With the Conservatives having won the election, there's been a lot of concern that the Job Centre system will be abused to make the unemployed into an unpaid workforce. This is a reasonable concern, as that's pretty much the plan. People aged 18 to 21 will have to work for thirty hours a week (doing community service) if they want to have any benefits from the Job Centre, which essentially means they'll have to work for only a tiny fraction of minimum wage. It's supposed to be a good thing, but I don't think this will be helpful at all, because if everybody has this minimal compulsory work experience, why is any employer going to be impressed?
Anyway, what I've described above is not yet the case, but despite that unemployed people are already being exploited as a cheap workforce. Take, for example, the story of John MacArthur. John worked for LAMH Recycle but this was only a temporary position, and once he was finished he had to return to the Job Centre and, when he did, they told him he had to work for LAMH again in an unpaid capacity or he would not receive any money from them. Why was a man's time worth money to the company one day and then nothing to them the next? Admirably, John has taken a stand to protest the decisions of the Department of Work and Pensions... But at the cost of having his payments stopped.
Or, you could look at the story of this man, who had to work as a 'Warden' with the police in order to get his benefits. He had to work thirty hours a week doing a few small tasks, but mostly standing around and hoping that members of the public would have questions he could help with. He was forced to do this rather pointless work in order to get his benefits and that really is the only benefit of his doing so, because it doesn't sound like that Warden work is a good CV addition. Rather greedily, his Job Centre is not covering his travel expenses, so he is losing money and having to work unpaid. And, of course, after all this he was supposed to feel motivated enough to apply for lots of jobs.
So, it's quite clear that we have a very flawed system on our hands and one that is in desperate need of change. There is change on the way, but sadly it's change that's going to make things even worse. "No more something for nothing," says David Cameron... Is he going to bring in nothing for something?
(Don't miss my latest article for Rice Digital!)