In Praise of Workfare

“Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare” says the new campaign website. They’re planning UK Uncut style occupation of retail stores participating in the schemes. The schemes include DWP organised Work Experience, the Community Action Programme, Sector Based Work Academies and Work Programme placements. The left-wing rhetoric claims that this is exploitative slave labour for big business.

Slaves are forced to work for no return, workfare is what Ed Miliband might describe as “something for something”, long term unemployed young people without work experience, who are on benefits, are given work to do as a condition of continuing to receive those benefits. Is that so unfair?

Millions of working taxpayers on low incomes will think not. Cait Reilly was asked to work for three weeks at Poundland, doing five hours a day. Not too onerous. The 22 year-old graduated last year with a BSc in geology from Birmingham University. She had claimed £53.45-a-week Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) since last August and was asked by the Job Centre to work at Poundland. She objected and left-wing lawyers argued in the courts that her human rights were violated by being asked to sweep floors and stack shelves.

She got a chance to get some real world work experience, in the kind of job millions of less privileged, less educated taxpayers do every day. The people who work to pay taxes to pay her to be on the dole are the ones who are forced to slave.

There are two easy ways to boycott workfare; get a job or stop claiming benefits. When people say “there are no jobs appropriate for me” they’re really saying they don’t want to do readily available jobs. Walk around London and you’ll hear a lot of foreign accents, Poles digging the road, Latvians serving sandwiches, it seems like almost every entry level job is being done by East Europeans. The fact is many Britons don’t want to work hard for low pay.

Guido’s first proper job (after working in Westminster) was as a ticket clerk in a City brokers. Aged 25, earning just above minimum wage, overdrawn at the end of every month. Poring over spreadsheets for most of the day was pretty soul-destroying, running from dealing desk to back office with illegible tickets at the beck and call of screaming brokers, it was pretty lowly. It was also an opportunity. Chatting to the older brokers, trying to be helpful, showing willing. To get up at 5.30 in the morning for near minimum wages month-after-month is to believe that you can progress. One crazily busy day during the ERM crisis while waiting for a broker to get off the phone, a short-staffed head dealer holding two phones to his ears and looking at a bank of flashing lines, shouted to Guido “pick up that line”.

Mrs Fawkes worked three jobs in her summer holidays every year for three years, cleaning in the mornings, waitressing in the afternoons and babysitting in the evenings to pay her way through law school.  You have to start at the bottom.

If you want to boycott workfare, fine, get a job. If you are young there are plenty of entry level jobs for those who want to work. Take a job, any job. No matter what your qualifications, you have to start somewhere, however lowly, it is better than making other people slave to pay you dole.




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