Everyone needs someone to look down on. A reassurance that they’re not truly at the bottom of the pile, and that there are people who are not only worse off than they are, but also objectively worse people.
How else would you explain the popularity of Channel 4’s 2013 hit documentary series, ‘Benefits Street’ which bagged a whopping 4.3 million viewers – 17% of the British viewing audience. Granted, Netflix was still in its infancy, and Amazon Video didn’t exist, but it’s still fairly impressive for a series which showcased the dregs of society and the world they live in.
Last week, The Sun newspaper sent their reporters deep in to the heart of Ladywood, where the series was set. The intrepid team returned with sordid tales of £5 prostitutes, neighbours rifling through each others’ bins, burglaries, violence, property damage, drug misuse, and fly tipping.
They were told of a model farm, set up in the grounds of a church – presumably to give the locals an insight into life beyond the walls of their ghetto. Unsurprisingly, the animals were stolen.
One anonymous resident pinned the grim, low level criminality and desperation on lack of amenity.
“The main problem here is that there is nothing for kids to do and that’s where the trouble starts.”
But he’s wrong, and the clue is in the title of the programme. The show is called Benefits Street, because it’s set in the constituency with the highest level of unemployment in the country. An area where 10% of the population have no qualifications at all, and another (perhaps overlapping) 10% is on long term sick.
They’re having their way paid for them by social security, but they’re not in council properties.
No. They’re renting from private landlords, who for some reason, have allowed DSS recipients.
We’re not against the idea of renting our extensive property portfolio to people on DSS, and we absolutely accept that everybody needs to live somewhere. But the private rental sector is not the right space for them.
Landlords are currently being regulated out of the market by arbitrary rules, regulations, annual property MOTS, inspections, and prosecutions if their property isn’t up to scratch. But realistically, what does the government expect well meaning landlords to do when dealing with neighbourhoods where the denizens don’t respect their own, or anybody else’s property?
Where’s the incentive to maintain a property which is going to be trashed before the last coat of emulsion is dry, and where pipes and wiring are ripped out to be sold for their scrap value?
Ladywood isn’t the only area where landlords see their investments treated with this level of disrespect. Any decent sized city has suburbs where the dregs settle to the bottom (although Birmingham does seem to have more than its fair share). Visit Bootle on the outskirts of Liverpool. Or the central areas of Newcastle. You’ll know when you’re there. People sitting on their front steps, swigging from cans of lager in their pyjamas an 11 in the morning. People for whom everything is provided, and who have no intention of even pretending to look for a job.
It’s a problem which is transmitted to the fabric of the houses, but it shouldn’t be a private sector problem. The money coming in from DSS payments barely even covers the mortgages. Benefit Streets throughout the country should be in local government control. Council estates used to be a thing, until many were demolished and their residents farmed out to to the PRS in the 90s and 00s. Perhaps they should be again.
Image credit: Neil MacWilliams