Thursday, 23 February 2012

My thoughts on Workfare and Work for your Benefit schemes

Ok. Here’s the thing. I’ve worked since I was 13. Let me give you brief run through of some of the things I’ve done:
  • Morning paper round
  • Evening paper round
  • Babysitting
  • Leaflet delivery
  • Working in Jackson’s (now Sainsbury Local)
  • Sorting potatoes in a veg factory
  • Waitressing
  • Bar work
  • Cleaning
  • Door to door sales
  • Running an in-store bakery
  • Working the night shift at a 24 hour petrol station

I’ll be honest, none of these things make it onto my CV. Not because I’m ashamed of them, but because they’re not relevant to what I want to do. They have done nothing to progress my career.

I don’t look down on the people who do those jobs now, they are decent jobs that need doing and I have respect for those who do them. But the reason I did those jobs, I suspect, is the same reason anyone does them. Money. The reason I don’t do any of these jobs anymore is because I could get a different job that paid more money.

So why the hell should we expect people to do jobs without paying them? Forcing people to work for no pay is slavery; it degrades them and devalues others who do the same job.

Nobody graduates from cleaning with a degree in mop-skills and progresses to their dream career based on that experience. I’m sure there are some examples of people who once stacked shelves and are now CEOs and/or millionaires, but it seems highly unlikely that it was that particular job that decided their fate.

People get jobs based on qualifications, relevant experience and skills, intelligence, tenacity, knowing the right people and sometimes sheer good luck (right place, right time etc). You then need to know how to communicate these effectively with good job applications and interview skills.

Activities and training offered to job seekers should centre on these and be tailored to the individual. There is no point making people go on courses for things they already know how to do. And I know this happens.

I’ve had two (mercifully brief) periods of unemployment in my life and I approached applying for jobs as full time work. That’s not to say that I didn’t lie in bed until lunchtime on some days – there has to be some perks to not having a job! Had I been forced into full time unpaid work, I would certainly have found it difficult to find the time, energy and enthusiasm to put together really good job applications.

Now more than ever, applying for jobs is a numbers game. I read somewhere that there are, on average, 22 job applications for each job vacancy. I’m not sure how people will find the time to submit the quantity of good quality applications they need to whilst they are working full time.

There’s no point harking on about how your apprenticeship over ten years ago turned your life around and made you the person you are today. Those times are gone my friend, and times are much tougher and more competitive for young people now.

And whilst we’re on the subject; let’s stop assuming that unemployed people are young, workshy scum. They’re just people who don’t have jobs. For the vast majority of them, it’s not their fault. I work in the public sector and we’ve just had a round of job cuts. I narrowly escaped the axe. This time.

There are idle buggers, scammers and cheats in all walks of life. Fortunately they are the minority and I guarantee they will find a way to get out of any scheme, like they always do. It's the honest and good majority who will be put through the process.

We all pay tax (yes, even the unemployed!) and I’m guessing we all want that money to be spent on improving things for society and helping those who are not as fortunate. I don’t want it to be spent on a free workforce for successful private sector companies who are perfectly capable of paying their staff a decent wage. If you have a vacancy, recruit someone to fill it and pay them a fair wage. Believe it or not, creating jobs actually eases unemployment! Surprising, I know!

If people feel they need some work experience, surely this can be provided by the voluntary sector without losing benefits. Charities have lots of experience with voluntary workers too, so people might find themselves working in a more supportive environment. The only other incentive I know for work is feeling like you’re doing something good and worthwhile.

Let’s start helping people rather than punishing them.

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  1. My issues of the workfare scheme was more the companies that were benefitting (pun intended) from it - companies like Tescos or Boots will only give experience of stacking shelves, and wont make new jobs - it will likely reduce them as these companies now have more ways to get labour without now paying for it and instead make more money for shareholders. Then they'll complain when the scheme comes to an end and have to start paying for those free staff again and put pressure on govt continue the scheme and have the clout to do so, propogating a culture of non payment for work (dare I say slavery).

    Far better to give them experience of small local business' that would genuinely benefit from the extra help and can give real world, valuable and relevant work experience, position where they can try things out, learn new skills and so on.

    imo of course :)

  2. I'm aware I'm viewing that as a small business owner - I'm sure the voluntary section could make great use of, and provide excellent experience to people too.