Slave Labour, Or Earning Your Keep?

Welfare To Work - Job Centre Plus


Much hand-wringing in The Guardian today, as they continue their ideological crusade against the government’s Welfare-to-Work programme. This time, the cause for outrage is the discovery that several large charities also signed up to participate in the scheme.

In high dudgeon, the article demands:

“The question is, what were large voluntary sector organisations doing embracing such arrangements when people think of them as supporting the disadvantaged? Who is speaking up for disempowered and marginalised people, including the young, disabled and unemployed?”

Obviously, offering work experience opportunities to predominantly young, less affluent people with little prior experience of the workplace doesn’t count as “supporting the disadvantaged”. No, they are clearly much better supported when they are kept on welfare forever, with little to no hope of finding work. Note to Peter Beresford – helping people doesn’t always just come in the form of writing them a benefit cheque – sometimes equally important are the non-financial benefits that can be offered – such as work experience.

He goes on to comment:

“But this isn’t the first time that we have seen big charities behaving more like corporates.”


“…many charities have lost sight of their traditional value-base, and become indistinguishable from the state and private sectors. They have become permeated by their personnel, ways of working and ethics.”

Remember, everyone. Capitalism = bad. Corporations = bad. Emulating a corporation or profit-making organisation, in any way (including striving to be more efficient, lower overheads or improve productivity) = bad. In fact we would all do well to remember the true intended beneficiaries of some of these third sector organisations – the people who work for them, not the people they claim to help and represent.

Continuing the theme, Iain Duncan-Smith (the Work & Pensions Secretary) embarked on a war of words with Simon Cowell when he lamented that perhaps too many young people see the only path to wealth and prosperity as being through entering TV talent shows and trying to “make it big”.

This is one of those rather eye-rollingly typically conservative comments moaning about the youth of today, and it received a predictable backlash from Mr. Cowell, the end result of which appears to be that Simon Cowell may take on an apprentice or two, and Iain Duncan-Smith has won front-row seats to the taping of the next episode of X Factor.

But joking aside – and ignoring for one moment the terrible thought of Simon Cowell moulding a group of impressionable young people in his own image – what exactly is wrong with the idea of workfare, and why do so many on the British left get upset about it?

The left wants to preserve an umbrella of universal, unearned benefits, for everyone. They were furious when the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government moved to put a cap on child benefit payments for households earning over £40,000 per year, because they (probably quite correctly) realised that if the wealthier segments of the population whose taxes fund this benefit then don’t also receive a portion of it back themselves, they will be much less inclined to support it, possibly leading to a slipperly slope where eventually it is abolished.

And in much the same way, we hear cries of “slave labour!” when the government tries to introduce what is actually a very sensible scheme to offer unpaid work experience to the long-term unemployed. Of course, the work is “unpaid” only in the sense that the companies taking on and training these individuals do not give them a paycheque – they still continue to receive their Jobseekers Allowance benefits courtesy of the taxpayer.

There is nothing kind or compassionate about leaving people to fester on benefits without helping them back to work. This government programme is voluntary, and has loopholes large enough to drive a truck through to ensure that those who can’t be bothered to attend their placements, or those who commit all but the most egregious of offences while on their placement will remarkably still keep their benefits nonetheless.

But despite being emasculated by these concessions to Labour scare-mongering, the Welfare-to-Work scheme will still provide valuable work experience for young people who, in many cases, have not had the opportunity to experience the workplace, thus helping to prepare them for a lifetime of productive self-sufficiency. This programme is designed to help people help themselves, and therefore it deserves the support of the so-called “compassionate” Left.


6 thoughts on “Slave Labour, Or Earning Your Keep?

  1. Himmal October 17, 2015 / 3:25 PM

    Yeah except that is not what is happening. You should checkout some of the stories of people who have been on these schemes instead of talking out of your ass.


  2. MrPB March 14, 2012 / 5:06 PM

    from February 2011.

    ‘The latest official figures, published in February, showed that the total [claiming benefits] was 5.8 million. This included 1.4 million on job seekers’ allowance and 2.6 million on employment support – until recently known as incapacity benefit. People claiming other benefits – as lone parents, carers and because of disability – are also included.’

    The Conservative leaning media has a done a good job of demonising the 6 million on benefits including the disabled, carers and lone parents.

    I’m sure there are a good few bad apples rinsing he benefits for all they’re worth but tarring all of them with the same brush is not the way to go.

    There are bigger fish to fry out there.

    (posted with fat fingers and an iPhone. Grrr. )


    • belindasgallery March 14, 2012 / 5:23 PM

      I really don’t see this as an issue of “demonising” people on benefits though. Are there instances of sensationalist stories in the right-wing media about non-typical cases of benefit fraud etc., absolutely there are. But if anything, this particular story is an example of the opposite: left-leaning media and pressure groups demonising companies that are getting involved in the Welfare-to-Work scheme. Of course the companies benefit from “free” labour, but they still make an investment in training and supervising the participants. And the participants gain valuable work experience too.

      Given that the scheme is voluntary and that in its current form there are almost no penalties for refusing to take part, or for gross misconduct while on the scheme, what could be the continued objection to it?


  3. marylhooper March 12, 2012 / 6:40 PM

    Where are these jobs coming from that the people are getting experience for whilst working for their benefits? I am all in favour of work. It does us no end of good in all sorts of ways. I am also in favour of a caring, compassionate society in which people’s value is measured in much more than whether they work or not. We contribute to life and to one another in very many ways, and being economically productive is just a tiny part of that. In this world there is enough for all to have a decent standard of living – from those who are unable to work for all sorts of reasons, through those who currently struggle on minimal wages, to those with highly skilled jobs. Let us stop picking on those at the bottom of life’s pile and seek ways of a fairer distribution of resources for all – which will mean – yes – less money for those who have more than they need,

    We’ll keep the red flag flying here 🙂


  4. belindasgallery March 12, 2012 / 6:16 PM

    I know, right?! I just don’t understand the opposition. To call it “slave labour” is to take the position that government benefits are almost a divine right, and that it would be an offence to be asked to work for them, even when that work is optional, minimal and designed to help increase your future employability.

    I agree with your comparison with the “Obama-snob” issue, but it’s fascinating to see the same anti-advancement, anti-education arguments being advanced by the British left and the American right simultaneously!


  5. Stephen Mangold March 12, 2012 / 6:02 PM

    Totally agree, I don’t see why anyone would want people to not have work experience. It’s stupid. It’s simliar to the santorum “obama is a snob”. Giving people education or work experience is possibly the best thing we can do to help the
    Economy. It’s definatly better if we can get more people off government aid


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