Famous, Rich and Jobless, BBC1
Jobless, BBC1

How to make a mockery of a job hunt

Really, enough is enough. We've had the Duchess of York getting on with hoodies on a Manchester estate; we've had MPs living "like real people" in tower blocks; we've had the Marquess of Blandford sleeping rough (under duck down in a five-star hotel after he'd had it with this nonsense), and now we've got four, decidedly D-list celebrities finding out what it's like to look for work when there is none.

Perhaps that should read: finding out what it's like job-hunting when there's a camera crew following you around, because it would seem to be a rather different deal. Wrestling with the possible reasons why so many people are unemployed at the start of Famous, Rich and Jobless, the gardener Diarmuid Gavin wonders, "Is it because they're lazy? ... There's always jobs out there," which is about as patronising as it gets. Unless you're Emma Parker Bowles, former model, alcoholic and still niece of Camilla, in which case you might add: "Some people do fiddle the system and they fiddle it very successfully. They have all they need."

These two charmers are joined in their quest to live for four days on the Jobseeker's Allowance of £39 by Meg Mathews, who has "never been unemployed" since working in a chippie in her youth – though the £4m from her divorce settlement with Noel Gallagher has probably helped a smidgen – and Larry Lamb: good old, knees up muvver brahn, roll aht the barrel, apples and pairs, trouble and strife Larry Lamb. Him off EastEnders. Yeah, him. He's a self-made actor, he tells us proudly, and he's very excited to be getting a bin-liner full of second-hand clothes so he can blend in and not use his fame to his advantage.

That lasts all of one day, as Larry decides to seek work by going to Asda, buying a tin of tuna, revelling in the adulation of people who saw Easties on the box last night, and asking for a job application form at the checkout that he doesn't have a pen to fill out. "A lot of guys my age just give up," says the 62-year-old. Not Lazzer – he's realised he can live comfortably (eating prawn crackers and that tuna) for four days on 40 nicker, so he's off to the beach instead, to "meet people" and ask whether they think he'll find a job. Well, you won't find one by walking down the beach, Larry, you mug, you muppet, you idiot who's completely missed the point of this programme. It's not to survive, Larry – it's to learn what it's like to live like this, WHILE ACTIVELY SEEKING A JOB! That's why it's called a Jobseeker's Allowance.

Others fare better. Gavin gets odd jobs with decorators, but clearly feels quite down; Mathews uses her "personality" (or camera retinue) to get a couple of jobs at an open-air market; and Parker Bowles vomits before her first shift as a barmaid (perhaps not the best job for a recovering alcoholic). But why this obsession with sticking "celebrities" in unfamiliar situations? Of course they're going to find it a bit tough when forced to swap their £8,000 earrings for an electricity top-up key. But this is about as real an experience as Mork living with Mindy.

Infinitely grittier, and far more affecting, was Jobless, shown an hour later on the same channel. Really, Beeb, who sorts out the schedule? These are real people who've lost their real jobs, and are having real problems because of it, from having to field 10 calls a day from the banks to families where the children long for daddy to find work so he'll stop being frustrated and angry.

The programme's use of children is far from exploitative, but infinitely revealing. Who wouldn't be moved by little Leah's reasoning that "we don't really care that we don't have enough money because we understand; we have friends at school, and books to read"?

"Stunned, angry, insulted and confused" is how Derek from Glasgow sums up his situation, and all four emotions, and more, seep out of this tight documentary, and the very concrete threat of being turfed out of homes and fracturing relationships gives Jobless a sense of "there but for the grace ..." that Famous, Rich and Jobless could never achieve.

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