What a real ‘Benefits Street’ would look like

This is what a real 'Benefits Street' might look like.

On Monday Channel 4 aired the first episode of a new programme called Benefits Street. The show is set on a street where 90 per cent of the people living there apparently claim some form of benefit.

Here is a short clip so you get the gist:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr8jGiIp2MI

The clip is short but I’m sure you get the picture: the residents of ‘Benefits Street’ (actually James Turner Street in Birmingham) live as they do because they don’t have jobs. And they don’t have jobs because they can’t be bothered to get the, Or, so the programme seems to suggest.

That is, after all, what benefits are for isn’t it, the unemployed?

The point the producers of Benefits Street appear to have missed, however, is that the vast majority of people on benefits are about as far removed from some of the characters featured in the programme as it is possible to be.

Not only in the sense that they are ordinary people rather than troublemakers, but in that they aren’t unemployed at all.

Were it a real Benefits Street, it might look something like this (click to zoom):

Welfare graph

(HT: New Economics Foundation)

In other words, the vast majority of people ‘on benefits’ are elderly. Pensions make up a whopping 42.3 per cent of the welfare bill. It’s pensioners who predominate on Benefits Street, not drug-addled, foul mouthed yobs.

The next largest recipients of welfare are those who do work but who are on low incomes. George Osborne’s ‘strivers’, in other words, who make up 20.8 per cent of the welfare budget through things like working tax credits.

The working poor are an increasingly common feature of 21st century Britain. In December the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that over half of the 13 million people living in poverty are actually from working families.

Next up are the sick and disabled, who constitute 15.5 per cent of the welfare budget. They do sometimes take drugs; but it’s usually for pain relief, rather than to get high.

At the end of the street we finally reach the unemployed, who make up just 2.6 per cent of total welfare spending. Not 90 per cent, not even 10 per cent; but 2 per cent. That’s it. It isn’t so much a street as a potting shed in the garden of a small terraced house at the end of the row.

Looking again at my terrible photoshop mock up of a ‘Benefits Street’ it’s clear that, like the producers of the programme, I’ve created a woefully inaccurate representation of the true state of affairs. A real ‘Benefits Street’ would look a lot more like this:

Pensioners

Look at them. I hope it makes you as angry as it does me. Bloody scroungers.

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

52 Responses to “What a real ‘Benefits Street’ would look like”

  1. GO

    “At the end of the street we finally reach the unemployed, who make up just 2.6 per cent of total welfare spending.”
    I don’t think this is right. The 2.6% figure refers to JSA, doesn’t it? Which is not the only benefit received by unemployed people. Many will also receive Housing Benefit, for instance, and/or Child Tax Credit. So the unemployed must in fact make up rather more than 2.6% of total welfare spending. (Which at least means there’s scope significantly to reduce welfare spending by reducing unemployment rather than by cutting people’s benefits.)
    Of course, of the money that *is* spent on the unemployed, only a fraction will be going to people who are out of work for more than a year or so, and only a fraction of that fraction will be going to people whose long-term unemployment is a ‘lifestyle choice’. So the proportion of the welfare bill made up by spending on people who fit the ‘scrounger’ stereotype is likely to be far *less* than 2.6%.

  2. JC

    Interesting that you should think of a pension as a “benefit”. I know that it is paid the same way and comes through the same department, but most of us consider it a return on savings of some form. After all, that’s what NI was originally for (along with healthcare and unemployment insurance). It is not an insurance based system as the other “benefits” were supposed to have been.

  3. Peter Wicks

    Channel 4 is a stooge of this fascist junta that has demonised the poor of Britain, a pox on this TV station and may it go bankrupt…

  4. colonel_hackney

    Interesting to see what is meant by the word ‘real’.
    Are you denying that James Turner Street is ‘real’?
    Is only a street which is statistically representative ‘real? If that is the case then no street in the country is ‘real’ .
    A a street which exists only in your graphic representation becomes more ‘real’ than a physical place where people actually live. Interesting………….

  5. Cee

    It is even more interesting that you believe the edited construct of populist television documentary somehow constitutes a ‘reality’ greater than an objective breakdown of figures. The makers of the program have edited reality into a narrative that suits their purpose. Another documentary maker could make an entirely opposing narrative in the same location using the same dramatics personae.

Comments are closed.