Benefits Street Backlash – New Guidelines for Journalists

NUJ Guide to reporting povertyThe National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has developed a set of guidelines for reporting poverty. The guidelines have been produced in response to media reporting that stigmatises people living in poverty, in particular those in receipt of benefits, by using misleading information and negative stereotypes. The NUJ guidelines on reporting poverty are the latest in its series of guidelines which include reporting on race, age and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, as part of its commitment to ethical journalism.

The NUJ have worked in partnership with Church Action on Poverty to produce the guide for journalists, which is uniquely based on the words and experiences of people relying on benefits and living in poverty.

Jackie Cox, the Poverty Media Coordinator for Church Action on Poverty says: “producing a guide for journalists with the NUJ has been a great way to follow-on from our Real Benefits Street project which challenged the negative stereotypes portrayed by Channel 4’s Benefits Street and some other sections of the media. We wanted the people who are experiencing poverty, and being stigmatised because of it, to be able to put their point of view to journalists.”

Rachel Broady, a freelance journalist and Equality Officer for the NUJ Manchester and Salford branch says: “Profits are made by media companies, newspapers, websites, and television channels on the backs of these stereotypes, demonising and alienating those receiving benefits to which they are entitled. It is the duty of journalists to report fairly and accurately. The guide is intended to help journalists achieve that when reporting on poverty”.

Shirley has had to rely on benefits and has even used a food bank, despite the fact that she has always worked. She says: “Recognise that people living in poverty are human beings. People living in poverty have dignity. That humanity and dignity is taken away because of how the media portrays them.”

Letitia, a university graduate and a single parent, who has claimed benefits, says: “Don’t contribute to the idea that there are deserving and undeserving poor people – no one wants or deserves to live in poverty”.

Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty says: “It is hoped that individual journalists, newspapers, broadcasters and online media companies will adopt the guidelines and use them to report on poverty and related issues in a responsible and accurate way”.

Week 4

Monday: Caz had to wait 8 weeks until her benefits claim was processed – she says she felt like a second class citizen

Monday: Kalhan has been assessed as ‘unemployabe’ sine she developed a neurological illness but she lives in fear of being reassessed

Monday: Hawa fled from a forced marriage and found herself having to live on food vouchers of £35 per week

Monday: Damon says people are really struggling and the only way out is proper full time jobs

Monday: Kimberley says that it’s harder to find a job when you’re unemployed and is now thinking of starting her own benefits.

Tuesday: Joy loves her Textile course and she is very inventive – she hopes it will lead to work

Tuesday: Simon says that he had to claim benefits after suffering a mental illness which left him unable to work

Wednesday: Darren says he had to wait 14 weeks to get any benefits and had to rely on loans and charitable handouts.

Thursday: Rebecca goes to the Job Centre to sign on

Friday: Simon is worried that yet another form he has to fill in will cause long delays in his benefits – again.

Video Schedule – Week 3

Monday: Letitia was left relying on benefits when her partner left her and their 3 year old daughter

Monday: Gary says the benefits system doesn’t understand mental health issues and discriminates against people with them

Monday: Joy is so afraid of being sanctioned or evicted she can’t face opening her mail

Tuesday: Lisa found herself sanctioned when she found a job – because it was for 14 hours per week and not 16.

Tuesday: Tanya has to pay the bedroom tax for her third bedroom – but moving would mean her leaving her essential support network

Wednesday: Kimberley

Wednesday: Caz

Thursday: Hawa

Thursday: Simon



Video Schedule – Week 2

Monday: Letitia is keeping her fingers crossed she’ll get the job

Monday: Gary was sanctioned – the Job Centre admitted it had made a mistake but he was still left with no money

Monday: Joy ended up in hospital and on benefits when she lost her job because of her mental health problems

Monday: Tanya has to budget carefully to make sure she and her son have enough to live on

Monday: Frank and Martin says the welfare system discriminates against single Dads

Tuesday: Karen is a full time carer for her daughter but they have to share a bed and can’t get rehoused

Tuesday: Sean had a high paid job and never expected to end up on benefits

Wednesday: Col is now living in a hostel since his release from prison. Desperate to rebuild his life, he thinks no one will employ him.

Wednesday: Darren talks about being made to go to driving job interviews – even though he’s registered partially sighted.

Thursday: Damon thinks sanctions are a ‘kick in the teeth.

Thursday: David would love a job but in the meantime he says he has to do the best he can with what he’s got

Friday: Karen – hear more of Karen’s plight to get a 2 bed house as she cares full-time for her 24 year old daughter

Friday: Paul has been threatened with sanctions despite applying for 150 – 200 jobs per week



Media Training for Real Experts

Some of our Real Benefits Street Experts got together ahead of the first episode of Channel 4’s Benefits Street to meet each other, and do some media training with Jackie Cox, the Real Benefits Street Co-ordinator.

Real Benefits Street Experts

After an excellent dinner at Luther King House, we all moved to one of the excellent training rooms. On that first evening, we all took part on a storytelling circle as a way of getting to know one another better – only 2 of our real experts had met each other before.

We then looked at some of the films that each of the real experts had made as part of Real Benefits Street. Whilst some of our experts had already done some filming, some of them  still had that pleasure to come.

The following morning we held a media workshop. During the workshop we looked at the risks of engaging with the media, the different types of media, what journalists want and then we held some practice interviews covering print, radio and television.

We had invited journalists to join us for lunch but as it was the day after the General Election, we weren’t too surprised to receive a lot of apologies. It just meant we all had more time to get to know one another better.

By the time we left Luther King House on Friday afternoon, all our experts were ready to speak to the media to challenge the stigmatisation of people on benefits.

Jackie is available to come and run a media workshop for organisations that work with people living in poverty or for people living in poverty who want to engage more effectively with the media as a way of challenging negative stereotypes and stigmatisation.

From left to right: Jackie (Real Benefits Street Co-ordinator); Shirley; Rebecca; Rachele;Letitia; Joy; Simon; Lisa; Tanya