Getting red in the face about the Green Paper
‘Workfare’ is one of those words, like ‘fascism’ that gets used so often that it can be hard to recognise the real thing when you see it. The New Deal isn’t workfare, and the Work Focused Interviews most claimants now have to attend aren’t either, but the Government’s plans for people who have been unemployed for more than two years are.
Claimants who are unemployed for more than two years will have to work full-time in return for their benefits – almost a dictionary definition of ‘workfare’. Its a long time since I was so angry about a new policy.
Just a couple of weeks after their proposals were published, the Department for Work and Pensions published a review of workfare around the world, the main finding of which was that
there is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.
(A Comparative Review of Workfare Programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia, Richard Crisp and Del Roy Fletcher, DWP research report 533, 2008, p 1.)
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Employers are entirely unimpressed by a CV where the most recent job was on a workfare scheme. The workers they are looking have recent realistic experience – and realistic does not mean a job that was paid much less than the going rate or which you had to be conscripted into.
But I’ve got to admit that, even if the evidence didn’t point to the utter uselessness of workfare, I’d still be against it, because workfare is unfair.
It is unfair to workers without jobs, and it is unfair to workers with jobs.
If a job is worth doing it is worth being paid the rate for the job, but most workfare workers will be paid less than half the rate for the job. Unemployed people are the victims here, not the villains, but workfare treats work as a special punishment for individuals who are given the blame for the failure of policies for which they had no responsibility.
And workfare is unfair to workers who would otherwise be employed at the rate for the job to do the work done by workfare conscripts. It holds down the wages and reduces the employment opportunities of all workers, and has its worst effect at the bottom end of the labour market, which is where free workers are most likely to find themselves in competition with workfare workers.
Nearly two months after the Green Paper was published it still makes my blood boil every time I think of it!