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.