Be upfront, BBC. Just call it Chav Challenge …

It seems the BBC –  to which we pay a licence fee for its unique output and should, apparently, defend without hesitation – is making a new show about “hardworking people”.

That set of workers so beloved by Tories and Labour alike – but as yet undefined – will be, er, celebrated in their own show – Britain’s Hardest Grafter.

The reality television show will see ambitious workers who earn less than £15,500 a year battle it out to win a cash prize.

The cash prize is, apparently, £15,000. Is that enough to satisfy the aspirations of people living on low incomes? Obviously, you and I know it means a lifetime supply of cheesy chips and owning a telly that would look too big in Wembley Stadium.

It is, of course, “aspirational” television and will try its hardest to appear positive while pumping out more poverty porn. The posters read “Britain’s Hardest Worker” but I’d not be surprised if, behind the scenes, it’s called Ex-Worker Factor or That Povo’s Got Talent.

I admit I thought it was a spoof at first. I expected to see it on a satirical news website but, no, the BBC is seeking 25 hardworking people to take part. Twenty five seems a high figure for a nation so overwhelmed by spongers and skivers.

A jobs website contacted the production company. Britain's Hardest Grafter Twenty Twenty told them: ““In each episode, people will be put to the test in a series of challenges and tasks. At the end of each episode, those who have produced the least will be eliminated and by the end of the process, just one worker will remain. The winner will receive in the region of £15,000 which is a year’s living wage (outside of London).”

This show’s sickening format is revealed at the same time Tories and Labour agree to lower the benefit cap – thus blaming workers for earning low wages and being in need of help.

It’s part of a wider narrative consistently letting low paying bosses off the hook and justifying a cut in social security. It’s another way in which we can be blamed for having too much month at the end of our money.

And it’s being considered as a genuine show by the BBC to whom we’ll pay £145.50 a year to watch young people compete for one year’s worth of a crap income.

Perhaps I can aspire by offering some other reality TV ideas to the BBC …

  • I’m Living On The Street Get Me Out of Here
  • Empty Kitchen
  • So You Think You Can Put The Heating On
  • The Voiceless UK
  • Pop Idle
  • Povs Win Prizes

Oh, they’re doing that last one …

As workers we’re expected to constantly prove our worth. We have to prove we are hard grafters, hard-working families, aspirational, ambitious. We have to prove we are willing to work really, really hard to make a profit for other people while being simultaneously grateful for low pay, short-term contracts, zero hours agreements – and, increasingly, the chance of being humiliated on telly.

Karl Marx said: “… bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness for those of its members who work acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work.” And he was right.

Our desire to want to avoid mundane work is not a sin. Not wanting to demean ourselves for a pittance while our bosses get rich is not peculiar. Wanting fair pay for our work is sane. And defining ourselves as human beings first not workers is real aspiration.

So, I say stuff aspiring to be Britain’s Hardest Grafter and embrace idleness – just don’t watch the BBC’s offensive offering on telly while you’re doing it.

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Could UK have Cameronvilles?

I’ve experienced homelessness. Now, as I find my benefits still suspended – meaning I have no Jobseekers’ Allowance, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit – the panic is creeping in that I will experience homelessness again.

I’ve not been told why this suspension has happened beyond “loss of paperwork” but that was said in a phone call, leaving no paper trail, so I suspect either untrue or not the basis of a complaint for me.

I told the unemployment office that I had part-time work, I asked if I was within my rights to take it, I was told to keep signing on until I received my first wage – then my benefits were stopped and I was left with, literally, zero income. I checked my bank account this morning and I am penniless with my rent due in a week.

I’ve effectively been penalised for trying to find work. I would’ve been better off staying on benefits: I would still have my dole payment and still be filling in my Looking for Work booklet and going through a routine which meant I had money for food, bills and accommodation.

I never imagined while working for years as a journalist, while studying hard for all my qualifications, while trying to build some sort of financial stability for myself that I would, one day, be sitting at home panicking that I might not have one for much longer.

As a child I lived through a housing crisis and ended up in a squat in a derelict terraced house. This house was in the middle of a street of squats and became the subject of a BAFTA-winning documentary in which I can been seen dancing happily amid the chaos.

My moment as an early reality TV star didn’t leave a mark – I don’t think I even saw the documentary untiI I was much older – but the experience of homelessness certainly did. My fear of it can quickly lead to panic and depression: if you have no home, you have nothing as far as I’m concerned.

We were of course abused for being homeless: insulted by passers-by, bullied at school as the squatting movement came under attack from the national press – those without homes and income seen as having brought it upon themselves, as not taking personal responsibility for their financial hardship.

Now, some 35 years, later this social problem of too little housing, mass unemployment and increasing poverty is again a growing problem which is creating homelessness.

I watch the BBC news, my fists clenched in fear and anger, as I see Americans make tent cities having lost their jobs and their homes – but still desperately trying to cling to some sort of normality. Just like the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression these settlements are being found on empty land across the country.

Panorama writes, “Conditions are unhygienic. There are no toilets and electricity is only available in the one communal tent where the campers huddle around a wood stove for warmth in the heart of winter.

“Ice weighs down the roofs of tents, and rain regularly drips onto the sleeping campers’ faces.

“Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities – they represent the bleak reality of America’s poverty crisis.”

America is the richest country in the world but people are living in tents and “47 million Americans now live below the poverty line – the most in half a century”.

These people have lost their jobs and had their benefits cut by a brutal system that demands financial independence of individuals while failing to provide a way for them to achieve it – there are no jobs.

Conservative minister Maria Miller says that in the UK there is “no shortage of jobs” and rabid Tories cling to this lie to excuse a lack of compassion and to spread the blame to those of us slung on a scrapheap while the rich get richer.

The reality though is that in Lewisham 34 people chase every vacancy – with over 10,500 unemployed for 300 jobs available. In Hartlepool it’s 21 people chasing every vacancy. In Hackney it’s 22. While in South Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and the City of London it’s fewer than two people for every job vacancy.

Much like the US we find that no jobs followed by benefit suspensions – even for those who have made the effort to find work but failed – means abject poverty. People are cutting back on food and fuel bills to pay their mortgage or rent. And the government not only wants to cut the amount of Housing Benefit people receive but also want to raise the age at which single people become eligible to claim for a one-bedroom property to 35. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this could inevitably lead.

All this while there are no jobs to help people out of poverty: history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second as farce and I now hope I won’t get to experience being homeless again.

Stig him in a dump …

A banker, a school teacher, a Tory MP and a Daily Mail reader are sitting around a table. In front of them is a plate, on which there are ten biscuits. The banker scoffs nine of the biscuits, then the Tory turns to the Daily Mail reader and whispers in his ear, ‘Watch out: That teacher is after your biscuit …

Now, that Mr Clarkson, is a funny joke.

Jeremy Clarkson intentionally caused outrage by calling for public sector workers to be executed in front of their families.

Oh, how I laughed as I watched this rich, white, man mock those who are facing the brunt of the cuts.

The last time I laughed this hard he was making wisecracks about murdering prostitutes.

I recognise that Clarkson is now a parody of himself but he shouldn’t be given a soapbox by which to share his ill-informed, nasty opinions at the cost of the licence-fee. It is no surprise that the BBC has received many complaints and The One Show has since apologised.

But Clarkson also encouraged violence towards public sector workers – licence-fee-paying workers who have ensured he does have a gilt-edged pension.

Clarkson’s comments are inaccurate: the average public sector pension is £7,000, but the majority of public sector pensioners have pensions of less than £5,000 and the changes they are striking against will drive this sum down.

His comments are also an incitement to violence: there have already been reported  threats to striking workers from the likes of the EDL, so Clarkson finds himself in ugly company.

In reality Clarkson is not the voice of the people. Polls yesterday showed that most people supported the public sector workers on strike: a Daily Mail online poll at one point showed 84% support and over on Sky there was 71% support following a Twitter vote using #righttowork. I doubt the Mail or Sky expected or wanted this result but it is what they got.

Tens of thousands marched across the country yesterday because they will be paying more into their pensions, working longer and receiving less when they retire: they are being forced to pay back the deficit despite being among some of the lowest paid workers in the country.

And the argument that private sector doesn’t have good pensions and so the public sector should stop moaning is self-defeating and cynical: we should unionise and organise for better pensions for all. As an unemployed worker with only bits of pensions I still wholeheartedly support the strike action.

Meanwhile, in 2008 David Cameron promised to tackle child poverty saying,

“The group that causes me most concern is children whose parents depend on incapacity benefit for their weekly income.

“Our research indicates that there are now half a million children who are dependent on their parents’ incapacity benefit. That’s half a million kids trapped in poverty with parents who, increasingly, are more likely to die or retire than to get off incapacity benefit and back into work. No decent society should accept this.”

Today he thinks differently. He is now challenging the child poverty figures.

Official figures published in Chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement indicate that child poverty is set to swell by 100,000 over the coming years, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank suggested that lower-income groups are bearing the brunt of the Government’s cuts. Now elected, Cameron says,

“I think there is a problem with the way we measure child poverty.”

More strikes anyone?

Good news: The One Show is not available to watch online; one can only hope Clarkson won’t be available to watch again. At a time when the BBC is facing its own savage cuts perhaps Frozen Planet won’t distract us from reactionary comments aimed at licence-fee payers.

Bad news: poorly today and couldn’t face the journey to Jobcentre Plus which means I’ve not signed on so my benefit payment will be delayed

Amount of money I have until it arrives: £7.20

Aunty Beeb can’t budget …

We all know the cuts we’re making in order to survive. Our self-enforced austerity measures are carefully considered and we go without things we don’t need, cut back on excess and have one where we once thought two was essential.

My car sits in my drive undriven. I buy cheaper food, stocking up on frozen items at one pound a pop. Chaplin now has store brand rather than the posh stuff he loves. I don’t indulge in a BOGOF if it looks too good to be true. You get the idea …

The BBC, however, doesn’t seem to be as adept at intelligently and considerately cutting back like the rest of us – which is particularly annoying as we’re paying for that too.

Imagine being left alone to do the job you’re trained for

There are 2,000 jobs at threat in news – a section paid for by us licence payers which, one could argue, is as essential as anything David Attenborough has produced: a contentious suggestion, I know.

There is a widening gap between BBC staff and management wages – with the director general earning about £700k a year. Pay freezes mean journalists and others are taking the further burden of austerity measures. Pensions are being cut. The unpredictable work allowance is under threat.

BBC bosses want to save as much as £6m a year – but no one seems to be looking at the bosses,’ pay, the number of managers on the payroll, the perks bosses get or the bizarre jobs still being created.

A recent example of which is a “Transformation Engagement and Simplicity Project Lead”. One can only guess what one of those does. I would take the job just to be able to say it’s what I do when asked at a tedious dinner party. Who am I kidding? I would like to be able to go to a tedious dinner party but currently would have to arrive empty-handed and ask the host to pay my fare home.

No doubt a Transformation engagement and Simplicity Project Lead earns more than the £25,000 average reporters’ pay.

The BBC tells us: “Our programmes and services celebrate and reflect the diversity of England, and give localised perspectives to the big national stories and issues of the day.”

This, though, makes little sense when we know the decision had been taken to make cuts to Inside Out and local radio: Inside Out alone will lose 40 jobs and its overall budget  – reported to be £5m – cut by 40%.

BBC workers can always volunteer and help others

Aunty Beeb seems to have no sense of irony when wearing her corporate hat, boasting:

Quality and distinctiveness lie at the heart of the way in which we serve our local audiences. Across the country we’re driven by delivering high quality regional and local stories. Via a dynamic multimedia environment; TV, local radio and a range of dedicated local websites, we produce around 60% of the BBC’s domestic output for about 7% of the Licence Fee.

“Our regional TV service produces daily news in 12 regions of England, weekly current affairs and politics in 11 of them and sports shows in 7. We’re targeted with covering all of the big issues in each region and series such as Inside Out, have an enviable record of  breaking news.

“If you love your radio, then you can tune into any of over 40 Local Radio Stations and we typically attract over 7 million listeners per year. Our local radio service staged more than 140 constituency candidate debate programmes over the last General Election and our winter weather coverage is an example of our unique ability to support our communities.

So they’re cutting a service which they brag themselves is relied upon, appreciated, valued – and for a limited part of the licence fee.

The cuts to local radio specifically have been discussed in the House of Commons with such comments as, ” I remember times in my life when the BBC locally has provided a lifeline when we have been cut off or in crisis situations.”

John McDonnell MP says, “I urge the Government to think again about the licence fee settlement. The licence fee is frozen until 2017. Since 2004—we have criticised the previous Government for this—there have been 1,000 job cuts a year, with now another 2,000 on top.

“The BBC also faces the possibility of being burdened with the funding of regional television, which will mean another round of job cuts and service cuts in future years.”

The fight to defend jobs will continue because local news is essential to democracy and BBC journalists know this – unfortunately those managing the news seem to prioritise made-up jobs and saving their own skin.

Perhaps they could look elsewhere to make these cuts. I’m just saying, but these are the senior managers working in news alone at the BBC, not including deputies or assistants:

Helen Boaden, head of news
Noelle Britton, editor, programmes
Nigel Charters managing ed, BBC Newsroom
Richard Clark editor, radio newsroom
Richard Dawkins, controller, strategy of news
Mary Hockaday, head of BBC Newsroom
Peter Horrocks, director, global news
Tamara Howe, chief operating officer, news
Steve Mitchell, dep. head of news
Richard Porter, controller English Global News
Kate Riley, managing editor newsgathering
Fran Unsworth, Head of newsgathering
Jon Williams, world editor newsgathering

Big boss Helen Boaden thinks those concerned about cuts need to “grow up” telling staff, “we could’ve killed you off.”

So BBC journalists are now being balloted for strike action. We should support them and do anything we can to ensure those 2,000 journalists don’t end up in the same situation I’m in alongside many other unemployed hacks.

On the upside: After completing job applications today I can watch programmes I’ve recorded such as Top Boy and Origins of Us (I’m going romcom cold turkey)

On the downside: I might walk to sign on this week so that I can put the £3.40 bus fare towards a bottle of wine unless Chaplin refuses the leftover beef cat food then he’ll get my wine money. (Oh, and I’ve run out of biscuits)