Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Workhouse Comparison.

Many will have seen on Twitter or in newspapers the claim that Westminster parties would dearly love to bash those in receipt of welfare even more by bringing back the workhouse. Its said half in jest, but how accurate a claim is it?

The image above is the first paragraph from the main entry on Wikipedia about workhouses, the gist of which is, a place where people could go for accommodation and work - since you couldn't go there and not work, the former was very much a condition of the latter.

You might think David Cameron's ideas around young folk doing community work isn't so bad. Certainly, conditions won't be anything like as bad as those you'd find in workhouse of ye olden days right?

There are those who scoff when you make the comparison - but, leaving the terrible conditions in the past - is there so much of a difference and if there is, is it a bad idea?

First off; what David Cameron suggests is comparable to workhouses. If you don't do the 'community work' you don't get paid and if you don't get  paid you don't eat or maintain the roof over your head - that seems to be indisputable.

Even East Lothian had a poorhouse (Scotland's versions of the workhouse.) Situated in East Linton but long since knocked down to make way for a community centre. (Photo H/T to © Peter Higginbotham.)

Secondly; what kind of community work are we talking about? Is it work in local business' that might otherwise be done by someone who was paid - as in 'a job'? The example given in the article above said "...such as making meals for older people." Its a bit vague, we can't say if that could be a paid job or not, (we might also be suspicious of the quality of said meals if those preparing them were less than chuffed about having to do so.) Is it going to be painting swings or railings in local parks? Because that falls within the remit of community service - which is a thing people get when they've been bad - not being able to get a job between the ages of 18 & 21 isn't a crime, its a symptom of shitty governance.

Or could it mean placement in already existing voluntary organisations? Having worked in that sector (paid and not) from experience I can say, that won't work. For a start, as soon as you compel people to do a thing, its not voluntary and the very nature of voluntary work is that its, ummm, voluntary.

Is this not just Workfare for the young, or will it be valuable experience in the work place? Given some of the experiences with Workfare where people in work were laid off then offered the same job back via the scheme - it could be problematic. Workfare did specifically include private enterprise in placements, will that be the case for this latest Tory wheeze?

The ambiguity will be deliberate because this will appeal to huge swathes of the population who feel young folk are getting a free ride, it would be easy to agree with them, if you're prepared to exclude all the complicated contributing factors that surround the problem. Or do we think Westminster parties would altruistically give young people who predominately don't vote, who are also in receipt of benefits meaningful, valuable employment experience over a quick gain from a soundbite policy, a cheap source of labour for big business or being seen to do something about the 'youth of today?'

Or could it be that there are very few jobs in the market for these young folk to apply for and those jobs that do exists, do not represent employment of a kind that would be recognised by the very people who'd support this kind of policy?

It seems to me, the age group this is aimed at - having been that age myself in the dim and distant past - when dinosaurs roamed the plains and we used to get lumps of coal to play with - is a formative time. We should be doing our best by these young folk, not treating them like criminals or second class citizens.

We'll rue the day when this kind of treatment becomes the norm. While vassals of the British State run around sticking fingers in the fractured dyke that is Britain, they refuse to step back and see that plugging holes or slopping vapid policy filler around the ever-widening cracks just won't work any more.

Make no mistake, this policy - so attractive to pinch-faced Tories and their Labour imitators - is just so much watery grout thrown at the crumbling battlements of a doomed system of government, far from being answer to what ails the UK, its just another part of the problem.


  1. I agree with everything you said.

    At first glance the idea of young people working for benefits seems quite reasonable.

    After all it is bad to get into a habit of lying in bed and not doing anything all day. That is undeniably true. It does a person no good at all, either physically or mentally…and it makes it all the more difficult to get a job.

    Additionally it is manifestly unfair that other people should work hard and pay tax to keep people lying in bed all day.

    But what to do with people for whom there are no jobs, no training situations and who have no desire (and often no capacity) for higher education.

    Clearly it would be wrong to do what they already do in having them work for nothing alongside other people in places like Tesco and Poundland. That subsidises Cameron’s adn Miliband's mates in big business and clearly reduces the number of jobs available.

    If it is working with the elderly, or children, there is a huge amount of training required, not to mention serious supervision. You can’t just be left with vulnerable people (ie people who need help) without both. I have worked with people on mandatory courses and training opportunities and my experience is that although most of them are responsible and decent, some, in fact a reasonably minority, will be out to “get back at the system” for doing this to them. I’d not want someone who didn’t want to be there to be cooking my meals.

    In any case, many have no capacity for that kind of work. I'd hate to work with either group myself.

    Additionally of course, almost all these kind of services have been privatised, and we would be subsidising the businesses that run nurseries or retirement homes as well as depriving job seekers of these jobs.

    So we end up being left with environmental task force type jobs, which are what they use for community service. Clean up the local woods; tidy up the park; etc.

    In doing so we make no difference between shoplifters and people who are unluky enough to be 18 and unemployed.

    But oh, how it will appeal to the Colonel and his Memsahib in Eastborne and Hemel Hempstead.

    1. Hi Tris.

      As you say, there is a lot of worth in not getting into slovenly habits and 'having something to get up for' as they like to say while selling these programs.

      However, if what you've got to get up for is something you hate and have no choice to do, (which I suppose could describe jobs for a lot of people),they at least have the illusion of being able to find something better or chucking a sicky - I'll bet real money there would be sanctions if you did that on Cameron's scheme.

      Its a vote grabber, nothing more. Cameron doesn't give a shit about 18 to 21 yo's beyond how it affects his vote.

    2. Of course what me must do is create WORK for people. It's not like the country isn't falling to pieces. There are roads, railways, and council houses that need built. Proper jobs paying proper wages, which will encourage spending and promote further jobs as a spin off.

      As you say, I'm sure that Cameron's scheme won't allow for the very human failing of illness!

    3. It seems to me, that's exactly the kind of thing Nicola Sturgeon was talking about recently. An anti-austerity budget. A bit of investment to get things going again.

      If done carefully, it seems reasonable to me.

  2. Well Paw Broon, how on earth are the rich going to get richer, of course they need slave labour and the Government is trying very hard to provide it.
    I look round my area and watch all the new Maws and Paws and wonder if they have given it a thought, what the little one will be doing in 20 years or so.
    We owe it to the children not to bring them into a world like this one. It has never been easy, Both my husband and I were brought up to know that. We were the fortunate few who managed to get jobs, and to keep them, if we had been born later I doubt we would have survived as well.
    People should be able to find work, and to be paid properly for that work, there should be social security if you are unemployed and that should cover all age groups. Youngsters are as entitled to this, if you take it that their parents paid for as many years.
    I agree with Tris, we have so much that needs to be done, if we were not spending money on bombing countries far beyond our borders or purchasing useless bit of ships which will not survive the first five minutes, (thanks Gordon), or on Trident, then there is plenty of work and money to pay people to do it.

    1. Agree completely Helena.

      But I don't think people in government have a clue what its really like. I'm not averse to private school kids doing well, I took the side of James Blunt when they had that wee barney about posh folk getting an alleged leg up.

      That said, I don't people like Cameron, Osborne or Miliband and many more besides have got a clue. Heck, I don't really know what its like to be truly destitute, I thought i did because I've been skint - I've never not had access to food though or support of parents. Some people have absolutely nothing and no one to rely on.

      As you say, with this crap policy, the Tories are just making things worse.

      Thanks always for reading.


  3. Pa

    Brilliant article. I work with young people and while there are a tiny minority that don't want to work most do but meaningful work, work that develops not only skills but dignity and self confidence. Like Tris says we have an infer structure that is falling apart, why not get those young people fixing that alongside trained men and women and for at the very least a living wage. They would pay tax, learn new skills, build self confidence and self respect etc. It wouldn't work for everyone but laying in bed is not an option anymore when the world is steaming ahead as we slip back into a new Victorian Age.

    Of course it won't happen because it makes no money for the private shareholder and only the tax paying shareholder and that is not good for them no matter the potential benefit for society and the individual. We live in a shitty elitist backward hole of a country now.


    1. Hi Bruce.

      And thanks for the compliment. You're right, these types of policies are just going to alienate young people. I work with young folk but sometimes it annoys me just how comfortable they are, they haven't got a clue how some people have to live - one their mums commented on how sheltered they are.

      What I'd love to do is take them to a foodbank and get them working there for an afternoon.

      I don;t consider myself to be a socialist, but I seriously cannot be doing with the way things are going right now - its disgusting.

      Thanks for reading.


  4. This policy is akin to slavery.
    Slavers would give shelter and just enough food to live on, which is exactly what the benefits, young people get, will supply; especially if the young person stays in their own home or is estranged from their family.

    1. You're quite right.

      People may not be living in communal accommodation - although I heard on twitter they might be building something along those lines in Blackburn, but can't find any more info - but what little money they do earn is used in exactly the way you describe.

      Plus, its no where near enough for them to change anything, which is 90% of the problem.

  5. We were discussing things as we do in our house of a morning, and we came to the conclusion that what firms do these days is regard their workforce as machines, they use them exactly as they do with machinery and when they have no use they stop them, so zero hours work beautifully for them. If you are in need of training, firms want you to train yourself for a possible job, how much training you will have to do before you get it is anyone's guess. We were lucky we are both baby boomers and when we were 16/18 we managed to find jobs, were lucky to keep said jobs, and as I was working in Local Government with principles with regard to training, though I expect that has gone by the board in these straightened time. Well it was always available with time off if you wanted to continue your education.
    I feel sorry for the young, Governments are so involved with Companies that they do not see the damage which is being done, I exclude the SNP/Scottish Government in this, they do want the best for the people of Scotland.

  6. Hello Helena.

    Agreed, I do think the balance has moved far to much to favour business, I used to be, dare I say, a bit Tory about things. If you didn't like your job or didn't feel your managers/bosses were being fair; find another job. At the time (I was a lot younger then) it didn't occur to me to try and change the ethos of the work place to suit you rather than the other way round.

    I find it all just a bit sickening, I think small business do want to be responsible, its the big faceless places that are a scourge and they're so much more prevalent these days. So many previously small local set ups are now franchised, absorbed or plain destroyed by bigger more widely owned corporations.

    I'll be seeing a crowd of young people tonight - about 15 to 20 of them. They're aged 11 to 14ish and they haven't got a clue what's in store for them.


Thanks for comment as always and I apologise if you have to jump through any hoops to do so. Its just that, I'm still being spammed by organisations who are certain I can't get it up or when it is up its not big enough or that I don't have anyone to get it up for.

Who knew blogging could be so bad for ones self-confidence?