There’s nothing Labour about unemployment – but compulsory work is only worthwhile if it’s good work

4th January, 2013 10:58 am

The compulsory job scheme plans announced by Ed Balls this morning have received a thoroughly unsurprising response. The right doesn’t like it because it involves taking money from the rich and spending it on job creation. The left doesn’t like it because it’s compulsory and could cause some people to lose their benefits.

Funnily enough I have little time for the arguments of right wingers. Cutting tax breaks for the rich in order to create jobs for the long term unemployed sounds like a good idea to me, no matter how the Tory press seek to restyle it as a “raid” on pensions. The criticisms from the Left however are as disappointing as they are predictable.

Since when has taxing the rich to fund jobs for the long-term unemployed been a bad thing in Labour circles? Since when has allowing people to refuse work if it is made available a Labour goal? Of course it isn’t, and if you’re confused by this, you may wish to recall the name of the *ahem* Labour Party.

My issue with this policy isn’t the compulsory element. Not by a long shot. This is not (as I saw someone laughably describe the policy on Twitter last night) “the Gulag”. This is not “workfare” (as it’s paid work). This is about reciprocity, and being willing to put something back in return for the social security net that society has a duty to provide. This is effectively an extension of the much lauded (and missed) future jobs fund.

This is an idea so dreadfully right wing that it’s TUC policy.

What is essential as an outcome of this plan is that good quality jobs are created, and/or that training is provided that actually helps the long term unemployed back into work, rather than this being seen as a cheap source of labour for large multi-nationals. Having people back in work for 6 months is better than having people stay on the dole indefinitely, but as a scheme it’ll feel pretty pointless if permanent quality, adequately paid work for those on the scheme isn’t the end result.

However this scheme – however eminently sensible it is – should not obscure the far greater picture, which is that millions of people are out of work not because they want to be, but because there are no jobs for them. This policy is potentially a good solution for the few who won’t or can’t find work. But there is a bigger crisis than that of welfare dependency – and that’s the crisis of worklessness and a lack of jobs.

That’s the real issue here – and full employment should be Labour’s solution. But that’s a blogpost for another day….

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  • Ste

    Bang on. This is miles better than any scheme that IDS has proffered so far, and by guaranteeing the person will get paid as opposed to compulsory unpaid work it will help people to feel better about being placed on the scheme.

    I absolutely agree, there is nothing wrong with this policy, it is time for the people of our WORKER’S party to get behind it and help get people working again.

  • This sounds like a good scheme to me. Its paid at a reasonable level and may give people valuable experience and life structure

  • AlanGiles

    The problem with most of the job creation schemes is that they last only as long as the government subsidy lasts (usually 6 months). I seem to recall the late 1980s when the then Conservative government signed up friends like Marks and Spencer etc, when this happens. We also have the problem that in some parts of the country 50 people are chasing one vacancy, plus the fact that many of those who are long term unemployed do have health issues (however much people like Duncan-Smith, Frank Field and the Daily Express deny it.

    Of course the great problem for politicians is that when they think of “short term contracts” they are usually thinking of the 5 years they sit in Parliament, or the £125,000 they make for “working” for a football club for 16 days a year: real short term employment “for the many not the few” in our “one nation” society is often days or weeks, then the problems start all over again.

    Perhaps in the long term the answer is to educate people to have practical skills that are really in demand, rather than fill their heads with impractical notions of “media studies” – also of course, to face the fact that some people are happier working with their hands and making or creating things, rather than just “go to Uni” to get a degree in Golf Course Management.

    • John Ruddy

      I’ll tell you my experience of the Future Jobs Fund.
      I volunteer for a charity that took on some young people under the Future Jobs Fund. No one was forced onto the programme, and all the employees earned Minimum Wage and got on the job training, as well as the positive benefits of feeling valued and of having doing something worthwhile.
      Some of the employees, sadly showed why they had been unable to get jobs before, through poor timekeeping etc. But these were very much in the minority. Others got other, better jobs solely on the basis of their work record with us, and a positive reference. Even those who did not, said at the end of their 6 month contract that they enjoyed their time, and felt the programme was worthwhile.
      Overall, the Future Jobs Fund was a success, both in terms of helping the employment prospects of the youngsters on it and in terms of financial return to the country. The coalition have since been proved to have been wrong when they cancelled it.

      So you can take your snide remarks, Alan and stuff them – because I’ve seen that schemes like this really do work. Your alternative will offer the people who need it most absolutely nothing.

      • AlanGiles

        “So you can take your snide remarks, Alan and stuff them -”

        Thank you John for such a thoughtful, intellectual response. The gravamen of my argument was that we should not regard – as successive governments have in the past few decades have done – that it is somehow second class back-of-the-bus stuff to work with your hands, rather than study some pointless degree course at University, ending up either unemployed or flipping burgers, and, in the long run, are no “better” or better off than the former school student who took on “lesser” work.

        But with dozens of people chasing each vacancy, employers cutting costs to the bone etc, the only way the FJF (and this is what the “new” scheme is) will work will be as a short term sticking plaster over a gaping wound.

        • Amber_Star

          I think the practical skills piece of your post is an excellent point. I have a professional qualification & I wish I could do things like painting, plastering, carpentry; & I’d really like to learn how to use power tools properly & safely. I’ve checked for courses on these kinds of things & they are few, geographically far between, relatively expensive & always over-subscribed!

          • AlanGiles

            I went to a secondary modern school, and we were lucky enough to have woodwork and metalwork lessons every week, not to mention practical if elementary scientific experiments.

            I think our school realised that most of us there unlikely to become the next Albert Einstein (it was an all boys school), so they prepared us for the world of work by concentrating on things we might need – how to read and write and basic maths, as well as things like metalwork.

            After school I went to a technical college where you could build on what you had learned, and what had interested you. Of course, our school was looked down on by our contemporaries who had passed the 11+, but the fact was I, and many of my classmates, were better with their hands than with nebulous theories, though I fully admit that they went on to worthwhile careers, because we were all encouraged to think of careers rather than “jobs”. We could do things the grammar school lads couldn’t do, and they could do things we could’nt do or would find interesting. I just wish that, even today, people are divided into “brainy” and “not brainy”. Everyone has intelligence, and knowledge but it comes in different forms, and nobody should say one is “better” than the other.

            I was reading sometime last year that a very large proportion of 20/30 year olds have to “send for dad” when they need basic DIY or electrical or plumbing problems dealt with, since they have never been taught (it was one of those surveys – can’t remember who commissioned it).

          • Alexwilliamz

            This is a big issue in where the hell our education system is going and where it should go. Have you read ‘Out of Our Minds’ by Ken Robinson, sad that the gvt has dropped all recognition of how to make education work for ALL.

          • AlanGiles

            Hello Alex. The thing that astonishes me to this day was that the secondary modern I attended was in East London and was considered to be a bad school (although that might have been snobbery by the parents and pupils who went to “better” schools). It was a tough school, and to be five minutes late was considered a major crime (perhaps why I and my mates were and remained good time keepers!). There was far too liberal use of the cane for trivial offences, and those teachers who used it, frankly I think some of them (most of them?) got their jollies by applying it. Dirty old men didn’t start with Jimmy Saville… But – on the plus side – it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to study technical drawing which we had for an hour every Friday morning. Being taught to take pride in our lettering, and how to understand what we were doing. The whole of Wednesday afternoon in the wood and metalwork room, we got a good grounding in maths, English which filled part of most days, and geography history etc got a weekly slot. One of the things that I liked about our school was that we were encouraged to help each other, we were not made to feel we were in competition with each other, so there was a spirit of cooperation developed at an early age.

            It was a pragmatic education in that the school recognised that as we were unlikely to become Sir Laurence Olivier, we didn’t “do” drama, and you were encouraged to develop your talents (I wasn’t going to be Dizzy Gillespie so my music came outside and after school).

            I have mentioned it before but in recent years our local leading college at Havering has had built a whole wing for the “Performing Arts”, filling their heads with ideas they can become “television presenters” or actors (The Only Way Is Essex recorded not that many miles away has a lot to answer for). I wonder how many out of work actors there are, on the other hand if you could operate a lathe or produce working drawings as so many of us could, even though we were not regarded as intellectual successes, we were a success in our own way in that we could get jobs, and were conscentious and well-behaved.

            Despite what acatara has said elsewhere, I am not anti-intellectual. I admire and admired those who want to study esoteric subjects, but I think this need not constitute part of the school day which has shrunk from my days at school, where the day started at 8.30 and ended at 4 (it was also a better preperation for the working world – these days I see them coming out of my local school at 2.30 in the afternoon and lunchtime on Fridays).

            Most of what I learned about music, books, poetry, Shakespeare etc came later in life. Despite the flaws and the fact that our school building was old and would probably not get through health and safety checks these days, the teachers did their best to make sure we got that which we needed – the things that would help us get work, and become good workers.

            It is not an answer for the short term, but I do think we need to recognise that there are non-academic pupils and a school like my old one, and the return of technical colleges, would, I am sure pay dividends for those coming up, one of the reasons I appreciate the idea of technology colleges. Politicians of all parties need to accept that for some of us, university would have been a waste of time and money. It must be soul-destroying to spend three years (and God knows how much in loans) studying at University even if you are cut out for it, only to find yourself in a dead-end job at the end of it.

          • aracataca

            You don’t think AG’s remarks smell a bit of anti-intellectualism? There is IMHO a lot to be learned from analysing literature and cinema. Why does everything have to be reduced down to the logic of the market and financial gain?

          • AlanGiles

            I know you like to provoke Bill, but why don’t you re-read what I wrote and engage your brain before putting your fingers on your keyboard?

            ” though I fully admit that they went on to worthwhile careers, because
            we were all encouraged to think of careers rather than “jobs”. We could
            do things the grammar school lads couldn’t do, and they could do things
            we could’nt do or would find interesting. I just wish that, even today,
            people are divided into “brainy” and “not brainy”. Everyone has
            intelligence, and knowledge but it comes in different forms, and nobody
            should say one is “better” than the other.”

            As for “There is IMHO a lot to be learned from analysing literature and cinema. ”

            Well, I don’t doubt it, but when I was at school, because we were not the most academically gifted lads, I think learning to use our hands to make things was rather more practical than analysing “The Grove Family” or “Emergency Ward Ten”*, and it certainly kept us in work – though admittedly there was more or less full employment in the fifties and sixties. the grandson of a friend of a mine is currently doing a project about the TV soaps of today – the sociological attitudes as portrayed in Eastenders and Hollyoaks. And that will help him get a job?

            (*two early TV serials)

        • aracataca

          ‘Thank you John for such a thoughtful, intellectual response’.

          What you mean like the thoughtful intellectual responses you give?

          • aracataca

            ‘Everyone has intelligence, and knowledge but it comes in different forms, and nobody should say one is “better” than the other’………………………’I can see, however, why you enjoy such repartee – just about down to your level’

            2 posts – 2 diametrically opposed positions. Please try to be at least vaguely consistent on the same page.

          • AlanGiles

            I wrote that because you are a thorough-going hypocrite. The man who constantly adopts the holier than thou approach of complaining of “personalising” arguments, but just look at this thread. You constantly try to stir up trouble, and you seem to approve of somebody using the term to “stuff” their arguments. Isn’t that personalisation?. It’s school playground stuff and you are guilty of it, and to gloat over such remarks isn’t very intelligent.

      • aracataca

        Well said.This is precisely the point John. The long term unemployed need help here and now. This looks like one way of doing just that.

      • aracataca

        The politics of Alan Giles is precisely not to offer people anything at all. He does not (and never has) set out to constructively engage in debate- the concept is an anathema to him.

  • aracataca

    Excellent post Mark. I can’t disagree with anything that you have said. In a sense it encapsulates and iterates the Democratic Socialist ethos of offering a kind of immediate palliative care to those afflicted, and in some instances destroyed, by an economic system that takes no prisoners while at the same time looking above the trench towards a more permanent fix for the scourge of long term unemployment which as you have pointed out is the generation of ‘permanent quality and adequately paid work.’

  • John Ruddy

    The Future Jobs Fund, on which this is based, included funding for on the job training. I would imagine this would do the same.

  • Compulsory work is slavery

    • reformist lickspittle

      What a profoundly silly slogan.

      I have known long term employment – and would have jumped at a scheme like this.

    • Quiet_Sceptic

      It is not compulsory work, the claimant has the right to withdraw their claim for unemployment benefit and hence not take part in the scheme.

      • aracataca

        Well spotted on this one Q. S.

      • Monkey_Bach

        Eating, drinking and breathing aren’t compulsory either. Eeek.

        • Alexwilliamz

          Oxygen is for losers!

          • Monkey_Bach

            Statistics show that villains who cease to breathe stop committing crimes. If every offender were prevented from breathing crime levels in the UK would fall like a stone. Finally a solution to the problem of criminality appears within our grasp… erm… or more accurately a “final solution” to the problem is. Hurrah! Eeek.

  • Monkey_Bach

    I fear that the Job Guarantee will simply be an exercise in treading water for six months with little hope of any real progress for the many recruits compulsorily drafted onto it. I am afraid that thousands of people may well simply enter the scheme, pass through it robotically, and then exit after “doing their time” six months later, garnering no real benefit from the experience or improvement in their lives. I think the jam will be spread too thin to do much good. This outcome will be all but inevitable if the cold dead hand of Liam Byrne remains on the wheel. Eeek.

    • AlanGiles

      I am sure you are right: that is the way all of these “job creation” schemes pan out – right back to the days of Mrs Thatcher’s government. All those people who think that the scheme will work by making more public service jobs available seem to forget that, if we are to believe “the public” and the Conservatives, they disapproved of the increase in the number of public service workers, and just as Labour now dance to the Coalitions tune of the “deserving” and “undeserving” and “the strivers”, because they fear the publics reaction if they don’t, they are unlikely to have the courage to create too many public sector jobs, because there was so much hostility in the past.

      • Monkey_Bach

        I think Byrne is more interested in looking “tough” on benefit claimants than helping them improve their lot and so I would expect thousands of people to be funnelled through the scheme and come out the other end of the meat grinder without positive outcome. Remember when “responsibility” was Byrne’s watchword? Benefit claimants were suddenly expected to become “responsible” and willing to shoulder their “responsibilities” the implication being that citizens tarred by that brush didn’t normally “choose” to live “responsibly” preferring to shirk their “duty” by ingenious means as far as making a personal “contribution” to society went.

        (None of which was true of course.)

        Now Labour seems to have ditched its meaningless “responsibility agenda” in favour of some similarly fuzzy “contributory agenda” I predict that the NuLab sound bite “responsibility” will quickly morph into something more like “Working or training but not claiming” in the immediate future.

        When Byrne and Co., start repetitiously chanting these words like a mantra and it starts appearing in Labour speeches, literature, party political and electoral broadcasts and on posters and so forth I invoice the Party and demand my royalties!

        What’s good for those Saatchi chimps should be good for monkeys too!


  • Peter Martin

    Instead of looking at the millions of out of work, or don’t have enough work, as a problem to be solved why not look at them as a resource waiting to be utilised? Just think of all the things that need doing which supposedly ‘can’t be afforded’ and work out what needs to happen to get those jobs done by those with the need to find a job doing them.

    I don’t mean ‘workfare’. Everyone who works should be treated alike. They should pay NI and income tax. The wage levels wouldn’t be high but they should be enough to live on. They should also work for the public purpose and that doesn’t mean providing free labour to the supermarket companies.

    If the difference between benefits and a lowish paying job is as small as claimed then it wouldn’t cost anything, or not much, to switch people over from one to the other. In those parts of the UK where unemployment is very high and there could be voluntary trial schemes started to look at the costs and benefits involved. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t show a profit in the final analysis.

    It is much more difficult to get a job, especially a reasonably well paying job, if you haven’t already got one, so the motivation shouldn’t be to create jobs on a long term basis. The idea would be to offer jobs to the long term unemployed, both to avoid their immediate abilities going to waste and also to give them credentials in the job market. They would be encouraged to quit these jobs if they could find a better paying one. Then of course they would be less likely to need any kind of additional benefits.

    There’s a good wiki account of the the pre WW2 WPA which was responsible, in America, for employing millions of people: building schools, hospitals, bridges, roads, even an entire University campus, many of which are still in use today. The main opposition then came from the Conservative elements in US politics, some of whom saw it as a “seedbed for communists.”

    So its not all pie in the sky. Its been done before so it could be done again. A modern version in Britain would be probably much more modest by comparison and I would expect it would be criticised both from the left and right. But there could be some support from both sides too. There’s a lot of uncomfortable shuffling in polite circles on the question of welfare dependency. It shouldn’t just be ignored by those who profess to have the interests of those on welfare at heart. A life in front of the TV is not one that many would choose.


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