The new Help to Work programme came into effect this Monday, meaning that the long-term unemployed must meet an adviser everyday, or do community work for up to six months, if they want to avoid facing benefit sanctions.
The government have stated that the new programme will mean Jobcentre staff will have more options to support people who are struggling to find work, including ‘intensive coaching’.
The voluntary work could include gardening projects, running community cafes or restoring historical sites and war memorials. The placements will be for 30 hours a week for up to six months and will be backed up by at least four hours of supported job searching each week.
David Cameron said: “A key part of our long-term economic plan is to move to full employment, making sure that everyone who can work is in work…we need to look at those who are persistently stuck on benefits. This scheme will provide more help than ever before, getting people into work and on the road to a more secure future.”
Unite has urged charities to boycott the programme, describing it as ‘workfare’.
Unite’s assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, said: “This scheme is nothing more than forced unpaid labour and there is no evidence that these workfare programmes get people into paid work in the long term.
“We are against this scheme wherever ministers want to implement it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector.
“The government sees cash-starved charities as a soft target for such an obscene scheme, so we are asking charity bosses to say no to taking part in this programme.”
“It is outrageous that the government is trying to stigmatise jobseekers by making them work for nothing, otherwise they will have their benefits docked.”
Daniel O’Driscoll, head of volunteering at Oxfam, has also said that forced volunteering was an oxymoron and that Oxfam would not support the scheme because its effect on the support people received made it “incompatible with our goal of reducing poverty in the UK”.
The scheme has also been criticised for undermining people who actually volunteer out of free will, forcing the public to look at charity work as a punishment, rather than something good which benefits society.
Others have also criticised the scheme for criminalising the long-term unemployed, as this forced unpaid labour could add up to more than the maximum community service sentence: 30 hours a week for six months adds up to 780 hours, whereas the maximum community service sentence that can be imposed on convictedcriminals is 300 hours over a 12 month period, and the average forced labour sentence imposed on convicted criminals is just 110 hours over 12 months.
At the heart of this new scheme is the conceptualisation of the unemployed as ‘lazy’, or ‘scroungers’, who must prove that they are worthy of receiving government handouts. The government is attempting to pass the Help to Work scheme off as actually helping people back to work, when in reality it is simply punishing the unemployed, and avoids addressing the deep rooted causes of long term unemployment.
Shadow employment minister Stephen Timms stated that one in 10 people claiming jobseeker’s allowance lack basic literacy skills and many more are unable to do simple maths or send an email, yet this government allows jobseekers to spend up to three years claiming benefits before they get literacy and numeracy training.
Three years is too long to be without help and support, whilst also being stigmatised for being ‘lazy’, scrutinised and monitored by government authorities.
In order to really tackle unemployment, wider issues must be addressed, such as low pay, zero hour contracts, a lack of available jobs, education, childcare, and above all, classism, and the contemporary preoccupation with the demonisation of the working class.
Image courtesy of http://media.ampp3d.co.uk/u/2014/04/help-to-work-2-trowel.jpg