Benefits Street

I don’t watch television. 45 years ago, when I was first married, we decided there were far too many other things to do in life to waste time on watching TV, and I’ve not owned a TV set since (though the other things have rather changed.) I do occasionally watch programmes after transmission on the computer, where you can select the short sections worth watching and quickly slide through most of the tedium. I seldom watch more than 10% of any programme.

So I’ve not watched a whole episode of Benefits St, let alone all those that have aired, but I have seen a few short clips and read a number of articles and some of the many comments on them. Most interesting were those from people who actually know or even have studied James Turner Street in Winson Green. The programme seems to me a cynical exploitation of the people featured with no attempt to examine the underlying causes or to treat the residents with appropriate respect or honesty.

The Birmingham Mail quoted one of those in the show who helped Love Films in making it, Dee Roberts as saying:

“They said they wanted to film for a TV show about how great community spirit is in the street. I participated in the show on that belief.

“But this programme has nothing to do with community, which you can tell from the title. It’s all about people in the street living off benefits, taking drugs and dossing around all day. It makes people out as complete scum.”

From what I’ve seen and heard, the values behind the programme seem to be entirely those of making ‘”good” – i.e. popular – television; the morality of the viewing figures. It’s perhaps what you would expect from a company noted for The Great British Bake Off, a kind of cultural lobotomy. Truly bread and circuses.

Photographically it wasn’t an easy event to cover as it seemed rather disorganised. Visually the most interesting aspect was perhaps a very short period of shouting slogans towards the Love Film office. But the protesters were standing very close to the front of the building and the photographers were behind them, though I managed to squeeze between protesters and the offices for the top picture (and a few similar) and some of those present didn’t really seem to be getting involved.  It was a protest where those taking part didn’t seem really sure what they were supposed to be doing.

Later things did get a little more organised, with a number of speeches, including those from campaigner Reverend Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty, no stranger to the ways of television as he was for 16 years until his retirement in 1999 the real Vicar of Dibley, or at least the church used in the filming of that series in Turville, Buckinghamshire.

As you can guess from this picture, by the time he was speaking it was raining fairly persistently, and the lighting in the narrow street surrounded by tall buildings had dropped considerably – and it had been dull at the start.

It’s always difficult to know how to adjust the colour balance in such circumstances, and I often find that the auto white balance gets things not quite right. It isn’t easy to know what is right, and it probably isn’t what is technically correct in most cases, but I found myself making more tweaks than usual in these pictures, mainly aiming to get believable skin colours.  The Rev Nicolson is red in parts on his face because of the light through the disposable red Unite Community rainwear, which is fine, but in the top image, I had to do a little brushing of the tint with Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush to bring a more healthy looking face to the woman shouting.

When taking pictures of speakers at event such as this, wherever possible I look for backgrounds which relate to the person and/or the event and provide some context – such as this placard with its message ‘Bankers are the real scroungers’.  Another of the placards read ‘Target the Tories Not the Poor’  and for the woman below, from Barnet Alliance for Public Services I like the out of focus word ‘Justice’ which can be made out from the Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign banner behind her.

Story and pictures at Benefits Street Protest at Love Films and there are a few from a smaller protest a week later at Channel 4’s Victoria offices, No More ‘Benefits Street’ Channel 4.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.