Workfare has been back in the news again recently, with the scandal of unemployed people being treated like slaves during one of the most costly and prestigious events of the year. I’ve blogged previously about my experience of being employed to broker unpaid work placements, though there did seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel back in February when Tesco offered to pay its work experience staff minimum wage, and offer them guaranteed employment providing that their work was up to standard.
However this new scandal confirms what we all already knew – that workfare is nothing but glorified slave labour. Free labour to boost the profits or private companies. Think that sounds harsh? Read that article again:
“Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, said they had to camp under London Bridge the night before the pageant. They told the Guardian they had to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.”
If there is anything more abhorrent than using slave labour to help fund a party for one of the richest people in the country, I don’t know what it is. I suppose we should be grateful they’re not beheading anyone who refused to take part – merely stopping their benefits*. Patriotic? What is this, the 1600s again?
But I feel I must also speak out in defence of one aspect of the scheme.
Recently I have seen a lot of campaigners directing their fury towards charities, encouraging them to pull out of the scheme. Now this is tricky territory.
There are, indeed, many charities that have funding that makes them as big as some larger SMEs, and I always believe in paying staff where possible.
However, many of the charities could not function without their volunteers. I stated in my previous blog that work experience placements need to be voluntary, relevant, appropriate and well-supported to be of any use, and in my experience charities have always been the organisations that provided the most worthwhile work experience placements.
As well as providing the technical skills and work experience, charities tend to have the most supportive staff. Having worked across the private, public and third sectors, I can conclusively say that in my experience, staff in third sector organisations are far more giving, more selfless and more encouraging than those in other organisations. When you are working towards a shared goal (one that is not solely profit-driven) there is a shared understanding and a shared empathy. When networking, I often hear people talking about how the third sector needs to learn from the private sector. In my opinion it’s very much the other way around. But then, much as you will never prevent corruption in an economic system that rewards greed, you will never bring shared empathy into a private company when the emphasis is on making money for those who “work hardest”.**
Anyhow, I digress. My point is simply that we shouldn’t be penalising charities who are working hard and making world a better place for us. I don’t dispute that there are some charities that do not fit the image I have painted, and that many charities need to improve their working methods and the ways they spend our donations. However, in this time of austerity they are the main hope for vulnerable people in this country and we should be encouraging, not criticising them.
There are too few people in this world working for the benefit of us all.
If we turn against each other, there is nothing left.
*for clarity, and for the pedants – benefits won’t be stopped for all that refuse to attend, it depends on individual circumstance
**”Working hard” – that’s another myth for another blog for another day