So today we learn that Nick Clegg does approve of Osborne’s Workfare, even though it so blatantly contravenes Liberal Democrat core values. He claims it can be justified as being something that will help people, despite the evidence being to the contrary. What is most disturbing is that this hits some of the most vulnerable the hardest, including people with disabilities or mental health conditions, those from BME communities, and single parents. As a contributor to Lib Dem Voice pointed out this week “I am petrified by these changes to welfare and the deeper segregation that it is causing in society. I feel penalised and ostracized for being unwell, like I’m a burden on the state”. If Nick Clegg is right, what are our objections? Firstly, it is contradictory to say that having made a virtue of people needing 30 hours a week to search for jobs, they should either being required to do community work or travelling (particularly from rural areas, presumably without subsidised transport – or any transport at all) to the Job Centre, or face sanctions? Secondly how much will this cost to implement in terms of additional JCP staff and space (don’t forget, Iain Duncan Smith has already said they would be setting up local community based centres everywhere, presumably in every village and estate) along with the project management costs for the "community work"? Thirdly, where are the jobs? Similar schemes such as Work for the Dole in Australia actually resulted in less job searching while on the activity, with any positive employment outcomes being short-lived. The Coalition’s Mandatory Work Activity also does not appear to have resulted in unemployed people moving into work. You can't just "magic" two million jobs out of thin air. Unfortunately such a scheme is also likely to tarnish unemployed people further in the eyes of employers. It is unclear what will constitute ‘training’ under the scheme, or why any such needs have not been addressed for the previous two years someone has been on the Work Programme. If the Coalition were truly interested in helping people back to work, it would make sure there was work there in the first place rather than constantly making people jump through hoops. It’s a bit like stocking up on wheels for hamsters, and about as useful. Spending huge amounts of money with no real change to the outcome, except that a different person gets the job. They could instead base the new scheme on an intermediate labour market model, which mimics the actual labour market, provides comprehensive training and contributes to local regeneration. Instead, the Coalition could allow local authorities to borrow and use their assets to enable a massive house building programme that as well as dealing with the chronic shortage of affordable homes would provide some of those employment opportunities. They would work with claimants and those who work with them to come up with productive and effective programmes to create work and develop skills and confidence. They would change the rhetoric that demonises and dehumanises the unemployed. Oh, and they may even think about using their £300 million to restore some of the actual nearly 1 million jobs that used to exist in the public sector. That way everyone would benefit. The truth is, this policy won’t reduce the welfare bill and won’t help people get work that isn’t there. Frankly the only businesses likely to benefit from such a policy will be the ever burgeoning food banks. Gareth Epps will be raising this issue at the upcoming Federal Policy Committee meeting
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