Report finds British TV portrays working class ‘negatively and fuelled by stereotypes’

These are all the biggest culprits

The BBC’s Creative Diversity Report 2020 has revealed “often those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are depicted negatively, fuelled by stereotypes and seen as the object of ridicule”.

From audience research conducted at the BBC on the portrayal and representation of British television, 66 per cent say it is important that TV features content related to people from diverse socio-economic background and 27 per cent say there is currently too little coverage of diverse socio-economic background on TV.

Media companies have taken action in an attempt to fix this – BBC has committed £100 million to increase diversity on TV and ITV has announced a Diversity Acceleration Plan in July. These initiatives place great emphasis on making sure companies such as the BBC understand their audiences, and that what they feature is relevant to all parts of society – not just the middle class.

However, there has been way too many examples of classism in British TV so far some of which continue to be aired and re-watched. It’s fair to say the depictions of the working class in general on British TV are offensive and are massively misrepresented. Here are some of the worst examples:

The Jeremy Kyle Show

This show often featured people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, resolving private conflicts in front of the whole nation. People watched Jeremy Kyle to poke fun at other people’s real life stories and their humiliation. Yes, the media got working class representation, but the one show that did had a reputation for its shock value, from featuring families fighting over DNA tests to the host being attacked by a drug addict.

After 14 years, the show was finally taken off air after the death of a guest.

Little Britain

This show was truly the centerpiece of all offensive stereotypes possible. From ableism, racism to homophobia, what did Little Britain not have? Let’s focus on the characterisation of Vicky Pollard, a teen single mother who represents “chavs”, which is commonly thought to be an acronym for “council housed and violent”.

Vicky has catchphrases such as “no but yeah but no but yeah but no” and “shut up”, she is frequently engaged in wrong-doings and she is often noted for her inability to articulate herself clearly – and Little Britain uses Vicky Pollard to associate these negative images with the working class.

The Only Way is Essex

When you read “Essex”, you’re probably picturing a stereotypical loud “dumb blonde” persona with stilettos and fake tan. Owen Jones, a columnist, notes in his book The Only Way is Essex presents the “grotesque caricatures of working class life”.

This scripted reality show takes the image of “chavs” and makes a whole brand of it for entertainment (someone has even recently made a “chav” filter on Instagram), showing the working class as being tasteless and unintelligent.


Shameless was a comedy series set in council estate in Manchester, and it actually has some great reviews. It follows a dysfunctional family, inspired by the creator Paul Abbott’s own difficult experiences growing up.

Whilst this is all good, why can’t a series about a working class people in Britain not tackle a particularly high number of crazy narratives such as murder and endless affairs? David Cameron admitted he enjoys watching Shameless, but is this the only insight to life in working class to those outside of it?

Benefits Street

This Channel 4 documentary followed the lives of several residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham where newspapers reported 90 percent of the residents claim benefits. The series portrayed the absolute worst of the residents, showcasing shoplifting, drugs, gangs and more – further worsening the prejudice towards people who receive benefits.

Benefits Street was so controversial, police, Channel 4 and the media regulator Ofcom received hundreds of complaints and the residents were receiving death threats on Twitter.


This documentary series followed members of the general public in various locations, often council estates, who are either unemployed or have very little income and are shown involved in alcoholism, drug misuse and prostitution.

Again, whenever members of a lower socio-economic background are put under spotlight, it seems the media’s mostly interested in covering them when they’re associated with misconduct or criminal activities. There is huge generalisation against this social group, and these kinds of TV shows have almost become a genre of their own.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• These are the shows being edited or pulled from streaming services due to racist depictions

• These noughties British TV shows were so savage, it’s mad they were even made

PSA: These Christmas songs are problematic and we probably shouldn’t sing them