Benefits Street: Actually About The Community?

It seems fair to say that the furore around Benefits Street was based solely on the first episode and not the series as a whole. Even if the first came on too strong, that’s clearly not a fair way to view something; the rest is balancing everything out, and the fourth is even supposedly about residents trying to get off benefits.

So what’s the problem? The residents of James Turner Street defended themselves during this week’s uproar about their portrayal in this “poverty porn” by saying they were told the documentary was about community spirit.

But wait… this episode was basically half about community spirit and half about the struggles faced by Romanian immigrants who never even contemplated claiming benefits from the state. White Dee was particularly eloquent about the spirit of the street despite the drug addicts and alcoholics. So what’s the problem?

There was a lovely old lady who pottered about trying to encourage improvements to the street by entering them in the Britain in Bloom competition. It was touching how happy she was to get the street to eighth place in the area, although this was ruined slightly by her dismay at two violent encounters.

Also, as misplaced as it was, it could be argued that when several residents pitched in with a plan to get a long overdue rubbish collection it was a good thing – but they were full of xenophobic remarks throughout the project.

Unfortunately, the programme showed us a sad truth, featuring two groups of Romanians who find England even harder to live in than their home country. The first family did not yet have the right to live here so were trading with scrap metal – upsetting the neighbours in the process – but could not pay the bills with this money.

After they had been forced to move out, a group of fourteen men moved in who had moved here on the promise of a labouring job. Soon, however, they find that they have been duped. The police can get no hard evidence on their English boss and they ended up fleeing out of fear of violence.

Perhaps before people kick off again – the immigration matter could spark another debate – they should keep watching for programmes about love and relationships – the one true leveller – on the street.

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