Thursday, 23 February 2012

Working for something is not slavery

As anyone not living in a box with a cat and some radioactive material will probably have seen, the Government's work programme has come under fire in the last few weeks.

The criticism itself varies from the thought out view that people working for just their JSA & expenses without contribution by the private institutions  amounts to a government subsidy for businesses....and then you have the rabid "this is exactly like slavery" folk.
(I've also read blogs that try to argue that there are different types of slavery, some of which are more similar to the programme than the common understanding of slavery.. so its ok to call it that...though on closer inspection the author had either cherry picked or was simply misinformed about ancient slavery).

The whole thing has a very slight whiff of the central No2AV campaign about it. The lumping together of many different work schemes, voluntary as well as mandatory, adding together all the participants and then using all the potentially controversial parts of different schemes to make it seem that a huge number have to suffer terribly is so dishonest, but they have used real data.. *Eric M - "just not necessarily in the right order" ..

So let's look at the facts..these are pretty thin on the group in a huge error by the Government which has allowed room for the social media driven nonsense which fills our ears, inboxes and twitter feeds to flourish.

The source of the most comprehensive list of the schemes comes from an unlikely source. The Guardian (full article on the link)...Did it just get cold in here? I have used their data to compress it into easy read bullet points

Here we go...

Work Experience

  • The Work Experience programme is  voluntary
  •  For 16 - 24 year olds
  • Out of employment from 3-9 months
  • Placements are 2-8 weeks
  • Placements are from 25-30 hrs
  • JSA & Expenses including childcare costs
  • If the placement is abandoned without good reason after one week the participant runs the risk of losing two weeks benefits
  • 34,200 people had started a Work Experience placement by Nov 11

Sector-based work academies

  • Training and a work placement
  • Open to people unemployed for over three months. 
  • Anyone completing a placement is given a guaranteed job interview 
  • Placements last up to six weeks (part classroom training/part on-the-job)
  • Participation is voluntary but those that quit face sanctions
  • 3,400 people had participated as of Nov 11

Mandatory Work Activity

  • Compulsory Scheme for people "who have little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work."
  • No set time frame though placements typically reserved for those unemployed over three months
  • Scheme lasts six to eight weeks
  • Up to 30 hours a week 
  • The jobs must "make[] a contribution to the community"
  • Refusal leads to a loss of 13 weeks benefit, the second refusal increases this to 26 weeks
  • 24,010 people participated up to Nov 11

The Work Programme

  • The scheme is for "tailored support" which may or may not include useful work placements
  • This task is contracted out to organisations that do not have authority over Benefits
  • Starts nine months for young people and a year for everyone else
  • 370,000 people were referred to the Work Programme as of Nov 11 (as stated not all these involve work placements

Community Activity Programme

  • Pilot scheme for hose unemployed for more than two years
  • Work placements are up to 30 hrs per week
  • Work placements can last up to six months
  • Help to get into employment is also included in the scheme
  • The scheme is designed  "to develop disciplines and skills associated with sustained employment, (for example: attending on time on a regular basis as part of a working routine, carrying out specific tasks and working under supervision".
  • The placements must be tasks that deliver contribution to the local community and " must not displace what would otherwise be paid jobs."
  • As will MWA, this is compulsory and will result in sanctions if quit

As we can see, the schemes are very different and the use by some of the more ruthless critics of data from one to attack the other is not only unfounded but irresponsible and harmful to the many volunteers that have been denied experience in various institutions that have felt the need to pull out of the voluntary schemes.

This brings me to my next point, many of the companies that took part in these schemes weren't doing it for financial gain, they were doing it as part of community responsibility policy. Speak to any employer, especially in the retail sector and they will tell you that taking on unskilled, inexperienced new staff is probably the most counter productive and harmful thing to their business.

Not only are there endless risk assessments, induction trainings, customer service trainings, health and safety trainings, product trainings, policy trainings and supervision to organise, you have to do it all again in the few short weeks (and hours) that the staff are there.

As the goal in many of the placements isn't the job at the end of the placement, it's the real world experience, the discipline, the CV entry, the ability to give references...topped off with a chance of a job offer, the pressure put on these businesses to only take on these people if paid and there is a job for everyone will only make the business heavily reduce the number of placements.

In fact, why would they even bother to participate in the scheme? Why risk it with long time inexperienced unemployed people when you could simply just poach them from a competitor that are fully trained, are already doing the job and are a lot less work to get to unsupervised level?

The answer is simple ..they will not participate in the scheme, the companies thought that despite of it not actually helping them in real terms, that they might get a bit of PR boost for providing the opportunities ...however with that out the window, they are pulling out and fast. Tesco have said they will start paying people and will give people jobs at the end of the placements unless there is a reason not to.

It is very important to actually read that statement with a business head on. Tesco's will not be taking on more people than they need, so whereas they used to grant placements to a large amount of VOLUNTEERS, that number will be shrinking.

Well done everyone, you have succeeded in taking away placements that actually have waiting lists because so many people WANTED to get on them out of uninformed misdirected anger.

I take it you'll be off to shut down the soup kitchens now for not paying their 'slaves' serving the food?

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