Workfare, or work-shy?

Workfare, or work-shy?

The recent week has witnessed the simmering row over Workfare – the scheme introduced by the Government to encourage the otherwise unemployable back into employment. Given the state of the economy and the current employment figures, any attempt to grease the cogs at their lowest level would be helpful in getting things moving – but it would be appear that some people are simply determined to get in the way of things.

Yes, the usual suspects: the entitled loony left, motivated by good old Socialist Workers Party.

I encountered the SWP during my days at university – they would usually be the sort who’d be spending time browbeating new students during freshers’ week and eschewing lectures in order to pound the campus spreading their Marxist nonsense. Flour, eggs and waterbombs were often tempting – but the idea of giving these types a free dinner and bath was the major downside.

The Workfare scheme, if implemented properly and in good faith, could be instrumental in getting large number of young people into work. OK, the employer is getting a few weeks of unpaid work – so what? The young person is still being paid their Job Seeker’s Allowance and expenses. The benefits are twofold: it allows employers to assess potential candidates without having to go through all of the red tape first – payroll, contracts, PAYE, etc. – while at the same time it provides the candidate with experience of the workplace. An unemployed person with the right attitude can get off the the dole, and the employer can identify the best people without having to hire and then fire a long line of untried and untested duds.

If I was unemployed and was provided with the opportunity to prove myself in the workplace, I’d grab it with both hands. If after my two, four or eight weeks I turn from an “unpaid” shelf-stacker on benefits into a paid employee behind the till, I’d consider that a result.

You really have to wonder what all the fuss is about. Until a couple of malcontents stoked the fires of the left-leaning Twitterati who in turn roused both The Guardian and the Trades Unions (yep, those bloated, overpaid, rabble-rousers), this was a fairly ordinary and hardly controversial issue that made very few waves among the three established political parties. The mouth-breathing left may try to convince us that Workfare is an invention of some cabal of bankers, Tory politicians and right-wing scribblers like me, but the truth is that the idea initially came from the centre-left and can be traced back to 1960s American Civil Rights leader, James Charles Evers.

The entire furore started off when geology graduate Cait Reilly suddenly decided that she was being being “forced” into working at her local Poundland in Birmingham – which denied her the right to carry on her volunteer work elsewhere. Instead of taking the time to investigate the position adopted by her Job Centre “advisor” – puffed-up pen-pushers who, as far as I am concerned, as just as much a part of the problem – the redoubtable Ms Reilly took it upon herself to kick up a right royal stink, all of which ended up with her witterings being distributed on The Guardian. You couldn’t really make it up.

In for a penny, in for a pound: Cait Reilly
In for a penny, in for a pound: Cait Reilly

Although I could draw my own conclusions about Ms. Reilly’s politics by merely looking at her – the silly hairstyle, that smug-looking scowl, the almost obligatory Keffiyeh – I actually chose to read her article. Needless to say all I found was a person who fitted the description of a career entitled whinger.

Ms. Reilly is the archetypal do-gooder. Instead of digging about a bit – as a geology graduate one might have thought that digging about would come naturally to her – and exposing her “advisor” as an automaton whose sole mission was the filling of quotas and the checking of boxes, she instead decided to do her bit for “social justice” by launching judicial review proceedings and bleeding more money from the public coffers. The irony is that while some of those who might have benefitted from the Workfare scheme are now going to have to spend their time rooted to their sofas writing application letters in between episodes of the Jeremy Kyle Show, the po-faced Ms. Reilly will probably end up being given a post at The Guardian.

The bitter truth is that the hard left needs unemployment and discontent to survive. Such misery merely justifies their very existence. They constantly bleat on about unemployment, poverty and the downtrodden proletariat, but without this static Lumpenmass they’d have no support. Nobody apart from the ideological Marxist or the clinically insane would ever throw in their lot with such rabble once they have found a place in the job market; in a perfect world where everything and everybody worked the left would shrivel away like a castrated dog’s nuts.

Any sort of work experience – whether it be low-paid or provided in lieu of benefits – can only be a good thing. It’s not going to allow the recipient to buy that new car, but it will provide them with a genuine opening into the job market. It will give them a chance to prove that they can work a full day, interact with colleagues and customers and acquire an understanding of self-discipline. For some – those who might truly believe that they are incapable of getting let alone holding down a job – it may offer much-needed recognition and a boost their self-esteem.

Despite a private school education and a family life that was more than comfortable, I too did my bit. My parents were more than happy to provide free accommodation and food, but beyond that everything I wanted had to come out of my own pocket. Books, magazines, plastic model kits – I didn’t even think of asking for any of this. I had always been taught the value of money – and more crucially the value of earning your own money – and got a job at Burger King. After spending the first week doing the more menial tasks – emptying bins, sweeping half-eaten fries from tables, cleaning out the loos – I was quickly moved to the tills. Even though I was only working weekends, within a couple of months I was promoted to service supervisor.

The odour of a week’s worth of compacted fast food sludge is not at all pleasant, the ultimate olfactory nightmare. But I held my nose and stuck at it.

These were the days before the minimum wage came into force and the pay was dreadful; on those occasions where I would have to compact the rubbish I sometimes wishes I was at home doing something else. The odour of a week’s worth of compacted fast food sludge is not at all pleasant, the ultimate olfactory nightmare. But I held my nose and stuck at it.

“Yeah, but you got paid for this”, I hear you say. OK, fine – let’s talk about my two work experience segments instead then, which was part of the “thin sandwich” scheme then offered by my university. During both of these stints where I worked for two different local authorities, the “pay” was in effect a grant extension that didn’t really amount to much. While I was on no more than £100 a week, I was doing the job of and working alongside people who were on a full public sector wage. Did I complain? Did I moan at the fact that the money I was given was just about enough to pay for my travel? Was I insulted that I, as a Housing Area Manager, was being paid less than £400 a month for doing a job that was probably worth three or four times that?

The truth is that this never crossed my mind – all that I cared about was doing the job to the best of my ability and working towards having something concrete on my CV.

As for the matter of “slave labour”, I’d say that there’s a fairly good chance that those who are bleating the loudest have no concept of what this actually means. Slaves do not have a choice to sign up for a scheme that is optional. Slaves are not provided with benefits and travel expenses. Slaves are not able to walk into work and leave like everybody else. The people you will find working within the Workfare scheme are not slaves – they are young people who happen to live in a civilised, Western country that is giving them the opportunity to gather experience and work themselves into a job.

As for those doing the complaining, they are entitled morons who ought to be given a practical lesson about slave labour and what it really means: I’d encourage these crusty, bellicose, unwashed ne’er do-wells to take a trip to some tinpot Gulf state and sign up for work with the tens of thousands of third world workers. After having their passport taken away and being made to work fourteen hours or more in temperatures exceeding a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, they might get an idea as to what the term really means.

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