Christina Patterson: If you want a job, 'slave labour' at Tesco isn't a bad place to start

They seem to think that working in a shop is something that should make you feel demeaned

Share

Britain, according to some people, has quite a lot of slaves. It has the slaves you sometimes hear about, who are smuggled into the country by very bad people, and locked in dirty cellars, and sometimes beaten, and sometimes starved. But it also has quite a lot of slaves who aren't locked in cellars, or beaten, or starved. It has quite a lot of slaves, according to these people, who are sitting at a till in Tesco.

It also has slaves at Waterstones, and Sainsbury's, and T K Maxx. It has slaves at Age UK and Maplin. It has slaves in charities, and slaves in supermarkets, and slaves in bakers, and slaves in farms. And if you want to show that you don't like slavery, then you mustn't go to these supermarkets, or bakers, or farms. If you do, that would mean that you approve of slaves. It might even make you a Nazi. Only a Nazi, according to some of these people, would think that someone could do a few weeks' work in a shop, as part of a Government scheme, and not be paid the normal wage.

And because nobody likes to be called a Nazi, and not even very big companies that make very big profits by paying very low wages, now quite a few of the companies and charities that had the slaves won't have them any more. And the people who were working for a few weeks at T K Maxx, or Sainsbury's, or Waterstones, now won't.

The people who said they shouldn't are pleased. They think that you can be paid a weekly allowance by the taxpayer, which is called a Job Seeker's Allowance, because when you claim it you're meant to be looking for a job, and also maybe housing benefit, which could be more than £20,000 a year, and also maybe benefits for your children, and still be a slave. They think this, even though the benefits you might be getting might be more than you got if you were just being paid by the supermarket. And even when you had chosen to be there because you wanted some experience of work.

The people who think that people who do "work experience" in shops are slaves seem to think that working in a shop is something that should make you feel ashamed. They seem to think that it's much more embarrassing to work in a shop than not to have a job at all. They seem to agree with a young woman called Cait Reilly, who seemed to think that to work for three weeks in a shop, while the taxpayer paid her benefits, was a breach of her "human rights". And with a man who worked for a few weeks in Waterstones and said that after putting books on shelves all day, he could "technically" browse websites for jobs, but was "too tired".

Perhaps the people who think that these people are slaves have never worked in a shop. Perhaps they don't realise that an awful lot of us who now don't once did. Perhaps they don't realise that most people who look for jobs have to do it after work. And that most employers prefer to hear from people who are in jobs than from people who aren't.

Perhaps these people haven't seen all the studies that show that people who don't work are much more likely to be depressed than people who do. Or the ones that talk about the effect of unemployment on their children. And of how the children of people who don't work are quite likely to leave school without qualifications, and end up unemployed themselves. Perhaps they don't realise that most people think that moaning with colleagues about your boss is a lot more fun than screaming at the telly on your own.

The people who think that these people are slaves seem to think that British people should only have to do jobs if they're the kind of jobs they really want. They know that most people in the world have to do whatever job they can find that will help them feed their children, and that most immigrants have to, too. They seem to think that it's fine for a Pakistani, or a Pole, to work in Tesco, but that if you're British, and you haven't worked for quite a while, you should have a much nicer job than working in Tesco. They seem to think that someone who may never have worked, and may not have any training, who spends a few weeks on benefits being trained to do a job by Tesco, is doing Tesco a very, very big favour. They say that the free labour that Tesco may have got might be worth as much as £1,500.

And it's true that if that person learned how to do a job, and was able to do it fairly well, then Tesco might have got some labour it would usually have to pay for. But if it gives that person a job, which is what the scheme is meant to be about, it will have to start paying them then. And although it would be nice if employers were keen to take on people who may never have worked, and pay them really well, they aren't. When unemployment is high, and there are a lot of immigrants who are happy to work very hard for a very low wage, employers can pick and choose. If you want employers to take on people who aren't used to working, you have to give them an incentive. Most incentives in government training and employment schemes are a lot higher than £1,500.

The people who think that all the people who work for benefits are slaves – and not just the ones who are asked to work four 30-hour weeks for their benefits, but the ones who do the eight-week voluntary scheme that has caused such a fuss – don't seem to have heard about other schemes like this. They don't, for example, seem to have heard about the one in America, which helped many poor people back into work, and made them quite a lot better off, or the one in Germany, where "mini jobs" that aren't well paid have helped many people get jobs that are. They don't seem to have heard that this eight-week "work experience" scheme, which started last year, has helped more than half the people who took part in it off benefits.

The people who think that these people are slaves would like the world to be different. We would all like the world to be different. We would all like lovely jobs for everyone who wants them, and good salaries for all work. That, unfortunately, isn't the world we're in. In a country that's in debt, in a world with an endless supply of cheap labour, and in the middle of a massive financial crisis, subsidised stints in supermarkets may be the best chance for long-term employment that some of us get.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/queenchristina_

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Joyce Carol Oates is among 150 writers to protest that the award decision was ‘neither clear nor inarguable’  

Charlie Hebdo's PEN Freedom of Expression Courage Award is well deserved

Joan Smith
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk