Thursday, 9 January 2014

Critique - Benefits Street

Benefit Street aired on January 6th and has since stirred up quite a debate regarding the up and coming benefit cuts. It is a really controversial program showing the lives of some who claim, though most of the audience is only seeing what is on the surface – Fraud, stealing and generally just judging their lifestyle when actually fraud and tax avoidance happen at a much higher scale in businesses too.
I really admired the sense of community on James Turner Street, the focus of channel 4's documentary. Despite their money issues, they still have each other. 'White Dee' is the 'mother' of the road and advice giver on anything benefit based. We also see 'Smoggy' who is a reformed struggling convict, using his entrepreneurial spirit to earn little money but help his neighbours. Known as the '50p man' he offers little pots of daily necessities, even giving some for free when it's clear they can't even afford what many of us would regard a measly 50 pence.
On the flip side we meet a couple laughing about the benefit fraud they recently got caught for, admitting "It wasn't funny at the time" - well, it isn't funny now either. The show has sensationalised the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to people claiming benefits. It has been edited in a way to emphasise the audience's prejudice; the camera pans the street picking up drug dealers passing by, children playing on dirty dumped mattresses and often cutting away to the prison situated at the end of the road, which is apparently a second home for some. I feel they shouldn’t try to manipulate the audience with too many negative shots as it discourages any empathy they might feel.

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