People of Benefits Street feel they were tricked into looking like 'scroungers'

The documentary series shows residents of a Birmingham street in what they consider an unfair light - and now the internet wants them punished.

Channel 4 aired welfare documentary Benefits Street last night. According to the blurb:

[A]s austerity continues to bite, jobs remain hard to come by and benefits are squeezed, this observational documentary series reveals the reality of life on benefits, as the residents of one of Britain's most benefit-dependent streets invite cameras into their tight-knit community.

That community consists of the people living in the 99 houses on James Turner Street in Winson Green Birmingham, of which some are unemployed, and some are in work. “This is a place where people look out for each other and where small acts of kindness can go a long way,” Channel 4’s blurb says, which makes it sound like the show was sympathetic to the reality of life under austerity.

Instead, here’s the Mirror today:

In the show, residents of James Turner Street struggle to cope with cuts to their benefits. There's a man who goes around, door-to-door, selling small quantities of essentials like sugar and washing powder for 50p, and many residents can't even afford that. While looking for jobs many of the residents have nothing to do with their time other than smoke, drink, or (in a couple of cases) take drugs. There's a lot of focus on one man, who gets out of jail and heads off into the city centre to shoplift some designer jeans on the very same day. James Turner Street comes across as bleak.

However, several of the participants are furious at how their lives were depicted. Here’s Dee Roberts:

She said: “They have shown me pointing at houses shouting ‘unemployed, on benefits’, but they haven’t shown me pointing at the houses where I knew people were working and in jobs.

"I’m really worried about how my neighbours will react if they see it.

“They have edited everything to suit their own needs – taken a positive and turned it into a negative.”

Dee, who is unemployed and on benefits, was approached to appear on the show at a jobseeker event in Birmingham.

Another particpant, Becky Howe, has said “half of my family and friends have already disowned” her because of how the show was edited to make their home look like “slums”.

Judging from Twitter, people responded angrily to the show's decision to focus on benefits fraud, petty crime, and financial insecurity. Mark McGowan, an artist who tweets under the name @chunkymark, gathered dozens upon dozens of tweets from those watching the show:

That’s just a sample. You can understand why the participants might feel they have to protect themselves from this hatred.

Several of those featured in the show - a five-part series, the next part airing next Monday - now have jobs. Here's Channel 4's response to the complaints from the participants:

“This is a fair and balanced observational documentary series.

“It is a fair reflection of the reality of life on a street where the majority of households receive benefits.

“The contributors were briefed extensively before any filming took place. If any residents requested not to be filmed they were not.

“The main contributors have been offered the opportunity to view the programmes they feature in before transmission to make any comments about their contributions.

“As far as we are aware we have appropriate consent for any private phone calls that appear in the series.”

We hope that further episodes of the series improve in depicting the lives of the poor in a way that doesn't confirm the worst prejudices of the right's ridiculous 'scrounger vs striver' rhetoric. Judging from the comments underneath the Mirror's article, there's a long way to go in correcting those misbeliefs.

One of the families featured in the show. (Photo: Channel 4)

I'm a mole, innit.

Photo: Getty
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We know what Donald Trump's presidency will look like - and it's terrifying

The direction of America's 45th president plans to take is all too clear.

Welcome to what we may one day describe as the last day of the long 20th century.

“The Trump Era: The Decline of the Great Republic” is our cover story. “Now the world holds its breath” is the Mirror’s splash, “Protesters mass ahead of Trump's presidency” is the Times’, while the Metro opts to look back at America’s departing 44th President: “Farewell Mr President” sighs their frontpage.

Of today’s frontpages, i best captures the scale of what’s about to happen: “The day the world changes”. And today’s FT demonstrates part of that change: “Mnuchin backs 'long-term' strong dollar after mixed Trump signals”. The President-Elect (and sadly that’s the last time I’ll be able to refer to Trump in that way) had suggested that the dollar was overvalued, statements that his nominee for Treasury Secretary has rowed back on.

Here’s what we know about Donald Trump so far: that his major appointments split into five groups: protectionists, white nationalists, conservative ideologues,  his own family members, and James Mattis, upon whom all hope that this presidency won’t end in global catastrophe now rests.  Trump has done nothing at all to reassure anyone that he won’t use the presidency to enrich himself on a global scale. His relationship with the truth remains just as thin as it ever was.

Far from “not knowing what Trump’s presidency will look like”, we have a pretty good idea: at home, a drive to shrink the state, and abroad, a retreat from pro-Europeanism and a stridently anti-China position, on trade for certain and very possibly on Taiwan as well.

We are ending the era of the United States as a rational actor and guarantor of a degree of global stability, and one in which the world’s largest hegemon behaves as an irrational actor and guarantees global instability.

The comparison with Brexit perhaps blinds many people to the scale of the change that Trump represents. The very worst thing that could happen after Brexit is that we become poorer.  The downside of Trump could be that we look back on 1989 to 2017 as the very short 21st century.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.