by Daphne Liddle
LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson and Employment Minister Chris Grayling have come together and produced a nightmare plan to force school leavers in London who do not have a job to work for their meagre £56-a-week Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for 13 weeks — or lose their benefits.
This is not only bad news for the young people but also for thousands of people who actually have a job who now face the prospect of being sacked and replaced by unpaid youngsters.
The scheme will be run by the Department of Work and Pensions and funded from the European Social Fund. The main beneficiaries will be the employers, who will gain free labour, enabling them to reduce their waged workforce and increase their profits.
It will force around 6,000 young Londoners in 16 boroughs to do compulsory unpaid work for 13 weeks as a condition of receiving their £56-a-week if they have contributed less than six months of national insurance payments.
Some will be directed to work for charities, which are being expected to replace public services that have been axed by Con-Dem spending cuts.
Others will be directed to work for businesses “that provide a clear community benefit” — in other words Johnson and Grayling’s drinking pals.
The scheme is due to start next year and then could be extended nationally.
The scheme will actually hamper the young people from seeking the kind of work they prefer because they will not be allowed time off to seek a proper job.
And the majority will already have some work experience in the minimum wage sector from Saturday jobs or other part-time working.
Evidence from the DWP’s own figures shows that previous mandatory work schemes have no impact on a young person’s chances of landing a permanent paid job or of getting off benefits. But they have led to a small increase in the number of young people claiming sickness benefits.
And when the benefits that will be claimed by those thrown out of paid jobs to make way for the victims of workfare are taken into account, the policy is an economic disaster for the Treasury.
Johnson and Grayling describe the scheme as a “joint pilot” that will offer “intensive help” for those with little experience of paid work, including one-to-one CV advice “to help people boost their employability in an increasingly competitive jobs market”.
And the DWP said the pilot “ties in directly” with the “mayor’s pledge to help create 200,000 jobs over the next four years”. He did not say these jobs would be compulsory, unpaid and would throw other people out of work.
Liz Wyatt from Boycott Workfare said: “Grayling and Johnson are clutching at straws. After seeing their last youth workfare scheme fall apart after public anger at young people being forced to work in Tescos and Holland & Barrett, they are trying to rebrand their latest efforts as being for so-called community benefit.
“But this will not fool the public who know that workfare in any guise is unacceptable.
“The something-for-nothing culture that Grayling talks about is found amongst the organisations who are receiving free forced labour not amongst our young people who receive only subsistence benefits.”
Campaigners have pointed out that the 13 weeks — or 390 hours — of unpaid community work is effectively a collective punishment and is 90 hours longer than the maximum community service order dished out by the courts to offenders.
The “crime” of unemployment will bring a stiffer sentence than burglary and could be taken as an incentive to real crime.
Furthermore there is great concern that Grayling said some will be directed to care homes to replace minimum wage staff looking after the sick and elderly. The arrival of untrained and unqualified teenagers, possibly feeling justifiably resentful, is unlikely to raise the standard of care in these places.
Charities such as Oxfam and Shelter have already made it clear they will not accept “volunteers” who have been coerced to work by the Government under threat of poverty and destitution.
And major companies such as Tesco and Holland & Barrett have been forced earlier this year to change their workfare plans due to massive public pressure.
Campaigners are calling for a national Day of Action against Workfare.