That was how Channel 4 described the first series of Benefits Street. Yet many people who receive benefits don’t recognise themselves or their situation in the programme.
Despite that, the programme has been used as evidence to justify major cuts and changes in the benefits system. Iain Duncan Smith, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, suggested in January 2014 that Benefits Street showed the need for changes made by the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
Real Benefits Street is a chance for people receiving benefits – real-life experts – to tell their own stories, and show the true reality of life on benefits. Their stories challenge the myths which stigmatise those who are supported by benefits, and the assumptions lying behind the changes and cuts that are making their lives harder.
The experts of Real Benefits Street have made short videos that highlight some of the real choices people have to make on a daily basis. They include stories about food banks, getting into debt, social isolation, and the real impact a broken benefits system has on the lives of individuals, families and communities. They also show the resilience and resourcefulness that enables people to get by in difficult circumstances – and provide a reminder that the benefits systems should be a safety net that is there for all of us when we need it.