Leading article: Ministers must show that back-to-work schemes pay

 

Share
Related Topics

The resignation of Emma Harrison as the Prime Minister's so-called "back-to-work tsar" capped a week in which work in its many aspects – preparation for it, the lack of it, the nature of it and the rewards for it – was seldom absent from the public discussion.

The announcement from Poundland that it was to cease its participation in one particular work-experience scheme also lent the whole debate a certain symmetry. It was, after all, with Poundland, and the complaint brought by Cait Reilly, an unemployed graduate, about having had to work unpaid there, that this seething can of political worms first opened.

So far, however, the discussion has generated far more heat than light. As companies have queued up to exit government schemes, it has not been at all clear whether they are ceasing co-operation altogether or, as Tesco and Poundland are apparently doing, trying to stipulate that participation on the part of jobseekers is voluntary. Nor has it been clear whether the companies are responding to genuine public concern, or allowing themselves to be steamrollered by a social-media campaign orchestrated by a vocal minority.

Two things have become clear, however. The first is the number and variety of back-to-work schemes in existence – which cannot but be confusing to the uninitiated. The second is the belated and lacklustre way in which the Government has defended its corner. Its first and biggest mistake was not to scotch the denigration of such schemes as "slave labour". No one is enslaved. Everyone receives their jobseeker's allowance and other attendant state benefits. If, as a broad swathe of public opinion believes, it is reasonable to ask those receiving taxpayer-funded benefits to do something in return, there is not too much to object to here.

Of course, it is not quite so simple. One complication arises from the fact that many of these schemes are with private companies. This means that "work experience" people work alongside those who are on the payroll – opening the possibility, denied by the companies, that they are exploiting "free" or "cheap" labour and have less need to recruit on the open market. This is an obvious danger – a danger, indeed, with unpaid work experience everywhere – and the terms on which it is organised need to be monitored carefully.

Complaints might be fewer if such schemes were linked mostly to charities or not-for-profit companies. But – and this is another message the Government has failed to get across – big retail companies, such as Tesco, provide a great many of the country's new entry-level jobs; their size means they can also offer advancement in different areas. Stacking shelves or operating a till can become a route to a better job, and the discipline of working – turning up on time and the rest – is something that those who have never worked or only sporadically or not at all may well lack. Experience and a reference are not to be sneezed at.

The Government has only itself to blame that it has been forced so soon on to the back foot. It must now demonstrate that such schemes really can provide a stepping stone to work; ensure that companies do not exploit their unpaid recruits – perhaps encouraging them to pay a modest top-up to benefits – and reiterate that jobseeker's allowance means just that. Above all, though, ministers must persist. Helping people into work, whether first-timers or long-term unemployed, is a worthwhile, indeed an essential, project – and one that some cack-handed government public relations must not be allowed to derail.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We have an urgent requirement fo...

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are looking to recruit two ...

Primary supply teachers required in Ipswich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron and Ed Miliband attend the Queen's Speech on 4 June 2014  

Scottish referendum: It's hard for us Labour supporters to admit, but Cameron did good here

Rob Marchant
NO ballots are stacked on a table during the Scottish independence referendum count at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh  

Scottish referendum: Some divorces are meant to happen – this one wasn’t

Dotti Irving
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week