Benefits Street: How it feels for those of us who are judged because of our background

Many watch with a comfortable sense of distance. They forget that you are only ever a bad decision away from having to rely on state support

Dom Anderson
Tuesday 21 January 2014 19:07 GMT
Dee (left) and Caitlin from ‘Benefits Street’
Dee (left) and Caitlin from ‘Benefits Street’ (Channel 4)

A lot has been written about Channel 4 class warfare reality show Benefits Street. My issue wasn’t just with the show; I grew up and hung around an estate much like the one depicted on the programme, what really got to me is the reaction on social media.

I looked down both my Twitter and Facebook timelines with despair as I saw people pouring scorn on the ‘scum’ that feature on the show. It must be great to live a privileged enough existence to be able to sit in judgement of people less fortunate.

I grew up in a place called Sinfin in Derby, which has a high rate of people who claim some sort of state support. A large amount of the housing there is or has been local authority. The houses that are former housing association are generally owned by people who have a large property portfolio and have never lived in the area.

It's the same old story of people with no link to a community getting rich from properties that were built to be state assets. There is a stigma even in Sinfin around the people who live in houses owned by the council. Stigma that is fed by government narratives of scroungers and skivers and by programmes like Benefits Street.

The tweets about the addictions of some of the residents were heartbreaking to read. Addiction is terrible, but I don’t believe that it is something anyone would choose to have. Addiction is a condition much like and often linked to depression, and often the result of difficult circumstances that people have suffered.

Watching the show was tough, as it filled me with fear and anguish for the people in it. And then you had people like Joey Barton tweeting his disgust for the lifestyles of the people on the show: "Strong evidence to support the breeding licence theory...", tweeted the footballer, among other judgmental remarks.

It seems money can buy you a nice house and nice things but it cannot buy you empathy. Let’s hope that for the rest of his life he is squeaky clean.

And what about White Dee? She has two children with dual ethnic heritage. I watched my Twitter feed fill with words like ‘slob’, ‘tramp’ and ‘skank’ as she came on screen. I watched in disgust as people suggested she should just 'get off her fat arse and get a job'. There seemed a palpable undertone of racism to the way people viewed her children being dual heritage. I was brought up by a white mother and white grandparents and I can tell you first hand that I always found confusion when considering my own ethnicity, imagine how those young people feel seeing the tweets about them.

People seemed to be watching the programme with a comfortable sense of distance. They forget that you are only ever a bad decision away from having to rely on state support. Some people I grew up with refuse to acknowledge their upbringing and roots, and this programme builds on the notion that you should be ashamed to be raised on a housing estate with poor people.

It makes me and others feel that we are inferior to those around us from ‘better stock’. It is bad enough that at times and in certain settings I am already made to feel acutely like I don’t belong there - this programme and the reactions to it spread far and wide by social media only serve to make that worse.

Read more: Owen Jones - Benefits Street: Our media targets the poor and voiceless

Paul Vallely - As Benefits Street shows, we are quick to demonise and slow to understand

Benefits Street: The reaction

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