all people on benefits in this category, which Channel 4 has done through these programmes.
There is something to learn from the programmes
I do however agree that the programmes do uncover the problems with our welfare system and unravels the plight of poverty in Britain, uncovering that the issue lies in our system that needs to be fixed in order to relieve people of poverty.
Nonetheless, by just showing one side of the story further adds to the tension, shown through the opinions held on social media where people would post hateful comments telling people on these programmes to be hanged and shot. This spite is a direct result of the subjective programmes of Channel 4.
Surely Channel 4, being a media powerhouse, has the duty of taking on the myths of people on benefits, and showing the truth through a balanced argument, displaying the bad and good. Stopping people from being misinformed and educating people on the truth of the matter, instead of feeding on pre-existing societal stereotypes creating more views for the programmes then unveiling the truth.
I personally feel there is nothing wrong with having the programmes running so long as justice is done, the truth is exposed correctly, and the people in the programme should be clearly told of what the programmes entail. Stopping viewers from being misinformed, educating the masses and alleviating misconceptions and stereotypes in a balanced programme, helping stop spiteful comments made to those on benefits.
In my opinion it is a shame Channel 4 does not change the programmes, as this could have been a chance of redeeming themselves and airing a truthful programme educating society on the truth.
What’s your opinion on the continuation of the programmes? Do you agree with Ralph Lee? Have your say in the comments section below.