Here's a great idea for a reality series! I should explain to American readers that tower blocks are the British equivalent of housing projects. The recent movie 'Fish Tank' depicted life in a tower block.
Channel 4 contacted four Members of Parliament, challenging each of them to spend a month living in a lower-class housing estate or tower block, surviving on a financial pittance equal to dole cheques, and interacting with the neighbours. For some reason, only white male MPs were approached. These included Libeeral Democrat Mark Oaten (Winchester), who was billeted in the Goresbrook Village estate in Dagenham, East London; Labour MP Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) and Tory Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham), who did his hitch in Birmingham. A fourth male MP dropped out due to family illness, and was replaced by Tory Member Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire): she went to live in the South Acton estate in West London. Frankly, for a project like this, it makes sense to use both male and female test subjects, since the point of the exercise is to get the MPs to empathise with the plight of both the male and female tenants of these residences.
The project went wobbly at the start when Mitchell, who is significantly older than the other three MPs, insisted on living in a conventional flat with his wife rather than going it in the tower-block or estate housing.
When Loughton moved into his lower-class housing, one of his first discoveries was that the unit had a defective toilet seat. He then discovered that this toilet seat was standard issue for this council estate. So, he went to Argos (the housewares and DIY outlet) and bought new loo seats ... for himself and all his neighbours. That's democracy in action!
The participants were challenged to survive on £35 weekly, the same sum as their neighbours' subsistence. After the mini-series was completed, the Daily Mail revealed that Oaten had insisted on being paid £3,700 by Channel 4 for his (one week's) participation. This is perfectly legal -- Oaten declared the payment on the House of Commons's Register of Interests -- but it defeats the whole point of this experiment.
The four-episode series shows our four participants dealing with their neighbours' concerns regarding crime, drugs, unemployment, gangs, and immigration (legal or not). However, since we know that some of the MPs aren't playing fair, the series is not as effective as it might have been. Nice try from Channel 4, though.
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