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.