Next Week begins the start of a new series on Channel 5 where families on welfare are offered a years worth of benefit, £26,000 in a lump sum, and in return are expected to come of benefits all together. The program makers and Channel 5 producers insist that this is a worthwhile exercise that has been tried out in other countries, and not just another example of “Poverty Porn.”
Three families across northern England, including a single mother, and a family of three with a son of 21 still living at home, will be offered the sum of £26,000 in cash in order to entice them off benefits. Programme maker Edwina Silver for Dragon Fly Productions, said that making the film was a “massive risk” to everybody involved but is hoping that in will inspire a grown up debate about welfare.
The term “poverty porn” was coined after Benefits Street, a similar series on Channel 4 that followed people living in a street in Birmingham where the majority of residents were living on benefits. Since then there has been number of TV programmes over the last 5 years the focuses on people who live on welfare.
As a disabled person who, at times in my life, has been dependant on welfare benefits for survival I find these programmes nothing but utterly deplorable. Since 2010 there has been a concentrated effort by Westminster Government, aided by the television channels, to humiliate and degrade people on welfare in order to turn others against them. I am sad that the government are succeeding as I have experienced first hand offensive comments from strangers in the street who have commented on my lifestyle.
Granted there are no doubt people living on welfare who choose to shy away from work, however I suggest they are a small minority of claimants. The vast majority of people like myself would love to come off benefits but are prevented by doing by social and cultural barriers entrenched in our society.
If these programmes were something more constructive, other than just poverty porn, film makers would be keen to make programmes showing the other side of the social argument. However, I am yet to see a production that highlights the difficulty people face in finding employment in the first place. Single parents find it very difficult to find work that pays enough and fits in with childcare. There are many thousands of disabled people who want to work for example, but still can’t necessarily get on their local public transport and get into any building they want. I have yet see a programme the challenges larger employers over the number of disabled people they actively recruit or that even just follows the plight of disabled people looking for work. The difficulty is, these groups of people would not provide the same entertainment value and give others a reason to criticize or even dislike other people, therefore productions such as these would not be attractive to the film makers.
Television channels and film makers have a responsibility to reflect the whole of society and present a balanced view of contentious issues. They need to recognize and great sway over public opinion they have, and responsibly to represent and give a voice to all corners of society. While producers continue to make programmes that amount to nothing but sensationalist entertainment, they will continue to to do great damage and disservice to people who, through no fault of their own, rely on welfare benefits for their very survival.