Benefits Street, Channel 4 - TV review: Will a bit of old-fashioned regimental discipline put Cameron onto the right path in life?

These are all men who, in one way or another, have been hung out to dry

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The Independent Culture

Now this is TV that Prince Harry could really get on board with. Among the drug-addled, unemployed, ne’er-do-well men of Kingston Road (this year’s ‘Benefits Street’, in Stockton-on-Tees) we were offered a glimmer of hope in the shape of 12-year-old Cameron and the Sea Cadets (and a baby hedgehog in a broken plant pot, which I assume was supposed to be some kind of visual metaphor for the whole thing). Will a bit of old-fashioned regimental discipline put Cameron onto the right path in life? Harry Wales is certainly hoping so.

Benefits Street continues to be crude, grubby and entirely absorbing television. Part of me would like to reassure the residents of Kingston Road that not all middle classes (needs its own hashtag that does) are prurient rubberneckers, watching goggle-eyed as ‘the poor’ sit on sofas in their front yards and set fire to their benefits or whatever it is that they do. Except we are a bit. For what it’s worth this episode managed to shed a sliver of interesting light on four generations of men on Kingston Road.

Firstly, 12 year old Cameron, expelled from two schools in the first eight weeks of the academic year, and a constant source of worry to mum Julie. Originally wanting to be a chef, he now fancies being an engineer in the Royal Navy after a spell in the Sea Cadets.

 

Then there’s ‘King of the Kids’ Maxwell (‘I must be a good king, cos I’ve been King of the Kids for years’), who’s trying to move on in life after several spells in prison for dealing drugs. Lee, a former steel worker who became addicted to heroin (‘I tried it. And I liked it.’), is now suffering from fits he attributes to the various drugs he was given to overcome his addiction and cannot get back to work.

And then there’s John, an outcast on the road, despite living there for over 40 years. Depression, bereavement and a stroke have left him vulnerable and with severe mental health problems. Given how willing the residents of Kingston Road are to rally round and help those in need (overwhelming kindness towards disabled Reagan, 6 months of laundry for a neighbour without a washer) it seems a surprise how little sympathy they show towards John, despite his foul abuse and conspiracy theory accusations.

These are all men who, in one way or another, have been hung out to dry. Maxwell was addicted to heroin aged 16, Lee it seems did not get the support he needed at school despite his ability, and John is now stranded in limbo – capable enough to get by, but not to get on. And, of course, all three can prove whichever political point you fancy and can help you shift some newspapers.

Perhaps if they’d all had the Sea Cadets and a baby hedgehog, eh Harry?

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