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TV review: Benefits Street

Birmingham | News | Published:

It's not all about money – you can have all the money in the world and have nothing compared to what we have here," says White Dee. No, not the queen from Narnia, the 'mother' of a run-down and jobless street in Birmingham.

White Dee

Yes, this is the new television series called Benefits Street – the latest instalment from our favourite shock-umentary friends at Channel 4.

As if Big Fat Gypsy Weddings wasn't jaw-dropping enough, or Man with the 10 Testicles wasn't, well, strange enough - the producers have delivered another show to whip the country into another frenzy.

  • Police consider criminal investigation after Benefits Street aired

'Dirty little scribes', 'disgusting' and 'deluded' are just some of the words springing out from people during a quick glance on social media after the show.

And what perfect timing – right on the same day George Osborne announces a further £25 billion in cuts are needed, much of it to come from welfare benefits. At least one person will have been raising a glass come the night's end.

Being the first episode of the series, we are introduced to our crew of no-hopers. You have White Dee, the mother hen of the street who everyone turns to for her wealth of experience in dodging housing benefit cuts.

Next is Fungi. Katie Hopkins may have riled everyone with her assumption a baby name told its class, but as if Fungi is going to be sipping champagne cocktails?

No, Fungi is the loveable rogue, a 'recovering' drug addict on incapacity benefit.

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Only not loveable when he is seen racing to the cash point to collect his £146 in benefits, and then be seen with a can of drink moments later.

His best mate Danny acts as his partner in crime. While he sells off free magazines to the unsuspecting public in the city centre, Danny 'shops' for his orders in the High Street stores, all the time breaking the conditions of his ASBO.

Even this far in, you're thinking the house prices in the road, James Turner Street in Winson Green, are shooting through the roof.

But hang on, young couple Mark and Becky – who pick up £750-a-month in child tax credits, child benefits and job seekers allowance – have said the show doesn't give a true portrayal of the street, and that they were 'manipulated'.

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Erm, isn't this the couple who were caught cheating the benefit system? Glass houses and all that.

But aside from the snorty 'look at them' and 'how do they live like that' comments which must have been ringing around television sets last night, what does this programme really tell us?

Is it that we aren't looking after our poorest enough? Is it we need to lock up these people and throw the key away? Or is it absolutely nothing? I say the latter.

Who doesn't really know there are streets like this where people live on the bread line, begging for every last penny they can get from the Government?

We all know about it, we just choose not to visit them, preferring to watch them from the comfort of our living rooms on love-to-shock-you shows like this.

Yes, this was the worst of the worst.

But even in this street, misrepresented or not, there is always a bright light.

Take Smoggy, who is attempting to turn his back on crime and make a business by selling 50 pence produce to the residents.

Then there is even White Dee who, despite her flaws, shows genuine kindness to others.

You know what – I think everyone on Twitter is wrong, and she is right.

Money can get you by, but it's not everything. Although having a plasma wide screen television in your living room might be.

Alex Ross

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