Workfare programmes; slave labour or a helping hand into the job market?

The government’s work experience schemes which are designed to help people stop their reliance on benefits and get back into the job market have been highly criticised recently and have been likened to modern day slave labour.  Critics have blasted them for forcing people to work for big corporations such as Tesco for free.

One source of confusion when debating whether or not these schemes are worthwhile and morally right is the fact that there is more than one scheme.  There are a number of different schemes; each tailored to a different group of people and some are mandatory, some are not.

To fully understand the workfare programme, one must be able to clearly see the facts regarding each scheme.

Work Experience

The Work Experience programme is a voluntary scheme for people between 16 and 24 who have been unemployed for between three and nine months.

People who are placed onto this scheme are given a work placement for two to eight weeks and typically work between 25 and 30 hours a week.  This voluntary scheme is unpaid but the jobseeker still receives benefits and possibly a contribution towards travel and childcare costs.

If a jobseeker leaves this scheme after one week they will have their benefits stopped for two weeks.

This scheme gives people vital work experience which will improve their employability in the future and in some cases the placement will also turn into a full time paid position if a jobseeker’s work is up to scratch.  For example, Tesco have just announced that they will offer a job to anyone who completes a scheme with them, as long as their work meets the required standard.  However this has been met with some scepticism as it is no guarantee of a job as there is nothing to stop Tesco bosses changing their minds and letting the people go without a job offer at the end of the scheme.

There is another scheme which is very similar to the Work Experience programme called Sector based work-academies.  This scheme has similar attributes to the Work Experience programme but the jobseeker’s time is split between a classroom and a work placement.

Mandatory Work Activity

This is the scheme which has been most under fire and has caused the most controversy and confusion.  As the name suggests, it is a compulsory work scheme, which is aimed at those people “who have little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work” and it can only involve work which “makes a contribution to the community”.

The scheme is aimed at those who have been unemployed for three months or more and mandates six to eight week placements in which the jobseeker works for up to 30 hours a week.

This scheme has caused the most outrage as critics have blasted this scheme as slave labour because jobseekers are not paid but merely allowed to keep claiming job seekers allowance.

It has also caused the most confusion as many people believe that it is the only scheme and that all work experience schemes are mandatory.

The Work Programme and the Community Activity Programme

These programmes are mandatory and aimed at those who have been unemployed for a long period of time.  These schemes are tailored to give people the skills needed for employment and also help people look for and obtain a full time job.  These schemes are also intended to contribute to the community and not displace what would otherwise be paid jobs.

In summary, it seems that there is a large amount of criticism and confusion surrounding this topic.

The confusion is mainly caused by the fact that there a number of different schemes, some of which are mandatory and some are not.

The mandatory schemes have been criticised as slave labour and an exploitation of the poor and unemployed by the government and big businesses.  However, supporters of the schemes have said that they offer the unemployed an opportunity to gain vital experience and learn new skills.  They also believe that it is right that people who are claiming benefits should work for their benefits and not ‘get money for free’.

The economy is still struggling and it is true that decreasing the amount of people on benefits would save millions of pounds but are these schemes also damaging the job market and exacerbating the problem of UK unemployment?  The different schemes and programmes may be designed to help people gain employment but why would employers offer people a position with a full time wage when they can just gain ‘free labour’ by signing up to the work experience scheme?

The idea of making people work for their benefits was borrowed from the Clinton administration who implemented their workfare schemes over 15 years ago.  The schemes worked in America with a decrease of people on benefits and an increase of employment.  If it can work over there, it could work here too.

As someone who lost their job a few days ago, I do not know how I would feel if I was forced to work 30 hours a week to receive just over £100 a fortnight in benefits.  However, if I was offered a place on a voluntary work experience scheme with the strong possibility of a job at the end of it, I would jump at the chance.


Posted on February 24, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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