Victory against Workfare proves a point my generation has known all along - the system is taking advantage of us

A day's work for a day's pay is a simple democratic right

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The Independent Online

So enforced work without pay is illegal. Who knew?

Cait Reilly, the University of Birmingham graduate who took the government’s Workfare scheme to the High Court, has won her case on appeal. Three London judges decided that it is illegal to force Cait and thousands of others like her to work without payment.

According to her lawyer, from today onwards only Mandatory Work Activity remains lawful and anyone on a so called ‘voluntary scheme’ may leave without fear of sanction or loss of benefit. The Department for Work and Pensions say that the scheme can and will continue.

With youth unemployment still dominating the headlines, many will view this ruling as a triumph for ‘prissy’ young graduates not wanting to ‘muck in’.

But it is not ‘prissy’ to want payment for your labour. It is not ‘prissy’ to demand equal respect in the workplace as other staff. It is not ‘prissy’ to expect choice.

The fact alone that Cait Reilly had to take her case all the way to the Court of Appeal shows how warped our attitude to work, particularly the work of young people, has become.

Society has become so conditioned into the idea that its youth are lazy, uneducated and somehow do not deserve the same minimum wage rights as others. Constantly we are told that the generation with the  highest education attainment, the highest debt and the lowest  real wages in recent memory are ungrateful for everything they are given.

Claire Laker-Mansfield, a spokeswoman for Youth Fight for Jobs said:

“A day’s pay for a day’s work is a basic right in any supposedly democratic society.”

Why are young people not afforded the same democratic rights as anyone else? Am I missing something?

Contrary to popular belief, most young people who have been on jobseeker’s allowance for six months would probably bite someone’s hand off for a job at Poundland. Certainly they would be hoping to find a full time graduate job eventually but in the intervening period anything is better than the dole.

The lack of understanding about my generation is quite simply astounding. The older generation do not seem to understand we are just like they were twenty or thirty years ago. We’ve been dealt a raw deal but we are doing our best, working hard and willing to start at the bottom. But we can’t start on the career ladder if we are forced into indentured labour.

Yes I’m sure the older generations earned peanuts and worked their way up - but at least they could get a permanent job. And while it wasn’t much, it was still a wage.

Since the beginning of capitalist economy people have been paid to work. There is and always has been a labour market where people could expect financially reward for bothering to get out of bed. Programmes like Workfare, mandatory work placements and unpaid internship schemes are a distortion of the market system.

Now the government and wider society forces young people to work for free they have forced an entire generation into a vicious cycle. Why pay someone a wage when you can get someone else for free?

Young people do need to develop skills and learn to participate in society but they can’t do this on the dole. What kind of start is this for our future leaders, future workers and future taxpayers?

And how do the older generation suppose we reach the state of contributing, national insurance paying members of society?

We want to work. We want to learn. We want to gain experience. But the current system doesn’t allow for that.

The continued assault on the historic link between labour and wage is unsustainable. When the current middle-aged section of society enter retirement and need care who do they presume will pay for it? My generation will be too busy working for free.