With Benefits Street finished, the reality starts to bite

The fifth and final episode of Benefits Street aired on Monday this week.

Channel 4 executives will give themselves a pat on the back. The show has delivered their highest ratings in years.

Other channels joined in too. Channel 5 aired The Big Benefits Row, giving a timely boost to the career prospects of failed reality-show contestant Katie Hopkins and ex-Tory MP Edwina Currie.

Currie also recently gave a now infamous interview on BBC Radio Stoke in which she criticised foodbanks. “I get very, very troubled at the number of people who are using food banks who think that it’s fine to pay to feed their dog, their dog is in good nick and beautiful, but they never learn to cook, they never learn to manage and the moment they’ve got a bit of spare cash they’re off getting another tattoo,” she said.

For six weeks the size and shape of Britain’s social security system has been part of a national conversation.

But, after Benefits Street, life will go back to something like normal for the residents of James Turner Street.

A report released this week by the National Housing Federation (NHF) confirmed what that normality looks like.

Less than a year since it was introduced, two thirds of people affected by the bedroom tax are now in rent arrears.

We don’t know the actual number of people that is, as the NHF report only polled housing associations, who house a little under half of all those affected. But it is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands. We also don’t know how much money these people have spent on dog food and tattoos.

But we do know that one in seven of those polled, people in the most dire straits, has been served with an eviction risk letter.

We do know that 63% of those affected are disabled. We know the government’s discretionary housing payments will be nowhere near enough to protect them – with demand for it up by 237%.

We know that the numbers of available one-bedroom properties isn’t close to the number needed for the 180,000 who are under-occupying two-bedroom homes. Housing professionals say that even if they let all of their available properties to those who are under-occupying, it would still take years to rehouse everyone affected.

We know that low income households are now spending, on average, £2.10 a day on food.

We do know that foodbanks are now issuing ‘kettle boxes’ to clients who can’t afford the electricity needed to turn on the oven.

And we certainly know that for every foodbank user Edwina Currie describes, there are countless others with stories like this one.

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