IDS uses Benefits Street success to justify failing policies

Thu, 23/01/2014 - 13:49 -- nick

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is to make a speech today suggesting that the Channel 4 programme 'Benefits Street' has brought home the reality of life in some of Britain's inner cities to the wider public.

In a draft of the speech marking the tenth anniversay of his think tank the Centre for Social Justice, quoted in The Guardian, Smith said:

"With income inequality under Labour the worst for a generation, whilst the middle-class majority were aware of the problems in poor communities, they remained largely unaware of the true nature of life on some of our estates.

"We let these problems be ghettoised as though they were a different country. Even now, for the most part they remain out of sight – meaning people are shocked when they are confronted with a TV programme such as Benefits Street."

The residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham, the setting for the programme, have accused its makers of misleading them and telling them it was about community spirit, while the suggestion that nine out of ten residents are on benefits has been denied by researchers.

Labour MP, Dame Anne Begg, the chairwoman of the Commons work and pensions committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that viewers were inevitably encouraged to see those on screen as typical of all claimants when they were anything but.

She said:

"What struck me is that it was called Benefits Street and then three-quarters or more of the programme actually followed one storyline which was about a petty criminal and shoplifter and how he lived on the proceeds of his crime, rather than the reality of what people face when they live on benefits.

"Part of the problem of projecting the extreme cases is that people then extrapolate that and say that applies to everybody who is on benefits. There wasn't anybody who was a typical benefit claimant featured on the programme at all. There was a huge imbalance."

Smith appears to be encouraging this by suggesting that those shown are providing voters with a window on the world of benefits rather than distasteful entertainment.

The reforms he has promoted have hit trouble after trouble; his universal credit is years behind target and has lost millions of pounds, his core work programme and youth contract have failed to hit targets, and he has been criticised on three occasions for misleading the public.

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