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Workfare Again

I say again, I've probably spoken about this, one way or another, more times than I can actually remember on this blog. I find this issue just extraordinary: I simply cannot understand how anyone can genuinely think it's a positive for society. It totally blows my mind. Obviously the Tories do; over the weekend DWP unterfuhrer Grayling tried to qualify the rules, but succeeded only in contradicting himself. (That link comes from here.) He said that people won't get sanctioned unless they walk out of these schemes, having agreed to partake (though the voluntary aspect is still unclear), at the eleventh hour. He quickly followed up by saying there are also limited sanctions for those that don't partake at all, or who quickly back out within the cooling off period said to exist. It's deeply confusing. But then so is the Coalition (isn't that the sort of name dystopian SF writers use for their far future machine tyrannies?)

All this comes from the revelation of a job, advertised by the DWP on behalf of Tesco, for a nightshift worker. It's exploded - quite rightly - in the media, right in Tesco's and the government's face. It is an appalling example of the state of our capitalist economy: millions out of work and the best that Thatcher's children can do is offer a multi-billion (that's billion, not million) pound organisation, the largest private sector employer in the country, free labour. Well, not quite free, the taxpayer is paying their wages - as well as their expenses, and covering the costs of health insurance as well as paying the pimps that place unemployed claimants who have no say in this (let's not be coy, Mr Grayling), including the Jobcentre. Who said recession was bad for business?

Now, I might have some (very limited) sympathy if the position advertised was more clearly an experiential position, or if the claimant had some say in where he went. But that is evidently not the case. This is pure and simple about getting cheap (ie free) labour in to do a pretty low end job. If the position wasn't listed as permanent, and saw the claimant visiting with every department within a supermarket, so that he gets to experience not just the shop floor, not just the stockroom, but the head office and the manager's desk, then maybe -

Well no, scratch that, I would of course have zero sympathy. A 30 hour job at the NMW is at least £180 a week (which itself is a crap wage, and the Tories would rather the NMW was removed as a supposed barrier to employment) - not £67! Once you open this door, it's a Pandora's box that can never be closed. This is a slippery, slippery, slope and we must not allow it to lead us to where it will inevitably go. If we are going to pursue a policy of not paying people a wage, in our continued race to the bottom under this Tory-led nightmare, then what hope do we and future generations have.

This is forced labour - slavery, plain and simple. There is no positive out come here. To call it work experience is misleading - the claimant is working. The idea that, because it's all about getting valuable experience (of a single, low skilled, task), shouldn't exclude paying a wage. The two aren't incompatible: the worker will still get that experience as well as the perhaps even more valuable experience of earning a wage, which is what all this is about. Obviously not, as far as Tesco and the government (that means the liberal democracts have just as much muck on their hands from this as their Tory masters) are concerned. It is deeply iniquitous to keep someone shackled by the welfare system - with all the negativity that brings, all the social opprobrium and self harm - while at the same time having them work for you. Whatever people think, this night shift worker is in a job. The idea that they need to do this to get valuable experience etc is completely countered by that fact: they are working. The only problem is that their boss, big fat Mr Tesco, can't be bothered to put his hand in his pocket and pay him. He can't be bothered to present the slave with a proper contract of employment (giving him proper rights and protection that we, otherwise, have to provide). After all what happens if the worker is injured on the job? Well obviously he gets handed over to our increasingly privatised NHS (or what's left of it) and another slave is shipped in from the urban colonies. This is wrong on so many levels I fear I might fall down if I think about it too deeply.

And yet there are plenty of people that cannot see this. We have a depressed labour market and dreadful economic conditions and so these schemes, they enthuse, are even more vital. Work is so important to people that we must keep them working, even if we can't (ie won't) pay them. Again the message from our 'betters' is that work is good for the soul and that without it one will malinger and fall into indolence. It's the neo victorian, puritan work ethic, born of a christian/religious mindset. I find this depressing, I find this limiting and I find it offensive. But lest we forget, this is nothing new: jolly James Purnell back in Labour's day was all for schemes like this. Labour were tough on claimants throughout their time. In fact it's another example of the Tories' dishonesty that they secretly take credit for the current harshness of the system, when in fact most of it they inherited. At the same time they happily blame Labour for the supposed 'something for nothing' culture (irony overload!).

Lastly, have a look at this. These are the guidelines for those providing the Community Action Programme. This will be a 6 month sentence (30 hours a week, again, of workfare for those that 'fail' the Work Programme. So, survive that (which also includes the chance of workfare) and you get to go through this scheme; all designed to help you back to work. The government claim it's intended for claimants to give something back to society, to help in their community (and take work away from actual tradesmen and artisans, of course, who cannot possibly compete with free labour). Sounds like Community Service doesn't it! Those guidelines include some very sinister elements: such as:

Mandation is there to use as a tool to ensure that claimants do what is required of them.
Whilst on CAP, the participant is required to attend the Jobcentre for Fortnightly Job Search Reviews and to confirm that they are continuing to meet JSA conditionality (actively seeking and available for work). (somehow fitting in an inflexible signing time with work time will be fun - and the responsibility of the claimant, not the JC/provider.)
A2.4 Examples of organisation types that deliver direct/indirect benefit to the community (does that include the claimant?) for the purposes of this section include;
•Local Authorities and Councils
•Government Departments and Agencies
•Charities and third sector organisations
•Social Enterprises
•Environmental Agencies
In addition to providing the 30 hours per week participation on a work placement you should maintain at least a minimum of weekly contact with each participant and have the flexibility to deliver up to 10 hours of additional provider-led jobsearch support each week. (That's on top of the placement, and finding the time to actually sign on.)
A participant who is absent from their placement (e.g. short term sickness, domestic emergency etc), will still need to complete 30 hours work experience in that week to enable you to count this period as one of the completed weeks.

I note that, while travel expenses are meant to be covered, there is no mention of covering the cost of food. So if you can't afford to prepare a decent meal to take with you everyday (which, given the amount people have to live on on JSA isn't unlikely at all, when it comes to taking meals with you to work). Childcare expenses are also mentioned, but they can only be paid to a licensed carer - and that means friends and family, if you want them to get subsidised, must be so licensed.

Unfortunately for us, the Tories don't. I wonder how many positions within Tory or Libdem Head Office or the Houses of Parliament exist for 'work experience'? Funny how it's only ever limited to shelf stacking or sorting clothes in a charity shop (and the third sector's involvement is a discussion in itself!). Meanwhile Boycott Workfare! As you were.


  1. According to DWP Research Report No 533 "A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia" (published in 2008):

    "There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search andby failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers."


    "Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high."

    So obviously it's the answer to all our unemployment problems...

    1. Really, most people when operating with a clear mind away from right wing hysteria can see this for what it is.
      If you have people compelled to serve the community in this way, then not only will you be competing for the same work as actual Community Service, but local tradesmen will be pushed out of the market.
      Everyone should be concerned about this, and, to our credit, most people (i choose to believe!) seem to be.

  2. And from what I've heard the pilot Community Action Programme is already running into problems actually finding placements for participants - most local authorities won't touch them with a ten foot pole, charities are already innundated with "volunteers" for the kind of low-skilled placements they can offer and environmental agencies don't have the funding to supervise groups of workfare slaves....

    Nonetheless, I fully expect our beloved leaders to declare the pilot a rip-roaring success and roll it out nationwide.


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