Last Night's Television: Benefit Busters, Channel 4 <br/> Dolce Vito &ndash; Dream Restaurant, Channel 4

When tough love's just the job
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The Independent Culture

There's a certain get-up-and-go, look-on-the-bright side type of person that rubs me up the wrong way. You know the sort. Officious, busybodyish, sprouting maxims you've encountered a million times before (frequently on the front of gift-shop magnets). They stick their nose in your own failings (which you'd rather ignore, thanks) and tell you what you're doing wrong, usually while sporting a comedy tie and/or sparkly eyeshadow. And oh, they can be irritating.

Hayley Taylor, at first glance in the new series, Benefit Busters, looked like one of these people. She works for a private job-hunting agency, A4E, part of a government pilot scheme in Doncaster, which is trying to get single mothers back to work. In she came with her sparkly eyeshadow, all hustle and bustle and motivational metaphors. She wanted the women to jump on board with her, go from ugly caterpillars to beautiful butterflies. Remember, ladies, she chirruped, positivity is the answer to everything. Gagh, said their faces, get me out of here now.

But then maybe that's the point. Because Hayley does, at least, appear to get results. What's more, she seems to genuinely care about the women she deals with. Within five minutes of meeting her, the women were bawling they're eyes out, passing round the tissues and cups of milky tea. What followed was a curious mix of criticism and compliment ("my tough love," Hayley called it) whereby they're chastised for missed opportunities and cooed over for their choice of outfit.

The women themselves are a mixed bunch, ranging from 40-year-old Donah, who's been out of work for two years and struggles to make ends meet, to Yvette, who last worked yonks ago, but seemed relatively well-off. The one thing they have in common is their desperation to return to work. The social stereotyping, the lack of cash, the fear of the bailiffs, all of it, has degraded the quality of their lives to the extent that there's little point continuing as is. Of course, it's not that easy. As well as being eager, they are, on the whole, profoundly lacking in confidence. None of them appears to have the faintest idea what they're capable of doing, or, indeed, how to do it.

Hayley dealt with this directly – too directly, perhaps. Or perhaps not? Donah arrived for a one-on-one session and halfway through the chat was interrupted by Hayley. "Donah," she asked. "Why are you always shaking? Have you had a drink this morning?" Donah was indignant – as I was, at least for the next 30 minutes, until it turned out that Donah had, indeed, had a drink, plus several more since. Still, she got it together in the end, landing a job at the local Poundland along with several others from the class. More surprisingly, so did Dawn, the twentysomething "DJ" who turned down a job because of the late working hours. She insisted that she needed the top-level Sky package, despite her spiralling debts and shrinking income. But alongside Donah, she started at Poundland – and appeared to enjoy it, too.

The only one who didn't was Yvette, despite thinking that the benefit system was "stupid" because it "gives us too much". Along with the others, she gave employment a go, but packed it all in favour of her old life. And, frankly, I don't blame her. In full-time employment, she was earning less than half what she was on benefits. With four children to support, who's going to choose that particular high road? I certainly wouldn't.

On the other side of the channel, Vito Cataffo has his own bureaucratic tangles to unwind in Dolce Vito – Dream Restaurant. As it turns out, despite putting in an offer on two separate sites for his ristorante Inglese in Italy, he has managed to get nowhere. Apparently, if your family don't know somebody who knows somebody whose owned the land for centuries you've got no chance of buying it. Or something. Not to worry, Vito's got just such a setup in Benevento, a picturesque little town just north of Naples, and location (ideally) of my next holiday (and chance of a free meal, Vito?).

On second thoughts, perhaps that wouldn't be for the best. After my initial enthusiasm last week, I was rather disappointed by Cataffo's performance last night. I thought I'd fallen a bit in love with him – or at least his show, intoxicating mélange of scenery, food and foreign charm that it was. But now I'm not so sure. Is it just me, or is there something deeply suspect about a non-Scot wearing a kilt actually out choice? Particularly without any underwear. Also, nice as Willie and his top-quality cattle farm may be, it wasn't a patch on Tom and his zen cheeserie. Still, at least we had some drama – in the form of Vito's English chef engaging in a cook-off with an Italian. What's that? He overcooked it all? Oh dear. Let's hope the same's not true of Vito's television career.

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