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Big Issue editor and founder divided over controversial 'Benefits Street' TV show

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Big Issue editor and founder divided over controversial 'Benefits Street' TV show

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities

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The editor and founder of magazine The Big Issue have delivered sharply contrasting views on Channel 4's controversial 'Benefits Street' show.

The programme follows the lives of a number of households living on a Birmingham street where 90% of people are said to be claiming state welfare.

John Bird, who founded The Big Issue in 1991, has applauded the show for shining a "bright spotlight on the destructive welfare culture that has grown up in this country thanks to a system that imposes no demands on its users and requires no ambition from them".

However, the magazine's editor, Paul McNamee, has slammed the programme and accused it of damaging the publication's reputation after a former drug addict was shown pretending to be an official Big Issue vendor.

In the documentary's first episode, the man, Fungi, was seen conning people out of money by selling them free copies of the magazine that he had taken from a hotel.

Mr McNamee said: "We are very angry and upset about this – it’s a con. This goes against everything the Big Issue stands for and this damages our reputation.

"We are thankful the public have reacted in the way they have – in support of the Big Issue and how it exists to allow people on the margins of society to make a legal living in society."

However, in stark contrast, founder Mr Bird has praised the show for highlighting what he believes is the reality of the UK benefits system.

Writing for the Daily Mail's website, he said: "For its band of indignant critics, Benefits Street is vile propaganda that fosters hatred of the most vulnerable in society. Some have even called for the series to be ended immediately because of the social damage it is causing.

"But these demands for censorship are misguided. The protesters might not like it, but we cannot hide from reality.

"Channel 4 has no duty to act as a cheerleader for the vast, ramshackle social security system which costs us more than £200 billion a year."

The show has received complaints from viewers who have argued that it is stigmatising people on benefits.

One viewer, Arshad Mahmood, has started an online petition demanding that Channel 4 take the programme off the air which has so far collected over 14,000 signatures.

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