28 Aug 2012

Tougher work-experience scheme may prove to be no joke

An employment minister walks into a bar and…

Granted, it’s not the best start for a piece of comedy gold, and what follows may not be regarded by some young people as worthy of a laugh.

But Chris Grayling says it was talking to a young barman about how his school friends were sitting at home “signing on and playing computer games”, that prompted the minister to a set up a controversial new work-experience pilot for Londoners.

Any 18-24-year-old who hasn’t done at least six months in the world of work will not be allowed any benefit unless they do 12 weeks of full-time voluntary work.

In an interview in the Evening Standard Mr Grayling says it’s clear in the bars and cafes of London, full of young workers from other parts of the world, that there are jobs to be had.

“It’s time to look a different way in Britain. A something-for-nothing culture does no-one any favours… for those who set out straight into the welfare state, it sets them out on precisely the wrong footing.”

As well as doing up to 30 hours of community-based work, they’ll have to go through ten hours a week of intensive employment support. It’s a bold move, not least because of the pickle the government got itself into over its last work-experience scheme back at the beginning of the year.

In exchange for their benefit, young people were offered the chance to do an eight-week community placement, giving them valuable experience working for, among others, the multi-billion-pound profit-making corporation, Tesco. But aside from the question who was it valuable for – accusations of cheap labour were plentiful – there was another pressing issue: just how voluntary was it?

Our own investigation uncovered young people who’d been sent letters clearly stating if they didn’t attend their “voluntary” placement, they could have their benefits cut.

There were increasingly frustrated reassurances from Mr Grayling and his government colleagues that the scheme was entirely voluntary. But as the big firms got cold feet, Mr Grayling had to remove even the threat of benefit sanctions.

This time however he’s absolutely clear. This scheme is not voluntary. Categorically not voluntary in any shape or form. If you don’t do it, you can’t claim benefits.

Why the change? Perhaps he feels emboldened after winning a High Court battle against graduate Cait Reilly who’d claimed being forced to work for free in Poundland had breached her human rights.

Whatever the motivation, Mr Grayling sounds confident. He says the usual suspects will cry “slave labour”. But, he goes on: “They are the people who believe that young claimants have the right to sit at home playing computer games. I simply disagree.”

The image of the slothful teenager lounging on the sofa on his Xbox courtesy of the taxpayer will undoubtedly sway many in favour of the new scheme, which is due to start in north and south London in the autumn.
But here’s something to ponder on.

The bright-eyed keenie straight out of university who simply can’t get work – graduate unemployment is around 25 per cent at the moment – will also have to “volunteer” for their benefits.

That might be a slightly harder sell. Just wondering.

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15 reader comments

  1. groc says:

    so… basically if you’re young and unemployed – you’re going to be treated like a criminal and be punished whatever you do. Real criminals being punished with having to do Community Service don’t have to do so much time.

  2. e says:

    Given a new reality, a global economy without endless credit, Government needs to accept a new job as employer of last resort paying a living wage. Work that requires the effort of a worker must be paid for, and said worker must receive a wage. Allow this custom to be chipped away at because our current Employment Minister pretends to know no better than to listen to and act upon gossip makes fools of us all and will enslave our children – the ones that aren’t killed during a predictable bloody backlash period that is….

  3. Pete says:

    Something for nothing ?????
    He must be thinking of G4S share holders.

  4. Brennan says:

    “In an interview in the Evening Standard Mr Grayling says it’s clear in the bars and cafes of London, full of young workers from other parts of the world, that there are jobs to be had.”

    HOW MANY JOBS Minister?

    If the answer is not 2.5 Million then you have no business pretending that everyone can get a job instantly ‘if they look hard enough’.

    It is well past time this government stopped stigmatising welfare claimants in order to create support for their horrific cuts regime and put in place policies to boost job creation.

  5. Philip says:

    Just a question – where is this 30 hours a week of community-based work coming from? Who is organising it? Who is paying for it? And why do all the bars, etc in big cities like London employ youngsters from elsewhere in the EU rather than Brits? Is this a matter of what they can pay? Or attitude? I don’t think it’s a good idea for youngsters to get attuned to a life of sitting at home playing computer games, but I’d like to think that there is evidence that this is widespread rather than anecdotal. Of course, it’s great stuff for party conferences and factoids for the media – but vilifying a generation for a small number of people is despicable. It seems to me the Government needs to be spending more time on creating the conditions for more jobs rather than penalising people who can’t get them

  6. Alianora La Canta says:

    I wonder if Chris realises how many people this will force into sitting on the sofa playing computer games?

    If my area is anything to go by, it’s even more difficult to get volunteering work than a proper paid job (and they’re scare enough). As it’s an area where immigrants tend to go self-employed rather than take a boss (without paperwork in the beginning, since it takes months or years for even the minimal paperwork required to be processed), they are not the reason British people can’t get employed here. If my experience of employers is anything to go by, they are the ones to blame, but that’s a story for another day. This scheme is clearly not aimed at the employers, so their role in causing the situation is not particularly relevant.

    There will be no method to get the “compulsory” work-experience, as that would require voluntary posts to exist that currently do not. I went on voluntary mandatory work activity scheme (yes, that contradictory and unwieldly name was its official one, thanks to me opting into a scheme that normally allowed no opt-in option). Turned out it was an organisation that gave me somewhere to sit and twiddle my thumbs for a month while they collected the several-hundred-pound cheque for having me there. Apart from impeding my job search for a month, it accomplished nothing. I later discovered this story, while slightly more extreme than that of others, was not entirely atypical.

    This presumably means the majority of people will lose their benefit after 6 months even if they are exemplary jobseekers. They will become dependent on family, friends, charity and crime, and become unable to afford the search for work (except for the criminals, who will no longer need employment as the government generally recognises the term). Hence, the non-criminals will be forced to sit on the sofa playing computer games – the exact scenario Chris claims to want to avoid.

    This is yet another situation where the government has seen a problem, decided to repackage it with the worst mistakes in it accentuated, and try re-releasing it in hope that it won’t bite them worse than last time. Another occasion where it thinks fear and anger will lubricate the path of a broken theory. Governance by hysteria is no way to govern, but this government probably won’t learn until it are thrown out of office.

  7. big bossman says:

    What an ingenious way to undermine the minimum wage/ drive down wages! More for us bosses/ politicians!

  8. michael williams says:

    I hope Mr Grayling will do the decent thing and offer unpaid volunteer placements in his many around London properties paid for if i remember correctly by fraudulently claimed MP expenses! Perhaps a little painting and decorating? Or perhaps ‘house sitting’ for the tennants whilst they are on summer holidays?

    1. michael williams says:

      Graying anounces new ATOS ‘interview facility’ will provide work opportunities for 18 to 24 year olds in addition to ‘disabled’ wasters! http://www.scrapbookpages.com/​poland/auschwitz/​auschwitz12.html

  9. Robert Taggart says:

    So long as this latest scheme by this latest schemer only applies to ‘kids’ – this middle-aged scrounger has no fears !
    Anyway, what be so wrong with signing on (our benefit does not require that !), staying at home (ditto) and ‘playing’ on computers (ditto) ?!

  10. Luke Southan says:
  11. Morag says:

    I’m all for giving young people “the experience of work”, but I’d have thought that, by definition, that would include being paid a decent wage for said work…or is Grayling talking about his imagined future world of work, where the minimum wage has been abolished and wages are driven lower and lower? I think we should be told.

  12. Paul Ross says:

    outstanding work. see you,

  13. anon says:

    There are many who “skive” off and play computer games rather than work.
    There are also many who play computer games because it is a way of being “in” and accepted by their peers.
    There are also many who are vulnerable among regular work force members because they are teased and ridiculed. Bullying is as prevalent inthe work force as it is in the playground.
    There are also many who are ridiculed for trying to achieve in a a culture that applauds beating the system.
    The weak and vulnerable need the support to overcome their inadequacies and Tesco and others need to ensure that ridicule is not part of the work experience .Depression has to be overcome and a supportive experience is absolutely necessary.An example is the paralympians.
    The bullies have to be curbed.
    Sometimes a “buddy ” system can work.
    So saying it is essential that benefits recipients are forced out of their predicaments.Perhaps cadet training could be a route. The example of the way the armed forces came to rescue the Olympics was inspirational. They just got on with the job as so many citizens do . . The benefits culture as a viable choice must be beaten.
    Another thought ,so many women face constant sexual harassment. We live in a culture where if a woman speaks up or talks to a man then they are subjected to the expectation of sex. It is avery big problem.
    I recently attended a class. At the end of the class all the women rushed to clear their equipment ,bowed their heads , lowered their eyes and rushed out. I was given a nod by a man I did not even know. I walked away to his obvious consternation. It is not an isolated incident.

  14. justme says:

    So what about the older unemployed like me im nearly 62 and they still have me jumping through hoops ,im not sitting on my backside doing nothing i do voluntary work 3 to 4 days a week that was my choice wasnt blackmailed into doing yet i recently they had me doing anew cv now they want me to do something else for gods sake give the bloody kids a chance not me who will get his pension credits next year and will gladly accept them and get out this rat race

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