Express Shackles Scheme!!
It perhaps comes as a bit of a surprise that it’s taken two huge, seemingly soulless corporations to act as the unlikely voices of compassion for unemployed people in the face of government aggression - even the most unrepentant tory generally tries to pretend that there is more to them than simply naked business promotion.
Today Argos and Tesco made their displeasure at being associated with the government’s new “express work scheme” (read: “unpaid labour”) abundently clear. Argos has sought assurances from the government that young people who do not take up the placements will not lose their benefits, and Tesco has offered to pay placement workers - potentially undermining the scheme entirely by creating a lottery for paid and unpaid work placements. This from two retail giants usually found firmly on the other side of labour disputes.
The government, for its part, kept up the well rehearsed spiel that these unpaid placements are voluntary (despite the fact that claimants can lose benefits if they decline them) and that the scheme will help the unemployed by providing otherwise inaccessible experience. Of course precisely what benefits a laid off carpenter (for example) might hope to get from 2 weeks experience stacking shelves in a supermarket has yet to be explained.
Nick Clegg is quoted with the following, almost unbelievable comments, you can almost imagine him struggling to hold back a massive fit of giggles as he speaks:
“It is very simple. We say to employers, ‘Please take on these young people. We will pay them, through benefits, but could you please keep them on for a few weeks because it increases their chance of finding work’. “I have absolutely no qualms at all about the idea that rather than have a young person sitting at home, feeling cut off, lonely and getting depressed because they don’t know what to do with their lives.
“It is better to give them the opportunity for a few weeks to actually work, and of course retain their payment through their benefits.”
Yep, that’s right - he really did say: “retain their payment through their benefits.”
This attitude to the unemployed and the value of labour is designed to deflect attention from the government’s own economic mess. In a time of nearly 3 million unemployed it is not just ridiculous to blame the unemployed themselves for failing to find a job, it’s downright offensive. No back to work scheme or policy can put people in jobs that simply don’t exist - so let’s call this new coalition ruse exactly what it is: slave labour.