If you claim jobseekers’ benefits then there may be a time when you are asked to work for any number of hours a week for little or nothing more than the welfare you currently receive.

It will be ‘voluntary’, though your benefits may be taken away if you don’t comply. Programmes such as these are called ‘welfare-to-work’ schemes as they are supposed to lead into work for those finding it difficult to find it.

However, studies show that schemes such as these tend not to work in finding claimants work, and can in some cases make it more difficult as time spent looking for work is then spent in unpaid activity.

In times of high unemployment, such as now, plans like this are shown to be especially ineffective.

The work claimants do is often necessary for a company’s functioning meaning that they could be paying someone wages to do it: the job could be filled by a paid employee.

These sorts of programmes were introduced in the UK in 1998 with New Labour’s Flexible New Deal, but they remain now in one form or another with over 24,000 people in unpaid work last year alone.

More often than not they don’t result in a job and there are just as many people claiming benefits and just as many unemployed, though possibly more in the latter case!

The only people that seem to benefit are the owners of the companies who provide placements. There is work that needs to be done and it is done by people who are paid a tiny sum by the taxpayer.

People end up working on about £2 an hour, instead of the minimum wage the firm would pay them were they properly employed.
Tesco profit £15,000 for every employee and as would be expected from a business with an ethical track record such as theirs, they take on hundreds of unpaid workers too.

This seems completely unfair; people shouldn’t be coerced into potentially humiliating activity because they’re finding it hard to find work.

Fortunately we’re all currently in education, or work, so this doesn’t worry us directly but as people who will soon be hitting the job market it’s alarming.

Besides, there are thousands of graduates unemployed at the moment and working in ASDA or Primark is not what they should have to do with their time, nor is it really something anyone should have to do given how unsatisfying it is.

Statistically speaking the past 5 years have been awful for graduates seeking full-time work. One Cambridge graduate found himself on a 13 week placement in Oxfam last year after being unemployed for four months.

He said the company had told him it was voluntary but he’s “not sure how much sense it makes to call it voluntary when you’re in such an unequal relationship with the job centre”.

We live in a society with a strong cultural class system, as well as being frequently discriminatory based on age, making unemployment stressful and humiliating enough for young people who don’t work.

Of course there are arguments for schemes like these: it gives people work experience or training, the tax payer might strangely feel as if their money isn’t going to waste (as if having someone work for nothing in Tesco is better than having them sit at home and do something less demeaning)and it gets people into a routine of working.

Unfortunately in a country where there are six unemployed people for every vacancy it doesn’t seem as if people’s lack of routine is really the issue. The ‘training’ that they receive in a place like Burger King or Argos is rarely going to further their own ends or those of the economy. “Oh, you’ve served chips before? Great.”

Further, in light of the studies that say that workfare is not truly useful it looks like a system such as this could feel like a punishment for some unemployed people.

Some I’m sure will welcome the activity, the reference and the experience, many others however will feel no need for it but can’t pull out if they want to for threat of losing their benefits.

In a country where there will inevitably be some unemployment, those who are victim to it should not be made to feel like they have to engage in depressing activity in order to subsist.

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The Badger

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