Benefits Street: Working couple 'cut' from Channel 4 show

Smoggy, one of the people featured in Channel 4's documentary Benefits Street 'Smoggy' appeared on the first episode of Benefits Street

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Bosses of Channel 4's Benefits Street have been accused of leaving out a working couple from the show because they are not on benefits.

The couple, who asked to be anonymous, said they had been filmed for a year but were not included in the final cut.

The makers of the show said one reason for the couple's exclusion was because one of them was a benefits officer.

The claim comes after a public meeting was told a studio debate would take place after the series finishes.

'Incredibly proud'

The resident told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Why was a working couple on the street filmed extensively for a year for them to be told by the production company that Channel 4 had cut the show from six episodes to five episodes and that the one working couple that was filmed extensively was going to be in the sixth episode, so we were cut out?"

However, Kieran Smith, from Love Productions, which made the reality TV series for Channel 4, told the programme he was "incredibly proud" of the show and said they were clear from the beginning it was about benefits.

Mark Jastrzebski Mark Jastrzebski said he thought the portrayal was "disgraceful"

He said there were lots of people coming up in the series who were in work or trying to get into work.

"The idea we weren't upfront and we weren't clear about the fact we were making a series that was foregrounded about benefits is just untrue," Mr Smith said.

About 100 people were at a meeting in Birmingham to "allow residents to respond" to the series depicting the city's James Turner Street.

Some viewers have been concerned about the portrayal of benefit claimants.

Channel 4 said the live debate would be chaired by broadcaster Richard Bacon.

'Fair and balanced'

It said the programme would go out at 22:00 GMT on 10 February, directly after the final episode of the five-part documentary series, which was filmed in Winson Green.

Analysis

This meeting was plugged as an opportunity for James Turner Street residents to voice their opinions about Benefits Street but some of the people I spoke to felt it was a bit of a farce.

The school didn't open its doors until a few minutes before the event was due to start so those who had chosen to attend - some elderly - were kept outside in the rain.

While there were a number of people there from the Winson Green area, there appeared to be just a handful from James Turner Street itself.

And when the meeting did start, there was limited opportunity for residents to speak.

Instead, they were given post-it notes and told to write down what they thought about the show.

Some residents became irritated, saying they felt the meeting was being used as an opportunity to preach a political agenda.

Channel 4 said the panellists would represent views across the political spectrum "and crucially those who claim benefits".

Its head of factual, Ralph Lee, who has commissioned Mentorn Media to produce the live debate, said: "[The series] 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."

Oasis UK, which runs the Oasis Foundry Academy school, where Wednesday evening's public meeting was held, told people attending the debate would take place.

Speaking to the BBC outside the meeting near James Turner Street, the Rev Steve Chalke, of Oasis UK, said: "[Channel 4 have] agreed… there's going to be a studio debate, a kind of Question Time debate, and the community will be represented."

Those attending Wednesday's public meeting were given post-it notes and told to write down how they felt about Channel 4.

Media representatives were banned from taking pictures at the meeting because organisers said the programme, made by Love Productions and filmed in the Winson Green area, had destroyed people's trust.

Mark Jastrzebski, leader of a nearby neighbourhood watch scheme, said: "I think it's disgraceful the way we have been portrayed.

Rev Steve Chalke The Rev Steve Chalke told the meeting a studio debate would take place

"It's a poverty-stricken area but there's a Benefits Street in every city."

But a resident who wished to be anonymous, a support worker who lives just off the street, said the programme was a fair reflection.

She said: "It's ridiculous for people to be telling Channel 4 to take it off."

Head teacher Emma Johnson said the meeting had been a success and added: "It's got people from the community here. It's the beginning of a process of working together."

Channel 4 has called the programme a "fair and balanced observational documentary".

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