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Another Workfare Analysis By Me

A couple of days ago, Matthew Oakley of the Policy Exchange attempted to defend the government’s position regarding its beleaguered and immoral workfare policy in the Guardian. He’s the head of a right wing think tank and a member of the government’s welfare reform fold, thanks to ‘Lord’ Freud. I will again make it clear I resent that position held by David Freud: I believe him unprincipled and inexperienced. He’s a former banker now living in a large multi-room mansion paid hundreds of pounds a day just to be a Lord who has the right to tell the poor how and where they should (or, more accurately, shouldn’t) live. No one elected him; he represents no democratic constituency and has no mandate. There are people that have served the electorate, rightly or wrongly, for years that still haven’t ascended to the Lords. Not so for David Freud of course.

Anyway.

Many of the arguments against workfare have been made countless times and by far more competent speakers than I. While these arguments should be aired as much as possible I’m not going to cover them specifically here. There are a few other points I want to make as pertains the recent cases fought this week in the Court of Appeal.

Firstly the government has made it clear, via the new face of unemployment, the arch dissembler and question dodger, Mark Hoban, that they will appeal this decision. I’m not entirely sure they can as I had heard they hadn’t been given leave to do so. Let’s assume that’s not the case: what are they hoping to achieve?

The ruling isn’t really much of a victory for us, sadly, because the judges accepted the government has the right to pursue these schemes. The point of contention seems to be one of how it is presented. They upheld Cait Reilly’s objection on the basis that she was not told she had a choice. So what is Mark Hoban objecting to? Does he not want clarity? He disagrees with a verdict the Daily Mail calls ‘Utter Madness’ and yet accepts what suits him. I can only assume, and without being facetious, that they want that level of obfuscation to remain. Let’s not kid ourselves this scheme exists solely to massage the claimant count and reduce the welfare bill; it’s also a nice sop to big business and of course, thanks to the likes of the Mail, a nice vote winner. Indeed the media coverage has been such that Cait Reilly is portrayed as a proper little madam by way of describing the situation in terms that people will naturally object to, further hardening those already in favour of workfare.

Cait Reilly was already on a work placement. She was volunteering, under her own steam, at a museum. Why then was the DWP allowed to force her to abandon that in favour of Poundland? If the whole point of this farcical scheme is to give people experience (they aren’t going to get much else, if even that), then why aren’t you apologising to her and chastising DWP staff for their incompetence? She was already getting work experience. This entire case betrays the government’s agenda here. Why not encourage people to perhaps contact their local volunteer agencies, or use the national do-it.org website. Why not offer support to people doing that instead of the constant threats. Is it because the government wants to capitalise on any opportunity to sanction people rather than help them? Of course it is! There are people that want to work in the caring profession and there are, certainly locally, lots of voluntary caring positions – why on earth not put the two together and support them both? No, instead it’s better to give such people over to grubby retail enterprises where they will learn nothing. Though I suppose if you are not being paid by Poundland, you can’t then have your wages docked if you fuck up on the till!

Says Mr Oakley: “This should mean that, even if a right of appeal is denied to the DWP, new legislation could be in place relatively quickly to ensure that the schemes can be used as before. In fact, such legislation was laid by the DWP last night.”

So what is the problem? What are you objecting to in wanting to appeal?

Is that how Parliament should work? It loses an appeal on the basis that it failed to administer its own scheme correctly and so bludgeons through emergency legislation. Did members get to debate these changes? What are they?

“Given recent evidence that shows the schemes can be successful, this is encouraging.”

And this recent evidence is not forthcoming. It doesn’t exist of course, though I have no doubt the government will present something it claims is evidence – something that supports its equally fatuous claim that employment is falling. Given that people are being forced on to these work schemes its no wonder the claimant count is falling!

“However, the worry is that firms who have previously engaged in the schemes might be discouraged from participating due to the potential for bad press from inaccurate and unfair portrayals. This has already led several employers to withdraw, especially given the costs of monitoring and training individuals who many only be there for a short period.”

Employers can choose to participate in the programme and members of our democratic electorate (people that Vote, Mr Oakley) can lawfully protest that decision, not least of all with their wallets. This is why employers that withdraw do so. Those who live by the sword die by the sword: if you want free labour and refuse to pay people, then you should accept the criticism that you face from those who rightly oppose this modern indentured servitude. There is nothing unfair about it: the organisations receiving bad publicity were engaged in workfare.

Now you argue that it’s a hardship for the employer? That they have to train and monitor individuals who are there only temporarily? Really? That’s fatuous in the extreme. These people are not trained and monitored – that was one of the premises of Cait’s argument. She got no training (what training does Poundland offer? Use of a till? Putting things on shelves?). If this scheme is such a hardship for the employers on it, why do you think they joined? Why aren’t they hiring people? Why weren’t they paying these people and taking them on? Why do we need 240 hour job interviews?

“This would be an unfortunate step backwards. These schemes offer huge benefits to benefit claimants since they allow firms to trial workers they may otherwise not have considered.”

This is a bizarre statement: why would they not consider them? Presumably because these are people who wouldn’t have applied if they had advertised a job. Of course they aren’t advertising a job because one doesn’t exist – the whole problem! So in essence the DWP gets to pimp a cohort of people on its books, people that have no say in this, and big business gets to ‘try them out’, with no obligation to pay them or offer them a job, or, it seems, to even train them! Is that how we want to treat the unemployed? We want to take away a person’s right to choose whom they apply to when looking for work? I can’t think that will lead to a good outcome. Maybe we should be asking why it’s hard for people such as school leavers to find work and not somehow expect them to be anything other than school leavers.

“Claims that the jobs are not suitable or do not meet their aspirations are unfair: we should not let those with no work experience and claiming benefits to pick and choose the work they enter into; and for the extremely long-term unemployed, having any kind of experience on a CV is vital to show potential employers that they are worth taking a risk on.”

This is the thin end of the wedge. This is the language of social control. “We want to control the rules of the game and then penalise people for not being able to follow those rules”. I do not agree, not one iota. If people cannot ‘pick and choose’ (nice turn of phrase) what they do for a career in their life, then I frankly don’t see any point in having that life. Are we just here to work for you, Mr Oakley? Are we just here at the tolerance of Big Business? We must oppose this; if school leavers starting on their career path cannot choose that path then why even bother with school? Why not just have Tesco and Poundland run everything. Why bother with art and culture, science and research? See how far that gets you? We already have a government hell bent on competing with the likes of the Far East, but refuses to provide a nationwide broadband service that comes close to what those countries take for granted. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would like to get involved in digital careers. This was something the last government, toward the end of its time, were keen to pursue, and it seems to be something the Tories have abandoned.

People are not ‘a risk’; they are people. If employers are so precious that they want none of the risk and all of the benefit, then why are the Tories championing aspiration, striving and entrepreneurship? That’s just so much hot air. There is always risk hiring someone, if it doesn’t work out, well sucks to be Mr Big Business. I’m sure the profits these companies make compensate for these dire risks! So it seems that the corporate elite are engineering society so they can get what they want: cheap labour. There is nothing in working for Poundland that gives someone a step up in life. I’ve done voluntary work in a charity shop and I can tell you from my own experience it counts for nothing – especially when you are in an increasingly desperate and competitive labour market. This is just a race to the bottom that will only lead to a brain drain. Besides there’s always someone with a bit more and relevant experience than you, so who benefits…again the recipients of free labour.

“There are also other benefits: in many cases the schemes offer the ability to gain experience and access more permanent paid employment with the guarantee of an interview at the end of the placement.”

We all know this is bollocks; workfare is self defeating it damages employment prospects.

Finally: “We should also take a broader perspective. These schemes are viewed as legitimate by a huge majority of the public…We should also remember that people on these schemes are still receiving the benefits and tax credits they are entitled to. This is not work for nothing.”

A huge majority? Well that’s certainly a scientific assessment! It’s also a logical fallacy.

And that link is hardly objective, Mr Oakley.

It is work for nothing; these are people that are not being paid by their employer. They are still being paid their benefits as their income. This is what blows my mind about the likes of the Daily Mail arguing against Cait Reilly’s case: sending her to Poundland does not reduce her ‘burden’ on the state. She received her benefits just the same. The only thing that was achieved was that the work she was doing, that she enjoyed, was taken from her. If that’s a victory, then something is terribly amiss in your thinking Mr Oakley.

Benefits are not wages; they are a safety net for people that would otherwise starve. Or, more importantly, people that would otherwise turn to desperation and crime – it is insurance against a greater cost, not just financially but personally and socially. If someone ends up criminalised out of desperation their life chances are blighted; that is just cruel and further hobbles their chance of transcending the welfare system. But we live in an age where dogma and profit trump rationality and compassion. People don’t seem too bothered their wages are subsidising big business, yet complain that people receive benefits while those at the top kick the ladder of support they enjoyed from beneath them.

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