Workers Or Shirkers? Ian Hislop's Victorian Benefits

Ep 1/1

Thursday 7 April

8.00pm-9.00pm

BBC TWO

NEW
Ian Hislop’s entertaining and provocative look at Victorian attitudes to the poor sheds a sharp light on today: controversial benefits cuts, anxieties about scroungers, sensational newspaper reports, arguments about who does and doesn’t deserve welfare - it’s all there!

Ian explores the views of five colourful individuals whose Victorian attitudes remain incredibly resonant. Pioneer of the workhouse Edwin Chadwick feared that hand-outs would lead to scrounging and sought to make sure that workers were always better-off than the unemployed. That sounds fair - but was his solution simply too unkind?

James Greenwood, Britain’s first undercover reporter, made poverty a cause célèbre - but is that kind of journalism voyeuristic?

Helen Bosanquet, an early social worker, believed that poverty was caused by ‘bad character’ - that some people simply more deserving than others. Bosanquet came to blows with Beatrice Webb, who took a more economic view of the causes of poverty, leading her to argue for the first foundations of the welfare state.

Finally, even if we want to be generous, are there limits on how much we can afford to help? That dilemma faced Margaret Bondfield, Britain’s first female cabinet minister who, despite her impeccable Labour credentials, advocated controversial welfare cuts in the 1930s, a time of national austerity.

Wrestling with these questions with his customary mix of light touch and big ideas, Ian also has revealing conversations with Iain Duncan Smith (former Secretary of State of Work and Pensions), Deirdre Kelly (also known as ‘White Dee’, famous for featuring in Benefits Street), Owen Jones and Tristram Hunt MP.

Pictured: Ian Hislop at the Workhouse Door

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