It's good to see UK poverty on prime-time TV, says Abigail Scott Paul, but did Trouble on the Estate reinforce stereotypes?
I am in two minds about Richard Bilton's warts and all look at life on the Shadsworth Estate in Blackburn - one of Britain's poorest estates – shown on Panorama on Tuesday night.
Part of me is pleased that the BBC gave a prime-time slot to a subject that is often deemed too depressing (or even boring) for prime-time audiences. Rightly, or wrongly, poverty in the UK simply does not get the public attention that international poverty does.
The response on Twitter showed many people watched it and that they had a broad range of strong opinions. TV programmes and the social media buzz around it offers an opportunity to inform people about the realities of living in poverty and allows often ignored voices to be heard.
The programme was thoughtful and explored the many complex, and often difficult issues affecting people in poverty. It highlighted the entrenched cycle of low pay and no pay facing families. It also touched on the impact of low aspirations on educational achievement (something our research challenges), as well as the role that drugs and parenting play in determining life chances. At times it did stray into the sentimental (well, it was primetime), but as a viewer it did make me want to do something about it.
On the other hand, I am concerned that it served to entrench stereotypes about people who live on council estates. I could see comments on Facebook and Twitter (the usual: "how can they afford a flat screen TV?" and "they shouldn’t have children" remarks).
The residents have complained that they feel they have been unfairly represented and leaders have warned about the damaging impact this could have on the community.
We know that residents on many estates already feel the 'lowest of the low'. They feel they are blamed for their problems, stigmatised by where they live, and discriminated because of their class. I wonder if Trouble on the Estate just served to compound that feeling.
Life is getting harder and harder – and we know that the forthcoming welfare reforms and labour market changes are likely to mean that by 2020 one in four families will be living in poverty. And yet, poverty is not inevitable and JRF is committed to helping end it. We will need help from the media to bring these issues to light to help create support for anti-poverty measures. If more people with experience of the everyday realities of poverty were given a voice in the media, this would enhance public understanding. But how can we do this in a way that supports people living in poverty without reinforcing stereotypes?