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Government U-turns on Work Experience; Participants Allowed to Keep Benefits

Posted on the 01 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Government U-turns on work experience; participants allowed to keep benefits

A job center. Photocredit: Geograph

The government has performed a U-turn with regard to controversial work experience placements that many deemed “slave labour”. Participants in the scheme will now be allowed to keep their benefits even if they leave their placements early. Benefits were previously docked for two weeks if you left within a week. Ministers, according to The Daily Telegraph, had met many employers to discuss the matter; they had been worried about left-wing protests against the scheme. Since then, more than 200 companies, including Airbus and Hewlett Packard, have asked to join. Burger King, Waterstones and Sainsbury’s have left. Tesco has said it will pay people on the scheme and guarantee them a job.

Youth unemployment is at record levels, said Channel 4 News: more than a million 16 to 24 year olds are out of work. Under the government’s scheme, young people are placed for two to eight weeks with an employer: they continue to receive benefits during this period.

The scheme, open to those between 16 and 24, meant that participants could undergo eight weeks of unpaid work experience; until today, they could risk losing their jobseekers’ allowance if they left after a week. This caused widespread protest and demonstrations, which British Prime Minister David Cameron labelled “Trotskyite”. And when you look at the statistics, you can kind of see his point: out of 300,000 members of the scheme, only 200 have had their benefits removed – and those were mostly for misconduct. The Guardian took the line that the government had been “forced” to “bow to pressure” to businesses. You can still lose your benefits because of “gross misconduct.”

Shadow employment minister Stephen Timms said that he supported the theory of the scheme but there was a “complete muddle about whether this is a voluntary scheme or not because jobs centres are telling people it’s compulsory.”

“People volunteer to do it and we have a queue of kids desperate to do it,” said Works and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, quoted on the BBC.

For the scheme. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said of the scheme’s opponents: “They are criticising a programme that is deliberately trying to help young people into work. I cannot for the life of me understand the kind of messed-up sense of priorities of people who want to prevent young people from finding opportunities to get into permanent work”, quoted on The Daily Telegraph. Barnado’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie told BBC Radio 4 that “Work experience is a vital lifeline for some of the most disadvantaged young people in this country. They’ve been failed by the education system, they’ve been failed by the care system and they cannot easily find employment in this tough climate.” She was, however, “delighted” that the sanctions had been removed.

Against the scheme. Mark Dunk from the Right to Work campaign, however, was still not happy: he said, also quoted on The Daily Telegraph: “The dropping of sanctions for the work experience scam is one battle won but the wider fight goes on. Forced unpaid work still continues in the form of the mandatory work activity and community activity programme. We demand that the Government immediately drops not just one of its forced labor schemes, all of them.”

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