WELFARE TO WORK - NEW LABOUR, SAME OLD SHIT.
from the most excellent SCHNews Issue 135
As everybody's favourite Job Seekers Allowance gets ready to celebrate its first birthday on October 1st, the unemployed are in for a new wave of benefit bashing with New Labour's New Deal.
The Welfare to Work programmes look set to begin in 12 trial areas in January, with the programme going countrywide from April '98. £3.5 million is to be spent trying to take a quarter of a million 18-25 year olds off the dole and putting more than half the long-term unemployed into subsidised jobs or training.
After an "intensive job guidance and counselling" programme lasting up to 4 months, people will have to choose one of four options. Refuse - and you'll lose your benefit. As Employment Secretary Frank Field pointed out, "there will be no fifth option of continued full benefit." However, one brave Labour councillor told a TUC Fringe meeting last week "It's a new National Service, there is no fifth option apart from drugs, crime and homelessness."
Andrew Smith, the employment minister in day-to-day charge of the New Deal said "These are quality options - quality has to run through the programme like a seam of gold. But, for fit young people, continuing on benefit is not going to be an option."
The bidding for those who want to run the programme will begin in October, and claimant's action group Groundswell reckons the Employment Service will continue with the training providers already in place for Project Work, Training for Work and Restart Courses - "despite the fact that everyone knows these outfits are a joke."
Meanwhile, while much has been said of the sanctions that will be used on the unemployed who refuse to co-operate, little has been said about employees who will inevitably take advantage of the scheme to replace workers with cheap labour. Employment Policy Institute director John Philpott warned that employers with a high labour turnover were bound to try to use the subsidy "There is a risk that the scheme could end up validating the revolving door labour market."
We at SchNEWS have heard it all before - as every new scheme to `benefit' the unemployed has been announced, the politicians begin sounding like a Persil advert - `Yes, it's our new improved brand of slavery which will really get rid of those nasty greasy unemployable stains this time.'
The reality is that unemployment is here to stay...after all wasn't this meant to be the so-called `age of leisure'? Yet in the UK, we work the longest hours in Europe (and a recent report by the TUC found that nearly half the workforce in Britain were suffering from some forms of stress) and according to an Unemployment Unit spokesperson, have the "meanest, toughest unemployment benefit system in all Europe."
As one claimants' activist told SchNEWS "If the options aren't good enough - people should have the option not to bother."
In Brighton, while at least six people chase every job, the entertainment backbone of the town relies on musicians, artists, playwrights who are on the dole...but hardly unemployed.
And finally, surely SchNEWS has been reporting about an unpaid environmentalist task force which has been out and about trying to stop developers trashing the country for the past few years? Or as Groundswell puts it: "It's just Community Service for the unemployed, as if they were guilty of a crime against society. It sounds just like the work camps for the unemployed which Old Labour ran in the '30s."
Project Work - Down The Pan?
In Brighton an unlikely alliance of anarchos, trade unionists, claimants and socialists have been dealing blow after blow to the Project Work-for-your-dole scheme introduced in April.
Everything from office occupations to the picketing of charity shops using forced labour has been used, and claimants turning up for the scheme are regularly leafleted to let them know what's going on. 10 claimants have even joined the General, Municipal and Boilermakers Union!
Brighton and Hove Council are boycotting the scheme, quoting the EC Convention on Human Rights banning forced labour, saying `any attempt to coerce the unemployed into Project Work... is a wholesale attack on the unemployed and will only enforce lower wages'. Meanwhile the Brighton Volunteer Bureau have written to over 200 local groups condemning the scheme.
Its futility and failure can clearly be seen in the two areas where the scheme was first piloted. In Kent work-slaves have painted one gate at Napoleonic Fort Anherst 27 times; while in Hull, only 366 out of more than 3,000 people were found McJobs.
In Brighton, four voluntary organisations who initially took on placements' have backed out of the scheme due to pressure from the claimants' union. Some - including OXFAM - talk of being lied to by `the providers' - the company which gets cash for finding placements crap jobs. These naughty providers, aware of the schemes' popularity, have been ringing up voluntary groups and asking them if they want some volunteers! Pardon us, but if you refuse to go to work at these places, you lose all benefit - hardly a voluntary option!
Project Work is just the thin end of the wedge. In New York public sector workers in the Subway have been replaced by the unemployed on workfare schemes. But as `welfare to work' has no fifth option it too is nothing short of workfare. An activist told SchNEWS "Victory against project work will hopefully act as domino effect for the rest of the country and strengthen peoples resolve to fight the new welfare to work menace."
The Four Options:
Some or all of these options will also be introduced for all long term unemployed (over 2 years).
- Work: The employer gets a £60-a-week subsidy to employ someone for six months at a standard wage. The job must include a one day a week training for which a grant of £750 is paid.
- Full time study: on an approved course for up to a year for people without NVQ Level 2 qualifications or similar.
- Six months voluntary work: claimants get benefit plus a grant of up to £400 paid in instalments. The job must include one day a week training. Up to £3,200 will be paid to the voluntary organisation to facilitate the placement.
- Environmental Task Force: to carry out work to improve local environments. Conditions to be the same as above.
Sanctions for under-25's who refuse to take part in the New Deal programme are essentially the same as those introduced with the JSA. Refuse to take up any of the options without "good reason", and all benefit will be withdrawn for two weeks, four weeks and then indefinitely. As under the JSA, the penalty will only be a 40 per cent lose of benefit, if the claimant is deemed "vulnerable".
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