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January 16, 2014


Dave Timoney

You are obviously right that TV is structurally biased, and can't help reflecting common cognitive biases, but I think you're in danger of letting the programme makers off the hook: "it was the ideology made me do it".

It seems pretty clear that the "fuss" was deliberately engineered (the on-screen hashtag is now ubiquitous) in order to boost ratings at a time when C4 is under pressure from the freak-shows of C5. Winding up lefties is just part of the marketing campaign. I see no subtlety there.


I find the objectors patronising and slightly offensive in the sense that they're saying "I know that this program isn't an accurate reflection of reality because I'm smart, but most people are too stupid to realise and therefore the program makers should have protected them from their own ignorance". And they justify these claims by quoting idiots on Twitter.

I'd rather assume that most people are bright enough to realise that just because they watch one messed-up, shop-lifting druggie on telly doesn't imply that all benefits claimants are messed-up, shop-lifting druggies. But maybe I'm naive.

Luis Enrique

Well okay but knowing this needn't prevent us getting het up about particularly egregious examples likely to have particularly bad consequences.

Socialism in One Bedroom

I think people who see through this propaganda are not necessarily smarter but they are more conscious/aware of the agendas, or wider, underlying social issues. They don’t make kneejerk reactions. Most people react to this like Pavlov’s dog, that is the sad fact. Even so called bright people.

This kind of programme plays to the gallery, is populist. They don't make shows like this about the filthy rich because they can't really get access. So it is a very easy target to bribe people who are at the bottom of the wealth ladder. They may as well poke fun at the severely disabled.

What you notice about this programme is how grim everything is, contrast that with the rich, well kept estates of the unproductive class, and in some cases the destructive class. Give me a welfare cheat over a hard working accountant who dreams up ways for the filthy rich to avoid tax any day of the week! These people are fantastically rewarded for their anti social behaviour.

Why do the servants of the tax evaders get an easy ride while the victims of the system are so mercilessly criticised?

One answer is the not so subtle brainwashing of the scum press, who have done more damage to humanity than anything I can think of. You see this when the press want to whip up hysteria about sex pests. Here the welfare recipients are often the victims, as they are most vulnerable. In this case the average salt of the earth type show all the sympathy in the world for these victims but as soon as these people are transformed from victims of abuse into welfare cheats, they these bastards can go and die!

Another answer is the fact that the ideology of the system rests upon ‘meriticracy’. Those at the top, whether they spend their days in anti social type work or not, deserve their fantastic rewards because they are endowed with special abilities, while the rest of us unskilled mortals must toil for their pleasure, and fight among each other. This ideology penetrates deep. If you buy into this ideology you can only every be right wing and form right wing opinions.


I think you are too kind to C4 and the media in general. These guys make money from viewers and will use every psycological trick and dog whistle to get them.

Some will understand this, others won't. I will leave you with a joke though...

Having watched Benefits street, it's not much different to Sesame Street.
Both have a big bird, a bloke living out of a bin, and people trying to learn the alphabet.

I thang yoo verymuch, I.m here all week.


It is undoubtedly true that the poor and marginalised are under represented in the BBC's output. A travesty when one considers the BBC is publicly funded and is supposed to be neutral and to speak for us all. Yeah, right. Whatever.

So I do not complain when the poor and marginalised are portrayed on TV. Well done C4 I say.

What Benefits Street shows is the abandonment of working class people who would have, pre-Thatcher, had a job in the local factory or similar. Those jobs have gone, thanks to Thatcher's stupidity and callousness. Little, or no, attempt has been made to replace them, by any government since. Coal mining areas, which have not recovered from the 1980s pit closures, illustrate the same point.

Benefit Street shows what happens when government abrogates its responsibilities and puts blind faith in some narrow economic dogma. The people featured in Benefit Street are victims. Had they gone to public school and inherited the wealth a la Osborne, Cameron and Clegg, they would have turned out completely differently.

That's the message to be taken away from C4's controversial programme.

So let's not shoot the messenger. C4 has done us all a favour by showing Benefits Street, notwithstanding the cretinous viewers who vent their spleens on "scroungers and crooks".


I say well done C4 and well done those who signed petition to get program stopped. It got “the issue” talked about and who knows where such talk could end.......making employment of last resort available on demand would do it for me.

An Alien Visitor (Who means you no harm)

This feeds into the already hysterical levels of public prejudice. I would say over 90% of the British public are openly hostile to those on welfare and immigrants. Whereas no one really cares about tax avoidance, massive inequality etc.

This programme achieves nothing other than re-enforcing the already held perceptions.

Claiming this programme should be applauded would be like praising Der Sturmer for throwing light on the nature of Jews.

George Carty

Benefits Street is in my view the real cost of cheap Chinese consumer goods.

Why do few people advocate for tariffs in terms of correcting the negative externality (ie higher unemployment) caused by unbalanced trade?


«over 90% of the British public are openly hostile to those on welfare and immigrants.»

There are published statistics about that, and it is a significant majority, but not yet > 90%. It may be > 90% in the South East.

«My point here is a simple one. You cannot reasonably expect the media to promote the truth, so we should not base our political opinions upon news and current affairs programmes.»
«Whereas no one really cares about tax avoidance, massive inequality etc.»

Well, you know, voters have every right to be pigheaded nasties who are enjoy being fooled by the basest propaganda. Democracy means that if voters are pigheaded nasties then policy is pigheaded and nasty, and eventually voters get the consequences that they deserve. But most voters are still drunk with the dream of a plantation society where they will be ladies of the manor thanks to massive never ending capital gains...

There is no alternative government by enlightened philopher-kings that act in the voters' interests even if the voters want to act against their own interests.

ChrisD often points out that voters have several cognitive biases, and that certain interest groups exploit very well those cognitive biases. Eventually voters with those cognitive biases will either learn from experience to overcome them or get so screwed over that they will cease to matter...


«Why do few people advocate for tariffs in terms of correcting the negative externality (ie higher unemployment) caused by unbalanced trade?»

Because a lot of people think "F*ck you! I am allright Jack" and want lower wages or welfare and higher unemployment for everybody else.

For them low cost Chinese stuff and higher UK unemployment are *positive* externalities.

Think of all the South East rentiers who think their jobs are mostly secure, who are making huge wads of cash every year thanks to higher house prices, via remortgaging or higher rents.

These are people who want cheaper Chinese stuff, cheaper gardeners, cheaper nurses, cheaper servants, lower benefits, lower taxes.

They tend to be (female) swing voters in South East marginals, and they rule.

James Prichard

You are right to point to the viewers' heuristics as a major source of this bias. When "a norm of reciprocity is being violated" we care disproportionately because it affects systemic stability. The crowd abhors any queue jumping behaviour even if the cost of a small proportion of queue jumpers to a particular individual is small, allowing it changes the game and soon queue jumping becomes the norm.


Benefits Street is poverty porn for gawkers. It's about exploiting people in harsh circumstances while hiding behind a thin veneer of journalism. And of course "winding up lefties" as mentioned above is one way to drive the traffic. It attracts the type of following that makes Honey Boo Boo and other freak reality-type shows compelling viewing for a percentage of Americans. These shows tend to be successful because, like tabloid papers, they feed off public negativity. A sizable percentage of the viewing public get off on looking down on others and having their prejudices confirmed.

George Carty

What makes South-Eastern Boomer rentiers so politically powerful. Why can't Labour simply write them off and pursue a Northern(+Midlands+Scotland+Wales) strategy?


«What makes South-Eastern Boomer rentiers so politically powerful.»

It is a combination of women and first-past-the-post.

The two major facts of voting are that certain categories of people always vote for the same party ("tribal" voting), and other categories vote for whoever promises them specific advantages ("issue" voting).

South East voters, especially female ones, are swing voters in many critical first-past-the-post marginals. Other voters, especially male northern ones, always vote Labour, so they don't matter.


Also for various reasons (including divorce and widowhood) women voters are rather more likely to be property rentiers than men, and to cash in their capital gains via remortgaging especially in the South; plus women voters get a very good deal out of the welfare state, in particular out of the NHS and pensions, paying in over their life around 30-50% of the value of the benefits they receive.
Thus the Conservative strategy to protect/triple lock NHS spending and pensions, and attack ferociously the rather small portion of welfare that goes to men, especially young or Northern ones, like disability or unemployment insurance.

The other and more recent factor is that in many otherwise safe Conservative seats in the South East in particular the UKIP could well split the tory vote and get a Labour candidate elected even if the sum of Conservative and UKIP votes were higher than the Labour votes.



Benefit street reminded me of a lot of people who I knew when I was on benefits. Although the people I knew generally had nicer living conditions. Benefit street does not make the people on benefits look like they are getting a cushy deal. Nor did I think that the people in it were portrayed as unpleasant or horrible people. I quite liked them.

The show should have put some statistics in along the way in order to illustrate how representative the street (characters) were. For example, the actual proportion of JSA claimants who are considered to be committing fraud.

The show focuses on the long-term unemployed who are not generally unemployed due to a lack of demand but due to a lack of currently marketable skills, a willingness to move to find work and, in some cases, an unwillingness to work in a minimum wage job.

The hysteria around benefits street is weird; both the hatred against the people in the show and the claims that the show is somehow unrepresentative of people who are long-term unemployed.

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