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TV review: For the benefit of Mr Duncan Smith

Last night's episode of this usually raucous documentary was flat and muted.

Birmingham's James Turner Street, the setting of Channel 4's Benefits Street

There were no claw hammers raised or scars shown off and Asda vans went unmolested. The barricades of stinking bin bags were cleared and the frankly terrifying Black Dee wasn't howling at the sky. Instead, we saw a nice old dear picking up litter and then everyone crowded round Fungi to pat his back as he faced a hospital appointment.

So, instead of a glass of nippy whisky, we were handed luke-warm Kia-Ora. Even the sneaky hashtag had gone, the one which used to subtly materialise on screen at moments of high drama when Channel 4 knew the great British public would be in orgasms of outrage, desperate to tap out 140 characters of hate.

This was certainly a mild episode and that's why it was boring.

No-one watches this series to find out about 'the reality of life on benefits', which is what Channel 4 says this programme is about. Instead, we're like the powdered toffs who promenaded through Bedlam in the 18th century: we watch it to feel horrified, self-righteous and, of course, for sheer entertainment.

There can be no serious claim that this show deals in reality. Are we to believe that sitting on a damp wall drinking lager is representative of life on benefits? Does every claimant choose to wizen their skin and their wallpaper with constant cigarettes? Do they all hunker on the kerb, boasting about their drug abuse and their benefit fraud and their days in court? According to Channel 4 they do, for this is 'the reality of life on benefits'.

What a vicious insult to people who rely on the welfare state.

The hideous characters on Benefits Street play up to the cameras. They sit, roll over, beg and are thrown the dog biscuit of fifteen minutes of fame. Their sordid display tarnishes everyone else in the country who relies upon the welfare state. Every person who is ill or desperate for work and has no option but to live on benefits is sullied by these cavorting idiots.

Some have blamed the programme's creators, Love Productions, for spreading a warped perception of benefit claimants but that's unfair. The company had the task of making a programme which will pull in viewers and they've succeeded. They're not a political party or PR company or pressure group with an agenda. They have no moral responsibility. They're here to win ratings for Channel 4 and - hats off to them - they've done their job spectacularly.

It's the residents of James Turner Street who bear a responsibility. They should have borne in mind that, when being filmed, they are representing benefit claimants and so they might have considered putting the lager away whilst the camera was on them, or not boasting about the many uses of tin foil in the art of shoplifting.

When the backlash hit, they whined they'd been tricked by Love Productions who had said they were making a cosy show about community spirit. Nonsense. When the company who brought you Underage and Having Sex or Britain's Youngest Grannies turns up, you can bet they're not here to talk about knitting patterns.

Would you allow a film crew to cram themselves into your home without checking what type of programme they create? But perhaps the poor folk are so dim and simple that they can't exercise judgment? If that's a valid defence then it's yet another slur on benefit claimants served up by the wholesome residents of James Turner Street.

You could say this is just TV and what harm is done if these bored people wanted to caper and show off to the cameras? Harm is done as the Government are pushing through brutal cuts to the welfare system, and these changes rely on the lazy notion that those on benefits are scroungers, a perception these grotesques seemed desperate to prove.

Iain Duncan Smith actually referred to Benefits Street as a justification for his welfare cuts. He said it shows why people are worried. The squalid characters on Benefits Street may well be on the Tory payroll as they've helped Ian Duncan Smith's campaign to blacken the name of welfare recipients more effectively than any Tory propaganda, and all just so they could get on the telly. Shame on them.

Perhaps once their benefits dry up and the eviction notices start fluttering in will the capering fools realise what they've done…their fifteen minutes will be over and now the rest of their life beckons. What will they do with it? Just wait for the call from Celebrity Big Brother.

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