A popular, just-concluded reality show on England’s Channel 4 featured the Winson Green neighborhood of Birmingham, England that Dalrymple came to prominence depicting. The program followed the lives of the residents of James Turner Street, 95% of whom are unemployed and many of whom have never held a job in their lives, and even showed the prison where Dalrymple was a staff member.
Dalrymple worked for 12 years as both a psychiatrist and general practitioner in HM Prison Birmingham and in the nearby City Hospital. His writings in his “Second Opinion” column in the Spectator, as well as in City Journal, depicting the indolent and violence-ridden lives of his Winson Green patients brought him to a greater level of public awareness. His City Journal columns on the area were later collected in Life At The Bottom: The Worldview That Makes The Underclass, for which he is mostly known in the US.
The program, “Benefits Street”, was the most watched on Channel 4 in 2 years and has generated controversy and widespread discussion on England’s system of public benefits. The program is freely available on YouTube. Channel 4 will televise a live debate on the show and the welfare system on this upcoming Monday, February 17th.
Dalrymple has said that he has been asked by other journalists whether he actually invented the things he documents his patients as saying and doing. “Benefits Street” should quell this skepticism. When one of the show’s subjects, “Fungi”, is sent a letter from the council confirming his appointment “to discuss the benefits available to you through the work program”, he seems offended by the mere suggestion, replying “I’ve never worked a day in me life” as though he had been accused of assaulting a child. One is reminded of Dalrymple’s patient whose mother was caught receiving benefits while working and explained, “She had to quit working.”
Have you seen the program? Have any thoughts on its depiction of the residents of James Turner Street? Discuss it here in the forum.
NOTE: We originally identified the program as being on BBC4. In fact, it is on Channel 4.
NOTE2: The original link to the forum has been corrected.