This article is slightly political, it is regarding the Workfare scheme that has been in the Press a lot recently. Please bear in mind at this point that I currently claim disability benefits and would love to be able to work. I would welcome any comments from either side of the fence in relation to this matter!

Jobseeker’s Allowance is a benefit you may be eligible to claim whilst unemployed and able to look for work. It is one of many benefits available in this country that will ‘cover living expenses’. You are to search for work on a daily basis using various mediums such as job sites and local newspapers plus also you are required to ‘sign on’ every 2 weeks on an allocated (based on your National Insurance number) day and time. The current rate of JSA, as at February 2012, is £67.50 per week. The benefit will rise annually in April just after the start of the new tax year. The money is paid fortnightly into a bank or building society account.

The government has been behind a recent drive to get the nearly 3 million people unemployed in the UK back into work. With a somewhat broken economy meaning jobs are being lost daily, the chances of finding work decrease daily. Major high street brands have vanished from our towns and cities with thousands of job losses, government (including Forces personnel) employees find themselves having to look for work now too after crippling budget cuts. Some will have no problem in finding work as certain sectors have been left relatively unscathed by the recent economical meltdowns. Some will find themselves having to take positions that will affect their financial situation dramatically, and not in a good way either. Some will find themselves looking for work over a period of years purely because their sector is so unstable no firm are actually taking on permanent staff any more.

Part of what is on offer to a Jobseeker is a scheme called Workfare. This is where an unemployed person gets ‘work experience’ whilst still receiving their Jobseeker’s Allowance. The claimant is expected to work up to 30 hours for about 2 months for an employer in any number of sectors. I am also aware that the claimant is expected to still attend the fortnightly signing on appointments as well as look for work in the usual fashion. They will be expected to work alongside people who are being paid actual wages as well and these paid employees may have less experience than the person on ‘work experience’.

Some, who perceive all benefit claimants as scroungers, would have you believe that this scheme is excellent as it means people have to work for their benefits. Nobody I know is a scrounger, scrounger is a derogatory word that the media like to tar every person on benefits with. Only a SMALL minority of recipients are, in fact, fraudsters.

Anyway, I digress. The Workfare scheme means a person on JSA would work for say 30 hours for just £67.50 a week, this equates to £2.25 an hour. Now unless you are an Apprentice (different rules apply) you are meant to work for no less than the minimum wage. Whilst on this placement you may be expected to pay for your own travel to ‘work’ as well as your regular bills; food etc. You will also be expected to be suitably, and appropriately, dressed for the work environment so if you do not have access to such clothing for whatever reason then the likelihood is you will be expected to ensure you have these items of clothing out of your JSA. As far as I am aware the Department of Work and Pensions does not provide clothing assistance in relation to this matter.

It should be pointed out that whoever you are assigned to for ‘work experience’ that there will be no guarantee of gainful employment at the end of it. Companies will just see it as a bonus for them having had free staff for a few weeks in my opinion. Also, you cannot refuse to take part in this scheme as it is mandatory. Mandatory means that you have to do it because it is a rule and/or a law. You will be sanctioned if you do refuse and lose any financial support that was previously given thus meaning you will not be able to cover living expenses. The sanction could be anything from a few weeks to six months dependent on circumstances and previous history.

I shall now give you an example of a Jobseeker’s claimant. A dear friend of mine has worked in the retail sector for a number of years. She has recently found herself made redundant. She is in her 40s. She feels, like many others, that the government focuses on the youngsters (16-25 year olds) too much. There is a lot of help for people under 25 and for people over say 60 but nothing to support those in the middle of this age range. My friend is more than capable of working hard and is willing to work hard but there are hardly any retail vacancies at the moment where she lives. The fact she feels demoralised every time she ‘signs on’ is upsetting her, the longer she is unemployed the worse her lack of self-esteem will be. Yet there is not a lot of support for people in their 40s. If she was to take part in the Workfare scheme (it is applicable to anyone of working age on Jobseeker’s) she would be working alongside people with 20 years less experience telling her how to do a job she knows well. She would happily work 10 hours as part of this scheme as it equates to what she would earn if on National Minimum Wage. She feels that the companies concerned should actually pay the going rate, ie National Minimum Wage. I hope for my friend that work is found soon so she can bypass this ridiculous government idea.

Now, I am one of those claimants who fall into the category of ‘cannot work but would love to work’ and am facing my own benefit battles in the not so distant future. If I was faced with this Workfare scheme I would want to be paid a minimum of £6.08 an hour, or whatever the rate would be, for the hours spent working. With some companies pulling out of this scheme, and they are major companies, one would argue that perhaps the government needs to reassess the situation in relation to this matter. A lot of things have been said in the media, you only have to Google ‘workfare DWP’ to see what I am talking about. The government really needs to start listening to the general public and not the media, the media have caused enough problems by creating a stereotypical benefit claimant. This stereotype looks like Vicky Pollard from Little Britain with 10 kids and a council house. Stereotypes and the media cause issues for those in need as well as causing the government to believe media hype.

No person, irrespective of circumstance, should have to work for their pittance of a benefit. My suggestion is that the government encourages this Workfare scheme but they ensure the claimant is paid a proper hourly wage whilst having their benefit temporarily stopped for the duration of their work experience. This will mean the claimant feels like a human as opposed to a slave and they gain the confidence needed. If they are lucky to gain employment as a result of this placement then their temporary stoppage of benefits becomes permanent. People should not have to work to claim their benefits if they are in need of assistance, just offer them a job or pay them as a temporary member of staff.