Channel 4 is to air an interactive live debate following the final episode of controversial observational documentary Benefits Street on 10 February.
Chaired by Richard Bacon, the hour-long discussion will assemble a panel representing “views across the political spectrum”, and will also incorporate questions and opinions from the viewers.
Benefits Street, which charts the lives of residents on James Turner Street in the Winson Green area of Birmingham, has been the subject of intense media debate and criticism since its first aired earlier this month.
Some viewers and local residents have complained the show is not representative of the area or of benefits claimants in general. A local neighbourhood watch leader, Mark Jastrzebski, told the BBC; “I think it’s disgraceful the way we’ve been portrayed.
“It’s a poverty-stricken area but there’s a Benefits Street in every city.”
Other local residents complained to Radio 4’s Today Programme that they’ve been cut from the show because they are not on benefits.
However, Channel 4’s Head of Factual, Ralph Lee, has defended the show that was filmed over a course of 12 months in the street.
Said Lee: “This is a series which reflects the reality of day-to-day life for some of the residents of a single street who, for the most part, rely on benefits to survive. It does not and never has set out to reflect the experiences of every person who receives benefits yet it has triggered a national debate about state welfare at a time in which further welfare reforms are being proposed. We feel it is timely to provide a forum in which these issues can be raised and discussed.”
The announcement of the live debate comes the day after a public meeting was called in the Winson Green area to discuss the impact of the documentary.
Executive producer of the show, Hayley Valentine, welcomed the live discussion and said it would have a positive impact and help to contextualise the series.
She said: “It is vital that voices on all sides are heard, and we are pleased to be providing a forum for both public figures and viewers to debate the series that has brought a pertinent political issue to life so vividly.”
Benefits Street: the live debate will air 10 February at 10pm on Channel 4