There’s no reason why you should have heard of me. No reason why you would have watched a Channel 4 television series called Benefits Street — with a title like that, I’d have changed channel if it came on my telly. But they didn’t tell us the title when they wanted to spend 18 months filming on our street. For reasons I can’t pretend to understand, five million people tuned in. It’s supposed to be the biggest hit Channel 4 have had since The Snowman. A fairly normal bunch of people — myself, Fungi, Black Dee, Becky and Mark — have become reality TV stars. It’s like Big Brother, except no one is evicted. Or paid.
Since the programme first aired, everything has gone mad. Our street, James Turner Street, has become the unlikeliest of tourist attractions. I went to put something in the recycling bin and saw someone parked outside the house, hoping for a picture. Unbelievable — it’s hardly Beverly Hills around here! I’m nothing special, just a single parent who tries to do the best for her kids. But from first thing in the morning until midnight, there’s cars driving past beeping horns and calling names. Nice names! There have been unpleasant comments, too: the footballer Joey Barton said that watching Benefits Street made him think ‘people should have a licence to have kids’. I think some people should have a licence to open their mouths.
I agreed to do a local radio phone-in the other day. One woman, Laura, called in to say she spent £800 on nursery fees, the same again on the mortgage, and she couldn’t afford to smoke as much as I do. Well, in my defence, they filmed me for more than a year, and spliced lots of bits together. Usually it’s me smoking and sipping tea — so I can see why it looks as if that’s what I do all day. But I don’t! Sharper viewers might have noticed that I had three hairstyles in one episode.
But I agree with Laura on one thing — more should be done for people who work. I’m not working at the moment, so I don’t have to pay rent or council tax. I’d say my income averages about £200 a week. Now I know quite a few working people that haven’t got £200 a week — and they’re working hard all day. That’s not right. I’ve read about teachers who have to use food banks. That’s not right. But I’m not the one who set up the system. I can see why some people are angry. But I didn’t ask for those people who keep coming to my door, offering loft insulation or a boiler for free because I’m on benefits. Why can’t people who are working, and struggling be entitled to free loft insulation as well? It’s not as if people go to the government and say: ‘I don’t want to look for a job, but I want to receive this amount of money.’ It’s the system. The benefits system does make people comfortable, and certainly makes some people not want to go and look for a job. But that is an issue for the government to tackle.
I’ll tell you who does tackle problems here on James Turner Street: our local church. It’s invaluable. They have a brilliant community worker down there, called Adella Pritchard. My little boy goes to Boys’ Brigade there on a Thursday, my daughter goes to Girls’ Association on a Friday. They have jumble sales, tea dances, job clubs and all sorts. It seems, sometimes, that the church does more for communities than the government.
My daughter, Caitlin, is 16 years old now but no way in this world would that girl leave school. She knows exactly what she wants to do for a career: sports science. And they’ve just offered her a place at sixth form. She’s determined, she’ll never forget where she comes from but she will do anything she can to succeed. They may be making a documentary about her in a few years, but for very different reasons.
Caitlin hands me a newspaper report. ‘Benefits Street star White Dee is not good enough for the House of Commons, a Tory MP blasted last night. Former Eton and Cambridge University scholar Kwasi Kwarteng told her, you’re not a good role model. “She should give it a go if she thinks she has the qualities, but I’m not sure she’ll get very far”.’ What a cheek! The fuss about Benefits Street means Ladbrokes has made me 50-1 to be the next MP for Birmingham Ladywood, and until I read that patronising nonsense I wasn’t going to stand. Now, I think I will. As an independent, mind. How far will I get? Let’s just see. ‘From Benefits Street to Downing Street’ — now, that would be a headline.
Fraser Nelson and Katie Hopkins – Should White Dee be an MP?
Deirdre Kelly, also known as White Dee, asked for her fee to be donated to Guide Dogs for the Blind.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 15 February 2014Tags: Adella Pritchard, Benefits Street, Birmingham Ladywood, Caitlin, Channel 4, Church, council, Food banks, Government, James Turner Street, Joey Barton, kids, Kwasi Kwarteng, loft insulation, Smoking, system