It is not often that a reality TV show – even one on the touchy subject of benefits – provokes questions in Parliament before the makers have even come up with a title. But when the setting is Hull – preparing for its year as the UK’s City of Culture in 2017 – the prospect of an unwelcome role in a show designed to rival Benefits Street has caused outrage.
Channel 5 is currently considering filming a documentary in the Yorkshire city based on a similar premise to the popular Channel 4 show – with councillors fearing that a parade of people portrayed as scroungers, drug addicts and petty crooks will do the city’s image great harm.
But with Hull poverty hotspots such as Preston Road being scouted for locations, the city is clear that it will not take humiliation lying down.
The Hull North MP, Diana Johnson, who has already raised questions in the Commons, said: “There are people living on benefits in Weybridge, Surbiton and Chelsea. The fact that these so-called ‘documentaries’ almost always seem to pick on northern cities gives away the stereotypes that the programme makers want to promote – and their underlying agenda.”
The MP for Hull East, Karl Turner, who was born and bred in the city, said it was a blow coming so soon after Siemens announced the creation of 1,000 jobs in the area. “This documentary will be another tabloid circus,” he said. “The Siemens deal will do for Hull what oil did for Aberdeen and we are set to become the renewable industry capital of Europe. So it is deeply disappointing.”
The leader of Hull Council, Stephen Brady, accused the makers of “capitalising on the misery of others”, adding: “Hull’s reputation has been at its highest for many years and, obviously, we as a council won’t co-operate. We don’t want anything to do with them. We would encourage residents to take no part in this show. It is television at its worst. The programme makers know who to go for – types who are not representative of the majority of people, who work as volunteers or who are actively looking for jobs.”
One Hull resident, Mrs Pat Gutherless, 65, of Preston Road, said: “The main road itself is very nice. There are a lot of people who don’t work and don’t keep their houses nice, but I don’t think it warrants a television programme.”
While Channel 5 bosses refused to confirm or deny that the show will be along the lines of Benefits Street, a spokesperson for the broadcaster said: “We are in the process of filming a show in Hull on the topic of benefits and employment as one of several locations in the United Kingdom within a series.
“The programme is in [its] early stages and will follow people’s lives in these areas of the country.”