Fear and Loathing about ‘Workfare…’

On the face of it, the idea of ‘Workfare’ or rather, the British equivalent of an American Welfare Policy seems benign. Even positive and perhaps forward looking. Yet, as with so many of the Coalition’s ‘Policies’ scratching beneath the polished and all-too benevolent veneer and one can see a great many disadvantages and opportunities for abuse of the new work placement ‘system.’

There is a current argument about what exactly is ‘Workfare for, and whom does it benefit?’ On the one hand the Government is adamant that it is the best way of encouraging young people ‘off Benefits’ and into the ‘World of Work.’ Their proposals included a few weeks of unpaid work (that is, work for benefits and nothing more) at any one of a number of big businesses who had signed contracts with Government to provide ‘work experience’ for up to (but not exclusively) eight weeks.

However.

In the original Policy Document was a clause which suggested that anyone who either refused to take up ‘Workfare’ or who left their Workfare placement after a short period of time should be ‘sanctioned’ (ie. lose part or all of their benefits..) This clause has, mysteriously, disappeared in the face of massive opposition to Workfare from all manner of sources. It has been branded ‘forced labour’ and ‘modern slavery,’and many of those who signed up to Workfare are now having second thoughts: no-one, it seems wants to be associated with any accusation of having people doing a full day’s work, (the equivalent of every other paid worker) for just their benefits. Moreover, the Companies who are now withdrawing from the scheme are citing that they do not want to be responsible for people losing their benefits while working for them. The public seem to be split in their opinions. On the one hand they can see no reason for Workfare to fail, as the aims seem laudable and, in this time of increasing austerity and unprecedented growth in unemployment, it seems reasonable to encourage young men and women to take up some work experience just to have something positive on their CV’s. Yet their primary concern is that the implementation of ‘Workfare’ and it’s hidden consequences (particularly Government’s deception about sanctions against DWP clients and the payment of vast sums of Public Money to private companies like A4E et al) have lost public confidence and trust in the scheme.

Although the scheme is not altogether damaged beyond repair, the Government are at a huge disadvantage because they have deliberately deceived the Public and the Unemployed Youth who had already been informed of the consequences of non-compliance. Employment Minister Chris Grayling MP has been incandescent over the accusation that Workfare is little more than ‘Slave Labour,’ and has blamed a small number of Anti-Capitalist Radicals and Members of the Socialist Workers party for an internet campaign which has, so far, managed to influence a huge number of withdrawn Companies.

Honesty is not Our best Policy

Seeking to trivialize the views of a much larger number of internet supporters of the Anti-Workfare Campaign, Grayling has attempted to air-brush out the clauses from the Workfare Scheme which had sanctions attached.

Such an action is hardly the act of an honest Government Minister.

It is testament to the Government’s ineptitude and the arrogant imposition of terms and conditions which undermined the architecture of their own policy.

There may also be a more fundamental flaw in the Workfare Scheme – and that is its ‘practical application.’

A lot of comments have been made about the Government wishing to ‘instil a Work Ethic’ into today’s youth. Presumptions have been made about how many of those who are NEETS (Not in Employment, Education or Training Schemes) spend their time.

Much has been made about how lazy or indolent the Youth of today are.. but isn’t this as unfair to them as saying “exams are getting easier?” More unfair in fact?

Employment and Pensions Minister Ian Duncan Smith went further than suggesting the youth of today are lazy. He suggested they all suffer from ‘merely dreaming about ‘X Factor’ fame, instead of being realistic and doing an ordinary job.’ The fact that this kind of assumption is probably par-for-the-course to a Public School/Oxford Educated man who probably doesn’t truly know what real work is anyway, distracts from the underlying themes of his Coalition Party’s snobbery and their attempts to re-affirm the Class System which has been in decline since the Second World War. In a single statement, IDS has underpinned the real ‘Ethic’ behind Workfare, The Welfare Reforms and the Government’s cuts to Public Services – the reinforcement of the ‘Class System’ and the over-arching supremacy of Government and The State.

Quite apart from the sweeping generalization that all of today’s Youth are simply ‘hopeless dreamers’ the idea that there is any honour in work for its own sake is yet another plank of a backward looking, sentimental and utopian Government who just do not know how to view the population of Britain in a rational, balanced or unbiased way. Anyone who is a parent, if asked quietly, calmly with no hint of interrogation will freely say something like “I don’t want my kids to have the life I did – I want something better for them!” Examined more closely, what one generally finds is that a household where both parents work or worked in manufacture, heavy industry or some arena requiring hard, physical ‘graft’ they will not want their children doing the same type of job as them. Yet most (if not ALL) of the proposed jobs in Workfare are menial and will neither provide ‘training’ nor experience in any significant or useful way. The ‘jobs’ offered to DWP ‘clients’ appear to be a modern form of ‘treadmill..’ Repetitious, boring and without any hope of improvement – yet underscored with ‘sanctions’ designed to take away benefits which are, for most, a matter of simple survival. Workfare jobs are simply not designed to be “real employment” in the sense that they are paid at the same rate  (the rate is rarely above the ‘Minimum Wage’ anyway!) Prime Minister David Cameron’s boast that 50% of those who have taken up Workfare voluntarily have been taken on in full-time employment is absurd.. and yet no-one: not the Media, Press nor any Public body has asked the Government to “prove it!”

Those whose parents work or worked in the administrative, professional or military arenas tend to have a more liberal approach leaving the ‘choice’ of career to their children, yet perhaps guiding them onto paths that will ultimately benefit them. Workfare here might seem like ‘slumming it’ – something which is only likely to be tolerated as long as it offers something more beyond repetition.

Those whose parents are, for various reasons, rich and influential tend either to be completely ‘hands-on’ influencing every aspect of their lives or are largely ‘hands-off’ believing that  their progeny will find “their own niche..” Workfare here will have little or no impact of any kind, and is unlikely to be required.

Those whose parents are unemployed or whom have never been able to secure full-time employment tend to be cynical and hostile to anyone outside of their immediate community from having any influence over their children. They are also more prone to either closing themselves down and accepting that they will never work, (this has been propagandized by the Coalition as “living off benefits”..) or become so resentful about their state that they embark on criminal or potentially antisocial forms of subsistence. Here, Workfare will simply be experienced as unfair, cheap labour and slavery/drudgery. Some may see criminal opportunities, while others may idealize the situation –  desperate to be accepted (because they are desperate for real work.) but unable to face the possibility that no work may come of it. These are the most vulnerable groups – and yet they are a fraction of those Workfare is aimed at.

For this group, their benefits are their only life-line. Cuts here are experienced immediately and catastrophically…

Again. Grayling, IDS et al say they want to help people off benefits and into work – yet there are few jobs, the economy is in free-fall, there are continuous waves and tides of recession and zero-growth in the UK, yet, in the face of rising unemployment, increasing numbers of redundancies resulting in the greatest loss of tax revenues, the Government has imposed the most swingeing Welfare Benefits cuts in living memory. How can the Government be helping anyone when they are plunging so many into poverty?

Put simply, we have to ask: why is the Government (including Ed Milliband’s Labour Party who also voted for the Welfare Reforms) making the poor much, much poorer?

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