Benefits Street

January 18, 2014

I have a confession to make I haven’t watched Channel Four’s Benefit’s Street,’http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benefits_Street’ self named the program that reveals the reality of life on benefits; I’m not going to watch it either. I don’t need to watch this program as I used to live on a council estate and I was on Income Support as a single mother for a few years before moving onto Tax Credits (which is still a benefit btw) and I already know the reality of being poor, which isn’t exclusive to being on benefits, you can be in work and be poor but I’m fairly certain this program chose to ignore this fact. 

Anyway what am I about to say about this program that I haven’t watched you may be wondering? Nothing much except that I’m sure whatever has been filmed has been cleverly edited to provide popularist entertainment without showing what it’s really like to be poor or on benefits, though it clearly shows the housing situation if you are poor or/and on benefits, generally councils or housing associations like to clump people together; ” you’re a young single mum, right you need to live in these flats, oh you are a couple on a low wage we think you’d like this house,’ this happens, so yes there are streets in every town where everyone can seem to be on benefits. But of course many people use benefits in the short term moving to at work benefits or coming off them completely. But that doesn’t really make much difference to your housing as moving around in social housing is very very hard to do; so housing and planning officers have created these areas (I am sure they were very well paid in the process) and these communities not in fact the poor themselves.

it’s very hard to describe what being poor and knowing that you are poor is like, my experience was entwined with being a young single mum as well so there is stigma, class and status thrown into the mix and the thing that drove me, apart from survival was the desire to not appear broke or to be looked down on or to be pitied and the desire that my children didn’t suffer. I like many many poor people are Very good with our money, I realise this goes against common perception but common perception is very much like common sense it’s surprising how many seemingly intelligent people don’t have it. Poverty is time consuming for example looking for bargains in supermarkets, visiting jumble sales and car boot sales, making things, fixing things, walking everywhere rather than bus or car. But don’t get me wrong I managed to extract every moment of enjoyment and fun out of this life, because what else should I have done, wept everyday shouting unclean unclean as I walked my children to school? 

Everyone on this council estate that I lived on, the ones like me on the bottom of the pile already pilloried and stigmatised for daring to be so publicly poor found ways of coping and surviving, I took the route of growing my own veg (luckily I had a garden), collecting fruit from hedgerows to make jam and wine which could either be drunk or bartered. I helped myself to items from skips and bins, I made things and fixed things and my social life was other peoples houses and home made wine. I trawled the charity shops and yes I had to borrow money from the social because the weekly amount to live on was just that, if anything went wrong with my second hand everything there was no money to replace it.

Everyone knew the drug dealers/addicts the shop lifters the ones fiddling the dole and the social and everyone including those not poor did business with these people, the man in the pub with the dodgy tobacco and the pirated videos everyone. Everyone paid someone cash in hand for a bit of plastering or fence mending or using their van to move a sofa, everyone. The women selling half price children’s clothes in the school playground used to get mobbed by all the middle-class posh mums. I’m sure this behaviour continues exactly as before and that people like those middle-class mums still benefit from those poor people with their half priced clothes and their DIY jobs done for the fraction of the cost or Mr So & So down the road.Let’s not forget the people at the DWP’s with their comfortable jobs only there because of the unemployed, the single parents and the disabled, it seems many make a profit from the poor, it’s a growing business; look at our high streets; at the pawn brokers, betting shops, Brighthouse, pound stores and charity shops galore. Then the adverts for Wonga & other pay day loans and Magpie and other selling sites, yet it’s said that the poor contribute nothing to society….I wonder if the poverty shaming headlines in the Daily Mail boosts sales? I wonder how much money the makers of Benefits Street has made? There is the stench of hypocrisy and it’s permeating all of our media and the society it feeds, if it wasn’t for the poor how could the middle-classes measure their hard working success, how could they parade their status without someone to look down on?

Did you know that the poor are getting poorer, because of austerity measures, but somehow the richest in society are getting richer. if all of society is in the same boat how can that be true? How can cutting benefits help our country? Will it create more jobs? If everyone earns enough money or gets enough benefits to live comfortably what would happen to Wonga et al? If there are more poorer people Wonga et al are going to do very very well aren’t they?  As are programs like Benefits Street that show people who have deliberately made themselves poor and behave so extraordinarily in their attempts to live fulfilling lives, not like ordinary hard working people at all.






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Caroline Criado-Perez

A Pox on the Patriarchy


Lady things, explained.


"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

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