Workfare need not be slavery…

Despite what numpties like @EstherMcVeyMP seem to think – that objecting to workfare means that “This knee jerk, cheap political point scoring from those opposing work experience will have a negative effect for our youth,” workfare is simply slavery by another name. Dress it up in rhetoric all you like, a pig in a tux is still a pig. See for yourself.

In the eighties, we had a scheme, the name of which eludes me after all these years, to help massage Thatcher’s 3-million-plus unemployed figures – which was workfare by any other name. I can’t recall if it was compulsory – my gut feeling says not.

I was roped into that, despite the fact that the reasons I was unemployed were that I was too ill to be employable, and I was also looking after my wife, who had extremely serious MH problems. It did, however, pay substantially more than the dole.

I was issued with a uniform – which I immediately had dry-cleaned as much to sterilise it as anything else – it looked as if someone had died in it, and sent off to be a security guard. Amount of training – nil. Appropriate equipment – none.

Initially this involved mooching around the car-park of the local benefits office, to no apparent purpose. After a couple of weeks, though, I was moved indoors, to look after Hoylake Town Hall, presumably in case someone tried to make off with it.

That involved sitting at a desk looking interested, and surreptitiously reading when members of the public weren’t around, or chatting with the woman in the rent office, who was as bored as I was.

The previous incumbent passed the time as gofer for the office staff, and operated their industrial-grade shredder. The latter I had no intention of even being in the same room as, given my respiratory problems, as it belched a vast amount of paper dust into the air and was in breach of a whole raft of health and safety regs. I often wondered what they were shredding in such vast quantities.

As for being the gofer for people who were fitter than I was, bugger that, too. Eventually I got so sick of it I went to talk to my GP, and was promptly signed off as permanently unfit, a decision which was, in fact, echoing a DSS (as it was then), doctor in 1980, whose advice, after three months off sick, was not to return to work (though I did), and who would have signed me off there and then had I let him, and also confirmed by the doctor, after I eventually and permanently crashed – a proper one, a retired GP, not an Atos box-ticker as now – who examined me, in 1986, for my DLA application.

Anyway, back to Hoylake Town Hall which, to be honest, was as much a non-job as sitting at home scratching my arse would have been, the work experience component, which I sure as hell didn’t need, was effectively zero.

But here’s the thing Ms McVey and her cronies tend to forget when spouting their egregious bullshit – or maybe they just don’t know –  it wasn’t unpaid slavery then, we were paid employees. As should be the case now.

Not paid a hell of a lot, it’s true,** but it did reflect the fact that actually going out to work, no matter how pointless the job, costs a lot more than being at home where, of course, I would have had a lot more time to chase jobs that, then as now, just weren’t there, even had I not been unemployable. However, after doing bugger all, all day, I was mentally exhausted – it seems perverse, but it’s true – an almost total lack of physical and mental stimulus is exhausting, I would, in fact, have worked a whole lot harder at home.

**The figure of £106 p.w. is stuck in my head, though I can’t remember if that was the actual sum – seems too high considering unemployment benefit at the time was about £35 a week. Whatever the pay was, though, even after travelling expenses, I was in profit by a fair margin.

So bear in mind that the objection (well, OK, my objection, others might feel differently), is not workfare per se, it’s the fact that, other than JSA, it’s very often unpaid – and the element of compulsion, with total loss of JSA for lunatic periods is worthy of Soviet Russia – play the state’s game or starve on the streets.

Both are utterly unacceptable. As, also, is the fact that if there is work to be done for free, then there’s a proper, paid, job there for someone.

Oh, and would someone please remind Ms McVey and her fellow-travellers  that this scheme is not specifically aimed at “our youth” – it affects all claimants even, stupidly, those too sick and disabled to work, no matter what bloody Atos says.

If you can’t get your heads around that, I’d venture to suggest that all of you are completely unqualified for your jobs as politicians – a post which, while intellectually undemanding, apparently exceeds the abilities of very many Tory MPs.

That or they all get lessons in spouting the party line like deranged androids, without an original thought in their heads, at the Cameron College of Bovine Ordure Distribution.

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2 thoughts on “Workfare need not be slavery…

    • Thank you. But here’s a thing. This post has, so far, had a dismal 64 hits. It deserves more (and not just because I wrote it. 😉 ).

      I think the problem is that the objection to workfare is, in many cases, every bit as ideological as the government’s favouring of it, and that’s rather short-sighted IMO.

      That there are many people who would benefit from it, suitably reimbursed and without the element of coercion, should be as obvious as the fact that, for the chronically sick and disabled, it would be absolutely disastrous and, in some (many?), cases, potentially fatal.

      There’s also the major problem, as with my experience, that many workfare placements simply don’t offer genuine work experience, and people either wind up doing nothing constructive at all, or just get saddled with the crap jobs regular staff don’t like doing.

      Better, I think, would be a mentoring system whereby an experienced staff member is shadowed. That would, at least, demonstrate how a real job worked at the nuts and bolts level, and what skill-set was needed to do it. In this way, rather than, say, have someone shelf-filling in Tesco for the whole time, they could be rotated through several positions, from shop floor to behind the scenes, not just in stores, but at all the satellite facilities, like buying, food prep, and distribution, without which the stores couldn’t function.

      In short, it needs more thought and less dogma.

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