Government ministers getting defensive about workfare

IDS the puppermaster
IDS the puppermaster. Image by @dochackenbush
Image by @dochackenbush

The government’s various work experience and work placement schemes have come under a lot of fire in the press and the news in the last few days and government ministers have been getting defensive about it in newspapers sympathetic to their cause. Unfortunately their response is to insult those who oppose their plans and mislead the public about what the objections actually are. Quoted in the Telegraph Iain Duncan Smith was quoted extensively in the Telegraph:

Mr Duncan Smith said he was “enormously proud” of the scheme and said its critics, who have branded it ‘slavery’, were indulging in “lies”.

“Over the past few days, the battle lines have been clearly drawn on the issue of youth unemployment. In one corner, we find those prepared to do everything they can to give a chance to young people who are looking for a job and help them gain experience of the workplace.”

“In the other, armed with an unjustified sense of superiority and sporting an intellectual sneer, we find a commentating elite which seems determined to belittle and downgrade any opportunity for young people that doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion of a ‘worthwhile job’,” the former Tory leader wrote in the Daily Mail.

“Sadly, so much of this criticism, I fear, is intellectual snobbery. The implicit message behind these ill-considered attacks is that jobs in retail, such as those with supermarkets or on the High Street, are not real jobs that worthwhile people do.

“How insulting and demeaning of the many thousands of people who already work in such jobs up and down the country!

Of course, this isn’t what people have been saying at all. The overwhelming objections to these placements are:

  • People are forced to work for these companies or face losing their benefits for several weeks or months.
  • People are not paid and receive only the standard rate of unemployment or sickness benefits. (JSA or ESA)
  • The employers are getting free labour, subsidised by the government. (They get paid a fee too.)
  • Paid employees are facing reduced hours and reduced job security in the face of free labour.
  • People are being sent on placements inappropriate for the job they are likely to get because of their qualifications and experience.

No one claimed that a job in a supermarket stacking shelves or washing floors is beneath them, and yet this is the angle that Iain Duncan Smith chose to attack.

“I doubt I’m the only person who thinks supermarket shelf-stackers add more value to our society than many of those ‘job snobs’ who are busy pontificating about the Government’s employment policies. They should learn to value work and not sneer at it.”

I suggest that supermarket shelf-stackers are somewhat more useful and less dangerous than Iain Duncan Smith too.

Mr Duncan Smith added Tesco’s former chief executive Sir Terry Leahy “started life scrubbing floors at a Tesco store in his school holidays.”

But he got paid to do it!

Moving on, we find that Iain Duncan Smith has been allowed a whole column in the Daily Mail today to repeat his misdirected defence and his propaganda. Titled The delusions of X Factor and sneering job snobs who betray the young it even starts off with an insult, but it goes on:

In the other, armed with an unjustified sense of superiority and sporting an intellectual sneer, we find a commentating elite which seems determined to belittle and downgrade any opportunity for young people that doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion of a ‘worthwhile job’

If you can’t win the argument, smear your opponents and call them “a commentating elite” and ignore their points in favour of answering a question that wasn’t asked.

It is up to young people to decide, voluntarily, whether they wish to take part in the scheme, and they can pull out of their placement during the first week without sanction.

This. Is. A. Lie.

Job seekers can face sanctions purely on the decision of the Job Centre advisor or private contractor hired to run these programmes. They MUST face sanctions under the rules if they pull out after the first week of the placement.

This is why the scheme has been so successful. The fact is that 13 weeks after starting their placements, around 50 per cent of those taking part have either taken up permanent posts or have stopped claiming benefits.

This statement is highly misleading. Only around a fifth of people who have worked for free on these placements has been given a job at the end of it. The rest have simply stopped claiming benefits, but have not necessarily found work. Many have simply become dependant on their parents, whether their parents have the income to cope with that or not.

Let me be quite clear: this Government does not have a workfare programme. Workfare is an American term used to describe employment programmes which force all jobseekers to work at a certain point of their welfare claim — a practice which we do not consider to be effective.

This is true, but also misleading. No programme in the UK is called “Workfare” however that is the name which all government work experience and placement schemes are collectively referred to as by opponents, and indeed, quite a lot of supporters too. In fact, the DWP report in 2008ahead of schemes launched by the government was titled “A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia” and it also concluded that Workfare-like schemes were not only ineffective but actually reduced the chances of finding a job.

Here, in Britain, it is true that we have a programme which can require claimants to undertake a short period of compulsory work if we do not believe they are engaging properly in the pursuit of employment. But the programme is carefully targeted and — importantly — it is entirely separate from the voluntary Work Experience scheme which I described above.

This is again true but misleading. Compulsion is applied to a lot more than just The Work Programme – even to the work experience scheme after the first week, and before that if the Job Centre advisor so chooses.

However, it is clear that retailers and employers are with the public on this, or at least afraid of the fallout from the public view. Several flagship participants in the scheme have dropped out in recent days. Waterstones, Sainsbury’s, TK Maxx, Superdrug – and several others are questioning the government over their forcing people to work for them. Tesco has issued a press release today announcing that young people sent for work experience in their stores will be offered pay throughout their placement and a job at the end of it if they prove effective workers – effectively a job with a probation period.

Tesco press release 21/02/2012: offers choice on work experience

Tesco has today announced that from now on any young person accepted for work experience with Tesco will be offered a choice:

– – To participate in the Government scheme, which protects their benefits for the duration of the four-week placement. Tesco has suggested to the Department of Work and Pensions that, to avoid any misunderstanding about the voluntary nature of the scheme, the risk of losing benefits that currently exists should be removed.

– – Alternatively, to be paid by Tesco for the four-week placement, with a guaranteed permanent job at the end of it, provided they complete the placement satisfactorily.

Richard Brasher, CEO of Tesco UK, said “We know it is difficult for young people to give up benefits for a short-term placement with no permanent job at the end of it. So this guarantee that a job will be available provided the placement is completed satisfactorily, should be a major confidence boost for young people wanting to enter work on a permanent basis.”

Tesco committed 3000 work placements under the Government’s work experience scheme. To date around 1500 have been delivered. We will offer the choice of paid work and the jobs guarantee to all of the remaining placements we will deliver under the scheme. 300 young people undertaking work experience with Tesco have already found work with us and we are confident that many more will through this approach.

Related Links

Iain Duncan Smith: it’s better to be a shelf stacker than a ‘job snob’ [Telegraph]

The delusions of X Factor and sneering job snobs who betray the young [Daily Mail]

A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia [DWP, PDF]

Tesco press release 21/02/2012: offers choice on work experience

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

3 thoughts on “Government ministers getting defensive about workfare”

  1. Thanks for the breakdown. It’s so difficult with IDS and Chris Grayling to demonstrate the lies because everything they say is misleading in one way or another!

  2. Great post. Just a technical aside, but why don’t you add the nofollow tag to your links to Telegraph and Daily Mail. As I understand it, that reduces the value they receive from you linking to their website.

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