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Tuesday, August 28, 2012


ah the return of workfare.

chris grayling, a minister of the department of work and pensions, has been wittering on about the con/dem coalition government's trial scheme that will see young people who are signing on for the first time and who have never worked before being 'asked' to do three months full-time community work in return for their benefits.

in principle there is little wrong with the idea of workfare. most people would agree that working is better than being unemployed, that being able to earn a decent wage is better than living on benefits.

it is the practice of workfare that always seems to fall far short of rhetoric.

what has sparked mr. grayling into action (aside from the fact that the conservatives love to attack those on benefits)? a question asked of a young bar worker on a late night shift: “so what’s happened to your friends from school?”
the answer: “a lot of them signed on and are sitting at home playing computer games,”
for mr. grayling this is why britain's benefits system need 'desperately' to be reformed.
based on the reply of the young worker you could argue just as well that the employment marker is also in desperate need of reformation. as you could argue that they signed on because there was no work available just as easily as mr. grayling is arguing that they signed on just to get their benefits.

it could be (and i am just throwing this out there) that with youth unemployment around the million mark that the friends of this worker may not have been able to find a job and that without the prospect of a job they have to sign on.

a slight digression here - if my experience is anything to go by another reason for some of the young to sit at home and play their computer games is that the jobcentre is not really there to help people into work, it is there to tick boxes. maybe mr. grayling and the conservatives would be better off spending some money to revamp the jobcentre process and make it something that does actually work towards helping people prepare for and find work.

the rationale behind the scheme is sound. give people a taste of work, let them gain some of the tools needed to work, gain some experience. all these will be of benefit when they look for work - all of them will be good on the cv.

there are several problems with the whole thing.
it is not voluntary - and the compulsion element with the threat of the loss of benefits allows for the cry of slave labour.
the fact that these 'workers' are going to be working full-time just for their benefits (£56.25 a week for those under 25) is little more than cheap labour. if mr. grayling was serious about providing these people with a taste of working life then he would make sure that they were getting paid for the work (remember minimum wage is £4.98 per hour for those 18-20, and £6.08 for those over 21). nor are they being asked to 'work' at the same rate as those on apprenticeship schemes, £2.60 an hour). 
it is hard to see how this is anything other than cheap labour.
cheap labour that will not be respected by their employers - after all why should they care they know that these 'workers' are only going to be there for a short period of time, not long enough a time to learn much of use, nor are the employers paying for these 'workers' and because they are not investing in them they have little need to train them.
besides all those that they 'employ' can (and will) be replaced by a new tranche of 'employees' after a few months.

one of the lessons learnt would be that the work environment can be an exploitative experience. not quite what mr. grayling is hoping for (or is it)?

if the coalition government really wanted to teach teenagers about the joys of work then at least make sure that they are getting paid at the national rates - at least they could then see the connection between work and reward. also if proper wages are being paid then it is more likely that these workers will be treated properly - rather than as cheap replaceable labour. of course the employers are unlikely to be penalised for poor performance in their role as an experience provider - just so long as they are able to offer places for teenagers.

a question that pops up is that if there are these positions available then why are they not being filled by full-time proper employees?

the idea of workfare isn't wrong. it can provide a basis for future progression - it needs to be looked at, reformulated and turned into a viable helpful progamme.
part of that process would also be an overhaul of the role of jobcentres - they need to become more about helping people back into employment rather than ticking boxes.

meanwhile mr. grayling and his pals in government need to look to themselves and their rich wealth creating pals (copyright george osborne) and see what they can do to create jobs rather than punish those who don't have jobs, because there are none available for them.  


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