You can't have missed the kerfuffle in the media, and across social networks over the last couple of weeks about Channel 4's Benefits Street. It's made a refreshing change from Katie Hopkins spouting poisonous filth on Phil & Holly's sofa (though she has been piping up on twitter, apparently)
Everyone's got an opinion, and everyone's entitled to it. And it's not often I get all current affairs-y on this blog, but honestly, I can't join in with the braying crowds.
I read something in the Grauniad last week, written by the boss of the Housing Association whose tenants are featured in the show, titled "Three things you should know before watching Benefits Street" - and I urge you to read it. He's very fair to his tenants, and tells a lot of truth. I've got a few things to add myself, so maybe this is Three More things you should know before watching Benefits Street
- Benefits Street is Television Just like Jeremy Kyle, Coronation Street and In The Night Garden, it is entertainment. Situations and characters are exaggerated for the cameras, for your entertainment. If it portrayed reality, it would be dull, and you wouldn't be watching. They need an audience, so it has to shock and grab your attention.
- You don't know the full story Unless you have met the people featured in the show, sat down on their sofa and chatted to them, lived their lives, learned their backgrounds, you don't know what's lead them to where they are now. Without that information, you are not in a position to judge.
- Benefits Street is Every Street The big media headline was about how almost everyone living on the street was receiving benefits. That applies to the majority of streets in the UK. Anywhere with children (unless you live in the kind of posh area where people are earning £60k+), those families are in receipt of benefits. Anywhere with people over retirement age, they're receiving benefits. That's not even thinking about the sick, disabled, or those who have lost their jobs because of the current recession. I live in a leafy little suburban street, a privately owned estate of about 50 houses, yet I can say with absolute certainty that at least 75% of the people on my road are receiving benefits of some sort. Does that make mine Benefits Street?
I work with people who have financial problems every day. I work with people receiving benefits. I work with people who are working, and have to claim benefits to top up their income because their work is so poorly paid they can't afford to make ends meet without help. That's reality. The world we live in isn't going to change any time soon, but being judgemental without knowing the truth helps no-one. Understanding goes far further than sensationalism.