We’ve got a little bit of a liberal bent here at Think Outside the Box. Nothing too extreme of course, just a general opinion that the poor, disabled people or anyone who may fall under the umbrella of ‘a bit foreign’, shouldn’t be blamed for every problem in the country, so imagine our delight when we stumbled across The Benefits Estate (Channel 5, Tuesday 9 pm), a documentary sure to cast a spotlight on the hardship faced by one of the most disadvantaged groups in society.
Benefit’s Street did a pretty good job of rousing the mob in all its visceral, finger-pointing and fist-waving ignorance, but then that level of mouth-frothing anger can’t be sustained by one street alone. I mean, it’s enough to make you think that maybe that programme WASN’T representative of a significant section of society.
“There are loads of streets in the UK,” a flaming pitchfork-wielding member of the baying mob might say.
“There are five in my village – as well as that one where the vicar lives and where we hold the summer fetes – and I can name at least three more, so what does one dodgy one really matter?”
By way of an answer, Channel 5 brings us this veritable orgy of Poverty Porn that seeks to remind us just how awful this part of society really is.
Good news though! This is Dublin, so it’s Irish tax payers footing the bill for such extravagances as packets of crisps and clothes. Too bad Channel 5, you’re not going to get any feral Twitter buzz with this one…
If you had the displeasure of watching The Benefits Estate you too, surely, would feel such guttural outpourings of rage, with the local community living in such opulence that it’s any wonder why City of London bankers don’t just upsticks to their nearest council estate.
Look at them with their bloody leather sofas and obesity and carpet – our flooring’s all laminate, we don’t have any carpet. And look at all that rubbish piling up! They must’ve bought loads of stuff and just thrown it away, the ungrateful proles. Such decadent lifestyles should only be reserved for Victorian peasants, paedophiles and goats.
But perhaps we’re being unfair. Does it trigger the sort of Twitter reaction that makes you sometimes wish Ebola had reached the UK? Sure, but maybe that’s a more habitual feeling that has been perpetuated elsewhere.
Tonally, The Benefits Estate isn’t particularly sneering, and the narrator even sounds somewhat empathetic to the programme’s various unfortunate protagonists, but the reasons for the ingrained social problems in this particular community aren’t explored in anything beyond surface detail. The briefest mention of mental health issues and sound bites like “running a household on benefits is a constant struggle” feel planted to trigger an incredulous reaction; easy to pass off as nothing more than excuses for doing fuck all.
It’s certainly not as hateful as Benefits Street, and it makes a noticeable shift in the second half hour to something much more compassionate – a change that was duly acknowledged by a shift in social media sentiment – but the motivations for making The Benefits Estate are still questionable.
There is a programme to be made about the true face of Benefits Britain – but this isn’t it.