LDVideo: Nick Clegg – Workfare critics have a “messed up set of priorities”

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg this week launched a passionate defence of the Coalition’s work experience initiatives, arguing that they help prepare jobless young people for employment. This follows the controversy about ‘workfare’, which some critics have labelled ‘slave labour’, an attitude Nick condemns here as displaying a “messed up set of priorities”:

(Available on the BBC website here.)

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • I would not mind the principle of workfare if people received the benefits of minimum wage for the scheme (making up for time lost not applying for jobs) or worked a maximum number of 10 hours (ie, were paid the minimum wage equivalent of their job-seekers allowance) and were then not pushed into working further if they did not want it.

    George, I am not sure the schemes are necessarily comparable with the comparison studies as nations and societies differ significantly on the effectiveness of such programmes, but I think that if remodelled as per my proposal it would be a fair paid scheme.

  • Unfortunately the public view of the workfare initiatives have now become split between three camps.
    Camp 1 :- mainly made up of the far right believe that everybody who is unemployed is a lazy git who needs punishing and made to work. This is how it was initially sold through the press.

    Camp 2 :- mainly made up of the far left who believe any work should be paid for.

    Camp3 :- Believe that work experience is good and valuable as long as the person signing up for it has not been forced or coerced into applying. They should also be able to leave the placement without penalty. This is not the view, I believe, of Trots or lefties but of anybody who has seriously looked at the problem.

    Camp 3 seems to have won on the one workfare scheme but what about the others? Unless we make sure that the other schemes are also not compulsory with no benefit threat we will keep on being accused of slave labour and in my opinion rightly so. Do we really want the unemployed, disabled or mentally ill forced to work for their benefits on a never-ending succession of work placements?

  • The acceptance by the government of the removal of any sanctions for pulling out of these schemes should answer many of the criticisms of this particular initiative. There seems to be a slight of hand used by many antis to the scheme, by calling a voluntary (at work experience scheme ‘workfare’, which, as I understand the term, means you are compelled to work for your benefits. There may be other changes which might improve the scheme (shorter duration, hours etc) and prevent charges of companies using the scheme for cheap labour.
    The benefits of work experience will take time to work through. Some may get a direct job (which is great for them and a clear result) and others will have some experience on their CV that may, or may not, be useful moving forward. It seems to be attempting to answer one particular problem –young people getting experience. It is not a cure all for youth unemployment.

  • Apologies. 2nd sentence should read: There seems to be a slight of hand used by many antis to the scheme, by calling a voluntary work experience scheme ‘workfare’, which, as I understand the term, means you are compelled to work for your benefits.

  • Hello Mr Clegg,

    You don’t make any sense. On one hand you say unpaid internships for graduates should be made illegal, and then on the other hand say unpaid work experience is great. But the thing is Nick Clegg, with a graduate internship you are getting quality work experience that will enhance your CV and future job prospects, having 8 weeks at Tesco on your CV as a 40/50 year with decades experience isn’t going to do anything. Yes that is right, this unpaid work scheme isn’t only aimed at the youth with no work experience, it is mandatory for over 25’s, the sick and disabled. It can be unlimited in length, and equates to far below minimum wage when the amount of weekly benefits are taken into account. Not to mention benefits are paid to help the unemployed maintain basic living standards and to assist with job seeking, the benefits are not remuneration for full time work. So next time you talk about the evils on unpaid internships, think about those who have been forced to undertake unlimited unpaid work under the government Work Programme, Community Action programme schemes.



  • @DavidSea

    The sanction threat has been removed from one scheme, the work experience for 18-24. Sanctions are still in place for mandatory work activity, work programme, and community action programme, The latter two encompass mandatory unpaid work, unlimited in length. The programmes are aimed at over 25’s, the sick and disabled.

  • @William
    I agree, the issue of compulsion is a tricky one. There have been mandatory schemes for a number of years and there are problems with them, both practically and ethically. Labour, when in power, used to boast of how punitive their particular versions were. In the current row the issue has become confused as they all seem to get lumped together as ‘workfare’ or ‘slavery’ etc, which seems to obscure what any of these schemes are trying to achieve -either carrot or stick. The protests have shone the light on them ,which is good, but its important to look at them individually and remove some of the confusion. I would be interested to know the details of the scheme that seeks to persecute the sick and disabled ? If true, it should be immediately abandoned.

  • @DavidSea

    You can read about it here


    The bill has since passed

  • Daniel Henry 2nd Mar '12 - 5:21pm

    Oh Nick! 🙁
    Did you get the full details of the scheme you’re defending here?
    Did you check the claims of the critics before rubbishing them?

    Surely you realise that there are some genuine concerns wit h government “back to work” policies?
    e.g. people being mislead into “voluntary” placements then unable to opt out and mandatory work schemes where people ARE being forced to work for less than minimum wage!

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Mar '12 - 7:45pm

    Henry: “I would not mind the principle of workfare if people received the benefits of minimum wage for the scheme”

    Agreed. Such a scheme would be “work” rather than “workfare”.

    That’s all the government would have to do to turn this scheme from a calamity into a triumph. Ensure that those on the scheme receive fair pay for what they do. It is so obviously the right thing to do. The companies involved can easily afford it (especially Tesco with their nearly-£10m profits per DAY). What possible reason is there not to do it?

  • Daniel Henry 2nd Mar '12 - 8:42pm

    And if no one wants to pay extra then just reduce the hours so the benefits match min wage for the hours worked.

  • If employers are being offered a steady stream of young people whose costs are met by the state (albeit on a temporary basis) what incentive is there for them to advertise genuine, paid jobs? My concern is that this scheme, whilst purporting to offer training, is actually worsening the jobs market.

  • @William

    Thanks for the link. I came across this as well on DWP website about Governement consultaions on this issue with Macmillian Trust.. It might add some detail to Guardain article.

  • Daniel Henry – can I just check the broad-brush maths here?

    Min wage at £6.08/hr * 35hr week * 52 week year = 11,065 gross pay.
    After NI & tax 9932/52= £191 a week

    Benefits on the other hand, we’d need for most people to consider HB + CTB + JSA. Let’s say £90 a week rent (highly variable around the country), £15 a week council tax (ditto, based on roughly what I’m paying, we need some approximate figures to work with!) and JSA for most folk is £65. That tallies up to £170… we’re not looking at *much* less than full time minimum wage here, are we? Four and a half days a week rather than five?

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