The Great British.. Benefits Street? Featured

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Recently the ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude of the British public has vanished. Instead we have seen uproar. Facebook is littered with angry rants and even some of the most liberal and left-wing people I know have done political U-turn’s to rival Nick Clegg. What has caused all of this? In fine British fashion, it’s a TV programme. When the NSA scandal broke and America was up in arms, Britain largely stayed quiet. We don’t care if the government spies on us, but ‘Benefits Street’ on Channel 4 has sparked outrage. And it’s understandable. Being deliberately controversial, the show has highlighted people who manipulate the system and money for nothing while making no effort to try. It demonises all people on benefits, never showing the other side where there are people who are genuinely ill, incapable of working and who need support.


The working, tax-paying proportion of the British population have every right to get angry when faced with this programme. Why work hard day in, day out when there are people who don’t do anything at all? Why pay taxes for other people to spend it on iPhones? Like all systems, this one has its faults. But equally many of the people who have felt their blood boil at Channel 4’s portrayal wouldn’t agree to completely abolish the Welfare State. Just like our keep calm attitude it is something that is inherently British. Services like the NHS, state pensions, free childcare and free education are ‘benefits’ that we all enjoy. And while we hate seeing people who suck money out of the state like leeches, without good reason, we also wouldn’t want to see people who do need support suffer.


The attitude of the public is not one of jealousy, while most people whine and moan about having to work for a living they do not truly resent their position. Those who choose to stay at home rather than find a job are very much in the minority. There are few people who would be satisfied living on the comparatively small income that the government provides, and few who would be satisfied having nothing to do. They would simply get bored. Most Britons take pride in their work, seeking to improve their lives aspiring to more. This is an ethic that harks right back to the war. We seem to have an underlying sense of comradery in knowing we are all working together, contributing to a greater good so we can enjoy free services. So when we see someone breaking this unwritten rule it does make us angry. The average working person has too much self-respect to stop being an active member of society if they are able to do it.


So what has gone wrong? Obviously the system, even for most left wing viewer of Benefits Street, must accept political changes are needed somewhere. But what has gone wrong to get the British public so worked up? Channel 4’s programme may have gone a step too far in demonising the welfare state here, as people forget the other aspects. Those who pick and choose which parts of welfare they like forget that a government which would remove ‘benefits’ would most likely be in favour of privatising services. Is this what we want?


It’s nice to see something, other than a royal wedding, spark this passion in Britain. But rather than rant about how unfair it is on Facebook, should we not be taking pride in the work ethic that the majority do have? And maybe this attitude could be used to change things.

Ellen Orange

I am a second year English Literature student at Durham University. I love reading, I write for Palatinate, The Durham Globalist and BounceSin. When I'm not reading or writing you will usually find me taking photos!

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