TV review: BBC1, Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits

Some wary prejudices can be dissolved with greater knowledge

"The benefits world is not something I know anything about," said Margaret Mountford at the beginning of Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits. It was an odd thing for the presenter of a programme about the welfare system to boast about, but then it dawned on you that this candid admission of ignorance actually was a credential.

Because the problem the programme was addressing was that a lot of people do think they know about the benefits system. And what they know is mostly wrong. People think, for instance, that 40 per cent of our taxes go to pay for Britain's benefits bill, when it's actually closer to just 10 per cent. More pertinently, a lot of people think that a safety net has become a hammock, supporting the workshy in comfortable indolence. Margaret and Nick were on hand to observe that proposition being tested by a series of blind dates, in which taxpayers were paired up with the people their taxes help to sustain.

The grafters had the prejudices that the programme makers needed them to have. Stevie, who works for 60 hours a week as a carer, started out with the assumption that "the majority of people are claiming because it's easy". And to be honest, I don't think Liam, fresh out of university and currently on Jobseeker's Allowance, was likely to change her mind. Stevie inventoried the top-end consumer goods in his bedroom and his iPhone 5 and pursed her lips. Liam, she noted, had more shoes than she did. "They're all name brand," said Liam, "I can't walk around in anything but name brand trainers." Meanwhile, Debbie (who runs her own cleaning company) was asking searching questions about the small zoo that Kelly maintains, along with her two children, and Simon (a central-heating engineer with painful experience of being out of work himself) was ruefully noting that unemployed Kristofer's house was twice the size of his own.

Some of these wary prejudices dissolved with greater knowledge. Kristofer choked up when he recalled a conversation with his son. He'd asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and his little boy replied, "I want to grow up just like you, Dad." Kristofer feared he wasn't the right kind of role model, a doubt that suggested he almost certainly is and that also comprehensively melted Simon's resistance.

But Cheryl and Debbie, despite some nudging from Margaret about the necessity of giving people more than mere subsistence, sternly drew the line at a system that could end up with the workless taking home more than workers. And Stevie – after watching Liam curl his lip disdainfully at the idea of a job in the wrong kind of retail – looked as if she thought he should get nothing but a firm kick up the backside from an Asda-brand trainer. Next week, the out-of-work get a taste of the workers' lives, and Margaret and Nick may come out of their shell a bit and start earning their presumably generous fee.

I do hope that Ian Brady wasn't able to watch Brady and Hindley: Possession, a mysteriously pointless rehash of the Moors murders, given a frisson of exclusivity by the inclusion of audio tapes of Myra Hindley, delivering her own account of some of the crimes. What was heartbreaking to any normal viewer – such as John Kilbride's mother revealing that she continued to buy him clothes in increasing sizes so that he would have something to wear when he came home – would only have fed Brady's sadistic malice. And the film's teasing suggestion that it might offer evidence for the location of Kilbride's burial site would surely have gratified his teasing sense of control at a distance. "He loves the idea of people being manipulated by him... of people being confused by his different presentations," said a psychiatrist, apparently unaware that he was taking part in a film that could only add to that satisfaction.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor