Why Emma Harrison and Workfare must go …

I’m told by a regular reader that being unemployed and in debt in the US means you’re less likely to find work. It seems a bad credit rating could mean your boss decides you’re a bad risk: you need money to clear your debts but those debts stop you from getting work.

I share this not to point out how much worse they may or may not have it in America but to highlight another example of blaming the unemployed for situations beyond their control … and what we might face in the future following the brutal welfare reforms.

A site outlining the history of the US welfare system states, “Throughout the 1800s […]  there were attempts to reform how the government dealt with the poor. Some changes tried to help the poor move to work rather than continuing to need assistance consisting of caseworkers visiting the poor and training them in morals and a work ethic was advocated by reformers in the 1880s and 1890s.

During the Great Depression, “when one-fourth of the labor force was unemployed” the government stepped in to solve the problem: under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Social Security Act was enacted in 1935. This system is celebrated but it relied upon the Civilian Corporation Corp of unskilled, unmarried men working for $30 a month and giving that money to their parents.

Then in 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act – giving annual lump sums to the states to use to assist the poor and asking those states to ensure the unemployed were encouraged to move from welfare to work.

Now Obama is being accused of bloating the welfare state by bringing in reforms – and is called a socialist more times than Che Guevara – despite plans to make those needing food stamps work for them.

Even in Australia – where the language is more honest – there is Work for the Dole which started in 1998 intended to help young people develop a work ethic but not looking at the causes of youth unemployment.

The suggestion that workers should not be helped when unemployed is nothing new nor is the talk of personal responsibility or the spreading of blame to the jobless: it is a convenient political trick for which we must not fall.

We’re told we have no need to help out strangers with welfare or taxation – but we do. A global economic crisis and a recession that has put 2.7m in this country on the dole is a national – indeed a global – responsibility, not a personal one.

It is the developing narrative of personal responsibility which gives companies – including Superdrug, Asda, Tesco, Argos, Matalan, Royal Mail, Burger King, Poundland, Top Shop, Boots, McDonalds, Primark, HMV, Evans, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Pizza Hut, WH Smith – the arrogance to employ people to do a full day’s work for no pay.

It is this rhetoric used by charities such as The Salvation Army, Scope and Oxfam to dismiss the fact that instead of finding those who want to volunteer they they are using slave labour.

Boycott Workfare, a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare, states “Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage.”

The system is forcing the unemployed, the vulnerable and the ill to work – providing Jobseekers’ Allowance plus expenses as payment.Rabid Tories would, no doubt, find this acceptable and say people need work experience, people need to have a routine, people need to develop a work ethic, people need to learn not to rely on the state – I say people need to be paid for the work they do.

Marie Curie Cancer Care is among those opting out of the scheme and state, “We participated in this scheme because we believed it could offer volunteers an opportunity to gain valuable experience. However, there is a difference between volunteering and being forced to work and if there is any chance that people with terminal illnesses could be made to take part in this scheme we would take this very seriously.”

Now Emma Harrison, Cameron’s sidekick behind the Work Programme, is under scrutiny herself. It seems the woman who says there are “hidden jobs” and that you just have to find them has a few questions to answer about her own income.

The Daily Mail reports that Emma Harrison “pocketed £8.6 million in one year, mostly from state contracts and […] MPs said the company’s record in placing the jobless in work was abysmal – with a success rate of only 9 per cent.”

The Guardian points out, “Ministers have been urged to suspend welfare-to-work contracts with a company at the centre of allegations of fraud […] five shareholders were paid £11m in dividends last year, of which Harrison received 87%.”

This comes as a Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton states, “I deplore the Workfare programme for many reasons but primarily because it is deplorable. Trumpeted as a programme that will give the unemployed key skills, it serves nothing of the sort.

“What it is, in actuality, is a benefit system for sections of our work force. And there was I, foolishly, thinking that when you are part of the capitalist work force then the appropriate term for remuneration received is salary. Apparently not. These days, and under Cameron’s stewardship, we receive ‘benefits’ to become part of the job market.

When Middle England is comparing Cameron to a Nazi even rabid Tories have nowhere to hide. The plans are cruel, selfish, brutal and money-spinners for those running them.

The plans do nothing to help those most in need in our country and fail to recognise that the unemployed are not to blame for a global economic crisis – we should oppose them. Click here to find out how to do just that.

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