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NEW DEAL OR RAW DEAL?
(report from SchNEWS 158, 13 March 1998 )
"Have you ever thought how profitable your business would be if you didn't have to pay out any wages?"
- Letter sent out by Brighton & Hove Federation of Small Businesses
In April New Labour's Welfare to Work will go nationwide promising to put hundreds of thousands of the unemployed back to work as part of Tony Blairs 'full monty' welfare reform. But welfare to work is in reality a major step towards the introduction of a US style workfare system. The government are selling the scheme as the answer to all our problems, but 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 which will really get rid of those nasty greasy unemployable stains this time.'
With the Adam Smith Institute, who have always opposed the Welfare State and the NHS, calling Welfare to Work "the most successful public policy initiative of the century " then alarm bells should start ringing!
So What's it all About?
Initially aimed at putting 18-24 year olds into subsidised jobs or training, there will be an 'intensive job guidance and counselling' programme lasting up to 4 months, before people have to choose one of four schemes.
These schemes are compulsory. Refuse and you'll lose your benefit.
"It's a new National Service, there is no fifth option apart from drugs, crime and homelessness."
- John Fillis, Lancashire Labour councillor
"SO WHAT, I'VE GOT A JOB!"
But it's not just the unemployed who will be affected. The New Deal is a massive extension of "casualisation" - creating a whole section of the workforce who only have a six months contracts, which will undermine everyone's wages and conditions. Employees will inevitably take advantage of the scheme to replace workers with cheap labour taken off the dole queue. Even the 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." This is already happening in trial areas of the scheme. For example, in Eastbourne Anglo Dutch Meats have taken on 20 people under the New Deal - despite making 10 staff redundant before Christmas.
"We have become incapable of making judgements about what is useful work. The profit motive drives our economy so anything that makes money is considered work, even when it is socially and environmentally destructive. Conversely, anything that does not make money or is not paid is not considered work, regardless of its real human value.
New Labour's vision of work is fantastical. To suggest that selling hamburgers and cleaning cars is a panacea for social ills is a fairy tale solution. The real challenge is to decide as a society what work is important, and then to share it, and the proceeds, fairly."
Molly Scott Cato, Green Party
While France debates the 35 hour week, the UK lags behind with the longest working hours of any European country, an average of 45 hours a week. Despite a recent report by the TUC which found that nearly half the workforce is suffering from some forms of stress New Labour talks about the work ethic with an almost religious zeal. The reality is unemployment is here to stay...after all wasn't this meant to be the so-called 'age of leisure'?
People in the creative industries - bands, theatre, festival organisers etc. - have used the dole as an informal system of support to gain artistic and technical skills. But this is seriously threatened by the New Deal. Key figures in the music industry for example, such as Alan McGee, (Oasis' label boss) and the International Managers' Forum, have already voiced grave concerns about it. They even praise the current system because it allows people to be "creative without being bureaucratised."
The New Deal doesn't just affect the £50 billion-a year-creative industries. Smaller projects which run on a voluntary basis and which make considerable contributions to community life may well be decimated. Any change to the welfare system should recognise the contribution of the creative community without destroying it.
* The poorest 10% of the population get £13 a week less than 20 years ago. Yet, thanks to tax cuts the top 10% get an extra £900.
Don't believe us? Take a look at what's happening in other countries that are using Welfare to Work.
"Hadie Hartgrove was laid off from her part-time custodial job with the Nassau County government. As a result, she ended up on welfare - and back at her old job as part of her workfare assignment, with far less pay and no benefits."
In Ontario, Canada the government has passed a law which now makes it legal to force the unemployed to work for less than the minimum wage with no breaks or holiday pay, no right to start or join a union, no health and safety protection, or protection from discrimination. In other provinces that have already legalised workfare, hospital workers, teachers and other public and private sector employees are being replaced by workfare participants. Thousands of jobs are lost in favour of replacing them with unemployed persons on welfare and Employment Insurance. In Saskatchewan for example entire shopping complexes are built by unemployed carpenters, plumbers, labourers etc.
In America, the city of Baltimore has replaced an estimated 1000 of its workforce with workfare 'trainees' who earn less than the minimum wage. The Baltimore public school system alone has 208 'custodial trainees' who earn the equivalent of £1.50 an hour.
New York City budget cuts in 1994 forced the Department of General Services to eliminate half its 300 full time cleaners, replacing them with 140 people on workfare. New York has 75,000 currently on the Work Experience Programme with eventually half the City Council's workforce expected to be employed on the programme. One workfare administrator admitted that while he knew workfare slots weren't supposed to replace real jobs, it does happen.
In Britain as part of the Project Work for-your-dole-scheme, The Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh's main general hospital, is using around 30 placements in catering, portering and cleaning.
The American Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation compared people on normal benefit with those who were required to work for their benefits, in a study lasting 5 years. The results concluded that people who were required to work for their benefits were no more likely than the other welfare recipients to get real, paying jobs. Most workfare programs do not create real jobs. If anything they replace real jobs with free labour.
"One Work Experience Program worker from New York city area described it not as an experience in work but an experience in slavery."
Sandra White is a young women who began work at 14 until 1995 when she was 'downsized.' Unable to find a job, she was forced onto welfare, and sent to the Sanitation Department. At 7 am the Work Experience Program workers are taken by van to a location, from which they are to sweep their way back to the Sanitation Department. One sweeps the street, while the other pushes a wheeled garbage can and picks up the material. These workers are outside all day, They receive no uniforms or protective clothing and no sanitary or eating breaks. Any person complaining about their conditions is threatened with the sack and loss of unemployment benefits.
Nick Lebrow is a middle-aged man. In the Work Experience Programme (WEP), he is assigned to the Bronx Parks Department where he does maintenance work on the parks. He uses gas operated mowers and trimmers, trash compactors and other power equipment. Despite constantly dealing with dead animals, broken glass, hypodermic needles and other toxic and dangerous materials he receives no protective equipment. During the winter weather, he and other WEP workers were given ex- prison uniform coats!
Henry Dlugozima Jr.a middle-aged man with a 30 year skilled work record was sent to a Recycling Centre. He received no job training and given no protective clothing other than a pair of cloth gloves. It is dangerous work. At least one worker has lost a hand after being caught in the conveyor belt. Mr.Dlugozima works 20 hours a week/80 hours a month for $120 in food stamps. This amounts to $1.50 an hour! (about 95 pence)
Did You Know?
There are 1 million Businesses in the UK and with just 2 weeks to go before the launch of "New Deal"only 2,000 companies have signed up. In other words 99.8% haven't.
"So I guess it's just a cult then??"
Labour say "there will be no fifth option". We say there is - RESISTANCE!
In France thousands of unemployed people have been marching in the streets and taking direct action demanding amongst other things, an increase in benefits. It worked, with the government recently announcing £5 billion worth of extra cash. Meanwhile, in Brighton the claimants group helped make sure that many charities in the area wouldn't touch the Project Work-for-your-dole scheme with a barge pole.
But Welfare to Work is the cornerstone of the government's programme, and is going to be a lot harder to defeat. While some of us might find individual solutions, it is only through collective action that things for change. Don't leave it to someone else - get involved!
Haringay Solidarity Group PO Box 2474, London N8 Tel: 0181 802 9804
Edinburgh Claimants Peace & Justice Centre, St. Johns, Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 Tel: 0131 332 7547
Groundswell OUWCU East Oxford Community Centre, Princes St.Oxford OX4 1HU. Info on groups around the country.
Sheffield Claimants PO Box 446, Sheffield S1 1NY
Unemployed Workers & Claimants Belfast Tel: 01232 439 869
Brighton Against Benefit Cuts meet every Tuesday 6 - 7 pm at George Beard Pub, Gloucester Road, or you can contact them at: PO Box 2791, Brighton, BN2 2TT.
(Contact SchNEWS, PO Box 2600, Brighton, BN2 2DX, England Phone/Fax (call before faxing): 01273 685913
Email: schnews Web: Schnews
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