For many years one of the touch stones of the right wing press has always been makem work for their benefits!. The new Tory government has come up with various schemes to enforce this mantra, such as reassessing those on disability benefits (to see how many are genuinely unfit for work), caps on welfare payments. And most notably – forcing the long term unemployed (those out of work for 6 months or more) into attending various courses, forcing them to undertake unpaid work or compulsory attendance of work experience schemes. Both of these last three being often run by private companieswith a profit motive.
Of course such polices, as described above, ignore certain practicalities. Theres a world of a difference between living costs in central London, and ones living costs somewhere else in the countryside. Many on incapacity benefit, or raising children for example, are hardly in a position to work. Whenever Ive been unemployed I was far too busy looking for another job to have any time to waste attending some half baked Daily Mail-esque vanity scheme. And the unfortunate consequence of our lengthy recession is that many people, even those with good qualifications, are likely to remain unemployed for sometime to come. I suspect that many of them are a little too busy to be wasting time sweeping the streets or stacking shelves at Tescos.
I think the first warning sign for me was as how few councils seemed keen on taking part. Then again Im quite sure councillors have heard the expression if you dont want to be asked to do a job twice, do it badly the first time and reckon theyd rather not take the risk of the Neds or Chavs showing how badly they can do a job. Also we all know how risk averse councils are these days, so no chance of them getting anyone without the proper qualifications (e.g. having taken a 6 month safety course in brush safety) do anything remotely risky. Similarly many charities have been uninterested too.
So the government has instead tried to farm off its unwilling work force onto private employers. For awhile they all seemed keen. After all it was a useful pay back for supporting the Torys all these years. However it has led to the accusation of slave labour levelled against these companies.
While this might be going too far, remember that many of these retailers work in an ultra-low wage economy and will try any trick they can to cut wages, just look at Wal-mart in the US. And theres the rub. Far from getting people back to work, this scheme threatens to stop people getting jobs! After all if Tesco or Burger king can get some compelled labourer to work for them for the equivalent of £1.77 an hour (equivalent of a weeks job seekers paid out over a 35 hour week) then why hire someone at the minimum wage of £4.98 – £6.08?
Realising that the negative publicity from recent protests could cost them more than theyd gain, many of these corporations have begun to drop out of the scheme. Indeed, recently the announcement by Tesco of tens of thousands of jobs seems to confirm both that they had high hopes for this scheme, and that had they followed through, this scheme would have prevented employment not aided it.
A4e Action for Enrichment?
And finally there is the scandal of A4e and Emmy Harrison. They were a quango supposedly set up to help run training courses and welfare to work schemes for these welfare reform policies, originally under Labour, but operated with renewed vigour under the Tories. Unfortunately, they are now under multiple investigations for fraud. Claims are swirling around that they faked employment records to claim money off the government, or got people jobs that they knew that would only last a few days or weeks. And Emmy Harrison, the A4e boss who paid herself a cool £8.6 million, has been forced to resign as a government adviser. Of course the image of a millionaire making her fortune off the backs of literally the poorest people in Britain (with the taxpayer picking up the tab…and there was me thinking all of this welfare reform was supposed to reduce the deficit), is the sort of thing that I thought we abandoned back in the Victorian era.
Indeed this is something that the Tories and their Daily Mail mob fail to appreciate. They are basically advocating a return to the workhouse era of the 19th century. Indeed oddly enough, even a recent Daily Mail article on this topic compares A4e to a “workhouse” (when the Daily mail takes the side of those on benefits, you know something’s gone horribly wrong!). Such policies of the 19th century ultimately failed. It led to the most awful grinding poverty, increased crime, and provoked civil unrest. It also directly harmed the economy, as such polices ultimately make it harder for people to get work rather than improve it. The welfare state was set up for many very good reasons and we would be fools to ignore them.