Generation Hackney, opening up the world of work to young people

The penultimate week of the Big Issue Online Journalism course had us writing features, a nice progression from having already covered News-In-Briefs, news stories and case studies.
The course really has been quite superb, and very well instructed. Personally speaking, doing some primary journalism and learning those skills has been invaluable and hopefully will be reflected in the increasing quality of my output.
Week 5 saw me interviewing Richard Hearn, the young founder of a new east London social enterprise called Generation Me / Generation Hackney. Here are the fruits of my labour.

Picture: Ian Aitken - The studio where Generation Hackney is based Picture: Ian Aitken – The studio where Generation Hackney is based

By Samuel Hooper

The thirty-year-old founder of Generation Hackney rises eagerly to greet us as we arrive, picking his way forward through the studio he shares with an eclectic mix of social entrepreneurs earnestly tapping away on laptops, sipping coffee or mending bicycles in the corner.

From his hotdesk in Hackney, armed only with a MacBook, a mobile phone and his unshakeable optimism, Richard Hearn is trying to improve the lives of disaffected school-leavers struggling with the transition from education into work. “I left my job [working as a volunteer mentor coordinator for a large charity] in November and just went for it. And this is where I am now,” he explains.

Launched in November 2013, Generation Hackney aims to improve the prospects of at-risk young people by teaching them employability skills such as time management and communication before…

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Over-Entitled Graduate Gets Smacked Down

If you were out of work for a length of time and were told that you had to participate in a mandatory work experience placement as a requirement for receiving your unemployment benefits, would you:

1. Be grateful for the safety net that exists to support you, and comply with the programme, or

2. Take the government to court for enslaving you, citing the European Convention on Human Rights?

Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson both decided to opt for choice 2. According to The Telegraph:

Ms Reilly’s barrister told the High Court that the geology graduate’s stint at the Poundland near her home in Kings Heath, Birmingham, involved her carrying out “unpaid menial work”.

This consisted of very basic tasks such as sweeping and shelf-stacking “without training, supervision or remuneration”.

If indeed this is all that the work involved, this is disappointing as it breaches the terms by which the companies participate in the back-to-work schemes. In exchange for receiving free labour, the participating firms should ensure that they fulfil their obligations by providing a suitable induction, training and supervision. However, this is a reason to update and modify the scheme, not to abolish it altogether. The secondary benefits (keeping people in the habit of work during a period of unemployment, and providing additional labour to British companies so that they can generate further profits and employ more people) remain intact, even if the primary benefit was not realised in this case.

And it is hardly slavery.

Fortunately, the presiding judge agreed. The Telegraph gors on to report:

Mr Justice Foskett criticised the DWP for the lack of clarity over the potential loss of benefits to claimants who fail to take part in the schemes without good reason.

But addressing the issue of article four of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans forced labour and slavery, he said the schemes were “are a very long way removed from the kind of colonial exploitation of labour that led to the formulation of Article 4. “

“The Convention is, of course, a living instrument, capable of development to meet modern conditions, and views may reasonably differ about the merits of a scheme that requires individuals to ‘work for their benefits’ as a means of assisting them back into the workplace,” he added.

If the Department for Work and Pensions has not been crystal clear on the conditions for receiving benefits and the potential ways in which they could be forfeited, this needs to be remedied immediately.

However, the broader ruling, upholding the government’s back-to-work schemes, is very satisfactory indeed. Crying “slavery” and running to the European Convention on Human Rights because you dislike the “menial” work you are asked to do is overdramatic in the extreme, and does a disservice to the many people around the world who are in actual bondage, the victims of sex trafficking or any other kind of real slavery.

Not being able to watch Jeremy Kyle on television every morning while you balance a work placement with job searching ≠ modern day slavery.

It just doesn’t.

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.”

And:

“…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.