An interesting TV series has started on Channel 4 called Benefits Street. The series documents the lives of residents of James Turner Street in Winson Green, in Birmingham. This is a street where only a small minority work. The programme has caused indignation on the Left for showing people on benefits in an unsympathetic light – often dishonest and workshy as well as being very fat and swearing a lot.
Benefits Street does include more positive examples – there is “The 50p Man” who is making an effort to earn money honestly selling small items door-to-door. There was some community spirit albeit rather twisted – “Benefits Tower Block” would have been worse. But generally it makes for depressing viewing.
Despite the Left’s protests over the series, it’s message of despair is one that Conservatives should challenge. The general theme is that no jobs are available. Therefore, it implies, benefit cuts will simply result in greater misery – either with residents struggling to get by with even less money or increasingly resorting to crime.
It all makes for shockingly gripping TV. But the facts point to better news. James Turner Street is in the Soho Ward of Birmingham. The number unemployed in that ward has fallen from 2,259 in March to 1,910 in November.
In September one of the local primary schools was reopened an Oasis Academy Boulton. This is the trust set up run by Steve Chalke with a Christian ethos which has achieved impressive results with its other schools. Let us hope it will be worthy of the great 18th century entrepreneur and Soho Ward resident Matthew Boulton after whom the school is named.
Also as of this month the Foundary Primary School – which has had very poor results as an LA school – has been reborn as an Oasis Academy. That school is round the corner from James Turner Street.
Already in Birmingham nearly a thousand families have been “turned round” under the Troubled Families initiative. It is due to cover 4,180 when it is complete. No doubt it includes progress with families in James Turner Street.
Nor is there any evidence that welfare reform has increased crime in or around James Turner Street. There were 262 crimes in the Soho Ward in November compared to 304 in November the previous year – according to crime mapping.
The reality is that for residents James Turner Street are seeing more jobs, less crime and better schooling for their children.