Romanians in hard times on Benefits Street

Birmingham | News | Published:

Critics say it's 'poverty porn' – while supporters say it is highlighting important social issues.

Either way, there's little arguing that Channel 4's controversial Benefits Street has become must-watch TV.

Last night's second instalment of the fly-on-the-wall documentary featured everything from immigrants searching through bins for scrap metal to green-fingered campaigners trying to transform Winson Green into a Britain in Bloom

Sue Godridge cheerily patrolled the street appealing for residents to put some greenery in their concrete front gardens.

There was also a shocking moment when a crazed gang brandishing a hammer confronted the TV crew as Sue was being interviewed about her blooms campaign.

She was heard to plead with them that they were only filming for a horticultural contest.

The row surrounding the production and broadcast of the programme shows no sign of letting up. Twitter was today still abuzz with split opinions on the show's merits – and Frank Skinner has now revealed he declined an offer to narrate it.

The comedian perhaps saw the furore coming as he has revealed he turned down the job of narrating Benefits Street as he didn't want to be derogatory to locals.

The show has been panned and praised in equal measure as the love-them-or-hate-them residents of James Turner Street come under the glaring spotlight of the nation.


Debate focused heavily on a group of no fewer than 14 Romanians, who were crammed into a four-bedroom house as they desperately struggled to earn a living.

The men had been brought over to the UK by a gang who promised them work, but viewers heard they had laboured in a field for 17 hours for just £10.

They were branded as 'tramps' by the star of last week's show, alcoholic and out-of-work 'Fungi', who also took affront to gypsies moving caravans to the end of the road, threatening to petrol bomb them.

Twitter was full of sympathy for the Romanians' plight, with many saying they were doing more to make an honest living than most of the other residents featured.


Sheikh Hasina tweeted to say: "I do feel sorry for the Romanians on benefits street.

"Non-British people think its easy to get a job in the UK and earn quick money."

But many complained that they shouldn't have come to Britain in the first place.

Jess Barnett tweeted: "All those Romanians complaining, you chose to come here. No sympathy. Here's an idea, go home." Most of the Romanians left James Turner Street in search of a better life – living on the streets in London.

But the wedding of Anna from Poland and Algerian native Abdul warmed the heart, despite their neighbours' opinions that they were marrying for an ulterior motive.

Meanwhile, Skinner said his refusal to narrate the series was down to not wanting to be on TV criticising Birmingham. The stand-up said: "The production company sent me a couple of clips. They said it was going to be about the community spirit in the street, but I was a bit worried about the topic. They only showed me a very small part of a five-episode series, and I wondered what the rest would be like."

An immigration debate is likely to be sparked by the programme. Yesterday the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith fielded a question in the Commons about Benefits Street, saying ',any people are shocked by what they see'.

"All of these abuses date back to what the last Government left, which was massive spending and trapping people in a benefit dependency," he said.

To watch the second episode of Benefits Street visit

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