From James Turner Street to Benefits street

benefits street

Un couple qui raconte s’être fait prendre en train de frauder et en rigole, un homme qui explique comment voler dans un magasin : bienvenue dans Benefits Street (Rue des allocations), la nouvelle téléréalité de Channel 4.

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With 7 million viewers, the new English series Benefits street broadcast on Chanel 4 is a hit. It is a hit but also a controversial series. The show was filmed by documenting the lives of several residents of James Turner Street, Winson Green, Birmingham, England ; in this street the unemployment rate is 16.5 %, twice as much as the national rate. 90% of the residents claim benefits. The series offers a new vision of benefits claimants and welfare abuses. It shows benefits claimants committing crimes and people who are dependant on welfare payment and are not even trying to find a job.The show is controversial and a petition has been thrown on the Net, where more than 29,000 people demand its stop. There were even twitter death threats made against the residents of the street. Channel 4 is accused of making ‘poverty porn’. However, the producers of Benefits Street defended the series by saing: “It’s really important to show parts of Britain that aren’t normally on TV”.

This real tv show has been very controversial in the UK. Some complained of a pornography of poverty, others considerer it as the proof that unemployed people take advantage of the welfare state and of decent taxpayers’ money. But one thing is clear: Benefits Street does not show the reality of the situation. Channel 4 has exploited and demonized the misery of this street to make more audience. They told the inhabitants that they wanted to study the spirit of community and solidarity on the street. Channel 4 did not tell them the series would be called “Benefits Street“! They cut the workers during the mounting, paid some people to hang out with beers, to be only caricatures. Channel 4 has dramatized the lives of people of the street. But in fact, James Turner Steet is a normal street, with its problems, its diffuculties, but also its dignity and its solidarity between neighbours. This real tv show was watched by 6,01 million people and has a significant impact on the British population and political life. 

The release of the first part of Benefits Street immediately followed the announcement by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne of a new plan to cut benefits and eliminate the system fraudsters. The fact that the subject of the TV show was brought in parliament shows that politicians care about the image of Britain Benefits street gives. Indeed the show reflects the system’s failures and the fact that people can live only with benefits proves some extremist clichés right and reinforces the belief that benefits should be lowered. Benefits street also shows that England has some big poverty and unemployment issues. Officially the UK now has a 6.8% unemployment rate, which is one of the lowest rates since the financial crisis. But many social disparities have widened in England with the crisis. What is chocking and what parliament noticed about this TV show is the social inequalities it reflects. 

Raphaelle EZERZER, Clémentine GOMEZ & Clémence MICHEL

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