Last Night’s TV – Benefit Busters


This show is certain to have ruffled a few feathers as it was all about the contentious issues surrounding benefit claimants, and for this particular episode, it was all about getting lone parents back into work.

The whole shebang was overseen by Hayley Taylor who’s a Michelle Holmes lookylikey – Michelle used to play Tina in Corrie and Terry’s wife, Britt,  in Emmerdale – and who, by rights, should’ve had a fairly large set of testicles.

In the opening moments of the show, I took an instant dislike to Hayley but she sort of grew on me as the show wore on. What I still can’t decide is whether she grew on me in the sense of liking her more or if she grew on my like a fungal infection…

Hayley is the sort of woman who was born to be a boss, and she’s the kind of woman you dread meeting as your boss. She’s loud, she’s colourful – to the point of looking like Abba and Gok Wan’s love child – she’s brash and in-your-face, and despite claiming a trillion times throughout the show that she really, really, cared about the women she was ‘helping’, I very much doubted the veracity of that statement.

Hayley runs a course a six week course in Doncaster that’s aimed at teaching women who’ve long been out of the job market how to shape up and make themselves suitable prospects for an employer. A really lot of symbolism and metaphors were used to demonstrate Hayley’s points, for example, she held up a battery as she explained positive and negative. A largely pointless visual aid I thought, as were the paper butterflies in Hayley’s caterpillar to butterfly analogy.

Hayley also seems to have studied Being Patronising to degree level, and she’s clearly attended dozens upon dozens of those exceptionally tedious motivational sales courses and seminars on NLP. In fact, Hayley is clearly a born saleswoman; you wouldn’t dare not buy whatever it was she was selling.

And it was all very Americanised, with part of the course being called Tough Love in which basically, Hayley insulted the women by telling them the truth about themselves. In short, this tough love included accusing one woman of being an alcoholic, another of being fat and frumpy, another of lacking any motivation whatsoever and others of generally not looking attractive enough to get a job.

Hayley works for A4E, who are a private company charged with getting the great unwashed back to work, and the government pays them £100 per body to do so with a bonus if they get that body a job. And in that regard, as we met the bunch of women who were taking this experimental course, A4E had a fairly tough job on their hands…

Many of them conformed to the stereotype that we all have about benefit claimants while others genuinely wanted to get back to work and just didn’t have the confidence to do so. One woman even announced that she thought that she got paid too much by way of benefits and therefore, the government made her life too easy… I suspect there are a really lot of other people who would disagree there, such as pensioners or those caring for a disabled child for instance.

However, some of the women needed to be disabused of their notions about their chosen careers and others clearly didn’t want to give up benefits and go into work. One case in point was Donna who was introduced as an “unemployed DJ”. Now, maybe it’s just me, but I have an idea in my head of what DJs look like, and it isn’t Donna. Not even a little bit. However, Donna seemed very, very reluctant to get a job – even a DJing job – making many excuses and bursting into tears often when challenged on that point.

In the end, Donna did get a job working in Poundland, as did several of the other women featured, so it was time to bring out the butterfly metaphor again and much applause and back slapping followed as Hayley, and no doubt her boss Emma – a multi millionaire who’s on the board of directors of A4E – eagerly anticipated a hefty bonus for getting a few more of the proletariat off the government’s benefit back.

On the subject of Emma, we saw her dropping in on Hayley’s ‘class’ and asking the women what they thought of Hayley. All well and good but Hayley was sitting right there with them, so they were hardly about to slag her off were they? And they didn’t. In fact, so gushing was their praise that Hayley began to weep, causing something of a mud slide of make-up.

Overall, this was an entertaining programme and one that I’d expected to come away from furious, but somehow, I didn’t. I really don’t think anybody needs a six week course just to get a job but on the other hand, I guess if it works, then it’s no bad thing.

Next week, we’ll get to see how A4E in Hull is tackling the problems of the long-term unemployed. No doubt we’ll hear a really lot more motivational metaphors and proactive this and positivity that.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.