Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Thousands sign petition urging Channel 4 to drop Benefits Street

The series has prompted a police probe and complaints from viewers

by ian burrell

Published 09/01/2014

Dee and Caitlin from Channel 4's 'Benefits Street'
Dee and Caitlin from Channel 4's 'Benefits Street'

Thousands of people have signed a petition demanding that Channel 4 drop the remainder of Benefits Street, a controversial series on the welfare system that has prompted a police probe and hundreds of complaints from viewers.

The series, which focuses on a street in the Winson Green district of Birmingham where 90 per cent of residents are said to be claiming benefits, is being reviewed by West Midland Police after contributors were seen boasting about shoplifting offences and growing cannabis in their homes.

Today, it emerged that a two-bedroom house worth £77,000 had gone up for sale on the street.

The programme has provoked uproar for the way it portrays people on the poverty line and nearly 400 people have complained about the show to Channel 4, with another 296 complaining to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

More than 3,300 people have signed an online petition calling on the broadcaster to drop the show and make a donation to charity for the damage it had caused.

The petition was the idea of former Birmingham bus driver Arshad Mahmood, who said Benefits Street gave a misleading impression.

“I’m concerned about how much hatred any further episode is going to create,” he told The Independent.

In his appeal for signatories to his petition, Mr Mahmood, 42, said: “I have worked for 33 years but after major surgery am now unable to work and receive some benefits. The backlash and abuse of social networks towards people on benefits as a result of this show has shocked me. This is not a responsible approach from a public service broadcaster.”

Benefits Street attracted an audience of 4.3m, making it Channel 4’s most successful programme in more than a year.

The next episode, to be broadcast on Monday evening, will show the impact of the arrival of Eastern European immigrants on the street.

A Channel 4 spokesperson said the broadcaster would not be pulling the remainder of the series.

“Filmed for more than a year, this fair and balanced observational documentary series is a fair reflection of the reality of life on a street where the majority of households receive benefits - and in an area of Birmingham that has had the highest rate of unemployment in the country for the last eight years,” she said.

“It is a sympathetic, humane and objective portrayal of how people are coping with continuing austerity and cuts in benefits.”

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