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A young man I know, (I’ll call him David) who left school just before the global banking crisis, was very keen to get out into the world of work and get a job. His politeness and enthusiasm paid off, and he got a minimum wage job with a discount store, where he worked hard and was always ready to get on his bicycle and go in at short notice, to cover staff absences etc. Then, David became old enough to be paid the adult minimum wage, and was no longer wanted. He had become more expensive, so was sent back to the Jobcentre, his loyalty and hard work disregarded.
Since then David has been in and out of work, and signed up with employment agencies to improve his chances. This has resulted in a string of bad and exploitative experiences. Sometimes he has been told work is available, made his way to an address or a site which may be difficult and expensive to reach, only to be told that sorry, we don’t need you after all. On one occasion he found himself with a group of youngsters in a van being taken to a site in Scotland, (from Merseyside) only to find when he got there he was expected to buy the company’s uniform work clothes, with money he did not have. He had no option but to ask them to take the money out of his meagre wages.
Quite simply, David, and many, many other young men and women like him, are being treated appallingly, with casual part time jobs, zero hours contracts, and zero security, leaving them with no possibility of planning their futures in any reasonable way.
Unscrupulous employers know that no matter how someone like David is treated, if he walks out he will have made himself voluntarily unemployed, so will not be eligible for benefits. They know that people on Jobseekers Allowance live in fear of being sanctioned, so are inclined to accept any terms and conditions, however exploitative. They also know that they can get workers from the Jobcentre for free on Workfare. Increasingly, bad employers see people like David as a disposable raw material, to be picked up and discarded at will, with no consideration for their dignity or pride.
Sadly, Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee seems to dispel any hope that the next government will ensure that people like David are treated with something approaching respect.
The scheme may sound reasonable on first hearing, but ultimately confirms that the Labour Party is now fully signed up to the Iain Duncan Smith world-view, where unemployed people are seen not as victims of a dysfunctional economy who need support, but as possibly lazy, possibly dishonest, and definitely a burden to the ‘hardworking taxpayer’.
What people like David need are not compulsory minimum wage semi-jobs, but full-time, secure, decently paid jobs which will allow them to lead fulfilling lives and plan their futures. Make decent jobs available, and unemployed people will flock to take them. Until such time, do not hound them and blame them for the failings of the economy.
To have any element of compulsion in employment policy suggests that the problem lies not with the economy, but with the unemployed, when it patently does not. It is sad that Labour now appears to have fallen in line with the Coalition parties to subscribe to this view.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet