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TV review: Benefits Street
A caricature of poverty
Mark Caudery, Birmingham Socialist Party
Channel 4's recent controversial "documentary" series, Benefits Street claimed to depict life for residents of poverty stricken James Turner Street in Winson Green, Birmingham. It created an unfair, inaccurate caricature of welfare recipients.
Even before it was aired it was causing a stir. The Birmingham Mail carried a prominent article saying programme makers had misled residents by claiming it would be about "neighbourly togetherness and community spirit".
It focused on unemployed people while claiming to be about benefit recipients - that's perhaps the greatest lie of all.
Only 2.6% of welfare spending goes on unemployment benefits. The vast majority of people on welfare are in work or retired.
According to research by the End Child Poverty campaign, 81% of Birmingham families are dealing with the reality of poverty.
Many of these will be working families; so far these people have not appeared in the programme.
Although commercially funded, Channel 4 is a publicly owned channel with a reputation for broadcasting material challenging the right-wing narrative of the mainstream commercial media and the BBC.
But it is known to broadcast 'controversial' programmes in the search for big viewing figures.
One resident featured in the programme was shown duping members of the public by selling free hotel lobby magazines pretending to be a Big Issue seller.
But such crimes of poverty, while anti-social and condemnable, pale into insignificance compared to the crimes of the super-rich bankers who caused such enormous social damage to our society.
When are we going to see the Bonus Mansions documentary about the bankers' lifestyles?
This programme's image fits well into the Tory agenda. It further dehumanises the very people who are paying the price of the ruling class's failure by attempting to turn working class people against one another.
As they try to do with immigration or single parent families, it is part of a long line of scapegoating propaganda in much of the media.
Such propaganda aims to turn people against one another, an age-old tactic of divide and rule. This attempt to demonise those most adversely affected by failing capitalism will need to be challenged so more people can see the real enemy.
Benefits Street is not the first programme to make scapegoats of the poor for the crime of being poor and it won't be the last.
But the viewers' backlash proves that resistance is growing against the government and their attempts to divide us.
In The Socialist 22 January 2014:
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