The BBC has been forced to defend its new reality TV show which pits unemployed and low paid workers against each other for a cash prize. The corporation argued that Britain's Hardest Grafter is a "serious social experiment" and now a Hunger Games style battle, as has been suggested.

Jennifer LawrenceCritics have compared Britain's Hardest Grafter to the Jennifer Lawrence movie The Hunger Games

The five-part BBC2 series is looking for contestants who earn or receive benefits totally less than £15,500 a year. It will pit contestants against each other in a serious of jobs and tasks with "the least effective workers" asked to leave. The winner will leave with a cash prize of £15,000 - the minimum annual wage for workers outside London.

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Still, the format has been accused of tapping into the spate of "poverty porn" shows including Channel 4's Benefits Street. Others compared it to the hit dystopian movie The Hunger Games in which contestants from poor districts are asked to fight to the death for the amusement of its wealthiest citizens. 

An online petition said the show had a "degrading and exploitative game show format" and a petition attracted over 4,000 supporters.

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"Britain's Hardest Grafter is a serious social experiment for BBC2 which investigates just how hard people in the low wage economy work," said the BBC and Twenty Twenty - the production company behind the show - in a joint statement. "Each week the contributors - who are all in work or actively looking - will experience a different 'blue collar' role as the series explores the truth about Britain's work ethic. Throughout the series, the contributors are rewarded for the work they do."

A promotional tagline for the show concludes: "Who in Britain still knows how to graft? It's time to find out."