Channel 4’s controversial Benefits Street tracked the lives of the residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham as they navigated life on state handouts — sparking national debate about welfare Britain.
They were filmed shoplifting to buy drugs and while some had legitimate claims for benefits, others queued up to boast on camera about cheating the system.
Five years on, The Sun on Sunday returned to find all of the residents featured have moved out, with claims the show “ripped the heart out of our happy road”.
While some have used fame as a springboard, others are struggling on Universal Credit.
Deirdre Kelly, 47 — matriarch White Dee — said: “The show was a double-edged sword for us.
“On one hand it gave us a chance to get off benefits and a new start. But there is no doubt it ripped apart a family.
“I don’t speak to anyone from the street now. Before the cameras arrived we were a struggling community but we shared meals, hugs and advice. We opened our homes to each other.
“But the notoriety and attention that came with the show tore the heart out of the James Turner Street we knew. It’s so sad.
“Life has changed because of the change to benefits too. If the cameras filmed Benefits Street now I think it would be more Destitution Street for some, but that is where we are as a nation five years on.”
The five-episode series was billed as a fly-on-the-wall look at life on benefits.
But broadcasting watchdog Ofcom and police received hundreds of complaints about criminality on the show.
“Fungi” — real name James Clarke — was one of the main characters, seen battling drug and drink addiction.
Producers then put him up in a series of hotels. It was a lifeline and he got money to go to rehab because of his appearances on the show.
But despite him being given these opportunities, The Sun on Sunday discovered the whining star begging on the streets of Birmingham.
He told us: “My life has been a mess since Benefits Street. It screwed my life for a bit.
“I got deeply into drugs again and was living rough in Cardiff. I could’ve died. But a stranger saw me on TV.
“I reminded him of his brother who died from drug abuse and he paid £11,500 to get me off drugs.
“I’ve been clean from drugs for over three years thanks to him.”
Fungi told us his life was going well — he was living in his own place and signing on for work — until his benefits of almost £500 a month were slashed to £229 under Universal Credit, the controversial system for working-age people.
He said: “Universal Credit ruined me. I was so angry about it that I got barred from the JobCentre.
“I started begging on the street to make up the money. I had to live rough again. Back to square one.
“Earlier this year I was beaten up, got my jaw smashed by two guys on a night out and I felt lonely.
“I didn’t have the community from Benefits Street to help me recover. It’s a ghost town now, no one talks to each other.
“Life has become harder there. People are beyond the breadline and no one is helping each other out like they used to.”
Dad-of-one Fungi flirted with the world of celebrity. He was offered £300 for public appearances in places as far away as Magaluf but turned it down because he “didn’t want cash for being laughed at”.
Now he lives with his girlfriend of eight months, Kerrie Tarbuck, 40, in her sheltered accommodation. He hopes to marry her next year.
Fungi said: “We share our benefits to make ends meet but it’s hard. At least we’ve got each other.”
Benefits Street featured 99 properties, which housed 13 nationalities, and nearly all of its residents were unemployed and on benefits.
The documentary opened with the street’s “mother hen”, White Dee, moaning about benefits cuts and warning of possible consequences.
Dee was regularly seen cooking meals for the hungry on the street and emerged as a star. She got more than £50,000 to appear on Celebrity Big Brother in 2014, went on Loose Women and has become a spokeswoman on all things benefits.
She has turned her life around and is no longer on welfare.
Dee said: “After CBB we moved out of James Turner Street, our home for ten years.
“Tourists, fans and rubberneckers were knocking on our door, looking through the window, giving racist abuse to my mixed-race kids.
“I left with a really heavy heart but I think some people thought I’d got too big for the street, which wasn’t true. Benefits Street ripped the heart out of our happy road.”
Dee, who now lives three miles away in a smart, rented three- bedroom home, said she gets by “being tight and saving the money I make”.
Dee, who ditched her celebrity agent two years ago, said: “I don’t make much money but I’ve kept my frugal ways.
"I’ll always buy half-price bread instead of fresh. I say no to the kids all the time. They want £120 trainers but I say, ‘£15 trainers for you mate’.”
Smoggy, real name Stephen Smith, was seen in the first episode selling 50p sachets of washing powder and sugar to neighbours.
This innovation caught the eye of London businessman Charlie Mullins, boss of Pimlico Plumbers, who offered him £10,000 to start his own store.
But one resident on the street, who asked not to be named, told us the pair fell out, scuppering the deal.
She said: “Smoggy was gutted but he had different ideas to Charlie. I’ve heard Smoggy has moved out of the area. He will never get another offer as good as the one Charlie offered him.”
Sherrell Dillion, known as SB, was seen on the show trying to launch her modelling career while being a mum-of-two.
The 32-year-old said: “Benefits Street was amazing for me. People saw me and gave me a chance.
“My first modelling job was in a Wetherspoons ad then I had castings in Paris, Milan and Barcelona.
“I’d barely been away before. It was incredible.
“The show aired in Australia two years ago and now I’ve been offered more work there. I’m not rich but I’m off any benefits other than child support.”
Black Dee, real name Samora Roberts, 37, was jailed for seven years in 2016 for running a drug-dealing operation at her home in James Turner Street.
She said the show “threw her into the limelight” and friends said the drug dealing was her “just trying to make ends meet” as she fell further into debt.
But Fungi told us: “She’s just been released on parole and is working in a shop. She had a real tough time.
“The show was bad for her but I saw her the other day and she’s making a good go of things.”
Meanwhile, Mark Thomas and Becky Howe, both 28, who were seen on the show struggling to bring up their two children, have moved to a three-bedroom home on the outskirts of the city.
A neighbour said: “The show was a disaster for them. Their families turned on them and they fell out with friends. Mark was called a scrounger by his family.
“He’s now got a job as a labourer and turned his life around.”
As for the road, gone are the graffiti scrawlings of “Fungi” on the walls and “Benefits Street” on the street sign.
But many problems remain. One resident said: “For many, it’s still a struggle to get by. Benefits are cut and the cost of living is rising.
“It’s even tough for those on the road who work.”