Working people hidden by TV company in Benefits Street

Thu, 16/01/2014 - 13:43 -- nick

A working couple who were filmed over the course of a year for hated welfare-bashing programme Benefits Street were cut from it in a rush to show the worst excesses of claimant behaviour.

This is the shocking claim reported by BBC Radio 4 and The Independent, and appears to show that producers were aware that it needed to balance a focus on workless people with showing workers before transmission.

The couple phoned in to the Today programme to complain about their treatment, saying:

"Why was a working couple on the street filmed extensively for a year to be told that the number of episodes had been cut from six to five and we were meant to feature in the sixth?"

Kieran Smith, the creative director of series maker Love Productions, denied the claim, saying that they were axed because one of them was a benefits assessor and felt "uncomfortable" being featured.

He also claimed that "we have lots of people in the series coming up in future episodes who work or who are trying to get into work," with the fourth episode focusing on an employed resident.

Benefits Street has been widely criticised including by UnemployedNet, which tweeted during the first episode that "people act differently on camera, so please don't watch this as a factual programme" and that we "honestly question whether filmmakers should be allowed to show alcoholics - in the grip of illness and unable to make choice".

Residents of the street are in uproar about the way they have been portrayed. One told The Birmingham Mail: “This is not a community of scroungers, we are a good community. Channel 4 need to take this programme off the air."

In a debate on BBC 2's Newsnight last week, Channel 4 head of factual programmes Ralph Lee admitted that the decision to call the programme 'Benefits Street' was only taken shortly before transmission, backing up claims from some residents that they believed it was to focus on community spirit.

In response to the outcry, Channel 4 has scheduled a live debate on the issues raised, to be shown during the mid-season break.

Hosted by Richard Bacon, this will air on 10th February.

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Submitted by Alan Theasby on

We should insist that Channel 4 produces an "ANSWER BACK" programme rather that - or at least as well as (and BEFORE) - a "debate" - this would offer a response and an alternative to the "benefit-bashing" that has occurred (the programme makers may claim this was not their intention - this may be challenged, but even if true, it is what has happened in real life).
# Any "live debate" should only be on the basis of everyone in the audience - as well as viewers - first hearing the side that has largely been buried: a RIGHT TO REPLY is our first need.
Can there really be a "balanced debate" in the circumstances of a "trial by media" in which newspapers and politicians have used the opportunity to heap even further vilification on already-demonised claimants?

As well as individuals filmed on the series, an ANSWER BACK programme should give a voice to others on the street who were not shown, and also to local community groups and campaigns - from local churches and food bank organisers, to Birmingham Against the Cuts and claimants' / tenants' groups or similar.
# This is a BASIC ISSUE OF DEMOCRACY - a right to reply, a right of other voices to be heard, which a "debate on the issues" does not in itself address.