Tuesday, January 29, 2013

21st century slavery in the uk

None of us like to think of ourselves as slave owners. It has become unsavoury to have house slaves so we squirrel them away out of sight in places like East Asian sweatshops. With the advent of workfare, it has come a step closer to home.

Unemployed people are forced to work for private companies to get work experience. Except that they are given the most basic unskilled work with no chance of an actual job. When their placement is up they are simply replaced.

Major retailers like Argos and Tesco didn't need to take on Christmas staff, the government simply sent them free workers. In return, the government gets to lower the unemployment figures as these jobless people do not count as unemployed. On many of the schemes, benefit claimants who refuse to participate get 'sanctioned' -  they have their benefits stopped for months, even years.

Whilst many of the deprivations that the government are subjecting its electorate to are Tory inventions, others are not. Workfare is a Labour initiative, and if you're one of the 90%+ of people who voted Tory, Labour, LibDem or UKIP, you gave it the mandate.

The negative connotations on the words 'forced labour' are shied away from. When it was announced in 2008 the Telegraph reported

the unemployed will be forced to undertake voluntary work including picking up litter and cleaning graffiti

Quite how anyone can be compelled to do a voluntary activity is not so much a matter for journalists and politicians, it's more a koan for zen masters. But this idea is persisting.

The government petitions website has produced several interesting results. The 100,000 signature threshold that triggers parliamentary debate has helped advance justice for Hillsborough. At 10,000 signatures the government has to respond. Their comments on the petition to end workfare are perplexing, yet illuminating.

We do not have Work for Your Benefit or Workfare schemes in this country. Workfare is an American term used to describe employment programmes which force all jobseekers to work at a certain point of their claim in order to continue to receive benefit...

Mandatory Work Activity gives extra support to a small number of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants who would benefit from a short period of activity.

The minimum sanction period for someone refusing Mandatory Work Activity is three months, a 'third offence' gets three years. They hold your family hostage threatening to starve them if you don't comply.

The clue is in the name. If it is not forced labour, how is it Mandatory Work Activity? In denying what we are doing to the impoverished we signal our inner squeamishness. If we don't think forced labour is tolerable as an idea, we shouldn't try to mask it with a false name. Instead we should exclaim the outrage that our consciences know it to be.

1 comment:

Jim Bliss said...

"Mandatory Work Activity is doubleplusungood"

A slogan for our times.