Entertainment & Arts

Petition grows against BBC's Britain's Hardest Grafter show

Job Centre Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Contestants will have to complete a series of blue-collar jobs

Nearly 24,000 people have signed a petition aimed at stopping the BBC broadcasting Britain's Hardest Grafter, where low-paid workers vie for £15,500.

Critics have likened it to "poverty porn" and The Hunger Games books, where contestants fought for their lives.

The BBC and Twenty Twenty, the show's production company, said: "It is a misinterpretation of the concept of the series to suggest it is exploitative."

They said "the welfare of those taking part is of paramount importance".

Twenty Twenty's spokesman added the show was "a current affairs commission and not an entertainment format", adding it was "at the very earliest stages of production". The independent production company has also made other programmes including The Choir: New Military Wives, Benefits Britain 1949 and The World's Strictest Parents.

Britain's Hardest Grafter was commissioned as a five-week series with 25 people involved in the process, and the spokesman said the prize money was "the equivalent to an annual living-wage salary".

Image copyright Change.org
Image caption The petition says "unemployment and poverty are serious social issues and should not be the subject of a cheap game show format"

The original brief for the show said it "follows Brits from across the country through a series of real-world jobs to find Britain's Hardest Worker" - the programme's working title.

"These jobs will take place both out in the workplace and within the confines of a specially created factory, a warehouse space which over the course of five episodes will be transformed to cover the UK's largest blue collar sectors," it said.

The "least effective workers" will then be asked to leave until only one is left, "to be declared Britain's Hardest Worker".

The brief added the show would tackle "some of the most pressing issues of our time", exploring the "low" levels of British productivity, whether the benefits system provides "many with a reason not to work" and if it was "hindering their working opportunity".

It will also seek to discover if the "hidden truth about immigrants" is "simply that they work harder than Brits" and if "we need them as much as they need us - or are they simply prepared to work for a lower wage?".

The show will also aim to explore if the young have "simply not inherited the work ethic of older generations or have working conditions just got too hard?".

Twenty Twenty's spokesman added all the contestants would get the equivalent money for the work they do in the workplace-based challenges.

But the show, which is at the casting stage and has not yet started filming, has not just been challenged by the petition.

Image copyright Jack Monroe
Image caption Cook and writer Jack Monroe has tried to warn potential contestants from applying, saying the media will not portray them accurately

'Dealt with sensitively'

Some commentators have likened the show to Channel 4's Benefits Street - a documentary series about residents of a deprived street in Birmingham.

The five-part programme, which gave Channel 4 a ratings boost in 2014, was ruled by Ofcom not to have breached broadcasting rules after 887 viewers complained it misrepresented benefits claimants.

Graduate Fog, a graduate careers site which says it names and shames "intern exploiters", called Britain's Hardest Grafter a "controversial Hunger Games-style TV show" and has been encouraging its Twitter followers to sign the petition.

Jack Monroe, the budget-food writer and Guardian columnist, wrote a warning to potential contestants on her website about exposing themselves to the public, stating: "The scummier arms of the media don't care about your personal life or relationships beyond selling newspapers.

"I am writing this because I wish someone had told me. I wish someone had told me, before I signed a book deal for a recipe book - because I needed a job and it was a job - that I was going into a war, unarmed."

Louise Haigh, the Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, wrote in the Huffington Post: "Instead of the BBC asking why these people don't earn enough to live on, they pit them against each other for pure voyeurism."

Twenty Twenty's spokesman said: "The competition structure is being used as a way of shining a light on the variety of jobs people do in the low wage economy, what it takes to do them well, and to challenge and shatter all sorts of myths surrounding the low paid and unemployed sector.

"When people see the final product we're confident they'll feel the subject was dealt with sensitively."

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