A few thoughts on Benefits Street

The other night we watched Benefits Street. It made us feel really very sad.

Photo - Birmingham Mail

Photo – Birmingham Mail

Our first reason to feel sad was those tiny folk who are living in this way. The child being put in the porch made us wince. Rice crispies at 1 am, no sleep until 5 am gave us a HUGE pang of sadness. Small people being sworn at – wrong and awful. Small people biking around at 10 pm – a huge concern. This was not easy viewing. We felt sadness and anger.

The young parents, the guy getting a job and the change that occurred – they were really trying. We then felt sad for them. The job looked hard and so awful to not raise even one penny. Then the job went. Desperately sad!

Watching this took Becksie back to her former working life. What Becksie used to do is not really discussed here as it seems a world away from now. Right now she could not return to it as her energy must go to Lizzie but watching this has saddened her. Becksie did a community work degree and after a brief stint doing admin work on a delivery suite (she’s always sort of wanted to be a midwife) she set out on a career journey working with people who were homeless in Birmingham. Becksie knows for certain that homeless can mean so much more than the lack of a physical home. benefit street 4After a few years in a drop-in centre offering ‘social support’ Becksie started working for The Big Issue helping vendors to reach their life goals.

Photo credited to Neville Williams (there is a good story to this photo – Becksie is laughing as a group of Big Issue vendors were across the road making comments about Becksie’s modelling career – fond memories)

Becksie is always somewhat reluctant to mention that she used to work for The Big Issue as The Big Issue is like marmite – you either love it or you hate it. Becksie wanted to work for them as she was fed up of simply ‘handing out goodies’ in a drop in centre and The Big Issue is ‘a hand up not a hand out’. After moving from Birmingham to Oxford Big Issue Becksie left to work for a mental health charity. In hindsight this was a wrong move but it did teach her a lot that does help her on a daily basis. So…… maybe it wasn’t.

Photo credited to Neville Williams

Photo credited to Neville Williams (you never knew Becksie was a ‘model’)

So whats all this musings on Becksie career? Hardly that interesting unless you have particularly strong opinions. But……what Becksie has seen and experienced in her working life has shaped who she now tries to be. There are five things that drop-in centre, The Big Issue and a stint in mental health taught her, we share them now as a reminder to ourselves:

1. Try very very hard not to judge and try to see situations from many angles. This is why watching Benefits Street has sparked this post. This piece of advice is very hard to do. Becksie admits that watching this programme made her angry and think ‘I would never let Lizzie do x, y or z’. But watching it also made her feel desperately sad for those parents as well as those children. If situations can be approached from a non-judgemental starting point things are just better. This is hard as in order to form one’s opinions one has to make judgements based on one’s own experience. Just try. An example: Once Becksie was chatting to a man on the street whose clothes were wet and ripped (in fact she was trying to encourage him to stop begging and start selling The Big Issue). His worldly possessions stashed in a well know supermarket carrier, he smelled of strong, cheap cider. She made an assumption as to how he ended up there. He went on to tell his story and his words still ring in Becksie’s ears. She can still see his face, that bag! In a previous life he was married, he had children, he had an extremely nice house, two cars and he was a very senior manager at the shop ‘who give away these handy luggage bags’! It went wrong. He moved out in order to keep his kids in their own house. He got a flat – the money wasn’t enough, he gave it up to save money. He spent his first night on a bench and washed in Macdonalds. This lifestyle didn’t match his job and quickly it was gone. The street is a cold place, drink became his medicine. Becksie writes this here not for you but for her. Her life now is far from this and she has pushed this to the corners of her mind. But she wants to remember so she can be as non-judgemental as possible – if only to them folks on the television.

See it from all angles

See it from all angles

2. Be grateful for what you have. To quote Forrest Gump ‘that’s all I have to say about that’.

benefit street 5

3. See the beauty in everything. A hot cup of coffee, a hot shower, clean socks, the food in your cupboards.

4. Where you can help do so. This is not a plea to buy a Big Issue or even buy a homeless person coffee, this is not even to do with homeless people. It is to do with everyone! Where you can help do so. Small tiny things. A smile, a nod, a wave, a kind word. Anything. And….. don’t forget to apply this to yourself. Yes sometimes you have got to help yourself.benefit street 7

5. Do your best in everything you do and always (without exception) be yourself. This is very very very hard.

As we said this list is for us but feel free to use it.

And apart from the carrier bag reference above what does this have to do with being supermarket free or even our year with less? The answer? Everything! You see taking time to step back and think and do things our own way has enabled us to process the thoughts above so we can use our past experiences to shape our future. Ok it’s over – we promise our next post will be light and fluffy and contain food!

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30 thoughts on “A few thoughts on Benefits Street

  1. Very hard to read.to see flaws in yourself is not easy I hate to admit it but I do make judgements without seeing the big picture. I do however try to do right by others and always smile at strangers and try to do a good deed every day. Your blog humbles me tonight. Thankyou

  2. Thanks Becky. What fantastic words. I too watched it last week. What saddened me was the plight of people who came to this country to work and how others bullied them and treated them awfully for just wanting a better life. They didn’t want the benefits just a chance to earn a decent wage.

  3. Aw that it lovely!! I always think when I see people that its easy to judge, ‘there but for the grace of God, go I,’ bad luck like that chap you spoke of can hit anyone, at any time. I was a child protection/mental health social worker for 25 years!! I loved it. I started off as a nurse and because of health problems I moved to social work and soooo loved it cos I just loved helping people. You do learn about life and that helps us grow as people.
    I only saw part of Benefits St, but I did see them put the child in the porch and saw some of the chaotic household timetable and I thought how they needed to be referred to a local family centre where they could show them different ways of managing children. They weren’t bad people or bad parents, they just didn’t know what else to do.
    I think its a great shame that children’s centres are being closed all around the country and support for people with social problems is being cut.
    I’ve just written a novel about a social worker and her work, I’ve about another 5 thousand words till it gets to 70,000 then I’ll see if I can sell it.

  4. This is one of your best blogs, Becksie! Very inspiring…well done, girl! Lots of “food for thought”…and I totally agree…do not judge others harshly or too quickly…look for the good in others…cherish the world around you…

  5. Always pop into St Martins in bull ring when in the area did so last Sat as i entered a -lets say a street man for want of a description!- A man was coming out of church i saw the st man offer his hand to shake and other man pushed past i went back and said i will shake you hand sir,so i did,and went on into church the st man followed he wanted money i should think? I made my way out feeling guilty for not giving money- if i had food with me that he could have had- so feel good and bad about that.
    Benefit St been following that me being very bothered about enclosed spaces made me worry big time for child being put in an enclosed space like that , just hope he does not get long term bother from that,soooooo very sad all of it and,yes, makes you very thankful for what you have
    Many, many issues here that need sorting.

    Yes, its me Graces friend!!!xxx

  6. TBH I have watched some of the episodes of this programme and you know who I judged the most? The programme makers who hae deliberately set out to make a programme filled with stereotypes and Daily Mail caricatures of real life. Pandering to a certain type of middle class “NIMBY” types.

    Meanwhile in the real world the majority of state money is spent on pensioners (around 60%), the majority of people on tax credits and housing benefit are working, but on such low wages they have to claim benefits just to pay the bills and vast numbers of people are having to turn to food banks to feed their kids.

    Alcohol has alot to answer for I watched and great aunt lose her family and eventually die a horrible, painful death from alcoholism and this time last year we were in the ICU being told BIL had full organ failure. He died several times but was brought back and a year later, despite being on insulin injections and more pills than you can shake a stick at he is back and work and beating his demons. Neither of these were the stereotypical “alkie”, rarely saw either drunk, then drunk in secret and over the day.
    How many fall into poverty or homelessness because of drink or turn to drink because their situation is so hopeless and then are stuck in a spiral that leads to a horrible painful death.

    BTW I heard that the producers of Benefits street were seen handing out cans of special brew and cartons of ciggies to the residents to ensure they “looked the part” on camera, what a world we live in.

    Best story I heard recently was in Utah in the US they worked out that on average each homeless person cost 16k a year in police/hospital/prison costs, but they could put them in a flat with a support worker to help them get back on their feet for 11k a year. So they started putting the homeless in flats and giving support and are on target to wipe out homelessness in the state by 2015.

    • Thank you for your comment – it’s really hard to tell what the programme makers have added or taken away from this – it makes for hard viewing on many levels

  7. I once bought a homeless man a breakfast in Nottingham we got chatting about life etc we both concluded that the difference between us was a wage packet. there are many homeless people around us so a little compassion goes a long way.Ive tried to watch B/S but I just can not it’s too upsetting. I buy the B/I when i can it’s a good read and helps

  8. I am a children’s nurse and I agree it was dreadfully sad to see how the children were living, but sadly these families are not the exception . However, for anyone who didn’t see the programme to the end, the Mum of the 2 little people really tried to turn it around. She had really taken on board what Sure start had told her and it looked like ( if she can maintain it ) the children may at least have a better bedtime routine . If Sure start can stay involved there may be hope for the children. Sometimes parents don’t know how to be an adequate parent because they have no role models themselves . Perhaps someone who lives nearby could befriend her and try to model another way ???

    • Thanks for that Angela, I didn’t see it to the end. I did think mum had promise, you could see she just didn’t know what to do. Hopefully the new sense of control and order will spur her on to keep it up. Our local children centres, some are Sure Start some are not, have continuing group for parents where mums can find better role models in the form of staff and other mums who’ve been through the same things. What a lovely job you have Angela.

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