Unemployed people – including job-hunting graduates – have been warned that they will soon have to do community work including litter picking and cleaning in exchange for their welfare payments, putting an end to the perceived ‘something for nothing’ benefits culture.
The Chancellor George Osborne has outlined new ‘tough love’ plans to impose conditions on jobseekers receiving welfare payments. Yesterday he continued the government’s push to reduce welfare spending by announcing a nationwide scheme to force 200,000 long-term unemployed benefit claimants to either undertake community work, attend a jobcentre every day or go on a full-time intensive programme to tackle the underlying reasons for their failure to find work. He stressed there would be sanctions for those who do not accept the help.
The scheme is the closest the UK has come to a nationwide workfare scheme and is likely to alarm those who were appalled by previous aspects of the government’s temporary work experience scheme, in which Work Programme participants were sent to do unpaid work for big companies including Poundland. Following public outcry and accusations that the scheme was exploitative, many private sector firms removed themselves from the programme. The most controversial ‘compulsory’ element was terminated so that jobseekers no longer lost their benefits if they refused to work unpaid.
The new £300m jobs programme, appealing to the electorate’s demand for stronger welfare measures, will start in April 2014 and will be aimed at 200,000 jobseekers allowance claimants. Osborne said yesterday:
“There’s no option of doing nothing for your benefits. No something for nothing anymore. People are going to have to do things to get their dole and that is going to help them into work — that is the crucial point. This is all activity that is actually going to help them get ready for the world of work.
“For the first time, all long-term unemployed people who are capable of work will be required to do something in return for their benefits to help them find work. But no one will get something for nothing. Help to work — and in return work for the dole.”
Having been transferred from the Work Programme to the ‘Help to Work’ programme, the claimants will be put on one of three schemes. A third will do community work placements; a third will attend a DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) jobcentre every day to search for work (instead of every fortnight) – and a third will be placed on a “mandatory intervention regime” with tough, targeted interventions tackling claimants’ underlying problems. Money will be saved because claimants will lose benefits much more quickly than at present if they are deemed not to be co-operating.
It seems likely that a large proportion of the public will back the idea. A poll conducted for the thinktank Policy Exchange found by a margin of nearly five to one — 56% to 12% — the public supports the introduction of “workfare” for the long-term unemployed compared with the status quo. But already there are concerns about the practicalities of the ‘Help to Work’ programme. Critics have claimed the scheme is likely to put yet more pressure on work providers and jobcentre staff. It is also expected to meet resistance from voluntary bodies reluctant to become involved in workfare that takes jobs from the public sector. It is likely that trades unions will also raise concerns about paid workers being displaced as unpaid benefits claimants are brought in to do their work.
Graduate Fog is also concerned. Having witnessed and tracked the damaging impact of unpaid internships – once considered a helpful initiative for getting young people into paid work – we have seen how carefully unpaid work or work placements must be managed in order for them not to be exploitative.
We also question the results of unpaid work schemes – namely whether they actually lead to jobseekers finding paid, permanent work they promise to. We have also seen how unpaid work distorts workers’ ideas about what their labour is worth to employers, leading them to undervalue their contribution to employers they work for in the future.
Exactly what sort of work will these benefits claimants be doing? If they weren’t doing it, who would be – and will they now be out of a job? Will their hourly rate work out at more or less than the minimum wage? What is the maximum length of time somebody will work for unpaid – and what real opportunities for paid employment lie at the end of it? What if there really are no jobs in the area where the jobseeker lives? And will forcing people to work unpaid inspire them to find paid work – or could it stigmatise and demoralise them further?
*SHOULD JOBLESS GRADUATES BE FORCED TO WORK FOR THE DOLE?
Is it right that anyone unemployed for more than two years should work for their benefits? What do you think of George Osborne’s ‘tough love’ approach to people who can’t find work? Will unpaid work experience boost jobseekers’ chances of finding paid work – or do you fear it could cause more problems than it solves?