Should 'Benefits Street' Be Renewed For Second Series?

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Channel 4’s hit show, Benefits Street, has certainly ruffled a few feathers since it first aired on 6th January, 2014. Undeterred by the controversy, which has included a change.org petition to ban the show signed by almost 60,000 people, Channel 4 has announced plans to commission a second series.  However, Love Productions, the production company behind the program, have appealed for a new location and the second series of Benefits Street won’t be taking place in Birmingham.

Benefits Street Channel 4Channel 4's Benefits Street set to return for Series 2

The first series, which followed the residents of the apparently notorious James Turner Street in Birmingham, has come under fire for its black and white presentation of those living on benefits.  Among the inhabitants of the street who have been portrayed in the show are a pair of young, unemployed parents, a drug addict and an alcoholic.  Channel 4’s narrowly focused presentation of those receiving benefits has caused an outcry that this is an inaccurate depiction of what life on benefits is really like for the majority of people who receive them.

Those who have appeared on the show have been labelled lazy, and have since become victims of bullying and death threats.  While the program purports to comment and raise issues regarding the welfare system focalised by those currently affected, critics have argued that instead those who have appeared have been been demonised for the viewing consumption of the general public and to the delight of the right wing.

The residents who have appeared on Benefits Street have since suggested that the intention behind the show was unclear to them, and they had initially expected to produce a program concerning their community.  Channel 4 has adamantly denied this and claims that there was never any inkling that the contributors did not understand what the program would entail.

The questions raised now appear to be: will there be another community willing to appear in Benefits Street series 2?  What community would wish to put themselves through the ordeal supposedly suffered by those who appeared in the first series?

Benefits Street Series 2                                      Residents of James Turner Street were unhappy with their portrayl on Benefits Street

The program did, at times, appear to present a marginalised and stereotyped view of people who receive benefits.  It’s not just alcoholics, drug addicts and pick pockets who claim JSA and housing allowance.  A promise that series 2 would present a broader, less biased view (and Channel 4 actually maintaining this) would perhaps provide more incentive for potential contributors to offer up their lives on a plate to the public.

It has been refreshing to gain a better understanding of what extreme situations for those on benefits can be like.  Characters like ‘50p Man’ Smoggy can warm your heart almost as much as watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and it’s been inspiring to discover there are people like him out in the world.  The program’s presentation of his small acts of kindness which go such a long way have certainly been enlightening.

A rethinking of the program and the way that the contributors are portrayed may be needed to curb the critics, but a second series would certainly be welcomed by most.  Perhaps if Smoggy were named as host then the second series would receive universal support. 

Check out our previous article on why Frank Skinner refused a job narrating Benefits Street.


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