An End To Benefits Street

james turner street
AKA Benefits Street

And so it came to pass that a programme which told it’s participants they were recording a show about “community spirit” and how individuals “were working together and helping each other in tough times” finally ended.  The fact that the programme makers lied to the participants (they filmed lots of working people and community events over 18 months that was just dumped) – doesn’t seem to matter as they would have been made to sign contracts waiving any rights to what material was used and how the show was edited (under the guise of – we are programme makers – we understand this process – you are poor and stupid…errr you are in need of some well deserving attention brought upon you and (fairy dust sprinkle) (annoyingly enthusiastic voice) – we can make it happen.

The series ended with a ‘live’ debate, involving  the participants and other interested parties including MPs and journalists who written some nasty stuff – about these benefits scum…I mean those people who claim additional financial support from the state.

Two of the documentary participants
Two of the documentary participants

Mass hysteria had been whipped up in the press and from commentators about the fairness of the welfare system and this programme was all the evidence they needed.  “It’s not fair that people should sit about all day doing nothing and then get paid money for it” they shrieked!!  Really?   so what do these so called commentators do with the rest of their 37 hours after they’ve spent just 3 slagging off lazy, idle, work shy scroungers into 500 words?  Does yet another afternoon lunch with Sebastian and Felicity for a skinny Mocha -chocca-latte -chino-frappo crapo chato – followed by attending yet another pretentious “must see” exhibition at a tiny art gallery – quaffing free champaign – really count as work?

The truth is, seeing laziness in others is easy.  Seeing it in ourselves – when we spend so much time flapping and “frapping” about from one “rendezvous” to another….not so.  And therefore I don’t rush to criticise nor condemn the people that channel 4 made minor celebrities out of.

Actually, I think on the whole they came across ok.  There are much worse streets out there where the people aren’t full of witty remarks and camaraderie – but nasty and truly awful to each other – where stealing from their neighbour is just as commonplace as stealing from the state.  Streets where the police only go when required and for whom society and it’s morals might as well be on another planet.

And then, like the benefits themselves – it all finished.  I’m hard pressed to come to a conclusion about what the merits or otherwise of watching the programme had on me – or for that matter, the general debate on welfare.  In the first episode I learned that if you want to try and shoplift something – try wrapping kitchen foil in the bottom the bag – as it stops…something….from doing…something… or something like that?  Then in the second episode I learned that gangs of european men come over here on a promise of easy work and easy money – only to find themselves in squalid conditions, working 12 hour days and only receive token payments for their labour.  When they try to report the dodgy gang master who is not paying them money  – and our police and state seem impotent in it’s ability to deal with the situation…”go after the bloody businesses where these men work and are being exploited” I shouted at the TV screen.  Nothing happened.

There were of course other characters:  the rather annoyingly chirpy church woman who is keen to transform James Turner Street from a rather downtrodden, ugly, messy street into a downtrodden, ugly clean-ish street; the guy who knocks on people’s doors selling things for 50p – hence why he is known as the “50p man” – but doesn’t have much luck and (capitalists look away now) seems to take pity on every other person he meets – and gives them stuff from his bargain box free.

Deirdre Kelly or White Dee on Benefits Street
Deirdre Kelly or white Dee on Benefits Street

Finally, we got to the “Live Debate” – hosted by Richard Bacon and stuffed full of people I think I’d heard of and faces I think I recognised.

This mass-debate was pretty poor – lots of uncoordinated shouting or cheering – depending upon what point was ineloquently made.  White Dee (it seems she prefers to be called Dee – real name Deirdre Kelly) was the only human from the programme that was allowed (or trusted) to speak more than one sentence.

There was the Minister for Work and Pensions – whose name I forget, but who used to be a fireman in a previous life (told us twice) and whom at one point, if I heard correctly, made a joke about shagging white Dee’s mum??  The Minister’s shadow Minister (do try and keep up) had been too busy to watch the programme (too many functions with free booze & cold sandwiches to attend) and so watch 3 of them that day and was appalled by stuff that I can’t remember and don’t care to regurgitate.

One of the interesting angles that came out of this debate for me was seeing those hard nosed columnists, who normally write whilst cocooned in the safety of their middle class homes – their venom slowly dripping onto the page – come face to face with those people whom they’d slagged off.  Being people on benefits – of course they had actually read any of the articles and so weren’t offended in the least – but Mr Bacon did try and get a bit of a confrontation going – alas there was nothing to bite.  The columnists didn’t want to say things such as “I wish you hadn’t had any children you couldn’t afford” or “I have not met such nasty dole-scum since one traveled on a train in London”.  More of this – commenter -v- commentee would be interesting.

James Turner Resident Dee Roberts (Black Dee)
James Turner Resident Dee Roberts (Black Dee)

The debate only had Richard Bacon as it’s thread and I didn’t feel he really managed to weave it together very well and generally it seemed the pre-production of it had been sloppy and lazy at best.  So, basically, it couldn’t have finished better.

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