Has ‘Benefits TV’ now run out of steam?
To get an idea onto the telly you need to include one of three things: previously out-of-work celebrities, Clare Balding or focus on particularly obnoxious poor people.
Britain’s Benefits Tenants (Monday, Channel 4 9pm) is the latest in an endless stream of programmes to shine a 60 watt bulb on the increasingly over-exposed world of the unemployed and disenfranchised.
I could cope with this influx of council estate noir if they included the odd heart-warming tale but the makers of these shows and documentaries believe they have have struck on a winning formula: outrageous people who claim benefits.
There is nothing guaranteed more to make viewers angry than central characters who appear to get away with doing very little yet have a roof over their heads and enough cash to buy fags and strong cider. But what a miserable existence some of these people lead.
The programme should really have been called The Britain That Thatcher Built as we were taken to a run-down part of Yorkshire and informed it had once been a thriving mining community. Cue the obligatory shot of a drab High Street and a yobbo pulling wheelies on a giant quad bike.
We were boldly promised an insight into the world of a new type of letting agent: professionals who do more than just collect the rent but also perform a role as counsellor meets troubleshooter.
What we saw was people making money out of desperate situations - another consequence of the Thatcher Years (some would argue) due to the fact that well over one million people are waiting for social housing that isn’t there. We met Andrew, a very hard working agent who believes in even harder graft and one who goes the extra mile for his clients - private landlords.
Watching this first episode in a series of three brought on a ‘There but for the grace of God’ sensation, such was the dreadful state of the properties, including one which had been used as a drugs den.
Andrew and his staff did the tidying up, including the perilous removal of 500 used syringes, which would have cost them £1,000 if a specialist team were brought in. Other lowlights included the very stupid people who kept their rubbish in the cellar because someone had pinched their bin and were surprised that they became infested with rats. The tenants shot the vermin dead with an air rifle.
But it was anti-social tenants Vera and Kevin who would have prompted the greatest amount of ire in living rooms everywhere such was their inability to do anything for themselves.
The lies and denials which punctuated their story will have resulted in much screaming at the flatscreen, which is precisely what the producers of this show were aiming for.