We oppose workfare on both moral and practical grounds. The most important moral objection to workfare is that unemployed people are not responsible for their unemployment: they are the victims in this story, not the villains. People who have been made redundant and young people who have not been able to get a job since leaving school did not cause the economic crisis and the number of unemployed people has not risen so steeply because there are 700,000 more lazy people than there used to be. But workfare is being imposed as if people on JSA were the “workshy” of today’s Mail and Telegraph headlines.
Workfare is unfair to unemployed people because it requires them to work in return for their JSA – the amount of JSA you get depends on your family circumstances. If a job is worth doing it is worth being paid the rate for the job, but even the highest levels of benefit will still leave people working for an hourly rate well below the national minimum wage – the rate we have established as the minimum to avoid exploitation.
Workfare is unfair to disabled people – hundreds of thousands of people currently receiving Incapacity Benefit are being re-tested, using a much tougher medical test. A large majority of them will be left with no alternative but to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. Because of discrimination against disabled people and the fact that opportunities in our society are still inaccessible in many ways, they are more likely to find themselves on the benefit for a long time. Disabled people will therefore be disproportionately likely to find themselves subjected to workfare.
For the same reason, lone parents are going to be hit by this reform: since October, lone parents whose youngest child is aged 7 or over have been required to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. Childcare is still hard to arrange, jobs that are flexible enough to be combined with school hours are comparatively rare and so lone parents are likely to find themselves unemployed for longer periods and therefore likely to have workfare applied to them.
Workfare is unfair to people in work: workers doing jobs comparable to those undertaken by the workfare conscripts will effectively be in competition for their jobs. In some cases, this will lead to them losing their jobs; even when this does not happen, the competition will serve to hold down pay and terms and conditions. This is not only unfair, it is hardly what the economy needs at a time of depressed demand. Some people find it hard to sympathise with workers in this position, but a thought experiment may help: imagine that someone who has been working in the same occupation as yourself is made redundant and then required to do the same job, but for £65 a week. Would you think that was fair to them or to you?
Workfare is unfair to some businesses. Businesses and self-employed people working in the same field as the JSA claimants who do not have this subsidised labour will find themselves losing contracts.
The motivation of unemployed people is not the cause of mass unemployment. Research during the recessions of the 1980s and 90s found that, if anything, unemployed people have a stronger attachment to employment than people in work. Unemployed people are less likely to be happy than people in employment; they are likely to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses, and more likely to suffer the longer they have been unemployed. It is very unlikely that people would deliberately choose a state that had this effect.
The biggest problem face – as Douglas Alexander points out in an excellent article in today’s Independent – is that there simply aren’t enough jobs to go round. According to the latest labour market statistics, there are 2,448,000 unemployed people, 2,405,000 “economically inactive” people who say they want jobs and 1,137,000 working in part-time jobs who want to work full-time. On the other side of the equation, there are 459,000 job vacancies. Even if we limit our comparison to unemployed people, there are more than 5 unemployed people for every job vacancy; before the recession, this ratio was normally around 3:1.
Sunday, November 07, 2010
T.U.C. Bloggers on Workfare (my emphasis) :