Jobless graduates have been warned they could be ordered to complete a month of unpaid community work if it’s thought they could benefit from experiencing the “habits and routines” of working life.

Graduates who refuse or fail to complete at least 30 hours a week for a four-week period could find their jobseekers’ allowance payments (£50.95 for under 25s) are stopped for at least three months.

The news will come as a shock to the thousands of graduates who have been struggling to find work for long periods of time and have lost their confidence and motivation.

It could also feel like a kick in the teeth to those in mounting debt after their teachers, parents and politicians all encouraged them to go to uni in the first place – only to find that now they’ve graduated, they can’t find a job.

The controversial proposals are part of a radical government agenda aimed at cutting the £190bn-a-year welfare bill and breaking what the coalition has called the “habit of worklessness.”

The measures come as part of what work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith calls a new ‘contract’ with the 1.4million people on jobseekers’ allowance. A source close to the proposals said:

“We know there are still some jobseekers who need an extra push to get them into the mindset of being in the working environment and an opportunity to experience that environment.

“This is all about getting them back into a working routine which, in turn, makes them a much more appealing prospect for an employer looking to fill a vacancy, and more confident when they enter the workplace. The goal is to break the habit of worklessness.”

But shadow work and pensions secretary Douglas Alexander said that the plans were flawed:

“The Tories have just abolished the future jobs fund, which offered real work and real hope to young people… What they don’t seem to get about their welfare agenda is that without work it won’t work.”

Graduate Fog has several questions:

– Is forcing people to work for free even legal? From my research into unpaid internships, I’d say it isn’t. If somebody is doing the job of a ‘worker’ (tick) and has responsibilities to turn up at certain times (tick) and perform certain duties (tick)  then they must be paid the National Minimum Wage. Or will the government claim that this work should be an exemption from our existing laws?

– Could down-on-their-luck graduates be lumped in with ‘dole scroungers’? As far as I’m aware, the proposals haven’t specified which groups will be most likely to receive these orders – but I’ve seen no indication that they won’t be applicable to everybody, across the board. It seems that any jobseeker who it’s believed could benefit from experiencing the ‘habits and routines’ could be forced to do this work. Who will make this judgment, what will be their criteria and will these decisions be fair?

– Will being ordered to do community work help or humiliate unemployed graduates? Whilst I agree that routine and contact with the outside world is helpful when job hunting, I’m uneasy about the idea of forcing people to do this – especially as seems to be the kind of work that is often associated with community service done by those who have committed a crime (litter picking etc). Last time I looked, being unemployed wasn’t a crime…

*Is compulsory community work for jobless graduates a good idea?
Do you think it would be helpful or humiliating? If this isn’t the right approach, what is? And is being unemployed really a ‘habit’ – or is the reality more complicated than that?

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