Benefits Britain show slammed for painting ‘unnecessarily’ bad picture of Great Yarmouth

PUBLISHED: 08:38 20 June 2014 | UPDATED: 16:41 20 June 2014

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, fire minister. Picture: James Bass.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, fire minister. Picture: James Bass.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

A prime time TV show that put unemployed Great Yarmouth residents in the spotlight has been slammed for painting a bad picture of the town.

And concerns have been raised that Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, which aired this week, could have tarnished the town’s reputation just before the summer season gets into full swing.

The Channel 5 documentary focused on a handful of residents living in the borough and claiming benefit while looking for work.

The series claims to go “behind the headlines” following the government’s welfare reforms. But local viewers and MP Brandon Lewis have hit out at the programme makers, saying it was not a true reflection of Yarmouth or its residents.

Mr Lewis this week wrote to Alex Barraki, Channel 5 production manager, to respond to the show which he said presented the borough in an “unnecessarily negative light”.

His letter said: “Benefits Britain, while making sweeping statements about the local economy and jobs market, could inadvertently serve to damage the very companies that are offering paid work and putting money into the local economy, which I am sure was not the programme’s intention.

“Great Yarmouth is a fantastic place to visit, as well as to live and work.”

The show discussed Yarmouth’s seasonal job market but Mr Lewis said it “ignored” the fact that seasonal employment is improving dramatically, and a drive for holiday jobs had contributed to a drop in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits.

He also cited the borough’s growing renewable energy industry and the associated jobs it was creating.

Mr Lewis added: “While I accept it is important to highlight areas in which people struggle to find work in order to provide help and support, I hope that productions in the future will take a more balanced approach that is less likely to damage the economy and self-esteem of local communities. Especially great ones like Great Yarmouth.”

The show also sparked debate on social media after it aired.

A Channel 5 spokesman said the series set out to explore the “issues and challenges created by unemployment and debt nationwide” and the Yarmouth episode had “faithfully reported” the views of those involved.

They added: “The programme is an observational one which sought to show accurately the lives and feelings of various residents around the UK, including Great Yarmouth, who were struggling dealing with debt and obligations without income. The programme faithfully reported those views.

“It was no part of the remit to put Great Yarmouth in an adverse light.”

■ What do you think? Write, with full contact details, to Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email

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