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Workfare climbdown hasn’t stopped the Tories penalising the young jobless

It was always absurd that a young person aged between 16-24 was forced to undergo an unpaid work placement for up to 8 weeks on the basis that it was ‘voluntary’, yet if they left for any reason they would suffer the sanction of loss of unemployment benefit for 2 weeks. But what is most revealing about yesterday’s government backdown is:

(1) that it was strongly resisted by the relevant government ministers, Duncan Smith and Grayling;

(2) that the employers didn’t reject work experience under such conditions because it was exploitative, but because it harmed their own reputation to be seen administering such a scheme.

The government only gave way perforce when enough employers threatened to withdraw to have scuppered the whole project.

But exploitation doesn’t end there. Forced unpaid work with punishments attached for non-compliance will still continue in the other two government-run work experience schemes, in the form of the mandatory work activity and community activity programme. It will continue to impact most harshly on disabled and chronically sick people on employment support allowance. No-one doubts the value of work experience if it is poperly designed to be of genuine help to young people, but that doesn’t mean providing free labour for employers or displacing paid staff.   The principle of its being unequivocally voluntary is necessary precisely to provide that safeguard.

The government’s obsession with workfare is now seriously unravelling on several counts.   The most blatant flaw in the whole scheme is that there are now officially at least 2,640,000 persons unemployed, yet only some 400,000 vacancies, so that for 5 out of every 6 searching for a job can’t find one because it’s not available.   What is needed is a change in economic policy – job creation rather than austerity, initially funded by a special levy on the super-rich before it becomes self-funding – not forcing young people or disabled people to jump through impossible hoops.

Then there’s the scandal of privatised welfare-to-work. The success rate has been notoriously low, yet it has generated a fortune for many of the companies offering this privatised service, most notably more than £1 million a year for Emma Harrison, boss of A4e and a particular favourite of Cameron.  Now she has been forced to quit because A4e is now subject to a fraud inquiry, as is also one of A4e’s sub-contractors. Further it emerges that civil servants warned ministers to carry out checks on Harrison weeks before she took up her post, but Cameron failed to do so and still appointed her. Shades of Andy Coulson – it’s becoming quite a pattern for Cameron to appoint dodgy people and block normal Whitehall checks.


  1. In Defence of Unpaid Work
    The abandonment of the sanction to appease protestors comes just a day after a YouGov opinion poll revealed that some 61 percent of the British public actually supports the idea of compulsory unpaid work placements; only a third oppose.It should be noted, that the compulsion was not the basis of the popular public approval. The favourable opinion of the scheme would be almost as high if placements were purely voluntary. The feature that appeared to garner most public satisfaction was the ‘unpaid’ element…

  2. Gary Elsby says:

    Private business now sits on the biggest cash pile of profit since records began.

    Run it past us again, how much nett profit these big ‘welfare’ participating Companies each made.

    GB/UK/PLC is one big business where the business owners, Cameron and Clegg, run it single handedly.

    This is their business and the business is not providing jobs because the Company is flat-lining and bumping along the bottom.

    Cameron and Clegg have every asset at their disposal to create a market and create a full order book to create a higher labour workforce.

  3. mkmky says:

    Gutted my stepson just completed 8 gruelling weeks sorting glass and other recycled items at a local plant,up at 0600 a 3.5 mile walk to work,off at 1600,3.5 mile walk home..bathe,eat,sleep..he worked hard,proud of him(was on the sick after surgery,never was able to claim due to JCP/DWP screw up) praised for his work ethic,but not hired although plenty of work..why? JCP sent 2 more young men to replace him on work placement..I understand that these companies need to cut expenses but at what cost to our youth? and the government is enabling them.if the rebel I can’t say that I would blame them!

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