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Benefits Street: Channel 4 series is “totally unrepresentative” of the area, says former Labour MP Clare Short

Former Labour MP Clare Short has blasted TV hit Benefits Street saying it is “totally unrepresentative” of the area.

Short was an MP in Ladywood for 27 years, the constituency where Benefits Street is set in Birmingham, and insists the portrayal of the local residents is unfair.

She said: “For me, Benefits Street is a crummy and misleading series of programmes. It demeans rather than informs.

“For even among the most disreputable people of Ladywood, there’s a spark of likeability and hope that means that no one should be written off.

“I was drawn to watch the series with some trepidation. It’s not about benefits or even a street. Of nearly 100 houses on James Turner Street, we see about five. It’s totally unrepresentative.

“In a typical Ladywood street of 100 houses, 42 people would be living on the state pension, 15 would be sick and disabled (many of them also old). Those on jobseeker’s allowance would be fewer than three.”

In an open letter to the Radio Times, 67-year-old Short also suggested “hundreds of hours” of footage of normal behaviour had been thrown away to produce the documentary in such a way that it would be more sensational for the audience.

She added: “So, how could such a series pull in five million viewers? It seems, to me at least, another example of the voyeur, Big Brother phenomenon.

“I fear some of the people featured played up to the cameras, thinking they’d at last found a little of the ‘glamour’ of so-called celebrity for which so many yearn.

“But more darkly it provided false justification for viewers to judge and sneer.”

Channel 4 has defended Benefits Street from a growing amount of criticism from MPs and residents.

Ralph Lee, Channel 4 head of factual commissioning, appeared on BBC 2’s Newsnight last month to defend claims that the programme-makers, Love Productions, had tricked the residents of Birmingham’s James Turner Street.

Lee told Newsnight: “The producers have been working with the residents of James Turner Street for nearly two years now. There has been a consultation with them long before we started filming. We were there filming for a year.

“They were very clear and transparent with everyone on the street about what the nature of the programme was, why they were there and what the nature of the end product was.”


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