A row was exactly what the programme quickly devolved into.
Organize a panel on one of the most controversial issues out there and then invite one of the most polarizing TV personalities to discuss – Channel 5’s Big Benefits Row certainly had the right idea when it comes to boosting ratings. It’s questionable whether Katie Hopkins, Deirdre Kelly or ‘White Dee’ from controversial Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street and ex-Tory MP Edwina Currie ever had a chance at some kind of productive discussion about whether the benefits system should be changed, but that was not what happened during the show.
Katie Hopkins was her usual loud and vibrant self.
Dee made a surprisingly composed and coherent first live TV appearance. Making her case, she said: "I haven't been on benefits my whole life. It’s just at the moment. I suffer from depression and I'm being assessed for bipolar disorder."
As ever ready with a quick and loud rebuttal, Hopkins took aim at Kelly, asking: “Do you not feel like the patron saint of druggies and drop-outs?”
As the debate got more and more heated, the studio audience eagerly joined in, particularly those other Benefits Street present in the studio. Shouts of “My CV is in every single shop!" and "I do not sit on my bum all day!” weren’t too helpful in moving the debate forward, but they provided appropriate ambiance for the heated argument.
Matthew Wright was on hosting duty, but by the end, he could barely get a word in edgewise.
The Independent columnist Owen Jones, Spectator editor Fraser Nelson and poverty campaigner Jack Monroe joined in with the general sentiment that programmes like Benefits Street help demonize people, who at one time or another live on benefits. In classic style, however, Hopkins rebuffed and drowned out their arguments with a couple of long-winded tangents.
A live shout-off followed, with host Matthew Wright poking and prodded with such questions as "What about tax avoidance?" In the end, they helped elevate the noise levels, but did not draw out a clear end or conclusion from the debate. It was certainly watchable, and had mild entertainment value. However, as an actual discussion on benefits or even a barometer of public opinion, The Big Benefits Row wasn’t all that helpful.