BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw announced a raft of new BBC2 programming earlier this year, including new factual series Britain's Hardest Worker.
According to a BBC release, the show "explores the front line of our nation's low wage economy", following Brits from across the country as they take on real-life jobs.
The contestants are all there for one reason: to make money. The least effective workers will be asked to leave until only one is left, to be declared Britain’s Hardest Worker.
The series will tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time: why is British productivity low? Is the benefits system providing many with a reason not to work or hindering their working opportunity? Is the hidden truth about immigrants simply that they work harder than Brits – and we need them as much as they need us - or are they simply prepared to work for a lower wage? And have the young simply not inherited the work ethic of older generations or have working conditions just got too hard? Who in Britain still knows how to graft? It’s time to find out.
Student website Graduate Fog learned that the series would require contestants to prove their "abilities through a series of challenges and potentially walk away with a cash prize." The winner was expected to receive "in the region of £15,000", according to a spokesperson from production company Twenty Twenty.
Applications are only open to people earning or receiving benefits totalling less than £15,500 a year. Below is the flyer sent to Graduate Fog aimed at younger applicants – although the makers are aiming to recruit "all ages and backgrounds".
Graduate Fog was immediately sceptical about the competition format. "Something about it feels distinctly Hunger Games", the reporter wrote, adding:
"The final cut of Britain’s Hardest Grafter (which we understand is the working title – although the show is also referred to as Britain’s Hardest Worker) may end up being more sensitive and thought-provoking than this advert suggests. We certainly hope so. Channel 4 has been heavily criticised for so-called ‘poverty porn’ programmes such as Benefits Street. Graduate Fog does not want to see youth unemployment given the same treatment by the BBC (or anyone else). Desperate young workers must not be exploited for entertainment value."
As the story was picked up in the national media, Twitter users criticised the format and tone of the adverts.
A petition has been set up to 'Stop the BBC's "Hunger Games" Style Show', and currently has over 12,000 signatures. The petitioner says the show is "the next rung down the ladder in the disturbing trend of voyeuristic 'poverty porn' made popular in programmes like Benefits Street":
"Not even the cheapest and tackiest of the cable or satellite channels have stooped to this level. We believe a higher standard should be expected from the BBC, a national broadcaster that is funded by public subscription in the form of the licence fee."
Not all the responses have targeted the BBC. An article in Vice wrote, "This isn't Black Mirror, it's much less fantastical than that. It's the drudgery of working life for those stuck at the bottom in Cameron's Britain. Why are we so outraged by bland reality?"
A blog post by food writer and campaigner Jack Monroe also warned potential applicants of press intrusion: "The media will trawl through your social networks and dig up and store any photographs they can find as evidence to fit the ‘character’ they will invent for you."
The BBC's response
A joint statement from the BBC and producers Twenty Twenty said: "Britain's Hardest Grafter is a serious social experiment for BBC Two which investigates just how hard people in the low wage economy work. Each week the contributors – who are all in work or actively looking – will experience a different 'blue collar' role as the series explores the truth about Britain's work ethic. Throughout the series, the contributors are rewarded for the work they do."
When The Independent approached the BBC for comment, it was told that the show is in the "very early stages of production" and has been "misinterpreted" by website Graduate Fog. The closing date for applicants on the BeOnScreen website is 16th July.
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