From issue 26, Spring 2015
Deirdre Kelly, better known as ‘White Dee’, off Benefits Street, has got a lot to say about attitudes to people claiming benefits
“I’m just me. I’m normal. Do you know what I mean?” Talking to Dee Kelly is a breath of fresh air on a dull winter morning. The star of Benefits Street and Celebrity Big Brother tells Quids in! that she’s keeping her feet on the ground. She hasn’t changed, she claims, and it seems she has and she hasn’t.
Benefits Street first aired in January 2014 and followed the residents of Birmingham’s Turner Street. It claimed to present the reality of life for benefit claimants and their neighbours but simply added fuel to critics who blame poorer people for their poverty. Viewers often asked: “Why would people agree to go on TV like this?”
“The production company duped us,” Dee, (known on the programme as White Dee), explains.
“We were told it would be about how you get on and how we help each other but it turned out to be something else, something controversial. I suppose 12 million people wouldn’t watch a television programme about how we helped each other.”
“It backfired, though, because now I am the voice of the everyday person.”
It’s true. Dee appeared on the Daily Politics in December. In a short clip for the show, Dee argued claimants are not wrong for claiming, it was the government that set up the system and they should look at themselves if they’re not happy about it. Speaking with an unpolished Brummie accent, she seemed to disarm the politicians and presenters.
“It was really weird. Politicians don’t seem to come face to face with real people and when they do they’re surprised to find we’re not stupid. I think real people like us really do need to demand respect.”
“My priorities are my kids. I’m riding the wave. There is a new reality series coming up but nothing lasts forever.”
Like most other media talking about claimants, the internet reveals plenty of hatred towards Dee.
“The mediathink it’s okay to label people ‘the scum of the earth’. We’re still called benefit cheats and scroungers, described as lazy, told to get a job – a year later. I just live in the knowledge that they don’t know me.”
Her advice to people who are struggling is to ask for help.
“You can be proud but if you need help, ask for it. I’ve been there and there’s definitely a pride thing but if I had asked for help I wouldn’t have ended up with a criminal record.”