I hate reality TV. It isn't real and is often a vehicle for narcissism or exploitation. What I really dislike though is my vulnerability to being hooked by its voyeuristic addictiveness. So I avoid it normally, but not last night. I watched Benefit Busters, a series on the work of a private training agency. I watched because I thought it would make me angry, something I enjoy in a perverse sort of way, and because it was set in Hull. Hull is an easy pick as it hits so many indicators of deprivation and annoyingly that is all the media ever seem to portray, despite it being a good city and a great place to live.
The programme was a form of poverty tourism of course, though the portrayal of claimants was not unsympathetic. Overall, a couple of things struck me. The first was the utter servility that was required of the unemployed as supplicants for work or benefits, a graphic display of their powerlessness. The second was the corrosive effects of the much vaunted 'flexible workforce', or casualised agency working, all that was available given the recession.
There was one outstanding moment when a young woman described her lack of luck in life and said she wished she had been to university. There it was again, the aspiration that lurks unmet in so many corners of Britain. This is what lifelong learning is for, this is one of the many things adult education should be doing and I have no doubt that universities should be a big part of it, they should be at the heart of their communities.
So what is happening? Funding is in short supply and lifelong learning is contracting. In the meantime fat contracts are being thrown at private training providers, to do what? Well, as I watched the cynical (intelligent, realistic, if ultimately self-destructive) being labelled as 'unmotivated', I thought that the classic comedy, The League of Gentlemen, was pretty close to being reality TV itself.