Thursday, 11 November 2010

Is it really a punishment to work?

Post by Ian

For the past few days, the argument over the benefits changes has swung back and forth. Especially with the proposed policy of forcing people who have been on benefits for a while to perform community service. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has come out against the plans, stating that the plans will lead people "into a downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair". Why? Is the Archbishop really saying that going out and doing something for the small sum people get as a benefit will lead them in to despair? Of course, the full details have not come out yet and these plans will have to be implemented appropriately. However, I can't see why a few hours of work for the benefit received would bring people in to despair. Let's take the Jobseeker's Allowance as a guide (£65 a week). That benefit equates to around 12 hours work at current minimum wage levels. So, what can be done with 12 hours? Well, litter picking has been mooted as an idea. There's never enough time or money available for the council to keep up with people dropping the litter in the first place. Add to that, clearing up graffiti and painting walls. This might actually get people thinking about challenging those who produce the graffiti. How about just sitting and chatting with an elderly or disabled person for a few hours? It doesn't have to be manual labour, even this small thing can help immensely. Add to this any other skills people can bring, or want to put their minds (or hands) to. Get companies involved, to see if they can accommodate someone for a few hours at a lower cost in order to get people in on some training and experience. This could be a way to provide career changing skills at a low cost - giving the unemployed person another skill to add to their CV in the quest for a new job.

But, I hear, there's the law of unintended consequences. Arguments have been made that people will resort to crime, as the punishment they'll get for minor offences will equate to the same thing (community service). There's the argument regarding the community service done by the unemployed will put council workers out of work. Personally, I think the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks. This is a way of getting people doing things in their communities, getting to know people in their communities, working to improve their communities, and so on. We might actually get back the pride of doing work for the community, and see our communities thrive as a result.

I would hope that the policy is thought through, and does not end up being exploitative. Hours of community service should be calculated on at least the minimum wage level equivalent. The proposed 30 hour work placements are just wrong. However, I think we should not be looking on this policy as a punishment, but rather an opportunity to make communities closer. The policy is a chance to regain that pride of earning the money we get, instead of expecting an "entitlement". It's a policy that needs some work, but is a good thing in principle. Here's hoping that the MPs will modify the policy appropriately as it goes through parliament.

1 comment:

  1. I thoroughly agree, Ian. I am sure people would be better off in all ways if they were usefully employed. Mind, I am not sure about some of these people spending time in conversation with the elderly and infirm, as I think it is a special kind of person who can do this successfully. The thought, too, that people helping the aged can build up 'credits' for their old age, as suggested by the government recently, appals me. Volutary work to me should be what it says: voluntary. You don't do such work to get something back in return.