Even as a broad proponent of Welfare Reform, I found Channel 4’s programme “Benefits Street” somewhat unhelpful to the debate. While there is no doubt such people exist – after all, the programme is factual – it does not (in my experience at least) depict typical people. To be clear, many of the examples used by opponents of welfare reform are equally extreme and a-typical.
However, the campaign to “ban” the programme was thoroughly distasteful. There are plenty of ludicrous, a-typical “real-life” television shows, of which this was only one. Many depict poor people; some fat people; some ugly people; some spoiled people; some outrageously rich people; and so on. Personally, I don’t like any of them. But in a free society, if people wish to make them and can get sponsorship to do so, they must be allowed to.
I do wonder what it is about “Benefits Street” that led to a campaign to ban it (albeit small campaign itself overinflated by the media, actually), when there are no similar campaigns to ban “Biggest Loser” (with its implicit intolerance of fat people) or the “Undateables” (which awkwardly targets ugly people). But that is for another piece – the fundamental point here is that censorship is no way to approach issues in a democratic society, regardless of your view of them.
Similar applies to immigration. Frankly, I found the Prime Minister’s comments concerning immigration from elsewhere in the European Union outrageous – partially because they encourage the creation of an “immigrant bogey man”, but mainly because they were plain wrong (immigrants are in fact contributors to the UK economy – unlike those who were in the country before they arrived, actually…)
There again, however, we must be allowed to have a debate on the subject. I am a huge supporter of immigration – diverse societies are prosperous societies, and frankly we need working-age people in the country. Yet I can see that if you are a plumber with a family to feed and a single man from Poland comes and undercuts you, that is a problem for you. We need to debate that, not censor it.
At the core of all this, I wonder if, for all the information feeds and social media and whatever out there, we are actually losing the ability to debate things properly. Are scaremongering, daft populism, deliberate sins of omission and straightforward nonsense now the order of the day, from political party leaders down? We don’t need censorship; we need proper, mature, public debate. “Benefits Street” and programmes of that type don’t help – but we have no right to ban them just because we don’t like them.