According to the BBC's programme information: "Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford (of Apprentice fame) want to discover how much benefit is enough to live on and if work is worth it." The experiment promises to bring both groups together an effort to 'learn' their stories.
Except, there's one huge problem with this premise - it presupposes the idea that anyone unfortunate enough to be unemployed pays no taxes. This is not true. This divide is deliberately reinforced within the first minute. During Nick's voiceover, when he mentions 'taxpayers' it cuts to a clip of a woman working. Whereas the benefit claimant leisurely smokes from the comfort of her messy back garden (a caricature that sells very well).
In Margaret's first voiceover , she states: "As the countries spending on benefits reaches record levels. Public opinion has never been more divided over Britain's 2.5m unemployed." This implies Jobseeker's Allowance is solely responsible but it only makes up 3% of the welfare bill. We spend 15 times more on pensions (£4.9bn vs £74.2bn).
She also claimed: "Last year, British taxpayers spent around £40bn in benefits to the unemployed. That's more than the entire defence budget."
Yet, the government spends more each year servicing its debt (£48.2bn). Housing Benefit (£16.94bn) is paid direct to landlords, so we can discount that figure from her claim. Only under Universal Credit would people be paid directly. In a UC pilot, they found rent arrears increased as a result. They lazily conflated in-work and out-of-work benefits.
Every decision the benefit claimants made was unfairly scrutinised - the consequence was either suspicion or contempt. One ridiculous example included a woman questioning why the mother on benefits would feed her children two hot meals a day. Yes, two hot meals. Suddenly, we had rolled back to the Victorian era.
Another claimant was told volunteering was "not real work" despite devoting the entirety of his week helping others. Instead, the taxpayer decided he needed to get out to the shops and hand out CVs.
I remember that feeling, that sense of imaginary finger pointing and judgement felt all too familiar. For over a year I suffered the jobcentre. They measured my self-esteem and told me it was only worth £56.45 a week. My hopes and aspirations were reduced to my National Insurance number on a piece of green paper. Before I would sign on, I would not enter inside until I saw the streets were empty, for the shame was too much. I dreaded bumping into anyone who would recognise me.
My overdraft, not the welfare state became my safety net. I would regularly fall into it as my meagre allowance did not reflect the harsh reality of rising living costs. I still struggled, despite living at home with my parents to minimise costs.
The show was overwhelmingly negative and people were publicly shamed for daring to receive food parcels. Stories of struggle became displays of ridicule. In the end, Nick suggests cutting benefits to 'incentivise' work despite seeing such struggles. If this was meant to be an experiment, it was a very cruel one.