Grayling: mandatory is voluntary; black is white

The standard letter sent out by the Job Centre to people who have been told to attend work experience gives an extremely strong impression that there is no choice and that the claimant will lose benefits if they do not attend. The letter says:

Please note that if, without a good reason, you fail to start, fail to go when expected or stop going to the provision mentioned above (as in Section 19(5)(b) of the Jobseekers Act 1995), any future payments of Jobseeker’s Allowance could cease to be payable or could be payable at a lower rate. You could also lose entitlement to credit of National Insurance contributions. (Emphasis mine)

 

Work experience letter: you could lose benefit

Although Chris Grayling and other ministers insist that the work experience scheme is voluntary, and that the claimant can withdraw in the first week, and point out that the above letter is sent to people after they have “volunteered” for the placement, the letter clearly states “If…you fail to start” which leaves no room for doubt that the placement is mandatory. Job seekers are also commonly led to believe in person by Job Centre advisors that the work experience is not optional. Channel 4 News interviewed several people who confirmed that they had been led to believe that they had no choice in taking work placements.

Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News confronted Chris Grayling with the evidence:

Grayling makes astonishing claims in the face of evidence. First he responds with misdirection and denial:

“It could be related to a scheme which has a training module attached.”

“Let’s be absolutely clear, the scheme is voluntary.”

“Cathy, I’m afraid that’s simply not true”

Worse, he tries to get very manipulative about this:

“I’m sure you’re not telling me that I’m not telling you the truth. I’m looking you in the eyes through the camera and saying to you this is a voluntary scheme.”

Except she IS telling him that. At the start of the interview Cathy Newman said:

“Either the letter is misleading or you’re misleading.”

Finally Grayling goes for claiming he hasn’t seen the evidence:

“Look, I haven’t seen the letter that you’ve got.”

However, as Cathy Newman tweeted after the interview, it was sent to him earlier in the day.

https://twitter.com/#!/cathynewman/status/174596000936239104

What it boils down to is this. The scheme might technically be voluntary. However, if Job Centre advisers tell people that they have no choice, and if official letters state very clearly that you can lose benefit if you do not start the placement, and if job seekers are not told that they can opt out in the first week without penalty, if everyone across the UK is under the impression that the scheme is mandatory, then the scheme might as well be mandatory.

The original story: “No benefits if you don’t work for free at Maplins” [Channel 4 News]

New row erupts over unpaid work placements [The Independent]

“Anti-capitalist extremists” – how insulting can Grayling get?

I heard yesterday that Chris Grayling had said that people protesting against work placement schemes were “anti-capitalist extremists.” I know I was offended by that, so I hunted it down on BBC iPlayer to see what he actually said. I’ve transcribed most of it here. Skip past the quote if you just want to read the worst parts and my response.

Employment minister Chris Grayling:

This is actually a protection for employers. If you’re a small business, somebody comes to do work experience, you buy them a uniform, you arrange mentoring support for them in the organisation, and then a couple of weeks later they don’t bother to turn up, erm, we’ve got to be very careful before we say there are no circumstances in which anybody will face any consequences for messing around on the scheme. But let’s be clear, it’s a voluntary scheme, you choose which sector you get work experience, you have time when you start with a work experience placement to change your mind and leave with no consequences. So, you know, this is not about manacling  young people, dragging them into tesco, doing forced labour, it’s a positive scheme which is oversubscribed. […]

Let’s have a sensible discussion, not in the face of, I mean what we’re getting at the moment, let’s be clear about this, what we’ve seen in the last few days, is a campaign that’s been run on the internet, by a small group of extremists, who are not the customers of any of these organisations, who are trying to completely misrepresent what is happening, and fortunately now I think we’ve got a bank of support that’s included today the independent newspaper which is not noted as a friend for the government […] right through to the other end of things, you know, columnists in the mail, Richard Littlejohn, you know, not naturally bedfellows with the Independent newspaper, but they’re all saying this is a good scheme. We’ve got to stand by it, we’ve got to protect it, providing short-term work experience placements for young people that is working and helping them get into jobs that is a good thing and I’m having none of this small group of anti-capitalist extremists who are driving an…[Presenter: But Tesco are not anti-capitalist extremists, they’ve heard the protests and they think they’ve got a point, Argos, apparently they’re meeting you next week, they think protesters have got a point. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind when you’ve got it wrong.]

Well, I’m not changing my mind in a hurry in the face of instant headlines. I’m quite happy to discuss things but I’m not responding on the hoof  to this campaign, it’s a disgraceful campaign against big companies that are doing the right thing.

Chris Grayling: minister for combustible undergarments
Image by @DocHackenbush

Let me highlight just a few things that Grayling said here.

“you buy them a uniform, you arrange mentoring support for them in the organisation, and then a couple of weeks later they don’t bother to turn up, erm, we’ve got to be very careful before we say there are no circumstances in which anybody will face any consequences for messing around on the scheme.”

I can see that you don’t want people dropping out and costing employers, I don’t agree with punishment for that, but point taken.

“you have time when you start with a work experience placement to change your mind and leave with no consequences.”

Hang on… doesn’t that happen after the employer has bought a uniform and arranged mentoring? And I think that’s an admission that after that initial time, dropping out leads to an extremely harsh punishment of losing all income for at least four weeks.

“But let’s be clear, it’s a voluntary scheme, you choose which sector you get work experience”

No, mostly people get put into particular sectors by the Job Centre advisor either because of previous work history, or because that’s all they deem the jobseeker fit for.

“what we’ve seen in the last few days, is a campaign that’s been run on the internet,”

Most campaigns are run on the internet now, what’s your point? For some of us it’s the only way.

“by a small group of extremists,”

WHAT?

“who are not the customers of any of these organisations,”

Bullshit. Everyone buys food somewhere. Plenty of the people complaining shop at Tesco, although possibly not any more.

“who are trying to completely misrepresent what is happening”

This government minister is lying his head off, and WE are the one’s who are misrepresenting it?!

I think we’ve got a bank of support […] you know, columnists in the mail, Richard Littlejohn

Littlejohn is not exactly known for his tact, judgement or taste and in my experience it is best to take completely the opposite line to that taken by him.

“I’m having none of this small group of anti-capitalist extremists”

Grayling has NO evidence for his claim, and in fact labelling someone an extremist is so outrageous that I can’t even imagine how he got to that conclusion. Extremist is a word used about suicide bombers, people that flip out and shoot everyone they know, people that blow up aircraft. For someone in government to label someone an extremist just because they have a different view is ridiculous and must be curbed before any more dangerous comparisons are made.

“it’s a disgraceful campaign”

Did you get that? Telling the government that they are wrong is now “disgraceful.”

Chris Grayling, YOU are disgraceful. Your spin, your belittling language, your dismissal of objections even as you face making changes to keep your providers on board, your lies about how voluntary the scheme is, those are disgraceful.