The Channel 4 show Benefits Street depicts the lives of residents of James Turner Street in Winson Green, Birmingham, England. The area was selected because newspapers had reported that 90% of the residents in the area were ‘on benefits’. The programme shows residents committing crimes, including shoplifting, and presents a picture of people who lack the motivation to look for paid work and are dependent on state welfare payments to get by.The show was hugely controversial when it was first broadcast in 2014. It sparked a national debate about the British welfare state. Benefits Street was discussed in the Houses of Parliament, in national newspapers and in the community in which it was set. Channel 4 was accused of trivialising the lives of people in need, depicting the participants of the documentary in a negative light, and blurring the lines between entertainment and documentary-making in a misleading way. The negative depiction of welfare in Benefits Street fitted with a long-term public decline in support for welfare spending in the UK. In 1989, 61% of people agreed that more should be spent on welfare benefits. By 2009, this figure had fallen to 27%, and remained low, at 30%, in 2014 (British Social Attitudes, 2015). What was striking was how different the depiction of welfare was to the immediate postwar period when the ‘welfare state’ was created.
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