Posts Tagged ‘jobs’

Workfare doesn’t work, say the people organising it.

The Department for Work and Pensions have performed their own assessment of the MWA programme (that’s “Mandatory Work Activity” – bit of a giveaway in the name there), and concluded that there’s no reason to suspect it provides any worthwhile benefit to the people it’s being inflicted upon.

Employment minister Chris Grayling has defended the scheme, protesting that the data used in the study was out of date and so the conclusions are no longer applicable, and said:

We’ve found that a month’s full-time activity can be a real deterrent for some people who are either not trying or who are gaming the system. But we’re also fighting a battle to stop claimants slipping back into the benefits system by the back door.

First of all, I don’t know how he can say that “we’ve found” anything of the sort, unless there’s been some other study done into the same scheme which isn’t being reported on.

Secondly, let’s be clear that by “a month’s full-time activity”, what he actually means is “a month of working, full-time, without being paid, with the threat of having your benefits cut off looming over your head if you don’t comply”. Now, I daresay people who are gaming the system probably do find that something of a deterrent, but I’d also stick my neck out and hazard that it’s pretty fucking off-putting for people who are trying to support themselves and their families while they look for a fucking job, too.

This is exactly what I’m sick of hearing when politicians talk about this kind of thing. We’re always being warned about the threat of people cheating the system; there’s rarely a thought spared for people being exploited by the system, such as those forced into working full-time for no pay. Nor for the people being thrown haplessly into the system, when they lose their minimum wage jobs because their corporate employers realise they can save money by replacing them with someone from Workfare who doesn’t need a salary.

This focus by politicians and the elite on fomenting contempt for those among us worst off and least able to defend themselves is as blatant a case of actual class warfare as I can think of. Particularly when – as I keep banging on about – the expense to the country imposed by benefit fraud by the poor is dwarfed by that of tax avoidance by the rich.

Anyway, the case against the Workfare scheme is now supported by common sense, basic human decency, and the only systematic evidence available.

Is anyone listening yet?

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There’s a lot I don’t know or understand about politics, and learning more about it seems, if anything, only to make my ignorance more obvious. But one thing I do reckon, with some conviction, is that people ought to help each other.

I dunno, call me a radical socialist. (Flattery will get you everywhere.)

I have some vague, meandering thoughts on the nature of this help we offer each other, too. Let’s start things very simple.

Times are tough at the moment, and while many of us are doing okay, some of us are struggling. (We’re all “us”, remember. There are no others.) If we can help those of us who are currently worse off in any way, that would generally seem to be a good thing.

Of course, some of us will be tempted to take advantage of our generosity, and accept help which they don’t really need – but let’s not be among those cynical ones of us who see this as an argument against generosity. If, in trying to do good for those who need it, we accidentally spend our time doing some good for someone who didn’t really need it also, this doesn’t have to be a horrible outcome.

But it’s not unreasonable to take some measures, to ensure that our generosity isn’t abused. Our resources for helping those who need it is limited, after all, and those who take help they don’t need might be indirectly harming others, to whom such help is no longer as available.

For instance, one of the ways we try and keep the needy among us afloat (in the UK) is with Disability Living Allowance. If one of us has an illness or disability that makes it more difficult or impossible for them to do certain kinds of work, it’s a good thing when the rest of us offer to help.

But when our own resources are thin, we might want to be careful just who we help in this way. There might, after all, be some unscrupulous souls who try to take help they don’t really need. They might falsely claim to need assistance, when actually they’re simply looking for ways to avoid paying their own way.

Now, even though this sort of benefit fraud is far, far from being the country’s most serious financial problem, it’s not out of the question that we should take some sort of precautions when deciding who we help. Maybe there should be some sort of check that people are actually in need of help, so long as we don’t get too officious and stingy about it and lose track of the primary goal of helping each other.

Another example we have here is Jobseeker’s Allowance, a regular payment given to those who can’t find paid employment.

This is a valuable way of helping many people, but once again there are those who’ll try and game the system. Some people might be happy to take the help, without even looking for a chance to earn a decent living for themselves. So, maybe it’s not crazy to expect people to really be looking for work, if they want to get the help reserved for people in between jobs.

Maybe, then, if there’s a job available, within a reasonable distance of someone claiming help and in a field of expertise where they’re capable of contributing, we should expect them to take it, unless there’s a good reason not to. If they persistently turn down legitimate work offers, their claim to be a “jobseeker” might start looking a little flimsy, and we might suspect they’d rather not do any work but keep letting the rest of us support them, which isn’t really fair on the others we’re trying to help who really need it.

And perhaps, to make sure the system’s not being exploited, we should take some of the people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, put them on a bus across the country overnight, make them sleep under a bridge, give them no access to toilets, make them change clothes in public, and tell them that if they don’t work 14-hour shifts for no pay we’re cutting their benefits.

Wait… Sorry, I seemed to turn into a completely evil bastard in that last paragraph. I must have been channeling some of the people involved in Workfare.

Downing Street’s comment on what amounts to slave labour being used to make sure the Queen’s jubilee celebrations went off without a hitch were that it was an “isolated incident” and… that seems to be it. It’s of no further concern to them, apparently. It just happened the once, so it might as well have not happened at all.

The government and many tabloids are still trying to convince us that the workfare scheme isn’t an unjustifiably cruel and exploitative joke, and that immigrant benefit cheats are the ones who are really destroying our country. But I’m far more pissed off about those in authority treating the “little people” like this than I am about the idea that some families might be mooching off the government’s welfare system more than I’ve ever been able to. It takes a special kind of bigotry to still find the working class and job-seeking “scroungers” the most loathsome part of this interaction.

The almost comically dystopian details – the lack of toilet facilities, the four-hour coach ride from Bristol in the middle of the night, the apparent deception in implying that participants would be paid before later calling it “work experience”, and so on – have drawn some much-needed attention to the Workfare issue, but these aren’t what make its basic premise unacceptable. It’s not a system that’s essentially fine except for this one outlying instance where people were treated without a shred of humanity.

What makes it unacceptable is that the safety net we’re supposed to be offering is nothing of the sort. More and more people are losing their benefits, and those who keep them are having to jump through greater and greater hoops to be deemed worthy of our help – in this case, to the extent of being forced to work in intolerable conditions without being paid.

This latest situation with the jubilee stewards symbolises the way some people see a certain class of jobseekers, and where they see themselves by comparison. This classism and lack of compassion is, ultimately, what needs to change, but in the meantime it’s clear that the whole system of Workfare itself is beneath us as a sentient species.

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Public Interest Lawyers have put together a handy fact-sheet on the government’s “Back To Work” schemes, known popularly as “Workfare”.

They’ve looked at the policies that are being put in place, supposedly to give people out of work a chance to get back on the career ladder and develop worthwhile experience. They’ve found, like just about everyone who’s paid attention to the scheme in any detail, that the policies are achieving no such thing, and no intellectually honest assessment of the situation could conceivably have led the government to make the decisions it has.

2. The Government is not “paying them… through benefits” to work, as the Deputy Prime Minister has claimed today. Jobseekers allowance ranges from £53.45 to £67.50 per week. It is paid for one specific (and obvious) purpose – to support people whilst they seek employment. It is not remuneration for work, and even if it were it would mean that people on Back to Work schemes would be getting paid as little as £1.78 per hour, often whilst working for some of our biggest retailers. Many of those retailers are now realising that such a scenario is unacceptable and have either pulled out of the schemes or demanded that the Government thinks again.

3. People are not being given a choice. Ministers claim that work under these schemes is not forced but voluntary. This is not correct. The Community Action Programme, Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity Scheme (the clue is in the name) are mandatory, and jobseekers will lose their jobseeker’s allowance if they do not participate. The Government says the sector-based work academy and work experience schemes are voluntarily, but Cait Reilly was told in no uncertain terms that her participation was “mandatory”.

And so on. It’s beyond abundantly clear by now that the coalition government is being entirely disingenuous in its claims to want what’s actually best for young people and the unemployed. It’s ignored the evidence too many times, and done too much to polarise the issue in a prejudiced and classist fashion with terms like “job snobs” and “scroungers”. If you’re not already rich and powerful enough to be of use to them, the government are not your friend.

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I’ve also not gotten around to producing my own write-up of the workfare fiasco, the scheme by which people on benefits are obliged to take on unpaid work in order to continue receiving government support, while corporations essentially get entirely free labour which is paid for by the state, at far below minimum wage.

The internet’s already kicked up a very effective fuss over this while I’ve still been gathering links and trying to put together some thoughts.


First of all, read this by sturdyAlex, because it’s completely brilliant.

Then follow the Boycott Workfare blog, and read posts like this one and this one.

The Guardian has been reporting on how unfair this scheme is, and also how it affects disabled people.

The New Journalist looks at a speech in which Iain Duncan Smith totally abandoned any remaining vestiges of credibility he might have been able to lay claim to.

The Third Estate looks at the context in which workfare exists: minimum wage, benefits, prison work, apprenticeships, and so on.

I endorse the sentiments contained in the articles linked to above. If you’ve read through it all and got as angry as I have, you might want to sign this petition.

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