What to expect from tonight's Channel 4 show Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits set in Hartlepool

A new documentary set in Hartlepool takes a harrowing look at how hard people have been hit by the Government's new benefits system.

By Sophie Brownson
Wednesday, 13 February, 2019, 14:55
Trevor Pickard and carer Tracy Taylor with their daughter Tamsyn. Image by Channel 4.

Ahead of its TV debut the Mail was able to preview the show.

Partially blind David features in the show for the way he had his payment reduced leaving him just 5 to live off for the entire month. Image by Channel 4.

It captures the stark realities faced by people in the town who have been pushed to the brink by Universal Credit, which is aimed at getting people on benefits back to work.

The new system is replacing six other benefits with a single monthly payment for people out of work or on a low income.

Hartlepool was one of the pilot areas for the roll-out of the new system and the new show aims to portray how the system has impacted on people's lives.

Producers say the show will feature the impacts it has had on crime, homelessness, loan sharks, hunger and evictions in Hartlepool as claimants struggle to survive.

The first episode shows the shocking measures people in the town have had to resort to so they can survive.

It follows the story of a young, unemployed couple Nathan and Abbey, who have to hunt wildlife to eat.

In distressing scenes the couple take their dog Twister into the fields around Hartlepool to catch wild rabbits for their tea and on another occasion Nathan goes out 'lamping' at night in the hope of catching rabbits.

The pair say the long wait between Universal Credit payments have meant that they have been left with no cash to buy food and have to do anything to survive.

Speaking to producers, Abbey says they can sometimes go for days without a proper meal.

But with many of their friends and family in the same situation they have no support to fall back on.

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Viewers can expect to be moved by the way Hartlepool dad Trevor and his family are struggling to survive on the system, which appears to make no allowances of the health struggles he and his carer Tracy Taylor face.

Trevor has multiple sclerosis and is cared for by Tracy, who has already battled cancer and now faces devastating news about her health that could put further strain on her finances under the new system.

The pair are both unable to work because of their health and are on Universal Credit, which has to provide for them and their teenage daughter Tamsyn.

In an upsetting phone call to the Universal Credit call centre, Tracy asks for assistance so that she has more to eat after receiving instructions from a doctor to build up her strength as she gears up for potential cancer treatment.

But Tracy is left with no where to turn when the system is unable to provide even an advance payment.

The show also highlights the desperate hope of young people trying to escape the benefit trap and pave the way for a brighter future against the odds.

Audiences are likely to be rooting for the talented youngster to achieve her dream, but her parents highlight how easy it is for young people in the town to slip through the net by making decisions that will impact on the rest of their lives.

Emotional scenes also highlight the plight of partially blind David who has his payment reduced leaving him just £5 to live off for the entire month after his disability is reassessed and he’s told he must now look for work.

But with no phone or internet connection the largely online Universal Credit system brings him to the brink.

The scale of those struggling on Universal Credit is also demonstrated in the amount of people seen queuing for food at one of the town's food banks.

The first episode also follows the frustrations of single-mum Terri who is looking for a job as a result of the changes to the benefit system.

She can be seen going from business to business asking for work, but as she is repeatedly turned away it becomes clear how few opportunities there are in the town, which only adds to the problem.